Here it is, friends. The first part of the new book, So Like Us! The book alternates between Charity’s voice and John’s voice. Just a little advice — don’t read this if you haven’t read Happily Ever After or Perfectly Pretend. You’ve been warned! 🙂 So Like Us will be available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions on October 15th. Happy reading! (Please ignore formatting issues. They’ll be fixed in the book!)
It all started with Hope. She was the reason I lost my ever lovin’ mind.
Well, that sounds really dramatic, doesn’t it? I would try and be a little less theatrical about the whole thing, but when I look back at how it all unfolded, there’s no denying that the beginning of the end came when my twin sister, Hope, ran off to Africa to elope.
See? Drama warranted.
Who does that? Who wakes up, says “oh, today would be a great day to fly to Africa and get married,” then does it without telling anyone?
Hope. That’s who.
She’d been like that, though. After a lifetime of being closer than any two sisters should be (sharing a womb and all, you know), she’d suddenly distanced herself from me when she’d moved out of the state for her work a year before all of this eloping business went down. I hadn’t known any of what was going on in her life until our dad’s work with the convention, with his church, and with his reputation as the man over our whole denomination required both of us to be back in Dallas for a huge gala.
She had shown up with a fiancé. My sister, who never dated, who never looked twice at a man, just showed up with a man. And not just any man. A fiancé!
“What the hee haw?!,” I had yelled at my mother when she’d called me to tell me about the exciting life Hope had been living in Louisiana, saving pregnant teenagers, being her brilliant self in ministry, and, oh yeah, falling in love with some bayou hillbilly.
“I know,” my mother had calmly soothed across the phone lines, always the voice of reason and logic, even when there was absolutely no reason or logic to what was going on. “Apparently, Hope has a whole other life that we don’t know much about.”
Apparently. I had felt inched out and alienated. Enough so that I had spent three hours that night sobbing, then yelling, then sobbing again with John, my husband, about it all. My sister had left me out of her life. That warranted three hours of totally melting down about it all, right?
But I had gotten over it. Mostly, at least. We’d gone back to Dallas, and I’d met Craig, my brother-in-law-to-be. He made Hope happy, and she was everything to him. I could see that from the way he watched her as she introduced our father from the podium, as they exchanged some long meaningful looks with one another over breakfast the next morning, and as they’d shown up for the last night of the long convention weekend, holding hands and beaming at one another.
She was happy. Happier than she’d ever been.
So, I’d gotten over it. We’d all said our goodbyes, and I’d begun helping Hope long distance to make plans for a wedding.
A wedding that wasn’t going to happen.
Because she eloped! Because she chucked all the plans out the window! Because she made me lose my mind!
I should start at the beginning and tell you about what was happening that day, the day that I found out what had gone on. I had a poopy diaper in one hand and a fistful of mac-n-cheese in the other when it all started.
Yes. That’s how glamorous my life is. Poop and mac-n-cheese, y’all. Clearly, my sanity was already fragile, given Amelia’s astounding digestive capabilities and Aiden’s food throwing skills. Sanity, or my soon lack thereof, had a lot to do with my children, of course. But I was coping. Yes, I’d held it together for five years — five years! — of the ups and downs of motherhood, and I had very recently toasted my good fortune in having gotten through the worst of it. I’d concluded that I could survive anything if I could survive the first five years of raising a family, where no one slept all through the night, most conversations were babbling nonsense, and I couldn’t even identify the sources of all the stains on my shirt at the end of the day.
(Seriously? What isthat on my favorite shirt? Snot? Spit up? Or translucent poop, which would suggest some serious issue that has very nearly had me speed-dialing the pediatrician with one hand while holding my mouth with the other, willing myself not to vomit because I am a mother, for corn’s sake, and moms have stomaches of steel underneath all that postpartum flab, right?)
Children are a blessing. An inheritance from the Lord.
I’d been nearly giddy when John had weakly waved goodbye to me on the morning he went back for the vasectomy a few months earlier. I’d literally sat in the waiting room and giggled, all but toasting him with a good glass of wine and a seductive wink as his sperm went on to meet their Maker. Seductive, y’all, because I could afford to give the man a thrill or two if it wasn’t going to lead to more children.
I could be me again.
Me. Charity Connor Pearson.
Whoever she was. Because I sure couldn’t remember who I’d even been back before I became… this.
(Oh, and I didn’t actually drink wine. Because I’m a pastor’s wife, and the word for us is that Jesus actually turned that water into Dr. Pepper because it’s more PC for the church crowds. And it’s the real thing, not Diet Dr. Pepper, because even though I’m still twenty pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, I’ve got standards, y’all.)
All that said, I’d survived. The days were long, the years were short, and I had survived.
And I’d stayed sane, which was a real accomplishment. Even on days where poop and mac-n-cheese were plentiful, I’d stayed sane. Even on that particular day when it all began falling apart, I’d been congratulating myself on not losing my temper and screeching on the outside like I was on the inside when the phone rang. Depositing each handful right in the trash, rushing to the sink to wash my hands, and surveying where my children were now — Amelia, with bare buns, walking towards her brother, who was licking the rest of his lunch from his hands — I picked up the phone.
It would be John, of course. Because I was a stay at home mom and a pastor’s wife, and while friendships had been easy to come by and plentiful back when I was eighteen and on my own in the big city (you know, back when I was fun), they were practically non-existent here in the rural, far out, God-forsaken town where John had finally found a pastorate. No one called because there was no one here. And even if there had been, what did I have to offer anyone but poop and mac-n-cheese? Apart from my sparkling personality and witty conversation, all of which revolved around… mac-n-cheese and poop.
“Hey,” I said by way of greeting, marveling that there was still a thrill in waiting to hear his voice, even though there wasn’t much else that was thrilling in my life.
But it wasn’t his familiar voice that came through. Only a big inhalation of breath and a, “For the love, Charity, are you sitting down?”
It was Hope, of course.
“No,” I told her, already looking around for the wedding magazine I’d been browsing through since our last conversation a couple of weeks earlier. I’d earmarked at least thirty pages and had all kinds of suggestions on flowers, dresses, centerpieces, aisle decorations, and the like. Snatching it up and glancing over at my children again, I headed for the couch. “I’m not sitting down quite yet, but…” I plopped down and sighed. “Okay. Sitting down now. Which I should have been doing earlier. I have cramps like you wouldn’t believe!”
“Cramps?,” Hope asked, an edge of excitement to her voice that normally wasn’t there. “Back cramps? Stomach cramps?”
“No,” I said. “Those cramps. I swear, two children later, and every time I have a period it feels like all of my parts are going to just fall right on out of my body. Those kinds of cramps.”
“Oh,” she said. Which, you know, was all anyone could say to something like that. No answers for why it was like this, not even from my doctor, who mercifully refrained from saying that sucks, girl. Welcome to life as a mother.
Which might have been a merciful thing to say, come to think of it. Honesty and all.
“At least this is blessed evidence that I’m definitely not pregnant,” I said, kicking my feet right on up next to me on the couch, looking over again at my children. Constant vigilance and all. There’s something they don’t tell you about being a parent, that your whole life will become constant vigilance. “And I really worried this month. You know, a vasectomy doesn’t mean he’s sterile immediately. But I’m done with the pill, and we’re not so good with remembering to wear a –“
“Charity,” Hope interrupted.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a breath. “You wanted to talk. I’ve got my wedding notes right here, on my phone, so if I hang up on you while I’m checking them, just call me back, and –“
Yes. She said it like that. Just like that. We eloped. Like I’d said, “You pooped!” earlier to Amelia. Like I’d said, “You burped!” earlier to Aiden.
Pooped. Burped. Eloped. No biggie, right?
Except it was, of course. For a good long moment, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. Hope, who had spent her life doing everything just exactly like our parents wanted her to — valedictorian of our graduating class, the dean’s list every semester of college, seminary degrees left and right, starting her own ministry from the ground up, being the embodiment of everything a pastor and his wife hope for their child to one day be… running off and eloping?!
That couldn’t be right.
“What?!,” I managed, loud enough that both of my children turned to look at me, likely sensing that this was the moment I would begin to lose my marbles all over the place. (Long time coming, y’all.)
“Good grief, Charity,” Hope said, daring a laugh at this. A laugh. Like it was something good, like it wasn’t totally ruining the plans we’d been making together. After a few tense years where everything seemed a little off between us, we’d been connecting like we had as children and teenagers. I was helping her plan her wedding. I was getting her ready for her big day. I was giving her advice on marriage.
Ironic, that last one.
Still, though. She was laughing about it. Surely this meant that she hadn’t said what I thought she said —
“Craig and I got married,” she said, still laughing. “Just decided it was time and did it.”
“What?!,” I asked again. “When?! Where?! Why?!”
“Charity,” she said, actual sympathy in her voice as she could likely hear the heartbreak in mine. “Dad’s schedule has been so crazy that Mom couldn’t even come up with a season that would be good for a wedding, much less a month or a weekend. Craig and I were just so tired of waiting. You remember what that’s like?”
Yes. I did. I thought about John and me, all those years ago, wishing the days and weeks away until we were married, until I was Charity Pearson, until we could finally feel right again.
Feelings aren’t everything.
“And with Evan so new,” Hope continued on, “I couldn’t wait to see him. David and Cammie, too.”
Evan, our nephew. David, our brother. Cammie, our sister-in-law.
All three of them were in Africa.
What? I thought we’d been talking about her eloping, and…
“You eloped to Namibia?!” Would I stop screeching any time soon? Likely not.
“Yes,” Hope laughed. “David did the ceremony himself. Cammie helped get everything ready. And Evan… oh, Charity, he’s perfect.”
Cammie had helped. All that I was supposed to do, as Hope’s sister, had been done by someone else. I swallowed back the sob that this was illogically producing, able to control my voice but not able to keep the tears from running down my cheeks.
“How’s she doing, so soon after the birth?,” I asked, knowing that I should ask this, no matter how upset I was, knowing that it wasn’t Cammie’s fault that Hope had done this, after all. She was my friend, too…
“Tired, sore, still looks pregnant,” Hope said. “Just exactly like you always were after you had your babies. But she’s happy.”
Yeah, well, then that was different.
Troubling, this. I wouldn’t think about it.
I would think instead about how my sister had stabbed me in the back.
“Okay, well, you eloped,” I bit off, finding my anger again. “Ran off to Africa, and… how?! How did you pull this off?!”
“Craig had some money saved,” Hope said. “He had a ring from another engagement.”
“Craig was engaged before?!,” I cried. Did I know anything about this man my sister had run off and married?! Did anyone in this family tell me anything?!
“I told you that,” Hope insisted. “We had a long conversation about it. Don’t you remember?”
No! No, I didn’t!
“My mind fails me at times, Hope, because I’m a mother and all,” I said. True that. I could be in the middle of a chore and totally forget halfway to my destination exactly why I had a toilet plunger in one hand and a hairbrush in the other. (Never figured that one out.)
“No,” I swore. “I would have remembered a conversation about your fiancé… excuse me, husbandhaving been engaged to someone else!”
“Oh,” Hope said thoughtfully. “Maybe it was Cammie I told.”
She was confusing me with Cammie. She’d run off to get married somewhere where only Cammie could help. She’d picked Cammie over me.
For the love, y’all!
“Well, anyway, Craig was engaged before,” Hope said calmly. “And he sold the ring. We were going to use the money for a honeymoon, but when we got the word about Evan, he told me we needed to go. That we needed to just do it. Get there and get David to marry us. He knew how important it was for me to have David there for my wedding, and we didn’t know how long it would be before he could come back to the US, you know?”
It had been important to have David there… but what about me? I could picture the five of them — David, Cammie, Evan, Craig, and Hope — all together, laughing and playing around together, freakin’ theme music serenading their hijinks and big, emotional moments, like an episode of Friends or something, and…
A day of big moments that were so important. A day that I had missed.
I thought back to my own wedding day, to the small bridal room at New Life-Dallas, the church my dad pastored and the only real church home I’d ever known. They’d already moved all the bridesmaids to line up outside, but Hope had stayed with me.
I’d been so nervous. I’d nearly passed out. I had no doubts about marrying John… well, mostly no doubts. What I felt was normal likely, a moment of panic because there was a church full of people waiting for me to make one of the most important decisions of my life, most definitely, and all that John and I had gone through only contributed to the questions in my mind.
How can you ever be sure that you’re making the right decision? Is there just one right decision? Or could any number of possibilities lead to a happily ever after?
I wasn’t sure. And I’d felt so sick.
“Is she going to throw up?,” David had asked, peeking his head into the room and assessing this after taking one good look at me.
“No!,” Hope had hissed at him, and I could see the panic in her eyes as well. “She’s just nervous. It’s just nerves, Charity.”
“Dad’s welcoming everyone,” David had said. “So, it’ll still be another thirty minutes, likely.”
I had smiled weakly at this, imagining our old man, droning on and on and —
“Said he was going to share the Gospel,” Hope had murmured. “John thought it was perfect.”
“That’s what he said,” I had confirmed, suddenly feeling inexplicably cold… and sweaty. Really sweaty. Would there be gigantic sweat stains beneath my armpits in all the wedding pictures? Could they photoshop that out?
“And you told me,” Hope had said, her mind not on the immortalization of my armpits. “You told me that John thought it was perfect because John?”
“Is perfect,” I had managed, remembering that conversation. “I said that.”
“Charity, why are you shivering?,” David had asked. “Hope, look at her!”
“You’re not helping!,” Hope had said to him, purposefully not looking at my pale, sweaty self. “And thirty minute Gospel presentation or not, you need to get out of here. Aren’t you supposed to be escorting Mom down the aisle?”
“Yep,” David had nodded. “And she sent me to check on the bride. Should I tell her she’s fainted? Because I swear, she looks about ten seconds away from –“
“For the love, you little weirdo!,” Hope had said, standing to her feet and shooing him from the room. She had turned back around to look at me with concern, and I had managed a reassuring smile.
Or, at least, it had felt reassuring.
“I love your dress,” I had said softly, admiring the bold blue color and the way her bouquet, full of soft spring colors and greenery accented it beautifully.
“You should,” she’d said, making her way back over to me. “You picked it.”
“I did, didn’t I?,” I’d said, recalling the trips Hope and I had made to shop for everything. Hope had been more involved in the wedding planning than John had been, quite honestly, and it had been wonderful. So much time spent together, so many opportunities to repair the rift that had existed between us, starting with the first time I met John…
“I have great taste,” I had added.
She’d smiled at this observation. “You do,” she’d said. “Look at your groom.”
“I would if I could,” I’d answered, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I might feel better if I could see John right now, and —
“Well, you can’t,” she’d said. “And besides it –“
David had interrupted her when he poked his head in again. “He’s using the Roman road, y’all. We’ve got a good forty-five minutes until the ceremony.”
“Glory,” Hope had muttered, looking over at me, probably making the very good prediction that I didn’t have that long until I passed out. Or threw up. Or both.
“I’m all for the Gospel,” David had said, grinning, “but we’ve got groomsmen falling asleep out here waiting.”
“The groomsmen,” I’d said, thinking about John, thinking again about seeing him. “Are they nearby?”
“Right over here,” David had looked over his shoulder. “Don’t worry. John’s at the far end so he won’t see you –“
“I want to see him,” I had said.
Hope had gasped. “You can’t see him before the wedding!”
For a smart girl who relied on Scripture as much as she did, Hope sure was giving more thought to annoying superstitions than was warranted. And because her insistence in keeping these dumb traditions was keeping me from what I wanted, I was supremely annoyed by it.
“Glory,” I’d muttered. “I can see him if I want to. He’ll keep me from passing out. What would be worse, me seeing him and risking whatever bad luck we’ve got coming, or me vomiting all over this dress? And I ate pink frosted donuts with sprinkles for breakfast, Hope, so give that a good, long think, will you?”
Hope and David had glanced at one another, and David’s smile had grown, just like Hope’s frown.
“But it’s –“
“I don’t care, Hope,” I’d said through clenched teeth, like we were back in elementary school. The Connor twins. Closest friends, most bitter enemies.
Sisters, in other words.
“Fine,” Hope had sighed dramatically, turning to David. “What Charity wants, Charity gets, like always. But don’t let Mom know that –“
“On it,” David had said, ducking out while Hope frowned over at me.
“I’ll just… leave you two to it once he gets in here, I guess,” she’d said uncomfortably.
She’d been like that lately, whenever John came around. I’d confronted her on it once, and she’d sworn that it wasn’t anything — not him, not me, not us.
But I’d wondered.
“Don’t leave,” I’d said. “I want you here, too. Every dream I’ve ever had of this day has had you here, right here, not leaving my side. You figured into my wedding dreams more than any groom quite honestly, Hope.”
It had been the truth. She’d been my life for most of my life.
She’d frowned at this, clearly still frustrated that I was going to break the rules and all by seeing my groom before the ceremony. “Well, this is yourwedding.”
“But we planned it together,” I’d said, smiling over at her, wanting her to forgive me for doing this my way, not hers. “So, it’s like our wedding.”
“Glory, I’m not marrying you,” she’d sworn, a tiny smile finding its way to her lips at last. “You’re a horrible roommate.”
And the doors to the bridal room had opened, and John had stepped in.
“Did you catch that last part, John?,” Hope had asked. “She’s an awful roommate, and she’s yours now, for the rest of your life.”
I had smiled at this as well, fighting another wave of nausea as I’d looked at John and how he’d stood frozen in the doorway. A tuxedo that fit his tall frame so well, the boots that I’d gifted him (to keep him from walking the aisle in the old brown ones he practically lived in), his hair freshly cut for the occasion, and his face so newly shaven that he looked every bit as young as he was, as we both were.
And he had been staring at me.
I’d spent a good portion of the day looking at myself in the dress, in all the layers of tulle and satin and lace, with my hair done up, a veil all the way to the floor, and my eyes done in bright shadowed colors.
I had long since stopped pausing at my reflection, wondering over how I’d transformed into this — a fairy tale version of myself.
John hadn’t gotten the opportunity, however. There in his surprised eyes had been admiration, attraction, and affection.
And adoration. That was there, too. I’d never felt adored by anyone until John came along, and I’d felt it with greater conviction and affirmation as I’d watched him watch me.
“Wow,” he’d said. “She’s mine, for the rest of my life.” Hope’s words repeated, made to sound so much better.
No doubts. There hadn’t been any doubts from that point on.
“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I’d said, a laugh in my voice.
No doubts. But still nerves.
“Me, too,” he’d said, grinning, stepping into the room, making his way to me. “There are, like, no empty seats in the sanctuary. Everyone in Texas is here, Charity.”
“It’s like a royal wedding,” I’d sighed, a little anxiety in my voice. “If we were denominational royalty, that is.”
“Which we aren’t,” John had murmured, taking my face in his hands and putting his lips to mine.
All the fears were gone. All the worries. He was enough. This was going to be enough.
“Well, you aren’t,” Hope had said, breaking into our moment. “But Dad is.”
“And speaking of your dad,” John had said, pulling away from my lips and smiling, “he’s totally preaching an entire sermon right now. Before the wedding even starts. Give him five minutes, and he’ll take the whole hour.”
“Typical preacher,” I’d murmured, kissing him again. “You’d do the same.”
“Not even a preacher yet,” he’d said, kissing me back.
“Soon enough,” I’d breathed, wrapping my arms around him, pulling him closer —
“For the love,” Hope had muttered. “I’m sitting right here, y’all. The honeymoon hasn’t started quite yet. You two are forgetting everyone and everything around you.”
John and I had only watched one another, communicating a world of emotions and feelings without using a single word.
“So like us,” he’d finally said.
“So like us,” I’d answered.
The door had opened again. “He’s winding it down,” David had told us. “It’s a miracle. Shortest sermon he’s ever preached.”
“Then, I’ll need to get going,” John had smiled, kissing me one last time. “See you up there at the altar, Mrs. Pearson.”
A new version of myself, I had concluded. As he’d left the room, I’d looked to Hope, surprised to find that she was blinking back tears.
“I always liked Charity Connor,” she’d said, “but I’m sure I’ll like Charity Pearson just as much. Maybe even more, huh? Especially if I get some nieces and nephews out of the deal, right?”
A small but definite reminder of just who Charity Connor was. But Hope hadn’t known what her words meant.
I had felt cold again… but only for a moment.
“Now, come on,” she’d said, wiping a tear away. “Stand up so I can get you all straightened out.”
And I’d obeyed her, letting her come around and billow out the train of my dress, just like the seamstress had shown her months ago as we’d done the final alterations. I’d let her fuss over me, walking all around the bride like she’d done, until we were face to face, where she adjusted my veil one last time and had looked me in the eyes.
“He’s a good man,” she’d said softly. “And he loves you.”
I had nodded at this, knowing it, believing it, still feeling affirmed by the words.
“And this is right, Charity,” she’d said, leaning forward and whispering it.
Those words had been so powerful, like a blessing promised to me right before I changed my name and my entire life.
“Thank you,” I had murmured, reaching out to embrace her, to be held, and to thank God for the millionth time in my life that I had a sister.
I’d so wanted to do the same for her. In all the preparations for Hope’s wedding, I’d been spending most of my time planning the words I’d say to her back in that bridal room as she prepared to marry Craig.
But I wasn’t going to get my chance. She didn’t need me like I’d needed her.
“Oh,” I managed on the phone with her, unable to say much of anything without bursting into loud, obnoxious sobs.
Because that’s who I am. Charity Pearson, full of loud, obnoxious sobs.
“Are you okay?,” Hope asked.
And I wanted to tell her, NO! I’m NOT okay! I’m a totally dispensable part of everyone else’s life, including my own, and —
But would she even care? Running off, getting married, and living her life, with no room left for me, obviously. I could get upset, I could let her know that I was mad, and I could cry all over the place.
But it would make no difference. Hope was living her own life. She couldn’t be concerned about mine.
Suddenly, the parsonage felt a whole lot lonelier. Which is saying a lot, y’all, because it had always felt lonely.
“Well… congratulations,” I managed, the tears falling again, my breath nearly held to stop the sobs from coming. “I wish I could have been there.”
And as she went on to fill me in on all the details, I began to listen to the voices that were always whispering to me.
Forgotten again. Pushed aside again.
Not so important after all.
That’s so like you, Charity.