Authors: Kathryn Cushman
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC026000, #Self-realization in women—Fiction, #Amish—Fiction, #Tennessee—Fiction
© 2012 by Kathryn Cushman
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Author is represented by Alive Communications
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
You are the heart and soul of so many wonderful things, yet you are never out front, never in the limelight, always behind the scenes. It is to you, and women like you, that I dedicate this book.
Mama Griffin, you exemplified simple living. Holidays at your home were never full of gourmet food, fine china, or gleaming silver. Still, sitting on the floor in your tiny living room, surrounded by love, is among the happiest memories of my childhood.
Watching you battle through so much illness with a smile on your face causes me to grieve for families who live in misery because of the pressure to keep up and outdo. Goals like “live through this” and “find relief from constant pain” have a way of putting these things in perspective. You are my hero.
The cupcakes drooped like wilted daisies. Instead of the nice rounded tops shown in the recipe book, they leaned left. Or right. And a few managed to sag both ways at once.
Julie Charlton carried the tray into the junior high’s multipurpose room, purposely keeping her eyes averted from her frosted nightmare. She had put so much time and effort into these. Why did her baking never turn out right, especially when she was under pressure? Especially now, with the semiformal eighth-grade parent-child dance only hours away?
Scores of balloons hovered at the ceiling, dangling red, black, and white ribbons in festive chaos. Streamers formed graceful arches against the walls; glitter sparkled on the windowsills. Everything looked festive, and intentional, and flawless. Everything except for Julie’s cupcakes. She looked around the room to see who might be there, but saw no one. “Hello?”
Nothing but silence.
What luck. Julie could at least drop these off and escape without having to acknowledge the debacle of flour, sugar, and eggs that had taken hours of her morning. She carried her load over to the food table, which was draped in a black tablecloth with a gold lamé runner, and placed the cupcakes as far away as possible from the crystal pedestal at the end of the table. She knew that Colleen’s famous chocolate cake would be highlighted there before the beginning of this evening’s soiree. Not one single inch of fondant would be out of place, and it would be displayed in all its splendor for the eighth graders and their parents to admire and devour. Meanwhile, her misshapen little cupcakes would hide at the far end of the table, hoping no one noticed them.
She hurried back to her car, thankful that at least one thing had gone right this morning. Now, she needed to get over to the high school for the meeting of the financial committee and could only hope no one would notice the chocolate frosting stain on her spreadsheet. She’d known it was a bad idea to balance the volleyball team’s bank account and bake at the same time, but both things were due this morning. What other choice was there?
She glanced down at her watch. 10:30
. Forty-five minutes until the meeting. Maybe she could run home for just a few minutes. She’d left the kitchen a complete wreck. By now, cupcake batter and frosting were likely dried onto every available counter, cupboard, and backsplash. She needed to get started on the cleanup.
No. There wasn’t time.
Yet if she drove straight to the school now, she’d be there half an hour early. A wave of exhaustion flowed over her, making her wish for a pillow and a blanket. How was she going to make it through today?
As she drove past the movie theater, she saw the answer in all of its green and white glory.
Minutes later, Julie sat at a small window table, enjoying her tall fat-free double-shot latte. By the sixth sip, she could feel the caffeine start to slowly filter energy into her body. She leaned back and simply savored one of her favorite pastimes: people watching. How long had it been since she’d taken the time to do this?
A couple of women entered, talking back and forth at a rapid pace, complaining about a coworker who apparently messed up a report. Julie recognized them both as mothers from the junior high that Brian attended. Would they be at The Soiree this evening, eating ugly cupcakes and wondering what kind of terrible mother could possibly have the lack of pride to bring these things? No, these women would definitely go for Colleen’s sculpture of a cake—or perhaps broccoli and carrots with fat-free ranch.
Both women were bone thin, sleeveless silk blouses showing off their toned arms. Tailored pants and heels, perfect accessories. It must be so nice to wear pretty clothes like that every day. Julie looked down at her jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers and sighed. Still, she was truly thankful for the gift of being able to stay home with her family.
She took another sip and looked at her watch. Time to go. The financial meeting would last an hour; then she needed to stop by Thomas’s office to help his secretary plan the company barbeque, make a quick stop at the grocery and the pharmacy, then home to a kitchen that would be covered in something like chocolate cement. Hopefully she could get it scrubbed off before picking up Brian from chess club. After that it would be time to cook dinner and fight with Whitney about homework.
Julie walked past the businesswomen, now standing at the counter getting napkins. As she passed by, she heard one of them say to the other, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got to wear comfy clothes and lounge around Starbucks all day?”
That’s when the thought that had been residing in pieces throughout Julie’s mind finally came together and crystallized into one cohesive and indelible truth. She made it to her car and simply sat for a moment, trying to get the energy, or desire, to keep moving.
She pulled a tube of lipstick out of her purse, then looked at the tired, middle-aged woman staring back at her in the rearview mirror. It was more than obvious that the haggard reflection felt the same way she did, so there was no reason not to give it voice. “I hate my life.”
There, she’d said it. The words hung heavy in the air, each syllable clogging her lungs with the toxic truth.
Likely, it had been true for longer than she’d even realized. For just one fraction of a second, Julie turned the key and considered driving in the opposite direction—leaving behind all she’d known and starting fresh in some new, exciting location. Somewhere with fewer demands and less underappreciated drudgery.
The thought lasted only until a flash vision of her family pulled her back—Whitney’s brows knit together as she waded through her own heavy load of school and activities . . . Brian’s earnest face as he explained the newest asteroid discovery in deep space and puzzled over bullies at school . . . the lines of exhaustion on Thomas’s face after a hard day at work. They needed her. They needed her support. Who was she to whine about being unhappy? She drove toward the high school, ashamed for even having the thought.
Still, those were the words that echoed through her head, giving her the courage to act, when later that evening her sister-in-law Susan rushed over with an unbelievable request.
“Julie, I’ve got this
opportunity, but you’ve got to help me. . . .”