Words Get In the Wayby Nan Rossiter
From the author of The Gin & Chowder Club comes an exquisitely heartfelt and uplifting novel that explores the infinite reach of a mother's loveand the gift of second chances. . .
The modest ranch house where Callie Wyeth grew up looks just as she remembers itright down to the well-worn sheets in the linen closet. But in the years since Callie/i>
From the author of The Gin & Chowder Club comes an exquisitely heartfelt and uplifting novel that explores the infinite reach of a mother's loveand the gift of second chances. . .
The modest ranch house where Callie Wyeth grew up looks just as she remembers itright down to the well-worn sheets in the linen closet. But in the years since Callie lived here, almost everything else has changed. Her father, once indomitable, is in poor health. And Callie is a single mother with a beautiful little boy, Henry, who has just been diagnosed with autism.
Returning to this quiet New Hampshire community seems the best thing to do, for both her father and her son's sake. Even if it means facing Linden Finch, the one she loved and left for reasons she's sure he'll never forgive. Linden is stunned that Callie is backand that she has a son. Yet in the warm, funny relationship that develops between Henry and Linden's menagerie of rescued farm animals, Callie begins to find hope. Not just that her son might break through the wall of silence separating him from the world, but that she too can make a new start amid the places and people that have never left her heart. . .
Praise for The Gin and Chowder Club
"Eloquent and surprising. . . I love this story of faith, love, and the lasting bonds of family." Ann Leary, author of Outtakes from a Marriage
"Nostalgic and tender. . .summons the passion of first love, the pain of first loss, and the unbreakable bonds of family that help us survive both." Marie Bostwick, New York Times bestselling author
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Read an Excerpt
Words Get in the Way
By NAN ROSSITER
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Nan Rossiter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCallie knelt beside Henry's bed. He looked so peaceful, so different from the frustrated little boy she lived with all day. She reached over and lightly brushed the wisps of blond hair from his forehead. She watched him breathe, his lips slightly parted; she marveled at the smallness of his perfect hands and stroked his smooth cheek. Henry murmured and pulled his beloved Travelin' Bear closer until the worn stuffed animal was tucked tightly under his chest. She whispered his prayer for him, as she always did, leaned forward, kissed him gently, and breathed in his sweet little boy scent. Finally, the tears she'd been fighting all day spilled hotly down her cheeks. She slumped against his bed, buried her face in her arms, and cried into the soft cotton sheets. She listened to the thunderstorm rumbling into the valley and, for the hundredth time that day, silently pleaded, Please don't let this be true. Please make Henry better. Just make it go away. Don't punish Henry for the things I've done.
Callie stayed beside Henry's bed for a long time before finally pulling herself up and collapsing on the bed in the next room. She was exhausted, but sleep eluded her as she stared into the darkness and replayed the foolish encounter that had changed her life. At the time it had seemed so innocent. Afterward, though, she knew there had been nothing innocent in the events that led to that night.
It was a sunny Tuesday when they'd first met for coffee to discuss her thesis. The following Friday, it had been a beer at an outdoor pub on Church Street to celebrate the arrival of spring. And on Saturday, he had appeared handsome and smiling to take her to dinner at a quiet inn on Lake Champlain. They'd sat on the porch and watched the lights around the lake begin to flicker and sparkle as the sun streaked radiant flames of color across the sky. They'd shared a bottle of Merlot and talked about her plans for graduate school and his hope for tenure. Then he'd ordered a second bottle, and Callie had begun to wonder what he was thinking. She had watched him toy with the gold band on his finger and thought of Linden. What would he think if he saw me now? She had pushed the thought away.
He had paid for dinner, carefully eased the cork back into the second bottle, and discreetly smuggled it out under his tweed jacket, and then he'd jovially draped his arm over her shoulder as they'd made their way back to his car. Driving a short distance, he had pulled into the parking lot of a secluded beach. When he'd opened the back of his Volvo wagon and produced a wool stadium blanket, it had suddenly seemed too convenient. Callie had felt an unsettling wave of apprehension. This has already gone too far. At the same time, she hadn't tried to stop it.
They'd sat on the blanket and he'd laughed as he struggled with the bottle between his legs and she'd laughed too as she tried to help by holding it while he pulled on the cork. Finally it had eased out, splashing a spot of red wine on his khaki pants. He had run his finger around the top to wipe off any stray droplets and, with a smile, passed the bottle to her. She'd hesitated, smiling too, but finally she'd taken a sip, her heart pounding.
As they watched the lights dance on the water, he'd slipped his jacket off and dropped it over her shoulders. Passing the wine back and forth had reminded Callie of high school. And then he'd brushed his hand along her thigh and teased her about having only one dimple and, feeling light-headed, she'd grinned mischievously, slowly running the tip of her tongue around the lip of the bottle.
He had watched with raised eyebrows. "Where'd you learn that, Miss Wyeth?"
"Learn what?" Callie had asked, feigning innocence.
"Hmmm, what else do you know?" His eyes had sparkled as he'd lightly traced his finger around her dimple and along her lips, and Callie had closed her eyes and let him.
Callie hated the memory, but sometimes it slipped into her mind, and she couldn't seem to stop it. Two months later she'd discovered she was pregnant, but when she tried to reach him at the college they told her that he had taken a job in California. Whatever happened to tenure? she'd wondered bitterly.
Callie finally drifted off, but it seemed like it was only moments before she awakened to the sound of crying. In the early morning light she found Henry rocking back and forth on the floor. She scooped him up, felt him shiver in her arms, and pulled the blanket around him. He continued to whimper, and she whispered softly into his tousled hair, "It's okay, Hen-Ben, everything's going to be okay." Her words of reassurance were as much for herself as they were for him.
She glanced around the room at the pile of boxes and sighed. She knew the unfamiliar surroundings weren't helping Henry, but there was nothing else she could do. Without childcare she was unable to work, and she had no money left. In the half light of dawn she stared at a box labeled "Henry / LEGOs" and relived the last few months.
During that time she'd noticed a change in Henry but she'd convinced herself it was nothing to worry about. He's just quiet, that's all. Some boys just develop more slowly than others and, besides, Henry knows how to use words.... He already started to. Callie tried to remember the last time Henry had actually spoken. That's okay, she had told herself, he'll learn when he's ready. All of Callie's self-reassuring, however, had gone right out the window when Mrs. Cooper had voiced her concern too.
Mrs. Cooper was the matriarch of the daycare near the college-the daycare where Callie had been leaving Henry since he was six months old. After he was born, she'd been unable to continue her studies and had instead taken a job in the financial aid office. She'd always felt blessed and thankful to have found such a wonderful home away from home for Henry, and she could still see the faded green carpet and the pattern of shadows from the windows that crisscrossed the floor of the large playroom every afternoon when she picked him up. On that last afternoon Callie had been waiting for him by the door when Mrs. Cooper had taken her aside. She remembered the concern in her voice as she'd quietly told her that she'd been watching
Henry for several weeks and been praying for a positive sign. "Henry is so quiet," she'd said, "and often he just seems lost. Lately, he shows no interest in playing with other children. Instead, he just stands at the rice table and pours rice from one cup to another or lets the rice pour through his hands. If another child interrupts him or borrows one of his cups, he becomes very agitated. Just today, another boy took the cup he was using and gave him a different one. Henry became very upset and erupted into an inconsolable tantrum. He threw all the toys that were on the rice table as well as handfuls of Legos. When he finally calmed down," Mrs. Cooper continued, "I asked him to join our reading group, but he refused and just sat in the corner, rocking back and forth. I'm so sorry, Callie, I wanted to be sure before I said anything."
Callie had been staring at the pattern on the carpet when a passing cloud drifted in front of the sun. She'd nodded slowly, tears stinging her eyes. "I think you need to have Henry tested, dear," Mrs. Cooper had said kindly, giving her a hug. "Please let us know how you make out. We will be keeping both of you in our prayers." Callie realized then that Mrs. Cooper was saying she would no longer be able to look after Henry.
Callie pressed her cheek into Henry's wispy hair and realized he'd fallen asleep. She laid him down and tucked the soft blanket around him. As tired as she was, there was no point in going back to bed. Besides, she could get so much done if he kept sleeping so she slipped quietly from the room that had once been hers, left the door open a crack, and shuffled barefoot to the kitchen to see if her dad had any coffee. She opened the cabinet next to the sink where her parents had always kept it, and there it was, in the same spot as always, a dark blue can of Maxwell House. The sight of the familiar can in its proper place gave Callie an odd feeling of comfort. As she reached for it, though, she became acutely aware of the emptiness of her parents' house. The people she loved most in the world were no longer there and never would be again, to make coffee, to cradle warm cups in their hands, to chat over breakfast, to talk about the day ahead, and then hurry out the door to school, to work, with a kiss and a promise.... Love you! Keep the faith! See you tonight! Their lovely voices echoed through her mind. Callie looked out the kitchen window of her childhood home and tears filled her eyes. She had never felt more alone.
Chapter TwoLinden Finch rolled up the windows of his old Ford pickup and climbed out. He was late getting home, but the summer storm that the weatherman had promised was right on time. A sudden gust of wind swayed the trees ominously and hastened his step. Two yellow Labs that had been chasing squirrels and lazing on the porch all day spied his arrival, rose from their slumber, stretched, and trotted happily across the yard to greet him. Linden knelt down to say hello. "How was your day?" he asked softly. They responded by wiggling all around him, licking his face, and beating his head with their tails. A rumble in the distance caused Linden to stand and look at the wall of threatening clouds that was forming across the meadow. As he did, a ragged streak of hot white light divided the sky. Out of a boyhood habit, he began to silently count the seconds from light to sound but only reached "one-Mississippi" when he heard the rumble again. He hurried to the barn and clicked the latch for two Randall cows that were lowing impatiently at the gate. They nudged their warm noses into his chest as they trundled by into the safety of their stalls and then continued their expectant lowing. A little mule followed them and moseyed into its own stall. Linden flipped up the switch inside the door, and the barn filled with a warm, cheerful light. The dogs plowed their snouts through the hay on the floor while Linden fed and watered the cows and the little mule, talking softly to them the whole time. The younger dog lifted his nose onto a bale of hay and snorted at Maude, the orange tiger cat that was slumbering peacefully there. She opened one eye and studied him indifferently while Harold, her silky dark gray counterpart, yawned and stretched on the bale above her. Linden hurried outside to check the henhouse. As usual, all of the ladies were already nestled down for the night, so he quietly closed the door and latched it.
Fat drops of rain began to splatter on the dry earth as he ducked back into the barn. He looked up into the rafters at the old speckled owl, and it blinked back at him. Linden switched off the light and called the dogs to his side, and together they peered out into the yard. As if on cue, the skies opened up. Linden quickly calculated the distance between the barn and the porch and how wet they were going to get. "Let's go!" he shouted, and dashed across the yard. The dogs followed gleefully, splashing through every puddle they could find along the way.
In the shelter of the kitchen Linden pulled off his wet shirt, hung it over the back of a chair, reached for a dish towel, dried his hair with it, and then toweled off the two dogs that were still wiggling around him. He threw the towel on the washer, opened the fridge, grabbed a beer, and headed for the pantry in the back of the kitchen. The dogs followed and plopped down obediently as he measured a cup of kibble into each of their bowls. Linden hesitated, and Springer stared longingly at his food while Kat watched Linden. He nodded to her and, for Springer's sake, said the word, "Okay!" Springer lunged at his bowl as if he hadn't eaten in a week, but Kat made a vain attempt to be more ladylike. Linden shook his head. He slipped the beer bottle into the metal bottle opener mounted on the doorjamb, pulled on it, caught the cap, and stepped back out onto the porch to watch the storm. He dropped into one of the old wicker chairs, ran his hand through his wet hair, and breathed in the rain-soaked air. As the storm rumbled by, he remembered seeing the lights on in the Wyeth place and wondered if something had happened. Mr. Wyeth had been in a nursing home for six months now, but Linden had recently heard that his health had taken a turn for the worse.
The storm passed quickly, and Linden realized that the dogs were peering out through the screen door. He pulled himself from the chair and, when he opened the door, they greeted him again as if he were a long-lost friend, and then followed him happily into the kitchen to see what he was going to have for supper. Linden put a small frying pan on the stovetop to heat up leftover spaghetti and washed and sliced an early tomato. He dropped a juicy chunk in his mouth, sifted through his mail, and discovered a check for a job he'd finished two months earlier. After dinner, he washed the dishes, let the dogs out, gave them each a treat, shut off the lights, and headed for bed.
In the half darkness, he threw his jeans over the back of a chair and his T-shirt onto a growing pile of laundry in the hamper. He pushed his bedroom window up and listened to the familiar call of a barred owl. He recognized it as the voice of his faithful barn dweller, and then, somewhere in the distance, he heard a haunting reply of interest. A cool breeze rustled the curtains as Linden lay back on his bed and, for the first time in a long time, he allowed an image of Callie to slip into his mind. It was the same image that always came to him, when he let it, like a favorite photograph his mind kept under glass.
She was smiling and reaching up to push back wisps of wild, wavy hair that the wind had swept across her cheeks. She was wearing a snow-white tank top over her red lifeguard suit, and her shoulders were the golden tan of summer's end. Linden didn't know why he always pictured Callie that way. It had been four years, but after seeing the lights on in her parents' house, he couldn't help but wonder if she had finally come home. With the image still in his mind he drifted to sleep.
Before dawn, he awoke to the loud racket of his squirrel-proof birdfeeder hitting the ground, followed by angry squabbling. He suddenly remembered what he'd forgotten to do: take the birdfeeder down for the night. "Damn those raccoons!" he grumbled as he kicked off his sheet, stumbled to the back door in his boxers, and turned on the light. "Get out of here!" he growled, opening and slamming the door to show them he meant business. "One of these days I will outsmart or shoot you!" he added. The dogs thumped their tails agreeably and looked up, wondering if it might be time for breakfast. He looked at them and immediately knew what they were thinking. "No, it's not," he grumbled, falling back onto his bed. But it was useless; he knew he wouldn't be able to fall back asleep.
He got up, pulled on his worn Levis, shuffled barefoot to the kitchen, reached for an almost-empty bag of Green Mountain coffee, and turned on the radio just in time to hear the recorded chorus of songbirds that the program's host, Robert J. Lurtsema, always played at the opening of his broadcast. Most of the time the WGBH signal wasn't strong enough to carry all the way to New Hampshire, but on rare occasions, it came in as clear as a bell. Linden smiled and wondered if his parents, perpetually early risers, were listening in their Boston home. His mother loved classical music and, to placate her, Linden had endured eight long years of piano lessons. At one time he could play everything from Beethoven's Für Elise to selections from Bach's complex Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, but, just to drive her crazy, he'd also been known to launch into a rousing rendition of the theme from Gilligan's Island or Elton John's version of "Pinball Wizard." His mother had fumed, "I knew we should have insisted on private school!" In the end, Linden had prevailed, his mother had relented, and he was allowed to give up the lessons.
Pachelbel's Canon drifted softly from the radio as he poured steaming coffee into the cream-colored mug he liked to use. The mug was adorned with a faded painting of a lighthouse on its side and was one of several items, including an old Chevy pickup, that the cabin's owner and previous resident had left behind. Linden took a sip, gazed out the window at the mist rising from the north-running Contoocook River, and, in spite of everything, felt oddly content.
Excerpted from Words Get in the Way by NAN ROSSITER Copyright © 2012 by Nan Rossiter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Nan Parson Rossiter was born in Mount Vernon, New York, on March 31, 1964. At a very young age she loved to draw and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from Northwestern Regional 7 High School in Connecticut, Nan attended the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in illustration. At RISD, Nan’s portfolio of work was greatly influenced by then-teacher Chris Van Allsburg. Graduating in 1986, Nan set out to become a freelance illustrator.
After working in the freelance field for several years, Nan Rossiter became interested in writing a story for children. In 1991 she began working on a picture book called Rugby & Rosie, inspired by an acquaintance who was raising a puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Nan Rossiter is the author-illustrator of Rugby & Rosie, an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists and winner of the 1999 Golden Sower Award, and The Way Home, one of Smithsonian magazine’s Notable Books for Children, 1999. She has also just completed her third picture book, Sugar on Snow, which will be published in fall 2002.
Nan lives in rural Connecticut with her husband, two sons, and a very special black Lab named Chloe. Chloe is an official breeding dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The Rossiters are Chloe’s foster family, and they hope that she will be the mother of many wonderful guide dogs.
When she’s not working, Nan loves spending time with her family. She enjoys hiking and nature and watching her very busy birdfeeder, where the chickadees will eat right from her hand!
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Callie Wyeth feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s a single Mother whose beautiful three-year old, non-verbal son, Henry, the gift from a relationship with a married college instructor, has been diagnosed as Autistic. This news comes on top of Callie’s decision to return and to reside in her childhood home as her widowed Father has placed himself in a Nursing Home. Moving back to her quiet hometown in New Hampshire brings back many old memories every where she turns…especially in the old ranch house where thoughts of family celebrations and the wintry night that claimed her Mother’s life are coupled with feelings of fear and shame. There had been a long absence before she came home after Henry’s birth to see her Father, bringing Henry and the truth with her, hoping her Father would not reject them. As she unpacks her belongings, her mind drifts back to the heartbreak she caused and wonders if she will see Linden Finch. What will he think? Will he be repulsed by the whole situation? Will she have enough courage to tell him the truth? Will he forgive her? Whatever the outcome, her first priority is Henry. Not only was her life changed, but also his as he did not finish college as his parents had so hoped, and he coped with his heartache by leaving everything and everyone behind and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. During his adventure, Linden found ( or they found him) two neglected/abandoned yellow labs who would soon be his loyal friends and named them “Kat” (short for Katahdin) and “Springer “, both for mountains at the beginning and end of the trail. Upon returning to civilization, he rented a small farm and adopted all varieties of unwanted or neglected animals. It was on a trip to a local hardware store that Callie and Henry bump into Linden and he and Henry remarkably bond. With Callie going back and forth to the nursing home, and asking no questions about her life, Linden offers to watch Henry, This was a Godsend, especially during a stressful time with her Father experiencing a mild stroke and is transferred to the hospital. Will Callie’s life get settled? Will she calm down and understand Henry as much as Linden does? Are Maddie Coleman and Fairbanks special angels sent here to help and guide Henry? I truly loved this book. Parts of it brought me to tears and the majority tugged at my heart most ferociously. It also taught me things about autism I had not realized. Anyone who has been touched by autism should read this book and take hope in a brighter tomorrow.What a powerful story Ms. Rossiter has woven! She has also included the first four chapters of her first novel, “The Gin and Chowder Club” to wet your reading appetite—and I am looking forward to going back and reading the entire volume, hoping it won’t be long before another comes our way. Make sure you have enough room on your shelf--you don’t want to miss this one! Nancy Narma