Juliette Gustafson is heart-broken after waiting nearly ten years for a proposal from her boyfriend that never came. Having determined she isn’t “getting over Mike” quickly enough, her three younger sisters devise The Monday ManDates; an intervention plan requiring Juliette to endure what turns out to be a series of remarkably disastrous blind dates. Between TheraPaul, Frisky Frank, TAZ the rock star, and the stoic Tim Larsen, the Monday ManDates are doomed from the start. Then there’s Victor Jarrett, the police officer with an affinity for pulling Juliette over when she’s at her very worst. But no one is more surprised than Juliette when she meets the one man who can right the wrongs in her past and change her future, if she will only let herself fall in love with him.
Targeted Age Group:: 20-50 years
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Juliette and the Monday ManDates is the first of four books about The Gustafson Girls, four sisters left orphans by the tragic death of their parents who were killed by a drunk driver fifteen years before this series takes place. This series delves into the relationships these very different sisters have, and the choices they’ve made along the way, some because of their shared loss, some in spite of it. It also brings these girls face to face with the woman who killed their parents, up for parole. This series is about hope, forgiveness, broken lives and broken chains. My favorite stories are human interest stories with characters who overcome and break chains, usually with the help of those around them. I have two sisters, and a plethora of close female friends who are sisters of my heart, so this series is about them; the women in my life.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My stories often come to me first thing in the morning, either from a dream sequence, or a first thought. I am NOT a morning person, and I wake up very slowly, often lying in bed in that in-between place, refusing to open my eyes and let the day in. My mind, however, has discovered that those waking minutes (ahem…hours) is a GREAT time to be creative because I tend to be fully focused, not distracted by household duties or home schooling or works in progress. The Gustafson Girls came to me one morning, as a whole. The stories have shifted and changed over time, a few of them fairly dramatically, but the core of the series remains the same: Four sisters who have endured the loss of their parents, how they’ve dealt with the past, and how they choose to deal with the future.
“HEY! PICK up the phone!”
Juliette unearthed the device from the black hole of her purse. She stared down at the screen. Eight minutes and counting. The whole traumatic exchange had lasted less than ten minutes. And Renata had heard the whole thing. “Hi, Ren.”
“I can’t believe you sent him away!”
“Well, I can’t believe you sent him here in the first place!”
“Oh, Juliette! Why couldn’t you be polite?”
Juliette stomped her foot, her sandal smacking the entryway tiles. “I was polite, Renata. I was so polite that it took him several minutes to realize I’d closed the door in his face. But you,” she waved a hand in the air in frustration. “You told him I was depressed? Thanks! I wish you’d warned me. I could have been better prepared. I still have my black sackcloth and shroud, you know!” She was shouting into the phone. “That was insensitive and manipulative, Ren. I don’t think I really like you right now.” She covered her face with the hand she’d been waving around above her head.
Renata was silent a moment before answering. “Well, I don’t like you right now, either. You’re not acting like yourself these days, Juliette, and it makes it difficult for me to know how to handle you.” Renata’s tone warned her that her feelings were hurt, but then, so were Juliette’s.
“I don’t want you to handle me. What I really want is for you to leave me alone! But since clearly that isn’t possible, I’d at least appreciate a little respect on your part. I do not need some man showing up on my doorstep offering to help me find my happy place again. Just because you think you can control your little world, Renata Gustafson, doesn’t mean you have the authority—or the insight—to control mine, okay?”
“My name is Renata Dixon, Juliette.” Renata’s voice was tight, and Juliette fleetingly considered warning her about triggering her TMJ. Nope. Grind away, little sister. Grind those teeth down to nubbins.
“Are you serious? Really? After everything I just said, that’s the only thing you heard?” Juliette held the phone out in front of her, and shook it as though the other end was connected to her sister’s head. She put it back to her ear and said, “I love you, Renata Dixon,” she punched out her sister’s married name across the line. “But you make me want to do very bad things to you, so I’m hanging up on you now. Good night.”
What was it about Renata that could make her behave so irrationally? No one else made her feel so out of control and childish, not even Mike. She kicked off her sandals and sent them skittering across the floor, resisting the urge to pick them up and return them to the empty spot on her organized shoe shelf. She stepped over them with purposeful indifference on her way to the kitchen, where she tossed the bouquet on the table. Her toe still hurt from kicking the chair, and stamping her foot on the hard tile hadn’t helped it feel any better. And her hair was starting to bug her.
“Who am I kidding?” she muttered, as she headed to the bathroom. She wasn’t the kind of girl who wore fluttery dresses and left her hair streaming down her back. She dug out a clamp from her accessories drawer and clipped her hair up in a knot at the back of her head. All she needed now was a pair of black pants and a tee-shirt—or better yet, an old pair of jammies—in order to feel that everything was as it should be.
She looked down at her pretty pink dress and swished the skirt around her legs a few times. She wished the night had turned out differently with Paul Rudyard. He had a nice name. He had a nice face, a nice smile. But he was just too … well, too nice. Nice wasn’t all it was cut out to be. Mike had been nice once, too.
“Until I got tired of being his little door mat,” she fumed. “Then he got tired of being nice.” She changed from her dress into her favorite flannel finery, and headed back to the kitchen to dig around in her refrigerator for something to fill her empty stomach.
She was feeling better until her phone rang. She dug it out of the couch cushions where she’d tossed it after hanging up on Renata.
Phoebe. Juliette couldn’t imagine Renata calling Phoebe on purpose, but she supposed it was possible tonight. They were in cahoots on this whole ridiculous intervention, after all.
“Hey, Phoebe.” Juliette tried to sound casual.
“Hey, Jules.” Phoebe sounded just as casual. “Comment allez-vous?”
“I’m fine, thank you. And how are you, little sister?”
“I’m fine, too. Whatcha up to?”
“Actually, I’m getting ready for a big night in. I’m in my jammies, and I’ve put the kettle on for hot chocolate. Now all I have to do is figure out something to eat and find a good movie to watch. Wanna join me? You bring dessert.”
“What happened to Paul?”
“He went home,” Juliette quipped, keeping her voice light.
“I see.” She didn’t say anything else, and Juliette sighed. She didn’t want to talk about it, but apparently, it was unavoidable.
“I sent him packing.” She dropped onto the couch. “He was awful, like some fatherly version of Mike. I’m serious. He even dressed like him. Couldn’t Ren have been a little more creative?” Phoebe chuckled on the other end of the line. “It’s not funny!”
“I thought about screening her guys, but then she’d make us do the same with ours, just in case I sent over one of my hot, young models, or Gia tried to hook you up with a pimple-faced teenager.”
Juliette moaned at the thought of either one. “I will not go out with someone I might have given birth to, got that? In fact, I don’t know that I’m up for any more dates at all.”
“Were you serious about me joining you?”Phoebe asked after a moment’s pause.
“Of course. Even though I know you’re going to try to talk me into going out again. But I was also serious about dessert. I won’t let you in if you’re not packing sugar.”
Juliette and Phoebe sat at either end of the sofa, facing each other, their feet tucked underneath each other’s rear ends. They sipped hot chocolate and passed back and forth the bucket of ice cream bon-bons Phoebe brought.
“Am I really so pathetic, Phoebe? I’m telling you, if tonight was as good as it gets, I’m calling this whole thing off. I finally talked myself into being okay with going out for a little fun, and the first one out the chute is Thera-Paul!”
“Well, I can’t speak for Gia’s guys, but my friend is up next, and he’s no Thera-Paul.” Phoebe smiled smugly.
“So prep me. And do a better job than Ren did.”
Phoebe frowned. “She prepped you? That’s against the rules.”
Juliette rolled her eyes, her bluff called. “No, she didn’t. In fact, she told me nothing. But I think I deserve to know if the guy’s a weirdo, don’t you?”
“Absolutely! I can tell you that much. My guy’s a weirdo.” Phoebe popped another bon-bon into her mouth.
“Forget it. I don’t want to play anymore.”
“He’s weird in a good way, though.”
“Come on. You gotta give me something.” Juliette shoved a bon-bon in each cheek and grinned like a chipmunk.
“No, I don’t. That’s disgusting.”
“Yeth, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yeth, you do.”
“All right!” Juliette interjected, spitting one of the chocolates into her napkin. “Be like Ren, then.” It was the worst insult she could think of at the moment. “And you’re right. That was disgusting.” She wiped her mouth with a clean napkin.
“So, speaking of Ren, when are you going to make up with her?” Phoebe asked.
“Come on, Jules. You know she’s trying.”
“Trying is right. She’s extremely trying. And why are you, of all people, defending her? You two don’t even like each other.”
“I love Rennie,” Phoebe laughed. “She and I aren’t as different as she thinks we are. But I can see that better than she can. I know she loves me. She just has a hard time showing it.”
“Whatever. You two fight like cats and dogs. You always have.”
“It’s not real fighting, though.” Phoebe swallowed the last of her tea. “I’ve just made it my job to remind Ren that she’s not perfect. I love her too much to let her convince herself that she is.” She set her empty teacup on the coffee table and settled back into her corner of the sofa. “And she loves me enough to do the same for me.”
Juliette didn’t miss the flicker of pain in her sister’s eyes, and she poked her in the thigh with her turquoise toe. “Hey.”
“Je t’aime, Phoebe Gustafson.”
“I love you more.”
“Only because there’s more of me to love.”
“Stop it. You’re perfect just the way you are, Jules.” Phoebe looked imploringly at her. “You know, I almost feel sorry for Mike, even though he never deserved you.” She reached down and squeezed Juliette’s ankle. “He let go of the best thing that ever happened to him. You.”
Juliette still struggled to imagine her life without the man she’d built it around. What was wrong with her that he didn’t want her? Why did he let her go?
“But don’t you ever let a man take the best of you, Jules. That’s no man’s right to take. Only yours to give.” Something in Phoebe’s voice made Juliette stop thinking about Mike.
“Phoebe?” she asked gently. “Did you—did something—someone…?”
Phoebe’s vague smile only confirmed her suspicions, and Juliette stretched out a hand to her younger sister, rather shaken by the haunted look usually masked by her beauty. How had she never noticed it before? They laced fingers, the connection tender, and when Phoebe’s eyes welled up, hers did too. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Phoebe shook her head and squeezed her hand before letting it go. “Someday, maybe. Not today. Besides, I’m here for you, remember?”
“Oh goodness, Phebes. I’m fine. You know that. But now I’m worried about you.” Juliette straightened up and crossed her legs like a pretzel, an elbow on the back of the sofa, resting her head on her palm. “Does this have anything to do with what’s between you and Ren?”
Phoebe lifted her shoulders in a dismissive gesture. “What’s between us is old history. You said it yourself. We’ve argued our whole lives. There’s always been stuff between us, and if there isn’t anything, one of us will make something up just to keep the argument going.” She waved a long finger at Juliette. “Which is why you two have to stop fighting. I can’t stand the competition.”
Juliette studied her sister, a little taken aback by her ability to set aside her pain so effectively; obviously a well-rehearsed habit. Finally, she nodded. “Okay. I won’t push. But….”
“Jules. I’m fine. You need to stop worrying about me.”
“Like that will ever happen. Worrying is like breathing to me, Phoebe. You know that.”
Phoebe held out the nearly empty ice cream carton. “Well, since I can’t ask you to stop breathing, have another bon-bon. Then tell me what you’re going to wear on your date next Monday.”
About the Author:
Becky Doughty writes about edge-dwellers, people who live on the edge-that fine line where hope and despair meet, where grace becomes truly amazing. She is the author of Waters Fall, and the much-loved serial novel, Elderberry Croft.
Becky is married to her champion of 25-plus years and they have three children, two of whom are grown and starting families of their own. They all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California.
They share their lives with too many animals, a large vegetable garden, and a very strange underground concrete room they’ve determined was built for dark and sinister purposes….
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