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From the Heart of Covington

Chapter One: In the Blink of an Eye

Butterflies drank deeply from the faces of red salvia and purple verbena in Hannah's garden. Along the edges of the stream, vibrant orange daylilies bobbed and waved in a brisk summer breeze. Across the road from the ladies' farmhouse, open fields were dappled with George Maxwell's dairy cows. With a light heart and an all's-wells-with-the-world feeling, Grace noted all this as she drove slowly down Cove Road and turned into the driveway of the home she shared with Hannah and Amelia. Immediately her mood changed.

"What's wrong, Hannah?" Grace asked, as she hurried from her car toward the front porch of their farmhouse where Hannah Parrish sat in her white wicker rocking chair staring into space. "You look distraught."

Tears trailed down Hannah's face. She lifted her hand to wipe them away and dropped it back into her lap. "It's my daughter Laura. She's been badly hurt."

Grace was beside her in a moment, kneeling, her hands on Hannah's knees, and looking up into her friend's anguished face. "Laura's been hurt? How? Where? Tell me." She shook Hannah's leg. "Talk to me, Hannah. Tell me what's happened."

For a long moment Hannah sat without speaking, then she turned stricken eyes to Grace. "A Dr. Romano called from Puerto Rico. He said there'd been a hurricane, and Captain Marvin's boat. . .his ketch. . .dashed to bits on a reef. Laura's been injured." Hannah, reliably cool and collected, stoic, and not given to tears or drama, lowered her head and cupped her chin to stop its quivering. After a moment, she rallied and looked at Grace. "They never found Captain Marvin." Hannah buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook.

Getting up off of her knees, Grace's arms circled Hannah's broad shoulders. Her fingers brushed Hannah's thick salt-and-pepper hair. "I'm so sorry." She had a million questions. What had happened? Why were they on a boat in a hurricane? How badly was Laura hurt? "Where's Laura now?"

"Hospital in Puerto Rico. Broken leg, all banged up, stitches. They had to remove her spleen."

"Have you spoken to her?"

"Not yet. Been sitting here waiting for you or Amelia to come home." Then Hannah turned troubled eyes to Grace. "That boat was Laura's home. She's lost everything. She's got no place to go from the hospital but here."

"Of course, but how will she get here?"

"By ambulance plane. Seems people in the Caribbean buy ambulance plane insurance."

"Ambulance plane." Grace sat heavily in her rocker alongside Hannah. "When can she travel, did they say?"

Hannah dug in a pocket of her slacks and pulled out a small slip of paper. "She's being discharged in five days." Hannah sounded exhausted. She muttered something Grace did not catch, shifted her hips in the rocker, and heaved a deep sigh. Several moments passed in silence. "That cold I had, more like a flu, has left me feeling emotionally as well as physically weak. I need time to digest this whole thing. Never been close to Laura. Haven't seen her in years. She was pretty, you know, prettier than her sister, Miranda, but hard to handle, rebellious. We seemed to grate on each other's nerves."

"That's in the past. Laura needs you now." Softly, Grace stroked Hannah's arm. "She needs you." Wisteria flowers hung like clusters of lavender grapes from vines firmly established along the fretwork of the porch. Several papery petals fell into Hannah's lap. She lifted one, rubbed it between two fingers, then let it fall to the floor.

"I know." Her blue eyes sought Grace's. "It's been so many years. We're strangers. Don't know my own child. What will I say to her?" She rubbed her forehead with her hand. "Hope I'm up to the challenge. I'm not like you, Grace. I've never been good at taking care of sick people."

"I'm here for you, for Laura, and I'm sure Amelia will be too."

It was summer, glorious green and glowing summer, a trifle warm, but night temperatures were cool, in the low sixties, and comfortable. The ladies' farmhouse sat well back from Cove Road, beyond a long stretch of grassy lawn. In beds on either side of the gravel driveway, red roses had put on a striking display in May, while in June a stunning show of purple irises and mustard-yellow Stella d'Ore daylilies were followed by exquisitely formed tubular, purple Coventry bells rearing their heads behind the salvia, verbena, and white geraniums that filled the flower beds that ran the length of the porch on either side of the front steps.

Hannah's news weighted the lightness Grace had felt earlier. Summer was passing too fast. The Fourth of July celebration was now a pleasant memory. As usual, the fireworks in the small, family-filled park twenty-minutes away in Barnardsville had been intimate, spectacular, and fun. Sitting there watching the sky explode into bursts of color, Grace had thought how well things were going for all of them and how happy she was. Now she shook her head, feeling the uneasiness that lies at the heart of any transition. A blink of an eye, that's all it took for a pleasant, easygoing life to tumble like a shirt in a clothes dryer. Poor Laura. Grace had never met her. Neither had their housemate, Amelia, but if Laura needed to come home to her mother to recover, so be it. Grace would support Hannah in every way she could.

"It'll be all right, Hannah. We have the extra bedroom upstairs. If Laura needs to be downstairs, we'll convert the dining room for her, like we did when you had your hip replacement surgery."

"Seems so long ago, over two years," Hannah said. "You took such good care of me." Hannah gave Grace a grateful look. "I can always count on you, can't I, my friend?"

"Yes, you can." Grace squeezed Hannah's arm. "Three Musketeers. You said that once, when we were deciding to come down here to see the farmhouse, remember?"

"I remember," Hannah said. She looked deep into Grace's gentle brown eyes. "Oh, Grace, thank God we're not still living at Olive Pruitt's boarding house. Thank God Amelia inherited this farmhouse, and we had the guts to move from Pennsylvania down to North Carolina."

"And bless Amelia for so generously putting the deed into our three names," Grace said.

"Indeed. Now, I have a home my child can come to."

When Amelia returned from her photo shoot, her reaction was the same as Grace's. "Mais oui, Laura must come here." Her splendid sapphire eyes filled with concern.

"It won't be easy. Laura'll be on crutches for many weeks," Hannah said.

"So? We'll convert the dining room into a bedroom for her, like we did when you had surgery," Amelia said.

"Can't let you do that. We entertain a lot, and Grace loves to cook."

Grace waved a hand. "I can still cook, and if we have anyone over we'll set out a picnic right here on the porch. Who do we have over, anyhow? Mostly friends. They'll understand."

"It's settled, then," Amelia said. "Don't worry about anything, Hannah. Grace and I will see about having our dining room furniture stored."

Hannah nodded. It was hard for her to ask for or even to accept help, but she was learning. "Dr. Romano, Laura's doctor, said Laura's injuries are severe but not life threatening. She's bruised inside and out, stitches down her left arm, and a nasty gash and stitches across her cheek. He said she had the best plastic surgeon on the island, and she won't have visible scars."

Amelia's hand moved to her neck, where her burn scars were carefully concealed beneath one of her fine silk scarves.

Hannah's brow wrinkled. "When they told her about Captain Marvin being lost at sea, they say she screamed and screamed. They had to sedate her."

Amelia's eyes clouded, and her lips tightened. "I know how your daughter feels. Because of my burns, they didn't tell me for a long time that my Thomas had been killed when that car crashed into ours, and when they did, I went berserk." Amelia brought her hands to her throat. "Mon Dieu, I wanted to die. I tried to force open a window in the hospital to jump out. They had to restrain me. Imagine poor Laura, unable to get out of bed. What could she do but scream?" Tears banked in Amelia's eyes, and she looked away.

It was very quiet. No cars drove by on Cove Road. The wind had died down, and birds had ceased singing as if they too mourned Laura's losses.

"Laura's lucky to have you, Hannah, and someplace to go." Amelia looked at them with pain filled-eyes, and when she spoke, her voice was a mere whisper. "After they released me from the hospital, I had no one to go to, no place to go, no one to talk to, nothing." Pulling back her shoulders, Amelia tossed her head in a familiar gesture. "Well, mes amies, I'm going upstairs to shower. Mike and I are going to Asheville for dinner. He'll be picking me up soon. Anything I can do for Laura, let me know."

"Thanks, Amelia." But as Amelia closed the front door behind her, Hannah speculated that of the three of them, Amelia was the least likely to spend time with someone as sick and as miserable as Laura was bound to be. For many moments, Grace and Hannah sat silent. Then Hannah said, "Since Amelia's fling with that scoundrel Lance Lundquist ended, she's been consumed with her photography. Doubt she'll have the interest or time for Laura."

"Or," Grace replied, "perhaps she identifies with what Laura's going through."

Hannah's eyes clouded. "Can't believe this whole thing is happening. All those years Laura and Captain Marvin lived on that boat in Maine. Why did they pick up and move to the Caribbean? Why a hurricane so early in the season? Storm Watch, on the weather channel, keeps saying that August and September, not July, are the worst months for hurricanes." Abruptly Hannah stopped the motion of her rocker. "How am I going to handle this, Grace? I'm a wreck already."

"Moment by moment, I imagine. You always handle things, Hannah. You'll see."

Excerpted from From the Heart of Covington © Copyright 2002 by Joan Medlicott. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.

From the Heart of Covington
by by Joan Medlicott

  • hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312285558
  • ISBN-13: 9780312285555