People have always fascinated sociologist Perry Warren, yet his most personal relationships--with his wife and young son--are in shambles. Hoping distance will offer answers, Perry has come to South Carolina to start over. Though a researcher by vocation, he has never met the likes of the people here, nor could he have dreamed up the world he is about to enter.
Margaret Tuttle's story is one of love unsought. Long ago she took refuge in a predictable, regimented life, but something dark lurks behind her stern efficiency. When Birdie Freeman appears in the school lunchroom early one Monday morning, Margaret cannot imagine the changes that will soon commence in her well-ordered world.
Four women's lives intertwine as they find light in four different ways. Dottie makes her living as a hairdresser, but some days she doesn't want to live. Catherine feels that her life has been one long disappointment. Barb, disorganized and forgetful, wonders how she can ever accomplish anything worthwhile. And then there's Della Boyd--a lost soul in more ways than one.
Elizabeth’s story is like an untended garden, with weeds as bounteous as flowers and stone walkways buried beneath tangled vines. When betrayal strikes, Elizabeth retraces the path of her life and marriage, discovering forgotten memories along the way. Pruning the garden of her life requires a new and painful honesty but offers the promise of mercy.
Against her will, Celia Coleman has returned to the small town she had hoped never to see again. The memories of that long-ago home and church--and of her own behavior there--are not happy ones. Once done with the dreaded duty that brings her here, however, she intends to turn her back on this place for good. What she doesn't know is that the floodgates are about to open.
Plain and dutiful, Sophia Hess has lived a life no one would envy. Her professor husband has been dead for years, having left a cache of secret horror behind, and now Sophia’s nephew Patrick and his wife, Rachel, have taken her into their home. From a careful distance Sophia assesses their faith as she watches and listens.
Ben Buckley wants his private world to be as structured, well guarded, and compartmentalized as the business he owns and operates. An unsolved murder from twenty years earlier has cast a long shadow over his life, and the risks of trying to rebuild crumbled dreams are daunting. He must decide what to do about the mysteries within his own family--face them or flee.
Julia Rich, PhD in literature, has taught college courses for many years, guiding students into the wide world of words and ideas even as she herself retreats further from life. It takes a high school drop-out to show her the meaning of concepts like joy, faith, and hope. Together, the two of them take a road trip that leads far from home but back again, with minds enlightened and hearts expanded.
In a big-city deli, Alice, Gary, and Fawna find themselves thrown together during a brief, frightening lunchtime disruption. From there they part ways, carrying with them their separate burdens as well as the vivid memory of that single encounter. As their stories unfold, they all learn the value of friends, of risk-taking, of faith, and, ultimately, of the simple truth that it's never too late to change.