|Being a Hurricane Katrina refugee is not a fun proposition and when the reason you are a refugee is because you lost your restaurant and the insurance says you weren’t covered for flooding, recovering from the storm is difficult. Add to that the fact that you have five-year-old twins to raise and it is nearly impossible. Gabriel Brant is learning that the hard way. He finds himself moving back to his hometown of Hennings, New York and in with his widowed father. Walter was never close to his son and in fact, often seemed to expect more of him than Gabriel could seem to give. But Gabriel is desperate. He has taken a job as a cook at the local café and hopes to get back on his feet and one day have a place of his own again.
Gabriel didn’t have lots of friends, and those he did have weren’t the greatest, mainly because he had them just to antagonize Walter. But he did have one friend from middle school, Olivia Marshall. Olivia grew up to become a kindergarten teacher and do-gooder. Raised by an aunt because she was an orphan, Olivia always felt she owed things to everyone. Despite her aunt treating her like a daughter, Olivia never felt she deserved anything she hadn’t earned. Now she heads the charity Christmas pageant, volunteers everywhere and is considered the best teacher around. She also clearly feels her role as one of the “morality” leaders because of her position and her status as a single woman.
When she and Gabriel meet again, sparks fly. Olivia seems to feel a special kinship to his young sons, Justin and Jared. Justin is vibrant, energetic and talkative. Jared is a little more reserved, though no less vibrant. He just doesn’t talk, and his pictures are all of the flooding and devastation. There is no known reason that Jared isn’t talking. Gabriel hopes living at his childhood home will help the boys feel secure and safe.
Another complication arises when the boys’ natural mother, Morganna Starr, shows up unannounced. Morganna and Gabriel conceived the boys in a one-weekend stand. Morganna had dropped them on Gabriel when they were just one year old and she was struggling with a drug habit. Now she is back to decide if she wants them in her life. Gabriel wants full custody.
This story moves along nicely and seems realistic in the issues they must face. There is the teacher/student/parent relationship; Gabriel’s uncertainty for how long they can stay; Olivia’s need for a family but questioning if this is her family, Walter’s relationship with his son and finally Morganna’s role. All were handled with aplomb and adult thinking. The boys brought some comic relief and also an added realism as they see things differently than adults. While there was heat, it was controlled and romantic. The story caught me in its web. I even made my family wait to leave for dinner until I could finish the last twenty pages. That is a sign of an engaging story.
Comfort and Joy is the first of the holiday tales in category land I have read this year. Yet, it is not just about the holidays and it definitely set the standard high for the others to follow.