Christian Book Previews Home
Christian Book Previews
Book Jacket

0849945232
Trade Paperback
288 pages
Mar 2005
WestBow Press

Dreaming in Black and White: A Phoebe Grant Novel

by Laura Jensen Walker

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

Chapter One

My thighs were at it again.

They whispered behind my back with every pantyhose-clad step I took—a whoosh-whoosh rhythm that sounded remarkably like one of my Mom’s old Engelbert Humperdinck records: “Please release me . . .” Note to self: Renew lapsed membership at gym to lose fifteen extra pounds in effort to keep thighs from getting so chummy. And buy more tan in a bottle so as not to have to ever wear nylons again.

At least not in August.

I juggled my no-carb lunch, laptop bag, morning paper, and designer knockoff handbag as I struggled to hit the unlock button on my key chain. Too late, I realized everything was starting to slide. Holding tight to my laptop, I leaped out of the way of my cascading tall, nonfat double mocha, no foam—but not before the coffee waterfall splattered my chunky heels and nylon-clad legs.

It wasn’t just my thighs that were grumbling. My wet ankles also joined in the clamoring chorus of dissent.

No time to run back home and change. I was already ten minutes late—today of all days, when I was due to find out whether I’d gotten the promotion I longed for. So I gathered all my belongings, dumped the rest of my mocha into the street, and tossed the now-empty cardboard cup into the backseat of my last-year’s model yellow Bug.

Pulling out of Starbucks, I punched Lindsey’s speed-dial number on my cell as I eased into traffic, scrabbling around in the glove box for a little chocolate relief.

“Lindsey Rogers,” my best friend chirped in her annoyingly cheerful human resources voice.

“Hey there, Lins, it’s me,” I mumbled around the dented Snickers bar I’d just inhaled. “You won’t believe what just happened.” And I proceeded to regale her with my sad tale. “But never mind. Spilt milk, right? Or spilt mocha. So tell me again this guy’s vitals and where we’re meeting for dinner.”

“Pheebs, you’re getting forgetful in your old age. You’re going to Imperial Gardens, where they have that nice little dance floor at the back. And his name’s Colin—as in Firth. As in Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones and Girl with a Pearl Earring. He’s a tall, attractive, thirty-something salesman from Toledo who comes to town once a month.”

Swallowing the last bite of Snickers, I asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing that I can see. Nice guy, great hair, and perfect teeth. Lots of expensive orthodontia there, I’m guessing . . .”

I interrupted Lindsey, who, ever since she’d finally gotten braces on her thirtieth birthday, seemed to be obsessed with everyone else’s pearly whites. “You’re sure he doesn’t have a wife stashed back home in Toledo?”

“Nope, because I overheard him talking to my boss when he was drawing up his life insurance plan, and he got all wistful when Peterson showed him his silver-framed photos of the wife-and-kidlings unit.”

“Hmmm. Good looking, single, and likes kids? Sounds too good to be true.”

It was.

That night, over the moo goo gai pan and prawns in garlic sauce, Colin—who, truth be told, was nothing at all like Colin Firth, though he did have some great Hugh Grant hair—drilled me on the importance of being earnest about life insurance even at my age. The evening started out well enough; he was rather good-looking, pleasant, and polite—didn’t blow his nose in the linen napkin, like my last blind date had—which gave me hope. But by the time the fortune cookies arrived, I was afraid I’d do bodily harm to Colin with my chopsticks if I heard one more word about actuarial tables.

In desperation, I asked him to dance, thanking my lucky stars and my mother that I hadn’t been raised Baptist. “This is one of my favorite oldies,” I said, as Sinatra slid into “Fly Me to the Moon”—wishing all the while I could fly to the moon instead.

“Mine too. I love the standards,” Colin said as he spun me energetically around the floor. Very energetically.

“So, Phoebe, tell me,” he said as he whirled me around, “Are you a churchgoing girl?”

Removing a chunk of flyaway hair from my mouth, I answered breathlessly, “Yes. In fact, Lindsey and I attend the same church—First Presbyterian.”

“You don’t say,” Colin said, stopping in midwhirl, causing me to lose the little bit of balance I’d tried to maintain while dancing with Mr. Saturday Night Fever, and winding up with my cheek squashed up against his—I knew it!—polyester-blend jacket. “I’m a Presbyterian too. My goodness, we certainly have a lot in common. So tell me, Phoebe . . .”

Oh no. Here it comes. The dreaded blind-date moment every single thirty-something woman hates: “How come a nice girl like you isn’t married?”

But Colin surprised me with a slight variation on the theme. “How come a nice, pretty girl like you isn’t married yet?”

“Um . . .” Anxious to change the conversational direction, I cast about for some innocuous gambit of singles small talk to divert him. “Gee. You really have great hair, Colin.”

Way to go, Pheebs. Now he’s going to think you’re coming on to him.

Colin beamed. “Thank you. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Phoebe . . .” He leaned closer as I tried in vain to discreetly back away from the garlicky waves emanating from the polyester threads. “It’s plugs.”

“Excuse me?”

“Hair plugs. A few years ago, my hairline really started receding, and one morning as I looked in the mirror I got depressed and began feeling really old. But mother snapped me right out of it at the breakfast table when she suggested I check into a hair transplant.” He giggled and winked at me. “After all, she said, if Burt Reynolds can, why not me?”

“Oh . . . you live with your mother?”

How could this evening get any worse?

“Yes, I moved back in with mom to help her out after dad died.”

“How sweet and thoughtful of you.”

Chastising note to self: Stop being so judgmental and quick to assign the dork label. Any man who’s kind and generous enough to look after his mother in her time of need can’t be all bad. How’s that old saying go? How a man treats his mother is how he’ll treat you.

Looking at him with new nonjudgmental, empathetic eyes, I asked, “When did your dad pass away?”

“Twenty-nine years ago.”

“Tw-twenty-nine years? So, did you leave home when you were a child to go to boarding school, or did you just run away to join the circus when you were eight?”

“No, I was in my final few weeks of college when Dad passed.”

“Um, Colin, I hope you don’t mind my being personal, but how old are you?”

“Fifty-one.”

“But Lindsey said you were in your late thirties . . .”

“I know. Everyone thinks that,” he said with a smug grin. “Isn’t it amazing what a little eye lift and plugs can do? Just call me well-preserved. Plus, I run four miles every morning and spend half an hour each night on the Stairmaster while watching my Sell That Security sales tapes.

“But enough about me,” he said, with what he probably thought was a flirtatious lift of his eyebrow but actually made him look like Yoda with a rug, “How old are you, Phoebe?”

“Thirty-one.”

“Hmmm.” He frowned. “Well, that’s a little older than we’d wanted.”

“We?”

“Oh yes. I meant me. Well, Mother and I have been talking lately, and we think—I think—it’s time I settled down and got married so as to carry on the family name. Did you know that a recent issue of the journal Human Reproduction says that the most fruitful child-bearing years for a woman are before the age of thirty? Do you think a year or so would make that much difference?”

As Sinatra crooned with daughter Nancy about saying “Somethin’ Stupid,” I made a new note to self: Kill Lindsey.

“Gee, I don’t know if you can afford to take that chance, Colin. It might be best to go with a twenty-five– or twenty-six-year-old just to be safe. You never know; that first child could be a girl. And look at poor Anne Boleyn—we all know how that turned out. I’d hate to lose my head.”

After saying my farewells to Colin in the parking lot and discreetly dodging his eager good-night kiss, I headed home, punching in Lindsey’s number as I drove.

“Girl, you are so dead. The guy’s looking for a broodmare, not a woman. Plus, he’s fifty-one.”

“Well, how was I supposed to know? He looked thirty-something to me. Besides, look at Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. He’s more than twenty years older than her, and they have a great marriage, plus a couple of beautiful kids.”

“Colin is no Michael Douglas.”

“But he is available. Look, Pheebs, you’re always whining that there are no decent single men out there. So I find you one—a Presbyterian, no less—who’s got a nice steady job, great hair, perfect teeth, and is eager to get married and have kids, and you’re still not satisfied.”

“Lindsey, the guy’s a loser. He’s so boring. And I’d be afraid that if I ever ran my fingers through his hair I might unplug him or something. But worst of all—he still lives with his mother.”

“Picky, picky. Okay, I grant you that he’s a little boring . . .”

“A little?”

“Okay, a lot. But at least he’s employed—unlike the last guy you dated. And as for the hair, you could work around it somehow. Although I must admit, the mother thing’s a little creepy.”

“Just a little. Can you say ‘Bates Motel’?”

“Okay, okay. So let’s cross him off the list and move on. And speaking of moving on, how was work today? Tell all! Did you get the promotion?”

“I still don’t know. I was supposed to have that meeting with my editor, which is why I wore my best black skirt, red power blazer, and these way-too-tight pantyhose, but something was going on today. Lots of suits coming and going, so Cooper’s secretary e-mailed me that it was canceled and we’d have to reschedule for Monday morning.”

“So what are you going to wear?”

“Nothing that requires nylons, that’s for sure. I was dying today. I’d hoped to run by Nordstrom’s after work to pick up one of those cute print skirts they have on sale and pair it with a sweater set, but someone told me I couldn’t be late for my very important date.”

“All right already. Point taken.”

“I’m thinking I’ll go the classic route: black pants, white Tommy Hilfiger blouse, and my longer black blazer that covers my hips. Classy, but in control. And not trying too hard.”

“Sounds great. Black is always slimming. What about shoes?”

“My new Nine West slingbacks—the pointy ones that make me look thin.”

“Sounds good. Oops, gotta run. Teakettle’s whistling. See you tomorrow.”

“Okay. ’Night.”

Turning right onto Lakeshore Boulevard, I enjoyed the view of Cleveland’s lights on Lake Erie as I drove through the ritzy part of town. I lived at the other end of Lakeshore Boulevard—the nonritzy end.

But I loved my cute little apartment in the original 1930s brownstone. Normally I wouldn’t have been able to afford the one bedroom with high vaulted ceilings, crown molding, and hardwood floors, but the landlord hadn’t had time to paint and clean before I moved in, so he gave me a break on the rent in exchange for my doing the work.

I painted the moldings and baseboard a bright marshmallow white and chose a soft butter yellow for the walls—which I then decorated with all my romantic classic-movie posters: Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights, and The Parent Trap. Then I added a couple of black director’s chairs, a bookcase, and my pride and joy—a red leather Pottery Barn sofa, on which I was still making payments.

Barely had the door shut behind me when I kicked off my shoes, hiked up my skirt, and finally tore off the offending nylons, which I threw in the trash. After greeting Gabby, my plastic goldfish, I checked my messages—two telemarketers and my mother, wondering how my blind date had gone.

My mother? How did she know . . . ? Note to self: Do not tell big-mouth brother Jordy about love life anymore, because concerned mother, who worries her only daughter will become dried-up old maid, will immediately order wedding invitations and set up china registry.

Discarding clothes as I went, I popped Josh Groban into the CD player and headed straight for the tub, where I turned on the taps and dumped in half a bottle of my lavender therapy bath salts. Easing my way into the now brimming-with-lavender-bubbles water, I lay back, closed my eyes, and let Josh take me away to Italy.

I’ll bet Josh Groban doesn’t have hair plugs. But then again, he’s not even twenty-five. Just a tad too young. Too bad. That voice. That hair. Those eyes.

When the Josh-man stopped singing, I picked up the remote from the side of the tub—being careful not to drop it in the water—and started channel surfing on my portable TV. Goldie Hawn in green fatigues filled the screen. Private Benjamin. Not the world’s greatest movie, but it held nostalgic appeal for me because of my stint in the United States Air Force—a part of my past my current friends found almost incomprehensible. But who made the rule that said you couldn’t serve your country and still like nice shoes? It certainly didn’t apply to Goldie. Me, either. So I smiled and settled back in the steaming, fragrant water to watch her comic transformation from socialite to soldier.

Shivering, I awoke in the tepid tub more than an hour later. Goldie was just heading off to her first European army assignment. My skin was shriveled like a spent balloon. Quickly I toweled off and pulled on my Sleepless in Seattle nightshirt and my faded pink chenille robe—now grown smooth in spots from years of wear. I grabbed my blow-dryer and aimed it at my hair. As my limp locks splayed every which way under the onslaught, I peered into the mirror. Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for me to think about hair plugs . . .

Still shivering, I poked the blow-dryer inside my robe for a few warming bursts. Ahh, that was better. My goose bumps finally sat down. Warmed, I schlepped out to the tiny galley kitchen in my oversized slippers and nuked some milk for hot chocolate. When I opened the cupboard for the marshmallows, my eyes alighted upon the red plaid box of Scottish shortbread I’d bought for my upcoming Jane Austen chick flickathon with Lindsey and the girls.

Yum. Wouldn’t some rich, buttery shortbread taste delicious right now? Especially dipped into the hot chocolate with ooey-gooey marshmallow clinging to the sides?

In a sugar-fantasy fog I started to reach for the box.

No! Greedy girl. Gluttonous girl. You got that as a treat to share with your friends.

But they’ll never know, my sugar-craving inner child whined.

You need to wait. Delayed gratification is good for the soul.

I’m not good at waiting, my inner brat pouted.

I know. But remember your resolution to exercise self-restraint and become more healthy and fit by shedding that extra fifteen pounds?

Yes, petulant inner child agreed. But after the world’s worst blind date, I deserve a treat.

And closing my ears to my chiding conscience, I grabbed my hot chocolate and box of shortbread—chocolate-dipped, no less—and marched into my bedroom, where I settled myself comfortably beneath my candy cane–striped sheets and matching comforter. There I tore into the pretty plaid box as only a chocolate-starved, hormonal woman can.

One empty box later, I was sated, but not quite ready for sleep.

Who could sleep already after such an evening? Oy. (There are times when white-bread Protestant expressions simply don’t cut it.)

I leaned over and rifled through my video and DVD collection on the garage-sale bookcase I’d painted red and black.

In a British frame of mind from the shortbread, I let my searching fingers pause at Sense and Sensibility—with the incomparable Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Note to self: Will now exercise self-restraint and save Kate and Emma and the adorably bashful Hugh Grant for movie day with the girls. Will also bypass all other period English movies for said evening to demonstrate strong mental fortitude and solidarity with girlfriends.

Finally I pulled out the modern-day chick-flick classic, Steel Magnolias, which has some of the greatest lines ever committed to film—after Casablanca, of course: “The nicest thing I can say about her is that all her tattoos are spelled correctly.” “You are evil and you must be destroyed.” And “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

Two laughter-through-tears-filled hours later, I switched off the TV, still sniffling, and dragged myself out of bed to brush my teeth. Note to self, upon looking in mirror at dried rivulets of mascara caking my cheeks: Must learn to cry more prettily. Watch Ghost to perfect Demi Moore’s technique.

I then scrubbed my face clean of all remnants of mascara and fell back into bed, asleep in seconds.