The Night the Lights Went Out
by Karen White
Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.
Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.
Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather’s world.
In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women….
A cluster of moms stood in the parking lot surrounded by high-end SUVs following first day drop-off at Windwood Academy. The women appeared to be listening with rapt attention to the tall blond woman in the center of their semi-circle, her hair arranged perfectly beneath her white tennis visor, her long and lean limbs brown and glowy. Merilee noticed this last part only because her ex-mother-in-law had given her a bottle of glowy lotion for her last birthday and Lily had told her it made her look sparkly like Katy Perry in one of her videos. Merilee had thrown out the remainder of the bottle, realizing she wasn’t the type anymore to look glowy much less sparkly.
But the blonde definitely was. Her whole body glowed. Her face glowed. Even the hair visible beneath the visor appeared to be lit from within. The woman looked vaguely familiar, and Merilee realized she’d probably been one of the mothers she’d met at the open house the previous week. She’d only been to the one let’s-get-acquainted event, her work schedule precluding any of the various parties that were held almost exclusively on weekdays when she worked.
Merilee was terrible with names, had been ever since she started dating Michael. He was so good at it, always reminding her who everyone was when they were at a party, that she’d simply stopped trying. She hoped she was only out of practice instead of permanently disabled. Her children’s futures probably depended on it since Michael wouldn’t be there to make sure Merilee remembered the names of Lily’s friends who were or were not speaking to each other. And which of Colin’s teachers appreciated his dreamy attitude and those who didn’t. It had always been a game with them—her recalling every detail about a friend or teacher, details always overlooked by Michael—and then he’d fill in the missing part—the name. But now she had to do it all on her own.
She smiled vaguely in the direction of the blond woman and her entourage and had almost made it to her van when she heard her name being called.
“Merilee? Merilee Dunlap?”
Great. The woman not only remembered her first name but her last as well. Forcing a warm smile on her face, Merilee turned. “Oh, hello. It’s good to see you again.”
The other women parted like the Red Sea as the tall blond walked toward Merilee and she remembered that the woman had been wearing a Lily Pulitzer sundress and two-carat diamond stud earrings when they’d met before. But she didn’t remember her name. “I thought that was you. I looked for you in Mrs. Marshall’s homeroom. I’m the room mother and wanted to welcome Lily myself.”
Merilee remembered the voice. It was very Southern, heavily laced with dropped consonants and elongated vowels. The most memorable part about it was that it sounded exactly like Merilee’s mother.
“We were running a bit late this morning.” Feeling suddenly short and frumpy in her dark skirt and blazer, Merilee had the strong urge to explain. “My son couldn’t find his new uniform shoes. They somehow managed to find their way back into the box they came in and then got shoved so far under his bed that it took nearly twenty minutes to locate them. And then Lily spilled her bowl of cereal and milk down the front of her skirt, and I had to quickly iron one of her other ones so she could wear it.”
The woman gave her a warm smile from behind dark Chanel sunglasses as if she knew exactly what it was like to be a frazzled single mother. “Bless your heart. And on the first day at a new school. You’ll get used to the routine, I promise. It took me a whole month to realize that I should have a skirt and blouse for every school day plus one, and have Patricia have them cleaned and ironed as soon as my girls dropped them on the floor.”
Not exactly sure how to reslake, Merilee picked out the first confusing part of the sentence. “Patricia?”
“My house manager. I couldn’t live without her. You know how crazy busy it is with all of the kids’ schedules.” She reached into her large handbag that was more briefcase than purse, with a designer’s logo sprouting over its surface like kudzu. “I was going to stick this in the mail to you, but since you’re here I’ll give it to you now. It’s a sign-up sheet for parties and field trips—it lists everything for the year. Just let me know your availabilities and ask Lily to bring it in to school and give to Bailey as soon as you can. Bailey is very responsible and will make sure it gets to me.” The woman smiled, her teeth perfect. “Only sign up for four—every mother wants to be at every single event, but then it just gets crowded—plus there won’t be room on the bus for the kids.”
“Only four…” Merilee took the list and looked at it, almost letting out an audible sigh when she saw the woman’s name at the top of the page, Heather Blackford, Class Mother, followed by three different phone numbers. Now she remembered. Heather had a daughter in Colin’s class, too, both girls’ names starting with ‘B’.
“Yes. And if you could turn it back in tomorrow that would be terrific. I’ll have Claire put it all in a spreadsheet and I’ll email it to all the mothers. Please write neatly—Claire has a way of butchering your name if she can’t read it.”
“My personal assistant. She’s only part time but I would simply die of exhaustion without her.”
The ladies behind her all nodded in understanding.
“Yes, well, I’ll take a look at it and get it back to you tomorrow.” Merilee was already wondering how she was going to approach her boss to ask him for more time off. The divorce and move had already eaten up all of her vacation time, and although Max was kind and understanding, everyone had their limits.
“And don’t forget the ‘I survived my first week of fourth grade’ party at my lake house this Saturday. I’ll be handing out disposable cameras to all the moms and dads to take pictures throughout the year at our various events—I like to do little photo albums for all the kids and the teachers at the end of the year.” She beamed, like it was just a small thing. “Oh, and I took the liberty of signing you up for a dessert because we’re overrun with vegetables and dip and pimiento cheese. I figured you’d know how to make something sweet.”
“Oh…” Merilee simply blinked her eyes for a moment, wondering if Heather had meant to be insulting.
“Because you’re from South Georgia. You mentioned that when we met. You said I had the same accent as your mother.”
Feeling oddly relieved, Merilee said, “Yes, of course. Where did you say you were from?”
“Here and there—but mostly Georgia. I can always tell a native Georgian. Hard to hide it, isn’t it? It’s almost like no matter how far you go in life, all you have to do is open your mouth and somebody knows exactly where you’re from.”
There was something in the way Heather said it that made Merilee pause. “Yes, well, I’ll call my mother today and ask her what she might recommend.”
“Wonderful.” Heather beamed. She pointed a key fob toward a black Porsche SUV with vanity plates that read YERSERV, and the rear door slowly raised. As the other mothers oohed and ahhed appropriately, Merilee stared into the trunk where fourteen metallic gift bags with blue or pink tissue paper expertly pleated at the tops were arranged in neat rows.
Heather moved toward the car. “A little lagniappe—that’s Cajun for ‘a little extra’ to all of my Yankee friends—for the first day of school. My treat. I thought we could each give our children a bag at pickup today and then head over to Scoops for ice cream afterwards. I’ve already reserved the party room at the back of the store. Claire is picking up the helium balloons this morning and will have it all decorated in Windwood colors.”
“You are just too much,” one of the mothers said as the other women eagerly stepped toward the car and took a bag.
Although all four brothers were long gone, Sugar now found herself seeing them more and more, as if old age was nothing more than the past and present squeezing together like an accordion until no air was left.
But hiding the truth is like putting perfume on a pig. That pig’s still going to smell.
Curtis had taken over running the farm, but he was so lazy he couldn’t catch his breath if it didn’t come naturally.
It was a sin to hate, but I thought God would make an exception for Curtis. The boy was pure evil, and if I was Catholic like Willa Faye, I would have found some holy water to sprinkle on him.
She stood and went to the door, peering through the door’s windows to make sure it wasn’t one of those people asking her to buy something or here to save her soul. She didn’t need to buy anything— unless they were Girl Scouts selling cookies— and the state of her soul was between her and Jesus and was nobody else’s business.
So pull up your big-girl panties and let’s go to the store. I’m out of sugar and if you force me to drink this dishwater one more time, I’ll complain to someone about elder abuse.
The hardest thing sometimes is in determining the good people in your life from the rotten ones, because unlike apples, you can’t tell a good one from looking at their skin.
Revenge might be best served cold, but karma has its own icy boot, and you’re about to feel it up your backside.
I can’t rave enough about this book! The Night the Lights Went Out was cleverly crafted, deftly written, and skillfully constructed. I essentially fell into the story from the beginning pages and had considerable difficulty putting my kindle down until the tale concluded. This ingeniously woven story was brilliantly paced and deftly written with touching and emotive visuals, smart humor, and alluring and compelling characters who were not always likable yet unendingly fascinating. The storyline threaded in and out of various timelines detailing tragedies, mysteries, long-held secrets and private shame. Old and new mysteries were slowly exposed, as was an extensive and intriguing scheme of revenge. I was spellbound by Sugar’s memories, cherished the anonymous blog postings, relished the wit and Southernisms sprinkled throughout, and remained fully engaged and immersed in this tale from start to finish. Karen White is a sharply honed wordsmith and master storyteller. I have a new favorite author!
Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert on fine china–especially Limoges–requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit….
Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing–and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life–mistakes and all–she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep….
Memories are thieves. They slip up behind you when you least expect it, their cold hands pressed against your face, suffocating. They blow icy-cold air even on the hottest days, and pinch you awake in the middle of the night.
I don’t hate you… I’ve wanted to, but I can’t. It’s just easier not to hate you when you’re four hundred miles away.
Birdie has always been… different. Not like our friends’ mothers, anyway. Georgia used to say she fell into motherhood like some people slip off a curb and into a mud puddle – except she couldn’t figure out how she got there or how to get it off of her.
I remember the first time I saw her and I knew there was something not right about her, like half of her was missing, and the other half was doing something much more interesting.
He grinned, exposing white teeth and a single dimple on his left cheek that used to make the girls have thoughts that would shock their parents.
There are no limits to starting over. That’s why the sun rises every day. Unless you’re running in circles and then the outcome never changes.
As Grandpa used to say, regrets were like porch swings: They kept you busy but didn’t get you anywhere.
Flight Patterns had a completely different tone than The Night The Lights Went Out. It was a far more intricate and complicated story of family drama, and featured several mysteries, a ton of long-held secrets, and was overflowing with a multitude of old resentments and unhealed wounds. Written with multiple narrators, the storyline was engaging and emotive while rife with conflict, tension, and angst. The characters were deeply flawed, complex, and not always likable, yet always fascinating and compelling. The story was maddeningly paced as this clever author succeeded in keeping me on the hook by doling out tiny breadcrumbs when I was absolutely dying for a full piece of bread. The plot, oh my, was richly textured, multi-layered, and highly eventful with an active storyline that was always moving. And as a bonus – I feel infinitely smarter having learned so many interesting facts about bees.
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