Chapter One

The sun glistened on the pond, throwing shimmering prisms over the fish, playfully jumping out of the water then splashing back in again. Birds whistled and sang, as if celebrating the fact that Josh had proposed to her. Cassie should be overjoyed, but instead her heart ached. She couldn’t marry him. She loved him and wanted to spend her life with him. She’d wanted that since the first time they’d met, but how could she leave her nieces and nephews? She’d come to love them as if they were her own. She was more of a mother to her three nieces than their own mother was. And her nephews didn’t remember their birth mother. They’d come to live there when they were only babies. She was the only mother figure they’d ever known.
Cassie Robbins met Josh Turner four years earlier. She’d just moved to Taylorsville, Alabama and he was on leave from the army. She fell in love with him immediately. He was handsome with thick black hair and deep blue eyes. At six feet two inches, he stood almost a head taller than her.
Cassie thought of Josh as her knight in shining armor. He’d give her the happy life her parents had known. She knew they’d have beautiful babies, two girls and two boys. That was Cassie’s dream; a husband who loved her and four kids. Her sister Cathy’s dream had already come true. Cathy was three years older than Cassie. Ever since they were little girls, playing house, Cathy said she wanted three girls when she married. That’s what she had, three beautiful little girls, but she didn’t plan on getting ill.
Cassie moved to Taylorsville after Daniel, her brother-in-law, was in a horrible plane crash, leaving her sister to raise the girls alone. Cassie couldn’t bear to see Cathy struggling. They were all the family she had left since Mom died. They’d lost their own father when Cathy was only five years old, and Cassie, only two. Cassie remembered him from pictures that her mother kept around the house, and the stories she'd told them.
Cathy didn’t like to speak of their father; she’d been a daddy’s girl and adored him. Every day she’d sit in the chair by the front door, waiting for him to come home from work. The minute he walked through the door, he’d pick her up on his shoulders.
“There’s my little princess, let’s go for a pony ride!” he’d say. He would trot around the house with her on his shoulders. She remembered the day he didn’t come home. She’d waited for hours in her usual spot by the front door. Nothing could draw her away from there.
Cathy didn’t know why Mom was crying, or why Grandma came over and took her upstairs. They’d called the doctor, and their pastor was there. Grandma tried to get her to play with the neighbor’s kids, but she wouldn’t budge, she was waiting for her father to come home. She finally fell asleep and someone carried her to bed.
The following morning, she heard voices and rushed to get dressed and go downstairs. The house was filled with people, mostly neighbors, but some from the church they attended. Some brought food into the kitchen and some were hugging her mother and whispering. Were they having a party? Was that why they brought all this food? Then why was her mother crying? Where was her father? Was he already gone to work? Surely he would be home for the party. She’d better go put on her party dress. The blue one with the ruffles, which was Father’s favorite. Cathy always wanted to look pretty for her father. He called her his ‘Little Princess’.
Later that day, Mom, along with Grandma, took her to the bedroom she shared with Cassie. Mom sat on the bed, lifting Cathy onto her lap. She picked up the hairbrush and began brushing her hair. Cathy loved for her mother to brush her hair; she could sit still for hours. Today she wanted it to look especially nice for the party.
Her mother hugged her tight before giving her the news.
“Honey, Daddy has gone to Heaven to be with Jesus.”
Cathy was stunned. She remembered wondering why he didn’t take her with him. He took her everywhere with him except to work.
“When will he be back?” Cathy asked, not understanding.
“Daddy won’t be coming back honey. We will all go there someday to see daddy and be with Jesus.”
“I don’t want Daddy to stay with Jesus. I want him to come home.”
For several days, Cathy asked for her father, but after a couple of weeks, she accepted the fact that he wasn’t coming back. Sometimes she’d imagine him coming home from work and taking her for a pony ride, other times she imagined going to Grandma’s house. Cathy loved going to Grandma’s. On the way they’d stop for ice cream at the shop on the corner. Father let her get any kind of ice cream she wanted. Her favorite was chocolate and his was vanilla.
Cassie didn’t want to give up her job as a merchandise buyer for Mackey’s Boutiques, one of the nation’s largest retailers of women’s upscale designer clothing. It was her dream job, but she knew that Cathy needed her now. They didn’t have any other family. Daniel’s parent’s moved to Florida after his father retired. They’d never been close to their grandchildren, nor had they been especially fond of Cathy. Cassie often wondered why. Everyone else loved Cathy. She was a good girl from a good Christian family. Well, if they didn’t accept Cathy, it was their loss, but Cassie couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to share in their grandchildren’s lives.
Before Mom died, she’d been crazy about Kayla, Cathy’s oldest daughter. Cassie knew if she’d lived, she would have felt the same about the other two. And if Father had lived, he would love them the way he loved his own daughters. She remembered her mother telling them how much Father loved them.
Cassie began working at Mackey’s, as a sales associate, the year she turned eighteen. It was the fall after she graduated high school. Six months earlier, Mom died of a heart attack. She packed up her clothes; put the things she wanted to keep, in storage, and moved to New York. She couldn’t bear to get rid of her mother’s antiques and the furniture she’d grown up with. It hurt her to sell the house, but she couldn’t maintain it while living in New York. The house brought a good price, double what Cassie estimated. The real estate agent suggested pricing it high and then negotiating, but Cassie didn’t have to negotiate the price at all. The house sold after only three weeks on the market. It was a beautiful old home built in the 1920’s. It had hard wood floors and mahogany staircases leading to the second floor. It was a small house, only three bedrooms. The house sat on a huge lot and could easily be built onto. Bradford pear trees lined the driveway that stretched from the highway to the large flower gardens bordering the front yard. The garage was big enough for two cars. They had only one. Mom never learned to drive. Cassie remembered asking her why she didn’t drive like the other kid’s mothers.
“I don’t need to drive. I have your father to drive me wherever I need to go,” she replied.
Cassie would miss living there. She’d never lived anywhere else. She wondered if she’d someday regret selling the place. However, she couldn’t think about it at the time. All she thought of was getting to New York and following her dream of becoming a fashion designer.
She’d saved money from her job at the local Pizza Hut, where she’d worked as a waitress since being a sophomore in high school. Some kids made fun of her because she worked most nights instead of going to a ball game or hanging out at the mall. She didn’t care. Some day she’d show them all, when she became a New York designer. Then who would be laughing? She made good tips at Pizza Hut. Sometimes on weekends she’d bring home a couple of hundred dollars. Cassie wasn’t like most teenage girls; she didn’t go to the mall and spend all of her money on clothes and CDs. She’d buy a couple of fashion magazines and a few yards of fabric and design her own clothes. She began sewing at the age of four, making doll clothes. She’d put on fashion shows for her mother and their friends. In the sixth grade, she’d won an award for a dress she’d designed and sewn. She also modeled it herself. It was a bright yellow cotton sundress that showed off her perfect ivory skin and strawberry blond hair. She had worn dangling silver earrings and silver bangle bracelets to accessorize it.
Cassie put the money from the sale of the house into savings at First National Savings & Loan, where her parents banked. The money was for her and Cathy. She took five thousand dollars with her to New York. That was enough to keep her going until she found work.
She found a small, furnished, studio apartment for nine hundred dollars a month. She barely had enough room to walk around the sleeper sofa, with it pulled out into a bed. The bathroom had a walk in closet that held half of her clothes. She didn’t like the wallpaper, but Cassie decided it would do for now. She could move into a bigger place when she found a good job.
She got the job at Mackey’s three months after moving to New York. She didn’t realize everything was more expensive there than in her small home town. She had used most of the five thousand dollars and transferred her savings to a New York bank.
Her new job came with more stress than she anticipated. The wealthy clients treated her as a servant, sometimes. More than once she felt like giving it up and moving back home. After she had been working there for a few months, the job became easier and Cassie began learning the ways of the city.
After working at Mackey’s for only one year, she got the position as a merchandise buyer. Madeline Sawyer, the manager of the store, had worked as a buyer until she married and stopped traveling. Madeline noticed the fashion potential in Cassie and made a few phone calls. A few weeks later, Cassie was on her way to Los Angeles to train as a buyer. She would be in L.A. for six months. The company put her up in a suite at the Hyatt Regency and gave her a substantial expense account plus a raise in salary. After training, Cassie traveled all over the world with a senior buyer. Until moving to New York, she’d never been outside her home town of Alsip, except on vacation to Florida once. She didn’t like it there because there were so many fire ants. Cassie remembered them crawling on her foot and stinging her in about a dozen places. Her mother put ice on it and rubbed it with antiseptic. She and Cathy begged their mother not to ever take them back there again. She never did.
After another six months of training Cassie was on her own without supervision. She traveled mostly from New York to Los Angles. Once a year she attended a fashion show in Paris, exclusively for the Women's Retailers Association. She gave up her small studio and moved into a two bedroom on the east side of town. The rent was triple what she paid for the studio, but she needed the extra room. Here she had a large bedroom with a window overlooking the park. Sometimes at night she’d lay on her king size bed, watching the young lovers holding hands while they walked around the duck pond. She often imagined it was her, dreaming of the time when she’d find someone to spend her life with. Sometimes on Saturdays, she’d take bread or crackers and feed the ducks. She had made a few friends at work and even went out on a few dates. But she was only interested in her career and meeting the right people who could help her up the corporate ladder.
Cassie made more money now than she’d ever dreamed of making. She had not been raised in poverty, but knew what it was to want things she couldn’t afford. She grew up in a nice neighborhood and in one of the nicest homes in Alsip. Mom owned a small beauty shop and worked long hours to keep the bills paid and food on the table. Cassie remembered coming home from school and helping by washing towels or sweeping up hair. After her mother closed the shop at night they would help her vacuum and clean up so she would be ready for the next day. They never minded helping their mother. They appreciated the fact that she worked hard to give them what they needed. Margie Robbins had a steady clientele, most of whom had been regulars for years. She also got a lot of the girls that went to school with Cassie and Cathy. She always kept her daughters’ hair cut in the latest styles.
Margie had opened her beauty shop two years after her husband died in a car crash. She had taken cosmetology in high school, and then finished Beauty College after marrying John. They’d gone to school together and John graduated two years ahead of her. She’d had a crush on him all the way through school, but never let anyone know. He’d never noticed her until one Sunday, while on leave from the Army, he’d come to the church picnic with his parents. She noticed him watching her, so she walked over to him and struck up a conversation, from that day on they were a couple.
Once John got out of the Army, he took a job in sales at the Pontiac dealership in Marietta, Georgia. Margie went to work as a hairdresser to help make ends meet. They’d been married fifteen months when she got pregnant with her oldest daughter Cathy. Margie worked until seven months pregnant before going on maternity leave. From the time she was born, Cathy was her father’s pride and joy. He would rush home from work to be with his wife and daughter.
Margie returned to work part-time when Cathy was two months old. She didn’t want to leave her baby girl all day long. Two years later Margie got pregnant with Cassie. With two small children, she had her hands full and didn’t go back to work, at least, until after her husband died.
John Robbins was a good husband and a wonderful father. He loved his wife and adored his two baby girls. John had grown up in a house with three older sisters, and knew how to respect women. The night he died, he was driving home from work. He’d been named salesman of the year, receiving a two thousand dollar bonus and a paid vacation to Orlando Florida. They’d often talked about going on a vacation, but couldn’t afford it. The police report stated that he died instantly on impact. He was speeding. The traffic ahead was at a standstill. His small compact car slid under an eighteen wheeler and caught on the truck’s back axle.
Margie was a young woman, but she never remarried. John was the only man she had ever loved. She opened her shop and worked six days a week. She wanted her girls to have everything they needed and knew the insurance money would eventually run out. Sunday was her day to rest and take her girls to church. They never missed a Sunday. Margie was raised in church, her father was a Baptist Pastor and her mother played the organ and was church secretary. She wanted her own children to grow up in a Christian environment as well.

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Tag der Veröffentlichung: 23.10.2009

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