Starting over means looking back for a mother and daughter on the road to reinventing themselves in a moving novel about family secrets and second chances by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jamie Beck.
Seventeen years ago, two pink stripes on a pregnancy test changed Anne Sullivan’s life. She abandoned her artistic ambitions, married her college sweetheart before graduation, and—like the mother she lost in childhood—devoted herself to her family. To say she didn’t see the divorce coming is an understatement. Now, eager to distance herself from her ex and his lover, she moves with her troubled daughter, Katy, to the quaint bayside town of Potomac Point, where she spent her childhood summers.
But her fresh start stalls when the contractor renovating her grandparents’ old house discovers a vintage recipe box containing hints about her beloved grandmother’s hidden past. Despite the need to move forward, Anne is drawn into exploring the mysterious clues about the woman she’s always trusted. Gram’s dementia is making that harder, and the stakes intensify when Katy’s anxieties take an alarming turn. Amid the turmoil, uncovered secrets shatter past beliefs, forcing each woman to confront her deepest fears in order to save herself.
A laundry list of insults cycles through my mind like ticker tape, but I literally bite my tongue when another image of Katy’s splotchy face from this morning flickers through my mind. All the time spent filling her life with love and opportunity means very little in light of one inescapable reality: by letting our family fall apart, Richard and I have fundamentally failed our daughter.
Condemning my husband is pointless. However we got here, the result is the same.
The brokers return, confirm the payments, congratulate us all, and quickly show us out. Even though I never loved that house, the finality of what’s happening hits me like a board to the face. My married life and home are truly lost to me. There will be no going back. No fixing what broke. I’m starting over at thirty-seven. That prospect festers like an ulcer. All I know is how to be a wife and mother.
My hands tremble for a split second as I grapple with my purse strap. Please, God, don’t let Richard see my strength falter. His affair humiliated me. He can never know how badly he’s hurt me, too.
The buyers walk ahead of us, holding hands. The woman is decked out in a Trina Turk “Vanah” dress, diamonds and sapphires in her ears and around her neck and wrists, and cute platform espadrilles. Her husband is attractive in a Tom Hardy way and carries his success like Richard does—chin up, shoulders proud.
I can picture him—much like my soon-to-be ex—proudly moving into that home that has three times more space than any family needs. What he doesn’t yet know is that four stories and a dozen rooms make it too easy to slink away from each other for entire evenings. Bit by bit that disconnect—the physical space between each person—becomes the sort of emotional distance that loosens family bonds. Not that you see it happening in the moment.
I’ve often wondered whether Richard and I might’ve stayed together if we’d remained in the two-thousand-square-foot home we’d previously owned. Questions like that keep me up nights.
A decade ago, we were excited. Happy. A young family on our way up. The problem with rising so high so fast? When you fall—and that fall will come, usually when you least expect it—you smack the ground so hard a part of you dies.
Once reanimated, you feel more like a roamer on The Walking Dead than a person.
Richard leans in as if he might kiss my cheek, but stops short when I flinch. “Good luck, Anne. Hope you don’t die of boredom in that small town.”
His condescension pricks the ugly bitterness that has blistered beneath my skin since his May confessional.
“Well, I survived life with you, so how bad can Potomac Point be?” I pat his shoulder twice. “Don’t worry about me. Save your energy for staying sane while Lauren has you stuck at home raising her young kids. I’ll be sure to send postcards from Paris and Prague to give you goals to look forward to in another twelve or fourteen years.”
I turn away and walk to my car without looking back so he can’t see my brave face slip. The truth is I’d wanted more kids but, after the agony of a late-term miscarriage, chose to focus all my love on Katy and her anxieties. Once she’d turned six, Richard no longer wanted to bring an infant into our lives. Another decision to regret, I suppose, because both Katy and I might be better off if we had another person in our shrinking family.
By the time my car door closes, fresh tears blur my vision. Contrary to my goal, I did not escape that closing with my dignity intact—behaving no better than my teen daughter.
It takes a bunch of tugging and a good lick to wrench my wedding rings from my finger. In the sunlight their dazzling sparkle is full of false promise, so I drop them into my purse. I stretch the fingers of my bare left hand, which now looks as unfamiliar as everything else about my undone life.
Richard wasn’t the husband I’d hoped he’d be, and ours hadn’t been the perfect marriage. But I’ve given so much of myself to that life that I can’t stand the way it’s ending. He’s skipping forward as if our years together meant nothing, leaving me behind on an uncertain path. Seeing him quickly—and happily—replace our family stings like an ice-cold shower.
I’ve been telling myself I’m not running. Telling myself that this move will be for the best.
Please, God, let me be right.
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