Hi friends! I’m back to blogging … somewhat, and bringing back an ALBTALBS original – yup. I’m an O.G. All the others you see out there are young g’s. 😉 … Which while I’m joking, I’m also serious. As you see today, we’ve got Shirley Jump providing our lovely excerpt today, and it’s also release day!!! We love that! And isn’t that cover beautiful?! I love the title too: The Perfect Recipe for Love and Friendship.
Bridget O’Bannon is ready for a do-over. After years of pretending she had a happy marriage and denying that she missed the friends and family she’d left behind, she’s headed home to restart her life.
But working alongside her family every day at their bakery isn’t as easy as whipping up her favorite chocolate peanut butter cake. Her mother won’t give her a moment’s peace, and her sister Abby is keeping secrets of her own. And there doesn’t seem to be enough frosting in the world to smooth over the cracks forming between them.
Bridget can see the recipe for a happy life- including the possibility of a new romance- written out before her, but first she and her family will need to lay bare their secrets and rediscover the most elusive ingredients of all: forgiveness, laughter, and love.
Bridget debated going home and then remembered she hadn’t driven herself. So she reached into her sister’s giant good-for-hiding-contraband purse, yanked out one of the bottles of Merlot—a screw-top, thanks to pragmatic thinking from Magpie—and poured a hearty glassful, while ignoring her mother’s pursed lips of disapproval at the alcohol.
“What are you doing?” Ma said. She turned to Nora. “Nora, what is she doing?”
Nora put up her hands. “Don’t put me in the middle. I’m just here for dinner.”
“If you really want to know, Ma, I’m having a much-needed drink. It’s been a hell of a day. A hell of a last couple weeks, actually.” Bridget took a long sip. The smooth notes of grapes and oak slid through her. From the dining room, Magpie gave her a quick thumbs-up, and Nora used the buzzing of the dryer as an excuse to leave the kitchen.
The others sensed the impending lecture and had the good sense to get out of the room. Bridget, though, was trapped between the bathroom door and the archway to the dining room, with her mother in the space like a concrete barrier.
“When your father died, God rest his soul, I didn’t turn to the bottle. I only took one afternoon off from work.” Ma stirred the stew, tasted it, added a pinch of salt. “I had you girls to provide for and I couldn’t afford to sit around all day and brood. Or drink all night like some hobo on the street.”
Bridget bristled. As usual, Colleen had skipped the small talk and gotten straight to the point. The family dinner was merely a ruse to criticize Bridget’s decisions. “I’m not brooding. And I’m not a hobo.”
That had been one of their mother’s go-to doomsday predictions. If you don’t try hard in school, you’ll end up a hobo on the streets. If you drink or do drugs, you’ll end up a hobo on the streets. If you have sex before marriage, you’ll end up a pregnant hobo on the streets. For years, Bridget thought every homeless person she saw was a high school dropout who drank too much and never used birth control.
“I called the rectory the next day and sent them your father’s clothes. Far better to have them warming someone else’s back than taking up room in my drawers.” Ma bent, opened the stove, checked the biscuits, and slid a giant red pot holder on her hand before pulling them out. “You have had more than enough time to grieve, Bridget. It is time you moved on.”
“Time to move on? Ma, it’s been two weeks.”
Her mother dropped the biscuits into a waiting Pyrex bowl and handed it off to Magpie to put on the table. “And that is long enough. You need to go forward with your life. God has left you alone now, and you need to make the best of it.”
“Make the best of it? How the hell am I supposed to do that?”
“For one, you will watch your language. For another, you should find something to pour your energies into. Some kind of altruism. Your father was the one and only man for me, as God wished it to be. As was Jim for you.”
One and only man? For God’s sake, she was only thirty.
“Aren’t you glad I brought the wine now?” Magpie whispered in Bridget’s ear as she waltzed by.
Hell, yes. Bridget took another sip of Merlot. “I’m fine, Ma. Just fine. I don’t need altruism or a lifelong convent plan or anything else.”
“Ma, leave her alone,” Nora said as she stuffed the clean dishtowels in the drawer. “Don’t you think Bridge has enough to deal with?”
“I’m not giving her anything else to deal with. I’m merely worried about her and giving her some motherly advice.”
“Smotherly is more like it,” Nora whispered under her breath.
Bridget bit back a laugh. God, she had missed her sisters. Missed the team they used to be, the four of them against the world. Nora had been the one most worried about breaking the rules, and the one who got them caught when they tried to sneak beer into the house one night. But there’d been plenty of lazy walks home from school and hushed late-night conversations about boys. How did she let all of them get away?
Bridget took another sip and then topped off the wine. She was feeling warm already, smooth like the deep-bodied Merlot. “I’m taking some time to make decisions,” she said. Except she hadn’t made a single decision at all.
Her mother reached over and brushed a tendril of hair off Bridget’s forehead. “Why don’t we go to the hairdresser tomorrow? Touch up your roots. You’ll feel better if you start taking care of yourself.”
“Is that the key to getting over losing your husband?” Bridget asked. “Highlights?”
“Bridget Marie, do not get fresh. I’m merely trying to help you. The longer you stay stuck, the deeper the mud gets.”
“I can’t believe this. My husband has been dead for two weeks, Ma. Two weeks, not two years.” Bridget threw up her hands and backed away, hitting the table as she did, which jostled her wine and spilled it down the front of her sweater. She cursed under her breath and dabbed at it with a napkin, but that made the crimson stain spread.
Her mother crossed the kitchen and peered into her daughter’s eyes. “You are a mess,” she said. “You should get cleaned up before dinner and let me soak that in some club soda. Lord knows if I can get the stain out.”
Instead of acknowledging what Bridget had said or apologizing, her mother had found yet another fault to pick at. “Good Lord, Ma, it’s just some wine. I’m not going to change. It’s not like the Pope is coming to dinner.”
“No, but someone else is.” Her mother gave her a little shove. “So go. Get a sweater from my dresser. Not the orange one—that makes you look all washed out. Get the green one. It brings out your eyes.”
In answer, Bridget swallowed the remaining wine in the glass and refilled it. She debated arguing but knew the outcome. Her mother would sigh and pout and mention the wine stain a thousand times, until Bridget finally caved. It was far easier to change her shirt than to argue. Hadn’t she perfected that long ago? Go along, and get along, and let peace reign.
Just as she emerged from the master bedroom, in a Kelly-green sweater with a too-tight boatneck, the doorbell rang. Father McBride stood on the doorstep, his black fedora in one hand, pressed to his chest like an apology. “Bridget. So nice to see you. We’ve missed you at Mass.”
Bridget shot a glare in Magpie’s direction, but her little sister just put up her hands and mouthed I didn’t know. “Come in, Father McBride,” Bridget said. “My mother made stew.”
“And a very fine stew it is, I’m sure. Colleen, you have the most exemplary culinary skills.”
Her mother came down the hall, wiping her hands on her apron and blushing like a schoolgirl. “Why, thank you, Father. I’m always so honored to have you at my house.” She ushered him toward the table and nodded at her daughters. “Girls, please welcome Father McBride and then sit down so we can eat dinner.”
Nora glanced over at Bridget, and they exchanged the why-does-she-still-treat-us-like-children look. “Nice to see you, Father McBride,” Nora said.
“Yeah, hi. It’s like bringing church home,” Magpie added. “Only without all the Latin.”
“I must agree with Miss Margaret.” A wisp of white hair danced on top of Father McBride’s mostly bald head when he nodded. He had thin-rimmed glasses that perched on the end of his nose, but his blue eyes sparkled with a hint of mischief. “And I promise to only speak English tonight.”
The girls took their seats around the table with Nora and Bridget on one side, Magpie next to the priest, their mother at one end, and the empty plate at the head of the table. “Father, would you say grace for us?” Ma asked.
“Aren’t we waiting for one more?” He nodded toward the extra place setting.
“Only if you’re waiting to die,” Magpie muttered.
“My late husband, God rest his soul,” Ma said with a stern glare in Magpie’s direction, “is always honored at this table. I could never love another man the way I loved my Michael.”
Whereas Bridget was getting the lecture about moving on. She might not have paid the electric bill or cleaned out the drawers, but at least she wasn’t still setting out a plate twenty years later.
“That is a noble gesture, Mrs. O’Bannon. I’m sure Michael is looking down on you with love. Now, let us pray.” Father McBride bowed his head, waited a beat, and then said a short grace.
Bridget shifted in her seat. Sitting across from the priest was as bad as sitting under the accusatory Jesus painting at church. She mumbled an Amen and reached for the bowl of biscuits, taking one before handing them to Nora.
“So, Father, how are the renovations going?” Ma asked. “It will be so nice to see Our Lady Church restored to its original glory.”
“With a modern touch.” Father McBride winked. “Everything is proceeding right on time and budget, thank the Lord.” He handed the soup tureen to Magpie and glanced up at Bridget. “Your mother tells me you are looking to get more involved in the church. Filling these difficult days with meaningful work.”
Magpie choked on her water. Nora dipped her head and acted like putting butter on her biscuit was a job. Ma went on as if nothing had happened, ladling stew into her bowl.
“I haven’t decided what I want to do yet, Father.” Which was a whole lot better than saying, Hell, no, I don’t want to fill these difficult days with church.
“We are in need of a Sunday school teacher for third grade. And someone to plan the senior ladies’ bus trip to New York City.” Father McBride set a roll on the edge of his plate. “Both are worthy causes to donate your time to. Spending more time with the Lord will help ease your pain.”
“Right now, I’m using this,” Bridget said, and raised her wine glass.
Congratulations again on your newest release, Shirley, and thank you for sharing this excerpt with us!
>.> … Also I want to eat the cake on the cover.