Just Like Family
Just Like Family
by Barbara Casey
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
All in one day, thirty-five-year-old Hallie Marsh learns that the man she loves, works for, and is living with has found someone else and that she no longer has a job or a place to live. She is also involved in a car accident. She retreats to her parents' home in the northern part of Florida to be consoled and to decide what to do with the rest of her life only to find out that her mother is planning to leave her father for another man. Embittered, filled with anger, and wanting revenge, Hallie decides to take a year's sabbatical and write a novel that would reveal the unethical, if not illegal, real estate business practices of her former boss and lover.
Determined and focused, Hallie buys a house in the neighborhood where her two best friends and former co-workers live: Carol Mathews and Gordon Sebastian Cooney. It is through Gordon and Carol that Hallie comes to know four neighbors, one of whom is Carol's Vietnamese mother who carries a doll and talks into reflective surfaces. These four neighbors--Cora, Suong, Charlie, and Vince--are all elderly, peculiar, and alone at this stage in their lives until Vince comes up with a plan: The four of them will form an alliance, buy the old Braswell estate which is located just down the road, fix it up, and live in it almost like family. Hallie is fascinated by these four people, and rather than write a tell-all book she begins writing about their alliance. With this new focus and the friendship of Carol and Gordon, Hallie overcomes her feelings of rage, she is able to cope with her mother's sudden death, and she finds true love.
Cora wasn’t able to sleep a wink for thinking about all that Vince and Charlie had talked about. That and all those chips she had eaten while visiting with Suong the day before. She even thought about calling Suong on the telephone at some point and asking her to come over right then. But she decided against it owing to the lateness of the hour and thinking, also, it might be better to plan out what she was going to say to Suong when she came over this morning. And she needed to bake some more cookies anyway. Now in the light of a new day she was glad that she had waited to talk to Suong. After all, she had just met her, and Cora wasn’t sure how she would take to the idea, being Vietnamese and all. But Suong had seemed open-minded enough during the brief time Cora spent with her, and Cora had gotten the definite feeling when visiting with her that Suong really didn’t want to live with her daughter and son-in-law. Situations like that were usually difficult at best.
She opened the vertical blinds on her front window to the position where they stood straight out and she could see anything that moved within a two-block radius. Then she hobbled back to her chair and sat for several minutes thinking and vigorously kneading the necks of KittyPussy. Vince and Charlie had certainly presented her with an interesting proposition, but they were expecting Cora to come up with another woman to join them. Cora knew a lot of women, but none she would dare approach with such an idea. Suong was different. The funny way she dressed for one thing, and that pitiful excuse for a doll she drug around with her everywhere she went. But she also had a strong streak of independence that Cora had recognized immediately. Cora respected that. Suong was a little forgetful at times, but as far as that goes, so was Cora. She was forever forgetting where she had placed her eyeglasses. Suong could sew, too. She made all of her own clothes and Ngoc Tuyet’s. And she was smart. It hadn’t taken her any time to figure out what was going on in the stories. In fact, Cora really liked Suong. So no matter what, Suong would have to agree to the plan as well or Cora wouldn’t go along with it.
She reached for the pad of paper and pencil she kept on the table next to her chair for the purpose of making notes to herself. Vince apparently had plenty of money. Charlie, on the other hand, had nothing but a little income from a retirement fund coming in each month. Cora had her hefty monthly alimony, some insurance, and some savings. Even though Suong didn’t tell her a whole lot about it, Cora figured that she was getting some sort of payment from the government each month, like a death benefit maybe from her late husband or an annuity. It probably wasn’t much, but it wouldn’t take much to live on if the house was paid for and the four of them split up all of the expenses. Suong’s contribution would be her sewing. And judging from the appearance of Vince and Charlie, there would be plenty of that. Cora could do what she loved—cooking. Charlie would take care of the yard. And Vince would keep things fixed as well as put up the money for buying the house and any initial repairs. And, as he explained it, the property would be listed in each of their names in equal shares. If one of them died, that share would be divided among the others.
Cora could feel the excitement bubble inside of her. Of course she wanted to see the property. Vince had explained that it was big enough for each of them to have all of the privacy they needed, and that with a little paint and wallpaper and a few new downspouts, and maybe some shutters, he could make it into a showplace. But Cora believed that houses put out auras just like people. There were friendly houses and there were unfriendly houses. And she sure didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in an unfriendly house. She would be able to tell once she walked through it as to which kind of house it was. And then, assuming the house had a friendly aura, and Suong was agreeable, and the four of them felt like they could get along with each other all living under the same roof, then it might work out.
No one had mentioned furniture. Cora knew that Suong had very little, and she suspected that Charlie had rented his apartment already furnished. Vince had his own, because Cora had watched him move it from his house into the apartment he rented. Of course, she had her lovely antiques plus all of that furniture still in storage. Some of it had been her mother’s. So that along with Vince’s furniture and what she had in her own apartment would go a long way toward furnishing a house. That is, if its aura was good, of course.
Cora heard Suong’s tiny little shuffling steps. A glance out the verticals confirmed it. By the time Suong reached the front door, Cora was there inviting her and Ngoc Tuyet to come in. Smiling, Suong presented Cora with the hanky she had made. After several minutes of thank you’s and you shouldn’t have’s, exclamations over Suong’s wonderful sewing talents and generous nature, and reassurances that Suong suffered no difficulty in finding Cora’s apartment, Cora positioned Suong and her doll on the sofa where Vince had made his offer the day before. Not wanting Suong to be distracted while she talked, she waited while first Kitty, then Pussy, growled at Ngoc Tuyet, smelled her, and eventually settled down next to her. Then she threw out, in a manner of speaking, the whole idea. For unlike Vince who felt as a gentleman he must cloak the plan in such a way as not to offend the genteel lady from the South, Cora simply blurted out everything as she understood it, as one mature woman to another looking for something better in life than to spend her remaining days living alone in the Palm View apartments.
There were a few things, owing to the different cultures and backgrounds of the two ladies, that were confusing to Suong. For even though she had learned to speak the English language and used it fairly efficiently, an occasional phrase or expression, or perhaps an unusual word, would sometimes give her difficulty—words such as alliance, fishy, aura, and diuretic. But, undaunted, Cora shoved on until the whole matter was as clear to Suong as it was to Cora, even up to the point of what Cora was planning to serve all of them for lunch the next day before driving over to “the property” to look at it. And it was to Cora’s great delight that Suong too liked the idea.
About the Author:
Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels and book-length works of nonfiction for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Several of her books have been optioned for major films and television series.
In addition to her own writing, Barbara is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency. Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.
In 2018 Barbara received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas.
Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with three cats who adopted her: Homer, a Southern coon cat; Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.
Q&A With the Author
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
My father was an officer in the Marine Corps and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. We were transferred every two or three years which meant a new home, a new school, new friends, and a new room that I could decorate as I liked. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but all of those changes somehow got stored into my memory like snapshots, and they materialized much later when I became an adult and started writing.
In my book Just Like Family, I really love the characters – warts and all, and I truly enjoyed creating them. Each character isn’t based on a single individual from my past, but, rather, they are a combination of people I have met or observed. As I developed each character, I felt as though I had always known them. Cora with her bossiness and big toothy grin, Vince, the take-charge guy, Charlie with his love of the soil and growing things, and Suong who has such strong psychic instincts that she can communicate with her dead husband. Of course, some of their behavior is irritating and irrational, but their desire to remain independent and take care of each other in their advanced age makes them more of a family than many in real life who are bonded by blood. Hallie, the young woman who is intrigued enough by them to want to write about them, has her own flaws and a history of bad judgment, especially when it comes to men. But as her creator, I can forgive her and appreciate the self-discovery she goes through.
Do you have any other books you are working on that you can tell us about?
In addition to Just Like Family, most recently two of my other adult novels have been republished: The Coach’s Wife and The House of Kane, which has been optioned for a major film. A fourth adult novel is scheduled for publication early next year. I also have two new young adult novels that will be released next year. All of these books are stand-alone novels, but I also have a young adult/adult mystery series that I have written - The F.I.G. Mysteries (The Cadence of Gypsies, The Wish Rider, The Clock Flower, The Nightjar’s Promise, and The Seraphim’s Song), all of which have been published. I plan to write the sixth book in the near future. This series has been optioned for a major film.
I also write book-length nonfiction: Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly;
Assata Shakur: A 20rh Century Escaped Slave; and Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy. Both Assata and Velvalee have been optioned for major films.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote a poem when I was in the second grade, and then in the fourth grade I wrote a short story. I just loved the process, even at a young age. After I graduated from the university I worked as the Director of Public Relations at a small independent college in North Carolina, and it was there that I started doing freelance editing on manuscripts the professors were writing for publication. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to write my own books, and I knew what I wanted my first book to be about. I gave myself a year to write it and find a publisher, and 9 months later I had my first book contract with the option for a second book. I never stopped writing after that.
Anything more you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I really enjoy hearing from my readers and fans, and appreciate so much your interest in my writing. Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I wish you and your bloggers my very best. ~Barbara
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