very last place she thinks to look.
Author Julie N. Ford A graduate from San Diego State University with a BA in Political Science, Julie N. Ford also earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama, which has only made her better able to recognize the unhealthy, codependent relationship she has with writing. Professionally, she has worked in teaching and as a marriage and family counselor. She is the author of six women’s fiction novels, including Count Down to Love, a 2011 Whitney Award finalist. When she’s not writing, she entertains delusions of being a master gardener, that is, when she’s not killing the unsuspecting plants in her yard with her good intentions. She lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two daughters, and the cutest Scottish fold cat you’ve ever seen. She loves to chat with readers.
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“All right, I think we’ve given Finley enough food for thought on her first day.” Careen waved her arms in a settle-down motion. “As I explained earlier, each week we focus on one step, and then at the following meeting report on the progress we’ve made toward completing that step,” she explained. “So for the benefit of our newest member, how ’bout we recite the ‘Five Steps to a New Beginning’ before moving on.” She pointed to a rolling chalkboard. “All together now.”
“Number one: Subjugate fear,” she started, and the rest of the group joined in. “Take chances. Learn from and consent to the unexpected.”
“Number two: Defy the rules, embrace the guidelines. Rules emphasize the result. Guidelines focus on the journey.
“Number three: Smash the box. Look outside your comfort zone for the best answers and the greatest opportunity for growth.
“Number four: Brimful heart. If one’s heart is hollow, one’s actions are hollow.
“Number five: Letitgo. Leave the past, live the future.”
Following along with the words scrawled onto the powder-smeared chalkboard, Finley felt a cool sweat breaking out on her forehead. Only five goals, but each one felt like one gaping pit of quicksand after another.
Take chances and defy rules? Smash the box? Letitgo? What did any of that even mean? Brimful heart. Finley pressed the heel of her palm to the center of her chest and felt nothing, nothing but an empty hole where her heart should be. Just because she hadn’t been particularly sad to see Roy pack his things and go, didn’t mean his absence hadn’t left a gap in her life. His leaving had been like pulling a random peg from a Jenga tower, only to find that it was the last piece still holding the structure together.
Careen said, “I know these goals can seem overwhelming at first, but taking the first step is the hardest part.”
“Amen to that,” Burlie-Jean agreed.
“Though some of us are further along than others, we’re all on the same path,” Careen went on. “Everyone progresses at his or her own pace. One step at a time, one week at a time until we find our new normal,” she said, then zeroed in on Finley. “So start with number one, only number one . . .”
Finley watched Careen’s lips spill words of hope and encouragement. If only she could bathe in the completeness each syllable offered until the possibility adhered to her skin, remolding her, body and soul, into the kind of woman who knew what it meant to be happy, one who refused to settle for anything less—
“Finley?” Careen said, causing Finley to start. “This coming week, your first task is to identify a fear and then make an attempt to overcome that fear. Do you think you can do that?”
Having already put too much of herself on display for these strangers’ entertainment, what Finley really wanted to do was leave and never set foot inside this circle again. “I’ll surely give it a try,” she promised, though, obviously, she had no intention of doing any such thing.
“Good.” Careen appeared cautiously optimistic. “Okay, who wants to share next?”