had been toying with the idea of relocating to Ormond Beach since I'd visited my friend Chloe last summer. But I didn't think it would take a fire in my house to force the moveâa fire caused by my smoldering cigarette. To take up the habit of smoking at age forty-five had been stupid at best and dangerous at worst: it had caused the near destruction of my home.
I rolled over in bed and saw sunshine streaming through the windows as the aroma of Petra's coffee drifted into the bedroom. Petra. The meaning of her name was
and she had been my rock since we'd become best friends at age five on the first day of kindergarten. Through the joys of childhood, the emotions of teen years, and the reality of adulthood. For forty years she had been there for me through good and bad, and once again she had extended her friendship by insisting that Haley and I spend some time at her home in Jacksonville before driving down to Ormond Beach.
I let out a yawn and glanced at the bedside clock to see that it was going on seven. After the five-hour drive from Atlanta the day before, Haley and I had arrived at Petra's home in late afternoon. By nine I was ready for bed and now realized I'd slept straight through the night.
After hitting the bathroom, I wandered out to the kitchen to find it empty, but I noticed a note on the counter near the coffeemaker.
Gone to take Lotte for her walk. Help yourself to coffee
Be back soon
, it read.
I glanced around the designer kitchen and smiled. Petra had done very well for herself. Never married, no children, she had a top job with a software company and she never failed to admit that the bonus of her job was being able to work from her home. She'd had men in her life over the years but never any serious enough to consider marriage. Unlike me, who only ever wanted a husband and family, Petra was content lavishing all of her love on various dogs she'd had over the years; Lotte was the current recipient of that love.
I poured myself a mug of the strong coffee and headed out to the pool area. It was a beautiful late January morning and I was grateful to be spending some time with Petra. Just as I sat down, my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID to see that it was my mother calling. Again. I let it go to voice mail and let out a sigh. Our mother-daughter relationship had been going downhill ever since I was thirteen, and by the time I was fifteen and she left my father and me, it was pretty much nonexistent. When my dad passed away two years ago, my mother began a continuous effort to renew that relationshipâto no avail.
“We're back,” I heard Petra call from the kitchen.
“Out here,” I called back.
Lotte scampered over to me and I laughed when I saw she was dressed in a pink-and-white outfit and wearing a pink sun visor. She was an adorable Yorkie, but I did think Petra went a bit overboard on the pampering.
Petra joined me with a mug of coffee. Placing it on the table, she scooped up Lotte before sitting down. “Sleep okay?”
“Yeah, I sure did. All night. Which hasn't happened in a while.”
“Good. Well, I'm sure you were tired from your drive, and polishing off almost a bottle of wine probably helped.”
Was that a tinge of reproach I heard in her tone?
“Haley still sleeping?” she asked.
“Yup. We might not see her till noon.”
“Hey, she's a teenager. We did the same thing at her age.”
“Do you ever wonder where all the years went?” I let out a deep sigh as I rested my head on the back of the chair, letting the sun warm my face.
“Not really.” Petra took a sip of coffee. “I won't lie. They do seem to be going faster. And when I think back to our days at Penn State, it seems like ages ago, but we've both done a lot of living since then. You got married, had Haley . . .”
“Right,” I interrupted. “That's about all I did. While you traveled the world, relocated here, bought this gorgeous home, and built a good career for yourself.”
“True,” she said, nodding her head. “But like I've always said, we all make our choices.”
Petra was a no-nonsense type person.
“You've had a rough two years, Isabelle. Your father passed away, Roger left you, and you still haven't made an effort with your mom. Don't be so hard on yourself. You're taking the first step to a new start by moving to Ormond Beach. Who knows what's ahead for you?”
I knew she was right and I also knew I was feeling sorry for myself. Losing my father suddenly to a heart attack had rocked my world. When my mother left thirty years ago and my parents were divorced, my father and I became even closer, making the loss of him more difficult. And a few months later, when Roger informed me that he no longer loved me and was leaving me for somebody else, I felt like my life was being ripped away from me. Roger wasn't the most passionate of men, but I thought the love we shared was mutual and would continue. I came to understand how wrong I was. Looking back, I now realized that if not for Petra and Chloe, I wasn't sure I would have walked through that dark time to the other side.
“You're right,” I told her, making an attempt at being optimistic. “And I'm very grateful to Chloe for insisting that Haley and I come to Koi House. There she is in the middle of planning her wedding to Henry, running the new yarn shop in town and everything else she does, and yet she finds the time to worry about me.” I sniffed as I felt moisture stinging my eyes.
Petra reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. “You're worth worrying about, Isabelle Wainwright, and don't you ever think different. And besides, I think Chloe and her friends are just as grateful that you'll be there. Chloe was thrilled that you agreed to look after Mavis Anne while her brother is in Italy. And how about that delivery service her niece wants to set up? I'm sure she's very happy that you'll be doing that for her.”
I smiled. Once again Petra was right and had cheered me up. Mavis Anne Overby was the owner of Koi House, where Chloe lived and where Haley and I would be staying until we found our own home. She was also part owner with Chloe of the yarn shop, Dreamweavers. Mavis's niece Yarrow owned the tea shop where Dreamweavers was located and had been wanting to set up a morning delivery service for offices and merchants who wanted coffee and baked goods to start their workday. Yarrow was unable to leave the shop during this busy time and therefore needed somebody willing to work part-time making the deliveries. And Mavis Anne would have had to resort to hiring a stranger to look after her while her brother, David, and his partner, Clive, were on holiday.
“Yeah, maybe you're right.”
Petra's smile matched mine. “Of course I'm right. It's obvious that they love you, and Haley and I know they're very happy that you're going to be staying with them for a while. Come on,” she said, getting up. “Time for a coffee refill and then I'll make breakfast for us.”
* * *
“You still make the best French toast in town,” I told her as I took the final sip of my coffee. I looked up to see my fourteen-year-old daughter walk into the kitchen. Haley was tall and slim now, proof of how quickly the years had passed. Not for the first time I wished we could recapture the closeness we had shared a few years ago. But, like me, she'd had to endure losses in her life as well as being a victim of bullying the previous school year. My hope was that our relocation to Ormond Beach would enable the sulky, unhappy teen to morph into the well-adjusted daughter I'd once had.
“Good morning, sunshine,” I said.
“Hmm,” was the response I got.
“How about a batch of French toast?” Petra asked her.
“No. But thanks. Just some juice, please. And I'm going for a run.”
“Juice it is,” Petra told her.
I knew I sounded like the nagging mom, but I couldn't refrain from saying, “Maybe you should have something to eat before you exercise?”
Haley shook her head. “No, Mom. It's not good to eat first. I'll have something when I come back.”
She gulped down the juice, scooped Lotte up for a hug, and headed toward the front door. “I'll be back in about an hour,” she hollered over her shoulder.
I let out a sigh and shrugged. “I don't know which is worseâher being overweight or being borderline fanatic with her food and exercise.”
I recalled the year before and the misery that Haley had endured after she'd packed on too many pounds. It had been Chloe who had somehow gotten Haley on a healthy eating plan and walking routine. When we returned home two weeks later, I thought perhaps Haley would resume her old ways of eating and lack of exercise, but I was wrong. Instead, she asked to join the local gym and pretty much existed on salad and protein. Now I was concerned that maybe she was going too much in the opposite direction.
“Oh, God, you don't think she's anorexic, do you? I did notice last evening at dinner that she seemed to move more food around her plate than she put in her mouth.”
“I honestly don't know, but I plan to keep an eye on it.” Just then my cell phone went off on the table beside me. Once again the caller ID read
. My mother.
“Why the hell does she keep calling me?” Annoyance tinged my voice.
“Your mother?” Petra questioned.
“Geez, Isabelle. I think she's just concerned about you and Haley. She knows about the fire and she knows you're moving to Ormond Beach. She probably just wants to know if you got here okay.”
“What? How did she even know we were coming here? You've been talking to her, haven't you?”
Petra raised a palm in the air. “Hey, don't get me involved in this. You know damn well your mother has always been like an aunt to me. You have your differences with her. I don't.”
A sense of betrayal shot through me. “Yeah, well, it wasn't
she left to take off to Oregon with a lover when you were fifteen,” I retorted as I headed to the bedroom.