About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Winter at the White Oaks Lodge
Shore Leave Cafe
By Abbie Williams
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved.
Landon, MN - February, 2004
"Any day now, sweetie, any day." Grandma's words were accompanied by her hand on my back, patting me between the shoulder blades as I leaned on my palms against the edge of the kitchen sink and attempted to draw a deep breath.
It wasn't that I was trying to be melodramatic; I truly could not get enough air into my lungs, courtesy of the enormous pregnancy that belled out my stomach. When I lay flat on my back, which I couldn't do for more than a minute these days or I felt crushed, my belly resembled the dome of a cathedral.
"I keep reminding myself that," I said, relaxing my shoulders as she rested her hand upon me, with familiar, tender comfort. On the counter beside me, coffee percolated with a cheerful burbling. I grumbled, "It's not fair. Aunt Jilly looks adorable, and she's almost as pregnant as me. But she never complains."
Grandma said, "That's not true. Everyone complains at this stage of a pregnancy. It comes with the territory. Just be glad it isn't summer and there's no air conditioning in your house."
I smiled at her over my shoulder, my grandma, Joan, who'd lived in this same house since her childhood. The walls here had surely witnessed their share of pregnant women, including my own mother. As long as I could remember, we came to Landon from Chicago for summer break; never in my wildest imaginings had I pictured myself living here as a pregnant and single teenager. On the old timeline, the one I'd known and trusted in before last July, I would be finishing up my senior year of high school, at home in Chicago. I closed my eyes, unwittingly dragged to the afternoon I'd sat trembling on the edge of the tub in the bathroom upstairs, gingerly clutching the end of the world as I'd known it — a plastic pregnancy tester with a purple plus sign on the indicator.
"That's right," I whispered, acknowledging Grandma's words about no air conditioning. "Mom and Aunt Jilly were both born in August. But at least you didn't have to worry about slipping on the ice."
I lived in mortal fear of falling since the first frost at the end of last October, warily traversing the slippery sidewalks of Landon as my belly finally out-paced my breasts in size. It seemed to me that the high school was the last place in town that was plowed or de-iced. I thanked God that, at the very least, I was done with school for now; Landon High was a study in small-town bias against the (and I quote) "slut who got Noah Utley in trouble."
It was irony of the worst sort, as I was truly the least slutty girl I knew. Of course evidence would suggest otherwise, as here I stood, eighteen years old and well into my eighth month of pregnancy. It was a poor excuse, I understood this, but last June and July, under the magic of the hot summer moon, I believed that Noah Utley loved me. Classic idiocy, revoltingly cliche, too stupid for words. Thinking back on it now, I compared myself to a puppy seeking affection; when Noah complimented me, I all but wriggled with the pleasure of it, believing every word he spoke, all his seemingly-sweet and heartfelt words, without any question. He may as well have scratched behind my ears. And, as anyone besides me could have predicted, here I was without him and carrying our baby. I had not seen a glimpse of him, nor heard a word — not even a phone call — since he returned to college last autumn.
"That's true, it's a trade-off either way," Grandma said, on the subject of inclement weather and pregnancy.
"Good morning," said Aunt Ellen, Grandma's older sister, tying her bathrobe as she joined us, reaching immediately for the coffee pot. "Camille, what's the story? Is she coming today, or what?" And she kissed my cheek before pouring herself a steaming cup.
"Who knows?" I asked, unable to keep a note of cynicism from my tone. The way it seemed right now, my daughter was planning a permanent residence in my uterus. But then I was assaulted anew, with pure terror, at the thought of having an actual infant in my arms, a tiny living person who would be solely dependent upon me. Grandma sensed the thought as its impact struck my face, as she resumed patting my back at once.
"It's all right, sweetie, we'll be here to help. You won't be alone," she assured me for the countless time, and I felt warmth slice across my heart, replacing some of the anxious fear. I knew Grandma meant those words, and I was well aware I should count every last blessing. Probably it was better, worlds better, to have two women with decades of experience in child-rearing at my side, rather than Noah Utley, who'd primarily been an expert at getting me out of my jean shorts. My mouth tasted bitter and I pushed aside any thoughts of my baby's errant father.
"I know, Gram," I said, easing to a standing position, drawing a slow breath. Grandma's familiar eyes were the exact same color as Mom's, a perfect blending of golden and green, with a darker ring surrounding her irises — the Davis family eyes, as Mom always said. I chose to live with Grandma and Aunt Ellen rather than with Mom and my sisters, who moved last summer into a rental house just across town. At first I missed them so much that my chest hurt when I lay awake night after restless night, plagued by a continual flow of anxious what ifs, but I'd slowly adjusted. And I saw Mom and Tish and Ruthie almost every day anyway, at the cafe. It was an understatement of gigantic proportions to say that things had changed for our family since last May — not the least of which being my parents' divorce. To be fair, my dad's cheating was the catalyst that ended their marriage, and despite Dad's efforts to beg Mom's forgiveness last summer, he was currently married to his co-worker Lanny, the two of them living in our old townhouse in Chicago.
In the meantime, Mom fell in love with Blythe Tilson, a man Grandma hired last spring to work at Shore Leave. Blythe is very good-looking, which is hard not to notice, but more importantly, he really loves my mom. When I first met Blythe last May, I wouldn't have believed in a hundred years that by Christmas he would be my stepdad. He is nothing but polite in mine, Tish's, and Ruthie's presence, but I'm observant, and the expression in his eyes — which follow after my mom like a compass seeking north — tells me everything I don't exactly want to know. He can barely keep his hands from her when we're around, so I can't even begin to imagine how it is in private. That's another reason I would much rather live here at Shore Leave, in my own space.
It's just the same with my Aunt Jilly and her new husband, Justin Miller; the two of them make out all over the place, but then again, Aunt Jilly isn't my mother. It doesn't bother Clint, my cousin, one bit; honestly, I don't think Clint even notices, and like Mom, Aunt Jilly has been so happy since last summer, even while recuperating after her terrible car accident in September. Since then, Aunt Jilly and Clint moved across town to live with Justin in his house, and the idea is that I'll inherit Aunt Jilly's old apartment, the little two-bedroom space above the garage. No rush, in my opinion. I would rather be in the same house as Grandma and Aunt Ellen right after the baby comes; the thought of being alone with an infant, even close to assistance (as in, down a flight of steps and across the lawn), is a scary one. Besides, I wouldn't want to use those narrow stairs leading to the apartment, not with my bulging belly throwing off my balance; it was hard to imagine having to use them while lugging an infant car seat, but that would be my reality soon enough.
Aunt Jilly's and Uncle Justin's baby is due just two months after my own, and according to Aunt Jilly we are both having girls. Everyone in our family knows to take Aunt Jilly's Notions for truth. So at night in the darkness of my lonely little bedroom, I curl around my belly on the twin bed made up with the same flowered sheets that my mom used in high school, and contemplate holding a little bundle wrapped in pink, my very own daughter. No matter how incessantly I picture her, I know she won't exactly resemble my imaginings, though in my mind she looks like me — nothing like Noah. It hurts so much to imagine him as part of her. What if she looks like him? What if I can't bear it? These are the kinds of thoughts that plague me as I lay there watching the moon rise in the long, skinny dormer windows in my room. On clear nights, of which there are relatively few in a northern Minnesota winter, those windows are at a perfect angle to observe the moon. When the moon is new, and invisible, I watch the stars, caressing my belly and whispering to my daughter.
"Besides, she'd be early if she came today," I reminded my grandma and my great-aunt.
"Jo and Jilly both came early," Grandma said. "And you're so close to forty weeks now, there's nothing to worry about." She leaned to kiss my cheek before reminding Aunt Ellen, "Don't forget we have the whole crew tonight, for Valentine's. And Liz and Wordo are joining them."
"So we'll have the triplets, too," Ellen understood. "We'll be a full house. I better get baking."
Shore Leave Cafe was operational during the winter months, though on a limited schedule. We were closed Sunday through Wednesday, opening during the rest of the week for lunch and dinner. Our business in the winter months was typically limited to locals and the occasional hunters, ice fishermen or snowmobilers who braved the biting cold, snow, and driving wind. The cafe was closed tonight, even though it was Saturday and Valentine's Day, since most people sought a fancier restaurant for the big romantic night out. I almost rolled my eyes at the thought of having all the kids here, not in the mood. But then again, I missed my sisters and Clinty; since I wasn't attending school any longer, I didn't see them as much. Maybe we could roll out the Monopoly board? As they were so prone to of late, my eyes welled with hot tears.
"I don't know why I'm crying," I moaned, tipping forward. The baby performed what felt like a series of donkey kicks, as though in response. I felt so cumbersome, bloated as a milking cow, my ankles swollen along with just about every part of my formerly slim, agile body. Two huge pimples bloomed on my forehead, which was a pasty, midwinter white, my summer tan long since faded. I looked like something straight out of a birth-control manual: Thinking about having sex? Take a gander at what pregnancy really looks like and see if you feel the same!
"Camille," Grandma gently chided, and rested her cheek to my shoulder, rubbing my back in small, comforting circles.
"It's only natural," Aunt Ellen said calmly. The radio on the fridge was tuned to the local country station, as usual, and Dolly Parton sang softly about love. I wasn't a huge fan of country music, certainly not classic country, but living with Grandma and Aunt Ellen since last summer worked a spell over me; these days I found myself singing along with Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard.
"I know," I sobbed, my throat full of shards. How could I admit that if I allowed myself, I would probably cry from dawn until dusk on a daily basis, and then the whole night through, burdened with guilty misery? I loved my baby already, there was no question, but I was so disoriented, disillusioned in all other regards, so often assaulted by thoughts of what my old friends from my former life were doing, back home in Chicago. How at this point in that life I should be writing college entrance letters and polishing my resume, with no more pressing decisions than which campus I might visit over spring break. On the current timeline, in which my life had sharply deviated from its intended path, I was learning about how it's difficult to go more than an hour or so without needing to find the nearest bathroom, how difficult it is to monkey an infant car seat into place, and that mothers find it absolutely necessary to inform a pregnant girl about how painful their own labors were — and how long.
I was a full forty pounds heavier than I'd been last summer; other than my sisters I was friendless, and my future seemed bleak — gray and lonely, peppered with uncertainty. College was out of the question, at least for the next foreseeable five years, surely more. Last spring I'd spent time contemplating if I would rather teach English or history at the high school level. The latter probably, as I'd always been intrigued with the little details that make up a series of events, the primary history found in letters and journals and old photographs. The Civil War era was my favorite and once upon a time I had envisioned myself as that cool, easygoing sort of teacher, my curly hair tied up into a bun and semi-sexy horn-rimmed glasses perched on my nose, creating meaningful and interesting lessons for an avid group of students who hung on my every word. This plan seemed within reach back then, and was currently as far as a star from Earth, and every bit as tangible.
You're a smart young woman, Camille Gordon were the words of nearly every teacher in my past. You'll go places.
Yes, I thought now. As in to the grocery store for another box of diapers.
"Why don't I make you some of that hot chocolate you like?" Aunt Ellen asked as though I was a little girl, but I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that it comforted me deeply; letting her baby me a little felt good.
"And ..." Grandma pursed her lips and tapped them with an index finger. "There's that old trunk I found in the attic. You wanted to look through it, remember?"
I brightened at this reminder, swiping away the messy evidence of tears. Not long ago Grandma came across a little leather trunk in the attic, crammed full of Davis family mementos. She had mentioned it last night, but I'd been too tired to trudge up there and take a look.
"I carried it downstairs so you don't have to manage those attic steps in your condition," Grandma said. "It's in my room. Why don't you go have a look and we'll finish up breakfast down here."
I nodded, hugging both of them before collecting the afghan from the back of the couch, draping it around my shoulders, and then climbing carefully up to the second floor. Grandma's room was dim in the early morning light, so I clicked on the bedside lamp. This space was comforting in the same way that smelling the scent of my mom's robe would be, familiar way down deep in my soul. Grandma's bed was made with her favorite old quilt, a tattered patchwork that her own grandmother, Myrtle Jean, had pieced together decades ago. Grandma's mother, Louisa, who we kids called Gran, passed away last summer, and I continued to miss her every day in some small way. None of us had yet grown accustomed to being at the cafe without seeing Gran sitting at her usual table, drinking coffee or an occasional cocktail, motoring around with her cane and dishing out advice a wise person would know to cherish. A word from eighth-grade vocabulary suddenly flashed across my memory.
Unflappable. The ability to maintain composure in all circumstances. This word perfectly described Gran — and all the women in my family, really — not counting me these days.
I saw the trunk near the foot of the bed, centered on the braided rag rug adorning the otherwise bare planks of the wooden floor. A beat of anticipation vibrated through me; the trunk looked old, overflowing with intriguing secrets, and I lowered myself with care, settling so that my lower back didn't bear all my weight. My baby pressed outward with her heels. I looked down at my belly, able to see the tiny points under my skin, moving along as though she meant to break free. I would never get over how incredible it was to feel a living person inside of me; I pushed gently upon the little protrusions, easing her into a more comfortable position.
"Look here," I murmured to her as I liked to do, but only if no one else was around. "It says 'Davis' on this trunk. That's our family's name."
With reverence, I ran my fingertips over the single word, which someone had long ago carved into the leather buckling strap; from the look of it, with a knifepoint. The hinges creaked and once the lid was open the scent of leather was released, like a jinni from a lamp. With a growing sense of wonder I studied the contents, debating what to touch first. Pictures, I decided. There were several small frames, one resting upside down, its black backing cracked with age. Finding myself drawn to that one in particular, I lifted it and parted the sides of the old hinged frame. I stared at the image. My lungs compressed. Immediately I turned the frame over, searching for a way to free the photograph. I released the tiny metal clasps and slid loose the old photographic paper, slightly alarmed at my haste. I only knew that I wanted to see it as fast as possible. There was a date scrawled on the back, and the words Me & Aces. Beneath that, Carter and 1875 were written with the same strong hand.
Excerpted from Winter at the White Oaks Lodge by Abbie Williams. Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I LOVED this book. It was outside of my typical genres but I could not put it down. This is a true romance story with some steamy love scenes and a happy ending. Milla (Camille) is a teenage mom that lives in Minnesota. She has support from an amazing family and is a great mom to Millie Jo. Milla’s love for history in this book added an extra element of fun. Through her historical findings she meets Mathias. Mathias is, well, swoon. He ends up home after attending college in the cities. He’s said to be the typical, good looking player, but his instant attraction to and love for Milla proves otherwise. Their story together is amazing. It has it’s lows given Milla’s past, but the connection they have towards one another, like it was meant to be, holds steadfast! This book progressed nicely and is beautifully written. I give the book 4.5 stars and highly recommend it for those of you that love romance novels!