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Dearing Family Series

Book 2

The wedding for Ben Dearing and Christina Day is planned to be picture perfect, and the boisterous family has gathered for the big event.  What could possibly go wrong?

Christina’s estranged mother, that’s what. The alcoholic, abusive mother who wasn’t invited.

Two days before the ceremony Edna Day crashes the bridal shower and insists she’s staying in town for the ceremony. What’s Christina to do? After her abusive childhood, standing up to her parent calls for strength she’s not sure she possesses. Besides, if she tells her mother to leave, the woman could get madder than she already is—not to mention drunk—and shame the Dearing family in front of the whole town. 

Edna wastes no time making enemies. Highly opinionated Jess Dearing is set on running her out of Justus. Ben wants her gone, too. Even Lady Penelope, the Dearings’ uppity Yorkie, will have nothing to do with her. Meanwhile Mama Ruth is trying to keep the peace. And feed everybody.

Blending pathos and humor, Pitchin’ a Fit portrays the constantly shifting emotions between an abusive parent and grown child. How does a Christian forgive someone who doesn’t seem repentant? What is the balance between forgiveness and maintaining healthy emotional boundaries?

God is there to guide everyone through this mess of a weekend. But certain people may have plans of their own.

Chapter 1

Copyright 2014 by Brandilyn Collins

Getting married wasn’t supposed to be this complicated.

Twenty-three-year-old Christina Day pushed blonde hair out of her eyes and beamed a smile at the circle of women perched in the Dearings’ living room. They were all older than she. And Christina didn’t know anyone who’d come to her bridal shower except for her future mother-in-law, Ruth Dearing, and her three future sisters-in-law, Sarah, Maddy, and Jess, all in their thirties. Most of the other women attended New Life Church in Justus, Mississippi, where the Dearing family had worshipped for years. Christina had gone there only once. And that had been five months ago in July at the Dearing reunion, on the day the crazy family ended up posing for their annual picture on a row of old toilets—and Christina decided she could marry Ben after all.

Not that the first event directly led to the second.

Christina wanted to marry Ben more than anything. From the first day she met him at work in Dallas she’d been attracted to him. Ben was far from the stereotypical computer programmer nerd. His blue eyes could light up a room, and his friendly, boyish face and laidback attitude charmed everyone. Their wedding would be wonderful and simple, just the way Christina wanted it. The next two days would produce memories for a lifetime.

She just had to get through them first.

“You okay?” Ruth Dearing mouthed to Christina from across the room.

Oh, no. Christina gave her a big nod and smiled. Had some expression given her away? Mama Ruth was so compassionate. She’d gone to a lot of trouble to throw this bridal shower in her own home. Today was December fifth, yet she’d held off putting up a Christmas tree to make room for all the women. Still, she seemed so aware it may not be the easiest thing for Christina. Ruth Dearing deserved to see only happiness on the face of her almost daughter-in-law. Both Mama Ruth and her husband, Syton, had been nothing but kind to Christina. And she hadn’t always deserved it.

“Oh, look at that beautiful wrapping.” A large woman seated on the sofa pointed to the purple and gold covered gift Christina held. The woman had introduced herself rather importantly as the police chief’s wife. Dana … Something. “Did you do that yourself, Patricia?”

“Sure did.” Miss Patricia smiled at Christina, showing dentured teeth. She had to be at least in her 70s. Her face was heavily powdered, which only accentuated her wrinkles. But a light of love and acceptance shone in her eyes. Patricia Bigslow had proudly told Christina she served as the church pianist. “I think a pretty wrapping’s half the fun, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Christina said. “It is really pretty.”

She repressed a wince. Why did her responses have to sound so formal and lame? These women were going out of their way to welcome her into the Dearing family. They could have just brought their gifts to the wedding on Saturday, but they’d given up a Thursday night to honor her.

Christina slipped scissors beneath the gold ribbon and cut it. She handed the large bow to Maddy, on her left, who pulled the ribbon ends through a hole cut in the middle of a white paper plate, leaving the bow to crowd with all the others on top. Maddy had informed Christina this would serve as her “bouquet” at tomorrow night’s rehearsal. A tradition Christina had never heard of.

“Careful.” Miss Patricia leaned forward. “It’s breakable.”

“Okay.” Christina removed the box’s lid. Inside sat a blue and white serving bowl, one she and Ben had chosen for their gift registry. “Oh.” Gratitude welled within her. “Thank you so much. It’s a piece we really wanted.”

“You’re welcome.” Miss Patricia laid a hand against her cheek. “My own daughter chose a pattern a lot like that. Brings back memories of her wedding.”

The words pierced Christina. Mother and daughter—together at a wedding.

On cue, the well-worn memories rushed her. The beatings … the dark locked closet. Christina’s eyes burned. She dropped her gaze and steeled herself. Shoved the memories down.

Help me, Jesus.

Raising her head, Christina smiled as she waited for Sarah to note the gift and giver, then handed her the box. Soon all the ladies were admiring the bowl as they passed it around the circle.

Jess got up from her seat next to Maddy and chose another gift from the table to bring to Christina. She still had over a dozen to open.

 “You worn out yet?” Jess grinned down at her. Typical blunt Jessica. She’d been the hardest person in the Dearing family to get along with during the summer reunion. But she and Christina had worked on their relationship since then. Jess had forgiven Christina for the soapy-lobsters-in-the-sink fiasco. But whenever Sarah and Maddy teased her about it she still got all red in the face.

“How could I be worn out, opening all these wonderful presents?” Christina smiled up at Jess. Her lips were feeling more brittle by the minute.

Jess gave her a look that said I can see right through you, girl, and I know you’re miserable.

Christina glanced away. She wasn’t miserable. It was just … all these new people. And the constant chatter. So hard for someone who’d learned to draw inward out of self defense.

But she didn’t have to do that anymore.

Another present, and another. More bows through the plate and ripped paper on the floor. More smiles and laughter, and comments from the sweet Mississippi women about their own weddings, and their sons’ and daughters’.

So far not one person had asked about Christina’s own family—normally the polite Southern thing to do. No doubt they’d been warned by Ruth to stay away from the subject. Her father had died from a heart attack eighteen months ago—after years of heavy drinking. And how to explain why her own mother wasn’t invited to the wedding? Hadn’t even been told about it. Just the thought of her in-your-face alcoholic mother here with all these proper ladies made Christina shudder.

She opened the rest of her gifts, all from her registry list. Christina pictured herself moved into Ben’s apartment with all their new stuff. It would be so perfect.

“Phew.” Maddy stuck a hand in her long chestnut hair. “Looks like that’s it. The train has left the building.”

Jess and Sarah chortled.

Oh, boy. Another one of Maddy’s mixed metaphors. Her sisters wouldn’t let her get away with it.

Maddy frowned at Jess. “What are you cacklin’ at?”

 “The train’s left the building, Maddy?” Jess stuck out her chin. “Is that sorta like—Elvis has left the station?”

Titters went around the circle. Even Mama Ruth laughed. Maddy just huffed. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, you know what I mean.”

The three sisters exchanged looks. Christina’s heart twinged. To have sisters like that. So much history together. They could tease and argue and love all at the same time. Something Christina hadn’t understood at first.

“All right, everyone.” Ruth stood. “Thank you so much for your wonderful gifts. Now we have refreshments in the dinin’ room.”

Christina’s thoughts flashed to Penny, the Dearings’ Yorkie. The tiny dog had been closed off in the family room for some time now. Lady Penelope—her full name—was probably curled up in her fluffy yellow bed. By now she’d be totally ticked off, as only a Yorkie who considered herself royalty could be. In Penny’s mind, she owned the house, not the humans, and all too often they required her to put up with things completely beneath her.

If Christina got the chance, she’d slip into the family room and check on her.

Christina looked around the circle at all the women. “Thank you very much. You’ve been so kind to me, and I’m grateful.”

The woman next to Sarah beamed. “And we’re so glad to see you join the Dearing family.”

Everyone murmured agreement.

“Okay!” Jess tossed back her shoulder-length blonde hair. “Let’s eat, I’m starved.”

They gathered around Ruth’s dining room table for little sandwiches and cakes and punch, all made by Ruth with the help of Jess, Sarah, and Maddy. More love in action to welcome Christina into the family. The mere thought made her want to cry.

The women’s voices and punch cups swirled and tinkled. Again and again Christina smiled and repeated her thank-yous. How long before she could just be alone with Ben? He had a way of helping her chill out. But for now the Dearing men and sons-in-law had taken off to have supper in Jackson, Maddy’s daughter and Sarah’s two kids in tow.

“Christina’s a real beauty, isn’t she,” a woman with pink cheeks remarked to another. They stood by the front dining room window, dainty plates in their hands. What were their names again?

“She certainly is.” The second woman raised a bite of cake to her red lips. “Ben’s a lucky young man.”

Who do you think you are, Ugly Bug?” The sneering face of Christina’s father rose in her mind. “You’ll never amount to nothin’.”

Across the room Miss Patricia chattered a mile a minute with the pastor’s wife, Judy Crenshaw. Miss Judy would be leading the dress rehearsal on Friday. She was pretty—in her mid-forties maybe. Her hair was cut short and stylish, and tinged with reddish streaks. Christina made out Patricia’s words “hollered like a stuck pig.” The pastor’s wife laughed.

Mama Ruth, ever the hostess, was refilling the punch bowl. Sarah, Maddy, and Jess were scattered around the living room, talking with guests. For a moment Christina found herself standing alone.

She exhaled.

The police chief’s wife pattered over, carrying her plate. Oh, boy. Christina had heard from Mama Ruth that Miss Dana was a “feisty woman with the gift of gab.” She was almost as wide as she was tall. Her brown hair was Southern big, teased and in layered flips. Her long red nails were perfectly done, and her glitzy earrings, necklace, and bracelet all matched. “Poor thing, you feelin’ a little overwhelmed, bein’ out of your own stompin’ grounds?” Miss Dana’s voice was loud enough to carry across the room.

Christina’s lips curved. “Oh, no. Everyone has made me feel so at home.”

“Well, the Dearings are a wonderful family. Everyone in Justus loves ’em.”

“Me too.”

Awkward silence. Miss Dana studied Christina’s face. “Where are you and Ben goin’ on your honeymoon?”

“To Cabo San Lucas. It’s a real pretty resort.”

“Oh, my, sounds lovely. I suppose it’s warm in December.”

“Yes. In the seventies.”

Miss Dana nodded. “Well, my husband, Ronald Altweather—everyone calls him Buddy, he’s the police chief, you know—his brother went to Cabo once. Said it was so pretty he hardly wanted to come back home.”

Christina nodded.

Miss Dana took a sip of punch and set the cup back on her plate. “Mm. That’s good.”

“Yes. It’s wonderful.”

Miss Dana tilted her head up at Christina. “Sorry your mama couldn’t be with you tonight. I take it she’s comin’ to the weddin’?”

Christina’s head buzzed. In the dining room—sudden silence. Heads turned toward them, shaking in oh-no, bodies stilling. Patricia’s mouth stopped mid-chew. The women’s reactions were almost worse than Christina’s frozen throat. They had been warned, which meant they knew about her mother. Except for Dana Altweather, who apparently didn’t get the memo. Shame rattled up Christina’s spine. “Well, I—”

“Dana, how ’bout you helpin’ me in the kitchen for a minute.” Mama Ruth appeared out of nowhere and placed a gentle hand on the woman’s back.

Miss Dana frowned, clearly confused at the stir her question had caused. “All right.” She nodded to Christina and allowed herself to be ushered away.

Christina’s heart fluttered. So many eyes on her. See? She wasn’t good enough to be here with these people. Surely none of them came from the kind of background she did.

She wanted to melt through the floor.

Miss Judy stepped forward. “Say, Christina, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you show us your weddin’ dress?”

Relieved nods and fervent yesses all around. The women were in dire need for a change of subject.

Christina swallowed. “Now? Before the wedding?”

“Sure enough, honey chil’.” Miss Judy grinned. “I don’t see any men-folk around. So bring it on out, let us ooh and ahh. A little birdie told me it’s beautiful.” She winked at Jess.

Jess said that?

“That’s a great idea.” Sarah took Christina’s arm. “Let’s go get it.”

Christina wouldn’t say no to Sarah. Ben’s oldest sister had been a calming help to her at the July reunion.

The next thing she knew, she was being led down the east wing hallway toward the lovely red and gold guest room, where the wedding dress hung in the closet. Encased in a white plastic covering, it had filled an entire suitcase on their flight from Dallas.

As they passed the closed pocket door to the family room, Christina stopped. “I should check on Penny.”

Sarah twisted her mouth. “You know she’s gonna be mad.”

“I know. I thought I’d—“

“She takes one look at you, and she’ll give you the Lady Penelope treatment.”

Christina pictured the Yorkie stalking to the corner and sticking her little nose in it, her back to the room. Penny’s way of saying, I certainly will not interact with you after the despicable way I’ve been treated.

“And then,”—Sarah tilted her head—“when you leave her again she’ll be doubly mad.”

Christina sighed. Why couldn’t people—and dogs—just be easy? “Okay.” She tried to smile, but it came out crooked.

Sarah peered at her. “You all right?”

Of course she was all right. This was her wedding shower. So what if someone had mentioned her mother—and the entire room stood still. “Yeah.”

Sarah patted her arm. “Don’t worry about it. Dana will feel terrible when she hears.”

That was just it. The mere mention of her mother made people feel terrible. Tears brimmed in Christina’s eyes.

“Oh no, don’t cry. I’m so sorry.” Sarah pulled her into a hug. “I can’t imagine how hard it is for you. Now, of all times.” She stepped back and laid her hands on Christina’s cheeks. “Just know you’ve got a mother now in my mama. She already loves you like a daughter.”

“I know.”

Still, Mama Ruth wasn’t her real mother. Her real mother had stood by and watched while Christina’s father beat her. Had done nothing when he threw her into a closet or treated her like a slave. Now in her early fifties and a widow, Edna Day dressed in revealing clothes and chased any man with two legs. The woman still cared for absolutely no one but herself.

Christina took a deep breath and blinked away the tears. “I’m sorry.”

Sarah shook her head. “Nothin’ to be sorry for.” She shot Christina an impish grin. “Come on now. Let’s show those women what a stunnin’ dress you’ve got.”


It was stunning, even though Christina had bought it at a bargain price. A few minutes later in the living room, surrounded by all the women, Christina unzipped the plastic bag with Sarah’s help and pulled out the dress.

“Ohhh!” The women’s mouths rounded. “It’s wonderful!”

“So different!”

“Look at those curlicue decorations.”

“My goodness, I’ve never seen such an elegant gown.”

“Honey, Ben’s just gonna die.” Miss Judy held up both palms.

The dress was strapless and fitted at the waist, with a full skirt made of white panels that parted to show white and black swirling designs underneath. Matching designs adorned the bodice. It was princessy and Southern and modern all at once. Christina had never seen a dress like it. She would carry a bouquet of red roses to add vivid color—and in honor of the Christmas season.

“I can’t wait to see her in it.” Mama Ruth’s face beamed. “Just seein’ it on the hanger is breathtakin’.”

Sudden headlights appeared on the street. Christina peered through the front windows and saw a car pulling half into the already full driveway.

“Oh!” She grabbed for the dress’s hanging bag. “Ben and the men are back. They’ll have to come through the front door.”

Mama Ruth frowned. “What’re they doin’ here so soon?” She and Sarah started to put the dress back into its container.

“Wait.” Sarah bent down. “One of the panels is gettin’ crushed.”

Christina knew the skirt was too big to fit in the bag easily. “Take it out and start again.” She glanced through the window. A figure was heading toward the porch. “Hurry!”

“I’ll head them off at the pass.” Mama Ruth turned toward the entryway. “They’ll just have to wait on the cold porch till we’re done—that’s what they get for comin’ back so soon.”

The women gathered in front of Christina and the dress. “Don’t worry,” someone said. “Those men aren’t gonna see through us, even if they do get in.”

Miss Dana laughed. “They won’t see through me, that’s for sure.”

The dress lay in the bag for the second time. Christina carefully pushed in the skirt, then reached to bring the sides of the bag over it. She heard Mama Ruth throw open the front door and declare, “Hold it right—”

“Well, looky there!” The raucous voice of a years-long female smoker called from the porch.

Christina froze.

“I didn’t even have to ring the doorbell!” The woman emitted a hard laugh—one Christina knew all too well.

The tingling started in her hands. Scurried up her arms and down her body. Christina turned toward the door. Over two dozen pairs of eyes caught her horrified expression and followed her gaze.

“Oh.” Mama Ruth sounded flustered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“I know you weren’t expectin’ me. None of y’all was.” Accusation coated the words.

Christina couldn’t breathe.

“I think you got a girl here named Christina Day. Gettin’ married on Saturday? Well, I’m her mama. The one she ‘forgot’ to invite.”