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Imperfect Saints




She felt as if she were drowning, sinking toward the bottom of some frigid pond, her pain the leaden weight dragging her down. She didn’t have the strength to swim toward the surface, to break free from her misery. What she wanted was to hit bottom. Because then, maybe the pain would stop.

Only four days earlier, Harper Mitchell thought she had it all: newly engaged to the love of her life, their passionate romance coming as something of a shock to someone who’d been completely focused, laser-like, on her career. As the successful CEO of a growing construction firm, Harper had proved that a woman could run a company just as well as a man, even in an industry fueled by testosterone. And at only 34, Harper had achieved all the trappings of what many considered to be success: a fat bank account. A fancy car. A beautiful and immaculate home in a great neighborhood. Not that any of it mattered, or ever had. She was alone now, stale sheets twisted around her, her bed a kind of life raft. But during the days she’d drifted there, Harper had decided she didn’t want to be rescued. There was no planning her way out of this. And for once in her life, she didn’t even want to try.

Harper shuffled to the bathroom, tripping over empty wine bottles as she went. Returning, she stumbled again, but this time, it was an old hatbox that got in her way. She’d thrown it against the wall when she’d retreated to her bedroom days before, its antique contents now strewn across the carpet. 

If only she’d never discovered it months ago, helping her mother pack up the family farmhouse. If only she’d ignored her cursed curiosity, never lifted the lid that day, never sifted through the musty mementos collected by her great-grandmother over the course of a long-ago lifetime. If only she’d listened to her mother’s repeated warnings to toss that damn hatbox in the trash and leave the past behind where it belonged. Harper climbed back into bed and returned her throbbing head to a damp pillow.

If only.  


 The Hatbox

Harper emerged from the cellar of the old farmhouse where she’d grown up, her long, dark ponytail powdered with dust, her arms wrapped around a faded, green hatbox. “That’s it. Nothing left down there. Except for this.”

Her mother Rose turned to look and gasped, one hand fanning the air behind her as she searched for a kitchen chair. Finding one, she collapsed hard on the padded seat. 

“Mother! Are you all right?” But before Harper could take two steps across the worn linoleum, Rose waved her off.

“I’m fine.”

Her mother had always detested any show of weakness, especially her own. Still, they’d been at it since dawn. “Are you sure?” Harper offered. “Maybe we should take a break?”

“I said I’m fine.” Rose’s pale blue eyes narrowed as she frowned at her daughter. After a moment, she redirected her glare to the dusty hatbox. “Wherever did you find that?” she asked, her voice an octave higher than usual.

“It was on the top shelf of the root cellar, behind a couple of bushel baskets. And it has your name on it.” Harper shifted the box to her hip and pointed to “Jaworski,” her mother’s maiden name, hand-lettered on the top of the battered box. “But what does Rodzina mean?”

Rose craned her neck to look where Harper pointed, then drew back as if the box were a rattlesnake ready to strike. “Rodzina is Polish for ‘family.’ ” 

“Huh. ‘Jaworski Family.’ ” Harper swiped the back of a hand across her sweaty forehead. For the love of God, please let it be anything but more books. Her mother, a retired librarian, was having considerable trouble sorting through and parting with her precious literary stash.

Rose took a deep breath. “Anyway, it isn’t mine. It’s your great-grandmother’s.” Seemingly revived, she pushed herself away from the table and retreated into the dining room. 

Harper followed. “This is Busha’s?” She set her find on the dining room table. “What’s in it?”

“Worthless keepsakes from what I recall.” Hands on hips, Rose confronted an antique pie safe standing against the wall. It was filled with more books.

“How’d it end up here?” 

An irritated sigh escaped Rose’s thin lips. “Your Grandmother Maggie kept it after Busha died, and then she gave it to me when she began traveling. Probably doesn’t even recall that I have it. It’s nothing special.” Her tone rose another notch. “Just throw it out.”

Harper brushed away a cobweb from the top of the box. She hesitated, fingering the cracked tape sealing the lid. But before she could peel it away, Rose called out.

 “Oh, Harper, look! Here’s that book on landscaping I bought the year after you were born, when I put in the flower garden out back. Do you think this is something Sal would like to have?” Rose waved a tattered book above her gray head, the book’s faded cover so dirty and worn, Harper wondered if her mother had dug it up from her garden. But at the mention of Sal, the man Harper had been seeing for the past few months, she couldn’t help but smile. Harper flicked away her ponytail to rub the back of her neck. 

“That’s nice of you, Mother.” She pressed an ear to one shoulder and then the other. “But I’m guessing landscape design has come a long way since 1984. And Sal’s firm has a full reference library. But if you want him to have it—”

“I do. I’ll put it with your things so you won’t forget it when we leave.” 

As usual, her mother’s mind was made up and nothing could change it. Same with the move. Since Harper’s beloved dad’s unexpected death two years earlier, it had become increasingly clear that the century-old farmhouse in Superior, Wisconsin, a small town located at the top of the mitten-shaped state, had become too much for her elderly mother to handle alone. Only, whenever Harper had suggested putting it up for sale, her mother refused to discuss it. Rose was “just fine, thank you,” alone in the place she’d called home for the past fifty years. Undaunted, Harper had arranged meetings with local real estate agents, every one of which Rose cancelled at the last minute, citing unforeseen “emergencies.” Like a hair appointment. 

The crowbar that finally pried her mother loose came courtesy of a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announcing plans for a new county road designed to barrel straight through the Mitchell dining room. Backed into a nearly literal corner, Rose agreed to sell and move four hundred miles south, reluctantly returning to Milwaukee, the city where she had grown up and Harper now lived. But at the rate they were going, they’d never be ready for the moving van tomorrow, according to the “To-Do List” Harper had taped to the decades-old fridge when she’d arrived two days ago. At least her mother had read Moving Made Easy, the book Harper had sent weeks earlier, judging by the dozens of neatly labeled and empty boxes Rose had lined up in each room. And at least the old farmhouse had been scrubbed from top to bottom by the time Harper had shown up, although she couldn’t imagine the always-sparkling abode needed much. What she hadn’t anticipated was Rose’s uncharacteristic indecision over her abundant collection of books. At least Moving Made Easy was one book Rose would never need again.

Harper checked her watch, curiosity overcoming her irritation. Besides, she could use a quick break. Returning to the hatbox, she yanked away the tape and lifted the lid. A pressed rose lay on top, the scent and color of which—a bluish pink, or lavender, maybe? —had long since faded away. The flower was nestled on top of a small, hand-knit, pink baby blanket. It was folded around what appeared to be a frayed, leather-bound Polish prayer book. Złoty Klucz do Nieba Ksiazka do Nabozenstwa, it said on the cover.

Sifting through the mementos like an archeologist on a dig, Harper was surprised to find her long-buried interest in her heritage resurfacing. She pulled out a long, emerald green, satin-covered box and carefully snapped it open. Rosary beads, shiny smooth and pinky-peach. Coral, maybe? A small white ring box followed. Inside, a two-inch long curl of blond hair was tied with a black ribbon, the fine strands resting on the tiny, white satin pillow. A simple wooden crucifix came next, neatly wrapped in layers of thin tissue. Gently setting it aside, Harper reached in and came up with several documents, each brittle and yellowed with age. She carefully unfolded the delicate papers: a naturalization certificate for Ignatius Jaworski, her great-grandfather, who arrived in New York from Poland in April of 1912; and a marriage certificate issued in Detroit in 1913, uniting Ignatius with Antonina Aleksandrowicz, Harper’s great-grandmother, or “Busha,” as the family matriarch had been called for as long as Harper could remember.

She unfolded another scrap of paper—a handwritten recipe, in Polish, for czarnina. Wasn’t that some kind of soup? As Harper gently refolded it, she noticed another jaundiced scrap of paper crammed in between the hodge podge of relics. She carefully unfolded it: “Original Certificate of Death,” it read at the top. 

Harper pulled out a chair and sat down. “Mother, who was ‘Anna’ Jaworski?” Shifting in her seat, she was startled to find her mother standing behind her, peering over her shoulder, eyes darting back and forth over the papers and heirlooms lined up on the table. Rose was usually a model of composure. Why did she look as if each trinket were wired to explode? 

Rose hesitated before reaching for the ancient document: “Let me see that.” She held it up by one corner and frowned, squinting at it. “I’ve never heard of her. Anyway, whoever it was is long gone. And I have enough work to do going through my own things. We certainly don’t have time to sort through my grandmother’s rubbish.”

Rose dropped the certificate back into the box, but before her mother could escape again, Harper reached in and pulled out another keepsake: an identification card encased in hardened and yellowed plastic. The solemn face on it stared back at her. “Mother, wait—is your grandfather?”

Ignatius Jaworski, Laborer was listed under a fuzzy photograph of a man standing in front of a chart measuring his height at six feet, one inch. There was an employee number too, but no age. Harper guessed he was his early thirties. She passed the card to her mother. “He has a nice face. I like him.”

Rose’s eyes softened. “Everyone liked Pa.” She cradled the card. “That’s what most everyone called him—Pa. Such a gentle soul. The exact opposite of Busha.” 

“Tell me more about them.” 

Rose pressed her lips together before thrusting the card back at Harper. “Didn’t you hear me? I said we don’t have time for nostalgic nonsense.”

The two women eyeballed each other, the silence in the room growing as they played their own game of chicken. Harper drummed her fingertips on the old oak tabletop, her unblinking eyes locked on her mother’s. Usually, Harper lost the challenge. But right then it was her mother who caved.

“Oh, all right,” Rose snapped. “There isn’t much to tell. As I said, Pa was kind and gentle. And Busha—well, for one thing, she was quite strict. Simply hated laziness. And she wasn’t a very happy person.” She shrugged her slight shoulders. “To be fair, it wasn’t easy for her, a young girl coming over from Poland all alone. Good thing she met Pa on the boat. Anyway, she had quite a bit on her plate, so that probably had something to do with her sour disposition.”

“What’d she have on her ‘plate’?” 

Rose sighed, exasperation deepening the frown lines framing her mouth. “Busha owned three businesses. A tavern, a grocery store and a tailor shop. I’m sure I’ve told you that.” She glared at Harper before returning to her books, putting an end to their short trip down memory lane. 

Nope. She hadn’t shared anything of the sort, her mother’s locked lips a continuation of a lifelong practice. But wow—three businesses? As the CEO of a growing construction company, it took everything Harper had to manage one. Which reminded her. She slipped her phone out of her back pocket. Seventeen emails, six text messages, one missed call and it wasn’t even noon. Between moving her mother and work at the office piling up, it was no wonder her neck muscles felt ready to snap. With a heavy sigh, she clicked off her phone. A faded, black-and-white photograph poking up from the hatbox caught her eye. She reached for it.

In the photo, a short, old woman who appeared quite formidable—like a small refrigerator with thick limbs—stood on the front porch of a large brick house. A baby wrapped in a blanket was cradled in her beefy arms. It was impossible to tell that the baby’s eyes—Harper’s eyes—were on their way to becoming a golden color, the unusual hue prompting her dad to come up with her sweet nickname: “Honeypie Eyes.” Or that the wisps of hair sticking out from under her tiny, white lace bonnet were a shiny blue-black. Harper looked closer. Locked in the older woman’s burly embrace, Baby Harper appeared ready to burst into tears. And no wonder. Busha’s piercing glare, the stern frown on her wrinkled face, her hair pulled back and stretched tight over her temples, her sharp cheekbones looking as if they’d been carved from a block of ice—made her seem a far cry from some doting great-grandmother. But as Harper studied the ancient photo, she thought she could see a beautiful strength hiding behind the severe expression on Busha’s timeworn face. Or perhaps that was what Harper wanted to see, given that she was supposed to be the youthful spitting image of her great-grandmother. Busha’s last surviving offspring, Harper’s Gramma Maggie, had once said that Harper and Busha shared the same hair color, or at least the color it had been when Busha was young. Harper glanced at her reflection in the old oval mirror hanging on the dining room wall. Those same high cheekbones and long, straight nose, the same hairline and full lips. Yep. Even she could see the resemblance.

Harper hesitated, remembering Rose’s heated reaction the last time she’d asked about the photo. Still, that had been nearly thirty years ago. The shelf-life on her mother’s anger must have expired by now. 

“This picture—I’ve seen it before. That’s me with Busha, right?”

Rose reluctantly left her books to pluck the photo from Harper’s outstretched hand. “Oh, for goodness sake,” she grumbled. “I took this picture the first time, well really, the only time Busha met you. Only valuable thing in that box.” She tucked the photo into the pocket of her old, flowered housecoat and returned to her books. 

What had it been like to be a woman at the turn of the last century and an immigrant, starting not just one, but three businesses? Harper began to ask but Rose had disappeared back into the old cabinet, taking her attention along with her. Just as well. Abandoning the house Rose had called home for the past fifty years had to be difficult, even if she refused to admit it. 

It was long-past time to get back to work but Harper’s curiosity continued to get the better of her. She rooted slowly through the box, the scraps of memories having some sort of hold over her, their musty odor hinting at something she couldn’t put her finger on. 

“Honestly Harper, the Tupperware left in the kitchen isn’t going to pack itself. Let’s get moving!” Rose’s voice jarred her back to the present. “Enough with that! Please put it out with the rest of the trash as I asked.”

As Harper cast a final look into the box, she noticed a bit of fabric near the bottom. It was a man’s old-fashioned handkerchief, like the one her dad had always carried in his back pocket. Folded into a neat square, the cotton fabric had sallowed and become stiff with age. She turned it over and saw the embroidered letters, “A. L.,” sewn into one corner. Tracing the neat stitches with her finger, she admired how each raised letter was exactly the same size.

“Mother, who was A.L.?”  

“Al? I don’t know anyone named Al. Didn’t you date an Al when you were in college?” 

“No, I mean the initials, A. and L.”

“Haven’t a clue. And Harper, I told you that box was all rubbish. I asked you to throw out it and I meant it! Please, do it this instant—or do you want to be at this for another two days?” Rose flung a book into a box labeled “Goodwill,” her face flushed and nostrils flared. 

Harper had no clue why a box of “rubbish” was making her mother so flustered, but at least she was picking up the pace. Harper brought the handkerchief to her nose but all she could smell was dust. Sneezing into the crook of her elbow, she tossed the handkerchief back into the hatbox. Who was A.L.? She needed a tissue. Returning from the bathroom, she gathered up the scattered mementos, placed them back in the box and replaced the lid. 

Outside, Harper set down the hatbox next to dozens of other boxes and bags filled with the refuse of a lifetime, all of it bound for the town dump. For a long moment, she stared at the hatbox, imagined it moldering away, her meager genealogical history surrounded by rotting banana peels and old tires. Making certain her mother was nowhere in sight, she picked it up, walked it over to her car and slipped it into the trunk. Recalling one of her favorite Greek myths from childhood, she thought: I’ve become a modern-day Pandora. Although the keepsakes in Busha’s hatbox were certainly harmless—right? 

“You’re being silly,” Harper mumbled as she closed the hatch. Still, the box had rekindled some long-dormant curiosity she apparently still had about her family history, and her mother’s odd reaction had only fanned the flames. Maybe Gramma Maggie could explain Rose’s uncharacteristic behavior, or offer a glimpse into their shared family history. Although, based on what little past experience Harper had had with her gramma, it was likely Maggie was still just like her daughter Rose—a human version of a locked bank vault when it came to sharing family lore. Even so, Maggie was the only one who might be able to shed some light on the topic. Besides—a visit to her gramma was long overdue.



Three days later, a sunny Saturday, Harper shielded her eyes from the glare of the late afternoon light to better study Sal Antonucci as he worked in her yard, tamping down a loose end of sod that formed her new lawn. Sal and his landscape crew had been hard at work while she’d been helping her mother move, beautifying the yard surrounding the midcentury-modern house she’d purchased five years ago after a yearlong search. No drafty old farmhouse for her. At last, thanks to Sal, the outside of her home looked as impeccable as the inside. 

Harper had met him on a job site. Right away, it was clear that Sal was different than the buttoned up, silk tie-wearing corporate types she’d occasionally found the time to date, guys in fancy suits and expensive, Italian leather shoes who spent seventy-five bucks for a haircut every three weeks. When they met, Sal was wearing faded jeans and a company t-shirt that showed off his lean and muscular build. With his dark good looks and wavy hair blowing in the afternoon breeze, he looked as if he’d just walked off the cover of a romance novel. He’d been strolling across an empty field soon to sprout a new office complex that her company, Cardinal Construction, had been hired to build, his stride long and confident as he surveyed the land. Seeing Harper, his tanned face lit up as if he’d just won the lottery. 

“Well, hello,” he’d said as he reached her, extending a large and well-manicured hand that looked as if it belonged to a concert pianist rather than to someone more familiar with shovels and manure. His soft brown eyes never left hers as Harper introduced herself. She remembered thinking, if the sound a cello made were a color, it would be the color of his eyes. The instant physical connection between them had been palpable—and still was. But that first day, she tried to ignore the spark, reasoning that she was too busy for a serious relationship. If she’d been honest, it was really a fear of the flame that might ignite that caused her to decline his offer to grab a cup of coffee. 

The next day, tulips appeared on her desk. A few days later, he’d shown up at her office after hours, a bottle of red wine in one hand and a pan of lasagna he’d made in the other. “You gotta eat sometime!” he’d said, imitating his Italian grandmother. The following week, working late as usual, strains of cello music (how had he known it was her favorite instrument?) rose and fell outside her office door. Opening it, she was surprised to see a smiling Sal standing next to a seated cellist. As the cellist began strumming the strings, Sal closed his eyes and began to sway side-to-side. Sal made her laugh, made her forget about the mounds of construction documents and project reports piled up on her desk. Best of all, I it seemed as if there wasn’t anything she had to do or to be to earn his interest and growing devotion. Except to be herself.

Finally, she agreed to go out with him. In the months since, the flame she had at first feared had turned into a raging bonfire. And while its heat further complicated her busy life, she hadn’t yet even considered looking for a fire extinguisher.

Watching him now in her yard, Sal took a clipper from his back pocket and snipped a faded bloom from one of the rose bushes he’d transplanted earlier in the spring. Harper recalled he hadn’t been impressed with the thorny flowers during his first tour of her yard. “They’re nice,” he’d said after a closer look, “but if you’re into roses, there are some easy-care varieties I could recommend.”

His practical suggestion had appealed to her. But she had to keep them. The previous owner had told Harper her husband planted them when they built the house in 1957.

“They remind me of my husband, so I’d love to take them with me,” the old woman said when Harper picked up the keys. “But you’re such a nice young woman, I know you’ll take care of them for me.”

Convincing Sal to work the old shrubs into the new landscape was easy once she shared that conversation with him. In fact, Sal took it upon himself to prune and pamper them all spring and summer, including another rosebush near the front walk. And there they were, in a feeble final bloom, thanks to some unusually warm fall weather. They fit in with the rest of Sal’s contemporary landscape design like a necklace of antique pearls adorning the neck of a woman wearing a sleek and modern black dress.

            As Sal moved about her new yard, she thought of a dancer becoming the dance, a singer becoming the song. Like them, Sal was completely enmeshed in doing what he loved most. And for him, that was creating beauty for someone he cared about. The same thing happened when Sal cooked for her, the world around him seeming to fall away as he studied a recipe or stirred a pot, humming a tune under his breath, a smile permanently affixed to his handsome face as he added another herb or spice before offering his latest culinary gift to her. 

“Hey beautiful.” Finished with the roses, Sal joined her on the new bluestone patio. He draped his arm around her shoulders. “What do you think? 

Harper hesitated a split second, then turned to him and threw her arms around his neck. Before Sal, public displays of affection meant holding a date’s hand. With Sal, it was so much easier. She stroked the back of his head and breathed in his scent. He smelled like the bedsheets her mother used to hang on the backyard clothesline to dry—fresh and clean, like a summer day, but without the humidity. Warm and earthy, like a hike in the woods, but without the bugs. Sal smelled like who he was: Charmingly down-to-earth, uncomplicated and, for a guy, mostly annoyance-free.

“I take it that means you really like it.” He pulled her even closer. “The crew did a great job, but I’m glad I had some time today to tweak a few things.” Sal’s face beamed like a kid who had just won his first blue ribbon at the county fair. “It will take a few more weeks for the sod to get established. Less if this warm weather holds.” He gently nudged her ponytail to one side to kiss her neck, his lips like velvet. Harper closed her eyes as their warmth traveled a familiar path to the base of her spine. As Sal’s lips glided over her skin, his murmured voice pulled her back to the present. 

“Hey, how’d the move go? I really wish you would’ve let me help you. The guys had most everything covered here.”

She sighed. “It was fine. Mother handled it all pretty well, although it took her forever to sort through her books. But there was this old hatbox I found, filled with my great-grandmother’s stuff. When I showed it to her, she got all weird.”

“How so?”

“Acted like the box was radioactive. Insisted I throw it out with the trash.”

 Sal left her side and walked over to the patio, where he picked up a discarded pair of garden gloves. “Did you look through it before you tossed it?”

“Some. And I didn’t throw it out. I kept it. It’s in my trunk.”

He arched one eyebrow. “Why, if it was mostly junk? Doesn’t fit with the neat freak I know.”

“I dunno. My mother deemed it all ‘rubbish.’ But … there was this photo.”

Harper paused, recalling the black and white photo of Baby Harper in the arms of her great-grandmother. She plopped down on the lush green lawn. Sal joined her.

“Tell me about it.” He cradled her hand in his.

 Harper remembered that it had been raining on the day she’d first discovered it, the potent combination of boredom and curiosity propelling her to explore the forbidden drawer of her mother’s bedside table. “I mean, it isn’t a big deal, but it’s the only photo I’ve ever seen of me with my great-grandmother, Busha. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid. Back then, when I first asked Mother about it, she got really strange. Acted the same way when I found the hatbox.

“What do you mean by ‘strange?’ ” Sal slid closer to her.

“Well, remember the one time you met her? How’d you describe her to me, later?”

A slight grin crossed his face. “I said she seemed kinda buttoned up.”

“Yeah. Well, you’re too nice to say what you were really thinking: that she’s kind of a tight ass. Right?”

“Well, I …” Sal’s face turned pink under his tan.

“It’s okay. Rose Mitchell would never be described as relaxed. By anyone. For as long as I can remember, she’s been kind of like a Midwestern Margaret Thatcher: Always in control, especially of her emotions. Very precise and driven. And she’s always been very private. Like, no matter how many times I asked about her family when I was a kid, she’d never answer any of my questions. The subject was always off limits.”

“Really?” Sal knew everything there was to know about his family, going back generations.

“Yep. So when I showed her the hatbox, she kind of lost it, same as when I first found the photo. That day, I was snooping around in my mother’s bedside table, and I was so excited to finally see an actual family picture that I didn’t realize she’d come up behind me. Demanded to know what I was doing. So I asked her: “Mother, is this a picture of me when I was a baby? And who’s this lady?” 

Harper paused, the image of Rose’s arms tightly crossed over her bony chest a vivid memory. “She said, ‘That’s Busha. Your great-grandmother. Please, put it back.’” Thinking of it now, Harper recalled that her mother’s typically steady voice had been shaky that day. But the younger Harper hadn’t noticed, and prattled on. 

“I started asking her rapid-fire questions, like, ‘How come you never showed this to me? I thought you said Busha died before I was born. And where are we? Is this her house? Why don’t you ever talk about her?’ Before I could take a breath, she yelled ‘Enough!’ And then she snatched the photo and tossed it back into the drawer. Slammed it shut, reminded me of her many warnings not to go through her things. Said she told me everything I needed to know and to stop asking questions. I remember trying to say something more, but she just shouted: ‘I said, enough!’ Understand, my mother had never so much as spanked me, but right then, I felt like I’d been slapped across the face.”

Sal squeezed her hand. “Oh bella, I’m sorry. That must have been awful.”

“Yeah. To see my mother, who never, ever lost it … well, like I said. It was strange.”

 “So, what’d you do?”

“Well, I went looking for my dad, of course. Found him hunched over his basement workbench. I threw myself into his arms, burst into tears and told him everything. He patted my back, said something like, “Shush now, Honeypie Eyes. It’ll be okay.”

“I just love that nickname. Really suits you.”

Harper smiled. “I remember asking him why she got so mad and why she’d never answer my questions.”

“What’d he say?”

“That questions were good, but then he gave me his standard response: ‘You know your mother doesn’t like to talk about the past.’ He said she didn’t mean to upset me, that she loved me ‘to the moon and back.’ Then he knelt down, looked me in the eye and made me promise to be a good girl and not upset her by asking those kinds of questions ever again. Of course, I gave him my word. Not that it mattered. She’d never tell me anything anyway. I mean, I always assumed she never talked about her family because there wasn’t much to tell. But that hatbox—or maybe the way she reacted to it—got me thinking. It was odd, but during the drive home after the move, I couldn’t get dead relatives out of my head.”

“Haunted by dead relatives? Maybe you should’ve thrown out that box like she asked.”

“Easy for you to say. You know everything there is to know about your family. know next to nothing about mine. Like, did I ever tell you I don’t know who my grandfather—my mother’s biological father—is? Or was, since he’s probably dead by now. I’d love to know.”

Sal shifted on the grass. “Why? I mean, it won’t change who you are, or anything about you.” Sal kissed the top of her head before rising to his feet. Grabbing a broom, he began sweeping some errant leaves off the new patio. 

“But Sal, since you know so much about your family, aren’t you even a little curious about mine?”

He stopped sweeping. “To me, what’s past is past. Why upset your mom over some old stuff she clearly has no interest in?” He reached for the phone in his pocket, then scanned the screen. “Shoot. Sorry darlin’, but I was supposed to be on a jobsite twenty minutes ago.”

“But Sal, it’s Saturday, and—”

He grinned. “Funny coming from someone who ran six miles at dawn and then spent the rest of the morning on her computer.”

 If he only knew why. Her company financials weren’t adding up. She’d briefly toyed with showing him last quarter’s results to get his take, but decided not to. He had his own business to run, and besides, she’d figure it out herself. Sal’s voice interrupted her troubled thoughts.

“Listen, I’ll head over to my parent’s house after I finish at the jobsite—my Uncle Francesco is in town, remember?”

Barely, but she nodded anyway.

“And my offer still stands—if you catch up on your weekend paperwork, you’ll join us, right?”

Harper nodded again.

“Oh, and—we’re celebrating Mamma’s birthday next Friday at my sister’s. Seven o’clock.” A soft kiss on her cheek and off he went.

Harper had Sal’s mother, Maria Antonucci, only a few weeks after she and Sal began dating. Maria was very loud, very plump, and very willing to share her opinions, from the “right” way to cook lasagna to the “right” way for her five kids to raise her ten grandchildren. From the start, it was obvious to Harper that Sal, Maria’s oldest, had a special place in her heart. And from early on, Harper suspected the fact that Sal was nearly forty and still single had a lot to do with his mother. Her first clue came during their initial meeting. After he introduced them, Maria gave her a tight hug, then took Harper’s face in her hands, kissed her full on the lips and said, “You break my Sally’s heart and I give you one of these.” Maria waved a fist in Harper’s face, the smile never leaving her own. Sal couldn’t stop laughing. Harper still had nightmares.

She sighed, then pushed herself to her feet. Maybe Sal was right. What’s past is past. How would knowing more about her dead relatives impact her future? But as she crossed the pristine patio, she wondered: why then, couldn’t she stop thinking about them? 

So begins the first three chapters of Imperfect Saints. Would you want to read more? Please leave me a comment below and tell me what you think!


  1. I’m so excited to return to the Jaworski family and uncover all their secrets. Reads great!

    • Happy to have you back. It’s a bit different since the last time you read it!

  2. Congratulations my dear friend on the launch of this site! Your “osophy” has brought me from my own tears to our tears of laughter most of my life. It’s wonderful you will be sharing it with the world!

    Interesting new start to Imperfect Saints…

    • Thanks Dawn! Since you know how it ends, you’ll have to let me know if you approve of the new way it now begins!

  3. I loved it Jill. Even though I read one version of the book years ago, I want to keep reading the next chapter! It’s a great beginning and it makes the reader want to know about her mysterious past and how things will turn out for her and Sal.

    • Thanks Lisa. Your feedback really means a lot, since I know how much of a reader you are. I appreciate the feedback, and you!

  4. I really enjoyed it, Jill, and look forward to more!

    • I appreciate the feedback, Kari. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  5. Jill- Please please tell me there are more sweet chapters to read, or even better that your book is done. Call me “Curious cousin in Northern California”. ❤️ I love your blog as well. ❤️

    • Thanks Mari!! My book is done, although I continue to tweak, polish and edit while I wait to hear if any agents are interested in it. Until then, the blog and writing classes are my outlet. And Facebook, as you know! These days, I understand how social media gets a bad rap, but it also provided me with the ability to reconnect with people like you, my “curious cousin” and other friends and family I’ve lost touch with through the years. And that is one giant, fantastic benefit. Plus, the jokes you post make me laugh out loud and/or spit my coffee across the table. You are your mother’s daughter…Thanks so much for reaching out and reconnecting!

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