Authors: Cyndi Myers
“Real life for the sandwich generation.”
The Birdman’s Daughter
“An engrossing read about family, marriage and love.”
Curled Up with a Good Book
The Birdman’s Daughter
“Lyrical…the father is a memorable character.”
RT Book Reviews
The Birdman’s Daughter
“A very emotional, heart-wrenching story.”
The Ratmammy Reviews
The Birdman’s Daughter
“Delightful and delicious…Cindi Myers always satisfies!”
bestselling author Julie Ortolon
“Myers’s ability to portray true-to-life sympathetic characters will resonate most with readers of this captivating romance.”
Nothing shapes our personalities and lives like our families. Whether our family relationships are good or bad, they influence us throughout our days. The stories in this volume look at those family relationships from different angles. In particular, they look at the relationships of two grown daughters with their fathers.
I was close to my own father. He taught me a lot and we shared a love of history, gardening and nature. He passed away suddenly on the eve of the original publication of
The Birdman’s Daughter
and I was always sad he didn’t get to see it, for he took pride in my writing. He would buy copies of my books and give them away to new people he met.
The daughters in these stories aren’t always as close with their fathers as I was with mine, but those difficulties have made them stronger. Through the course of these stories each discovers a kind of healing that I hope readers will find uplifting.
I love to hear from readers. You can look for me on Facebook or MySpace, or e-mail me through my Web site www.CindiMyers.com. Or write to me in care of Harlequin Books, 225 Duncan Mill Rd, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3K9, Canada.
In memory of Lyle Sterling, 1933–2006
Frannie Lawrence believed in secrets. The things you didn’t talk about couldn’t hurt you the way words said out loud could. Words made the bad things too real sometimes. Better to keep silent, with the hurt locked safely away.
She took one last look around at the room where she’d spent most of her nineteen years—a room that had held so many secrets. The beds were made, the clothes they were leaving behind folded neatly in the dresser. In the kitchen she’d covered and put away the last of the funeral food and watered the potted ivy sent over by her boss at Weisman’s Drug Store. Everything was as orderly as she could make it. When she thought of this place at all, this was how she wanted to remember it.
She turned to her sister. “Are you ready?”
Ellen looked around the room, as if searching for something she’d left behind. She was still wearing the black dress she’d put on for the funeral. It was too tight across her chest and in the arms, the seams straining at her rib cage. Three years younger than Frannie, Ellen still had the soft look of a child. Frannie’s heart ached when she looked at Ellen and thought of how vulnerable she was, in a way Frannie, as the oldest, had never been.
Ellen’s eyes met Frannie’s, worry making a slight V over the bridge of her nose. “I guess I’m ready,” she said.
“Come on. The taxi will be here soon.”
“All right.” Ellen picked up her suitcase and followed Frannie into the living room, where their mother sat in a faded chintz armchair.
“I’m going to California and I’m taking Ellen with me,” Frannie said. She’d kept this plan a secret until now, too, to lessen the chance of anyone trying to stop them.
Confusion clouded their mother’s eyes. “He’s dead now. Why do you need to leave?”
“We’ll both be happier out there. I’ll find a job, and I’ll make sure Ellen finishes school. You won’t have to worry about us.”
Their mother didn’t look alarmed or even particularly distressed. “California? Why California?”
“The weather’s good. I hear there are good jobs out there. And it’s as far away from here as I could think of.”
She looked at Frannie a moment longer, the puzzled expression never leaving her eyes, then she sighed, like steam escaping from a soufflé, collapsing it. “I suppose it’s for the best,” she said.
“Yes, it’s for the best.” Frannie and Ellen would be better off separated from all the things that had happened here. They would never talk about them again.
Memories are a lot like men. Some of them look best when viewed from a distance.
Unfortunately, the only way to separate the dreamboats from the duds is to move in for a better inspection. I’d been keeping my distance for a lot of years when I finally decided to take a chance and see what a closer look would show me. My twentieth high school reunion seemed as good a time as any to examine the men and the memories I’d left behind.
“Why would you want to go back for the reunion when you didn’t even graduate from the class?” My sister, Frannie, stood in the bedroom of my condo, which sat next door to her own in Bakersfield, California, and watched me pack for the trip back to Ridgeway, Virginia, home of the Ridgeway Rebels, Markson’s Manufacturing and, once upon a time, Frannie and me.
It was true I hadn’t graduated from Ridgeway High School—we’d moved away when I was sixteen—but I had grown up as part of the class of 1986. I felt a lot closer to them than to my actual graduating class at Hollywood High. “They were nice enough to ask me, so I’m going,” I said.
“You never wanted to go before.” Frannie’s tone approached a whine. “Why now?”
“I never wanted to go before because I was fat.” Not “plump” or “chunky” or even “heavy” but fat. Such an ugly
word. I hadn’t wanted to hear my old friends use it to describe me. “Now I’m not fat anymore and there are a lot of people there I’d like to see again.” I mean, how could I pass up the chance to impress my old friends with what a hot item I’d become?
Frannie’s expression didn’t soften one bit. “Such as?”
“Well…” I tucked a pair of sandals more securely along the side of the suitcase. “Marc Reynolds is going to be there,” I said.
In high school, I’d been sure Marc was the most perfect boy I’d ever known. He’d been tall, with a strong jaw, thick brown hair falling just so across his forehead and eyes the color of Little Debbie fudge brownies. One smile from him in the hallway and I’d be floating all day.
So when I found out he was still single—and that he was on the committee planning the reunion—I took it as a sign. I’d spent most of my life as a dumpy plain Jane and figured I had, at best, only a few prime years left. I had to take advantage of them while I could.
“As I remember it, Marc Reynolds wouldn’t give you the time of day in high school,” Frannie said.
“That’s because I was on my way to being fat then.” I held up two dresses, both with tags still attached. “Which do you think looks better on me—the blue or the pink?”
“The blue brings out your eyes. And you were not that fat in high school.”
“Not as fat as I got later, you mean.” I studied the dresses again. “Are you sure the blue looks better? The pink is a size eight.” Probably mismarked since it fit me, but it was the only size eight I’d worn in my life.
“Take them both if you can’t decide.” Frannie came all the way into the room and sat on the side of the bed. “Ellen, I know you’ve worked really hard, and I’m very proud of you, but you can’t think losing a few pounds is some magic trick that will suddenly get you everything you want.”
“One hundred pounds. I lost one hundred pounds.” I added both dresses to the suitcase and turned to face her. “One hundred pounds is another person. People look at you differently when you weigh two hundred and forty than when you weigh one hundred and forty.
look at you differently.”
“And you think Marc will look at you differently?” The twin worry lines on her forehead deepened.
“I know he will. And more important, I look at myself differently now. I know any man would be lucky to have me.” I said this with more conviction than I actually felt, but all the self-help books I’d read had assured me if I kept faking it, the actual feelings of self-confidence would eventually show up. “Marc’s not going to know what hit him,” I added.
“Maybe he’s bald and has a beer belly now,” she said. “Maybe he’s nothing like you remember him.”
Have I mentioned that my big sister hates to lose an argument? “I saw his picture on the reunion Web site,” I told her. “He looks better than ever. A few lines around the eyes, a touch of gray at the temples. Sexy as hell.”
I glanced at my own reflection in the dresser mirror. My hair was the same rich auburn it had been in high school, thanks to Frannie, one of the best hairdressers in the state of California. She does hair for movie stars. Going to her salon for my monthly cut-and-color was like a trip through the pages of
Soap Opera Digest.
You never knew who you’d find under the dryer next to you. Once I’d been at the shampoo sink beside Susan Lucci!
“You look great,” Frannie said, catching me in my moment of vanity. “That new cut makes you look five years younger, and those highlights I put in really draw attention to your eyes. You’ve always had such great hair and eyes.”
This is the kind of thing well-meaning family and friends say to try to cheer up fat people. If I had a dollar for every
time I’d heard “she has such a nice face,” I could retire now. But I guess I was glad I hadn’t ended up with limp, mousy hair and a big schnoz, in addition to having a big butt and thunder thighs.
I did a half turn to check the rear view. I still couldn’t quite get used to seeing my much smaller caboose. Thanks to the millions of hours I’d spent in the gym—and the tummy tuck I’d had last spring—I had a pretty decent figure. And before anybody makes cracks about plastic surgery being cheating, let’s see
lose almost half your body weight and not end up with a ton of loose skin with nowhere to go.
I left the mirror and went back to packing. “Yolanda has everything she needs at the shop, but I gave her your number for emergencies.” I own a flower shop—The Perfect Posie. I specialize in flowers for movie sets. That gorgeous arrangement sitting on the piano in your favorite sitcom? I did those. The flowers for that big TV wedding extravaganza a few years ago? That was me. Yolanda’s been my right hand at the shop for five years, so I was confident she could keep things going while I had my fun.
“Bring me some postcards for my scrapbook,” Frannie said, apparently resigned to the fact that she wasn’t going to talk me out of this.
I smiled. “Of course.” Frannie has dozens of scrapbooks devoted to every facet of our lives. Not that we have very exciting lives, but Frannie documents every minute bit, as if collecting evidence that we really do exist.
Evidence for whom I haven’t decided. We’re both single and childless, though I’d like to change that.
“How long are you going to be gone?” Frannie asked. She was still frowning. I ought to tell her how bad that is for her face. The plastic surgeon I’d seen had offered Botox but since I don’t have very many lines yet, I’d decided to pass. All that fat under my skin had been good for something after all—not as many wrinkles. That, and I have redhead
skin. I can burn on a cloudy day, so I’d worn sunblock out of self-defense a long time before everyone preached about it.
“The reunion is over the long weekend, but I wanted to get there a little early and look around the old hometown.” I closed the suitcase and leaned on it, struggling to pull the zipper shut.
Frannie came over to help me. “So how long? A week?”
“At least. I booked an open return on my ticket, in case I decide to stay longer.” I tried to keep my expression casual, but Frannie knows me better than anyone.
“You mean in case things get hot and heavy with Marc Reynolds.” She punched my shoulder. “Ellen! You haven’t seen the man in over twenty years and you’re already planning to sleep with him.”
Another thing about redheads is that we blush easily. At least I do. Right now my cheeks felt as if they were on fire. “Not
. I’m just leaving the possibility open. Is that so bad? Jeez, I haven’t had sex with anybody but myself in so long, I’d like to think it’s a possibility, you know?”
She put her arm around me and hugged me close. “I know. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Life hurts, sis. You know that.”
She nodded. “I know.” We’d been through sometimes, Frannie and I. I’m not going to talk about them now, but suffice it to say I’d gotten through them with food, and Frannie had focused on worrying about me. I’d given up my food addiction, but Frannie couldn’t let go of worrying. I don’t think there’s a twelve-step program for that one.
“Just tell me this.” She straightened and looked me in the eyes. “What happens if you meet up with Marc and you two don’t hit it off? You’re not going to get all depressed again, are you?”
“I promise I’m not going to drown my sorrows in chocolate
doughnuts.” I held up one hand, Scout’s honor—though I was never so much as a lowly Brownie. “Maybe I’ll meet someone else. Or maybe I’ll decide they’re all a bunch of losers and I can do better.” I patted her shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m not a fifteen-year-old who cries if you look at her wrong anymore. I’m going to visit the old hometown, maybe spend a day at the lake, see a few old friends and have a vacation. It’ll be fine.”
She didn’t look convinced. “You couldn’t pay me enough to go back there.”
“Maybe you should go,” I said gently. “I think part of getting over things is proving they don’t have power over you anymore.”
She shook her head. “I’d just as soon forget.”
I understood that. No one likes bad memories. I’d tried to bury them for years under food, but it hadn’t worked. I hadn’t even realized what I was doing until a therapist pointed it out. And I hadn’t even told her everything.
I still saw the therapist, just as I still went to the gym. Part of my maintenance plan. Frannie preferred fussing over her customers and her silver standard poodles, Midge and Pidge.
Neither of us had ever married. Frannie said she had no interest in being tied down to anyone. She rarely even dated and seemed fine with that.
I wasn’t so satisfied being alone, and I hoped in the near future I could change that. Thirty-eight years is a long time to be single, but I’d spent at least twenty-five of those years behind my wall of fat, insulating myself from the opposite sex and everything else. So I figured in relationship years, I was closer to my early twenties.
I had plenty of time left to meet Mr. Right. Time to try for a different life than the one I’d had so far—a life in which I could really be
My flight touched down at the Richmond airport at three o’clock the next afternoon, and I collected my bags and went to find my rental car. Today was Thursday. The official reunion started Saturday, which gave me a little time to get my bearings.
Like almost every other small town on the East Coast, Ridgeway had succumbed to urban sprawl. As I headed toward my downtown hotel, I passed acres of houses lined up like Monopoly playing pieces and shopping centers full of the same big-box stores and restaurants you could find in every state in the Union.
Closer to downtown, though, things began to look familiar. I passed the Elks Lodge where Frannie had her junior/senior prom, and Monroe’s Department Store, where Mom worked for a while. I read street signs and remembered which friends had lived on each block.
Frannie and I had both been back here five years ago, when our mother died. We hadn’t seen much of Ridgeway then, since we’d spent most of the four days cleaning out her house and planning her funeral. We’d agreed to sell the place to a cousin and then left town as fast as we could, relieved that we’d never have to come back here again.
But this time was different, I told myself. This time I wanted to be here. I wasn’t the same person I’d been five years ago or twenty-two years ago, when Frannie and I had headed to California. I could come here and enjoy myself.
It was after six by the time I checked into the hotel. I unpacked my suitcase, freshened up my hair and makeup, then went downstairs to the bar.
I’m not much of a drinker normally, but I was determined not to hole up in my room the entire weekend. Ordering room service was terribly tempting, though. I’ve always felt so conspicuous eating alone in a restaurant—one of those
holdovers from my fat days, I guess, when I was sure people were judging every bite I put in my mouth.
Anyway, I figured a drink would take the edge off my nervousness. And maybe they’d have popcorn or nuts set out, so I wouldn’t show up at the restaurant famished.
The bar was a typical hotel “lounge”—tucked into a corner, one side open to the lobby, a television with the sound turned down suspended over the bar. A baseball game was on, and I pretended to watch it while I waited for my glass of white wine. After the drink came, I got up the nerve to look around.
That’s when I realized I was the only woman in the place. I took a big swallow of wine. Coincidence? Or was there something I didn’t know about this place? Would the other customers think I was a hooker or something?
This is what comes of not socializing much for twenty-two years. I was ignorant of the unwritten rules and silent signals that applied to dating among adults. A man in a brown suit at the other end of the bar caught my eye and smiled. I looked away, and resolved to finish my wine and get out of there as soon as I could.
Brown suit had another idea. He picked up his drink and moved onto the stool next to me. “I hope you don’t mind if I join you,” he said, “but I hate sitting at the bar by myself. It makes me feel so self-conscious. And well, more alone.”
Since this was exactly what I’d been feeling myself, I nodded. “I know what you mean,” I said.
He offered his hand. “Mitch Brannon.”
“Hi, Mitch. I’m Ellen.” I knew enough not to give a stranger my full name. I was naive in some ways, but not dumb.
“So, are you in town on business?” Mitch asked.
I shook my head. “Class reunion.”
“No kidding? Tenth?”
I knew he was flirting then, and couldn’t hold back a pleased smile. “A lady never tells,” I teased.
“And a gentleman wouldn’t dream of pressing the issue. Can I buy you a drink?”
I realized my glass was empty, and started to say no, but Mitch had already caught the eye of the bartender and signaled for two more drinks. I pulled a basket of snack mix toward me and started to eat. The salt would make me all puffy and bloated tomorrow, but without something in my stomach I was afraid I’d get tipsy and stupid fast.