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CHAPTER ONE

Lang leaned on the shovel and tried to slow her breath.

She should be packing for their celebratory trip for her one-year remission, not trying to divide a wayward Lenten rose. She should get Jack to dig up the stubborn plant when he got home. But he'd been doing her biding all year, and she was tired of asking.

The spot right above her left temple itched and she snatched the brim of her white floppy hat and flung it to the ground. There was no one nearby to see her scalp, but she looked around furtively anyway, just in case. The bristle of new growth on her head had eased into something besides baldness - not quite hair, but not prickly either. She rubbed her palm over her scalp, feeling the knobs and hollows she’d never known existed when she had hair. Lang heard the mailman idle his engine and made out the boxy vehicle through the magnolia branches – she shoved the hat back on her head.

Lang pictured the love letters she'd written Jack after the cancer returned, stacked and tied with the pink grosgrain ribbon. Just when she'd made it to the five-year mark and was finally beginning to take full breaths of air again, not reading something into every single cramp and itch, it came back. This time the doctors didn't even give her 12 months.

Yet here she was, one full year later. Lang didn't want to tempt fate, but couldn't help but feel smug knowing that the letters she'd written to ease him through that first year without her were tucked away, unopened.

She knew them all by heart, their occasions labeled neatly on the envelope: Christmas. His birthday. Her death. The news.

Dear Jack,

I shouldn't feel glad at all after the news.

But I do. I'm grateful for the warning. That it wasn't sudden. That I have a chance to prepare you.

I hate to miss the next part, the one that was supposed to be so golden. Eggs Benedict late on a Tuesday morning. Napping after lunch like cats in the afternoon sun.

No regrets, except I wish I'd eaten béarnaise sauce on everything. Condensed milk, too. Not worried about the size of my hips.

I sit here, reeling from the doctor's words. Only four more seasons on earth, at best?

You have that long as well, to get used to the idea.

Love, Lang

She'd debated the line about her hips, leaving it in defiantly. He worried enough about her hips for both of them.

A scarlet cardinal skimmed across the yard and perched jauntily on the feeder, dapper and energetic. She scanned the garden for his mate, and found the drab-feathered female scuttling in the dry brown magnolia leaves, searching for food. Lang and Jack Ellis if they were birds. The long curled leaves rattled sporadically, and Lang looked at the thick twisted trunk of the tree, its branches spread out and covering the ground like a skirt.

Lang placed the shiny tip of the shovel against the thick creamy stalks of the Lenten rose, and lifted up the dense foliage with her tennis shoe. Two mourning doves startled her when they suddenly flew out from under the magnolia branches, beating their wings frantically to hoist their heavy bodies into the air.

She waited for her breath to slow, then put all her weight on the shovel, balancing carefully as the earth gave way and the metal easily slid in the damp November ground. She hadn't smelled the earth in over a year. She closed her eyes and breathed in the rich, damp scent of dirt.

She held onto the shovel for support, and tried to remember if she'd washed her nightgown as she gazed up at the house. Her great grandfather had built it before the Civil War, and it had housed both Confederate and Union troops during various points of the war. He rebuilt it after it burned a drunken brawl during the Union occupation, and although it was over 150 years old, Fancy, her grandmother, had always called it “the new house,” so she did as well.

She promised Jack she would be packed by the time he came home from tennis - he would kill her if she still had laundry to do. She tried to deepen her breath as she squinted at the siding - chipping already. Two years ago, Jack had hired Tommy, their son, to paint it the same color of pale butter her great-grandmother had chosen. Tommy-To-The-Rescue was the name of that business the two of them had started – one of many. Jack assured her they were fine, that none of them required much capital and they needed the tax write-offs. Not one of the businesses had panned out, especially Tommy's Tennis Tots, a practice net that could be set up in the drive way. She told them it made her think of Tater Tots, and they both laughed and rolled their eyes. Of course, she would think of food they said in unison. They were sued over that one – apparently Tommy stole the idea from another tennis pro. She was glad Jack managed their finances – keeping up with all the paperwork seemed overwhelming to her.

She carefully angled the shovel straight down so she wouldn't shear the roots, then rested her foot on the blade, leaning onto it heavily for a minute. She should have clipped greenery instead of digging. This was too much.

Lang pulled the shovel up from the ground and felt a snag in her belly, like the long seam holding her together might split. She lifted her shirt to see if the barely-knitted edges of skin had ripped apart.

She shouldn't have. Her belly looked like some bloated sea creature, pale and damaged, and she looked around again to make sure no one had seen.

She staggered over to the primitive wooden bench Jack had built for her garden, leaving the shovel stabbed in the ground.

CHAPTER TWO

Lang was mortified to suddenly see Hank Campbell's face looming over her, so close he probably could smell her breath.

She'd fallen asleep again. Had she been drooling? Was her mouth agape like some ancient person's in a coma? Oh my god, where was her hat?

She turned her head and checked the corners of her mouth for sludge, then ran her fingers over her fledgling hairs before offering Jack’s tennis partner a glass of iced tea. He declined. Then accepted. She walked slowly up the steps to the house, aware of the swish of her thighs. Bottom-heavy, Lang looked like a thin person until she stood up and her rear end loomed out of proportion to her torso. Her shoulders were narrow, giving her a frail appearance, and there was no meat on her chest. She wished she'd made Hank go in front of her. Or even better, stayed seated.

"Was there lightening?" she asked. "I told him not to play today. Storm warnings are everywhere, but not a drop of rain. Crazy weather." She turned around to face him, catching her breath for a moment as she leaned against the rail. “He forgot his shoes?” Jack rode his bike to the courts, routinely sending Hank by to collect things he’d forgotten: Power Ade, cell phone, racquet.

"Lang, something's happened. They took Jack in an ambulance. I came to get you," Hank said, blurting out the words.

"Is it his knee again? Was he wearing his brace? I reminded him!" she said. "You think he'd remember to wear it after the last time it dislocated." She stuck a gel-pack in the freezer, and told Hank it should be cold by the time they got back. Remains of carrots, apples and celery lay in nameless heaps in the sink, and she was embarrassed Hank saw it.

He should have told her then. Warned her, anyway. Instead he let her go on about the mess Jack made every morning with the juicer.

Hank threw the car in park squarely in front of a sign that said AMBULANCE PARKING ONLY.

"I don't think you can park here," she said.

Already out of the car, he led her by the elbow through the heavy glass doors. She looked back at his blinking hazard lights, a steady pulse of warning.

She heard the doctor say the words massive and artery and aneurysm. None of them made sense.

"I think we're parked illegally," she told the doctor when he told her Jack was dead. "We should probably move the car."

Her husband the body builder ran six miles a day and didn't eat anything that had ever breathed air.

Lang wasn't even supposed to be alive, starting last week.

"Give me the keys," she said to Hank, holding out her hand. She looked down at the dark rinds of dirt under her nails, then quickly hid her fingertips in her fists.

"Is he okay? Is Jack okay?" a woman said behind her. She turned to see A.J. Cole stylishly dressed in a tiny brown and pale blue knit tennis dress and a matching jacket. An actual diamond tennis bracelet flashed on her wrist, and her knuckles were stacked with jewels. On top of everything else, she had to deal with the grammar butcher of Barrington.

"I was on the next court. There weren’t no courts open at the club. So," A.J. said, choosing this time to explain why she was playing tennis on the public courts.

"They say he's dead," Lang said, as if it was a rumor.

"Oh no, honey, I'm so sorry," A.J. said quietly.

The doctor interrupted them, asking her to come back in the room with Jack.

"Just let me move the car," Lang said.

"Here, hon. Let me. Give me the keys. I'll move it and come right back. Be glad to," A.J. said.

Hank wrapped his fist around the car keys, and said he would move it, that A.J. should stay with her.

Why would it be better for Lang to be with a woman she barely knew, and disliked for the most part, at the most terrible moment of her life? She watched Hank, pale and shaky, back away from them as he spoke.

"Do you need a minute?" A.J. asked her.

"A minute?" Lang asked, as though all she needed was a few seconds to touch up her lipstick and powder her nose and she would be ready to see the lifeless body of the man she'd loved for nearly 42 years.

A.J. opened her purse, brown with pale blue stitching, and handed Lang a piece of peppermint gum. "Here, pop that in your mouth," she said, and snapped the purse shut.

Lang knew her breath must be atrocious.

 

The man on the table was not Jack.

The five o'clock stubble on that pale waxy face was not her husband's.

Lang turned away from his body and pictured Jack scraping his empty ice cream bowl with the large soup spoon, over and over in a deliberate circle, hoping for one last taste, his whiskers dark against his rosy face.

Lang imagined Hank was relieved that A.J. drove her home from the hospital. She stared at the glowing red orb above each intersection as A.J. began inane sentences without finishing them. Her words were slow, and twangy. Lang wondered how she found her way into Barrington; most of the residents were three generations deep.

"They say things happen for a reason, if that could be any constellation..."

Lang thought about telling her the word she wanted was consolation. But there was no consolation for Lang in that correction. She wondered if Hank's car had been towed, if she'd been rude to him.

"Do you want me to call Tommy? Is he here? In town, I mean?" A.J. asked. "I will."

She put two syllables in her last word. Weeee-uuul.

Lang imagined Tommy's reaction if A.J. Cole called to tell him his father was dead. He would surely think it was a prank call. Deeee-uuuud.

"What? What's funny?" A.J. asked, narrowing her eyes at Lang.

"Nothing. I was just thinking of something," Lang said, thinking how funny Jack would have thought her story was.

CHAPTER THREE

Jarred out of what must have been sleep, Lang lay still on her side of the bed, listening for the sound of him. Waiting for the slow, soft whoosh of his breath, the sudden intake of air. There was a thickness in the room. A certain hush, heavy, like a thick covering of unexpected snow.

She willed the stillness to be the residue of another unspeakable dream: Katie D. drowning in a shallow swimming pool, her face smiling up at her, three inches under the shimmering blue water. Jack clinging to her shoulders as they plummeted through the sky to their certain deaths. Lang herself having sex against the sacristy wall with the new priest, reassuring him she did this with all the clergy.

After every one of these terrible dreams, Lang would lie stunned, her breath unable to keep up with her clattering heart. She would ease out of bed and feel her way to the bathroom in the dark to change out of her sweat-soaked nightgown. She fumbled for the edge of the antique pie safe to get her bearing, then felt for the round spools on the four-poster bed, and finally the nubby coverlet across the foot, careful not to wake Jack. Overcome with relief and gratitude that her granddaughter was safe, her husband was asleep next to her, and her world was intact, she would ease silently back into bed, away from the dampness on her sheet, and listen to the irregular rasp of her husband's breath.

Now, she stared at the panes of glass on the picture window as the pale band of morning eased up into the gray sky. She strained to hear her husband sleeping behind her.

She reached her hand over to Jack's still-made side of the bed, and spread her fingers over the brown and cream toile pillow sham sitting formally over his memory foam pillow.

Lang finally pulled the bedspread up over her side of the bed and walked into her kitchen. A.J. Cole sat at her kitchen table, drinking coffee out of the old mug that was covered in thin lines and curves that, upon inspection, were actually cows engaging in different variations of coitus. Tommy had given them to her when he was in college, however briefly, and they'd turned out to be extremely durable. She wondered if A.J. Cole was aware of the unorthodox bovine positions in her hands.

"I stayed over," A.J. said. "You don't need to be alone for now. You want sweetener in your coffee? What all?"

"Black, I guess," Lang said, suddenly as unsure of that as she was everything else. The planet seemed unfamiliar.

"Listen, I finally got Tommy, and he's on the way. Or I got Sarah, actually. I just called her at the tennis center. Are they married? Sorry. Not neither here nor there," A.J. said, waving her hand as if dismissing the idea. "Anyways, I'll stay until he gets here."

If she had been able to articulate, Lang would have told her to go home. To leave. But she couldn't arrange the words to both thank A.J. politely, and release her from her self-imposed duty.

"Th-thh-thh," Lang stuttered. She stopped speaking, unwilling to focus on forming the word.

"Should I put the phone back on?" A.J. asked. Her expression had changed from pity to curiosity.

Unresponsive, Lang sat down at the table. It had been so long since she had stuttered she'd almost forgotten the exercises. She pressed her tongue hard against the roof of her mouth but didn't try to speak.

She wondered if Sarah and Tommy were ever going to get married. The so called engagement was going on six years now, and she gathered it was more off than on. She never knew why Sarah had changed her mind about the marriage in the first place, and why Tommy didn't put his foot down and insist upon it.

"You want you a English muffin?" A.J. asked. Lang took one off the plate and looked at the round, spongy bread. "They've been sitting out all morning. Prob-leee reeaaall crunchy. Here, let me toast a fresh one."

"I know everything I need to do. I wrote it all down for Jack last winter," Lang began slowly, relieved the words flowed unhindered from her mouth. "Back when the doctors said I had less than six months. A year at best. We were both prepared for death. Just not his. God, he wasn't ready at all. He didn't even have a minute to collect himself." Lang put the muffin back and walked to the kitchen sink. She felt the old pine boards give slightly as A.J. eased over beside her.

"Is there anything special you need me to do?" A.J. asked. "Can I call anyone? Emmeline Harrison? Or anyone else from the board? I know they'd want to know. I think we'll need more coffee, and I'm putting the phone back on the hook. I'll get it," A.J. said quickly, looking at Lang.

"Y-y-y-you don't need to," Lang said as the phone rang.

"Oh, Emmeline, yes. I know, it's terrible," A.J. said into the receiver. She mouthed the words It's her and arched her eyebrows.

"Very sudden. Oh, that would be so lovely," A.J. said, obviously pandering to the president of the Barrington Women's Club. She raised her index finger to indicate she'd be with Lang in a minute and turned her back to her. "Of course, anything would be appreciated, but please don't trouble yourself. You are so kind to think of her. No, Cole. C-O-L-E. Wife of Dr. Cole over on Summertown Road. On the brow side. Yes, of course. I will."

A.J.’s tone of voice had changed completely and will had only one crisp syllable.

"That was Emmeline. She's bringing a tomato pie. Oh, lord, I bet I look a mess,” she said, looking at her reflection in the glass-front cabinet and fluffing her hair.

“There’s a bathroom down the hall,” Lang said as A.J. brushed past her. “I’ll be in the shower,” she said out loud, to no one.

Suddenly the front door flew open, and Lang's granddaughter, Katie D., came barreling toward her, clutching the dingy blue bunny in the crook of her elbow. She wrapped her arms around Lang's knees, and Lang buried her face in the child's hair, breathing her in. Baby powder. Play-Doh. Nutmeg.

"Alligator food" Katie D. whispered in her ear.

"Alligator food, too," Lang said to her. Without sound, the shape of these words and I love you look exactly the same on the lips, and it was their private message.

"Great's gone?" Katie D. asked.

"H-H-H-He loved you so much," Lang said.

Sarah stood in the doorway, watching them. She was tall. Willowy in a literal way. She wrapped her arms around herself, and leaned to one side, like a tree being blown by the wind. Her blonde hair seemed to float around her shoulders, light and weightless.

"Come on in, honey," A.J. said to Sarah, Katie D.'s mother. Lang looked at Sarah, but said nothing. She didn't have it in her to coax Sarah the way she usually did. It was all she could do to remain upright and hold on to her grandchild.

CHAPTER FOUR

What do you wear the day after your husband dies, Lang wondered, damp from the shower. She put on her old sweat pants and Jack's practically-disintegrated Auburn sweatshirt because they were so soft. She wanted to feel something easy on her skin. She pressed the frayed ribbed collar to her nose and breathed in the sharp smell of after-shave and bacon grease. Jack's smell.

Tommy sat hunched over the kitchen counter with Sarah and Katie D. on either side of him. Sarah leaned into him, and her pale hair spread out over the back of his brown sweater, clinging with static electricity. Lang watched the three of them for a moment from the doorway. She could hear murmurs of their sentences: Katie D.'s singsong voice and Tommy's hoarse rumble, apologizing for something. And Sarah speaking so tenderly her voice didn't sound human.

Lang closed her eyes, holding onto the door jamb for balance, and felt Sarah's words like they were something physical, covering her softly. Gently.

"Mom!" Tommy said, scraping the chair away from the counter. She jerked to attention.

He looked like he hadn't slept in days; the collar of his button-down shirt was uncharacteristically wrinkled and his azure blue eyes were flat.

"Oh! I didn't hear you!" A.J. said, appearing suddenly from the hall bathroom. She looked Lang up and down, grimacing. "You still got that rubber band around your wrist.” Lang pulled the frayed cuff down to her knuckles, holding the soft fabric in her fists.

A.J. looked like a different person except for her crumpled tennis clothes. Her hair was styled and her eyes were bright and her skin looked dewy. She looked like she'd found a day spa in the hall bathroom. Lang sniffed the air, detecting vanilla and deodorant.

"I smell something," Katie D. said.

"Halston," A.J. said, flapping her hands in circles about her neck in an effort to spread the heavy perfume around the room. Katie D. crinkled up her nose.

Lang ran her fingers under her own eyes, trying to remember the last time she'd looked in a mirror. She should have put on some make-up after her shower. Concealer under her eyes, at least. She reached her hands out toward her son, then curled them into useless fists as she shook her head slowly.

Tommy wrapped his arms around her and she felt her boy sink into her, collapsing for a second. His breath caught and his chest shuddered against her shoulder.

"Shhhhhhh," she said. "Don't cry." She felt him stiffen before he stepped away.

"How you holding up?" Tommy asked brusquely. "Who would have thought, huh? Sorry, bad joke. Dad would have laughed, though."

Lang squeezed the edges of her mouth up into a semblance of a smile. No one would have ever thought Jack would be dead instead of her. Hilarious.

"I'm going to head out," A.J. said, "I was going to wait around for Emmeline Harrison so I could officially introduce myself, but will you tell her I was here?"

"What?" Lang asked.

"No, you can't be bothered right now, I know, but I know your club, The Club, is taking new members after that Mrs. Vandergriff died last year. And somebody else. So."

"Oh," Lang said, realizing A.J. was auditioning for a spot in the historic club. She would never get in; it would be easier to reinstate Mrs. Vandergriff’s dead body than this backwoods doctor's wife.

"Anyways, my cell number is on the counter if you need anything. I laid out an outfit for you. On the bed."

Lang felt relief that A.J. Cole would finally take her leave. And take whatever hideous perfume she wore with her.

She'd never understood the intimacies of unrelated people acting like family. She didn't really know A.J. well, although they'd played tennis together every Monday for over thirty years. It was clear that the rest of their foursome, A.J., Camilla and Peggy, were "close." That term perplexed Lang. How did unrelated people become so familiar with each other? Walking right in each other's houses without knocking, knowing exactly where the spices were kept, or the spoons. So intimate.

They always asked Lang to join them for a club salad after tennis, but she rarely accepted. If it weren't for her love of tennis, she wouldn't socialize with anyone. Not that her foursome was ideal. A.J. Cole cheated. She called the ball out if it was anywhere close to the line, but worse than that she acted like an expert on everything from plastic surgery to raising children. Actually, she was an expert on plastic surgery; she was probably in the Guinness Book of World Records for most elective operations. But her son lived somewhere in Europe, and Lang gathered they were estranged. So she should keep her child-rearing advice to herself. Lang snapped the rubber band around her wrist for being judgmental; she was trying to be less so.

Anyway, it was a moot point now. She quit the game last fall, preferring to spend her remaining time with Jack and Katie D., and her garden.

"Wait!" Tommy said to A.J. "Are you coming back?"

"Well, I can. Sure. I'm glad to. So," A.J. said. She said kin for can.

"No, you've done enough. Thank you," Lang said, forcing cordiality into her words.

"It's just that people are going to be coming over here, and I don't have any idea how this works. I don't even know where to start," Tommy said, plastering his dazzling smile on his face and not bothering to lower his voice.

"Well, Emmeline is on her way and I know you don't want her to see your house like this. Not that you don't have a good excuse. Not that it's an excuse," A.J. said.

A.J, and Tommy looked around the little house, and Lang followed their glances.

The dining room table looked beautiful, heaped with glossy aubergine eggplants and creamy white pumpkins and all manner of colorful peppers and unusual squash. Extravagantly set for Thanksgiving dinner, the table looked like a magazine cover (if she said so herself).

"The centerpiece don't look that bad, all things considered," A.J. said. "It's just vegetables and stuff. Not real flowers, but do you know how many phytochemicals are on that table? Just one of them carrots has a gazillion. You'd think being on the board you'd of used something more fancy, but I like it. So."

Tommy focused on the living room. Haphazard stacks of books stood everywhere, and several strays lay opened and plopped page-down on various side tables and chairs. Katie D. walked over to the table and picked up Jack's place card. The letters "GREAT" were scrawled over the construction paper in uneven capital letters.

"I'll keep it for him," Katie D. whispered as she stuck the card in her pocket, apparently aware of the forces at work in the dining room.

"Books don't bother me. They make you look smart. Plus I love to see what other people are reading," A.J. said, turning her head so she could read the spine of “Atlas Shrugged.

"Jack is reading that," Lang whispered, but only Katie D. heard her.

"Tell you what. What we'll do is go get Cokes and ice and more coffee for now. And we'll find all the serving pieces, so don't worry about it. We need to sweep the front steps and sidewalk right now, though. Before anyone from women's club comes," A.J. said to Sarah, thrusting a broom toward her.

Lang had almost forgotten Sarah was there. She seemed to appear out of nowhere, conveniently for A.J.

"I'll go," Sarah said.

"That'll be better, in case Mrs. Harrison comes by. Emmeline, rather. She hasn't called, has she?"

"Check the answering machine. All those old bluebloods sound alike to me," Tommy said. "Nobody pronounces their 'R's."

By the time Sarah returned with four 12-packs of Cokes and two gallons of iced tea, A.J. Cole had laid a fire in the fireplace, picked up sticks out of the front yard, taken out the garbage, and swept the rock steps leading from the front yard down to the road. She proceeded to organize the silver platters with scraps of paper that said things like Vegs and Shrimps, still in her tennis clothes from yesterday. Lang was exhausted just watching her.

A.J. Cole organized a social gala at her house, while Sarah looked around furtively for an exit. You'd think they'd balance each other out, that between the two of them they'd be one average helper. But they each made Lang equally uncomfortable.

Even though there was no official visitation, people began to trundle up her sidewalk the day after Jack died, bringing refrigerated salads and casseroles and pound cakes.

Tommy's old tennis coach, Katie D.'s kindergarten teacher, Mary from the church (Lang couldn't think of her last name), and Mrs. Eubanks from down the street, were the first to arrive.

She remembered these first people clearly. The coach held her hands, his face winced up tight. Mary told her if there was anything, anything she could do, while Lang desperately tried to think of her last name. Mrs. Eubanks stood askew in the dining room, watching her quietly.

For two days, the well-intentioned kept coming and coming. Lang vacillated between making mundane conversation about the generalities of unexpected death and the division of hosta, and feeling like she was free-falling down some bottomless black Alice-in-Wonderland vortex. It was hard to be gracious.

Lang slipped into the laundry room to be still for a moment. She leaned against the dryer, smelling Clorox and mildewed kitchen rags, and concentrated on getting oxygen into her lungs, then back out again. She tilted her head back and looked at the dusty jars stacked pyramid-style on top of the cabinets. Mason jars. Jelly jars. Old milk bottles. There must be hundreds of them. Her grandmother's collection of old lanterns hung above them on nails, and as far as she knew, they'd done nothing but gather dust for decades. Jack had hounded her to get rid of them – he’d wanted the space for his sports equipment. It occurred to her she should clean them out now, and she snorted at the irony.

She heard Tommy and Hank right outside the door, one of them rattling ice cubes in an empty plastic cup.

“You tell me. You’re the lawyer and the banker – what are her options?” Tommy asked.

"It was already late," Hank said. "He missed the one before, and I covered for him, but it's out of my hands now. I could lose my job."

"She'll have to sell. How long before the bank takes it? Let me have a couple of days, and I'll get back to you," Tommy said

Lang wondered what new mess Tommy was in, and what Sarah could possibly have to sell.

"Excuse me, Tommy. I can't find your mother nowhere. Her mother is here," A.J. said. "Your grandmother, actually. So."

"Tommy! You are so handsome! You put Paul Newman to shame!" Lillian crooned. “I’ll tell you right now, you boys are going to have to speak up.”

Lang clenched her teeth at the sound of her mother's voice. It hadn't occurred to her to track her down and relay the bad news.

"Oh, well, what can I say," Tommy said. Lang pictured the practiced smile on her son's face.

"I'm Lillian. Elizabeth's mother. Is that a cohiba?"

"Who?" Tommy asked.

"It is," Hank said. "Sorry. A cigar is certainly not appropriate. I forgot I had it."

"That is my favorite," Lillian said. "Of all the cigars, the Cohiba Robusto Cameroon is the best."

"Oh. Please, take it. I insist," Hank said.

Lang knew Lillian wouldn't protest. Of course, smoking cigars at Jack’s wake would be a perfect way for her to get even more attention.

"Is it going to be a good-sized funeral?" Lillian asked. "It should be with his age. People come in droves for everybody under 60. Depending on weather. Weather changes everything."

"I'm sure there will be plenty of people," A.J. said. "You need to smoke that outside. Lang was president of the club for two shifts. Everybody who is anybody will turn out."

"Terms. Two terms. Her grandmother founded the presumptuous thing, so of course she was," Lillian said. "And it's not the only club in town."

"The Katherine Barrington Women's Club?" A.J. said. "That's Lang's grandmother?"

"Katherine Langford Barrington Deakins to be exact. You'd think she founded the entire country, not just Barrington," her mother said.

"That club is all over the country!"

Lang strained to hear them, wondering if they'd tiptoed away from the door. "I take it you're not in it?' Lillian finally said.

"Why? How do you know I'm not in it?

"I can just tell. I was never asked either," Lillian said. "But that's neither here nor there. At least not anymore. Now, I'm going to need some face soap. And fresh towels."

I put hand towels out in the powder room already. So," A.J. said.

"I can't dry myself off with a hand towel!" Lillian said snapped. "Bring them to my bathroom, please." Her mother hadn't changed. She obviously still considered herself the center of the universe.

"She thinks I look like Paul Newman?" Tommy asked Hank after Lillian and A.J. left. "Isn't he like, dead?"

"Are you kidding? Are you just completely clueless about everything?" Hank said. "Sorry. I'm wrapped pretty tight about this loan."

Lang stayed in the laundry room until all she could hear was distant tinkling of silver on china, and the indistinct sound of chatter in the living room. No one noticed her open the laundry room door, and slip into her room.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A former columnist for the Chattanooga Free Press, Ferris Robinson is the editor of the Lookout Mountain Mirror and the Signal Mountain Mirror. The author of "Dogs and Love" and "The Gorgeless Gourmet's Cookbook," she was featured on the cover of Women's World magazine for her healthy recipes. Her work has been published numerous times in the Christian Science Monitor and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She is a columnist at chattanoogan.com, and lives near Chattanooga, Tenn.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I think that family is not necessarily determined by blood, and that the ability to forgive can truly make or break a relationship. The emotional connections we all have with other people can be fragile, and forgiveness plays an important part in keeping those connections viable.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
My website is www.ferrisrobinson.com
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Diane Keaton and William H. Macy

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