Four sisters, torn apart by time and secrets. Can they mend the broken fences that separate them?

When their father divorced their mother ten years ago, while she was in the early stages of cancer, the Michaels sisters were torn apart. Sharon, much like their mother, with an accepting, forgiving heart, and youngest sister, Helen, a fledgling actress driven by self-interest, live and work on their dad’s Friesian horse ranch in northern California. Kathy has struggled with insecurities, with men and while developing her first video game in San Diego. And Patti has nursed her mother all those years to her eventual passing. After their mother’s tension-filled funeral, which their father has the nerve to attend, Patti and Kathy begrudgingly accept his invitation to come to the ranch for a weekend.

Patti and Kathy have no idea what awaits them at the ranch house they once called home. There’s much the girls don’t know, about their father, their parents’ divorce, and their scheming baby sister. And what is driving Patti in her sudden plans to seek revenge against a long-ago boyfriend?

Can the sisters find it in their hearts to forgive and mend the broken fences that separate them, or will old transgressions keep them forever apart?

Available June 3, 2018

Read the first three chapters FREE...

Reviews

“… the author successfully pulls out all the literary stops when it comes to crafting an emotionally compelling tale about love, family, and second chances that is guaranteed to tug at the heart.” John Charles about Patricia Yager Delagrange’s Maddy's Phoenix for Reader to Reader

 

Mending Fences

Chapter One

 

Patti and her sister Kathy exited the limousine and walked toward the double doors of Alameda’s Greer Mortuary. Patti’s ponytail swung side to side in the light spring breeze coming off San Francisco Bay, the air whispering through the trees that lined the walkway leading to the entrance.

She grasped the brass door handle, paused, and turned to Kathy. “You ready for this?”

Kathy shook her head. Tears filled her eyes, then slowly dripped down her cheeks. “I know it sounds stupid, but I never thought we’d be doing this.”

Patti pursed her lips, then nodded. “Surreal, isn’t it?” She opened the door wide and was struck by the scent of lavender wafting in the air. She momentarily closed her eyes in thanks. A week ago, when Patti had met with Mr. Greer, she’d told him lavender was her mother’s favorite flower. She was so happy he’d been kind enough to remember.

She recalled the very last conversation she’d had with her mom. “Patti? Patticake?” she’d said, her voice raspy and dry from drinking so little water in the last few days before she passed away.

“I’m here, Mom.”

“I made it,” her mom had whispered.

“You made it? Made what, Mom?”

“To your birthday.” She coughed, and the rattling sound cut through Patti’s head like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Happy birthday, my dear, sweet Patticake.”

It was Wednesday, March twenty-ninth. Patti’s birthday was February fifth. Mom had once again gotten confused about time. Patti had leaned over her mom and kissed her on her smooth, cold cheek. “I love you, Mom. Forever and a day.”

“Don’t forget … lavender. Don’t … forget me,” her mom had said. Then her eyelids shut halfway, remained that way for several seconds, then closed.

“I won’t, Mom,” Patti had said. “Mom? Mom? Mom?” But her beloved mom had nodded her head slowly twice, smiling. She never opened her eyes again.

Patti gave herself a virtual shake, willing the memories away … for now. She linked arms with Kathy, and they walked toward the wide-open chapel doors, their footsteps muffled on the plush, red carpet.

Kathy hesitated at the mortuary’s chapel doorway. “I can’t do this.”

Patti grasped her sister’s hand and squeezed. “You’ll be okay, Kath,” she whispered. “We’ll both be okay.”

Patti’s heart rapped an uneven beat as they made their way past pew after crowded pew. Her ears tingled with the undercurrent of whispers. Just a few more steps before we reach the open casket.

Slowly, Patti stretched out her hand toward the edge of the coffin and curled her fingers over the white satin. She glanced at her sister. Kathy’s eyes were closed, and she was whispering under her breath.

“Kathy?” Patti said. “What’re you doing?”

Kathy inhaled deeply through her nose, releasing it in a long breath.  “Please don’t let Mom look like a porcelain doll in a box. Please, please, please.”

Patti glanced down at her mom. Again, Mr. Greer had done as she’d asked. Rose-red lipstick tinted the half smile on her mom’s lips, and her hair was just as she’d always styled it. She looked as if she’d sit up at any moment and shout, “Surprise!” 

“She looks exactly like Mom, Kathy.”

Kathy turned to face her sister, eyes squinted tightly shut, their noses almost touching. “I can’t look at her.”

Patti’s eyes burned.  She’d cried so much in the last few days, she didn’t understand how her body could possibly produce any more fluid. She felt completely drained. Patti grasped her sister’s shoulders. “Kathy, she looks exactly as she used to, before hospice came into the picture.”

A glimmer of a smile stretched across Kathy’s face, and she opened her eyes. “She looked so good last year, didn’t she?”

Patti nodded. “That’s how she looks now, Kath.”

“I’m glad I came up at the end,” Kathy said, her voice wobbling.

“You got to say goodbye. And that’s such a blessing.”

“But it killed me to see her lying there, sick and feeble. She was always so full of life.” Kathy’s voice hitched.  “I loved her so much.”

“You kissed her. She smiled back at you. She knew who you were. Remember that. Hold tight to the memories. And we have so many good memories, Kath. All those years at the ranch. Birthdays, Christmas. Easter.”

Kathy gripped Patti’s hand, hard. “I’ll regret it if I don’t look her in the face and tell her I love her one last time, before they …” She drew in a deep breath. “Before they—”

Patti reached up and tucked a shock of strawberry-blonde hair behind her sister’s ear, looked into her eyes. “And to dust we shall return.” She paused. “I’ve got your back. I’m right here.”

Kathy intertwined their fingers. “Don’t leave me.” She faced forward and slowly looked down into the casket. “Oh. My. God,” she mumbled. “She’s dead.”

Patti squeezed her sister’s hand tighter. “I know.” She hadn’t thought her mom would die this soon either. Or was that only wishful thinking? How about flat-out denial?

Yes, Mom had had Stage Four ovarian cancer, but she’d gone through fourteen rounds of chemotherapy over the past ten years. Patti had been sure that after her mom had endured months of vomiting, losing her hair, not eating, and feeling like crap, all those toxic chemicals would have made a difference. Well, they hadn’t. The CA-125 tumor marker had kept shooting up and up, until the future was too obvious to ignore.

“The cancer’s metastasized,” Dr. Cecchi had told her. “Gone to her lungs, bones, her brain. She might live three months, but that’s being generous,” he’d added. Damn him and his prognosis.

Then, everything had gone to hell in a hand basket, as her dad used to say.

And now here we are, teetering at the edge of Mom’s coffin, holding on for dear life. Unlike Mom, who wasn’t able to hold on to her life at all. Patti tried hard to stifle a sob, covering her lips with her fingers.

“We’re orphans,” Kathy whispered, not taking her eyes off her mother’s face. “We don’t have a mother anymore.”

Patti drew in a deep breath and was silent for several seconds. “We’re not orphans. There’s still Dad.”

“Really, Patti?”

Patti sniffed and swiped at her tears. “He’s here, you know.”

“You mean in town, or in the funeral home right now?”

“Here. Now. In the back.”

“But what’s he doing here?”

Patti sighed. “They were married for more than thirty years.”

“But I haven’t spoken to him in a decade.” Kathy shook her head. “I can’t handle this. I have to get out of here.”

“Listen to me, Kathy. Mom wouldn’t want that. She still loved Dad even though they weren’t married any longer. They remained friends. Honor that.”

Kathy sidestepped to the right, reached the pew located next to the casket, and knelt down, clasping her hands on the padded railing. “Is there some way I can leave without talking to him? A secret side door? I just want to go back to your house.”

Patti stood next to her sister and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Are you forgetting we still have to go to the cemetery?”

Kathy bowed her head, leaning her forehead on her clutched hands. “Ugh. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course I’m going to the cemetery.”

“Remember when you, Mom, and I walked through the Piedmont Cemetery? That one in Oakland? It’s so gorgeous, and the gravestones date back to the early 1800s. It was so peaceful. Mom loved it there.”

Kathy nodded.

“Just talk to Dad, Kath. Get it over with.”

He’s coming to the cemetery, too?”

“I would imagine so.”

Kathy shoved herself upward. “Promise you’ll stay right next to me.”

“Forever and a day.”

Kathy swiped at her moist cheeks with a hankie. “You’ve been saying that since we were kids.”

“And I’ll say it till the day I die.”

“Don’t talk about dying,” Kathy hissed. “I’m teetering on the edge as it is.”

“I’m not dying. In fact, I’m not going anywhere. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Kathy’s lips quirked up at the edges. “Not for lack of trying.”

“Where would we be without the sarcasm?” Patti reached out and hugged her sister. “He’s in the last row to your left,” she whispered in her ear. “Time to face the music.”

“I noticed someone just started playing music. You know how I love organ music.” Kathy dabbed at her eyes with her damp hankie.

“I hate organ music as much as you, but it comes with the funeral territory,” Patti said. “Did you expect Jimi Hendrix?”

Kathy smiled for the first time in weeks.

Smiling had faded, along with laughing, and then departed along with their mom. “Can you at least try to be nice to him?” Patti said. “Mom would have wanted that.”

“Why should I?” Kathy huffed.

“Underneath all that indignant behavior, you’re just a big softy.”

Big being the operative word.”

“You look just fine the way you are.”

“If I could just lose the last, what, forty pounds?”

“Don’t exaggerate.” Patti reached for Kathy’s hand, and the two sisters turned to face the back of the room.

Kathy gripped Patti’s hand as they walked down the center aisle. “He already left,” she said under her breath. “What did I expect? He left her ten years ago, too.”

Patti tugged on her sister’s hand, and Kathy turned toward her. Patti lifted her chin slightly.

Kathy followed her sister’s gaze. “My God. He looks like he’s eighty years old.”

“Eighty-three, to be exact.”

“Last time I saw him, he had at least some hair. And he had a pot belly back then, too.”

“That was before the divorce.”

Kathy turned to Patti. “Which one?”

Patti elbowed her sister in the side. “His thirty-two-year-old mistress-turned-wife-for-ten-seconds really took him to the cleaners.”

“Serves him right for divorcing Mom in the middle of her first round of chemo,” Kathy muttered.

“Well, he lost a bundle. I guess karma’s a bitch. But, hey, I never met her. Did you?”

Kathy shook her head. “Wasn’t interested.”

Bill Michaels stepped out of the pew and stood in front of his daughters. Opening his arms wide, he smiled. “How’s my Katydid?”

Kathy lifted an eyebrow. “I’m no longer your Katydid.”

He dropped his arms to his sides, frowning. “Still mad at me?”

Patti leaned in and gave her dad a quick hug. “How’re you doing, Dad?”

He switched his gaze to Patti and nodded. “Not too bad. Gettin’ older.”

“Aren’t we all? Where’s Helen, and Sharon?”

“Something came up at the ranch. They’ll be here soon.”

Patti looked at him askance. “But both of them are coming, right?”

“Of course they’re both coming. Why would you even ask?”

Patti glanced to the side and pulled in her lips, then said, “Because Helen rarely came to see Mom when she was sick. So she might not bother now.”

Kathy suddenly stepped out of their little circle. Her father grasped her forearm.

“Wait! Katy … uh, Kathy,” he stuttered.

Kathy looked at his hand on her arm.

He instantly let go of her. “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt your feelings.”

Kathy lifted her eyes to meet his. “You’re just now telling me you’re sorry? Seriously? After ten years?”

“Just because I divorced your mother doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

Kathy’s face flushed ruby red. “Not only did you leave Mom for someone younger than your own daughters, Dad. You left her when she needed you. She had cancer. What kind of man leaves his wife during a severe medical crisis?”

“Lower your voice, please,” he said quietly.

“You shouldn’t even be here.” Kathy’s tone grew angrier with each word.

Their father pursed his lips, looking as if he’d just sucked on a slice of lime. “Your mother and I were married for thirty years. I loved her,” he whispered.

Kathy pulled back. “You loved her? Loving her didn’t stop you from having affairs.”

“I didn’t have affairs, Kathy. I fell in love with another woman at a time when your mom and I were having problems. Our marriage had already deteriorated. We were talking about getting a divorce.”

Kathy turned her gaze to the ceiling and sighed. “Do you think we’re all stupid? Everyone—me, Patti, Helen, Sharon—we all knew about your little liaisons. Plural, Bill. You can’t kid a kidder, as you always said.”

Her father pointed his finger in her face, which only served to egg Kathy on even more. “There was only one other woman, Kathy.”

“You had a woman—Mom. And she was a fantastic person. But she got cancer, so she was no longer perfect. Was that it?”

Bill shook his head. “You don’t understand.”

Kathy looked him in the eyes. “No, I do not.”

“Why is it you think you can talk to me like this? What do you want to hear? That I fell in love with a younger woman who took all my money? Don’t you think I already feel like a fool? And why do you insist on calling me Bill? You’re my daughter. That’ll never change, Kathy. I love you.”

“I don’t know if I love you anymore. When you ditched Mom in the middle of chemo, Dad, it was the worst time of her life. What if someone did the same thing to you? And did you ever think how difficult it was for her to leave her job? Working as a psychologist was her passion, and she had to quit so she could be treated for cancer.” She whipped around and ran out of the room, tripped over the doorjamb leading to the parking lot, and fell flat on her face.

Patti ran after her, grasped her sister around the stomach, and pulled her to her feet.

Kathy gasped. “Wha-what’re you doing?”

“I couldn’t take being in there either. Let’s wait in the limo.”

Kathy swiped at her tears with a hankie, then looked at it and groaned. “Do you have a Kleenex?”

Patti drew a tissue from her purse and stuffed it in her sister’s hand. “Let’s get outta here.”

They walked toward the limo, which was parked at the side of the funeral home’s front doors. The driver opened the rear door and stepped aside.

Kathy slid into the backseat, and Patti followed her.

They both snuggled into the thick cushiony leather. Patti sighed. Kathy followed with a sigh of her own.

“I’m surprised Charlie didn’t come up for the funeral,” Patti said.

“If you want to see him so bad, you could come visit me.”

Patti’s eyebrows drew together. “What the hell are you talking about? It’s not like San Diego is that far away. I haven’t visited you because I couldn’t get any time off work.”

Kathy bent her head and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She looked at her sister. “I’m being a bitch because I’m pissed off that Dad’s here.”

Or maybe because Kathy had never gotten over the fact Charlie was in love with Patti first. But that was so long ago, and Patti was going to do everything she could to dissuade Kathy from her misconstrued belief that he was still in love with Patti. Patti was definitely not in love with him.

After their parents’ divorce, Kathy had moved away from the ranch to take a job in San Diego. There she discovered Charlie had a yacht business in La Jolla. He and Kathy had met for coffee, and Patti was happy they had found each other. Though it had been somewhat of a surprise … Had Patti’s heart pinged with a tinge of jealousy when she heard about her sister’s new romance? Of course not. As her dad always said, that boat had already sailed. What an appropriate pun, given Charlie’s entrepreneurial interest.

Kathy leaned her head back and shut her eyes. “I’m emotionally exhausted.” She flicked open one eye. “Wake me when we reach the cemetery?”

Patti settled into the seat and stared out the side window. “I’m not in love with your boyfriend, Kath.” She turned to her sister, and their eyes locked. “And he’s not in love with me.”

Kathy sat in silence for a moment, a moment too long for Patti. Finally, Kathy looked into her sister’s eyes and said, “I think I know that in my head. But my heart’s a different thing altogether.”

 “For God’s sake, the thing with Charlie was way back in high school. I swear to God, I don’t even think about him any longer. And you’ve seemed so content since you’ve been with him. I’m happy for you. For both of you.”

Kathy rested her head back. “I’m sorry. I love you, Patticake.”

Patti stared at her sister’s face, which for the first time in months looked almost serene. “I love you, too, Katydid.”

 

Chapter Two

 

Patti was glad when the limo pulled onto the curved drive of the cemetery. The last thing she wanted to do was walk down memory lane. Or rather, fall into a pit of intimate recollections about her first love. Not only had that boat already sailed, that train had departed the station a very long time ago. She was not interested in boarding that boat or train again.

Their mother had chosen to be buried in a crypt, so the service was to take place in front of the mausoleum within the hour. As Patti and Kathy exited the limousine, a yellow cab pulled up behind them.

Their sister Helen stepped out, wearing a skin-tight, black spandex dress. Her straight brown bob swayed beneath her chin as she swished it this way and that, glancing around for anyone who’d notice. How can they not? Patti and Kathy exchanged a look. Patti held in the sarcastic comments running through her head, though she found it hard to swallow the words burbling just behind her tonsils. This is Mom’s funeral, and I should not be dissing Helen.

Next to exit from the cab were Sharon’s long legs, followed by the rest of her statuesque body, as she unfolded herself and stepped out onto the pavement. Her blonde hair fluttered in the subtle breeze, and when she saw Patti and Kathy, she smiled and waved.

Sharon looks great,” Patti said to Kathy out of the side of her mouth.

“Yes, she does,” Kathy whispered, then, “Helen hasn’t changed one bit in ten years.”

“You mean she dresses like she’s eighteen, but she’s not?” Patti shoved her shoulders back, expanding her chest underneath her black silk top. She could always outdo Helen in that particular area, but in a classy way. Helen was just pure hussy, right down to the slit in the middle of her dress that almost reached her crotch.

Stop it!

Helen leaned in to give both Patti and Kathy quick air kisses on both cheeks. Not to show any particular affection, but rather to give the impression she was schooled in the European way of greeting. Their oldest sister, Sharon, followed by giving Patti and Kathy solid hugs and real kisses on the cheek.

Patti and Kathy had spent many a night trashing Helen’s character and behavior when they all lived under the same roof at the ranch in Northern California. And later on as well. They loved her because she was their sister, and they felt a certain filial obligation. And at times she manifested a hilarious sense of humor.

But that sense of humor had always been directed at someone in a cutting, biting way. For example, Helen was great at putting people down in a comedic fashion. Underneath it all, it was not difficult to admit the fact their sister was a two-faced bitch. She treated everyone but her relatives with kindness, fake as it was. The moment someone left a room, Helen’s talons slid out and poked them in the ass. As for her family, Helen didn’t wait for them to exit the room, and it was not fun being the brunt of her sharp tongue.

But, hey, maybe she’s changed.

Patti remembered her mom analyzing the hell out of Helen’s behavior to help Patti, Kathy, and Sharon understand her. But living with Helen had been difficult. Being the target of Helen’s constant put-downs and insults had been exhausting, whether their mom’s analyzing made sense or not.

“It’s good to see you,” Patti said to Helen, trying very hard to swallow any sarcasm that might slip into her tone.

“Oh, really?” Helen said.

“We’re late because one of the horses was foaling. We had to stay,” Sharon added.

Sharon had always been the peacemaker of the family. She’d read more psychology books than Kathy read romance novels, and Kathy never went anywhere without a book in her hand. Sharon had followed in their mother’s footsteps in her desire to understand people and their emotional problems, so they were never surprised at anything Sharon said that touched on the human psychological condition.

“I understand,” Patti said, tamping down her irritation. Just seeing Helen was enough to bring out the worst in Patti. And she hated the fact Helen had the power to do that. But Patti really didn’t want to make waves at her mother’s funeral. And maybe, just maybe, a miracle had occurred, and Helen had morphed into a kind person. “You can’t plan an animal’s birth. I totally get that, Helen.”

Helen pulled the hem of her skirt down about an eighth of an inch and copped a quick glance at Patti. “Let’s get this thing over with.”

“Wouldn’t want to put you out any,” Patti muttered, knowing she was being pissy.

Kathy dug her elbow into Patti’s side. “Stop it.”

But in her head, Patti couldn’t help herself. Helen had always been the most self-centered individual on the planet. And that obviously had not changed. She had come to visit their mother twice in ten years, and now she acted like this one-time funeral was putting her out?

“Sorry,” Patti said. “I’m going to get through this day peacefully, the way Mom would have wanted. We’re family.”

Helen glared at her for several seconds, then walked away.

Like a group of balloons, Patti, Kathy, and Sharon seemed to deflate.

“How do you live with her?” Patti asked.

Sharon sighed. “I understand her.”

Patti smiled. “Don’t tell me. You understand why she is the way she is from reading Psychology Today magazines, right?”

Sharon stepped between Kathy and Patti and locked arms with each of them. “Actually, it was a class I took in college. I love psychology. The mind fascinates me.”

Kathy chuckled. “Like mother, like daughter.”

Patti leaned closer to Sharon. “You’re a freaking saint.”

“No, I’m not,” Sharon said. “She’s my sister, Patti. She has issues.”

Patti and Kathy stared at Sharon, mouths slightly agape.

“She’s insecure,” Sharon explained. “Helen feels unaccepted by almost everyone she’s ever known. But deep down, I believe she thinks she’s not worthy of love. So she lashes out as a defense mechanism, and by doing so, she receives the exact rejection she believes she was going to receive in the first place, the rejection she feels deep down that she deserves.”

“That’s a new and interesting take on it,” Patti said. “But I understand what you’re trying to say. However, there are only so many concessions I can make for the fact she’s my sister and she has issues before I just lose it. She pushes the envelope with her asshat behavior.”

“Asshat behavior? That’s a refreshing adjective.” Kathy chuckled. “Helen makes absolutely no effort at all to be a friend or a sister. You know what I mean?”

Patti nodded. “It’s her attitude. She so rubs me the wrong way. Always has.”

“I guess she always will,” Kathy added.

“I understand where you two are coming from,” Sharon said. “We’re all three so different.”

Patti looked from Sharon to Kathy and back. “I think for Kathy and me, it’s like we can never let down our guard when we’re around her. We’re always braced for Helen’s next snarky onslaught.”

“And for me,” Kathy said, “Dad causes the same reaction. The whole thing with Mom just … I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that.”

Patti turned to Kathy. “You’re the sweetest person I know, but when it comes to Dad, you turn into a snarling hyena.”

Sharon looked at Kathy. “Holding grudges and allowing negative thoughts to simmer inside causes anxiety and depression. Forgiveness is the only way to truly let go of the bad and allow the good to come in.”

Kathy tilted her head and smiled at Sharon. “You’re right, Saint Sharon.” She reached out and hugged her.

“Well, Sharon,” Patti added, “your advice about not holding grudges and learning to forgive Dad includes our behavior toward Helen, too. I promise I’ll be good.” She looked skyward. “I’ll do it for you, Mom,” she whispered, eyes glistening with unshed tears.

Sharon pressed her lips together and looked from Patti to Kathy and back. “I’ve been crying for days.”

Patti nodded. “Me, too, Share. I miss Mom so much it hurts. Talking smack about Helen definitely turns my attention away from the overwhelming grief I feel over Mom’s death.”

Kathy let out a sigh. “I always thought it was so special that Mom and I were friends. Not just mother and daughter, you know?”

Sharon smiled. “Mom always encouraged my love for psychology. And she taught me so much about people.”

“She was a great mom, wasn’t she?” Kathy said.

Patti rubbed Kathy’s back. “She was indeed.”

“Her death leaves a huge hole in all our lives,” Sharon added.

Helen’s shrill voice cut through the peace of the cemetery.

Sharon, Kathy, and Patti turned their heads in Helen’s direction.

Their sister stood, hands on her hips, about fifteen feet away. “I said, where’s Dad?”

Patti hitched her chin up in the direction of the entrance to the mausoleum.

Helen turned. “Hey, Dad!” she shouted, waving.

“For God’s sake, Helen, would you keep it down?” Kathy pleaded.

Helen shifted her eyes in Kathy’s direction. “Who died and made you my mother?”

“You haven’t had anything to do with your mother in ten years,” Patti erupted.

If looks could kill, Patti’s funeral would have been the next one for the family to attend.

“Don’t start, Patticake,” Helen replied. “I rarely get time off, because I’m always working on the ranch. With Dad.”

“Dad had time to visit Mom, Helena,” Patti answered.

“Stop it,” Sharon demanded.

Patti sucked in her lips. Here I go again. Helen made it so difficult for Patti to be nice to her.

 

Their parents had watched a Greek play put on at the local theater every month during their mom’s pregnancy with their youngest child. So when the time came to name their last child, they selected the name Helena, after their favorite Greek goddess.

Eternal ribbings and jokes abounded the moment Kathy and Patti met their baby sister. With each passing year, Helen despised her name more and more. Thus, the name “Helena” always found its way into any argument between the sisters at the moment when it was likely to cause maximum damage.

The tension had grown so thick, Patti could practically feel it in her bones. She took a huge breath, then said, “I’m sorry, Helen. I shouldn’t have said that.” She paused, and Helen remained silent. Of course, Helen would never apologize. I’ll be the better person—again. “Can we all try our best to get along today? For Mom? I know I’m really stressed out about all this, and I apologize for being snarky, Helen.”

Silence.

The four women walked stiffly in a line toward the cluster of chairs at the side of the mausoleum. Patti followed in Helen’s perfume-infused wake. Kathy and Sharon brought up the rear.

About fifty people sat in rows of black folding chairs in front of a raised dais. After the four sisters took their seats, the monsignor from their mother’s church stepped up to the podium, cleared his throat, and tapped the microphone with his finger.

“Good morning.” He looked toward the sky and squinted. “Actually, good afternoon. I’m Monsignor Wolford from St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda.”

Several of the guests nodded, mumbling quiet greetings.

“I met Barbara Michaels after she moved to this area. She was one of my favorite parishioners.” He paused. “Barbara liked to run things, as some of you might remember.” He smiled.

A chuckle ran through the small crowd.

“You can say that again,” Bill said, laughing loud enough to be heard.

Several people turned to see who had spoken. Realizing the remark had come from Barbara’s ex-husband, Barbara’s friends gave him dirty looks.

Patti wasn’t pleased about what had happened ten years ago either. But she’d tried to make peace with the fact her father had divorced her mother for a younger woman. Granted, his timing sucked, but he was her father. Though when wife number two, Carolanne, dumped him several months later, Patti had to admit she didn’t feel one bit sorry for him. And she’d chosen to stay clear of him for most of the past ten years. But if she were honest with herself, she’d have to admit she’d missed him.

Bill had a terrific sense of humor. He could make anyone laugh. And he loved parties and family gatherings. His smile was so real and so “Bill,” everyone gravitated toward him as if he were a human magnet. But after the divorce, almost all of their parents’ friends aligned with Barbara. Those who remained attached to Bill were his buddies from the olden days—guys who had been in the Marines with Bill and others who were his childhood pals.

Feeling particularly sorry for her dad at the moment, Patti made a promise to herself. She would mend fences between Kathy and her dad, hoping to help them both.

When it came to Kathy’s low self-esteem, Patti had some thoughts on the cause, although she was by no means a qualified therapist.

Kathy had moved to San Diego after their parents’ divorce. Because of the distance alone, Kathy hadn’t been as close to their mom as her three sisters had been. And she hadn’t been the one their mother turned to when she was depressed while going through years of cancer treatments. 

Helen and Sharon were close to each other and to their dad by virtue of the fact they’d continued to live together at the ranch. Although Kathy and Patti had been close, their relationship had dwindled to occasional phone calls and no visits due to Patti’s demanding job. Add to that the fact Kathy was in a relationship with a man who’d once been in love with Patti. In that regard, Kathy felt she was Charlie’s second choice of the Michaels sisters.

Bottom line: Patti didn’t think Kathy felt like “number one” to anyone in her life.

Patti’s mind wandered. When she was a teenager, being around Charlie had always made her heart pump harder, at least until she found out a specific part of his anatomy was literally pumping another girl. She’d never forgive him for what he’d done to her way back when. Though he’d readily admitted his one-time mistake, as he’d called it, he’d never even said he was sorry. She wondered if he’d truly changed. Kathy sure thought so.

Now that Patti thought about it, Kathy hadn’t answered her question: What was the reason for Charlie’s absence today?

She turned her gaze back to the monsignor, kicking thoughts and memories of Charlie Seevers to the curb.

The monsignor continued. “Barbara loved to help out at church, for which I will always be grateful. And she did it with an enviable amount of energy and gusto. Even though she had a thriving business as a psychologist, she always found the time to help out when our parish needed someone to step up to the plate. But I’m not here to give a sermon. As some of you know, I can be a bit long-winded.” Another chuckle from the crowd. “I simply want to say thank you, Barbara,” he glanced upward, “for everything you did for the choir, for the high school, for the altar boys … and girls. Yes, altar girls.” He gave a low, rumbling laugh. “I’ll make this brief, as I said.” Another few titters from the audience. “I’ll end this with a short story.”

He took a deep breath and scanned the intimate group of mourners. “Several years back, two never-identified thieves broke into our high school and stole fifty desktop computers. Some of the students brought in their own computers from home and shared with their classmates. But most had to do without and try to get their work done by using the public computers at the local library, with its meager supply and limited hours.

“About a week after the theft occurred, Barbara was in my office, counting the donations for Sunday. I walked into the room, and she handed me an envelope. ‘For new computers.’ Then she paused. ‘I never gave this to you.’ Then she looked me in the eye and said, ‘And don’t mess with me, Robert.’ She called me by my first name, but only when no one else was around.

“Until now I have never told anyone this story, but I feel it’s fitting, given the fact that she isn’t around to berate me for opening my fat mouth about her extraordinary good deed.” He laughed. “Barbara Michaels was one of the most generous ladies I’ve ever met, not only with her time but with her money and her kindness.”

He nodded and stepped down from the dais. He took a few steps, then returned to the podium. “If anyone would like to say a few words about Barbara, please feel free to do so now. Otherwise, let us take a few quiet moments to remember her and hold her in our thoughts.”

Patti turned to Kathy. Kathy shrugged and shook her head. Sharon didn’t move. Helen glanced back at Patti and Kathy and lifted one eyebrow. Patti frowned. What was Helen’s problem?

Silence reigned for several seconds before Bill stood and walked to the podium.

Kathy lifted her rear end off the chair, and Patti grabbed her arm and pulled her back down in her seat.

“Don’t you dare,” Patti whispered.

“What the hell is he going to say?” Kathy whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“It’ll be fine, Kath. He’s not going to talk about how he left her and married some freaking bimbo who dumped him for someone more her age. He’s not foolish enough to mention it. Ever. Certainly not here. He loved Mom.” She looked Kathy in the eyes. “Remember, you said you’d try. Give Dad a chance, Kath.”

Kathy looked at the ground and sighed. “I’ll try to try. It’s really hard.”

“Shield your sword,” Patti advised.

Kathy shook her head. “You never change.”

“Whatever. Now, name that movie.”

Kathy shook her head again. “Duh. Gladiator.” She settled back in her chair.

Bill stood at the podium and straightened his shoulders, then glanced around at all the faces in the small crowd and cleared his throat. “I loved Barbara. I always have. I know many of you think that sounds like a bunch of bull, I mean, a bunch of hoo-ha. You think I’m not telling the truth here. But for many years, Barbara and I were soul mates.” He paused and swallowed, actually looking as if he was going to shed a tear.

“But we changed. Both of us changed. And, believe me—or not—we were planning our divorce long before she got cancer. Yes, I remarried, and Barbara never did. But she and I kept in touch. We remained friends. She was a good woman.” He locked eyes with Kathy, and then Patti, and added, “Barbara said many times that her dying wish was for our family to mend fences. She never wanted our divorce to split us down the middle.” He coughed. “I hope we can find it in our hearts to make her wish come true. Wherever she is, believe me, she still wants that to happen.” He returned to his seat between Helen and Sharon.

Several minutes passed. Patti suddenly stood and walked to the podium. She tapped the microphone, then cleared her throat.

“As most of you know, I’m Patti—the third daughter—after Sharon and Kathy. Helen’s the baby.” Patti looked up and smiled directly at Helen, whose lips, miracle of miracles, actually quirked upward a little in response. “Mom was my best friend, and I already miss her. After she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, she and I were together during her radiation and chemotherapy, which brought us closer than we’d ever been. We got a ton of time to talk and laugh and reminisce about our family’s past.

“Mom was truly a special human being. As a psychologist, she cared what happened to her clients. In her heart she wanted to help them feel better about themselves and their lives. It meant the world to her to hear one of her clients tell her, ‘Thank you, Barbara.’ Her job meant everything to Mom. Which is why it was so devastating to her to quit her practice.” She could feel tears forming and stopped, shut her eyes for a second, and took a deep breath.

She smiled. “I don’t want to talk your leg off like Monsignor Wolford.” Everyone laughed. Patti met the monsignor’s eyes. “Just kidding, Monsignor. Anyway, I just wanted to put it out there for Mom to know.” Patti looked up at the sky. “And Dad and my three sisters as well.” She glanced at the four of them in turn. “I think we are all well aware Mom and Dad always cared for each other. Always. Whether they were married or not, there was a bond there. Though they were divorced, I think it was hard for us girls to face that reality. Dad is a good man.” She shrugged. “Mom wouldn’t have loved him if he weren’t. And Mom would want us girls to get along. So I’m going to try harder, Mom. I promise.”

She paused and wiped a tear from her cheek. “You know how much I love movies, Mom. You and I watched a ton of them in the last few months we had together. So, you’ll understand that I’m not going to say goodbye to you. As John said in the movie John Q, ‘See you later.’ And as Juba said in Gladiator, ‘I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet.’”

Patti returned to her seat, and several minutes of silence passed before Monsignor Wolford blessed Barbara’s casket once again, and the ceremony ended. The placement of the coffin inside the mausoleum vault was reserved for family only.

Patti, her sisters, and their father followed Monsignor Wolford inside, where six men employed by the funeral parlor lifted the casket and slid it inside the vault. Monsignor once again said a few final words, then shook each of their hands and departed.

Together, the small family of five walked down the steps. Bill turned to his daughters, who stood in silence, forming a half circle next to the limousine. “I’d like to invite you two girls to come to the ranch,” he told Patti and Kathy. “It would be good for us to be under one roof again. Maybe this weekend? We can go for a trail ride.” He faced Kathy. “Maximus is still alive and kicking, Katydid. He was always your favorite.”

Kathy chewed on her bottom lip with her top teeth—a habit she’d formed during her childhood when she was stressed. She’d always been an extremely sensitive kid who had grown into an überstressed adult, worrying about anything and everything.

When Kathy’s eyebrows bunched together, Patti surmised her sister’s answer was an unequivocal no. Not a good sign. Patti wanted Kathy to get back the relationship she once had with their dad. A short visit to the ranch with all its distractions and beauty would do wonders for talking and regaining the feeling of family they’d enjoyed in the past.

“I’ll think about it,” Kathy mumbled.

Patti held in a grin and let out a sigh. This was progress.

Kathy turned and shot into the backseat of the limousine as if she were escaping a fire.

“Yes!” Dad cried, glancing up at the sky for a few seconds. He turned to Patti. “And you?”

Was it just stubbornness that had kept Patti from renewing the friendship she had with her father for so many years, or was she truly still pissed off at him? Yes, they’d met a couple of times, when he was in the Bay Area, and they’d talked about Barbara and her health problems. But Patti hadn’t visited Fabulous Friesians Ranch in Northern California for ten years. Was she willing to let him go to his grave without telling him she still truly cared, that she loved him just as much as she had since she was a child? We’re family.

“It’s only a three-hour drive from here, Patti,” he said, reading her thoughts.

“Okay. I’ll make sure Kathy comes, too. I think we’ll have a good time.” She glanced at Helen and Sharon, flanking their father like two armed guards. Was she imagining it, or was the expression on Helen’s face one of barely concealed anger? Or was it irritation? Why?

Sharon smiled, but that didn’t surprise Patti. Sharon would see this as a perfect opportunity to put some of her psychology education to work.

Patti had been angry with her dad for ten years, yet she hated this continuing conflict. Up until now, she’d been civil to him. Kathy could barely contain her irritation and confrontational remarks. Patti had acted the same way with Helen. The time had come to make peace between all of them.

All the girls despised how their father had treated their mother. But Sharon had said she owed it to him to help at the ranch. Otherwise, who else would? Helen left home as well. But as soon as Fabulous Friesians began making money, Helen suddenly went home and rallied to his side. Now both Sharon and Helen worked and lived with their father at the ranch in Quincy. Northern California was a gorgeous place to live, so it wasn’t as if living there had been a horrible decision.

However, in Patti’s opinion, Helen’s change of allegiance was all about Helen’s future inheritance. It had nothing to do with letting bygones be bygones and forgiving their father’s deplorable behavior, nor did it have anything to do with helping him run the ranch. The bottom line for Helen? It was all about the money.

 

Chapter Three

 

Sitting on the comfy couch in Patti’s cottage in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, Kathy stuffed a handful of buttered popcorn in her mouth, but that didn’t stop her from talking. “Why don’t you move down to San Diego, and we can be roommates?”

Patti leaned across the couch in her comfortably furnished front room and fisted her own clump of popcorn. She leaned her head back and poured the handful of greasy puffs into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, then reached for her Diet Coke. “I love my cottage. This whole little island, actually. And I can still work in San Francisco.”

“But you just lost your job.”

“Oops.” Patti took another sip of her drink. “Forgot about that.”

“No, you didn’t. Why not move in with me until you find a new job? It’s the perfect opportunity. You stayed here in Alameda because Mom was sick, and she needed someone to take care of her.” Kathy grabbed another handful of popcorn. “This is the perfect time to move.” She paused, chomping on the kernels. “Or did you want to stay closer to Dad in Quincy?”

“I thought you and Charlie practically lived together down there,” Patti said.

Kathy bit at her bottom lip.

“Uh-oh. Problems in paradise?”

Kathy shook her head. “It hasn't exactly been paradise for a while.”

“I wondered why he didn’t come to Mom’s funeral. I thought you two were going to get married someday.”

“He and I haven’t talked about getting married in literally months. You know how you’re all in love during the blush of a new relationship? You meet somebody and fall madly in lust, then the initial heat simmers down?”

“Is the flame already extinguished for you two?”

Kathy grimaced. “Not on my part, no. He still lights my wick, if you know what I mean.”

Patti put up her hand. “TMI. Please don’t talk to me about your sex life.”

Kathy turned her eyes on her sister. “You, of all people, know what it’s like to be with him.”

Patti rolled her eyes. “We were so young, Kathy. You know how it is when you’re a teenager. Sex is new and, to our parents, totally unacceptable behavior. Which only makes it that much more fun. You and Charlie are not teenagers.”

Kathy paused. “I know. And I get it. But it sure cooled awfully fast.”

“Lots of relationships run hot and cold, depending on all kinds of factors. One of you is tired or doesn’t feel good or is overworked or stressed. You can’t expect to go at it like rabbits for twenty years.”

Kathy reached for more popcorn. “I’d settle for being a rabbit for one year. Dang! It’s probably all the weight I’ve gained in the last couple of months. I sit at a computer all day. I’m developing secretary’s spread.”

“You’re an attractive woman, Kathy. No, you’re not built like some skinny-ass Vogue model. Most women aren’t. I mean, yuck! The anorexic look, in my opinion, is so not sexy. I would hope Charlie has matured a little. Gotten a little deeper. Most guys do.” She shrugged. “Then again, some don’t.”

Kathy chewed while staring at the ceiling. “I think he’s pulling away. I’ve thought that for a while now.”

“What does he say? Or haven’t you brought it up?”

“I’ve asked him if anything’s wrong. He denies it. Says he’s just worried about his company’s financial stability.”

“How big is his yacht company?”

“I think they have more than five to ten custom-built yachts, depending on the time of year,” Kathy explained. “They sell them and also rent them. To very wealthy people who are either businessmen or retired old geezers. They want to go out in the ocean while they’re on vacation or here on business or while they’re still alive. It’s really expensive to rent a yacht. And buying one? My God. You’re talking millions of dollars.”

“And his business isn’t doing well financially?”

“See, that’s the thing. That’s not true. I ran into Charlie’s friend at Starbucks. He’s the accountant for Charlie’s business. I asked him how things were going, and he told me the company’s finally turned a corner. They’re in the black now for the first time. So Charlie lied when he said he’s stressed about the company’s financial stability. I think it’s just the standard line he uses when he doesn’t want to tell me what’s really bothering him. And anyway, it doesn’t jive with the fact he told me he’s looking for a house in La Jolla. The one he owns now is okay, but if he’s looking in La Jolla, he’s gotta be making some serious money.”

“Maybe you're making something out of nothing, Kath.”

“Playing devil’s advocate, are we?”

Patti pursed her lips, then sighed. “Owning a company can be stressful, no doubt about it. And stress can work all kinds of mischief on one’s sex life. It takes too much effort. Some people just want to sleep. They become inactive, like human slugs. It may have absolutely nothing to do with you.”

Kathy blinked, and several tears trickled down her cheeks.

Patti reached out and grasped one of her sister’s hands. “Sweetie, you know how Mom would always say. ‘Kathy? You’re making a mountain out of a molehill’?”

Kathy looked into Patti’s eyes. “I think he’s seeing someone else. You know how you just know know?”

“Well, yeah, I know what you’re saying. I remember back in the day.” Patti paused. “I definitely knew knew, as you say.”

Kathy nodded. “That’s what I mean. Something’s up. And it’s not his yacht business.”

“Charlie’s a good-lookin’ dude. And if he’s a successful businessman on top of that, well, he’s quite a catch, as Dad would say.” She shrugged. “But so are you, Kathy. Plus, when this whole thing started between the two of you, you told me he’d changed.”

Kathy swiped at her tears. “I thought he had. But maybe once a player, always a player?”

Patti lifted one eyebrow. “It’s certainly possible. You told me he was committed to your relationship. He played around on me, but he was, what, eighteen years old? And the star quarterback of the football team? I figured it was just youth.”

Kathy rubbed her finger round and round the edge of her Diet Coke. “This is where it gets to be too much information for you to handle. You know, the intimate parts of our relationship? But I don’t have anyone else to talk to.”

Patti wiped her fingers with a napkin, dabbed the butter off her lips, folded her legs underneath her, and sat up straight, facing her sister. “I’ll listen to whatever you want to share with me. I’m a big girl. I can handle it.”

Kathy cleared her throat. “In the last month, we’ve made love once. Once! And it was the day before I flew up here. Every time I want to have sex, he makes up some excuse. He’s exhausted. He’s stressed. Just like you said. But I don’t buy it. And I don’t like being lied to.”

Patti shook her head and switched her gaze to the window behind Kathy’s head. “I remember feeling that way when he and I were together. He did the exact same thing to me. We stopped having what he called ‘nooners.’ He told me final exams were driving him crazy, that his parents would disown him if he didn’t get into some killer university. So he didn’t have time to fool around, he said. He had to get home and study.” She laughed under her breath. “Yeah, right.”

“This is so embarrassing.”

“Why? Because maybe he’s a two-timing liar and always has been? That’s no reflection on you.”

“For whatever reason, he’s going to dump me. I’m completely humiliated.”

“Dump him, then,” Patti urged. “You’ll feel different being the dumper versus the dumpee. You’ll be in control. Feel less helpless. I know I did.”

“So when you dumped him, you walked away with a big smile on your face?”

Patti smirked. “Not exactly.” She cleared her throat. “Don’t ever tell anyone I told you this.”

Kathy shook her head and crossed her heart. “Never.”

“Okay.” Patti sighed. “After I dumped Charlie, he was really pissed off. He didn’t deny he’d had sex with that other chick, but he wanted to try to make a go of our relationship, said he was sorry, he’d never do it again, yada, yada. Why can’t we put it behind us, and shit like that, he said. His ego was so huge, he couldn’t believe I really wasn’t interested. He was relentless. He kept pursuing me and pursuing me. I got sick of it. He wouldn’t give up. He refused to accept the fact that someone would dump him.

“So I walked away from our last argument, and as soon as I was out of sight, I ran to the men’s locker room and opened his locker. He used the same combination for everything, the dumbass. Anyway, so I took a pair of scissors and cut all his football gear into the tiniest pieces. It was hysterical. It looked like confetti.”

Kathy covered her mouth, stifling a laugh. “Charlie obviously knew you’d done it, right?”

Patti shrugged. “He never said anything to me. I would have denied it anyway. I think that’s considered destruction of personal property or whatever.” She grinned. “But he knew, all right. How could he not?”

“God, I hope I don’t ever get on your bad side, Patti.”

“I do have a temper. If somebody does something to me or someone I love, I get really pissed off.”

“Revenge is your drug of choice?” Kathy said.

Patti shrugged. “I’ve always felt sorry for the underdog, and I don’t feel right sitting on the sidelines, watching others get hurt. And I don’t like getting screwed over when I don’t deserve it.”

Kathy waved her hand back and forth. “Let’s drop the subject of Charlie for now. I’ll deal with him when I return home.” She slapped her hands on her knees. “So. Will you move to San Diego or not? Puh-lease?”

“Well, you’re right on one major point. I don’t have a job anymore.”

“And there are always jobs for professional photographers in San Diego and La Jolla. La Jolla is only about twenty minutes away from my house, and it’s where a lot of rich people live. I’m not sure what you want to do, but they’re constantly filming movies in the area, so there are a gazillion actresses and actors and models who need to have their portfolios done by a professional.” Kathy sat up and leaned closer to Patti’s face. “Come on. Just do it.”

Patti smiled. “I promise to think about it.”

“Yes!” Kathy shouted, then covered her mouth with both hands.

“Don’t worry. My neighbors are hundreds of feet away. Even if someone did call the cops, I wouldn’t mind that one bit. Cops in Alameda are super-hunks.”

Kathy leaned back into the pillows. “Then why aren’t you dating one?”

“Been there, done that.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“His hours were so janky—”

“Janky? What the hell? Is that some sort of Urban Dictionary word I’m not familiar with?”

Patti laughed. “Well, you do live in SoCal.”

Kathy closed her eyes and took a breath, then opened them. “No one says SoCal. If you live with me, you have to promise never to say that. Ever.”

“It’s what we in the Bay Area call Southern California, Kathy. As I was saying, the guy’s hours just totally did not jive with mine. He’d get off work and need to sleep just when I was leaving my job and wanting to play.”

Kathy nodded. “I get it. No policemen. I understand.”

“Well, they don’t all have that shift, but John did.” Patti shrugged. “It just didn’t work out.”

“So, you promise to at least think about moving to, quote unquote, SoCal, to live with me and look for a new job?”

Patti stood and lifted her arms toward the ceiling, yawning. “I promise to think about it.”

“You don’t have any real ties here any longer.”

“I worked for that company for five years, Kath. I’m still reeling.”

“They’ll regret it. And you’ll find a better job.”

“I don’t think Cassey, the owner, will regret letting me go. She hired too many photographers. Someone had to leave. We were all good. So when one of the photographers who was Cassey’s lover left the company, Cassey turned her eyes on me.” Patti shrugged. “I’m not gay, so she dumped my ass.”

Kathy’s jaw dropped. “You mean to tell me, if you’d had sex with your boss she would have kept you on?”

Patti nodded. “Yup. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“And you couldn’t have sued her for sexual harassment or something?”

“I wasn’t going to waste thousands of dollars to hire an attorney for something based on office gossip. I can’t prove anything.” She paused. “Granted, I was angry. Very angry. I thought of doing something.”

“You mean like what you did to Charlie?”

Patti shrugged. “For a second, I entertained the thought of getting back at her for letting me go for no reason. She was wrong to fire me. I was going to show her what it felt like to be screwed over, you know? But she said she’d give me a good recommendation, so I couldn’t take the chance, if I’d retaliated in some way. Though I really, really wanted to.” She sighed. “But, onward and upward, Christian soldiers, as Sister Catherine Teresa used to tell us.”

“All this talk of sex and stuff … don’t you sometimes wonder how we turned out pretty okay, what with all the things the nuns told us to scare us into being good Christian soldiers when we were in high school?”

“You mean like, ‘If you sit on a boy’s lap, you might get pregnant’?”

Kathy let out a deep belly laugh, doubling over, gasping. “Oh, my God! I would have gotten pregnant a million times, right?”

Patti joined her, chuckling hysterically, slumping back down on the couch. “Remember Sister Delfina?”

Kathy tilted her head. “The one who used to measure the length of our skirts every morning with a ruler?”

Patti pointed in her direction. “That’s the one. I dreamed of grabbing that ruler out of her hand and whacking her over the head with it.”

Kathy laughed out loud.

Patti grinned. “Actually, she’s the one who was totally whacked.” She stood up again. “I gotta get some sleep.”

“Thanks for the laugh, Sis. Love you.”

“And I love you. See you tomorrow.” Patti walked to the stairs, stifling a yawn.

“Think about San Diego,” Kathy called out.

“You got it,” Patti shouted back as she headed to her bedroom.

Patti didn’t want Kathy to be unhappy with Charlie. But if he was cheating on her and the two went their separate ways, Patti could move in with Kathy. Patti wouldn’t have to deal with seeing the two of them together, wondering if Charlie was screwing someone else behind her sister’s back.

What was it with some guys having such difficulty being sexually monogamous? Charlie was no longer a teenage football hero. He was thirty years old. Acting like that in high school was one thing. No one expected to marry their childhood sweetheart.

But he was a grown man. By now he should have matured, maybe even be looking for a solid relationship, with a family life and a few kids. If not, he could at least be up front about it. Lots of women weren’t looking for security and wouldn’t mind dating a player. But Kathy wasn’t one of them, and Charlie damn well knew it. What a creepazoid!

But, hey, if she wanted to move to SoCal with her sister, she’d have to put all that aside. Charlie was no longer her problem. Her sister would have to make her own decisions about her relationship. Too bad Kathy was the one who now had to deal with his wandering eye. And Kathy, of all people, didn’t deserve to be jacked around by some gigolo.

If you’re cheating on my sister, Charlie, I’ll kick your butt from here to Oregon.

Patti’s mind shifted to her mom. Sadly, she was gone, and it was time to get on with her life. Of course, it would take Patti a while to get used to her not being emotionally available for her.

During her mom’s fight against cancer, Patti had stuck by her side every single time the cancer returned. Her mom had been so sick for so long. Patti knew that for at least the last two years she had been suffering and wanted all of it to be over.

But being the fighter she was, her mom had signed up for one experimental treatment after another to try to beat that freaking disease. When no one else was around, her mom would say to her, “You know, Patti, cancer’s my bitch. I’m gonna beat the crap out of her one day.” Then they’d both laugh. Her mom never used so-called bad words. To hear the b-word come out of her mom’s mouth had startled Patti.

Patti thought about her options, her future without her mom. She needed to either stay in the Bay Area and look for another job, or move to San Diego and look for a job.

She climbed into bed, shut her eyes, and tried to fall asleep. First, she had to figure out how to talk Kathy into visiting the ranch. The weekend was approaching—a perfect time for a short vacation.

She finally fell asleep, dreaming of riding one of her dad’s Friesian horses through the meadow, her blonde hair floating behind her in the wind as she raced with her sisters across the hills.

Maybe they could be a family again. For the first time since her mom had passed, joy stirred in Patti’s heart.