May God grant you many years to live,
For sure he must be knowing.
The earth has angels all too few,
And heaven is overflowing.
Erin caught her breath. “What happened, Delores? Is he okay?”
“Here. He wants to talk to you. Jack? It’s Erin. She wants to talk to you.”
The familiar voice filled Erin’s ear, sounding the same as always—a little gruff, a little sad. Erin released the air in her tightened chest. “Hey, Dad. Hi. How are you? Are you okay?”
“Fine. Fine, fine. How are you?” His words came out abrupt but with a slight slur.
“I’m good. But what about you? Delores said you had a stroke. Are you feeling better?”
“Yes!” He yelled into the phone so loud that Erin jumped.
“Okay. Well, that’s good. Can you tell me what happened?”
“It . . . I’m . . . it . . . the . . . aaa . . .”
“What?” He shouted his response, and that frightened her even more.
“Dad, are you sure you’re okay? You’re not making sense.”
“Dad, let me talk to Delores.”
“I want to ask her a few things.”
“You hate her!”
Erin blinked and tried to form a sentence. She knew in her gut that something was really wrong. Her father had always been direct, but in the year and a half since he had married Delores, none of them had spoken the raw truth about how Erin and Delores viewed each other.
Erin tried to control her tone, but her voice wobbled. “No, Dad, I don’t hate Delores. I just need to talk to her for a minute.”
Sharlene stepped closer and placed her hand on Erin’s arm in a gesture of concern. Sharlene was the only friend to whom Erin had confided her feelings about her seventy-year-old father marrying a fifty-three-year-old woman he had known for only two months. To everyone other than Sharlene and Mike, Erin had defended her father’s decision, saying that perhaps Delores was just the person to bring back the sparkle that had faded from his baby blues since Erin’s mother had died.
Erin didn’t have the chance to watch for that returning sparkle because only a few days after her father surprised them all with the announcement that he had gotten married, he made a second stunning announcement. He and Delores were moving to a seaside cottage in a small coastal town in Oregon. Erin hadn’t seen her father since his abrupt move eighteen months ago and had talked to him only a handful of times.
“Erin? You wanted to talk to me?” Delores’s voice sounded as gruff as her father’s had.
“What are the doctors telling you? Is he okay? He doesn’t sound coherent.”
“He hasn’t seen a doctor yet. They’re backed up at the clinic. I told the admitting nurse that I think he’s had a stroke.”
“You’re at a clinic?”
“Jack wanted to come here. It’s a twenty-four-hour emergency clinic.”
Erin rubbed the back of her neck and paced the small space between the door into the kitchen and her car. “Delores, don’t you think he should be looked at by a doctor at a hospital and not just at a clinic?”
“That’s not what your father wants.” Delores’s words were firm. “He told me to bring him here.”
“But, Delores, he doesn’t seem to be communicating clearly. It sounds like he needs to be seen by a doctor at an emergency room.”
“I wasn’t calling to get your advice, Erin. I called because your father wanted to talk to you.”
Erin reeled at Delores’s snappy response. It took Erin only a moment to reply with equal verve. “He needs to get to a hospital. You need to take him to the hospital now.”
“He doesn’t want to go to a hospital, do you, Jack?”
Erin couldn’t hear any reply from her father in the background. Her heart was pounding wildly. “Delores?” Erin paused. What she was about to say made her feel sick to her stomach. “I’m coming up there.”
“Why would you do that? There’s no need for you to come.”
“I think there is a need. I’ll come as soon as I can. Please tell my dad that I’m coming to see him.”
Delores didn’t reply.
“You don’t need to come, Erin. Are you trying to pressure me to take him to the hospital? Is that it? Is that why you think you need to come? Because I’m telling you right now the doctor at the hospital will say the same thing the doctor here is going to say. Your father has had a stroke, and he needs to go home and rest.”
Erin wanted to scream. She switched the phone to her other ear and with firm, authoritative words she said, “Delores, please take my father to the hospital. Now.”
Delores paused. “All right. Fine. I’m telling you now, it’s not going to make any difference. There’s nothing they can do for him.”
“Please call me as soon as you have any news from the hospital. You have my cell phone number, don’t you?”
“I have no idea.”
Erin gave Delores her cell number as well as Mike’s cell and asked her again to please call as soon as they had any further information.
When Erin hung up, her hands were shaking. Sharlene stood close by and asked, “You okay?”
“How can that woman be so uncaring? I don’t understand. My father sounded completely off balance, Shar. He is not okay.” Erin felt tears pool in her eyes. “I told her I was going up there. I don’t know what to do.”
Sharlene stretched her arm around Erin’s middle and gave her a comforting hug. “Why don’t you call Mike and let him know what’s going on? I’ll go to meet with our client. If you need to be with your dad, then that’s what you should do. I can take care of everything here. Don’t worry about any of the business details. Your dad is your priority right now.”
A surge of anger replaced the stunned concern Erin had felt during the call. She narrowed her eyes and felt her jaw clench. “I just don’t understand why she didn’t take him to the hospital right away. He never should have left Irvine. This is his home. If this had happened while he was here, he would be in much better shape right now.”
“Your father is a strong man,” Sharlene said. “If anyone can pull through this, he can.”
“You’re right, he is a strong man. Strong and determined. My father left Ireland when he was seventeen years old and put himself through college. He was the first teacher in the Irvine school district. Did I ever tell you that? This whole area was nothing but bean fields and strawberry fields when he and my mom moved here. The Irvine Ranch had one tiny school for all the farmworkers’ children, and my father was their teacher.”
“I never knew that.” Sharlene held open the kitchen door.
Erin walked back inside, her thoughts racing furiously. “My father taught for the Irvine school district for forty-seven years. Do you know anyone anywhere who has done that? Been a teacher for forty-seven years? And when he retired, there was nothing. No thank-you. No letter of appreciation. And look at Irvine now. Half a century after the bean fields, it’s nothing but rows of houses as far as you can see.”
Erin stopped by the kitchen counter. She felt her face burning as a molten topic overflowed from her erupting heart. “When my father left Irvine, he told me that after my mom died, there was nothing here for him anymore.” A tumble of tears choked her words. “Nothing here for him. Nothing at all. That’s what he said.”
Erin lowered her voice and added the final, painful truth. “But the thing is, I’m still here. And I’m not nothing.”
She let the tears fall. There it was: the soul wound that hadn’t healed in the eighteen months since his departure. Her father chose to marry a woman who was nothing like Erin’s mom, and then he moved a thousand miles away, preferring Delores’s company over the familiarity and proximity of Mike and Erin.
Sharlene reached for a paper towel next to the kitchen sink and offered it to Erin for her tumble of tears.
“I can’t believe I’m saying all this.”
“It’s okay. It’s better to get it all out now.”
“Shar, we promised we would take care of him. Mike and I promised that to my mother. So how are we supposed to do that when he’s so far away and his wife won’t even take him to the hospital?” Erin dabbed away her tears with a rounded edge of the rough paper towel and answered her own question. “I guess this is how we do it. I get on an airplane and go to him in Oregon.”
“You’re right. That’s what you should do.”
Erin blew her nose and drew in a wobbly breath. Gathering her thoughts, she said, “I need to call Mike.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Sharlene asked.
“I will be. Are you okay with meeting our client at Café Kate?”
“Yes, of course.” Sharlene gave Erin a side hug. “Call me if you need anything. I’ll be back in a little while.”
Over the next few hours Erin managed to book a four o’clock flight, pack a bag, and leave her supportive husband a love note on his bedroom pillow. Mike had immediately agreed with her assessment when she had called him. Even if her father was okay, which Mike said he doubted, he thought Erin should be there to help to decide if further steps needed to be taken.
Sharlene returned with a great report of her meeting with their first client and offered to drive Erin to the airport so Mike wouldn’t have to leave work to take her. By two thirty Sharlene and Erin were headed for John Wayne Airport. A light rain splattered against the windshield.
“Did you pack warm clothes?”
“Yes. I’m sure I overpacked. I don’t know how long I’ll be there. I hope only a few days. Call me if you need anything, anything at all.”
“I will. But don’t worry. I’m sure everything will be fine here.”
“This is the worst possible time for this to happen.”
Even though Erin understood that her reasoning was out of whack, she felt angry that the long-awaited day of the opening of their business had been hijacked by this emergency. She hated that she was thinking such a thing. It wasn’t her dad’s fault. Yet as much as she tried to adjust her feelings, her attempts to summon up gracious thoughts weren’t working. The anger she felt lingered through the check-in process and through security. She headed to her boarding gate with jaw-set determination.
Just as Erin’s flight boarded, her cell phone rang. It was Delores. She sounded much more amiable than she had that morning.
“We’re still at the hospital. You wanted me to call you as soon as I had an update. They ran some tests. Your father had an ischemic stroke.”
Erin wasn’t sure what that meant.
“The doctor said this could be an isolated incident or a prelude to more of the same. They weren’t able to see any more blood clots, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t hiding. The doctor did tell me that the best time to run the test is within three hours after the first symptom appears. He said it was good that we came in when we did. You were right about that, Erin.”
Delores’s small accolade acted like a tiny pin that poked a hole in the inflated anger Erin had been carrying with her. She could feel the fury dissipate with a hiss. “How is he feeling?”
“Better. He said he’s better and not to worry about him.”
“Delores, did you get my message? I called earlier and . . .”
“Yes, I listened to your message.”
“So you know that I’m coming up there.”
“I’ll rent a car, and I made reservations at a hotel near the hospital.”
“You can cancel the hotel. Just stay at our place.”
“Are you sure?” Erin tried to evaluate Delores’s spurt of hospitality.
“Of course you can stay with us. Unless you would rather not.”
“No, that’s fine. Thanks for the invitation. Did they give you an idea of how long my dad would stay at the hospital?”
“The doctor is sending Jack home now. He put him on blood thinner and told him to go home and get some rest. I have a list of symptoms to watch for. Bad headaches, shortness of breath—”
“Delores, sorry to interrupt you, but my flight is boarding.”
“Do you know how to get to our place?”
“Yes, I’ve got it.”
“I’ll leave the floodlight on above the garage, so that should help you find us. Just remember it’s a gravel road from the highway to our place, so slow down as soon as you make the turn.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later tonight.” Erin found her seat, stowed her carry-on, and closed her eyes, hoping her seat companion wasn’t in a chatty mood.
She couldn’t quite figure out what to make of Delores’s responses. Was it fear that had made Delores so abrupt and aggressive in her earlier phone call? The news about Erin’s dad wasn’t good. He had experienced a stroke. But maybe all he needed was the medications the doctor had started him on. Maybe that would be enough to resolve the problems he had encountered.
Erin wondered if she had been too hasty in deciding to go to Oregon. No one had asked her to come. There wasn’t anything she could do. She really needed to be home, working with Sharlene.
The slow-burning, teeth-clenching anger she had felt earlier returned and seemed to be sitting on her lap in the narrow airplane seat. Earlier all the anger was focused on Delores and her father for marrying Delores and moving so far away. This time she didn’t know who to be mad at. Delores was as much at the mercy of her father’s condition as Erin was. She knew her father had the right to choose to live his life the way he wanted, and if he chose to marry Delores and move to Oregon, that was his decision. Erin shouldn’t disapprove of his behavior when what he wanted was to live his life this way. When it came to her anger over his having a stroke, Erin knew he obviously had no control over the rogue blood clots that had made their way to his brain stem.
Why am I so angry?
For a moment, Erin wanted to blame Mike for her angst. He could have talked her out of going. He could have told her to wait for the medical update. But he didn’t. He urged her to go right away.
In the end, Erin chose to blame herself. She was the one who had given way to her emotions. She had taken on the role of mother. Now that her own mother was gone, more than once Erin had fallen into trying to fix everything for everybody. She couldn’t fix this, not a stroke.
As the plane lifted off the runway, Erin remembered something her mother had written in her journal.
It’s not always about what I think it’s about. The older I get, the more convinced I am that God has a hidden objective tucked into every disagreeable situation I encounter. If only I would collect those sparkling gems of truth while I’m in the midst of each difficult relationship or experience, I’d leave this earth a wise and spiritually wealthy woman.
Erin reclined her seat. She felt lighter. That was often the way she felt when she drew a cool sip from the fount of her mother’s journals. The words her mother left behind were words from her heart, and they still touched Erin deeply.
Faith O’Riley had indeed left this earth a wise and spiritually wealthy woman. Erin could only hope the same would be said of her. Oh, how she wished her mother were here now.
Cottage by the Sea
A daughter’s gift of time, a father’s silent wish.
Erin Bryce and her best friend, Sharlene, count the day they start their wedding planning business as a very happy day. So much so that they name their company The Happiest Day to reflect the fulfillment of their long-held dream as well as their clients’ longing for a wedding celebration to match the exhilaration of being in love. As a bonus, the two women utilize their business to help Erin’s son Jordan and his fiancée, Sierra, plan a grand wedding.
But the two friends aren’t prepared for the cloud moving in to cover the sunny, successful start of their business. Erin’s father, who lives in a small coastal Oregon community with his brusque, downright odd second wife, Delores, develops a medical problem that puts him in the hospital. Erin responds by rushing from Southern California to her father’s—and oh, yeah, Delores’s—cottage by the sea.
What greets Erin when she arrives sends her tumbling down a bewildering path to a different kind of happiest day. Her journey tosses her through highs and lows of hurt and healing, betrayal and renewal, wrong assumptions righted, and the brightest future one could ever hope for. All just around the corner, at the cottage by the sea.
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
1. A theme throughout the book was the idea of hidden things. What were some things you noticed that were hidden in the beginning of the story and then later revealed? How did those revelations change Erin and the other characters in the story?
2. Looking at each of the key women in this story, what three or four words would you use to describe her life: Erin? Sharlene? Delores? Sierra? Which woman can you most relate to at this point in your journey?
3. How did Erin’s heart toward her father change throughout the book? What do you think led to that growth? Do you think her father’s heart changed? How?
4. Both Erin and Tony received words of healing from their dad. What did he say that impacted them so much? What is the one thing you wish you could hear from your father? Your mother? What is the one thing you would like to say to them? What is the one thing you would like to say to your children? If it is still possible, would you be willing to tell them?
5. Throughout the book Erin’s stress was evidenced see more