Day by Day
Hot, humid days and sultry nights each summer slowed the pace of everyday life in Welleswood, a small suburban town in Southern New Jersey. Despite the renaissance that had breathed new life into this once-dying town, many families fled the suffocating heat and escaped to nearby mountain retreats or beach resorts for a few weeks at a time. Others remained to take advantage of townwide recreational and cultural events organized by an old-fashioned network of women who worked together to make Welleswood a good place to live, even in the throes of summer.
Within the predictable cycle of summer this year, however, the early days of July would bring heartache and tragedy, as well as new challenges to grow in faith and love, to three very different women in Welleswood.
“Daddy can’t come.”
At the sound of her granddaughter’s voice, Barbara Montgomery looked up from the travel brochures that littered the dining room table. Her husband of thirty-four years, John, was standing in the doorway holding their twin granddaughters, one in his arms, and the other at his side. “Jessie! Melanie! What a surprise!”
Barbara pushed back from the table, rose to her feet and quickly set aside all thoughts of the sailing adventure she and John were planning two years from now when they launched into retirement as members of a crew on a two-year sailing trip around the world.
“Daddy can’t come,” Melanie repeated. Her little six-year-old face was strangely solemn, and she held tight to her Pappy’s shoulder.
Jessie tugged free from his hand. The eldest by all of three minutes and the more dominant by leaps and bounds, she folded her hands on her chest and stomped her foot. “Daddy had to go away, and Pappy says we can’t go with him, but I want my daddy. Why can’t me and Melanie go? You’ll take us, won’t you, Grammy? You know the way to heaven, don’t you?”
“Heaven?” Confused, Barbara looked up and studied her husband’s features. She froze the moment she saw his tearstained cheeks and the grief that shadowed his gaze. The world stopped for a moment. Time stood still. Her heart pounded against a wall of denial that refused to be cracked. Their son Steve was in heaven? Steve was gone? No, that couldn’t be true. Impossible. Not Steve. He was only thirty years old. He was a health fanatic. He had these two precious little girls to raise—little girls whose mother had deserted Steve and abandoned her babies shortly after their birth.
No. Steve could not be in heaven. Barbara had just talked to him this morning. She locked her gaze with her husband’s, praying he would put her worst fears to rest. “John?”
Fresh tears coursed down his cheeks. “Our Steve’s gone. He’s been…murdered,” he croaked. “Our boy has gone Home, and the girls…the girls need us, Barb, now more than ever.”
Pain seared the very essence of her spirit. The look of absolute grief in her husband’s gaze melted the wall of denial protecting her heart, and she rushed to embrace him. With one arm around Melanie, she pulled Jessie against her, too, as her soul clung to her faith in God—faith that would somehow have to sustain them all.
Late Saturday afternoon, Judy Roberts quickly scanned the empty beauty salon and searched for signs of any cleanup task she might have missed. Satisfied that all was ready for Tuesday morning when her shop would reopen, she flipped the light switch and watched each of the green neon letters in Pretty Ladies sputter and flicker into darkness.
She let out a sigh and arched her back while every muscle in her legs and