Before I Say Goodbye (Paperback)
Winner of the 2011 Whitney Award for best General Fiction
After a twenty-year absence, Rikki Crockett has come home. When she left, she was young, hurt, and angry—betrayed by her parents and abandoned by her best friend, Dante Rushton. She vowed never to return, but when life takes a sudden and unexpected turn, home may be the only place to find a future for her two children.
Dante Rushton also endured a difficult childhood. Yet he found a safe haven in his LDS ward, whose members surrounded him with love and helped him grow to be a man of faith. Now a happily married father of four, he serves as bishop to the people who once shaped his future.
The old-timers in the ward are thrilled to welcome Rikki home, but Dante's wife, Becca, is torn between wanting to befriend Rikki and wishing to keep her and her rebellious teenage daughter as far away from the Rushton family as possible. Why has Rikki returned after so many years, and what does she want from Becca and Dante?
Before I Say Goodbye is the compelling story of two families helping each other face an uncertain future and of a woman who makes peace with her past to discover the last and greatest love of all.
- Size: 6x9
- Pages: 320
- Published: 09/2011
About the Author
Rachel Ann Nunes (pronounced noon-sh) learned to read when she was four, beginning a lifelong fascination with the written word. She began writing in the seventh grade and is now the author of more than thirty published books, including the popular Ariana series and the award-winning picture book Daughter of a King.
Rachel and her husband, TJ, have seven children. She loves camping with her family, traveling, meeting new people, and, of course, writing. She writes Monday through Friday in her home office, taking frequent breaks to take care of kids or go swimming with them.
Rachel loves hearing from her readers. You can write to her at Rachel@RachelAnnNunes.com. To enjoy her monthly newsletter or to sign up to hear about new releases, visit her website, www.RachelAnnNunes.com.
Getting four children up and ready for church by myself was easier now that meetings didn’t begin until eleven, but the belated start only meant that much more time without Dante. He’d moved his other meetings later as well, which was nice because he could sleep in a bit for change, but all too often that meant he’d stay later at the church holding interviews.
Not that I’m complaining, I thought as I dragged a brush through my shoulder-length hair a bit too vigorously, pulling out several brown strands in the process. I’d known the returned missionary Dante Rushton had leadership potential when I’d met him—he’d reminded me a lot of my father in that respect. I’d learned at my mother’s knee that a man was only as great as the woman standing beside him, and I’d been determined to help us both reach new heights.
Only sometimes I didn’t feel great. I felt tired and irritated and that life was somehow passing me by. I had everything I’d planned to achieve in my life—a good husband who was strong in the Church, beautiful children, a house, two cars, and a calling as second counselor in the Primary, which I adored. While Dante didn’t make a huge salary at his job as a technical writer for a software firm, we weren’t in debt except for the house. I was good at managing a budget, and Dante was a hard worker. Once the house was paid off, we planned to go on a cruise, just the two of us. Or so we said.
Why did I feel incomplete?
Maybe we should have another baby. I’d found myself wishing lately that we’d done it years ago because I wasn’t as young as I used to be, though my teenagers’ friends seemed to think I was one of them, if the way they hung out constantly at our house during the summer was any indication.
“Mommy, should I wear the red dress or the blue one?” Lauren asked.
I turned to look at my eight-year-old, who was wearing only her underclothes, the shirt a bit tight since I bought it last year. Her siblings had chosen their own clothing long before age eight, but she was the baby and found it difficult to do anything without approval. She had Dante’s brown eyes like the rest of the children except Travis, but she had my dark hair, cut with bangs because we’d both tired of dragging hair from her eyes. Her skin was smooth and made me want to rub my cheeks against it. Fortunately, she wasn’t above cuddling yet, and we got in our share during morning scripture study.
“Which one do you like the best?” I’d been trying to get her to make her own decisions lately. Heaven knew she’d have to make enough in her lifetime—important decisions that would affect her entire future. Better to start small.
Lauren’s forehead crinkled. “I like both. Can’t you just tell me which one you like the best?”
“I love red. It’s my favorite color.”
“You do? I never see you wearing it.”
She was wrong, of course . . . wasn’t she? “You need to choose now. You can think while I do your hair.”
“I’m sick of bangs,” she said, coming to stand in front of me. “We should cut them all off.”
“That’s not the way to get rid of bangs. You have to grow them out, and I’ll have to put an elastic pulling them to the side, if you want them to stay out of your eyes while they’re growing out.”
Her hair was usually six inches longer, but she’d begged to cut it last year and it had been so much easier combing through it that I’d kept it trimmed. Even so, part of me missed the longer length.
Lauren primped in the mirror while I finished brushing her hair and pulled the red dress over her head. “You look beautiful,” I said, adding a red clip to her hair.
“Thank you, Mommy. I love you!” Lauren hugged me, smearing my lipstick with her hair.
“I love you, too.” I hugged her tightly, and for the moment there was nothing I was missing. Nothing at all.
There was always the mad dash at the end, even on this later schedule. “Hurry,” I called to Allia, my fourteen-year-old. She’d recently discovered makeup, and if we were late, it was usually her fault. She came flying from the bathroom. “Nope,” I said. “That eyeliner is too thick. I’ve been telling you that for the past two months.” Allia would never believe it, but she was more beautiful without makeup. She had the same smooth skin Lauren did, thick eyelashes most girls achieved only with mascara, and long, thick hair. Her biggest problem was plucking her eyebrows, which she wasn’t skilled at yet.
“I tried to make it lighter.”
“I didn’t say it was too dark. I said it was too thick.”
She blinked, her brown eyes widening. “You mean make it thinner? Oh, that’s what you’ve been trying to say. Well, that’s easy.” She dived back into the bathroom.
Sixteen-year-old Travis rolled his eyes. He was the only one of our brood who had blonde hair like their father, and except for the blue eyes, he almost exactly resembled the pictures of Dante as a boy. I was glad about that. “Good thing we got that straight. She’s starting to look like a raccoon. Right, Cory?” He slugged his younger brother in the arm. Cory, newly turned eleven, grinned. He worshipped Travis and would agree with him if he said the world was flat.
“You guys stop being mean.” Lauren put her hands on her hips and faced her brothers. “Allia’s more beautiful than you two, even if she does look like a raccoon.”
Her brothers giggled, and Allia poked her head from the bathroom. “Thanks, babe, but you’re not helping.”
“She agrees that Allia’s a raccoon!” Cory slapped his leg.
“Mom!” wailed Lauren.
“Out to the van—now,” I said in my I-mean-business voice. “Or you’ll all be grounded, and you’ll eat tuna casserole every day this week.”
Grumbling, the boys and Lauren obeyed, grabbing their shoes from the racks I’d installed in the garage by the door.
“Allia, I’m leaving. You’ll have to walk—and explain to your father why you’re late.”
That had the intended result, and Allia flew outside as I was backing out the van. “Much better,” I said, glancing at her face. “That’s the right way to put on makeup. If you had lighter hair, you’d have to use a lighter brown, but for your coloring, that’s perfect.”
“I didn’t understand what you were saying before. Thinner, not lighter.” Allia flipped down the mirror and studied her eyes. “It does look better.”
I was glad the whole eyeliner thing had been a misunderstanding. I’d honestly begun to worry about my daughter, who was usually more conservative. I didn’t want her to look like, well, like those kids who sluffed school and lit up smokes whenever they thought people weren’t looking.
We made it barely in time, our bench seat in the middle section of the back row standing vacant for us. I exchanged smiles with our ward members. I’d been dubious when Dante had wanted to move back into his old ward, but now I knew why. I loved it here. The ward had changed over the years, of course, but many of the older members remained from Dante’s childhood. His father no longer lived in his old house—a couple with three children lived there now—but the old man had never attended church anyway. The longtime members were what was really home to Dante. They were the reason he’d come to church and the reason he put in his mission papers. That he was now the bishop of the ward that had nurtured him was an irony that escaped no one, and Dante worked even harder to save each youth because of it.
Dante smiled at me from his seat in front, and I tipped my head, giving him a return smile. He held my gaze. I knew it was silly, but here like this, staring at each other across the room, I felt as close to him as if we were alone, curled in each other’s arms. I didn’t always feel that close to him. Especially of late.
Lauren began fighting with Cory over the hymnal, and the moment was lost. No, not lost. Stored with all the other moments I had with Dante. The stitches that made up who we were. Or who we were becoming. I wondered what he’d say if I told him I felt unsettled, that I was thinking about having another child at the great old age of thirty-eight. Or about returning to school. Or traveling. Something. Anything.
We’d sung a hymn, said amen to the opening prayer, and Dante was greeting the congregation and taking care of a few items of ward business when Allia leaned over Lauren and tapped my knee. “Who are they?” she whispered.
I followed her gaze to the door behind us to our left where a woman with long, flyaway blonde hair, dressed in a flowing red skirt and tight black tank top was leading her two children to the only open bench seat—the soft seats, as my children called them. There were always plenty of hard plastic chairs set up in the overflow, but they weren’t comfortable. The woman was pretty and petite and near my own age, though she was far too thin. She wore little if any makeup that I could see, and the determined look on her face was emphasized by the dark circles under her eyes. She hesitated a moment, looking up at Dante, her children bumping into her from behind. A second later, I wasn’t sure I’d imagined the pause as she marched on.
Like the woman, the two children were petite and blond. The little boy could have been any little boy in the ward, though his hair was a bit long and uncombed. The girl, however, was something else, and I was sure it was she who held Allia’s attention. From her size, she looked eleven or twelve, Cory’s age, but the heavy makeup made her look far older and worldly. She wore a white tank top, and her short black skirt would probably show flashes of her underwear when she sat. I’d have expected ratted hair with that ensemble, but her hair was flattened down over her forehead and covered most of her face. Not ugly but unnatural-looking. The only good thing about the girl seemed to be that she wasn’t developed enough physically to make the tank top obscene.
I shook my head at Allia as the newcomers settled into the left section, up a row from us, for which I was glad because my boys might have seen more than I wanted them to. We weren’t the only ones who’d noticed their arrival. Every eye in the chapel was fixed in their direction.
“Talk about a raccoon,” Travis whispered. Cory giggled, and I had to shush them.
Even at the pulpit, Dante faltered, his eyes wide. He blinked once, twice. That wasn’t like him. I looked back at the woman, saw her hand lift in a little wave.
She knew Dante? Could this be a family the missionaries were working with? No, he would have told me. My mind rushed over all the reasons this woman could know my husband, but nothing seemed satisfactory.
Maybe she didn’t know him. Maybe the wave had been an apology for her interruption.
Dante was talking again, smoothly, as though nothing had happened. Everyone was paying attention again, and the whole incident might never have occurred.
Yet there was something. Sister Gillman, one of the old-timers, was whispering to her husband. Both of them kept glancing around at the woman and then at Dante. More whispering. Several of the other old-timers were doing the same thing. What was going on?
Surreptitiously, I studied the woman, or what I could see of her from my position. Untamed hair, a pale cheek. Not much to go on. A coldness entered my breast. There was something about her, about the way everyone reacted to her. The woman’s face moved, scanning the ward, and I saw her gaze occasionally linger on someone before sliding on. She wasn’t paying attention to the first speaker, who had finally taken over for Dante.
Her eyes fell on me—and stopped. Now I could see the whole of her heart-shaped face, which was unlined and innocent, belying the age, the knowing I saw in her eyes. She smiled. Not tentative, but whole and more than a little vulnerable.
Who was this woman? This woman who would let her young daughter enter a church dressed for a nightclub. She might as well be wearing a swimming suit for all the cover the skirt and tank gave her. The girl would feel horribly out of place in Young Women—if they stayed that long.
She continued to smile, her eyes locked on mine. I wanted to turn away, to shun her and protect my family, but all the teachings of a lifetime rose to the forefront of my brain. She was a daughter of God. That horrific girl and that sweet-looking little boy were all children of God, and He loved them. A rush of warmth blotted out the coldness in my heart.
I smiled back. She dipped her head and at last looked away. The little boy next to her buried his head in her lap as Lauren was doing to me.
I looked up at Dante to find him staring at the woman. There was a tightness around his mouth that I recognized. Worry. The woman felt his gaze and smiled. The tenseness relaxed.
What did that mean?
I slipped my arm around Cory and tried to catch Dante’s eye. But he was staring in the other direction now, toward the back of the chapel.
It’s nothing, I told myself. But I knew I was wrong.
An Amazing and Emotional Read!
by Sheila - reviewed on February 16, 2012
This book was simply an amazing and very moving read. It is so emotionally packed, you will be in tears the last few chapters of the book. I love Rachel's writing, especially how she brings her characters to life. I always get so involved in the story and the characters, I forget that they are not real. The story is told from four different character's viewpoints, Rikki, Dante (her old boyfriend), Dante's wife, Becca, and Rikki's daughter Kyle. They all have such unique voices. This aspect shows the strength in Rachel Nunes writing. She truly knows how to write memorable character's that draw out the emotions in the reader. This is a powerful story of what true love is all about. I am not talking about romantic love, but that love you show to others when you serve and care for them. This is a book that has LDS characters, but you do not need to be a Mormon to read this book. If you are a Christian that believes in second chances, then you will enjoy reading Before I Say Good-Bye. Without giving anything away anything, and ruining the story for the rest of you, just know, this is a book about a woman who is ill, a rebellious teen girl with a dream, a busy Bishop who hasn't had the time to see all of his blessings, and his wife who has always given and never followed any of her dreams. All together they end up healing one another, while finding their true selves. I enjoyed this five star book so much, I will be purchasing it. The messages found in this book will make you hug your loved ones more often, and not take for granted the many blessings surrounding you daily. Beautiful job Rachel Nunes, beautiful job.
I loved the book.
by Michelle - reviewed on October 28, 2011
This is my favorite type of book from Rachel Nunes. It is a tender story that had me re-evaluating my own life and the miracle of it. Rikki was endearing. It tugged at my heart to see the children's lives and I wanted to reach out and take care of them myself. Definitely a must-read.