Award winning Novel By Bonnie Tharp (coming out by Belle Bridge Books in March 2014)

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Mafirst_prize_emblemy 2015 – PATCHWORK FAMILY, a novel by Wichita native Bonnie Tharp won first place in the Kansas Professional Communicators annual competition in the Novels for Adult Readers category.

In the followup to Feisty Family Values, it’s been a year since Annabelle gained custody of her three grandchildren. The stress of the demands and changes to her life begin to affect her health. To make matters worse, Annabelle receives a call from the children’s dad, who disappeared a decade ago. Annabelle has a heart attack, which leaves her cousin Regina as the reluctant caregiver.

The children’s father, who has been in jail, wants another chance. Annabelle, Regina and the kids struggle to let go of the past and take a chance on the future, no matter how uncertain it may be.

Patchwork Family shows that the heart of a family is not always about genetics. It’s about family members and friends being there for each other, appreciating what they have, charting their own course and believing they are worthy of love.

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“I can’t believe I’ve been married over a year,” Tillie said. The tiny fifty-eight year old woman pulled all ten fingers up through her white curls. “And I’ve got hair again!”

“I told you it would grow back. Now if I could just do something with this mop.” Annabelle patted her own granny blue fuzz. She sat against the ladder back chair, turning slightly to face her friend. The early morning light shone through the lace kitchen curtains, making shadow patterns on the worn tabletop. The century old Victorian home nestled in the Riverside area of Wichita had been in the Morgan family for generations.

“Ah, honey, its just luck. I got some great hair genes, but I’ll trade all this and half my teeth to be entirely shed of cancer genes.” Tillie patted Annabelle’s wrinkled hand.

“How long has it been since your last chemo treatment?”

“Thirteen months, sixteen days, but who’s counting?” Tillie’s black eyes sparkled. She sipped her coffee with a grimace and set the cup back on the table.

“That’s wonderful. Are you feeling okay?” Annabelle’s embroidered hanky slipped from the shirtsleeve of her cotton housedress. Tillie had become dear to her this past couple of years. Although her face was pale, her friend’s requisite khaki slacks, slogan t-shirt and walking shoes made her appear healthy to the casual eye.

“I feel fit as an Amazon warrior, even if I am only five foot nothing.” Tillie flexed her arm like a muscleman.

“If you weren’t a warrior, you wouldn’t have beat that disease and captured the heart of a nice man like Joe Linden.” When the handsome retired Air Force officer moved into the house across the street she, Regina and Tillie felt excitement in the air. But Joe only had eyes for Tillie, the feistiest of the bunch. Annabelle took a deep breath, feeling a pang in her chest. She tucked her shaking hands into her ample lap. “Would you like some more coffee?”

“No, thanks. Between Joe’s wake up nudge, a two-mile walk, and a mug of your motor oil java, I’ve had enough stimulation to keep me going for the rest of the day.” Tillie took her cup to the sink, pouring the last few drops down the drain.

“Is my coffee that bad?” Annabelle sniffed the contents of her cup and frowned.

“Not really, Belle, it’s just that Joe’s spoiled me rotten. He makes better coffee than the mega million-dollar coffee shops. Nobody can compete. Will you walk me to the door?” Tillie waited for her friend.

“Sure” Rising slowly, Annabelle said, “It still feels odd to be in this old house without Regina complaining about the mess or me or the grandkids. Even after a year.” Annabelle was the oldest of the cousins by six years; Regina had inherited their Grandmother Morgan’s house, where her snobbish mother, Victoria raised Regina as a princess. Victoria’s sister Rose had been the youngest and Annabelle’s mother, who dreamt of living in the country on a farm. She had raised Annabelle in a much more earthy environment, filled with love, but little money.

Tillie walked through the formal dining room oblivious to the glass front cabinets filled with crystal and china.

“Speaking of the grand kids, how are the little darlings?”

Walking into the cluttered parlor, Annabelle could almost hear Regina snort in disgust. Magazines, books, shoes, children’s clothing littered the room, looking like a small explosion had distributed the debris at random. “They took Ms. Pickles for a walk this morning and almost missed their buses.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Tillie asked. “You don’t walk a cat, especially not a three-legged cat.”

Annabelle smiled. “We know that, but tell it to a ten-year-old. I imagine that Megan carried Ms. Pickles so Tad didn’t step on her with his huge feet. He’s almost fourteen, but he’s getting really tall.”

“Think of it this way–he’s got a firm foundation. And Peg? Where was she in all this?” Tillie stopped in the entry. The front door was flanked by floor to ceiling windows covered in sheer curtains. The spring sunlight filtered onto the hard wood floor, casting rectangular pools.

“Peggy spent the night at her friend Malissa’s. They probably fixed each other’s hair, slathered on make up, and called boys.”

“My Lord. I guess she is almost sixteen. What on earth are you going to do when she starts dating?” Tillie opened the oak door and paused.

Annabelle’s hand clutched the front of her dress. “Have a heart attack.”

“If it were me, my hair would be gone again, one handful at a time.” Tillie stepped onto the wrap-around porch calling over her shoulder. “You take care of yourself. Don’t let the kids get you down. Joe and I are just across the street if you need us. And Regina is only a phone call away.”

“Thanks, Tillie. I appreciate everything you and Joe have done for us. You’re good friends. I probably should give Regina a call. Maybe we’ll have her and Sam over for dinner, but not before the kids and I clean the place up.”

Tillie turned and winked. “Wise woman. See you later.”

Watching Tillie’s energetic march across the yard made Annabelle’s breath catch. “I’m only sixty-six, or may it’s sixty-seven, well anyway, I can hardly walk across the room without sitting down for a rest. Guess it’s time to go back on a diet. Maybe Doc will take pity on me and give an old girl something to help the process along. Good thing I have an appointment today. I feel pretty rough.” She shook her head when she realized she’d been talking to herself – again. “Get a grip, old girl.”

Her three grandkids were a mess, but she loved them. It had been a rough year. The pain of their mother’s accidental death had faded along with the bruises she’d inflicted on them. Tad’s broken arm had healed quickly, as young bones often do, but the nightmare of his mother breaking it, had not. He used to wake up, screaming with fear. Tillie had suggested they check into family therapy at the Child Guidance Center. At the time Annabelle resisted, but after six months of therapy they reaped the benefits. Annabelle got her chance to make things right, to undo the mistakes she’d made with her daughter Liddy, their mother.

The phone rang in the kitchen, disrupting Annabelle’s thoughts. She shuffled down the hall and snatched up the receiver. “Heh…low?” She panted, gulping for air.

“Annabelle? Is that you?” Regina asked.

“Hello. Sorry, I was just saying goodbye to Tillie.”

“What did you do, race her to the door?”

Annabelle chuckled, “No. And I’m fine, thanks.”

“You don’t sound fine. I called to make sure the family home was still standing and to ask you to watch Sugar for the weekend?”

“This house may be a hundred-years-old but it’s sturdy. It’ll even survive us. We’d love to see Sugar. Tad’s crazy about that dog.” She hesitated. “Ms. Pickles isn’t too fond of her, but Megan will see that no harm comes to the cat or the dog’s nose.” Annabelle twirled the phone cord around her finger.

“Great. We’ll bring her by Friday after Sam gets home from the office and pick her up Sunday afternoon.”

Annabelle took slow calming breaths. She could still feel her heart pounding. “That’ll be fine. Don’t forget to bring plenty of dog food. We ran out last time. Ms. Pickles had a fit when her cat food disappeared.”

“That cat has no sense of humor.” Regina laughed. “See you Friday.”

“Bye.” Annabelle eased down onto the kitchen chair, pressing her closed fist to her chest. “Probably heartburn. Too much coffee and cookie dough,” she said. The mantle clock struck the half hour. “Oh, my Lord, it’s 8:30. I have to go if I’m going to make my appointment.”

She changed her dress, pulled on a cardigan, slipped a clean hanky up the sleeve, grabbed her pocketbook and was out the back door in minutes. The former carriage house now doubled as a garage with a playroom overhead for the kids. Fumbling with the fob, she pressed the garage door opener and walked up to her shiny twenty-year old Rambler.

Tillie and Joe had given it to her as a house-warming present after Joe replaced the engine. “No self-respecting Grandmother can be without wheels with three grandkids to taxi around,” Joe had said.

A real beauty, too, metallic gold outside with tan interior. She’d sewed a new seat covers out of an old bedspread she’d found in the attic.

Regina had laughed when she saw them. “Mother’s ghost probably haunted you for a week after you ransacked the attic, desecrating her property. Where did you find the fabric?”

“In Grandmother Morgan’s cedar chest,” Annabelle said. “Going to waste.”

“The cabbage rose pattern is so you.”

Annabelle had thought so, too. She drove to Dr. Miller’s office with both hands clutching the steering wheel, shoulders hunched. Doc had retired six months ago, but not before he’d taken on a handsome young partner. Dr. Joshua Stamp. The sign still said Miller and Stamp, but Doc Miller spent his days on the golf course – rain or shine. She pulled up in front of the strip mall that housed their office and parked by the door.

Heaving a sigh, she scooped up her purse and went inside, five minutes early. A buzzer sounded in the back as she entered the empty waiting room. Annabelle noticed the intermingled aromas of flowers, antiseptic, and the receptionist’s perfume.

She must bathe in the stuff, like our old Avon lady.

“That you, Annabelle?” Rachel called from the back. “Be right there.”

Annabelle took the chair across from the window watching the cars zip by on West Thirteenth Street. She glanced toward the back hallway where Rachel emerged, popping a wad of pink gum.

A bad habit for a woman in her fifties.

Medium height, chunky, Rachel had brown streaks through her gray hair. She dressed nicely, but she always had gum in her mouth that showed when she talked.

“Hi there. Come on back to room two. Doc will be in with you in a minute.” Motioning Annabelle to follow, Rachel held open the door, slipping a chart in the slot outside.

‘Pop’ went Rachel’s gum and my last nerve.

Once inside the tiny room, Annabelle sat on the visitor’s chair instead of the exam table with its cold metal stirrups. She clutched her purse in her lap, taking slow deep breaths. “What in the devil are you afraid of?”

The door clicked open and a smiling Tom Cruise look-alike walked in. He held out his hand to her, “Good morning, Annabelle. How’s my favorite patient?”

She felt heat rise in her cheeks.

He’s cute.

“I’m fine, Dr. Josh.”

“Somehow, I don’t think this is a social call. You’re not fine, am I right?”

“I suppose.” She slipped the hanky from her sleeve and began wringing it.

“Tell me, how are you really?” He sat on a stool then used his feet to roll to a spot a scant foot in front of her.

“I’m tired all the time.” She twisted her hanky tighter.

“Understandable, you’ve got three children at home.” He took her chin in his hand, quickly flashing a light in one eye then the other. “What else?”

“I’ve been having a lot of heart burn.”

“Are you eating spicy foods?” He checked each ear.

“Not really. I just feel pressure in my chest. Sometimes, I find it hard to breathe.” She watched as he scooted across the room, grabbed a wooden tongue depressor and crab walked back, never rising from the stool.

“Say, ah.” He looked inside her mouth.

“I think it’s time we did some tests. Let’s make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong. Once we rule out the bad stuff, then we’ll see what kind of annoying little thing it could be.” He pulled a pen out of his pocket to write in her chart.

“When?” Annabelle asked.

“How about now?”

“So soon?” She watched him roll his stool back into the corner of the room and open the door.

“Rachel, get Shelley for me please. Annabelle needs a few tests, and let’s reschedule this morning’s appointments.”

Annabelle stared.

What now?

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