Excerpt: The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door by Barbara McMahon

Book One: Rocky Point Series

Gillian Parker parked the rental car at the curb. Glancing around, she tried to absorb every sight immediately. The clapboard homes on the side street. The weathered fronts on the buildings closer to the ocean. The spaciousness of the main street. The flower designs painted on the old iron street lights.

She was unabashedly charmed.

Rocky Point, Maine, had been a dot on the map before today. Now she sat in her car in the heart of the New England town.

She stepped from the car and locked the door. Not that there was anything in the car itself. Her suitcase was in the truck. But habits were habits.

Walking to the front of the cafe, she involuntarily smiled again noticing the quaint decor. Flower boxes lined the bottom of the large windows, with colorful blooms already spilling over the edge. The outside had been painted recently and gave a friendly feel of welcome to the establishment.

She opened the door and walked in, her high heels rapping on the hardwood floors. The waitresses carried ladened trays weaving through the throng, their pinafore period costumes adding to the charm of the old-time decor which seemed to make the cafe a top destination for lunch.

“Table for one? A waitress asked, pausing for a moment.

“Yes.” For a moment Gillian felt the center of all eyes. Conversation seemed to diminish a bit, then regained the previous volume.

She’d heard stories about small towns recognizing strangers when they arrived. Judging from the weekday work attire of the folks at the tables, her clothing would also signal something out of the ordinary. She’d just come from the funeral where she had worn her only black suit. It was a bit dressy for a midweek afternoon.

The waitress handed her the menu. “Our special today is crab cakes. The sisters make the best in town.”

Gillian smiled and began to study the menu, wondering who the sisters were. Everything looked delicious. How to decide. Maybe she’d take the waitress’ suggestion. The crab was undoubtably fresh.

Glancing around after she ordered, Gillian smiled at a couple of people when they met her eye. They smiled in return.

She felt almost giddy with excitement. This was the first day in town, and if the Lord willed it, she’d be here until the day she died. Gillian prayed this would become her home. All things pointed to it.

The crab cakes were delicious. The fresh fruit compote that accompanied it was a delicious balance. She sipped the tea she’d ordered and wondered if she’d have difficulty finding the house she’d come to claim. From what she’d seen of the town so far, it was laid out in squares, neat and compact, and easily navigated.

“How’s the lunch?” A woman dressed in a similar costume stopped by the table with a smile.

“Delicious, thanks.”

“Glad to hear it. I’m Marcie Evans. I own this place.”

“The food it wonderful and I really like the decor and uniforms.”

Marcie smile broadened. “So glad to hear it. You are not from around here.”

“That obvious, huh?” Gillian asked almost laughing. She felt as out of place here as she would in a chorus line at a Vegas show.

“I was born and raised here, so I know about everyone,” Marcie said.

“I’m Gillian Parker, and no, I’m not from around here. I’m from Nevada.”

“Related to Sophie?”

Gillian nodded.

“Sorry about her death. I missed the funeral because of work. One of my waitresses is out sick today so I have to fill in. Sophie was wonderful.”

Gillian smiled, trying to hide the pang that this young woman had known her great-grandmother when she herself had only learned of her existence after her death–when the lawyer’s call had told her she was the beneficiary to Sophie’s estate.

“Do you know how to get to Sophie’s house? I inherited it.” There, she’d said it aloud. She had stopped by the lawyer’s office briefly after she’d arrived in town. Now wanting to be late to the funeral, the visit had been necessarily brief. Julian Greene had promised to meet with her another day to review things. But now that lunch was over, Gillian was anxious to see the place she’d inherited. And to begin making plans to move to Maine.

“Better than that,” Marcie said with a twinkle in her eye. “Your next door neighbor is eating lunch here as well. Came straight from the funeral. You can follow him out to the house. It’s on a bluff half way around the cove. Once you know the road to take from town, you’ll have no problem finding it. Let me bring Joe over and introduce the two of you.”

Marcie skillfully wove her way through the tables and went to a booth on the side. Gillian recognized the man Marcie spoke to as one of the pall bearers at the funeral. He had stood a head above the other men, and was much younger. He glanced over at Gillian and she smiled politely.

He frowned and looked back at Marcie.

So much for neighborliness, she thought. Was he annoyed the cafe owner was asking him to show Gillian to the house? She could find it on her on–if someone would point her in the right direction

“Come on, Joe. It won’t hurt you a bit. Just have her follow you out of town and point out Sophie’s place as you pass. You don’t have to do more than meet her and say follow me,” Marcie said.

“I’m not interested in getting to know some come-and-go heir who probably plans to sell before Sophie’s in the ground good.”

“She seems nice,” Marcie said.

Joe peered around her and met the gaze of the woman he’d noticed at the funeral and again the moment she’d walked into the cafe.

“If she’s Sophie’s great-granddaughter, why didn’t anyone know about her?”

“I doubt Julian Greene would hand the keys to the house to someone he wasn’t convinced was a relative. Better have her there than the house stand empty.”

“We’re going to miss Sophie. Her death hit Jenny especially hard.”

“I’m sure. She was a good neighbor and Jenny had the run of her house. Hard as it is to face, we all need to know life on earth is temporary. It’s eternal life to look forward to. Jenny will see her again.”

“I knew Sophie all my life. My folks moved into the house next to hers before I was even born. It won’t ever be the same.”

Marcie nodded. “Still, she had a nice long life.”

“She had a long life, how nice it was is anyone’s guess. Her husband died during the depression, her only son died in the Korean War, her grandson disappeared one day after trying to gyp her out of all her money. And she had to work hard to keep going and keep up that house–especially after she retired.”

“She had lots of friends, her church work, and I know she thought of you and Jenny as family,” Marcie said gently. “You always treated her that way. And she had money enough to hire help when she really needed it.”

“I’m going to miss her. It’s difficult to imagine what it’s going to be like without her next door,” Joe said, glancing again at the stranger sitting alone at her table. His daughter, Jenny, had been devastated when she learned Sophie had died by a fall down her stairs. With both his parents dead, his wife long gone, Sophie had completed their small family.

He studied the stranger for a moment. Her flame red-gold hair was a riotous swirl around her head and shoulders. She was tall and slender with legs that seemed to go on forever. The sophisticated black suit was as out of place in Rocky Point as she was. She had arrived just as the service in the old church started. Sitting alone, she had not shed a tear, nor talked to anyone. Now she was claiming to be Sophie’s great-granddaughter. In all the years he’d known Sophie, she’d never said a word about having a great-granddaughter.

She reminded him of his wife. Or how Pamela would have loved to look. Only Pam’s hair had been more red than gold. And her petite figure had never looked model-slim. Still, the stranger piqued his interest.

The black suit, black stockings and black shoes should have had her looking like a glorious crow. Black was not her color. Still–it highlighted her creamy complexion, made her blue eyes seem brighter than anyone’s and provided a dramatic backdrop for that vibrant hair which seemed to be a beacon of light capturing pure sunshine. Would it be flame hot or silky cool to the touch? Her blue eyes sparkled even at this distance

Joe was older and wiser now than he’d been when he married Pamela. Now his life was firmly centered in the Lord. He knew that stepping outside of the Lord’s will would result in havoc. The years of his tumultuous marriage had proved that. He was content with his life, his work and his small family.

Frowning, he looked at Marcie. He wanted nothing to do with the stranger. But his friend had asked for his help. And Joe wasn’t one to turn his back on his friends.

“Okay, she can follow me home.”

“Gee, be happy, why don’t you? It’s not as if you have to introduce her around or anything, just show her the house.”

“I said all right.”

“Then come and meet her. I have other things to do and don’t you want taking off before you meet. She might be nice, you never know.”

“Ha.”

“Time you moved on, Joe. Get married again, have some more babies. Not every woman’s like Pamela.”

“I haven’t even met the woman and you’re matchmaking?” he asked in astonishment.

“No. Not the two of you. I just want you to open yourself up to the possibility. You need to find someone to fall in love with, someone who will bring you sunshine and joy. The Lord has the right person in mind, but you need to do your part, too.”

Joe remembered a couple of years ago he’d asked Marcie. She’d refused. When his brother had left her at the altar, Joe had been married to Pamela. But shortly after Pamela’s death, he’d asked Marcie in earnest. Joe was afraid Marcie was a one-man woman and that man had broken her heart. He’d known her since they’d been kids. She was pretty, fun, and smart as a whip. His brother had been a fool to walk away from this woman.

“Romantic,” he said, involuntarily flicking his glaze at the fiery sunshine of the stranger’s hair.

“Cynic.”

“Even after Zach, you have fairy dust in your eyes.”

“No, I have my faith firmly planted. Remember Pamela wasn’t the only woman in the world. Open yourself up to the possibilities that surround you.”

“Like Polly Maynard?”

Marcie burst out laughing. “Not Polly! Is she still chasing you?”

“You’d think she’d get the hint,” he grumbled. Polly had had a crush on him since high school. He had never even dated her, but she had made it clear she’d say yes if he ever asked.

Marcie chuckled as she led Joe across the wide restaurant to the table where Gillian sat.

Gillian watched the man rise and head toward her. He’d stand out in any crowd–tall and broad shouldered, with dark hair just a bit longer than it should be. It looked rugged against his white shirt collar.

By the look on his face, she was the last person he wanted to meet. Maybe the restaurant owner had been a bit presumptuous in thinking he’d want to show her to her new inheritance. She didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, especially not a new neighbor.

“Joe Kincaid, meet Gillian Parker,” Marcie introduced.

“Hello. Marcie said you could show me how to get to Sophie Parker’s house. It’s mine now, and I don’t know where it is, except somewhere out on a road called Shoreline. Sophie Parker was my great-grandmother,” she said, rushing into speech before he could say anything. She stopped for breath. She should at least let him get a word in edgewise. Nerves shimmered as she stared into eyes that spoke volumes. Lord, help me here. I’m such a fish out of water.

He didn’t know her, but he didn’t like her she could tell. Or was it Sophie he hadn’t liked and transferred those feelings to her?

“I didn’t know Sophie had a great-granddaughter,” he said.

She almost sighed. No one had. Except the attorney. “That makes two of us. I was surprised to bits when the attorney called two days ago to tell me she had died and I was her sole beneficiary. I never even knew about her.”

Surprised, then devastated to discover she’d had a living relative that she’d never known about, Gillian had wished Sophie Parker had contacted her. The attorney had no trouble locating her. If he knew about her, Sophie must have also. Why hadn’t Sophie tried to contact her over the years?

When Joe didn’t reply, the sudden silence increased her nervousness. She glanced at Marcie then took a deep breath, smiling brightly, covering her feelings of inadequacy as she had for so long. “If you’re busy, maybe you can just tell me how to get to the house. Sophie’s attorney gave me the key.”

Stunned when she’d first learned of the legacy, Gillian was now anxious to see the family home. To walk through the rooms and discover if she could learn more about this recently deceased relative and perhaps uncover the facts as to why Sophie hadn’t contacted her only great-grandchild while she’d been alive.

Maybe she’d be able to discover more information about her own father while she was at it. Something that would help her understand the man she hadn’t seen in two decades.

“Sophie’s house is next door to mine.”

“Looks like you two will be neighbors,” Marcie said brightly, with an odd look at Joe. “Won’t that be interesting?” Interesting? Peculiar choice of words, Gillian thought, but her excitement grew. In only a little while, she’d see the house she now owned! She had always lived in apartments–first with her mother, then on her own after her mother had died. She couldn’t imagine owning a house in a small town in Maine.