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Grounded (May Hollow Trilogy) Paperback – October 1, 2013
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Annie couldn’t wait to get home. Up from the subway station and into a downpour, she wrestled a book out of the black leather handbag and used it to cover her head. The book made a poor umbrella, but with her other hand dragging luggage, it was the best she could do. Maybe getting soaked would at least wash the red stain off her khaki skirt.
Good rain, good rain. It was something her grandfather used to say years ago on the farm. Annie could see him in her mind, standing at the window of the farmhouse, a contented smile on his face and pipe smoke curling around his white head. But that was when rain was vital to food and income. Now it was a messy inconvenience.
The weather delayed their landing in New York and added to an already difficult flight. The crew had celebrated her birthday the night before, and she’d had too much wine. A dull headache lingered into the first few hours and then there was the businessman from New Jersey who could not be pleased. As soon as she brought him a newspaper, he wanted a drink. Then he wanted another newspaper and on and on it went. A bossy teenager flying alone complained about the music selection, all the while going through three headsets to find the one with the best sound. What was a teenager doing in first class anyway? And what happened to the iPods that seemed to sprout on every teenager’s body like an appendage at thirteen?
The apartment building in sight, Annie ran the last few yards, her feet bitterly complaining in the high heels. Under the stoop, she unlocked the door and stumbled over the threshold with her luggage.
The air was thick with the rich scent of curry. She hoped it was coming from the Agarwals and not from her apartment. Stuart had said her hair smelled like the Kashmir Indian Restaurant when they’d gone out last week.
Nearly to the door, her luggage caught on the grate in the floor, jerking her backward. When she reached down to dislodge the wheel, her purse fell, scattering phone, hairbrush and lipstick across the floor.
Snatching up the errant items, Annie nearly stuffed her phone back into her bag before seeing a text from Stuart.
“Running late today…meet me at the apartment?”
She rubbed her temple, working it to release the tension. The last thing she wanted to do was go back out in the rain and ride the subway uptown.
“Annie, you are home!” Prema smiled, her warm dark eyes alight with excitement when Annie finally struggled through the door. “Oh, what happened to your skirt?”
“Tomato juice. We had a little turbulence and a passenger who had too many drinks. It could have been worse.”
“Yes, like my flight to Delhi a few weeks ago. A child threw up on me! It was most unpleasant.”
Amused at the understatement, Annie hid her grin since Prema was entirely serious.
“You’re cooking,” Annie said.
“Yes. I invited Jatindre to come for dinner. He sounded so sad, all alone.” The gold hoops in her ears swung as she moved from the living area to the kitchen, the scarf of her purple sari flowing behind her.
“And you’re in traditional dress,” Annie said. “Why do I think this is more than just a ‘welcome to New York?’”
“I am doing as my father asked of me. But this friend of my father’s is newly arrived. I don’t want to shock him with my American style clothing. Can you have dinner with us?”
Annie tossed the book she had used for an umbrella on the side table and picked up her mail. “I’m going out with Stuart, thanks.”
“There will be leftovers, I’m sure.” Prema pointed to the chalkboard hanging next to the door. “Kate and Evie are gone through Tuesday. Whatever is left is yours. I leave tomorrow for Delhi.”
In an apartment of four flight attendants, the chalkboard was the only way to keep up with who was coming or going. Days of the week were listed at the top. To the side each girl’s name was written. An “X” meant you were out that day and night. A small “x” meant you were out part of the day. It helped with planning for social activities.
Four women in a three bedroom apartment had worked out well for the most part, since it was rare for them to all be home at the same time. Annie had the master bedroom, Prema had her own room and the two younger flight attendants Kate and Evie, shared another bedroom. Annie earned the larger bedroom by being in the apartment the longest, as several roommates had come and gone after getting married, or transferring to another city.
Annie tossed the mail on her bed and stripped off her TransAir uniform before stuffing it in the dry cleaning bag that hung from a hook in her closet.
The hot shower enveloped her in warmth, washing off the grime of an overseas flight. Her aching head felt as if a bowl of cotton were stuffed into her sinus passages. Breathing deeply of the moist heat, she could feel the pressure in her head easing and with it, her body relaxed.
She had snapped at two passengers today and that was after biting her lower lip so much it was now as raw as sandpaper. For a couple of weeks she had been on edge, as if a black cloud of foreboding had settled on her. Annie knew it was based in the news reports that kept coming out about the airline’s financial crisis. She had tried to shake it off, but the paralyzing fear of losing her job was at the heart of it.
The water massaged her skin like a thousand small fingers and she tried practicing the deep breathing exercises she had learned in exercise class. After several deep breaths, she felt somewhat more relaxed and pried herself from the water cocoon. Annie wrapped a towel around her body and leaned in close to the mirror. She peered at the lines around her eyes to see if they had gotten deeper since she turned thirty-two. Digging eye cream from one of her toiletry bags, she dabbed a bit in each corner before putting on her make-up then drying her dark, shoulder-length hair.
Dressed and left with some extra time, she sat to read through her mail. Bills, junk mail, a letter from the airline, and a letter from her grandmother.
“Bad news first,” she said to herself and opened the envelope from the airline. It was a letter from the CEO updating the employees on the attempts by another airline to take over the company. Nearly the same as the letter that arrived a month ago: “We are trying to fight the takeover. We want to continue to provide the routes and services we’ve been providing since 1969…please be patient as we work through this with our shareholders…” She threw it in the trash.
They had to work it out. Other airlines had cut services or even cut pay, but they would continue until the company grew healthier. With full passenger loads on most flights, how could they not make it work?
She reached for the envelope from Kentucky.
We sure do miss you around here. Your short visit at Christmas was not enough. Do try to come this spring and stay awhile. We look for a wet spring, which we need after last year’s dry summer.
There is a new single preacher in town. Evelyn met him in the meat section of the Kroger and invited him to eat lunch with us on the Sundays he doesn’t have an invitation from his congregation. Mary Beth White’s divorce is final and she’s been taking lunch with us on Sundays. She was so pitiful after her husband ran off and left her with those two young children. Evelyn thinks she and the new preacher might be a match, but I don’t know if his church will let their preacher marry a divorced woman.
I’m thinking about painting the house, but the Millers moved out of the stone house and I hate to take on a new expense with less money coming in. Maybe if I can find a good renter, I’ll do it.
Jake was promoted again by that big bank up in Cincinatta and Evelyn says he’s getting right serious with a girl from up there.
Joe and Betty Gibson have a new grandbaby. It’s a little girl called Frances Grace. You know people are going for the old fashioned names nowadays, but I’ve yet to hear of someone naming their child Beulah.
P.S. Don’t forget we have a new area code now. We got new addresses five years ago for the EMS. Why they can’t leave well enough alone, I don’t know.
Had it really been four months since she had gone home? Even then it had been a quick visit, squeezing in a ski trip with Stuart on the back end of the holidays. Maybe she would plan a trip this summer and bring Stuart. Annie smiled at the thought of him in his Armani suit and alligator shoes on the farm. Maybe she would buy him a pair of Redwings for his birthday.
Annie let herself into Stuart’s apartment with the key he had given her. His Upper East Side apartment was spacious and neat compared to her cramped quarters in the village. Chester, the orange tabby a client had given Stuart, pranced, tail swishing in greeting. The cat’s soulful green eyes beckoned the usual scratch behind his ear.
“Hey, Ches, did you miss me?” The soft fur felt good on her hand and she lingered, giving him an extra rub down his back.
Annie straightened and put her purse on the low slung black leather couch. Behind the couch, paintings with geometric patterns in reds, oranges and blacks by the same artist hung three in a row. Metal end tables next to the leather couch and chairs held black lacquer lamps, and central to any bachelor’s apartment, the latest technology in flat screen television suspended like a movie screen against the far wall.
The only thing that looked out of place to her was the wilting peace lily in the corner of the room. It had been her subtle attempt to soften the room and make it more ‘homey’ but it continually suffered from neglect since its arrival two months before. Stuart had seemed happy with her gift, but clearly plants weren’t his thing.
In the kitchen, Annie looked around while she filled a container with water. Not one thing was out of place. Stuart was compulsively neat and his cleaning lady came three days a week. Just once, Annie would like to find something awry, like a dirty glass or plate, even a pair of socks on the floor.
After watering the peace lily, Annie wandered into Stuart’s bedroom. A stack of sales books were on the bedside table, a Wall Street Journal was folded neatly next to them, and there was his perfectly made bed.
“Chester,” she called to the cat. “Does he ever mess up anything?” Chester came to her in the bedroom and looked as if she were telling him something important, his head tilted slightly to the side, his ears pointed forward.
There was a time when he did look a mess, she remembered. The night they met, more than six months ago. Her best friend Janice DeVechio had invited Annie to a charity fundraiser for cancer research. She had tickets given to her by an aunt who had married a wealthy Sicilian. Janice firmly believed her new uncle had mob connections, but it never stopped her from accepting the generous offer of tickets to plays, events and shows frequently doled out by the aunt to her favorite niece.
“It’s costume, but don’t worry, I know what you can wear.”
Annie had rolled her eyes. “I’m afraid to ask.”
“Jimmy is going as Hansel, I’m Gretel, and you’ll be Little Red Riding Hood. You look great in red.”
Annie had gone to the party in red tights, a red cape found at a consignment store, and carrying a small basket. Janice and Jimmy danced to Bobby Darin and Annie stood at the hors d’oeuvres table debating how long she would need to stay before she could go home.
She had decided to get some fresh air on the terrace when a man’s voice said, “Not so fast, Little Red Riding Hood.” Annie turned to face a wolf man grinning at her, rows of straight white teeth peeking from under pieces of brown fur taped to his face and intense green eyes peering between strands of a long brown wig. She burst out laughing as a piece of fur dropped onto a plate of crackers.
“That is the worst costume I have ever seen,” she said.
“This is the worst party I’ve ever seen. I had to come for business. What’s your excuse?”
“I’m with a friend,” she said.
“That’s too bad,” he said, and looked disappointed.
“Not a date. A couple, they’re out there dancing.” Who was this man? She had been immediately intrigued.
“Aha. The story is getting better all the time,” he said, grinning.
“I don’t know why I’m here. Bad social life I guess.”
“Well, since you’re not here with another wolf, I think this means we are meant for each other,” he said, raising his eyebrows in feigned sincerity.
Annie laughed at him, but something deep within her stirred at his words. It was as if there was a magnetic field around him and she was helpless to fight the pull. His convincing green eyes, laughing one minute and piercing the next, reshaping her belief on the spot that love at first sight was possible.
“Let’s go to the bar. We can talk there.” He put a hand gently on her back and guided her out of the room. She helped him remove the silly pieces of fur from his face while they talked, telling each other their life stories up to how they ended up on that night in that place. The attraction had been immediate and seismic.
Annie was so lost in the memories, she didn’t hear the lock click and the apartment door open until Chester jumped off the bed to greet his master.
Stuart filled the doorway of the bedroom, one arm behind his back. He was tall with perpetually tanned skin and dark blond hair that curled naturally. When he entered a room, it was as if he owned the entire block of buildings, so strong was his confidence.
“Wow, you look great. I missed you,” he said, his eyes taking in her whole body and opening his arms for her. Annie responded with a warm and lingering kiss, taking in the smell of his cologne mixed with the white roses he held in his hand.
“I missed you, too,” she said. She forgot her irritation at having to come to his apartment. All that was important now was being with him.
“Let me look at you again.” His green eyes moved appreciatively down her body. “You are stunning.” He handed her the flowers and kissed her again.
“Thank you! I’ll put these in water.”
He loosened his tie and followed her in the kitchen. “You are never going to believe who I went to lunch with today.”
Annie reached for the scissors and pointed them at him. “If it’s a rich, young heiress, I’m not sure I want to hear about it.”
He grinned and moved behind her, hugging her from the back. ?“I think it is safer back here.”
“Okay, now I’m in suspense. Who?” Annie carefully snipped the ends of each stem, diagonally, as her grandmother taught her to do.
Stuart poured a Scotch for himself and a Chardonnay for Annie.
“Jack Carney.” He waited for Annie’s reaction.
“Carney the developer? The one who did the big project over in New Jersey?”
“That’s him. We hit it off, Annie. He’s into poker, loves golf. We couldn’t be more alike. I need to work the relationship, but I think he’ll invest with me.”
“That’s great!” She placed the last rose into the vase.
He handed her the wine. “Did you miss me?” she asked.
“Bad. Chester was even worse. He batted a whole roll of toilet paper off into the bathroom floor while I was at work.”
“No, I’m serious. Vera was not happy about the extra work, and believe me, she let me know about it.” Annie remembered the first time she had met Vera. The older woman made sure Annie knew she worked for Mr. Henderson and no one else. No girlfriend would be leaving her orders.
Stuart took her hand and pulled her over to the couch. “I don’t know why I ever let that client talk me into taking that cat. But I did get a good sale out of the deal.”
“That’s why you’re so successful--anything for the customer.”
Stuart looked at watch. “I better hop in the shower. I have a car coming at seven thirty.” The dimple in the cleft of his chin deepened with his smile as he leaned in for a kiss. “This is a special night for us. I’ve got a surprise.”
Gino’s was known to be a discreet restaurant where lovers, both illicit and legitimate, could meet in complete privacy. The wine list was first rate, the service excellent and the lighting dim. Like the director of a play, Gino himself attended to the details, giving cues to his staff with a raise of his dark eyebrows or a small hand gesture. Stuart was a regular, bringing both clients and friends, and Gino showed his appreciation by giving them the best corner table.
Stuart ordered an expensive bottle of wine. After the waiter poured the glasses, he lifted his to Annie’s. “Happy belated birthday!” They clinked glasses and drank.
When he leaned in, Annie thought he was going to kiss her and closed her eyes. Instead, he whispered: “This Jack Carney connection could be huge. He is estimated to be worth half a billion. His friends could be worth even more. He asked me down to Miami this weekend to play golf.” Stuart reached for Annie’s hands. “I know we were going to spend the weekend together, but this could be the biggest meeting of my life.”
Annie leaned back, disappointed. This was the first weekend they could spend together in two months because of her work schedule. As a ten year flight attendant, she was fortunate to do the overseas flights, but she generally only got the weekend flights, even though she always tried bidding for the weekday, just in case. Occasionally she got it, like the coming week.
“No, that’s okay. I know it’s important,” she said.
Stuart leaned across and kissed her hand. “That’s why I love you. You’re so free and understanding.” Annie didn’t feel very free and understanding. She was bummed out, even a little upset. But it was her birthday celebration and she didn’t want to spoil it.
“Any more news from the airline?” Stuart asked, as the waiter placed the entrees on the table.
“Another letter today, but nothing new. I don’t think it looks good, but I’m trying not to worry.”
“I’ll take care of you no matter what happens. Did I tell you how much I missed you while you were gone?” He reached for her hand.
She smiled back and said, “Yes, but you can tell me again.”
“I missed you.”
The lemon sole was delicious, but Annie only took a few bites. The anticipation of the surprise had taken her appetite.
After the plates were removed, Stuart reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a small square box, pale blue with white ribbons, Tiffany’s signature packaging. She felt as if a flock of hummingbirds were fluttering between her heart and stomach.
Annie studied his face as he pushed the box gently across the table. His blond hair looked golden in the candlelight, the short curls highlighted by the aura giving him an almost angelic halo. He was one of the handsomest men she had ever seen. And to think, he loved her.
She held the gift in both hands for a moment before untying the ribbons and carefully taking off the top. Annie felt her breath catch and wondered if there might be a ring inside? Her heart banged like a gong inside her chest. Could he hear it?
Lifting out the small black box, an eternity seemed to pass before Annie reached the treasure. Glitter spilled out reflecting the candlelight from two shimmering stones. Two diamonds. Two large and glistening earrings.
“Do you like them?” he asked, his words coming from a faraway place.
“They’re beautiful! I’m overwhelmed.”
He took the box and laid it aside, taking both of her hands in his. “Annie, I’ve never felt this way before, but I’m finding myself needing you with me all the time. I’ve never even considered this with another woman, but it seems right with us. Will you move in with me?”
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As fate would have it, the obnoxious woman in first class has information Annie needed to know about Stuart and she realizes she can’t go through with her planned move. Then the rumors of a takeover of the airline she works for become reality. She finds herself without a job and without a home.
What choice does she have but return to Kentucky to visit her grandmother? Except they’d never been close. The link that had bound them together after Annie’s mother’s death was Annie’s grandfather, who’s now gone. Even a week or two butting heads with her opinionated grandmother may be too much, but Annie can see Beulah needs help. It becomes Annie’s job to try to convince her grandmother to sell the farm and move into town, but the old woman won’t budge.
Jake, the boy-next-door and Annie’s childhood playmate, keeps returning to Kentucky as he determines whether to stay in his successful banking career or grasp his dream of sustainable farming with gusto. His fiancee may have something to say about that, though.
While Annie waits for the take-over dust to settle in New York and to be rehired by the new airline, she takes over the garden and canning under Beulah’s tutelage. She finds her roots more tightly bound in Kentucky soil than she’d imagined. Will she return to the city and the skies, or stay grounded?
Grounded is a sweet story of homecoming and the value of simple living. It’s also a perfect example of farm lit from a Christian worldview. Farm lit is all about the life of modern-day “new” farmers. “These stories can be fiction or memoir, and most often include city-bred heroines who head for an idealized rural existence and (often) find the man of their dreams riding a tractor rather than a horse or a motorbike.” Grounded provides that with a slight twist in that Annie is returning to her farm roots.
Why is farm lit a growing genre? Today’s world is full of uncertainty. We have this feeling we’re careening along the brink of disaster and, strangely, we don’t like it. Many people are filled with longing to be connected, to be “grounded” as it were. To feel the soil between their fingers, to know where their food comes from, and to sink into a simpler lifestyle. If you can’t do it in person—though, in my opinion, you should try!—you can do it through immersion in a story like this one.
If you loved my debut novel Raspberries and Vinegar: A Farm Fresh Romance, you’ll love Grounded.
A great read.