Charlotte is a successful romance novelist who escapes city life and moves to the small town of Crispens Point in Blackberry County. She immediately connects with some of the quirky but friendly residents and begins to feel at home right away. When a friend invites her to attend a local community church, Charlotte is attracted to the pastor, but refuses to acknowledge that attraction because of some dark things in her past.
Mrs. Bartholomew’s nose twitched as she peeked out the window. All anyone looking at her from the outside would have seen was one eye squinting and half of her nose scrunched up. She loved to watch what was going on in the neighborhood without being detected, as if yearning for the good old days of the cold war, when an enemy could be raking his leaves right across the street.
“She’s a pretty little thing, Custer.” Custer was her golden cat; he kept watch with her in almost as furtive a manner. He purred loudly as if to concur. “I wonder who she is?” When Custer failed to respond, she continued, “She seems to be all alone. That’s a twin bed going in now, and I haven’t seen a double. No kids, either, because there’s no baby furniture or toys. She looks to be about thirty, wouldn’t you say?” In answer, Custer stood up and stretched, jumping down from the sofa and meowing loudly to go out.
“You’re perfectly right, dear. We need to go meet her. I’m glad I made those cookies yesterday. We’ll take half of them over to her. That should encourage her to talk.” Mrs. Bartholomew made her way slowly into the kitchen, pulling a basket off the top shelf. After laying a towel inside, she piled it full of her famous oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies. Custer jumped on the table to get a better view and to make sure there were no bits of chicken or tuna in the basket.
After arranging it just so, she slipped out of her house shoes and into the pumps she kept by the door. Looking in the mirror hanging at the entrance, she tucked a few gray hairs back into her tidy bun and pinched her cheeks to get some color into them. Custer rubbed back and forth between her legs, anxious now to go out. As she opened the door wide, he dashed out and disappeared into the bushes. “Aren’t you coming with me?” she called after him, but Custer had seen a bird and lost all interest in what was happening across the street.
So Mrs. Bartholomew made her way around the moving van and the men who were quickly getting all of the young woman’s belongings into the house. She walked up the brick sidewalk and peeked into the open door of the little clapboard bungalow. She’d been in it before, of course, and knew that the living room leaked slightly in a heavy rain. She’d always liked the place, though. Although small, it had lots of what her sister would call charm, from the rustic fireplace to the pine cabinets in the kitchen. Both bedrooms had slanting ceilings and window seats, which gave it a cozy look.
“Hello,” she yelled as loudly as her cracked old voice would project. “Can you hear me?” No one answered, so she boldly marched in. “I’m from across the street. Hello.” In answer, she heard water running and the mysterious young woman walked out of the kitchen.
“Oh! Who are you?”
“I’m Mrs. Bartholomew, your neighbor across the street. I’ve brought cookies to welcome you to the neighborhood.”
“How thoughtful!” She looked truly pleased as she took the basket from her. “I’m not used to small towns yet. In the city no one would have noticed that I’d moved in.”
“You’re a city girl then?” Mrs. Bartholomew asked with the savvy of a personal investigator.
“Most recently, yes. I can’t believe how quiet and peaceful it is here. That’s what drew me to the place.”
A large man carrying a chair interrupted them. “This is the last of the furniture, Miss. Just boxes left now.”
“Thank you, Joe. Put the rest of the boxes in the garage in the back. I’ll go through them later.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Joe nodded to his associate and headed back to the truck.
The young woman smiled and looked after them. “I’m not used to being called ma’am. Another nicety about country life, I think.”
Mrs. Bartholomew squinted at the woman, trying to think what information she needed next. “So what brought you to Crispens Point, here in the middle of Blackberry County?”
“Let’s go sit down at the kitchen table. I’m exhausted and I want to try one of these cookies.”
Mrs. Bartholomew followed her and sat down in a straight-backed chair at an oak table. She approved of the woman’s practical choice of furniture. The woman sank into a chair with a sigh and took a bite of a cookie. The look she got on her face reminded Mrs. Bartholomew of Custer when he caught a mouse. “Delicious!” was her only comment, then she suddenly added, “The remoteness and the low cost.”
“What?” Mrs. Bartholomew looked at her as if she’d just said that she’d flown in from Mars.
“You asked why I came to Crispens Point. It was because it’s country like and the housing market is reasonable. I can’t afford city prices.”
“I see.” Mrs. Bartholomew looked around her for a clue as to what to say next. “There aren’t many jobs here. You going to commute into the city?”
“Heaven forbid! I’m planning on becoming a country girl for good.”
“You come across an inheritance or something?”
“Oh no. Why would you ask that?”
“I just don’t see how you’ll make a living here, that’s all.”
The woman jumped up and filled a paper cup with water. “I need to wash down that cookie. I could eat the whole batch, but I’d regret it later.”
She sat back down and sipped her drink. Mrs. Bartholomew looked annoyed. “You’ll starve!”
“What? Oh no, one cookie will hold me for now.”
Mrs. Bartholomew blew air out of her mouth in exasperation. “No, I mean you’ll starve if you don’t have work.”
The woman laughed. Mrs. Bartholomew liked her laugh. It sounded like her wind chimes. “I’m a writer. It doesn’t matter where I live. My novels sell well enough to make a comfortable living for me. I’m not rich but I can make the house payment and have enough left over for the necessities.”
Mrs. Bartholomew sat up straighter, looking like Custer when he was about to surprise a bird. “What’s your name?”
“Charlotte Fyne.” Mrs. Bartholomew looked disappointed as she waved her hand. “I’ve never heard of you.”
Charlotte laughed again, “I suppose not. I’ve never made The New York Times Best Seller list.”
“You don’t write trashy romances, do you?”
“Never! Only extremely dignified ones.” Charlotte smiled, realizing she’d found a way to tease her.
Mrs. Bartholomew didn’t look convinced, but decided to leave it at that. “You won’t be having men drop by all the time, will you?” Her eyebrows connected in a frown that served as a warning. To her surprise, Charlotte’s mouth turned down at the corners.
“I’m afraid not. I’m pretty good about writing romance, but I haven’t been able to snag a romance of my own. The man I thought I’d marry left me for another woman a couple months ago. I haven’t had the courage to look further since then.”
“Nonsense. We’ll have you married off in no time. You’re too young and pretty to be all alone like me.”
“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me for weeks. It’s been a while since I felt young or pretty.”
“Well, you are.” Mrs. Bartholomew nodded her head once as if it were a done deal and no more discussion would be allowed.
“I’m happy the way I am for now. I’m confident that if God wants me married, He’ll send the right man at the right time.”
Mrs. Bartholomew perked up at the mention of God. “You religious?”
“I don’t know if religious is the right word. I love God and want to follow Him, if that’s what you mean.”
“Of course I do.” She looked put out. “You have a denomination?”
“In the city I went to a nondenominational church. I noticed the Community Church as I drove in, so I thought I’d visit it on Sunday.”
“Hrmph. It’s kind of a newfangled church.” She lifted her chin with frown, looking as if Charlotte had just said she’d go to the races on Sunday.
“I guess I’ll have to find out for myself if it’s a good fit.”
This seemed to mollify Mrs. Bartholomew. She stood up suddenly, as if her mission was accomplished and she needed to start a new one. “I’d best get back home.”
Charlotte walked her to the door and waved when she turned back to look at her from her house. “Thanks again for the cookies.”
Mrs. Bartholomew nodded and headed inside with Custer at her heels.
Adapted from chapter one of Crispens Point: A Christian Novel (The Blackberry County Chronicles Book 1) by JoHannah Reardon. Available for purchase on Amazon, or from your favorite bookseller. Used with permission. JoHannah was the beloved senior editor of The Redbud Post for many years before passing away from cancer earlier this year. We remain grateful for her contribution to The Post and the Redbud Writers Guild.