by Debbie Macomber
First Published: April 2, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback, Hardcover, e-Book, Large Print, Audiobook
About the Book
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Debbie Macomber returns to Seattle’s beloved Blossom Street in this heartfelt tale of friendship, renewal, and discovering what’s truly important in life.
For years Libby Morgan dreamed only of making partner in her competitive, high-pressure law firm. She sacrificed everything for her career—her friends, her marriage, her chance at creating a family. When her boss calls Libby into his office, she assumes it will finally be good news, but nothing can prepare her for the shocking reality: She’s been let go and must rebuild her entire life . . . starting now.
With no job prospects in sight, Libby reaches out to old friends and spends her afternoons at A Good Yarn, the local knitting store. There she forms a close bond with Lydia, the sweet-natured shop owner; Lydia’s spirited teenage daughter, Casey; and Casey’s best friend, Ava, a shy yet troubled girl who will shape Libby’s future in surprising and profound ways.
As A Good Yarn becomes a second home—and the women a new kind of family—Libby relishes the different person she’s become. She even finds time for romance with a charming and handsome doctor who seems to be her perfect match. But just as everything is coming together, Libby must make a choice that could forever change the life she holds so dear.
Warmly told and richly textured, Starting Now is filled with the promise of new beginnings and the unending delights of companionship and love.
This was it. Surely it must be.
The instant Libby Morgan heard her paralegal tell her “Hershel would like to see you in his office,” she knew. Oh, there’d been rumblings around the office about layoffs and early retirements. Such gossip simply verified what she felt in her heart Hershel was sure to tell her. She’d waited for this moment for six very long years.
Libby had always wondered how she’d feel when she finally got the news. She longed to hold on to this sense of happy expectation for as long as possible. In retrospect, she must have intuitively known something was up because she’d worn her best pin-striped suit today, choosing the pencil skirt over her normal tailored slacks. And thankfully she’d had a salon appointment just the day before. Getting her hair cut was long overdue, but seeing how good it looked now, she felt it was worth every penny of the hundred dollars Jacques had charged her. A good cut did wonders for her appearance. She wore her dark brown hair parted in the middle in an inverted bob so that it framed her face, curling around her jawline. Jacques had mentioned more than once how fortunate she was to have such thick hair. She hadn’t felt that way when he’d insisted she have her eyebrows plucked. But he’d been right; she looked good. Polished. Professional. She promised herself not to go so long between appointments again.
Libby didn’t see herself as any great beauty. She was far too realistic and sensible, was well aware of her physical shortcomings. At best she was pretty, or at least Joe, her ex-husband, had told her she was. She knew she was probably no better than average. Average height, average weight; brown hair, brown eyes, with no outstanding features, but on the inside she was a dynamo. Dedicated, hardworking, goal-oriented. Perfect partner material.
Reaching for her yellow legal pad, Libby headed toward the managing partner’s opulent office. Outwardly she remained calm and composed, but inwardly her heart raced and her head spun.
Finally. Finally, she was about to be rewarded for the hard choices and sacrifices she’d made.
Libby was in her sixth year of an eight-year partnership track. Hopefully she was about to achieve the goal that she had set her heart on the minute she’d been accepted as an associate in the Trusts and Estates Department at Burkhart, Smith & Crandall, a high-end Seattle-based law firm. She was about to be made partner even earlier than anticipated.
While she didn’t want to appear overly confident, it went without saying that no one deserved it more than she did. Libby had worked harder, longer, and more effectively than any other attorney employed by the firm. Her legal expertise on the complex estate-planning project for Martha Reed hadn’t gone unnoticed either. Libby had provided a large number of billable hours and the older woman had taken a liking to her. Over the past month two partners had stopped by her office to compliment her work.
Libby could almost feel her mother looking down on her from heaven, smiling and proud. Molly Jo Morgan had died of breast cancer when Libby was thirteen. Before dying, Libby’s mother had taken her daughter’s hand and told her to work hard, and to never be afraid to go after her goals. She’d advised Libby to dream big and warned her there would be hard choices and sacrifices along the way.
That last summer her mother was alive had set Libby’s life course for her. Although her mother wouldn’t be around to see her achievements, Libby longed to make her mother proud. Today was sure to be one of those Hey, Mom, look at me moments.
Early on in high school Libby had set her sights on becoming an attorney. She was the president of the Debate Club and was well known for her way of taking either side of an issue and making a good argument. Reaching her goal hadn’t been easy. Academic scholarships helped, but there were still plenty of expenses along the way. Funds were always tight. In order to support herself through college she’d worked as a waitress and made some good friends. Later on in law school she’d found employment as a paralegal in the Seattle area.
Her career path had taken a short detour when she married Joe Wilson. Joe worked as a short-order cook. They’d met at the diner where she waited tables while in college. When she moved from Spokane he willingly followed her to the Seattle area and quickly found another job, cooking in a diner. He was the nicest guy in the world, but their marriage was doomed from the beginning. Joe was content to stay exactly where he was for the rest of his life while Libby was filled with ambition to be so much more. The crux came when he wanted her to take time out of her career so they could start a family. Joe wanted children and so did Libby, but she couldn’t risk being shunted off to the “Mommy Track” at the firm. She’d asked him to be patient for a couple more years. Really, that wasn’t so long. Once she was established at the firm it wouldn’t matter so much. But Joe was impatient. He feared that once those two years were up she’d want another year and then another. Nothing she said would convince him otherwise.
Hershel glanced up when she entered his office. He wasn’t smiling, but that wasn’t unusual. “Sit down, Libby,” he said, gesturing toward the chair on the other side of his desk.
One day her office would look like this, Libby mused, with old- world charm, comfortable leather chairs, polished wood bookcases, and a freestanding globe. Pictures of Hershel’s wife and children stared back at her from the credenza behind his desk. The one of him sailing never failed to stir her. Hershel had his face to the camera, his hair wind-tossed as the sailboat sliced through the Pacific Ocean on a crystal-clear day, with a sky as blue as Caribbean waters. The sailboat keeled over so close to the water’s edge she wanted to hold her breath for fear the vessel would completely overturn.
The photograph inspired Libby because it proved to her that one day, as partner, she, too, would have time to vacation and enjoy life away from the office. But in order to do that her work, her commitment to the law firm and her clients, had to be her sole focus.
Libby sat in the chair Hershel indicated and relaxed, crossing her legs. She knew the managing partner’s agenda. What she hadn’t expected was the deeply etched look of concern on his face. Oh, it would be just like Hershel to lead into this announcement circuitously.
“I’ve taken a personal interest in you from the day the firm decided to hire you,” he said, setting his pen down on his desk. He took a moment to be certain it was perfectly straight.
“I know and I’m grateful.” Libby rested her back against the comfortable padding. “It’s been a wonderful six years. I’ve worked hard and feel that I’m an asset to the firm.”
“You have done an excellent job.”
Libby resisted the impulse to remind him of all the billable hours she’d piled up on a number of accounts.
“You’re a hard worker and an excellent attorney.”
Libby took a moment to savor his words. Hershel wasn’t known to hand out praise freely. “Thank you.” She sat up straighter now, anticipating what would come next. First he would smile, and then he would announce that after discussing the matter with the other partners they would like to.
Her projection was interrupted when Hershel went on to say, “I’m sure you’re aware that the last six months have been a challenge for the firm.” He met her gaze head-on, and in his eyes she read regret and concern as his thick brows came together. “We’ve experienced a significant decline in profitability due to the recession.”
A tingling sensation started at the base of Libby’s neck. This conversation wasn’t taking the route she’d anticipated.
“I’ve certainly carried my load,” she felt obliged to remind him. More than any other attorney on staff, especially Ben Holmes, she thought but didn’t say. At six o’clock, like a precision timepiece, Ben was out the door.
Hershel picked up the same pen he’d so carefully positioned only a few moments before and held it between his palms. “You’ve carried a substantial load, which is one reason why this decision has been especially difficult.”
“Decision?” she repeated as a sense of dread quickly overtook any elation she’d experienced earlier.
“The problem is your lack of ‘making rain,’ ” he said. “You haven’t brought any major clients into the firm.”
Meeting potential clients was next to impossible with the hours she worked. Libby had tried attending social functions but she wasn’t good at “power schmoozing” the way others were. She felt awkward inserting herself into conversations or initiating them herself. With little to talk about besides work, she often felt inept and awkward. She hadn’t always been this shy, this hesitant.
“Hershel,” she said, voicing her suspicion, her greatest fear, “what are you trying to say? You aren’t laying me off, are you?” She finished with a short disbelieving laugh.
The senior partner exhaled slowly and then nodded. “I can’t tell you how much I regret having to do this. You aren’t the only one. We’re letting five go in all. As you can imagine this hasn’t been an easy decision.”
Libby’s first concern was for her paralegal. “Sarah?” “She’s fine. She’ll be reassigned.”
Libby’s heart slowed to a dull thud.
“We’re offering you a generous severance package.” Hershel outlined the details but Libby sat frozen, stunned, unable to believe this was actually happening. People she worked with, people she knew, were losing their jobs. She was losing her job. Why hadn’t she sensed that? She didn’t like to think she was so out of touch with reality that she hadn’t picked up on it.
“I’d also like to offer you a bit of advice, Libby, if I may?”
The shock had yet to dissipate, and because her throat had gone dry she didn’t respond. All she could manage was to stare at him aghast, disbelieving, shaken to the very core of her being.
“I don’t want you to think of this as the end. This is a new beginning for you. One of the reasons I’ve taken a personal interest in you is because you’re very much the way I was years ago. I felt the need to prove myself, too. I set my sights on making partner to the exclusion of everything else, the same way I’ve seen you do. I completely missed my children’s childhoods. By the time they were in high school they were strangers to me. Thankfully, I’ve been able to make up for lost time. The point is, I sacrificed far too much, and I see you making the same mistakes I did.”
Libby tried to focus but couldn’t get past the fact that she was suddenly unemployed. She blinked a couple of times in an effort to absorb what was happening. It didn’t help. The sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified.
“I hope,” Hershel continued, “that you will take this time to find some balance in life. Starting now.”
“Pardon?” she asked, looking up and blinking. Some of the numbness had begun to wear off. All Libby could think about was the fact that she had given her life, her marriage, her everything to this firm, and they were about to shove her out the door.
“I want you to enjoy life,” Hershel repeated. “A real life, with friends and interests outside of the office. There’s a whole world out there ready for you to explore.”
Libby continued to stare at him. Didn’t Hershel understand? She had a life, and that life was right here in this office. She was passionate about her work and now it was being ripped away from her.
“Who will take over working with Martha Reed?” she asked. Surely this was all a big mistake. Martha Reed was one of their most important clients and she enjoyed working with Libby.
“Libby, you’re not listening. The decision has already been made. The firm is being more than generous.”
“Generous,” she repeated, and gave a humorless laugh. Anger took hold then and she surged to her feet. The legal pad fell unnoticed to the floor as she knotted her fists at her sides. “This is a decision unworthy of you, Hershel. You’re making a mistake. I thought you had my back . . .” She could feel the heat crawling up her neck, creeping into her face, and snapped her mouth closed. Arguing was pointless; as he said, the decision had been made, but by heaven she wanted him to know she wasn’t taking this sitting down. Stabbing an index finger at his desk, she looked him hard in the eyes and said, “I hope you know I’ll have another job before the end of the day.”
“For your sake I hope you don’t, but if that’s the case then so be it.”
“You’re going to regret this, Hershel. I’ve given you and this firm everything.” Without bothering to argue more, she whirled around and stormed out of his office.
With her heart pounding wildly, Libby approached her own small office. When Sarah saw Libby, the paralegal stood, her brown eyes wide and expectant.
“Well?” Sarah asked.
“I . . . I’ve been laid off.”
Sarah’s face went slack. “You’re joking?”
A security guard came to stand just outside her door, watching as she packed up her things. Libby jerked open her desk drawer and started emptying the contents onto her desktop. “Does it look like I’m joking?”
Sarah wore the same stunned expression as Libby had only moments earlier. “But why?”
“Ask Hershel.” Libby pinched her lips closed as she struggled to rein in her outrage.
“What . . . what about me?” Sarah sank into a chair as though her knees had given out on her.
“Not to worry, I already asked. You’ll be reassigned.” “I can’t believe this.”
“You?” Libby choked out, now dumping the contents of her drawers into a tote bag she kept on hand.
“What are you going to do?”
“Do?” Libby repeated, as though the answer should be self- explanatory. “What else is there to do? I’ll find another job. I’ll be working for another firm before I’m out of the building. I told Hershel and I meant it. Jeff Goldstein has been after me for years.” This was no exaggeration. Jeff had contacted her two or three times since she’d been with Burkhart, Smith & Crandall to see if she was happy in her current position. He was the first person she’d call. Already a list of potential firms was scrolling through her mind. Any number of law offices would consider themselves fortunate to get her.
Slamming the final drawer closed, she reached for her briefcase and dumped onto her desk the files she’d spent several hours working on at home the previous night. Next she hefted the bag containing the personal items from her desk drawer over her shoulder.
“Libby,” Sarah said, eyeing the security guard.
Frankly she couldn’t get away fast enough. “I don’t think I could stand it here another minute.”
Hershel had offered her fatherly advice, sounding so righteous and superior . . . so patronizing. Well, she’d show him. He would rue this day; he’d made a huge mistake and was about to see just how wrong he was. Throughout her life, Libby had faced challenge after challenge and proved herself again and again. This would be no different.
If her mother’s death had taught her anything, it was that Libby should do whatever was needed to rise above setbacks. She’d survive. She had before and she would again. She’d lost her mother when she was far too young, and she’d gotten through her divorce. She’d weather this, too, just the way she had everything else.
Forcing herself to smile, she swallowed hard and looked at Sarah. “Keep in touch.”
“I will,” her paralegal promised. “You’ll let me know where you land, won’t you?”
“Of course.” When she did, Libby would ask Sarah to join her. They were a good team. They’d worked together for so long that they’d become like running partners—keeping pace with each other, intuiting each other’s needs and expectations. When she’d last spoken to Jeff Goldstein, Libby had insisted that if she ever were to join his firm he’d need to hire Sarah, too. Jeff had assured her it wouldn’t be a problem.
Without a backward glance, Libby walked out of the office. She felt other staff members staring at her, but she chose to ignore them. Standing in the doorway to his office, Ben Holmes started to say something, but after one glaring look from Libby he apparently changed his mind. Good thing. Ben wouldn’t want to hear what she had to say to him.
Her cell phone was in her hand even before she reached the elevator. After a quick call to directory assistance, she connected with Goldstein & Goldstein.
“Jeff Goldstein, please,” she told the receptionist. “Tell him Libby Morgan is calling.”
She was connected immediately. “Libby, how are you?”
“Fabulous.” She got directly to the point. “You called a few months back and asked if I was happy in my current position, remember?”
“Of course. But that was over a year and a half ago.”
“That long?” Time had gotten away from her. “As it happens I’m free to come on board with Goldstein & Goldstein.” No need to hint at what she wanted. Libby preferred the direct approach.
“Really?” his voice dipped slightly. “As I said, that was well over a year ago. We’ve had a sharp decline in business since then. Almost everyone has. We aren’t currently taking on any associates.”
The news deflated her, but Libby wasn’t discouraged. “Not a problem, Jeff,” she said, continuing to walk at a clipped pace. She was outside the building now, joining the traffic on the Seattle sidewalk, her steps brusque and purposeful. The dark, overcast March sky was an accurate reflection of her mood. It was sure to start raining at any moment.
“I’m sure with your track record you won’t have a problem finding another position,” Jeff continued.
“I don’t think I will, either,” she said, making sure her voice reflected an air of confidence. “I wanted to give you the first opportunity since you’ve pursued me in the past.”
“I appreciate that. If something comes up you’ll be the first person I contact.”
“Wonderful. Thank you for your time,” Libby said. “No problem. Keep in touch.”
“Will do,” she said, cutting off the words in her rush to end the call.
She regretted calling Jeff in an angry flush. She should have given the conversation more thought instead of acting out of emotion and outrage. Even now she was fuming, caught between disbelief and indignation.
The walk to her condo took fifteen minutes. The distance was what she considered her daily workout. Her building was on a busy street and safe enough for her to hoof it both early in the morning and late at night. She hoped she’d be able to continue to walk to and from work at her new firm.
Shifting the load from one shoulder to the other, Libby struggled to maintain her composure as she walked through her front door. She’d been so certain that this was it, so confident that her hard work and sacrifices were finally being recognized. To get laid off instead was unbelievable.
Only now was the truth of it beginning to sink in.
Libby had always been driven to succeed. She’d been the valedictorian of her high school class and had been in the top ten percent of her class in both college and law school. She had worked hard for those grades; she worked hard for everything.
With her arms wrapped around her middle, Libby walked around the living room three times, her mind racing at a speed to rival any NASCAR engine. The sky had gone even darker and a drizzle splashed against the windows, weaving wet and crooked trails on the glass. This was March in the Pacific Northwest.
Libby needed to think. First things first: update her résumé.
She turned on her one-cup coffeemaker, brewed a mug, and carried it into her home office. Setting it down on a coaster, she looked at the picture of her mother that rested on the corner of her desk. Her mother’s eyes seemed to focus directly on hers.
“I know, Mom. Don’t worry. This is only temporary. All is not lost.”
It was then that Libby noticed the plant next to her mother’s framed photograph. She didn’t even know what kind it was, but regardless: it was brown and shriveled now. It had withered with neglect.
- Starting Over is not only the title of this book, it’s also the theme. Besides Libby, what other characters in the book are coping with life-changing developments? How are they handling the upheaval in their lives?
- During Libby’s time of unemployment, she learned she was a survivor. Share with your group about a time in your life when you had to start over or went through a similar period of adversity. What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- When Libby’s boss lets her go, he advises her to get a life outside of work. What did you think about Libby’s attempts to do that? Would you have approached it differently than she did? Why do some people struggle more than others to maintain a balance in life? What do you think are the keys to achieving that balance?
- Libby discovers great joy by volunteering at the hospital. What do you think it was about the experience that proved so fulfilling? Would a different type of volunteer work have had the same impact?
- Libby demonstrated her optimistic outlook on life when she told her friend, Robin, that eventually everything would right itself. Even so, Libby still had setbacks and disappointments. Do you believe that everything works out like it’s supposed to? Did you agree with how Libby faced her challenges? How would you have responded differently?
- For Libby, re-discovering knitting is therapeutic. What is it about this activity that helps her? Have you had similar experiences with taking up a hobby?
- Both Libby and Phillip have a tendency towards being workaholics but this is something Phillip has taken action to address when the book opens. How do you think this tendency impacts their relationship? Is the fact that these two characters are cut from the same cloth, so to speak, a benefit or a hindrance?
- Several of the characters in Starting Now, including Libby and Ava, feel they have been defined by their mothers. Likewise, Casey is having a much different mother/daughter experience with Lydia. Discuss these characters and how their mothers have had an impact on them, particularly at critical crossroads in their lives.
- Which character in Starting Now do you relate to the most—and why?
- Libby and Robin have a falling out. Do you think Robin was justified in being upset with Libby? How would you have handled it differently?
- Starting Now demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit. By the story’s end, in what ways was Libby’s life better because of her ability to turn adversity into opportunity?
Spoiler Alert Questions
- Lydia seeks out Ava’s grandmother when she and Libby are made aware of Ava’s pregnancy, and they debate about whether or not this is the best course to take. Intervention by outsiders into private family matters can be challenging and controversial. Did you agree with this course of action? How might you have handled it differently?
- When Libby thought she was going to adopt Ava’s baby, she planned on it being an open adoption, where Ava could be a part of the baby’s life. Do you think Libby’s decision was wise? If you were in Libby’s shoes, would you choose an option adoption? Why or why not?
- How do you think things would have played out if Libby had been able to adopt Ava’s baby? How would it have affected her career? Would the course of her relationship with Phillip have been any different?