Authors: Nan Rossiter
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Family Life
More Than You Know
Words Get in the Way
The Gin & Chowder Club
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Asa Coleman—age 73, father of Noah and Micah
Maddie Coleman—age 72, wife of Asa, stepmother of Noah, mother of Micah
Laney Coleman—age 52, wife of Noah, mother of Elijah, Gabe, Ben, Seth, and Asher
Noah Coleman—age 53, husband of Laney, father of Elijah, Gabe, Ben, Seth, and Asher
Elijah Coleman (E)—age 21, son of Laney and Noah
Gabe Coleman—age 19, son of Laney and Noah
Ben Coleman—age 16, son of Laney and Noah
Seth Coleman—age 14, son of Laney and Noah
Asher Coleman—age 7, son of Laney and Noah
Micah Coleman—age 45, half-brother of Noah, son of Asa and Maddie
Charlotte Coleman—age 6, daughter of Micah and his first wife, Beth
Beryl Graham—age 46, Micah’s fiancée
Isak—Beryl’s oldest sister
Rumer—Beryl’s middle sister
Lonnie and Leighton Pacey—Laney’s parents
Lyle, Maren, Levi, and Laurie Pacey—Laney’s brother and his family
Uncle Luke and Aunt Jo—Laney’s uncle and aunt
Amen (Mennie)—the Colemans’ old black Lab
Hallelujah (Halle)—the Colemans’ yellow Lab pup
Harper—Asa and Maddie’s young black Lab
aney Coleman stood at the kitchen window, cradling a steaming cup of black coffee in her hands. She tucked the novel she was reading under her arm and started toward the screen door, but stopped and softly called, “Mennie.” The black Lab curled up on the fleecy dog bed in the corner opened one eye, and Laney raised her eyebrows. “Ah-ha! I knew you could still hear. You’ve just been messing with us.” She shook her head. “I’m going out on the porch if you want to come.” Mennie closed his eye, and she shrugged. “Up to you, old pie. . . . I’ll leave the door open.”
Laney loved Saturday mornings. She loved looking in the boys’ rooms and seeing them all sound asleep and safe; she loved that the old Cape Cod house—usually spilling over with chaos and mayhem—was quiet and sleepy; she loved being able to go for a long run and not worry about being back; and she loved going out on the porch to read—whether it was the latest novel by one of her favorite authors, her Bible, or a copy of one of the many magazines she subscribed to, but for which she never had time. She also loved the pancakes Noah always made—warm, buttery, and drizzled with sweet maple syrup. Every other day of the week she scrambled to find the snooze button, but on Saturday mornings she was awake before the alarm was even set to go off.
The porch was bathed in early morning sunlight, and she curled up in her favorite wicker chair—the one with the faded cushion that sorely needed mending—breathed in the fresh ocean air, and took her first sip of coffee—coffee so strong Noah called it Fog Buster. She started to open her book but heard a half-snort half-sigh and looked up to see Mennie standing in the doorway, considering her invitation. “C’mon over here, you big lummox,” she said softly, and the old Lab stepped gingerly down the one step onto the porch and moseyed over to rest his head on her lap, his whole hind end wagging. “Hi, there, honeypot,” she whispered, kissing his noble brow and rubbing his ears just the way he liked it, making him rumble with pleasure. His brown eyes—cloudy with age—gazed at her with deep, unconditional love. “You’re
a good boy,” she said softly, and he leaned against her and slurped his tongue up her cheek. “I love you too, you big mush.”
Content that his truest love still loved him, the old dog curled up in the sunny spot at her feet, and Laney tucked her toes under him and rubbed his warm fur. She looked down at his white muzzle and tried not to think about how old he was—he’d already surpassed the average life expectancy for a Lab, and lately she found herself worrying that a very sad day was drawing much too near.
Wistfully, she thought about the first day Noah brought him home. The rambunctious little fellow had scampered through the house with a tennis ball in his mouth that was as big as his head, and the boys—who’d been begging, begging, begging for a puppy—had been over the moon. Elijah must’ve been nine at the time, which would’ve made Gabe seven, Ben four, Seth two . . . and Asher not even a twinkle. And, oh, how Elijah and Gabe had argued over his name. Elijah—a staunch Red Sox fan—had insisted on Clemens, and Gabe—who she suspected was only a Yankees fan to annoy his brother—had pressed hard for Mattingly. Personally, she’d thought Clem would be cute, but neither boy would budge. So to resolve the problem, her minister husband had held the puppy up in front of his congregation on Sunday morning and had asked that if anyone had a name suggestion, to please jot it down and put it in the offering plate. To the boys’ dismay, eight-year-old Chloe Sanders had printed “AMEN” in big letters on her offering envelope, and Noah had loved it, but the boys had grieved for over a week.
Laney sighed. Now, Amen—which had quickly become Mennie—had reached the venerable age of twelve, but even harder to believe, Elijah had just turned twenty-one—the same age she’d been when she met Noah. And now she was almost fifty-three—
how did that happen?
Time marched on, sparing no one. Loved ones grew old and left us, and young ones came into our world to fill our hearts anew. She looked up and watched a pair of pretty, grayish brown birds with white breasts fluttering from the bushes to a ledge under the backside of the woodshed, and every time they landed, they flicked their tails as if they were trying to keep their balance. As she watched, she remembered a story her grandfather had told her when she was a little girl and an aching sadness filled her heart. She could still hear his deep, southern drawl . . .
“Once upon a time,” he’d said, pulling her onto his lap, “there was a beautiful princess who fell into a deep sadness. No matter what she did, she couldn’t seem to overcome it. All of the sages and advisors in the court tried to discern the reason for her somber mood, but no one could. Finally, on a crisp autumn morning, the gardener invited her to visit. The princess accepted, but when she arrived, she noticed that all the blossoms had gone by and most of the branches were bare. Seeing her dismay, the gardener quickly pointed out that the garden was still beautiful in its gold and rusty hues. The princess nodded, watching the chickadees, cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches fluttering busily among the vines and berries, and the gardener explained that it wasn’t her mind or body that suffered—it was her soul. She went on to say that all mankind endures the ebb and flow of life’s joys and sorrows—‘the rhythm of the tides’ she called it—much like the earthly change of seasons—and she assured her that her heart would once again know joy.
“The princess considered her words and asked how she had come by such wisdom, and the gardener showed her an ancient sundial hidden among the roses. On it were engraved the words, ‘This too shall pass.’ ”
Laney brushed away a tear, and Mennie sat up and rested his head on her lap again. She stroked his soft ears. Noah was right—dogs do have a way of knowing when you’re feeling blue. “This’ll pass too, old pie,” she whispered, holding his sweet head and looking into his solemn brown eyes.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
aney is an old soul—all her friends say so, but until recently, she wasn’t quite sure what they meant. She was a little girl when she first heard her gram say the same thing, and for a long time afterward, she wondered if a person is born an old soul or if having an old soul comes from one’s life experiences. She would never forget the first time she’d heard Gram describe her that way.
She’d been lying on top of her sheets in the little room off the kitchen, listening to her brother Lyle snoring softly and wishing she could fall asleep too, but the Georgia night was too hot, and the fiery orange sun was taking its sweet time sinking behind the rolling hills of her grandparents’ farm. She studied the familiar, tiny blue flowers on the sun-gilded wallpaper next to her bed, listened to the slow, steady whir of the ceiling fan in the kitchen, and without thinking, started to softly sing the song the local country station had been playing all summer—she’d even heard Gramp humming it earlier that evening, his eyes glistening with tears. Right then and there, she’d decided that the lonely tune about the Wichita lineman was the saddest song she’d ever heard, but that made her love it all the more. She heard the screen door squeak open and the familiar clunk of Gramp’s boot as he caught it with his foot so it wouldn’t bang. “If we don’t get some rain,” he said as the latch clicked, “those freestones are going to be as dry as my old bones.”
Laney could hear the beans she’d help pick that afternoon plinking into Gram’s metal colander. “The Lord’ll provide, Lon,” Gram replied. “He always does.” Laney could tell she was smiling.
“I know,” Gramp said with a tired sigh. “But it’d be nice if He’d provide a little sooner.”
The plinking stopped, and Laney surmised that Gramp’s strong, brown arms were wrapped around Gram’s waist.
“That little Laney is such an old soul,” Gram said softly, making Laney’s ears perk up.
“I know,” Gramp agreed with a quiet chuckle.
“She always . . .” But Gram’s words were suddenly drowned out by the tap squeaking open, followed by rushing water. Laney knew Gramp was holding his hand under the stream, waiting for it to get cold, so she sat up, trying to hear the rest of Gram’s words, but by the time the water was cold enough and Gramp’s glass was full, Gram was on to talking about how many jars of jam they’d put up that afternoon. “For six years old, she’s a good little helper” were the only words she heard. Laney flopped back down. What did Gram mean? Did she mean she was old—
like Gram, for heaven’s sake?
Or did being helpful make you old? Laney waited until Gram turned off the light and Gramp tugged the chain on the ceiling fan; then she slipped over to her brother’s bed—Lyle was eight—surely he’d know. “Ly,” she whispered. “Wake up.” Her brother groaned, and she nudged him. “Lyle, what’s an old soul?” she whispered urgently.
“Darned if I know,” he mumbled, his words muffled by his pillow.
know—haven’t you ever heard of it?”
“For Pete’s sake, Lane, go back to sleep,” he said gruffly, rolling over to face the blue flowered wallpaper and promptly ending the conversation. Reluctantly, Laney shuffled back to her own bed, edged over to the open window, wrapped her arms around her nightgowned knees, and looked out at the last remnants of hot pink flame streaking across the horizon. She thought about Gram’s words—and all the other mysteries in her six-year-old world—and then she gazed up at the azure blue heavens, sparkling with diamonds, and quietly whispered the constellations’ names—just as Gramp had taught her.
August was by far the best month of the year. Not only did Laney’s birthday fall on its last day, but it was also the month she and Lyle spent every summer on their grandparents’ farm. Pacey’s Peaches and Pecans had been in the family for generations, and it would have been the natural order of things for Lon Jr.—her dad—to take over one day, but young Lonnie, much to his daughter’s dismay, had gone off to a small college in Maine and, as her grandfather put it, “fallen head over heels in love with a pretty, smart New England girl dressed in duck boots and a barn coat.” Gramp loved to recount the story. “That poor boy was blindsided—just a simple Georgia farm boy—he didn’t stand a chance.” Gramp always chuckled when he said this—which assured her that he’d forgiven her mom for stealing his son away. But Laney wasn’t sure she’d ever forgive her dad. “He should’ve come back here,” she said gloomily, sitting on Gramp’s lap in the rocking chair on the porch. She loved the farm more than anyplace else on earth, and she always wished her parents had settled under the endless Georgia sky so she could’ve grown up under the orchard’s gnarled umbrellas of pink blossoms and the shade of its lush green branches, heavy with summer’s sweetness. Instead, her parents had become teachers and settled in Maine near her mom’s side of the family.
“He should’ve been true to his family.”
“Then he probably wouldn’t’ve had you,” Gramp pointed out.
“Oh, yes, he would’ve,” Laney assured him with a long sigh. “And I would’ve helped him run the farm. After all, I know just about everythin’ there is to know—when the peaches are ready ’n ripe and just as sweet as summer . . . how to peel ’em so they don’t bruise, and how to . . .”
how to eat ’em,” Gramp teased, wrapping his arms around her and giving her a hug. “Boy, do you know how to eat ’em. In fact, you’d probably put us outta business cuz you’d eat the whole crop.”
Laney laughed, her mouth watering for a sweet, juicy Georgia peach. “Oh, Gramp, I would not.” Then her eyes lit up. “I know—I could run the farm for you.”
“I bet you could too,” Gramp agreed, patting her knee.
“I mean it,” she insisted.
“I know you do, but until you’re a little bit bigger, we’ll have to let your uncle Luke help too.”
“Okay, but I’m ready whenever you need me,” she said matter-of-factly, leaning back against his chest.
“And what happens if you go off to college and fall in love with some cute New England fella?” Gramp teased.
“I would never do that, Gramp,” she said matter-of-factly, looking into his summer-sky blue eyes, “because you’re my heart’s favorite love.”
Laney smiled wistfully, remembering her long-ago words as she knelt down to tighten her shoelaces near the starting line of the 1983 Falmouth Road Race. It was a cloudy August morning—the first August in her entire life that she hadn’t spent in Georgia. But when she’d called her grandparents to tell them about the summer internship she’d been offered, they’d assured her that although they’d miss her, they would manage. Then Gramp had told her how proud he was of his smart, beautiful granddaughter, and he’d insisted she could not miss out on such a wonderful opportunity.
Laney hadn’t been so sure. She worried about her grandparents—they were getting older and she couldn’t help wondering how many more years they had.
After all, Gramp had just turned eighty that spring, and although the whole family had flown down for the celebration, it had only been for a weekend and that just wasn’t long enou—
Laney’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by footsteps sounding much too close, and in the next moment, someone bumped into her, knocking her over.
“Whoa! I’m so sorry,” a male voice said. Laney looked up as a tall, slender boy with blond hair and a scruffy, reddish beard tried to regain his balance. “Are you okay?” he asked worriedly.
“I’m fine,” she said. He reached out his hand, and she let him pull her up, and then she brushed the sand from her hands and calves.
“I truly am sorry,” he said again. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
She looked up, and he smiled, revealing perfectly straight white teeth. He was handsome—in a roguish, carefree sort of way—and his eyes, which were the same startling, summer-sky blue as her grandfather’s, gazed at her with such sincerity she thought he might cry. She mustered a smile. “I’m fine—honest.”
“That’s good because it’s really my brother’s fault,” he said, motioning to a slighter, younger version of himself standing off to the side. “Micah was pointing to Joan Benoit, and I turned to look.”
His younger version realized he was being talked about and stepped closer. “I hope you’re not blaming me for your clumsiness.”
“Of course not,” the older one said with an impish grin.
Laney looked from one to the other and laughed. She guessed the older one must be in his early twenties and the younger one—whose cheeks were still smooth—might be fifteen. “You ran into me because you were looking at Joan Benoit?”
He nodded. “She
famous you know . . . in running circles.” He paused and shook his head. “I don’t mean she’s famous for running
circles—I mean in the running world. She won the women’s division last year, and she won the Boston Marathon last April, and I’ll probably never see her again, except from a distance . . . through the dust. At least she’ll leave Micah and me in the dust. I don’t know about you—maybe you’re a world-class runner too.” He paused again, eyeing her. “Are you?”
Laney shook her head, laughing. “No. I’m only running because a bunch of my friends from Woods Hole thought it would be fun. I’ll be lucky to finish.”
“Do you live in Woods Hole?”
“No, I’m—” But her words were interrupted by the announcer summoning everyone to the starting line.
A chorus of voices called, “C’mon, Laney—it’s going to start.” Laney looked over and waved to a group of college-age boys and girls.
“Be right there,” she called. Then she looked back at the brothers. “Well, have a good race—be careful—watch out for Joan!”
“We will . . . you too,” the older one said, captivated by her smile, her friendly eyes, her rosy cheeks, and the sprinkle of freckles across her nose. He wanted to say more, but for the first time in his life, Noah Coleman was at a complete loss for words.