Annabelle, whom nearly everyone calls Anne, has been stuck in the past for two years. Numbed by grief over her husband’s unexpected death and overwhelmed with the responsibility of raising their three young children alone, Anne agrees to let a friend take the kids for the weekend while she tries to get some much-needed rest at her parent’s home.
But when Anne wakes up the next morning, she is suddenly sixteen again. And it just happens to be the worst day she spent as a teenager.
High school the second time around brings unforeseen changes and frustrations, but remembering that her future husband, Mitch, has just returned from a mission and is living on the other side of town gives Anne hope. Getting Mitch’s attention (for the second time) is more complicated than she could have imagined, but Anne discovers she is stronger than she believed possible—and there just might be a future for her after all.
It had been one of those two-year-old-screaming, dead-battery-at-the-grocery-store, pile-of-bills-in-the-mail days. I fell into bed exhausted with, I’m ashamed to admit, a few chunks of oatmeal still in my hair. The mattress was starting to sag, and I tossed and turned a bit, trying to find a position that didn’t put my ribs in contact with the metal springs hidden under just a thin layer of padding. Finally, I managed a semicomfortable position and dozed off. I was awakened abruptly not fifteen minutes later by a wet coughing sound coming from the baby’s room. James was throwing up.
Three hours and two sheet changes later, I was ready to try again, this time blissfully free of oatmeal, thanks to the vomit-motivated shower I had taken. I didn’t even bother trying for a comfortable position. I could have slept on a bed of hot coals. I just flopped onto the bed, pulled the closest blanket up over me, and rolled over to check the clock. Four a.m. Good. I still had two and a half hours until I had to be up to drive carpool. That was enough time to get through at least one sleep cycle. It could have been worse.
My body didn’t agree with that assessment when the alarm went off. It protested strenuously, and I debated keeping the kids home from school just so I could sleep in for another hour. The thought of a nap was the only thing that dissuaded me from that idea. If the kids stayed home, that possibility would be gone. I forced myself out of bed and started our morning routine.
Shelley Inger accosted me in the school parking lot as I was zipping up Mallory’s jacket and handing her and Jenna their lunches. She walked toward me with a hip-swinging step that caused her high-heeled boots to click loudly on the asphalt. Her skinny jeans left little to the imagination, and her vividly highlighted hair wisped in the cold wind as she called out my name.
“Anne. There you are, darlin’. I was beginning to wonder if you weren’t sleeping in this morning.”
Her voice was a little too loud after the night I’d had, but I kissed Jenna and Mallory and sent them off before I turned to smile up at Shelley. She was at least four inches taller than I was, even without the heels. And the hair. So I had to look up quite a ways.
“What are you doin’ tonight? You got any big plans?” she asked.
I stifled a groan of exasperation. I had discovered quickly that living in a small town meant that everyone felt entitled to know everyone else’s business. I was the one and only widow under sixty in the neighborhood, so I had come to expect the constant stream of judgment, usually masked as sympathy sprinkled liberally by the more officious busybodies who tried to set me up with everything male between the ages of twenty-one and seventy. Shelley was usually the prime perpetrator.
“Oh, yes. Big, big plans. I have a mountain of laundry waiting to be done,” I quipped, trying to keep things light. My efforts were wasted. Shelley pursed her pink-lined lips in a blend of sympathy and censure.
“Darlin’, you really got to get out of that house. I know what you need. Pete has a friend . . .” She stopped and frowned as I groaned out loud. “What? What is the matter with meeting someone? It’s been what, three years?”
“Two years and seven months.” I didn’t like the direction this was going.
“Okay, two and a half years. That’s long enough. Eventually you gotta find someone new. Pete’s friend is a great guy. He’s one of those intellectual types but good looking. Andhe’s only been married once—has a little girl close to Jenna’s age.” She delivered the description as if she were offering me a lottery jackpot.
And“Well, that’s a relief. That last guy was on, what, his fifth divorce?”
“Sixth, but hey, at least he had money. This one’s not rich, but he’s probably more your type.” She winked. I really couldn’t believe I was listening to this. It felt like high school all over again. Not something I was eager to relive. “He’s comin’ over for dinner tonight, and I know he’d be so excited to meet you. Pete can’t stop talking about you.”
Now that was funny. “Pete, huh? The man who never says more than two words together can’t stop talking about me?”
that“Okay, it was me. But Pete agreed when I said you were really cute,” Shelley said. She looked me over, taking in my sweatshirt and pajama pants, lingering a little longer at my hair. “Maybe you could wear that little black dress?”
My stomach clenched at the thought.
“Shelley, it’s really nice for you to invite me, but I don’t have a sitter,” I said. I’d let this discussion go on long enough. I wanted to get away.
“What about my Megan? She’s great with the little ones, and Mallory and Jenna can practically take care of themselves anyway. It’s not like you’ll be gone overnight . . . unless you really hit it off,” she laughed.
I cringed again. She might mean well, but could this conversation go any further downhill?
“Come on, Anne. At least think about it. Dinner’s at seven thirty. Okay?” She grinned again and then shimmied off to intercept Mrs. Walsh. Rumor had it that Mr. Walsh had been arrested for driving under the influence, and I guessed Shelley wanted to get the scoop from the source.
I stared after her, resenting her interference even while I envied how easy it was for her to talk to people. I got into my car and turned the key. The engine started on the third try. As I glanced in the rearview mirror to back out, I caught a glimpse of myself. Ugh. My hair was sticking out all over, thanks to sleeping on it wet. No wonder Shelley had been staring at me like that.
“Lovely,” I muttered, trying to smooth it. One lock of hair continued to flip out unnaturally like a neon sign flashing the words “She really let herself go.” It must have been the sleepless night, or maybe I was getting sick like James, but I had this horrible pain in the pit of my stomach that grew and grew. I thought maybe I was going to throw up, but instead the pain just pushed itself up and out in a huge sob. Tears followed immediately, and I struggled to see as I pulled out of the parking lot.
“Mommy sad?” James asked from his car seat in the back. I stuffed the pain back down and wiped my face, looking around the car for something to blow my nose on. Nothing. I sniffed.
“No, baby,” I said in a falsely cheerful tone. “Mommy’s fine. I’m just tired. Let’s go home and give you a bath, okay?”
James pouted at the suggestion. His little face was so cute that I couldn’t help smiling through the tears. I kept up a steady babble of toddler talk for the rest of the drive home. Anything to keep my mind distracted from that black hole looming inside me.
Two hours later I had James fed, bathed, and down for a nap. As I started another load of laundry, I came across one of Mitch’s old T-shirts. Mallory had been using it to sleep in, and I’d seen it dozens of times in the laundry. I moved to toss it into the washer, but my hands wouldn’t let go. The water kept filling the drum, detergent already foaming, but I couldn’t make my fingers release that shirt.
There was a stain near the hem, just a smudge of darker gray. I didn’t know what had caused it, but a flash of a memory surfaced—Mitch opening my car door at the grocery store while he tugged his jacket on and I caught just a glimpse of that small stain on the hem of his shirt. It was an insignificant memory, but it sucked all of the air from my chest.
All of the anguish, the loss, the emptiness washed over me. For more than two and a half years I’d done everything possible to avoid facing this reality. Maybe it would hurt less as time went on, or maybe I’d find that it had crept in gradually, softened by time. I don’t know exactly what I’d thought, or if I’d even thought at all. I’d just reacted to protect myself. Now it was clear just how false any of those ideas were. The pain hadn’t lessened. It had intensified as if it were breeding in the hidden recesses of my mind. Now that it was loose, it attacked mercilessly, crushing me to the floor of my laundry room with its weight.
I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart and lungs begged for oxygen, but there wasn’t room for any air to enter. Every nook and cranny of my body was suddenly filled with the fact that Mitch was really and truly gone.
Finally I sucked in a lungful of air, trying to clear the drumming pain away. But when I blew it out, it was nothing more than a small, piteous cry. I clutched the shirt to my chest and curled up beside the laundry baskets and let the grief have its way with me.
I’d spent the last two and a half years trying to keep the pain of losing Mitch at bay. It seemed like there was never a good time to really face it. I had the girls to care for. Mallory had been nine and Jenna five when Mitch died, and it seemed like all my energy went into filling their needs and helping them through the horrifying experience of losing their father. Then, just weeks after his death, I discovered I was pregnant. Everything changed at that point as I began focusing my efforts and energy into making sure that Mitch’s new baby would be healthy and loved.
Now, I’d been fighting this moment for so long that I thought I’d dealt with his death. I really did. How wrong I’d been. Now that the dam had burst, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to stop crying. Oh, how grateful I was that the children couldn’t see me like this.
They needed me to be strong for them, but there was no strength inside me right now. For some crazy reason, Shelley Inger popped into my head with her comment about my little black dress, and that started off a fresh wave of sobs. She couldn’t have realized that I had bought that dress for Mitch’s funeral. The thought of wearing it to impress a man was nauseating.
Minutes passed, then an hour, and I still couldn’t regain control. I gave up on trying to accomplish anything and just staggered back to my bedroom, collapsing on my bed. When James woke up, I put him in front of a movie and gave him sugary cereal to snack on. He stared at my red, blotchy face and wrapped his little arms around me, trying to comfort me in his baby way. That broke through the little bubble I’d managed to survive in since he woke up, and I started crying again. Luckily he was distracted by the brightly colored cereal and the animated figures on the screen, and I lay on the couch and cried, covering my face with a pillow when I couldn’t keep it quiet. By two thirty I knew I would have to pick up the girls soon. How could I drive like this? How can I live like this? my heart keened.
How can I live like this?I was utterly defeated. I called Shelley and asked if she could give the girls a ride home. I knew I was risking a mountain of gossip, but I didn’t care anymore.
“Sure, darlin’, but you sound awful. Are you okay?” she asked, her voice dripping with concern and curiosity.
“I think I’m getting sick,” I lied. What was I supposed to tell her, anyway?
“Oh, okay. Well, I’ll drop them off.” There was a pause, and I could tell there was something more she wanted to say. “This is just an excuse to get out of dinner tonight, isn’t it?” I fought back a fresh batch of wails and managed to answer.
“It really isn’t. I’m just not well today.” That last part was definitely the truth.
“Okay. I’ll see you in an hour,” she said. I thanked her and told her good-bye. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that I realized from her comment that she was actually planning on coming in. I stumbled to the bathroom mirror and surveyed the damage. My hair was still sticking out all over, and my face was puffy. I was thirty-eight, but I looked at least ten years older. It shocked me into silence, my tears halted by the realization that it wasn’t just about the crying today. I’d been letting myself slowly decay since Mitch had died. I sank to the floor of the bathroom.
Emily Gray Clawson describes herself as an author, mother, and youth mentor. Born and raised in Utah, she is passionate about her faith and great books and will share her love of both with anyone who will listen. Emily began writing at the age of seven, creating homemade picture books that she peddled from door to door. She self-published her first novel, Things Hope For, and is collaborating with Jennifer Graves on a book entitled A Sister’s Witness: The Powell Family Tragedy. With her husband, Richard, Emily founded two youth leadership programs, Handmaidens of Virtue and Mastering Knighthood. Trained in vocal performance in college, she has enjoyed including aspects of her training in this book. Emily and Richard are the parents of four children and live in Taylorsville, Utah.