A Bridge Home

Will a new beginning…
Lead to forever?

What good is a home without a family? School principal Eric Wells finally has the house he’s always wanted, but a painful childhood makes him question his ability to be a father. So when his high school crush Amy Morgan returns to Bluestone River with her troubled daughter, he’s surprised to find he wants to be there for both of them. Will Amy finally give him a chance?

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WITH A BASKET of clean clothes balanced against her hip, Amy Morgan climbed the basement stairs humming the opening bars of “My Funny Valentine.” A slightly off-key rendition, especially on the high notes, but what difference did it make? The song had looped through her head all day, no matter how hard she tried to purge it from her brain. There was zero chance of that happening, since Valentine’s Day plans were the buzz at work that afternoon.

As the River Street Salon’s receptionist she had a front row seat to the daily small talk. Every woman who came in that particular day was expecting her special someone to show up with a bouquet of her favorite flowers, a box of chocolates or both.

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Amy carried the basket of still-warm clothes into the kitchen and plunked it down on a chair at the end of the long table. “Happy Valentine’s Day to me,” she muttered under her breath.

Oops, her words came out louder than she intended. Grandma Barb glanced up from where she stood unloading the dishwasher. “Did you say something, Amy?”

“Nothing important, Grandma. I was just talking to myself—again.” Amy injected an upbeat lilt into her voice.

“She does that a lot,” Cassie said. Amy’s nine-year-old sat at the table swinging her legs and tapping her pencil on her math worksheet.

“Oh, you, don’t exaggerate.” Amy made a face at Cassie before plucking a pair of her grandpa’s jeans off the top of the pile. “How’s that homework coming?”

“Boring. I told you I’m not good at math.”

“You used to be.” Amy immediately wanted to snatch those words out of the air. Couldn’t she have come up with something a little more original? She only seemed to remind Cassie about how her life “used to be.” But whatever she said was the wrong thing lately, and Cassie never thought twice about telling her so.

She waved the worksheet in the air. “My teacher said this is harder than what I did last semester in my old school. It’s three-digit multiplication.”

“You’ll catch on, honey,” Grandma Barb said. She pulled a chair out from the table and eased herself down. She reached out to pat Cassie’s arm.

Amy smoothed the wrinkles out of the jeans and braced for another argumentative answer from Cassie, but none came. Good. If she’d done one thing right, it was drawing a line in the sand when it came to Cassie’s great-grandparents. They were to be treated with respect—and only with respect. No back talk, no antics. Ever.

“As soon as I’m finished folding these clothes, I’ll heat up the stew, Grandma.”

Grandma tilted her head toward Cassie and smacked her lips. “And then we’ll have red velvet cake for dessert.”

Cassie smacked her lips back and grinned.

At least Grandma Barb could bring a smile to her little girl’s face. So could Barb’s gray-and-white cat, named Cloud because her coat resembled white clouds against a gray sky. At the moment, Cloud sat on her haunches next to Cassie’s chair, apparently in the mood to accept whatever attention anyone in the house chose to heap on her.

Amy took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She had to fight off her own cloud of gloom and doom. She kept a watch on Cassie, who fidgeted with her braid, but kept her head down and finished up the remaining math problems on the page. Then she lifted the pencil high in the air and let it drop onto the paper. “I’m done, done, done.” She slid off the chair and hurried out of the kitchen and into the living room.

Phew. Amy exhaled in relief as if she’d finished her homework.

“I know you’re worried, sweetheart, but your little girl will be fine.” Grandma Barb spoke in a confident tone.

She meant well. Amy gave her that. Her grandmother seemed to have an unending supply of optimism. But Grandma hadn’t read the message from Amy’s teacher about the nine-year-old’s adjustment issues. Or rather, maladjustment. Grandma hadn’t been on the embarrassing phone call with the school’s office manager to set up an appointment with Eric Wells, the new principal. As if Cassie’s bad behavior wasn’t bad enough, Amy had gone to high school with Eric. They’d even worked together as coeditors of the high school newspaper.

“Maybe so, Grandma, but you don’t have to slink into the school tomorrow morning and hope no one notices you showing up at the principal’s office to meet with Mr. Wells.” She grabbed one of Cassie’s pullovers from the pile and quickly folded it and set it aside in a growing pile of Cassie’s things. Her daughter was old enough now to put away her own little pile of clothes, even if she griped about it. Amy herself had lived with her grandparents most of her childhood and doing a bunch of chores was part of a regular day. She’d rebel against them occasionally, but Grandma would shrug off her complaints. Now Amy found herself doing the same thing with Cassie.

Grandma pointed to the window. “Look at that snow. I doubt anyone’s going to be having meetings at the school tomorrow. We’ll be buried by morning.”

Amy turned to look out the picture window behind her. Grandma could be right. The snow was forecasted as barely deep enough to cover the half foot of snow that blanketed Bluestone River a few days ago. But the wind had picked up and blew the snow horizontally. They were in the midst of a whiteout now. “You could be right. Maybe we’re in the path of that giant storm after all.”

Grandma’s eyebrows lifted almost to her forehead in amusement. “I’m sure Les will tell us at dinner.”

Amy chuckled. “In great detail.” After a stroke forced her Grandpa Les to slow down, he’d become even more dedicated to news and weather watching. Unfortunately, it took a little effort for him to move around, but he balked at using a wheelchair, at least in the house. On the other hand, in his eighties now, like Barb, his mind hadn’t lost a beat.

Amy returned the piles of folded clothes to the basket and set it aside to put away after dinner. She took out the pot of stew she’d made that morning before work, and while it heated, she warmed the rolls in the oven and brought bowls and plates to the table. Grandma could finish setting the table without having to get up from her chair.

“We have our system, don’t we?” Barb smiled as she plucked silverware out of the wire basket on the table.

“Like the old days.” As happened so often since she’d been back in Bluestone River, a wave of nostalgia gently rolled in. Sometimes she couldn’t help but long for the simpler days of her childhood with Grandma and Grandpa, whose unconditional love had nurtured her when her parents wouldn’t—or maybe couldn’t.

“Speaking of systems...” She smiled at Grandma and went to the arched entry into the living room. “Time to come to the table, you two. Do you need help, Grandpa?”

“Nah.” He inched to the edge of the chair and braced his hands on the arms to lift himself to his feet. “Cassie will walk next to me. Maybe she’ll let me hang on to her hand.”

Cassie nodded eagerly. “You bet, Grandpa.”

She sounded so sweet. How could this be the same girl who’d refused to make valentines in class that day? Even worse, she’d dumped art supplies in the trash? It hurt knowing that today’s episode wasn’t the first. The other day, Cassie had instigated a name-calling match with a boy in her class.

“Hold on to your hats, girls,” Grandpa Les said as he sat in the chair Cassie pulled out for him. “Just saw the weather update. Winds are picking up.” He tapped the tip of Cassie’s nose. “I bet you’ll be home tomorrow and helping me put together that puzzle we’ve got going. What do you want to bet they call off school?”

“Lots of Valentine’s Day plans up in smoke, too, I suppose,” Grandma said.

“Not ours,” Amy said, trying to sound upbeat. She looked at her grandparents and her daughter. The three of them were her holiday plans. “Pass the bowls and I’ll dish up the stew.”

“And eat fast,” Cassie said, “so we can have cake.”

Grandma and Grandpa jumped in with their usual teasing about Cassie’s sweet tooth, so like their mother’s they’d say fondly. Amy couldn’t deny it. For the next few minutes, she enjoyed the comfort of the warm rolls topped with melting butter and a generous dollop of honey. The scent of thyme and garlic in the hot stew on the cold night made all her problems seem a little less serious.

After they’d cleared away the cake plates, her grandparents opened the cards Amy bought to give them, one from her, one from Cassie. She’d had some warning about Cassie acting out in the previous days when she couldn’t coax her daughter to even glance at the cards they were giving to her grandparents. Cassie cared about one thing only, and that was choosing the valentine to mail to her father, who apparently hadn’t bothered to send his daughter a card. At least nothing had arrived in that day’s mail. Cassie had checked yesterday and the day before, and she’d do it again tomorrow. It remained to be seen if Scott bothered to call before Cassie’s bedtime. She stopped trying to predict her ex-husband’s actions. Scott had been a major-league sweet talker before they were married, but those days were long gone.

Nothing could excuse Cassie’s outburst at school, but Amy had a pretty good idea what had prompted the hostile behavior. If only she could convince Scott that Cassie’s disappointments had piled up. Amy had resolved to at least try to stop keeping score of Scott’s broken promises, both to her and to Cassie, but she couldn’t expect her daughter to do the same.

Later, she leaned against the doorjamb of Cassie’s room and looked on as her daughter put her clean clothes away. She even took time to even out the piles of clothes in her dresser. Cassie claimed not to like anything about her new home or school, and Bluestone River was just a dumb little town, but for all that, she kept her room as neat as could be. Like mother, like daughter.

Amy had the sudden urge to bypass her meeting with the principal and pull Cassie out of the class and homeschool her. That would keep her out of trouble.

And let me save face.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Marie Edwards on Amazon wrote:

Clean, wholesome, sweet read that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you want to get up and hug everyone! Messages of compromise, adjusting, and learning to trust are apparent; and McCullough creates a beautiful story that is realistic while being uplifting. While sometimes it is hard to change, we can slowly evolve, expand, and open up to new experiences that enrich our lives.

Those who’ve read the previous two novels and fans of the author will likely want to read this. Anyone who enjoys clean, wholesome, and a story with a beautiful ending will enjoy it as well.


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