By Sharon Wright
No one is immune to tough times, including Liz and Dan Burgess. A downturn in the economy affected Dan’s architectural business. Liz worked in the business with him, but with no money coming in she is forced to seek employment outside the home to keep them from losing their house. It is unthinkable. Their house, designed by Dan, is the only home their children have ever known.
Leaving her family to go back to the corporate world is truly difficult for Liz. She worries that things will not get done in her absence, that Dan is having an affair, and that she will turn back into the person she used to be, the corporate go-getter who did had neither patience nor understanding of women who had families.
Liz has a wonderful circle of friends who are very loyal to one another and ready to help each other with the any problems. When it becomes evident that one of their friends is in an abusive marriage, Liz suggests they work to raise money to support a shelter. Though they each have their own issues to worry about, they are a formidable force when they work hand-in-hand.
Sharon Wright’s novel RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT is about real-life circumstances, but is ultimately positive in tone. It is definitely not a depressing story, but rather one of hope, of courage in tough times, of love, and of the bonds of friendship.
A lot happens to the Burgess family, but to give too much information would mean including spoilers. The characters are numerous, but I had no trouble keeping them straight. The author does a fantastic job describing them in a way that makes them each memorable. This is quite a task when there are so many who add to the story. The plot progressed quickly and kept my interest from page one through the end of the book.
I have to mention the cover. When I first saw the cover, I could not get over the fact that it did not look like the cover for a book I would read. I just didn’t get it. While reading the book, a lightbulb lit up, and it made perfect sense. This is an excellent lesson in not judging a book by its cover before you’ve read it.
I give RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT five stars because a book with a plot and characters that pulled me in so completely and didn’t let go of me until days after I finished it, can only be a five star book.
Liz Burgess wakes up one morning to realize she is about to lose everything – and it’s all her fault.
Her husband’s love and trust; her daughter’s innocence; her family’s cherished home; and her own sense of safety and control are spinning with alarming speed beyond her reach.
Her struggle to heal long-buried fears and rebuild her family’s shattered dream takes her on a journey of hope and discovery that will touch anyone who has experienced loss and climbed back to a new understanding of what is important in life.
“In this fast-paced, emotional novel, Sharon Wright gives us a family facing the terrifying prospect of losing their business, their home, and even each other as their lives spiral out of control. The lessons they learn about friendship, forgiveness, love, and the raw courage it takes to embrace change with grace instead of fear will resonate with every reader.”
-Holly Robinson, author of “THE WISHING HILL” and “BEACH PLUM ISLAND”
“This is a beautifully written story about a woman struggling to hold herself, her marriage, and her family together in tough times. Wright’s dialog crackles, her characters quickly feel like old friends, and her plot moves at a brisk pace from suburb to city to rural area as she explores the complex emotions that accompany unwanted change. You’ll easily recognize the pressures brought to bear upon this family, and you’ll come away inspired by the courage and resilience of ordinary people unwilling to give up their dreams.”
-Elisabeth Elo, author of NORTH OF BOSTON
Chapter 1 of RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT
Liz jolted awake, her heart pounding. Dan’s breathing raggedly sawed on.
Sliding her legs out from under the covers into the winter chill, she sat up at the edge of the mattress, feeling like she had on a baseball cap two sizes too small. With a sigh, she traded the down comforter for her slippers and chamois bathrobe and trudged away from the sleigh bed that was still calling her name.
Charles, her high school sophomore came skidding around the corner from his room.“Mom, I forgot to do my Romeo and Juliet thing. I need a paper plate.”
“Ugh, and I need tea. I think you just shot my brain out the back of my head.”
“Mom, I’ll get a zero.”
“You should have thought of that last night. It’s time for breakfast.”
His eyes rolled as he turned away down the stairs. She knocked on the bathroom door.
“Francine, we’re going down.”
A series of crashes, a screech, then the bathroom door flew open. “There’s no water!” Half of the red hair Francine inherited from Liz was a frizz; the other half, a pigtail.
Their red hair was the only thing they had in common these days, and Liz’s now came out of a bottle. Everything else about Francine was from her dad. Liz envied how Dan could effortlessly fly along with their middle child while she stumbled along behind, trailing a series of afterimages.
“Mom! How can I get ready for school without water? Britty and Ashley and I are going Lady Ga-Ga today.”
Liz wondered if M-O-M could be uttered without its being bleated? And, if this intel meant Francine’s head would sprout some sequined protuberance after breakfast?
“I’ll see what’s up with the water.”
“But, Mother! YOU won’t be able to fix it!!”
“Thanks. Go eat.”
Francine downshifted to a coo, “Mums, could you just bring me up a cup of tea? I’m not hungry.”
“No. Breakfast is…” Francine joined in a mocking drone, “…the most important meal of the day.”
Liz blew her nose into a tissue retrieved from her robe pocket. “Anyway as you reported, there’s no water for tea.” This provoked an aggravated moan and stomp downstairs.
Hesitating at the top of the stairs, to put a buffer between her and the descending adolescent scorn, Liz straightened Dan’s photo of a white-washed town above the Aegean Sea. It’d been one of their many pre-kid travels when she’d been a corporate executive with 5-star hotels, dinners out with Cristal champagne and filet mignon, floor tickets to rock concerts, car service, bonuses, and eager subordinates. When Francine was born after Charles, she’d given it all up for diapers, and the abrupt shift to the mind-numbing repetition of teaching manners and playing “I see with my little eyes…” had
been brutal, although helping Dan with his architectural business had helped. Ironic how now that she might be going back, all she could think of was the commuting, the politics and the exhaustion. Even crap like this morning seemed like a luminous treasure.
As she headed down, her footing faltered, almost slipping off the tread. She put her hand out to brace against the wall. She hadn’t told anyone about her job search because that would have meant admitting out-loud how bad things were. She rubbed her forehead. It was her fault. Her problem.
But, today she’d tell Dan.
Charles clambered down the staircase directly across the double-height Great Room from the one she’d just come down and scooted into the pantry by the backdoor. She crossed through the sitting area into the kitchen and reached up to get five cereal bowls from the bamboo cabinets Dan had installed lower to accommodate her 5’2” reach.
He’d custom designed the whole house for them, from the granite countertops quarried in his New Hampshire hometown to the mural he’d painted on the wall above her head of the woods across the street. But now, thanks to her, they might lose everything to the bank in a few months. She rewrapped the tie on her robe, tightening its hold. She had to act normal.
The kettle whistled. “Charles, where’d you get the water?”
His auburn shoulder-length hair draped, like a tent, over his tureen-sized bowl of Crispix. “Outside. Used snow.”
Charles shrugged off her compliment about his tea resourcefulness.
“Just hoping that pumping you with caffeine might get me my much-needed paper plate. A total Me move, Mom.”
“Well played, Padawan.” Liz lifted down four of the pottery mugs Francine had made, like the cereal bowls. “Do you guys want English Breakfast or Hu-Kua? Oh wait, we only have P.G. Tibbs left.”
Charles shook his head. Francine bubbled, “Tibbs is good, Mumsie.” Well, at least her pubescent flares were brief. “And, thanks for making Kashi last night, Mummers.” Or, maybe this shift meant she wanted something.
“You’re welcome.” Setting the tea to steep, Liz took the phone down cellar to check the circuit breakers and then called the service number on the water pump. A woman with a voice like walking on gravel assured Liz that someone would come later that morning.
Trudging back up the cellar stairs, Liz joined Charles at the island with her microwaved Kashi. “Wasn’t this assignment written in your planner?”
“I didn’t look till this morning.”
“Charles, you’re supposed to check you planner every night.”
“I had play rehearsal, and Duncan needed help getting a game up on the computer. Then, we kinda got playing till dinner.”
“What about after dinner?”
“Go get dressed.” Francine, loving this exchange, smirked at Charles as he shambled upstairs to get dressed. His response was to swipe her legs off the arm of the chenille-covered chair she was flopped across.
Liz’s childhood had been so different, coming home to find her mother passed out on the floor: a spilled glass of scotch, the ice melting into the rug, dried vomit clotting her hair. Unfair, familiar smells when other kids got to open their front doors to roasting garlic or logs burning in the fireplace.
She pressed the palm of her hand against the small of her back and got up to retrieve the lunches Dan had made last night to put in the kids’ backpacks, after which she searched the pantry for a paper plate. Moving the step-stool over to the paper goods, all she could find were small waxed ones with Christmas trees on them. She called over to Charles, who was now dressed and back downstairs, “How about tracing a plate on card stock?”
“Brilliant.” He grinned, echoing her earlier compliment, slung his backpack onto one shoulder, plate to trace in hand, and with the shuffling glide endemic to teenage boys, headed outside to Evergreen Design’s office on the second floor of the garage for the card stock.
Liz heard Duncan, seven-years old and still nestled in that blissful period between the terrible twos and the terrifying teens, run from his room to dive on top of his slumbering dad for their morning wrestle ritual. She set aside Dan’s tea to steep.
“Mother, where’s my blue suede skirt?” Francine’s frantic appeal hurled down the stairs.
“Last I saw, it was under your bed.” With a growl, Francine stomped back to her room in the turret’s second floor. Why that girl’s heels weren’t bruised purple was a mystery, but it was no surprise that she couldn’t find something in that maelstrom of a room. Dan had designed their bedrooms for sleeping or solitude, free from clutter, distractions, and all electronics, to encourage everyone back into the common rooms. Francine managed to bury his spartan approach in a sliding mountain of stuff, but it
was equally effective in forcing her back downstairs to escape her mess.
This was the only home their kids had ever known, and the only place she’d lived where she’d felt at home. Her breath caught in her throat, as the truth flashed its stark simplicity. Her anxiety about going back to work in Boston was rooted in her not wanting the kids to feel abandoned like she had. She wanted them to know the security she hadn’t, but ironically by avoiding going back to work in Boston for so long, she’d actually brought her shaky childhood to their doorstep. Her fingers clutched her mug as Duncan and Dan rumbled down the stairs. She reflexively plastered a grin on her face, having learned long ago how to stuff and smother her emotions. Stuff, smother & smile.
“Hey Mom, why didn’t the hungry shark attack Sally when she was swimming nearby?”
She cleared the fear from her voice with a cough. “Umm, because it was a sand shark?”
“Nah, it was a MAN eating shark,” Duncan crowed. “Sally’s a girl, and the shark’s a man eater – get it?” Dan tousled his son’s hair as Duncan sat down at the table to drink his orange juice. Liz poured her youngest’s cereal and milk.
Dan gave her a kiss. “Morning, Babe. How’d you sleep?”
“Hey Mom, look!” Duncan pointed at the mural his Dad had painted on the wall above their heads: hawks soared; a newly hatched duck family waddled in a line beside the pond; turtles sunned themselves on a log; a buck watched from within the darkened woods. “The deer has Happy Magic; the rainbow’s right on his eye.” One of the tiny spectrums, that splashed across the room when light streamed through the skylights and chandeliers that Dan had made out of welded metal and crystals, had landed on the mural. For years, the kids had stepped on these mini rainbows with a sing-song “Happy
Magic!” for good luck.
Duncan lit up at his mom’s silly rhyme. She turned to yell upstairs, “Francine,
time to go.” Her voice deepening as she punched out the ‘go.’
Duncan yelped, “I’ll get her!”
Dan pointed, “Dishwasher.”
“We don’t have any water; the pump guys are coming later.”
Unfazed by her information,
Duncan spun around, discharged his dishes and ran upstairs to put his sister on notice. Liz followed him to the bottom of the stairs and screeched, “Francine, now! The bus will be here in two minutes.”
“Where’s Chuck?” Dan asked.
“He’s out in the barn doing homework he forgot. Francine!”
Her daughter ran downstairs and past her with a quick kiss and petulant, “I feel so gross.”
“Don’t worry. If you keep moving, no one will notice the smell.”
She moaned, “Da-aad…I am so taking a shower in the girls’ locker room as soon as I get to school,” and with this last salvo launched, the door swung shut behind their red-headed pixie, adorned with a glittered paper tiara in rather weak homage to pop music’s reigning GaGa.
Liz warmed her tea in the microwave and headed through the French doors into the den. Duncan, still at the magical age where he could solve a problem in long division but thought a new pair of sneakers would make him run faster, was kneeling on the turret’s semicircular window seat, watching his brother and sister at the end of the driveway.
When the bus came, Duncan waved like a frantic mother bird distracting a cat. His older brother shot a quick look to the den window and nodded just before he boarded. Francine, the tweenie limboing betwixt child and woman, today gave her little bro a big wave and smile.
“Time for the lovey chair!” Duncan crowed and jumped into Liz’s lap for the next morning ritual. Cradling him, his legs and arms sprawling out of her embrace, Liz ambushed him with a barrage of kisses, squeezes, and tickles from all sides; something she hadn’t learned from her parents but from watching Dan with the kids. Duncan grinned with his whole face, “I’ll still be your baby even when I’m bigger than Daddy and have a scratchy face?”
“You’ll always be my baby, even when you start smelling like Charles.” She was rewarded with peels of tinkling laughter. “Even when we aren’t together, my love’s wrapped around you, just like this.” She squeezed him to her chest, rather embarrassed by this propaganda in case she began working somewhere else, although she wasn’t clear which of them it was intended to comfort.
“Mommy, I can’t breathe.” Liz burrowed her nose into his tummy so that he wouldn’t notice her distraught expression. “Can I go play?” Liz nodded, and Duncan peeled himself out of the chair.
She retrieved her tea. Holding the mug in both hands, she blew and watched her breath scatter
the liquid surface. Rhapsody in Blue curled in from the baby grand piano in the library on the other side of the bedroom stairs.
It was the normalcy of mornings like this that made her ache to shield the status quo like an avenging angel. She tentatively took a sip of tea, but it brought little relief. Liz sighed, feeling brittle. Is this what happened when you lived a dream? When you got more than you believed you deserved? Lately, she’d felt as though she was only visiting a life that any day could be pulled out from under her, rolled up and taken away. She stared out the turret windows at the bare, grey trees scratching at the sharp blue sky and all she could think was that today was the day she would break Dan’s heart.
She traipsed up to get dressed. As she pulled on a dark blue turtleneck and jeans, The A Train lifted through the floorboards. After quickly running a brush through her short hair, she hustled down the stairs, calling Duncan to the bus.
They stopped by the garage, where Dan was waiting by the office door since Duncan was now too big to be kissed at the bus stop. Things were always changing, but now they were scrolling past at Google speed. She should have Dan video her waving goodbye at the end of the driveway, so if she got a job in Boston, Duncan could remember how she used to be there when he left for school.
As the bus pulled away, Liz watched a hawk fly over the woods. Usually when she felt like this, she’d go sit on the big rock beside the pond to regroup, but today the short walk required too much effort.
She groaned out loud as she headed back up to the house. She and Dan had played by all the rules: college, master’s degrees, marriage, careers, kids. They’d worked hard, paid their taxes and volunteered. But then, one night, perhaps while they were sleeping or distracted by life’s details, the rules of cause and consequence had shifted. It must have, because what was happening to them now was not how it was supposed to go.
About the Author
It was her minor in dance at Bates College, not the BA in Psychology that led to NYC. The intention to manage a dance company morphed into a career in finance.
After working for large investment firms in NYC & Boston, Sharon left to raise the kids and wrote a book about bond investing, GETTING STARTED IN BONDS. The book led to appearances on TV, radio, and in print.
She began life coaching, founding Inner Wealth Coaching, and eventually added a herd of horses to the staff.
During this time, Sharon wrote two novels; the first to be published is RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT.
Wright’s goal is to live life fully, to never congeal, and to invite those around her and her readers to a joyful place!
To learn more about Sharon Wright or to contact her:
RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT is published by Bellastoria Press, June 2014, 266 pages.
Genre: Women’s Commercial Fiction
The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.