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Where I Belong

Where I Belong

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Where I Belong

Length:
304 pages
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 25, 2015
ISBN:
9781310273155
Format:
Book

Description

(This is not a stand-alone book - requisite reading before this is The Secret Dreams of Sarah-Jane Quinn)

Pregnant, pressured, and pushed to the limit

Vacations, especially when you’re pregnant, are supposed to be relaxing.

When her least favorite brother-in-law and his wife crash Sarah and Gus Haldemann’s peaceful vacation, Sarah struggles to find patience. Maggie seeks artistic validation at the expense of her marriage, and Dietrich just wants to understand how and why his wife jumped on board the crazy train.

The unexpected presence of Sarah’s parents and sister after nearly six years of silence puts unwelcome pressure on her to garner their approval. In the face of her mother’s cold disdain, Sarah finds herself slipping back into submissive behaviors that aggravate and shame her.

Then Gus’s ex-lover Gretchen arrives, also without invitation and bringing with her a mother-daughter feud with her firstborn, Luci, amping up the tension to a nearly unbearable level.

Luci is searching for a way to break free of her mother’s chaotic life. The only place she feels she truly belonged was with Gus, and she would do anything – including abandon her sisters to her mother’s dubious care – to reclaim her happy childhood home.

In Luci, Sarah sees shades of herself as a child. As they forge a bond, Luci’s relationship with Gretchen further deteriorates and Irene Quinn’s disapproval escalates.

As the “perfect storm” descends on her home, Sarah struggles to find grace, forgiveness, and a modicum of tolerance – as well as a little bit of privacy – in a house packed to the rafters and teeming with angst.

Publisher:
Released:
Aug 25, 2015
ISBN:
9781310273155
Format:
Book

About the author

Sharon Gerlach was in training to be a ninja, but a dismaying lack of physical grace and balance—not to mention the inability to keep her big mouth shut—ended her ninja career before it really began. Now she writes. She doesn’t write about ninjas because that’s obviously a sore subject. But she writes about other really cool things and figures someone else will cover the ninjas. Life’s really not all about ninjas, anyway. Sharon lives on the dry side of the Pacific Northwest with her husband (who must really be fond of her as he hasn’t left her yet despite her ninja failings); her kids and grandkids (none of whom possess ninja qualities either); and two cats. Yes, you guessed it—ninja cats!


Book Preview

Where I Belong - Sharon Gerlach

Table of Contents

Synopsis

Also by Sharon Gerlach

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One

Midpoint

Gus’s Family, Untangled

About the Author

Pregnant, pressured, and pushed to the limit

Vacations, especially when you’re pregnant, are supposed to be relaxing.

When her least favorite brother-in-law and his wife crash Sarah and Gus Haldemann’s peaceful vacation, Sarah struggles to find patience. Maggie seeks artistic validation at the expense of her marriage, and Dietrich just wants to understand how and why his wife jumped on board the crazy train.

The unexpected presence of Sarah’s parents and sister after nearly six years of silence puts unwelcome pressure on her to garner their approval. In the face of her mother’s cold disdain, Sarah finds herself slipping back into submissive behaviors that aggravate and shame her.

Then Gus’s ex-lover Gretchen arrives, also without invitation and bringing with her a mother-daughter feud with her firstborn, Luci, amping up the tension to a nearly unbearable level.

Luci is searching for a way to break free of her mother’s chaotic life. The only place she feels she truly belonged was with Gus, and she would do anything – including abandon her sisters to her mother’s dubious care – to reclaim her happy childhood home.

In Luci, Sarah sees shades of herself as a child. As they forge a bond, Luci’s relationship with Gretchen further deteriorates and Irene Quinn’s disapproval escalates.

As the perfect storm descends on her home, Sarah struggles to find grace, forgiveness, and a modicum of tolerance – as well as a little bit of privacy – in a house packed to the rafters and teeming with angst.

ALSO BY SHARON GERLACH

Harper & Lyttle Series

Office Politics

The Secret Dreams of Sarah-Jane Quinn

The Devil's Mansion Series

Malakh (novella)

The Wyckham House

Condemned

The Revenant Chronicles

Blink of an Eye

A Running Ink Press Novel

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Running Ink Press

1419 N Lee St

Spokane WA  99202

www.sharongerlach.com

Character-driven fiction. Because characters matter.

Where I Belong

Copyright 2015 Sharon Gerlach

ISBN-13: 9781310273155

Cover image Copyright 2012 by K. Connors (Victorian house)

Cover image Copyright 2014 by fotostorm (couple enjoying spring)

Cover design by Joshua Gerlach

Dedication

If you’ve ever

felt like you were on the outside looking in

been diminished by a loved one’s favoritism of someone else over you

suffered someone’s demeaning words or behavior

become a casualty of someone else’s poor decisions

endured outright verbal, emotional, psychological, or physical abuse…

this book is for you

may you find hope in this story

may you find strength in Luci’s struggle

may you find courage in Sarah’s self-discovery

may you find peace in your acceptance of yourself

may you find love and understanding in this book, my gift to you

you are strong

you are fearless

you are able to persevere

you are able to overcome

you are worthy

and worthwhile

Abuse comes in many forms, sometimes so subtle it is nearly unrecognizable. If you are being abused or suspect you are being abused, please – find help:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-787-7233 * www.thehotline.org

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453 * www.childhelp.org

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network: 800-656-4673 * www.rainn.org

National Youth Crisis Hotline: 800-442-4673

You do not have to suffer, and you do not have to struggle alone.

All my love,

Warm spring mornings were what Sarah-Jane Haldemann loved best, when she rose before the rest of the house and took her coffee and a sketchpad out to the gazebo that overlooked the lower meadow. She would bask in golden warmth and watch the day begin and perhaps sketch what bewitched her artist's eye.

Today wild turkeys dominated the meadow—a rafter of turkeys, Gus told her they were called, and she had no reason to doubt him. She kept a wary eye on them as they traveled up the slope toward the gazebo. While they generally weren't aggressive, being too used to people always traipsing about the grounds of Blackberry House Bed & Breakfast, they sometimes became annoyed if someone came too close or surprised them. Just last week, the one with the bent wing chased Benjamin, her three-year-old son, and knocked him flat on his face.

Of course, she couldn't deny that Benjamin had been throwing rocks and hit the poor thing's sore wing. Still, being speared in the ass with a turkey beak wasn't the most pleasant experience, and she knew that from firsthand experience. As did Benjamin.

She shifted a little to catch the right slant of light across the sketchpad, and took up her charcoal pencil. Her fingers deftly captured the rafter of feathered cacophony as it gained the top of the slope and headed toward the gazebo. A bold stroke here, a smear there. Adding shadow and light came so naturally that if asked to explain how she could so easily make a scene three-dimensional, she would be unable to answer. She drew not what she saw with her physical eye, but what her brain interpreted and fed to her artist’s creativity. And she had a full week before the inn opened, a week in which to capture the awakened earth and translate it onto canvas or the drawing pads she purchased by the case.

The turkeys moved on, the Haldemanns’ feathered nemesis pausing only long enough to give her a beady-eyed glare and a gobble of warning that sounded as though he'd already been strangled. In the peace that descended in their wake, the two chipmunks that lived in the tree shading the gazebo clattered over the roof, scrambled down a supporting pillar, and chased each other across the clearing to the copse of trees that shielded the stream meadow from view. Their game of chase dislodged two early butterflies from the trees, and they winged their disjointed way toward the inn.

Her eyes tracked their progress until she caught a glimpse of movement from a larger being: her husband, heading leisurely but purposefully toward the gazebo and – bless his heart – carrying two travel cups that she hoped were full of coffee. The sun set fire to his russet hair, but even from here she could see its golden kiss on his skin. Some anomaly of genetics made him a redhead but spared him the freckling, burn-to-a-crisp-in-the-sun pale skin. In fact, he tanned like a California blond – this California blonde, to be specific. She spent so much time out of doors, with only the harshest winter weather keeping her inside, that her summer tan barely had a chance to fade.

Am I disturbing you? Ever courteous, Gus nodded toward her sketchbook, pausing at the gazebo steps.

Nope. She made a face and held up the sketch for him to see. He chuckled at the very accurate depiction of the rafter.

That tom needs an attitude adjustment or it’ll end up as this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. It chased Pop two days ago and pecked his calf. He’s looking for his bow to skewer it.

I thought you had his bow.

I do. And I gave it to Kasey, just to be safe.

Sarah snorted. Safe? I should think you’d want to skewer the little bastard yourself, seeing as it speared both Benj and me in the ass.

Can’t blame the turkey for that.

Sure I can. Sarah set aside the sketchbook and took her coffee. Gus settled on the bench beside her, and she leaned into him, grateful for his warmth and liking the feel of his hard muscles against her arm.

On days like today, she lamented the disappearance of her own toned musculature. Although she knew it lurked beneath the weight she had gained, she missed being lithe and graceful and slim. Her hand passed over her rounded belly; three-and-a-half months and the baby would be here, and she could enjoy that unburdened, unfettered feeling until the next baby came along. There would be more. She didn't dread it; they talked often about having a large family. Sarah wanted her home filled with all the noise and laughter and love that had permeated Gus’s childhood home, perhaps as a talisman against her own emotionally sterile, silent upbringing.

Feeling all right, Sarah-Jane? As though intuiting her thoughts, his arm snaked around her, his hand sliding over her stomach. He pressed lightly and the baby kicked at the intrusion.

Yeah. Fat and happy. And she was – happy, at least. Fat, temporarily, God willing.

That’s good. I had no small measure of guilt when you were hugging the john and hurling every morning.

You can’t deny you did this to me. She elbowed him in the ribs. Where’s Benj?

He went with Josef to collect eggs from my parents’ coop. He somehow managed to keep a straight face.

Sarah grimaced. Let’s hope he fares better with the chickens than he did with the turkeys.

Let’s hope he manages not to break all the eggs so we get breakfast. Joe promised apple pancakes.

"Pannekoeken," she ventured, and he grinned at her halting pronunciation.

"Pfannkuchen, he corrected. Pannekoeken is Dutch. But accurate – he’s making Dutch Babies. If Benj doesn’t break all the eggs, that is."

Should we go help?

He kissed her temple. I’ll go help. You stay out here and draw.

I was done anyway. She showed him the drawing again, the irritable tom prominent in the foreground. What do you think – frame it and hang it in the Autumn Room?

Nah. Frame it and put it on the mantle in the Great Room. We can swap it out with Maple Messes.

Maple Memories, she corrected automatically, mentally picturing her watercolor of a grove of sugar maples.

It amounts to the same thing when tapping sugar maples for syrup, he said reasonably. We’ll put Maple Memories in the Autumn Room – it’s fitting – and the turkey tom on the table.

You said the mantle a minute ago.

The drawing, yes. The tom goes on the table. Mark my words, Pop’ll get him yet. What are you going to call this drawing?

Beware the Feathered Shithead Who Speared Me in the Ass While I Was Saving My Son.

Kind of long, isn’t it? How about we shorten it to ‘Feathered Shithead’?

Sarah chuckled, a little dryly. When she went to Benj’s aid after he’d been speared in the backside, the irritable tom circled round her and speared her, too. She was still sitting with most of her weight on her left butt cheek while the wound in her right cheek healed. Just one more scar to go with the others.

She frowned at the dark thought and impatiently shoved it away. Far behind her was where she had put Eric Edwards and the assault – and she always thought of him in terms of the assault at Harper & Lyttle, Inc. and not in terms of ‘the man I killed,’ better able to cope with the first horrific incident than the last.

Tucking the pencil behind her ear, she closed the sketchbook and let Gus tug her to her feet. He stole a kiss as she came upright, and she let him – pregnancy hadn’t stolen her passion for her husband – and they walked hand-in-hand back to the inn, Gus carrying her sketchpad under his arm so she could drink her coffee.

The wild meadow gave way to the landscaped grounds of the inn. Sarah hesitated at the back door, looking over the sun-kissed countryside. The only sounds were bird calls, the buzz of bees in the nearby gardens, and chatter of a squirrel in the pine tree out front. She breathed in deep a lungful of peace, closed the door on the past, and followed her husband inside.

Taking advantage of Benjamin’s midmorning nap, she sketched Josef as he cleaned the kitchen, capturing his flurry of movement and somehow translating onto paper the economy of movement that marked him as a master chef. The kitchen clean, he moved on to making bread dough for the inn’s famous cinnamon rolls. Frannie and Sam Harrison would arrive tomorrow with their daughter, Noelle, who seemed destined to be an only child. They’d stay three days, and then Sarah would have another couple of days of mad sketching before the inn filled with the first guests of the season.

While Josef kneaded the sticky dough, she added color to the sketch, bringing it to life with her Derwent colored pencils. What emerged made her hesitant to show him, although she knew hiding it would be futile. He knew she was drawing him, and he’d want to see.

Sure enough, after covering the dough and leaving it in a warm corner of the kitchen, he cleaned his hands and sauntered over, craning his head for a peek at the drawing.

Whatcha got for me, Sarah?

Silently, she turned the sketch toward him. He studied it for a moment, and then fixed her with eyes that were just a shade lighter than Gus’s. Her husband’s oldest sibling was a tolerant man, but this sketch seemed too close to an invasion of his privacy.

You’re very talented, Sarah. I think you should consider having a show at one of the galleries in Grants Pass. Or do First Friday – there’s one coming up in a couple of weeks. Rogue Valley is proud of its artists, but they barely know about you.

He turned the drawing back toward her, tapping the corner of the page.

And this should be included in your show.

I’m sorry, Joe, I didn't mean –

Never be sorry for your talent, Sarah. He laid down the dish towel he’d been drying his hands on and cupped her cheek for a brief second. You’ve spent too much of your life apologizing. Stop already.

He smiled, for a moment dispelling the ever-present shadows in his eyes, and then playfully snapped the dish towel at her. It’s not your fault.

"This drawing is my fault."

"Your heart saw my sorrow and your hand drew it. That’s honesty. I am a sad man. But I won’t always be."

Gus says I should practice restraint in my art when it comes to family members.

Josef made a pffft! sound and waved away her remark. Gus is such a lawyer sometimes. He grinned at her and ducked into the pantry, which if cleared out could serve as a spacious extra bedroom.

Sarah looked back at her drawing. Her pencil had captured the sorrow in Josef’s face, yes, but perhaps it also captured a bit of his hope as well. Maybe the inn did that for him, as it had done it for her when she was a small child, and again just five years ago when she married Gus.

Her eyes travelled the kitchen, which bore Josef’s mark as if he’d always been the chef in residence, although he hadn’t taken the position until three years ago. His wife Karen died in a freeway car wreck on her way from Los Angeles to home (Portland, at the time). When Stefanie – the sunshine of the entire Haldemann clan –proved inconsolable for weeks, Josef took two weeks leave from his job at an upscale Portland restaurant and brought their five kids down to his parents’. Six days into his stay, the inn’s chef quit unexpectedly to take a job on a cruise ship. Josef stepped in for the remainder of his vacation and had been in residence ever since, with the exception of two weeks when he went back to Portland to serve out his notice.

Stefanie recovered her ebullient nature, but only after many tears soaked Sarah’s shirt. She worried that Stef, in her grief, would latch onto her as a mother substitute, but it proved to be an empty concern.

As though her thoughts conjured her, Stefanie bounded into the kitchen, all long legs and strawberry-blonde pigtails, her young face showing none of the effects of staying up past midnight playing video games with her aunt.

Hey, Aunt Sarah! Do I smell coffee? Gotta get a cup… She rummaged through a cupboard for her favorite mug.

Josef popped his head out of the pantry. No coffee, young lady. You’re only ten. He vanished again, leaving Stef grimacing.

"How does he do that?"

Do what? Sarah asked.

Hear me even though he’s buried in the pantry. Or out in the garden. Or asleep in his room.

It’s the magical powers of a parent, Josef called from the depths of the pantry. You won’t understand it until you have kids of your own.

She stuck her tongue out in the direction of the pantry but poured herself a tumbler of orange juice and joined Sarah on a bar stool at the butcher-block table. She scanned the sketch with feigned nonchalance.

Nice work, Aunt Sarah.

Thanks. Sarah closed the sketch book. I’m thinking of heading out to the Grower’s Market, see if they have anything I don’t really need but would like to have. Wanna go with?

Stef grinned. You just want to check out the other artists and how much competition they are. Sure, I’d love to go. She cocked her head, listening. But is that a car I hear coming up the road?

It better not be. This is my last free week before we open, and I have plans.

But she could hear the car, too, coming up the road at a good clip, far too fast to be safe or courteous. She shared a look with Stefanie, and they moved at the same time, heading for the door into the dining room. Faster on her feet, Stef reached the front door seconds before Sarah, who lagged behind, torpid and slow.

It’s Aunt Mags.

She barely managed to bite back a frustrated growl. Maggie, the least favorite of her husband’s sisters-in-law. She didn't want to have to deal with this today; she wanted to go to the Grower’s Market and check out the other artists, weigh her own talent against theirs, see if Josef’s suggestion was crazy or smart.

Don’t call her that to her face. And what’s she doing – practicing for NASCAR? Slightly breathless, Sarah stepped out onto the porch beside Stefanie.

Gus, working in the yard at the side of the inn, abandoned his rake in the grass behind him and pulled off his gloves just as Maggie brought her sedan to a skidding halt. Dust plumed from beneath the tires, creating a cloud around the car that reminded Sarah of the stink lines drawn around Pig-Pen in the Peanuts comics.

Maggie spilled out of the car – a Maggie the likes of which she’d never seen. Wild-eyed, her hair in disarray, and uncharacteristically dressed in an artsy gauze skirt and lacy camisole – and nearly euphoric with rage – she seized her brother-in-law by the front of his shirt and shrieked into his face.

I’ve had enough! I’m bored out of my mind and I’m not going back! And you can’t make me!

The squirrel in the pine chattered angry reproval at the noise intrusion until Maggie flung her arms open wide and let loose a feral whoop. The wildlife – and the Haldemanns – were startled into silence.

Then, with a mastery of understatement Sarah hadn’t thought a ten-year-old could possess, Stefanie said dryly, Something’s wrong.

As the last echoes of Maggie’s enthusiastic whoop faded away, Josef popped his head out the door behind Sarah and Stefanie.

Hey, Gus, Dietrich’s on the phone. You’d better come talk to him before—

Too late, Sarah broke in.

Huh? Josef looked from the phone to her and back again, and then to the scene down in the gravel cul-de-sac that swooped in front of the inn. He swore in German, making Stefanie snort, and disappeared back into the house, speaking rapidly into the phone in guttural, angry-sounding German.

Maggie clutched Gus by the forearms, her voice lowered so they couldn’t hear her. But her face held an earnest plea, and whatever she asked of her brother-in-law she was sure to get, at least temporarily. While Josef may be of the opinion that Gus was such a lawyer sometimes, he was still just a man and not immune to feminine pleading.

Gus broke Maggie’s hold on his arms and with a firm hand at her back, he guided her toward the porch. Sarah opened the screen as they came up the steps. Now she could see her sister-in-law’s trembling limbs, her red-rimmed eyes, the hysteria that made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. This would take a woman’s touch – well, a sensitive man would do just as well, but Josef was right: Gus was such a lawyer sometimes. She circled her arm around Maggie’s shoulders, freeing her from Gus’s grasp.

Come into the kitchen, Maggie. There’s still some coffee, and Josef made some divine espresso biscotti a couple days ago.

Maggie offered no protest but beamed one last begging look toward Gus, who shared a look with Sarah and then retreated into the depths of the house, searching for Josef. Sarah guided her sister-in-law onto one of the barstools at the butcher block counter. She swept aside her art gear while Stef brought her aunt a mug of steaming coffee and a small plate with two biscotti.

Stef, if you wouldn’t mind checking on Benj and keeping him occupied for a while, I’d be really grateful. He might still be asleep.

But I— A glance at Sarah’s face changed Stefanie’s reply in mid-sentence. "Sure, Tante."

Sarah waited to speak until Stefanie moved out of earshot. What happened, Maggie? Did you and Dee have a fight?

Clutching up her coffee

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