By Emily Sue Harvey
New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry has said that, “Emily Sue Harvey has a sure touch and strong voice. She`s a talent to watch.” New York Times bestselling author Jill Marie Landis called Harvey’s first novel, SONG OF RENEWAL “an uplifting, heartwarming story.” Now Harvey returns with a tale as rich in drama as it poignant in the truths it tells.
When widowed Seana Howard meets Barth McGrath, a newcomer to their little town, she never dreams she’ll fall in love again. Despite his somewhat quirky ways, she falls for the man. The only problem is that her married children do not trust the mysterious stranger. Who is he? Where exactly did he come from? Why are there so many questions about his past?
Against their wishes, Seana elopes with Barth and is happier than she’s been in years. Then her happiness shatters when a mysterious illness suddenly befalls her, exiling her once brilliant mind to a dark nightmare from which she may never return. The eclipse is startling and complete. Will Barth, with such a short history with Seana, love her enough to endure the trials of caring for someone under such dire circumstances? Can her family get past their suspicions and trust his motives and love for their mother? Will Seana ever escape her dark cocoon and reclaim her very purpose for living? Will life give her a second chance to spread her wings, like a beautiful butterfly?
COCOON is a life-affirming story of travail, obstacles, and the extraordinary lengths that undying love will travel.
I chose the following excerpt from COCOON because it’s at this point that Barth realizes the gravity of his wife, Seana’s mysterious malady. It also brings into focus the battle he fights with Seana’s daughter’s distrust of him. And he’s wondering, will his bride ever return to him?
Computer classes at tech went well. Only thing, on the third day, when new software was introduced that Tim’s Real Estate office was implementing, Seana began to feel strange and could not remember things the instructor said.
As the day wore on, she grew more and more disturbed. The words seemed to go in one ear and out the other. There was no pause inside her brain, not even for a second. She left the class distressed.
Panic washed through her like icy rapids.
What was happening to her?
# # #
Barth’s mouth dropped open when Seana joined him at the dinner table that evening. Her face seemed to belong on another person. It appeared frozen into a mask of stunned remorse.
“Something’s wrong, Barth,” she muttered through tight lips. “Something horrible’s happening to me.”
Barth scooted around and took the bar stool next to her. He took her icy hands in his. “What do you think it is?” Her distress was viral. His pulse began to pound in his ears. This is ridiculous, he told himself. Stay calm and reassure Seana.
“I can’t remember a thing the teacher said in class today.”
Pull it together, Barth.
Barth sucked in a deep, raw breath and drew Seana into his arms. She was limp as a noodle. “Listen, Babe, you’re okay,” he murmured gently. “You hear me? You’re okay.”
Her head moved slowly from side to side. “No, Barth. I’m not okay.” The lackadaisical words pierced his heart and shot terror clean out his fingers and toes.
“Yes you are.” He heard the edge in his voice then backpedaled to gentler mode “A good night’s sleep is what you need. After that you’ll feel better. You’ll see.”
# # #
Barth slept restlessly and every time he turned over, Seana’s eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling. “You need to relax, darling, there’s nothing to fear,” he reminded her each time. “Close your eyes and just—let your mind drift.”
“I can’t.” That’s all she said. Just “I can’t.”
That in itself scared the dickens out of him. Now he knew what that southern term meant. He was living it. Still…he felt that this was only temporary.
Finally, around 3:30 a.m., he gently nudged Seana over on her side, into a fetal position, then he spooned against her back, wrapping her in his arms and warmth. The night had been dark and desolate. Endless.
At least he could give her solace.
Then, through the floor to ceiling window, he watched as daylight swallowed up the darkness and the mountain range grew clear and blue.
And he felt a spurt of hope.
That today, Seana would come back to him.
# # #
But Seana did not come back. Was not, in fact, able to function. She was barely able to go to the bathroom and crawl back in bed. She refused to eat unless Barth spoon fed her. Then she would turn her head away most of the time.
Barth called tech and cancelled her lesson for that day, then the next, and finally all of them.
Sunday came and Seana didn’t go to church, an unheard of thing as a rule. Barth asked Billie Jean to stay with Seana and he volunteered to teach Seana’s kindergarten age Sunday School class. Easy enough, he decided.
Joanie Knight volunteered to help him. “Sort of a teacher’s aide.” She grinned at him and her periwinkle blue eyes, which matched her top of the knees dress, twinkled as she watched the innocent faced cherubs enter the classroom.
Barth began to relax. Heck, what could go wrong with such sweet students?
Gaining their attention, after five minutes of getting them all situated in tiny chairs, wasn’t too bad. Curiosity won out. They’d not seen this gigantic male before in their little setting. They peered openly at him as he read the Sunday School story of the week, about David and the giant, Goliath.
Barth found himself getting carried away with the drama and began acting out the roles. Only thing, when he got to Goliath, he wasn’t sure how to demonstrate the actual murder. One child, little red-haired Harry Woodall, was on his feet in a heartbeat. “I know,” he pealed and ran to the corner toy box. There, he extracted a rubber sword. A long one. “Dis how Da-bid did it,” he lisped, spraying spittle in all directions. He grabbed a feeble looking doll from the box and plopped it on the carpeted floor.
Barth watched, transfixed.
Like a professional golfer, Harry boy grasped the sword handle, shuffled his feet, harnessed energy to his arms, raised the sword, then punched it down with all his might, sending the dolls head flying across the floor, hitting Judy Smith’s black patent leather shoe.
“Aaaaiihh,” Judy wailed. “He hurt da baby!” Then the wails turned to earnest sobs, tears big as his thumb dropped off her flushed cheeks. Her dimpled hands shot up to swipe her wet face as she snubbed and renewed her sobs.
“No, no,” Barth crooned rushing to her and dropping to his haunches. “He was only pretending.”
The blue eyes opened, peered tragically at him. “No.” Her blond head swung from side to side in denial, bouncing her curls about frantically. “Hawi hurt her. B-bad.”
Her huge snuffling hiccup caught Barth’s heart and tugged it mightily. “No, sweetheart. It’s not alive. Like you.”
“Aaaiiih.” Wails recommenced as other little faces watched and reflected emotions from curiosity to the beginning of tears.
Harry Woodall had shrunk into a corner chair, guilt written across his freckled face as clearly as the scarlet letter A.
Barth peered helplessly at Joanie, who shrugged mightily, took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and stood. “Come ‘ere, sweetie. Let me show you something.” She took the broken doll, put its head back in the hole and said, “Y’know, I might just have something that will fix this baby up like new by next Sunday. How about that?”
Judy’s tears stopped. She nodded, looking hopeful. “You fix it?”
“Sure as shootin’.” Joanie nodded big time. “She’ll be good as new.” Then she took the little girl on her lap, winked at Harry, and guided the attention back to the teacher.
Barth was able to finish the story, this time soft-pedaling the sword murder and majoring on the shepherd David’s sling shot expertise.
Now, that got their attention.
Even little Judy’s.
After class, Barth pulled Joanie aside. “Thanks. You saved my honor.”
Joanie giggled. “Aww. All in a day’s class.”
“How’re you going to fix the doll?”
Joanie stage whispered. “I know where they have a dozen of those particular dolls. New, dontcha know?”
Barth’s head rolled back in laughter. “You females.”
“What?” Joanie peered at him, speculation glowing.
“You are such glorious, brilliant creations.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Joanie trilled over her shoulder as she sashayed down the hall.
# # #
Back at home, Barth found Seana curled up in fetal position on the sofa, exactly where he’d left her. Her cell phone, lying on the coffee table near her, was loping away with its God Bless the USA melody. Seana stared blankly at the TV screen.
“Aren’t you going to answer your phone?” Barth asked, slightly annoyed. He knew she didn’t feel well but couldn’t understand this apathy.
Seana didn’t reply. He snatched up her phone, flipped it open and barked “hello?”
A startled silence, then, “ Barth, I’d like to speak to my mother.” Zoe’s request was cut in cedar.
“Of course.” Barth held the phone out to Seana, whose gaze never wavered from
The television screen. She shook her head.
A definite no.
“Ah, look, Zoe. Your mother’s not feeling well and--”
“I know she’s not.” As in I’m not stupid. “She wasn’t at church. Is she awake?” Zoe’s tone was definitely up there with royally ticked.
“Yes, she’s awake. But she doesn’t want to talk to anyone right now.” Barth knew it wasn’t setting well with his step daughter. Couldn’t blame her. He, too, was frustrated that Seana didn’t seem to be trying at all to function.
“Well, I’ll be right over. I want to know what’s going on with her.” The line went dead.
“Sure thing, Zoe,” Barth muttered to the dead phone, staring at it before clicking it shut.
“Have you had your shower?” he asked Seana, knowing full well she had not because she still wore her night gown and her hair was a mass of tangles.
“No.” The eyes remained fixed on the screen, yet—Barth was certain she did not really see it. For the past two days, she’d insisted on finding a ballgame on one of the sports channels. And she was not, as a rule, a really strong sports fan.
“Well, come on. I’ll help you,” he insisted, reaching to help her up.
Hands on hips, Barth sighed heavily, gauged his wife’s dug-in mien, then tried again. “Seana, you have to bathe.” He tugged at her until she finally let him help her onto her wobbly feet and to the shower.
There, he undressed her and guided her into the stall. He turned the faucet on warm and watched water cascade down her body. She made no move to lather up. Nothing. Just stood planted there like the danged sycamore tree outside their window.
Exasperated, Barth stripped off his own clothes and got in with her. He began to vigorously lather her all over with a nylon scrubby. She frowned at times as if in pain or aggravated and something about her pierced his heart. Vulnerability shimmered over her like an electrical current.
He paused in his ministrations and stared at her, looking into her eyes.
They were vacant. “Dear God, honey. What’s happened to you?” The words ended on a sob. He pulled her unresponsive body into his arms and held her as if she were fine crystal or a fragile egg, weeping as unrestrainedly as he’d ever done in his entire adult life.
When the sobs subsided, he gently dried her off and dressed her in sweats, simply because they were easier to manage. Then he combed the tangles from her chin length hair and silently thanked Joanie for the good cut and perm when the damp strands shaped up rather nicely. As soon as he finished, Seana turned from him and made her way back to the den where she curled up again on the sofa.
Barth shook his head, pulled on jeans and shirt and went to the kitchen to decide what to do for lunch. The doorbell pealed. He closed the fridge and went to answer the door.
“Hi Zoe,” he said and stepped aside for a splendidly angry Zoe, who swept past him without a word of greeting. He shrugged and followed her into the den where she marched over to her mother.
“What do you mean, not taking my calls?” Zoe crossed her arms and peered down at her mother, waiting for an explanation. Silence stretched out and Zoe wilted before Barth’s eyes.
“Sit down, Zoe,” Barth said softly.
Zoe did, practically collapsing on the love seat across from Seana. “How long has she been like this?”
“A week. I thought it was temporary. But it’s continued so I’m going to take her to the doctor tomorrow for a thorough examination.” Barth sprawled in the easy chair, anticipating some degree of turbulence.
But he didn’t bargain for Zoe’s next statement.
“I know about your first wife, Barth. I know about how she died.” Zoe’s eyes and voice accused and convicted Barth on the spot.
“Oh?” Barth struggled for composure amid the onslaught. The worst thing was happening…the thing he’d dreaded most. “Exactly what do you know?” He was proud that his voice at least sounded steady while his heart was flogging his ribs like a runaway bass drum.
“I know that she was murdered. And that you were arrested for it.”
Shock began to morph into anger. “Then you should know that I was released for lack of evidence.”
“Oh?” The lovely brow lifted. “How convenient for you.” Zoe smiled then. Not a pretty sight, her sly one. “But I also know that no one else has been arrested. The case is unsolved. Cold.”
“So you’re going to assume that I did it, even without proof?” He shook his head, disappointed and disgusted.
Zoe stood. “Look. I’m only interested in the safety of my mother. You’d have a lot to gain if something happened to her.” Anger crackled about her like static as she marched over to Barth’s chair, leaned over and in a deadly calm voice said, “I’m here to see that nothing happens to her. In fact, I’m going to ask that she get drug tests to see if you’re trying to poison her.”
Barth stood so abruptly that Zoe nearly lost her balance backing away. He narrowed his eyes and took a step forward before restraining himself. “Get out of my face, Zoe. I love your mother.” He gritted his teeth to stymie the tears burning behind his eyes. “That’s something you toss aside like garbage. And I plan to take care of her, whether you like it or not.”
Zoe smiled again but it didn’t reach her eyes. “What have you done to her, Barth? A person doesn’t just change overnight. It’s not just coincidence that you’re the one who prepares all her food and who shoves all sorts of additives and supplements at her. And voila, she turns into this—zombie.”
Barth cut his eyes down at Seana, who seemed detached from their discourse. But he knew that she could hear and discern some things. At least he thought so. “We shouldn’t talk like this around her,” he said quietly.
Zoe cut a glance at her mother and her face gentled. “You’re right. It’s not her fault.”
A flicker of hope sparked in Barth in that moment, that maybe Zoe would relent and at least do teamwork on her mother’s behalf. Instead, she pivoted and marched to collect her purse, then slammed out the front door. Without so much as a backward glance. Or a fare the well.
So much for Southern hospitality and charm.
He realized then that his legs were shaking and collapsed into the chair. Elbows on knees, he planted his face in hands.
He sat there for a long time, head spinning, emotions pummeled by Zoe’s words and accusations. Until he felt a cramp in his neck. Only then did he lift his head and roll his shoulders. His eyes locked with Seana’s. He felt a surge of guilt. How much did she actually hear and take in?
“Honey?” he ventured gently. “I love you.”
She blinked. Then looked away.
And he knew. Somehow, he felt it in his soul of souls. She was not there behind those lovely eyes.
She’s gone away inside herself.
Away from him.
Meet the Author
New York Times bestselling author Jill Marie Landis called Song of Renewal “An uplifting, heartwarming story of forgiveness, commitment, and love, and Kay Allenbaugh, bestselling author of Chocolate for a Woman’s Soul says “Emily Sue Harvey’s work will linger in the memory long after readers put it aside.” National bestselling author Harvey, who has written numerous inspiring works of nonfiction, writes intensely romantic novels that thrill the heart as they inspire the soul. Her stories have something to say to every family.