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Stuck in the Middle (Sister-to-Sister, Book 1)
by Virginia Smith

Published: 2008-02-01
Paperback : 336 pages
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Joan Sanderson's life is stuck. Her older sister, Allie, is starting a family and her younger sister, Tori, has a budding career. Meanwhile, Joan is living at home with Mom and looking after her aging grandmother. Not exactly a recipe for excitement. That is, until a hunky young doctor moves in ...
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Introduction

(Joan Sanderson's life is stuck. Her older sister, Allie, is starting a family and her younger sister, Tori, has a budding career. Meanwhile, Joan is living at home with Mom and looking after her aging grandmother. Not exactly a recipe for excitement. That is, until a hunky young doctor moves in next door. Suddenly Joan has a goal--to get a date. But it won't be easy. Pretty Tori flirts relentlessly with him and Joan is sure that she can't compete. But with a little help from God, Allie, and an enormous mutt with bad manners, maybe Joan can find her way out of this rut. Book 1 of the Sister-to-Sister series, Stuck in the Middle combines budding romance, spiritual searching, and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry.

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Excerpt

Brrring. Brrring.

From the desk behind the sales counter in the rear of the showroom, Joan Sanderson scanned the empty store. Fluorescent ceiling lights cast a harsh glow that reflected off the polished wooden surfaces of the furniture artfully arranged for display. Where was . . . oh, yes. Rosa would be a couple of hours late this morning, after her daughter’s doctor appointment. She reached for the phone and punched the button for the first line. “Good morning, Abernathy Sales and Rental.”

“I’m going to kill her.”

Joan closed her eyes. Patience. I need patience. “Hi, Mom. What has Gram done?”

“She alphabetized my underwear drawer.”

“She what?” A snort of unladylike laughter blasted through Joan’s nose.

“It’s not funny, Joan. My bras are all in the first row, color-coded alphabetically from left to right, and then a row of panties, all folded in little squares, and then slips. And socks along the back row. Everything’s so neat it makes me want to throw up.”

Joan picked up a pile of invoices on the edge of the desk and shuffled them into a tidy stack. “C’mon, Mom, your underwear drawer is a disaster. What’s wrong with a little order?”

“That is not the point, and you know it. She went into my room! She touched my underwear. She invaded my privacy! I’ve been sitting here for the past twenty minutes afraid to look in the closet. What if she got in there too?”

A hint of panic colored the anger in Mom’s voice. Gram was harmless, but she did have an obsessive-compulsive tendency to alphabetize everything she touched. Lately everything she did grated on her only daughter’s nerves like a snowplow on icy roads. Joan feared one day Gram would do something to push Mom over the edge. The front page of tomorrow’s Advocate-Messenger flashed into her mind:

CRAZED WOMAN SLAUGHTERS

ALPHABETICALLY CORRECT MOTHER

“I’m sure your closet is fine.” Through the glass doors Joan watched a red pickup zoom into a parking space near the store. “She was only trying to be helpful, you know.”

Mom huffed. “She can organize the cans in the pantry and the jars in the spice rack all she wants. But three women living under one roof have got to have boundaries. Bedrooms should be off-limits.”

“So tell her that. Gram understands the need for boundaries.”

A couple emerged from the truck and made their way toward the store. The door alarm bleeped a stuttering double tone as the pair stepped from the clammy Kentucky heat into the air-conditioned store. They were college freshmen if Joan was any judge, much too young to be shopping for furniture.

“Be with you folks in a minute,” she called, then spoke in a lower voice into the phone. “I’ve got customers. I need to go.”

Mom ignored her. “Do you think I haven’t told her that a dozen times? She pays no attention to me and does as she pleases. I don’t think I can take this much longer.”

Joan clutched the receiver, a cold lump settling in the pit of her stomach. “What do you mean?”

After a pause, Mom sighed. “I don’t know. I wish I did. But really, we’ve got to do something before—”

Joan’s mouth went dry. Something in her mother’s tone hinted that she was about to launch into a subject that left Joan sick with dread. She couldn’t get into this right now, not on the phone, and not when she was the only one in the store. She turned her back toward the watching couple and spoke quietly into the receiver. “I’ve got to go, Mom. We’ll talk about this later. Goodbye.”

The phone clicked down into its cradle harder than she intended as she sucked in a slow, deep breath. Time to calm down. She could think about Mom and Gram later. A professional smile plastered on her face, she weaved her way through the furniture displays. Her young customers stood just inside the door as though they had happened across a patch of super glue. The guy looked a little shell-shocked as his gaze slid around the store, taking in the clusters of living room furniture to the right, the bedroom suites to the left, the appliances lining the rear wall, and finally settling on the dinette sets in the center. The girl, on the other hand, watched Joan like a cat in front of a fishbowl.

Oh, puh-lease. Joan stifled a chuckle. I’m twenty-five years old! Your college boy is safe with me.

Stale cigarette smoke assaulted her nostrils as she approached them, strong enough that she struggled not to take a step backward to escape the stench. Both wore jeans and flip-flops. The girl sported a belly shirt revealing a glimpse of silver in the center of an incredibly tiny waist; the guy, a loose, rust-colored T-shirt. Still eyeing Joan warily, she had a grip on his arm like a monkey with a banana in a cage full of hungry primates.

“Hi, I’m Joan.”

Miss Belly Button gave her the once-over, no doubt comparing Joan’s straight brown hair to her own shiny blonde curls. Through narrowed eyelids, the girl’s gaze swept downward. Joan kept her face impassive, denying the grin that threatened to break free in the face of such fierce teenage possessiveness. She knew she would pass muster. What were comfortable polyester slacks and sturdy shoes compared to Levis so tight the numbers on a credit card could be read through the back pocket?

He’s all yours, honey. Besides, I’m not looking for a babysitting job.

The youngster relaxed and released the guy’s arm long enough to allow him to engulf Joan’s hand in a calloused grip. The girl didn’t offer her hand, but dimpled. “I’m Stacy, and this is Josh.”

“Nice to meet you. What can I help you with today?”

Josh cleared his throat and spoke directly to the sofa behind her. “Yeah, we need a table. You know, like, to eat on.”

“With chairs,” Stacy added.

Interesting. Maybe one of them had gotten lucky enough to find an off-campus apartment. More likely a group decided to go in together and rent a house for the school year. “Okay, and are you looking to purchase or rent?”

“Rent.” Stacy gave a short giggle. “We don’t have the money to buy anything. We just got married.” She turned an adoring gaze toward her husband, who was now staring at a table lamp and fidgeting with a set of car keys in his free hand. Shocked, Joan struggled to keep her smile from slipping. They couldn’t be out of their teens. And they were married? She tried not to be obvious as she stared at Stacy’s tiny waist again. The girl didn’t look pregnant.

“Congratulations.” She hoped she sounded sincere. “Here at Abernathy’s our monthly payments are pretty low. I’m sure we can find something to fit your budget.” She watched Josh’s expression relax a fraction, and he actually made eye contact. “And we have a great rent-to-own plan too. As long as you make your payments, anything you rent under the purchase contract becomes yours at the end of the contract period.”

“How much is the down payment?”

Joan shook her head. “There isn’t one. The payment is a few dollars more than the regular rental fee, but not that much.”

A couple of creases on his forehead cleared. “Sounds like a good deal.”

“It is.” She made sure to include Stacy as she spoke. “We help lots of people furnish their first homes.”

The telephone rang from the back of the store. For a moment, she was tempted to let it go to voice mail. But that was bad business. Where was Rosa, anyway? Shouldn’t she be here by now? Joan smiled at the newlyweds and took a backward step toward the sales counter.

“Feel free to look around.” She edged toward the desk. “The dinette sets are here, with formal dining room furniture over there. You’ll find the payment amounts and contract periods on the yellow labels.”

As she reached the telephone, her customers’ feet came unstuck, and they wandered toward the dinette displays. “Good morning, Abernathy’s.”

“Did you just hang up on your mother?”

Joan winced at her sister’s scolding tone. Word traveled at roughly the speed of light in the Sanderson family. “Hi, Allie. I guess she called you?”

“Of course she called me. She’s upset. I would be too if you slammed the phone down in my ear.”

“I did not hang up on Mom.” Joan picked up a pencil and rolled it between her fingers. “Not technically, anyway. I said goodbye first. But all she wanted to do was complain about Gram, and I had customers. They’re still here, by the way.”

A disgusted grunt sounded in Joan’s ear. “Okay, okay, I’ll let you go. But you call her and apologize, you hear?”

“When I get a chance.”

Joan replaced the receiver with extreme care. Having Mom upset with her was bad enough. Best not alienate her big sister too.

Half an hour later she waved goodbye to Josh and Stacy, promising that their new dinette set and washer-dryer combo would be delivered before noon tomorrow. A glance over their credit application went a long way toward soothing her stinging ego. They were nothing but kids, too inexperienced to even know how poor they were. Whereas Joan drove a nice car with a free-and-clear title, paid no rent, and banked almost every cent she earned. True, she didn’t have a husband or even the prospect of one, thanks to Roger the Rat. But at least she was financially solid. She had no reason to be jealous, and she refused to waste another minute comparing herself to a couple of kids.

Her thoughts turned to her mother’s phone call as she keyed their order into the computer. Sometimes Gram’s behavior did get a little weird, but that was nothing new. She had always been a stickler for organization. And who cared if she alphabetized the laundry? She was still the same sweet woman they moved in with thirteen years ago, after Mom divorced Daddy. The way Joan figured it, at eighty-three, Gram could be forgiven the occasional kooky impulse.

She pressed Print on the computer and waited for the laser printer to spit out the delivery order.

Mom, on the other hand, lost her temper forty times a day. She was deep in the throes of menopause, and Joan sometimes wondered if all those herbal supplements she gulped down every morning were doing the job on her wacky hormones. Everybody got on her nerves. Well, except Allie, who would give birth to the first Sanderson grandchild soon. All Allie had to do was whimper into the telephone, and Mom rushed across town to rub her back and bring her a half gallon of Moose Tracks.

When a sheet of paper slid into the printer’s tray, she picked up the folder containing the orders scheduled for delivery tomorrow. Glancing through the contents, she organized them by street address and distance from the warehouse, her thoughts still hovering around that disturbing phone call. Mom had dropped several hints lately, all centering around “doing something about Gram.” It didn’t take a genius to figure out the comments had something to do with the town’s new assisted living center. Her stomach churned at the thought of Gram in an old folks home. Well, Mom could just forget it. There was no way Joan would allow her grandmother to be shut away in a home. No way.

Bleep-bleep. Another customer. This place was as busy as shift change at a factory today. Rosa had better get here before lunchtime. Assuming her practiced smile, Joan pushed thoughts of Mom and Gram from her mind and went to the front of the store, ready to sell more furniture. view abbreviated excerpt only...

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Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Dear Reader,

Sister (SIS-ter; noun): a special gift from God that you’re not allowed to get rid of.

I have two of the most awesome sisters in the world. And they’re absolutely loaded with funny quirks and habits, which I have freely used in creating the Sister-to-Sister Series. I’m allowed, because my sisters can’t sue me or I’ll sic Mom on them.

Sisters share everything—trials and triumphs, laughter and tears, even boyfriends on occasion. When we were teenagers my sister and I fought over a guy once (I won), and that incident fueled the feud between Joan and Tori in Stuck in the Middle. But in the end we learned, as the Sanderson sisters learn, that no matter what happens between you, nobody loves you like a sister.

To promote my new book, I’m giving away a $500 shopping spree! Visit my website to get the scoop on how you can win! www.VirginiaSmith.org

When you’ve read Stuck in the Middle, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of the Sanderson sisters. Email me at [email protected].

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  "stuck in middle"by chris h. (see profile) 05/15/12

Light reading for Christian audience. Joan is a twenty- five year old heroine who still lives at home with mom and grandma. She is bored with her job, struggling with inferiority compared to her sisters,... (read more)

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