Falling Home by Karen White
By SMW Staff
In this revamped edition of the book originally published in 2002, Karen brings her readers to small-town Georgia where “everybody is somebody” and attempts to answer the question, “Can you really ever go home again?”
Cassie Madison, estranged from her sister, returns home to be with her dying father, intending to leave the sleepy Georgia town immediately after his funeral. Unexpectedly, she inherits the family home. Now she has to stay in Walton until it sells…which happens to be just long enough for her to learn how the power of family, memories and a former love can lead to the most amazing discoveries.
Cassie was dreaming again. It was of old summers; the summers of bare feet, skinned knees and homemade peach ice cream that dripped down her chin and made her fingers sticky. Aunt Lucinda rang the supper bell, and Cassie and Harriet raced each other past the gazebo toward the back porch, their sun-kissed legs pumping under white sundresses. The jangling of the dream-bell seemed so real, Cassie felt she could touch the cold brass and make it stop.
Her fingers touched Andrew’s arm instead, his skin warm under her hand, and she jerked awake, the smells of summer grass and Aunt Lucinda’s lavender perfume lingering somewhere in the back of her mind. But the jangling continued, filling Cassie with dread.
She held her breath, looking at the glowing numbers on her clock, and listened for the next ring of the telephone. Only bad news came at three in the morning. Births and engagements were always announced in the bright light of day. But bad news came at night, as if the sun were already in mourning.
Andrew stirred briefly, then rolled over, away from her. Rising from the bed, she stumbled across the darkened bedroom and into the living room so not to awaken him. She hit her little toe on a chair leg and let out an expletive, her choice of words the only thing still reminiscent of her background.
“Dangnabit!” she muttered, reaching for the phone and knocking it off the hook. She grappled with it on the floor before finally placing it on her ear. “Hello?”
There was a brief pause, then, “Hi, Cassie. It’s me. It’s Harriet.”
Cassie’s blood stilled as she gripped the receiver tighter. “Harriet,” she said, her voice sounding strained and unsure to her ears. “How are you?”
The words were so inadequately stupid that she wanted to bite them back as soon as they left her mouth. It was three a.m., her estranged sister was calling after more than a decade of silence, and she was asking about how she was in the same kind of voice she would ask a co-worker if they liked sugar in their coffee.
“It’s Daddy. He’s dying.”
A siren screamed outside in the dark beyond Cassie’s window. She reached across the table and flipped on a lamp. “What happened?” The brilliant cut diamond in an antique platinum setting on her left hand sparkled in the dim light. Andrew came and sat next to her, his forehead creased with a question. Cassie put her hand over the receiver and mouthed, “My sister.”
“Hang on a second.” Harriet’s phone clunked as the sound of a baby’s crying trickled through the line. It must be Amanda, Harriet’s new baby. Cassie knew each child from pictures her father sent. There were five of them—spread evenly over fifteen years of marriage. Each birth announcement from her father had opened the old wounds, scraping away the scabs, making Cassie bleed again.
Harriet came back. “I’m sorry. The baby’s been fussy all day.”
Cassie swallowed. “What’s wrong with Daddy?”
Harriet sounded as if she’d been crying. “He’s had a stroke. We didn’t think it was so bad, but he says he’s dying. And you know he always means what he says. He’s in the hospital now, but he wants us to bring him home tomorrow. It was his idea to call you right now in the middle of the night. He says he won’t rest in peace until both of his girls are here. He wants you to come home.”
Cassie didn’t say anything but listened to the sounds of the phone being put down again and of the fretting baby. She glanced over at Andrew, who had put his head back against the sofa, and closed his eyes. Her gaze wandered the living room of her Upper West Side apartment. Nothing in the cool, crisp space, with its black and white checkerboard of color and harsh angles, resembled the old house in which she had grown up. The house with porch swings, ancient oaks and screen doors. Just as the woman she had become no longer resembled the girl of twenty who had left the small town of Walton, Georgia fifteen years before without a backward glance.
Then, a man spoke, his words deep and resonant. “Cassie? It’s Joe.”
She looked away, trying to focus on the abstract splotch of color on the painting behind her sofa, wanting to block out the memories his voice stirred. The memories of moonlit nights and serenading katydids in the gazebo behind the old house, and of Aunt Lucinda’s gardenias, drooping in the heat, spreading their seductive aroma.
“Cassie? Are you there?”
“Yes.” Her voice cracked, so she said it again, firmer this time. “Yes. I’m here.”
Andrew sat up and took her hand, his eyes guarded.
Joe spoke again. “Are you coming home?”
The receiver slipped in her sweaty palm. Every day she handled difficult clients, the bread and butter of the ad agency, but nothing had ever made her as unsettled as the sound of Joe’s voice and the mere thought of returning to the place she swore she would never set foot in again.
“I am home,” she said, defiant.
“You know what I mean, Cassie.” She could barely hear him he was speaking so low. “Harriet needs you now. As much as you need her, I suspect. Your daddy’s dying and he wants his girls to be with him.”
She looked over at Andrew. He wore only boxer shorts, his skin pale in the glare of the lamp. She stared at the contours of the muscles on his chest, every ridge etched in her fingers’ memory. Cassie had worked for Andrew Wallace for five years, been his lover for three, and his fiancée for one. Like her, he was a transplant to New York, all the way from Newport Beach, California.
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