Robin Jones Gunn's newest novel releases on May 7th.
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In Becoming Us Christy is now a young mom raising her children alongside a small group of friends that include Sierra, Jennalyn, Emily and Tess. Told from Emily's point of view, Emily finds herself endeared to these women during a difficult season of her life and develops a special friendship with Christy. The new friends see themselves as becoming "haven makers" in their homes and relationships but mostly in their hearts.
Especially For You
Robin wanted to share an excerpt with you from Chapter 1 of Becoming Us
I had no problem finding Jennalyn’s house that windy night in early December. The two-story charmer stood out from the other Costa Mesa ranch-style houses on Ventura Street. I even made it as far as the welcome mat by her front door before a rising sense of panic pressed in on me, causing me to stop and draw in a deep breath.
You don’t have to do this, Emily. You can leave now. No one inside knows you’re here.
My gaze went to the meandering red ribbon that looped through the fresh evergreen wreath hanging on the door. The wreath had an artistic assortment of bright silver bells, clusters of holly berries, and strategically placed starfish—a charming blend of beachy, artistic, and classy. Just like Jennalyn.
Nervously, I pulled her handmade invitation from my shoulder bag as if another glimpse at it would bolster my courage.
Come to a Favorite Things Party!
7 p.m. on December 5
Jennalyn’s new home.
Bring a plate of Christmas cookies
5 gifts of your favorite thing that costs under $5.
(No whiskers on kittens or bright copper kettles, please.)
It was all so cute. The idea, the invitation, and now the charming wreath on Jennalyn’s front door.
Why did I say I would come? I can’t do this. I won’t fit in with these women.
My feet didn’t move. In my pounding ears, I could hear the echo of my husband’s calm voice right after we moved to California. He had to coax our daughter out of the car on her first day of fifth grade.
“You gotta be brave, sweetheart. You’ve gotta take the first step. Truth is, I don’t know anyone in this wide world who wouldn’t want to be friends with you. Go on, you can do this.”
Audra took that first step, and she had made lots of friends at school over the past three months. Now it was my turn. If Trevor were standing beside me, I knew he would slip into his most adorable southern drawl and say, “Go on, Emily, darlin’, ring the bell. You’ll be glad you did.”
You better be right, Trevor Winslow. You better be right about a lot of things.
I rang the doorbell and waited. When the door opened, cheerful Christmas music spilled out. Jennalyn’s dark, silky hair hung over her shoulders, and she smiled at me in her welcoming way.
“I’m so glad you came! Come in.” She offered me a pregnant mama side hug.
I held out my plate of cookies with an apology. “They’re not homemade. I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay.” She took the plate and led the way past the garland-festooned staircase. The fragrance of fresh pine mixed with cinnamon and cloves hung in the air.
I could hear the other women’s voices coming from the large open area at the back of Jennalyn’s beautiful home. They were laughing the way friends laugh when they know each other well.
I hung back slightly, my heart pounding. The conversation paused when we entered. I counted the women seated on the plush sofas. There were only three, but they were all looking at me.
“This is Emily.” Jennalyn placed her hand on my shoulder. “We met at the grocery store a few weeks ago and ended up having such a great conversation, I knew I wanted to include her for our Favorite Things party.”
A chorus of greetings followed as each woman said her name. I gave a nod and a “hi” and placed my gifts on the end of the long marble kitchen counter where the other gifts were. Jennalyn added my plate of cookies to the snacks.
“Would you like something to drink?” One of the women had stood and was now coming toward me. Her long hair had a pretty nutmeg-brown tint to it and was tucked behind her ears. Her oval face seemed to be framed like an open window with the curtains pulled back to each side.
“I was going to make some hot tea,” she said. “We have cold drinks too.”
As she came closer, I read in her distinct blue-green eyes a gentle sincerity. Or maybe it was compassion, as if she instinctively knew how nervous I was.
“Tea sounds good,” I said.
“Do you like peppermint tea?”
“Yes. Sure. Anything.”
“I’m Christy. I know it’s hard to remember names when you hear them all at once.”
She motioned to the other women on the couch. “So, again, that’s Tess. And Sierra is in the chair.”
My eyes went to Sierra first because of her beautiful, wild, curly blond hair. She wore a stack of gold bangles and beaded leather bracelets that shimmered and clinked together when she lifted her slender arm to wave at me. She reminded me of a mermaid.
“I love your sweater,” Sierra said. “It looks hand knit. Is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” There was no way I was going to admit to her that I’d found it at a local junktique when I was hunting for lamps for our small apartment.
Sierra patted the underside of the simple scarf-like cocoon strapped to her front. “This is Ella Mae. She was four weeks old yesterday.” Sierra folded back the tie-dyed fabric so I could see the downy head of her little one.
I hadn’t realized she was cradling a newborn in her wide scarf. I smiled back but couldn’t manage a comment because a lump had swelled in my throat. I blinked so I wouldn’t tear up.
“Do you like honey in your tea?” Christy poured the boiling water into a white china teapot shaped like a pineapple.
“I’m the same way. I like my peppermint tea unsweetened. Now, if we were having English breakfast tea,” Christy confided, “I’d have both milk and sugar in it. And at least two cookies for dunking.”
“At least two,” Jennalyn chimed in. “Although I think we’ll all need more than just two cookies tonight, by the looks of this assortment.”
Christy and Jennalyn were treating me as if we were already friends. I wished my emotions hadn’t gotten so elevated.
Jennalyn reached across the counter to uncover the plate of cookies I’d brought.
I couldn’t tell if Jennalyn’s exclamation was one of surprise and delight when she saw my contribution, or if she was appalled. I stayed fixed on her expression as she examined the thumbprint cookies. They each had a chocolate kiss in the middle, popping up like an elf’s cap. At least that’s what Audra said they looked like when she helped me pick them out at the grocery-store bakery that afternoon. That’s why my daughter had taken it upon herself to meticulously cover each kiss with green frosting and add a tiny red candy dot on top.
“How clever.” Jennalyn, the artist, understood my daughter’s attempt right away. “Christmas elf caps. These are adorable!”
I noticed that Christy was observing the lopsided cookies the way I had, with polite skepticism.
“Hey!” Sierra called from the couch. Her sleeping baby stirred, and she lowered her voice. “I vote that you guys bring the cookies over here and share the bounty.”
“Great idea.” Jennalyn went to the coffee table and cleared her artistically arranged decorations, looping the expensive-looking table runner over the back of a kitchen chair and carefully transferring the nativity set.
Tess stood to help transfer the cookies to the coffee table, and I was surprised at how tall she was. She carried herself as if she had runway experience. As she gracefully reached for the plates of cookies on the counter, I felt short compared to her.
I also realized I was the only one in this group who had short hair. Problem hair, as my mother used to call it. My baby-fine strands never grew up nor had they managed to grow out. My light brown, wavy hair fell to just below chin level. Most of the time I felt like I looked as if I’d gotten caught in a springtime shower without an umbrella. I think that’s why I always noticed other women’s hair. My four sisters-in-law had often said they envied my flat stomach and shapely legs. For me, I admired other women’s hair.
I watched Tess out of the corner of my eye and wondered what it would be like to have thick, dark hair like hers. She wore it folded into a loose braid that hung down her back and then fell to the side when she bent to put the first few plates within easy reach for Sierra.
Tess caught my gaze and smiled. I smiled back. Her pale blue eyes stood out in a mesmerizing way against her toasty brown skin. She was stunning in an exotic, complicated way.
I took a seat next to Christy on one of the leather sofas. As the other women chatted, I drew in a slow breath. Christy was kind and a little shy. Jennalyn was outgoing and hospitable. Sierra was the free spirit in the group who had no trouble speaking her mind.
Tess would be the mystery. That was fine with me. After being the only introvert around Trevor’s big clan for all the years we had lived in North Carolina, I found it nice not to be the only quiet woman at a party.