Authors: Georgia Bockoven
For Josi—thanks for hanging in there with me
Thanks, Marcia. You came through for me yet again. I knew nothing about horses before I created a character who loved them. My confidence to plunge ahead came from knowing I had a world-class equestrian to go to with questions. And as always, you came through with the answers. If something slipped through, it’s entirely my fault.
A second thank-you really needs to be added to the above—this one for being the world’s best veterinarian and taking care of my literary companions with dedication and loving skill, even the one who showed no appreciation at all and had everyone at the clinic terrified to come near her.
A loving thank you goes to John, Sidney, and Cassidy for guiding me through teen waters. You’re the best research assistants ever!
Finally, there’s Samantha Spurlock, an extraordinary young woman who is an example of everything good and caring in her generation. You give me hope.
The Beginning of May
A truly good face-lift is never obvious, whether performed on a sixty-year-old woman or a hundred-year-old home. The thought followed Julia Lawson from room to room as she made one more pass through her beloved beach house before heading to the airport to fly home to Eric and the kids.
She’d put off the work that needed to be done for too long, telling herself she was afraid of losing the charm that accompanied the decay, but in quiet moments of honesty she acknowledged that she was mostly terrified of losing the fragile memories of inconsequential moments with Ken and Joe and Maggie that, for her, were as much a part of the beach house as the tradition of summer renters.
Her heart still ached a little when she looked back. The burgundy-and-green sofa that now resided in the living room was beautiful and cushiony and inviting. But it wasn’t the one where she had curled into the arms of her beloved first husband, Ken, and talked about the future while they watched flames dance in the fireplace. They’d never suspected or entertained the thought that dreams can be as fragile and vulnerable as sand castles built too close to the shore.
Year after year, through the emotional turmoil of learning to live without Ken and then finding her second soul mate, Eric, she had found ways to ignore the threadbare material. She’d even managed to cope with the holes that appeared in the armrests until the day the painful truth came tumbling out of the mouth of four-year-old Cassidy, the daughter she’d had with Eric: “Mom, this thing stinks.”
The kitchen table where she had shared a hundred cups of coffee with Joe and Maggie had a loose leg that no amount of glue could coax back into a sturdy upright position. The sliding-glass door required muscle to get it to move, and the windows had an insulating factor somewhere between Shoji screens and gauze. The carpets were threadbare from decades of sand wearing away the fiber, and the walnut wall-to-wall bookshelves that Joe had made for his beloved Maggie when they owned the beach house were bleached and dried from the sun.
Still, even after Julia had finally decided she would not sell, she’d done nothing but the most necessary repairs, each year promising herself that next year she would get started. But then she temporarily gave up thinking about renovating when, almost twelve months to the day after she and Eric were married, she was pregnant. A year and a half later, surrounded by carpet samples and paint chips, she felt a familiar wave of nausea and realized she was pregnant again.
Always at the back of her mind was the knowledge that without a faucet so old it had come off in her hand she might not have met Eric, the extraordinary second love of her life. She wouldn’t be the mother of two stepchildren and two preschoolers had she updated the house after Ken died. Would she be tempting destiny by making so many changes all at once?
Finally, after the birth of their second daughter, and with gentle nudging from Eric, she’d tried working with contractors, flying out from Maryland for periodic meetings, then going home more frustrated than when she’d left. Even the ones who had gained their reputations by restoring and maintaining the quaint multimillion-dollar cottages in Carmel failed to understand her attachment to decades-old shutters that hung slightly off plumb and brick walkways with cracks and chips outlined with bright green moss.
Understanding her almost paranoid reluctance to move forward, Andrew, her next-door neighbor, and one of Ken’s best friends, had stepped in and volunteered to oversee the restoration. Julia trusted him the way she’d once trusted Ken and the way she trusted Eric now. With his intimate connection to the house, he understood why it was so hard for her to make even the most rudimentary improvements. More importantly, he understood why it was necessary for her to be able to return after the work was completed and walk through the door feeling as if she’d come home.
And she had.
Fresh paint inside and out, and new rugs over the refinished hardwood floors were in keeping with the character of a house that had been built over a hundred years ago. Then vacationers had arrived via horse and buggy, an almost inconceivable contrast to the hybrid car that sat in the driveway now.
She’d involved Eric and the kids by giving them the job of picking out the material for the curtains and bedspreads in the bedrooms. Fitting their personalities, the fabrics were busy and brightly colored and not something Julia ever would have chosen. They would take some getting used to, but that feeling would come. It wasn’t that the now colorful rooms weren’t attractive, they were just different. So different she could no longer imagine Ken or Joe or Maggie living in them.
The craftsman quality of the refinished walnut bookshelves in the living room had given her pause when she first arrived. It wasn’t that they looked new, it was that even through all the polish they were as familiar as the sound and feel of the ocean outside the new triple-paned windows. For just that moment she had wondered if she’d actually been looking for a way to escape the memories that tied her to the beach house.
And then she had gone into the kitchen, where she had felt an instant, almost overwhelming sense of emotional betrayal. How had she ever convinced herself that granite and stainless steel could or should replace subway tile and you-can-have-any-color-you-want-as-long-as-it’s-white appliances? What had she been thinking?
The kitchen had gone from an old sweater you loved but changed out of when company was coming to a designer blazer. What would Joe and Maggie think? And Ken? He’d loved everything about the house just the way it was.
Or had he? Was he reluctant to make changes because he was afraid of offending Joe and Maggie? No matter how long he’d owned the house, he always thought of it as truly belonging to them. But he’d died unexpectedly—a man who’d never even had the flu—and left the caring about such things to her without telling her what she was supposed to care about the most.
And then, less than a year later, Joe and Maggie died, taking the dreams and hopes and desires of their lives with them. Reeling from her loss, Julia discovered that grief is a color—white. It is the gathering of other colors and combining them until the joy of yellow, the passion of red, and the calm of blue disappear. She was left with nothing but the daily effort to go on.
When Eric fixed her broken faucet and over the summer became a part of her life, he not only restored the primary colors but reopened her world to violet and orange and green. Gradually, carefully, she moved out of the shadow of white and back into sunflowers and grass and ocean waves. When their daughter was born two years later and they were alone for several minutes in her hospital room while they waited for the attendant to bring a wheelchair to take her to the car, a sliver of sunlight escaped the curtain and bounced off her wedding ring, spraying the opposite wall with miniature rainbows. Julia had never believed in signs or portents—until that moment. A tear slid down her cheek and landed on her baby’s blanket. Whatever sorrow had lingered in the depths of her heart was gone, replaced by the understanding that she was exactly where she should be and with the people she should be with.
Julia did a final sweep of the house, taking pictures with her iPhone that she would send to Eric and the girls while she waited at the airport for her flight home. As she tried to angle herself for the best shot of the master bedroom, she stopped to pay attention to the wash of afternoon light coming through the window. This was the room she had lived in with Ken, the room where Joe and then Maggie had died, and the room that she and Eric used now whenever they came west during the winter. She put her hand out and turned the diamond on her wedding ring to catch the sunlight. The room danced with color.
There should have been ghosts, but all she saw were rainbows. The house had accommodated change the same way she had . . . aware of the memories and love behind them, but unwilling to miss one moment of the journey ahead.
But she still didn’t like the kitchen.
The End of May
Andrew Wells tried the front door to the beach house and, as he’d hoped, found it unlocked. He should have started looking for Grace here instead of at her usual beach and forest haunts. He took off his shoes and stepped into the foyer. “Grace?”
“In the kitchen,” she called. “I’m going over the counters one more time before the Kirkpatricks arrive.”
Julia had dropped the professional housekeeping service she normally used and hired her cash-strapped, eager-to-earn-money-for-college next-door neighbor, Grace—the adopted daughter of Andrew and his wife Cheryl—for the summer.
Not only was Grace supposed to take care of the house before and after the renters arrived, she was their contact person while they were there. It was her job to make sure the renters had whatever they needed and to handle any problems that might come up. She took this responsibility seriously, preparing for any eventuality as diligently and thoroughly as a mother otter grooming her pup, making lists of everything from an automobile repair shop to twenty-four-hour doc-in-a-box clinics.