About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“Give Mozart a chance,” Beth pleaded with the teenage boy who stared doggedly down at the classroom floor. “Once you listen to his music you’ll feel differently, I promise.”
The youth continued to avoid eye contact and then chanced a look in the direction of Bailey Madison. Beth had noticed the teenage girl sneaking glances in his direction through most of the class. Before class, both students had asked for transfers, which disappointed her. Beth didn’t want to lose either one.
“I like music, but I’m not into that classical stuff,” Noah told her.
“But you might be if you gave it a chance,” Beth said in what she hoped was an encouraging voice. Noah Folgate sat through the entire class period with his arms folded and his eyes closed, except when he took peeks at Bailey.
“Besides, the only reason I signed up for the class was because my girlfriend, I mean my ex-girlfriend, did.”
“You can stay in the class,” Bailey said. “I’m dropping out.”
Beth motioned for Bailey to join them. Noah’s gaze narrowed and he crossed his arms and refused to look in the other girl’s direction.
“Bailey, why did you register for the class?” Beth asked.
Clenching her books to her chest, Bailey shrugged. “I’m in band. I like anything to do with music.”
“Are you and Noah friends?”
“We . . . used to be.”
“Would you like to be again?” Beth asked.
Noah stared at the teenage girl. Bailey nodded and her voice trembled when she said, “More than anything.”
Noah blinked as though her words had shocked him.
Beth knew better than to get caught in the middle of teenage angst. She really did, but she’d watched these two closely through class and suspected that whatever had happened between them was what prompted them to ask for a transfer.
“Noah, would you be willing to give the class another week?”
The high school junior shrugged.
“Bailey, what about you?”
“I suppose that would be all right.”
“Great.” Beth rubbed her palms together. “We’ll talk again next Friday, and if you both feel the same way, I’ll do what I can to help you find another class.”
“Can I go now?” Noah asked.
The boy shot out of the class, but Bailey lingered behind. “I know what you’re doing, Miss Prudhomme. I don’t think it’ll help. Noah thinks I cheated on him. I didn’t, but I can’t make him believe me. I don’t know that I can be with someone who doubts me and has trust issues. I’ll give it another week, but don’t expect Noah to change his mind. If he doesn’t, it will be far too painful to be in class with him and see him every day.”
“Of course,” Beth said sympathetically. She hoped they could work it out. She’d done what she could; the rest was up to them. She really hated to see them drop out of the class for personal reasons, especially when by their own admission they were both musically inclined. Unfortunately, they had little understanding or appreciation of the depth and beauty of classical music. Given the chance, she believed they would come to love it as much as she did. Noah and Bailey were exactly the kind of students she enjoyed most. The challenge, of course, was to keep the two of them from dropping out of class.
This was Beth’s first teaching experience, but she’d had some success convincing her private piano students to give Schubert, Bach, and Beethoven a try. Once they’d learned about the great composers and played their music, her private students had been hooked. Beth hoped to hook these high school students as well.
Feeling like she’d made headway, Beth straightened her desk. It was Friday at the end of a long week of classes and she was more than ready for the weekend, not that she had any big plans. As a recent transplant from Chicago, the only person Beth knew, other than a few teachers, was her aunt Sunshine. She was making friends, though, at church, where she volunteered for the choir, and in her apartment building.
Sunshine was the best. Just thinking about her eccentric, fun-loving aunt produced a smile. Beth didn’t know what she would do without her. Her aunt had given her the courage and the encouragement to break away from the dictates of her family. Beth loved her parents, but they, especially her mother, had definite ideas about who she should marry, her career, her friends, and just about everything else. Until she moved, her mother even accompanied her when she bought clothes, not trusting Beth to choose her own wardrobe. Without realizing what she was doing, her mother was strangling her. She had to break away or suffocate.
She had saved money from teaching piano and was prepared to leave in the middle of the night rather than argue. Her family wasn’t holding her prisoner; she was free to go. Sunshine was the one who’d invited Beth to move to Portland, Oregon. Looking for employment, she went online and saw an opening for a music teacher in a local high school. Beth wanted that job in the worst way and was determined to get it, to live her own life instead of the one her mother saw for her.
Before following through with her escape plans, Beth decided to tell her father. He was by far the more reasonable of the two. It’d been a good decision. Even now Beth didn’t know what he said to her mother, but whatever it was had been life-changing for her. The next morning Phillip, her father, told her she had his word that Ellie, her mother, would not visit or interfere in Beth’s life for six months. No visits to Portland. No tearful phone calls. No tossing guilt. Any contact would be instigated by Beth herself.
She was basically free; well, at least for the next six months. Before her mother could change her mind, Beth loaded up her car and left that very day. Her mother had stood on the lawn and wept as Beth backed into the street and started on her way.
When she arrived in Portland, she stayed the first few days with her aunt, scheduled interviews, and was over the moon when she was hired at the high school. As soon as she had the job, she found an apartment she could afford and for the first time in her twenty-five years she was on her own.
Weeks earlier she’d had no hope, but now, after breaking away, hope had found her. When she was settled in her own apartment, Beth called her parents and told them she was set. The conversation had been awkward, and when her mother had sniffled softly, her father made her get off the phone. Beth knew the tears were about more than the fact that she’d left Chicago. It hurt her mother that Beth was in the same city as Sunshine. The two sisters had never gotten along. Whatever had caused the rift between them was a mystery to Beth. She hoped that at some point Sunshine would explain what it was that had put such a heavy strain on their relationship. Once in her youth, Beth had asked her mother, but her mother had said it was something that happened a long time ago and wouldn’t explain further.
Beth collected her books and purse and was heading down the hallway when she heard her name.
“Beth,” Nichole Nyquist, a substitute English teacher who’d befriended her, called out from behind her.
“Hey,” Beth said, smiling as she turned around, happy to run into her friend. It’d been a couple days since they’d last connected. They met during the first week of classes and struck up an immediate friendship. After the birth of her second son, Nichole had given up her full-time position and currently worked only as needed. Seeing Nichole was a treat, as she hadn’t been at school all week.
“Do you have a minute?” Nichole asked.
“I wanted to ask you to dinner tomorrow night.”
“Oh.” The invitation came as something of a surprise. She’d been to Nichole’s house once and briefly met her husband, son, and stepdaughter. Kaylene was also a senior at the high school. Nichole and Beth ate lunch together in the teachers’ lounge when they could, but those times were rare.
“I know it’s last-minute. I wanted to connect with you earlier but didn’t, and the next thing I knew it was Friday. I’ve been thinking about this awhile; I hope you can come.”
“I don’t have any plans,” Beth said, a bit wary of this sudden bout of chattiness from Nichole. “You’ve been thinking about what?” Nichole had left that part suspiciously blank.
“Ah . . .”
“Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
Nichole scratched her ear and then let out a long sigh. “Actually, there is. Rocco is inviting his best friend, Sam Carney, to dinner. I wanted the two of you to meet.”
Beth held the textbook closer to her chest. So that was it. Nichole planned on setting her up with Rocco’s friend. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. She’d gone out to dinner and a movie with Tyler Crowley, an English teacher. He was divorced, lonely, and a little too eager to get involved in a relationship. Beth turned him down for a second date when he’d asked her again. He got the message after that.
Nichole paused as though hesitant, and Beth knew there was more to the story. “Tell me a little about Sam.”
Nichole slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and clung to it as if she wasn’t sure where to start. “He’s a great guy and he isn’t bad looking either.”
“Single. Never been married. He’s a mechanic, and from what Rocco tells me, he’s one of the best in the city. Apparently, he can fix just about anything.”
If nothing else, Beth would know where to go if she experienced car trouble. Still, she sensed there was something else Nichole wasn’t telling her. “And . . .” she prompted.
“And, well, Sam probably isn’t like any other guy you’ve ever dated.”
Seeing as her dating experience had been limited to an approved list from her mother and that one date with Tyler, that was probably true. Still, she felt obliged to ask. “Different in what way?”
Nichole glanced down the hall as if looking for someone. “It’s hard to explain.”
Beth waited, giving Nichole time to collect her thoughts.
Her friend sucked in a deep breath. “When I first met Sam, he was . . . I’m not sure how to explain it. Let’s just say he was a bit unconventional . . . still is, for that matter.”
That was a curious way of putting it. “How so?”
“He swore a lot.”
“Not good.” Beth got enough of that from her students in the hallways. She found it to be in bad taste and a sign of a poor vocabulary.
“It’s better now,” Nichole was quick to add. “Owen makes Sam give him a dollar for every swear word he uses.” She struggled to hold back a smile. “The first few months I was convinced he was going to pay for my son’s college education.”
Owen was Nichole’s son from her first marriage. “Good for Owen.”
“I can’t say what Sam’s language is like now, but when he’s around the house his descriptive phrasing isn’t as picturesque as it once was. Rocco and I don’t get out as much as we once did, so we don’t see Sam socially a lot anymore. He stops by the house a couple times a week, though. He’s crazy about Matthew. I’ve never seen a man take to a baby the way he has. He’s perfectly content to hold him, and he isn’t averse to changing a diaper, either. Just not a messy one.”
So he liked babies. That was good. The swearing was troublesome, though. Sure as anything, her parents would balk at the thought of her dating a mechanic, but then she’d specifically moved from Chicago to get out from under their thumb.
“Anything else you care to tell me about Sam?” she asked, undecided. Frankly, this dinner didn’t sound promising and could end up being a disaster.
Nichole held her gaze. “Actually, I think it would be best if I didn’t say anything more. You should make up your own mind about Sam. All I can tell you is that he’s a really great guy. I had my doubts when I first met him and you might, too. Just give him a chance, okay?”
Beth nibbled on her lower lip. “Let me think about it. Can I get back to you either tonight or first thing tomorrow morning?”
“Sure. I know it’s a last-minute invite . . .”
“It’s fine, Nichole. Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll let you know soon. Promise.”
They left the building together, and by the time Beth reached Sunshine’s studio she’d decided against meeting Sam. It would be a waste of time on both their parts. From what little Nichole had said, it didn’t appear they had anything in common. The music teacher and the mechanic.
Not a good match.
Not a good idea.
Sunshine was busy painting, her long, thick, salt-and-pepper hair hanging straight and loose, reaching all the way down to the middle of her back. Beth couldn’t ever remember seeing her aunt in anything other than long skirts and Birkenstocks. She’d remained a flower child who never outgrew the 1960s. Concentrating on her work, her aunt apparently didn’t hear Beth enter her studio.
Standing back, Beth waited and watched. Her aunt was a talented artist. Her work was highly sought after and hung in galleries all across the country. What fascinated Beth was the prices she got for a few squiggly lines. It was between those lines where Sunshine’s talent came to life. In that space was intricate artwork, cleverly hidden at first glance. It often took Beth several minutes to see the full picture.
This current project displayed rows upon rows of blooming poppies, their color vibrant against a backdrop of what appeared to be random strokes of red paint. She stared at it for several minutes until she saw it. A school of fish. Unbelievable. Beth couldn’t help being mesmerized.
Her aunt released a deep breath as if she’d been holding it in and then relaxed, stepping back to consider her work, and nearly tripped over Beth.
“Beth, how long have you been here?” she asked, setting down her paintbrush.
Sunshine apparently followed Beth’s eyes and cocked her head to one side. “You like?”
“It’s brilliant.” As far as Beth was concerned, there was no other word for it.
Sunshine tossed back her head and laughed, the sound bubbling up from her like champagne fizz. Beth loved hearing her aunt’s laugher. It had a magical quality that never ceased to amuse her. Just listening to it made her want to laugh, too. She resisted the urge to close her eyes and store it in her memory bank for times when she was low and struggled with worry or frustration.