October 2013. Date unknown.
A faint hiss, like the sound of an angry cat, jars me from my sleep.
I open my eyes to pure blackness. I blink, trying to get my bearings. A vague memory forms in the back of my mind, too far away to reach.
Why can’t I see anything?
My breath hitches. Panic rips through my body as the horrifying answer comes to me:
I scramble onto hands and knees and desperately claw at the dark, searching for something, anything, for my senses to latch onto.
A dim overhead light comes on.
Relief swells inside.
I plop back on my butt and close my eyes, taking deep breaths to dispel the rush of adrenaline released by my body. When my heart’s not beating quite so fast, I open my eyes again.
The light’s gotten brighter. I look up at the source. It’s far above me, like a dull, miniature sun. It spreads a little sphere around me, maybe ten feet in diameter. Past that, everything is swallowed by darkness.
An irksome memory keeps gnawing at me. But my head is too heavy to remember. I feel… strange. Kind of like I’m hung over, but without the telltale pounding between my ears.
Cautiously, I try to stand. My limbs are slow to react. They feel heavy, too, like they’ve been dipped in wet clay. I steady myself. Only when I’m satisfied that my knees won’t give out, do I strain my ears for that hissing sound again.
It’s coming from somewhere behind me. I turn back—and nearly smash my head on a gleaming white pillar.
What the hell?
The sound is forgotten as I reach out and brush tentative fingers against the pillar’s surface. It’s cool to the touch. Smooth, too. I put my other hand on it. If I had to guess, I’d say it was made of marble. But what is a lone, white marble pillar doing in the middle of this room?
The memory is like a gong going off inside my head. But trying to reach it is like grasping at a smooth, slippery stone at the bottom of an aquarium. Just when I think I have it, it slips through my fingers and falls even farther out of reach.
I walk a slow, measured circle around the pillar. If I tried wrapping my arms around it, I doubt if I could even span half the circumference. Something far in the back of my mind tells me I should be alarmed. I look behind me and frown. By what? A dark room?
No, you idiot. By the reason you’re here!
My eyes widen. The reason I’m here? I don’t… I don’t remember.
I wince and bring one hand to my temple. Why am I having so much trouble remembering?
I gasp as a second gruesome thought hits me. Did I lose my memory? Do I have… amnesia?
I sink down with my back to the pillar. Desperation starts to take over. I hold my head between my knees and close my eyes to focus.
My name is Lilly Ryder. I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 17th, 1990.
My eyes pop open. Joyous tears form in the corners. I do remember! I take a deep breath and try to keep going.
I was raised by my mom. I do not know my dad…
Suddenly, all my childhood memories come streaming back. Moving around as a kid. Never staying in one place longer than six months. All the cities I’ve lived in. All the apartments my mom and I called home. Even the revolving door of her boyfriends. There was Dave, and Matthew. Tom, and Steve. There was…
I shake my head to stop myself. I don’t doubt my memory anymore. But that still does not explain why I have absolutely no recollection of this place, or how I got here.
I push myself back up. The spotlight above me has gotten progressively brighter. The little enclosure of light doesn’t feel quite so tight anymore. I trail my eyes up the length of the pillar. I can’t see where it ends because of the light. But I can tell it’s tall, at least twenty, maybe twenty-five feet…
There’s also something about its surface that calls out to me. My hands itch to run over the smooth stone. A giggle bubbles up as I picture myself stroking it. The column is quite phallic.
I waver at the unfamiliar thought and have to catch my balance against the beam.
Focus, Lilly! I chide myself.
I have no idea where that thought came from. I have never been overtly sexual.
Nothing feels right. The fog that’s heavy on my mind is starting to lift, but not yet enough for me to understand—or remember—where the hell I am. This place is unfamiliar. I know that much. But right now, I feel almost like a surgery patient whose anesthetic kinked out: fully awake mentally, but completely impaired physically.
I go back to my memories. I can remember high school. I remember college. That’s where I spent the last three years of my life, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is.
“Hello?” I call out. My voice echoes into the surrounding gloom. “Is anybody there?”
I wait for an answer. All I get is the hollow repetition of my own voice.
…anybody there, there, there…
I spent the last three years in college… but that’s not where I think I am right now. No. I shake my head. I knowthat’s not where I am. My memories are fuzzier the closer I bring them to today. Time feels… skewed. Freshman year’s easy to remember. So is sophomore, and most of junior… but things get weird toward the end.
I… finished junior year, didn’t I? Yes. Yes, I did. And then…
And then I took an internship in distant California for the summer, I remember with another gasp.
Suddenly, my mind is crystal clear. That pressing memory hurtles into view. It’s from yesterday. The last thing I recall, I was alone in a booth at an upscale restaurant. The waiter brought me a glass of wine. I took a few sips, contemplating my future….
Oh, God! Fear wraps a stranglehold around my neck.
The restaurant. The wine.
I’ve been drugged!
I can’t breathe. A suppressing tightness constricts my throat. I feel dizzy, and terrified, and most of all… ashamed.
Holy shit, Lilly, way to look out for yourself! My semi-mad inner dialogue pans with a generous dollop of sarcasm.
I’ve always known about the dangers of sick men preying on unsuspecting girls. I just never thought I’d fall victim to it.
I’ve been on my own since I turned eighteen, after the final falling out with my mother. I’ve always been proud of how well I managed. Even the shabby holes I’ve lived in while saving up college tuition were an improvement over living with her and all her low-life boyfriends. At least there, I had autonomy.
I’ve dealt with landlords selling crack on the side and the junkies they attract. Always, I’ve been known as independent, and strong—maybe offputtingly so. But, those were the character traits I had to develop to have any chance of getting ahead.
And all that lead to what? To this? To letting my guard down for one night and ending up… here?
Wherever “here” is, I think to myself.
The shock of the revelation has subsided a bit. I push off from the pillar. I can figure this out. I take a deep breath and look at my hands and feet. I am not bound. I pick at my clothes. They are the same ones I wore last night.
Do you know what might be lurking in the darkness?
I shove the meddlesome voice down. I don’t need more worries. Not now.
Carefully, I place one foot in front of the other and edge to the outer reaches of the light. The strange hissing noise has gone away. I don’t know when that happened. Maybe it was in my head the entire time.
I strain my eyes, trying to pierce the surrounding darkness. It’s impossible. I reach out with one hand and find nothing but air. This far from the pillar, I can barely see my outstretched hand.
“Hello?” I try again. “Who’s there?”
There’s no answer.
What kind of madman would do something like this? I wonder. What is hidden in the shadows?
Without warning, my imagination starts to run wild. Torture devices? Bondage equipment? Something… worse?
Snap out of it! I tell myself firmly.
I refuse to give in to despair, even if my entire self-preservation mechanism is on high alert. Despair is what whoever brought me here wants me to feel.
I will not succumb to that.
I look down at the floor. It is made of some expensive stone. I kneel down and brush my hand over the large, square tiles. They feel solid. Sturdy. They don’t belong in a dingy basement or a dirty warehouse.
Somehow, that thought strengthens me. Things aren’t quite as bad as they could be.
I stand up and peer into the black. I glance back at the safety of my pillar. If I venture past the light, I can always find my way back.
Go slow, I warn myself. Who knows what might be waiting for me out there?
I’ve seen the horror movies. Just because I don’t get the dungeon vibes here does not mean I’m not in one.
Haltingly, my foot reaches past the edge.
A thousand bright lights flood the room. I gasp and shy back, shielding my eyes on instinct.
After a few seconds, I lower my arm, blinking through the sharp pain that shoots through my head. I can almost groan. Light sensitivity, too?
Then I see the room.
It’s huge. Massive. It must be at least five thousand square feet of pristine, flat space. I’m smack dab in the middle of it all.
The lights come from embedded ceiling lamps high overhead. Three of the walls, far away from me, are decorated with black and white abstract paintings created in bold brush strokes. The fourth wall is shielded by a heavy red curtain. The entire floor is made of rich, creamy white tiles reminiscent of steamed milk.
The ceiling is so high above me I almost feel like I’m in a cathedral. It’s made of exquisite dark oak beams.
But this is no church.
I do a slow turn. Something about this is all wrong.
Why am I here? What is behind the curtain? Other than the massive pillar and the paintings, there is nothing in the room.
If I’m being kept prisoner, why am I unbound? Why waste so much space on me?
I cup my hands around my mouth and yell.
“HEY! Anybody? Where am I?”
As before, I’m greeted with silence.
I take one more careful look around. If I got in, there must be a way out.
My eyes dart to the curtain.
I start toward it, my bare feet making determined slaps against the cold floor. I’ve not even gone ten paces toward it when I feel a small tug on my ankle.
I stop and look down. I discover a thread, so thin it’s almost translucent, tied loosely around my foot. The other end is attached to the base of the pillar.
I bend down and finger it.
What on earth is this?
The thread looks like it should snap with the smallest amount of force. I wrap my hands around it and tug.
It doesn’t give.
I frown, and apply a little more effort.
This time, it breaks in a clean cut.
I shake my head as I straighten.
I half-expected something to happen when I did that. Alarms to blare, the lights to go off, something.
That’s when I notice a small white envelope leaning against the pillar. It’s right where the thread connects. In fact, it blends so well with the marble that I’m sure I would have missed it were it not for the string.
Exploration forgotten for now, I pick up the envelope. Maybe it will give some clue about what the fuck is going on.
It’s made of heavy paper. A wax stamp seals it, imprinted with a two-faced drama mask that I would find unnerving no matter where I saw it.
The only time I saw a wax-sealed envelope was when my ex got tapped by the Spade and Grave at Yale. I can understand the need for antiquity in New Haven. It makes no sense here.
My finger slips under the flap. I carefully ease it open. A foreboding sense of doom swirls around me as I pull the folded letter out.
I stare at it for a long minute. This is all so surreal. It feels like being caught in a bad dream. Once, I play myself right into my captor’s hands.
My natural inclination to resist, to fight back, tells me to tear the paper up without another glance. But that would be madness. The only clue I have to my whereabouts might be contained inside.
My thirst for information gets the better of me. I sit on the floor, cross my legs, and slowly unfold the paper.
It’s handwritten in swift, flowing blue ink. The rows of words make perfect strides across the page. Precision is the first word that comes to mind to describe the owner of the handwriting.
I set the sheet on the floor in front of me, lean forward and begin to read:
Two items require your immediate attention.
1. You may spuriously assume you are being held here against your will. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are a guest. As a guest, you retain full ability to leave my home at any time. The door behind the drapes shall remain open for the duration of your stay. There are no physical barriers to speak of—though I would advise you to read to the end of this letter before making decisions based on a flawed understanding of your situation.
2. You may have already noted the new adornment around your neck. If so, well done! I applaud—
Adornment? I stop reading. What adornment?
I bring my hands to my neck. I feel the unfamiliar shape against my skin. Why hadn’t I noticed it before?
I scamper closer to the marble pillar to try to make out my reflection. I can’t see much, but I can make out the “adornment”. There’s a black collar around my throat. I touch it with one hand.
It’s smooth and flat. It’s made of some kind of matted plastic, like the edges of a computer screen. It’s not tight or uncomfortable.
It frightens me. If it warranted a place in the letter, there must be something to it. I need to get it off.
My fingers dart around the edges, seeking the clasp that opens it.
I don’t find one.
The collar is smooth inside and out. It feels like a single piece of plastic. I trail one finger around the rim on the inside, and, finding no discrepancies, do the same on the outside. Again, I feel nothing.
There’s no crack, no edge, nothing to indicate how it was put around my neck.
I jam all my fingers between my skin and the plastic and pull with all my might. The collar flexes ever-so-slightly but doesn’t give.
Dammit! I cry out and try again.
I pull with all the strength God gave me. It’s not enough. I try again, and again, and again.
I realize I’m panting at this point. The exertion has me almost hyperventilating.
I drop my hands. It’s just a stupid, harmless little piece of plastic. Why do I want it off so much?
Because the idea of having anything foreign touch your skin is repulsive.
The voice is right, as always. But what can I do? The collar is bound to be part of the mind game in which I’m an unwitting participant. Reacting the way I just did is probably exactly what my captor wants. He—and I am certain it’s a “he” now, from the wording of the letter—wants me to feel terrified.
I will not give him the pleasure. I return to the letter and continue to read:
…applaud your perspicacity! You should know, however, that it is not an ordinary collar. Contained inside is a small positioning chip and two electrodes. They become activated the moment you stray outside your designated safe zone.
The string around your foot offers a conservative estimation of the distance you may roam past the marble column. Stay close, and you will remain untroubled. I am told that the electric shock the collar provides, while not lethal, can be quite unpleasant.
My spine goes absolutely straight and I forget to breathe. Now the collar has meaning. It feels like a live serpent wrapped around my neck.
My eyes are wide as I look down to my foot. The piece of string is still there, but it’s not connected to the one linked to the pillar.
I’d ripped it like a moron.
How far do I dare go? I’ll have to retie the string—unless I find a way to get the collar off my neck, first.
Another thought occurs to me:
Maybe this is a bluff? Does the collar really have an electrode in it? It’s so thin. Where would it draw power from?
I stand up. Assuming the collar is rigged, and the pillar is the center point… but that’s just what he wants me to believe, isn’t it? The letter claims there’s a door behind the drapes. It could be my path to freedom. I would have to be an idiot to stay here without testing the boundary myself.
I can’t trust anything the letter says. But, I can’t give in to despair, either. My only choice is to contest everything that’s thrown at me. If this is supposed to be a battle of the wills, the guy chose the wrong girl to mess with.
I pick up the remainder of the string and hold it in my fist. I square my shoulders to the long, drawn curtain. I hold my head high. My free hand itches to tug at the collar, but I keep it still. If my captor is watching me—which I’m sure he is, because I’m positive there are cameras hidden all around me—I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing me hesitate.
I take a deep breath and start toward the curtained wall. My strides are strong and purposeful. I will not waver. I will not turn back. Fear of a little shock will not keep me from testing the true limits of this prison.
The string goes taut, and I stop.
So far, so good.
It’s the next few steps that will determine everything.
I glance at the floor to mark my position. So, he expects to keep me in an invisible cage, does he? A cage of my own imagination?
Yeah, tough luck.
I drop the string and take one solid step forward.
I risk one more.
The corner of my lip twitches up in a hint of a smile. I called his bluff. But, I’m not home free yet. The veiled wall is another thirty-odd paces away from me.
I take two more steps forward, and, when nothing happens, start to walk more briskly.
My stroll is cut short by a sharp little zap beneath my left ear.
I tense and wait for more.
Well, color me surprised.
It looks like the collar does have bite, after all. When a second jolt doesn’t come, I can’t stop my smile from becoming a satisfied smirk. I knew the collar couldn’t possible have enough juice to hurt me. Where would the battery go?
Extremely pleased with myself, I venture onward, toward the curtain and its promise of freedom.
The violent torrent of electricity blindsides me. One second I’m on my feet, the next I’m writhing on the floor.
The current pours into me. I thrash about like a grounded fish. Fierce convulsions rock my body. And all I know is pain, pain, pain.
I can feel the source of it, snug around my neck. I’m helpless to fight the onslaught. My head flails about on the ground, throwing hair into my face. A high-pitched squeal sounds in my ears and I desperately hope that pathetic sound is not me.
My eyes roll up and all goes black.
Hollywood and Back:
How Author E. Van Lowe Reinvented Himself in Hollywood
Sitcom producer and writer E. Van Lowe, who had major hits with “The Cosby Show” and “Charles in Charge” among others, found as he hit middle-age that the phone rang less for jobs. He began writing paranormal romance novels, which, in turn, is bringing him back to Hollywood.
Los Angeles, CA
In mid-December, Ehrich (pronounced Eric) Van Lowe received a flat envelope in the mail from the Writers Guild of America. In it was a letter of congratulations along with a certificate. The Cosby Show had been selected as one of the 101 best television shows in history. Van Lowe and other writers were being honored for their roles in writing and producing the show.
“Receiving the honor was a mixed blessing,” says Van Lowe. “Many of my current fans weren’t even born when The Cosby Show aired in first run. They only know it from late night reruns on TV Land and Nick at Night. They view The Cosby Show the same way I viewed I Love Lucy reruns when I was a kid—something that happened a long, long time ago.”
Van Lowe laughs when he says this, but his laughter is bittersweet. Many of the young Hollywood executives who Van Lowe must look to to get hired to write TV shows and movies were children when he was writing and producing such stalwart series as The Cosby Show, Knight Rider, Charles In Charge and Even Stevens. In a culture that celebrates youth, they don’t see Van Lowe as a seasoned veteran; they see him just as they see any writer over forty—old and washed-up.
After a head writer stint on The Tom Joyner Show in 2006, Van Lowe realized his phone wasn’t ringing as much as it once was. He decided after the show had wrapped to begin his segue into his next career, that as an author. Van Lowe had begun his writing career as an author, writing a few paperback original horror novels when he was a student at the University of Southern California. In the early 80s, Van Lowe had written “Child’s Play” and “The Power” under the pseudonym Sal Conte.
“I loved horror when I was growing up,” says van Lowe. “I still do. I chose the first and last names of two guys I played basketball with at the Y as my pseudonym. I figured I’d save my own name for when I wrote the great American novel.”
The great American novel never happened because soon after graduating from the Masters in Professional Writing program at USC, Van Lowe began his more than twenty-year career writing television and film, and never looked back. “The plan was to return to writing books when my TV run was over. I had no idea it was going to last as long as it did, or be so successful.”
Van Lowe’s successes includes: co-writing the Academy Award nominated short film, Cadillac Dreams. A People’s Choice Award for The Cosby Show, an Emmy nomination for Even Stevens, and numerous other nominations including several for the NAACP Image Award, and two for the Director’s Guild of America Diversity Award.
When the Tom Joyner Show wrapped, Van Lowe made the difficult decision to not take any studio meetings that year in search of his next gig. Instead, he decided to take the year off and write his first young adult novel, “Never Slow Dance with a Zombie.” “It wasn’t a difficult decision for me. I knew my career was winding down and I wanted to get my second career started before my first career ended. I wrote the book before the zombie craze had hit, before YA novels like ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ were hot movie properties. So to many of my friends, as well as my agents and manager, it seemed like a bad idea. But I have to hand it to my team, once they understood what I was doing, they embraced the idea as best they could and never deserted me.”
In 2007, Van Lowe’s faith in his team was rewarded when his agent, Jim Kellem (JKA Talent & Literary), did what Van Lowe thought he couldn’t by inking a book deal at Tor Teen, a division of publishing powerhouse MacMillan/St. Martin’s. By then, the book was highly anticipated. “Never Slow Dance with a Zombie” was released in September 2009 with an initial order of 70,000 copies. While the book never made it onto the best seller list, “Never Slow Dance with a Zombie” went on to garner a nomination for an American Library Association Award. The book became part of the first wave of YA zombie novels and launched the beginning of the current YA paranormal craze.
Soon after the sale of “Never Slow Dance with a Zombie,” Kellem called again telling Van Lowe the family of a teen Hollywood star wanted to meet with him. Jim had slipped the manuscript to the young star’s family. They loved the story and wanted to option it for their daughter. Van Lowe declined the option because he realized he could have a resurgence in Hollywood if he were the rights holder and producer of this and several popular novels. How would he become the rights holder to more books? He’d write the books himself.
“I wanted to become a beloved novelist, not a guy who wrote one book that became a movie,” says Van Lowe. “I love books and the people who read them. As much as I wanted to renew my Hollywood career, I knew I had to write several books that readers enjoyed. If I did that, the rest would take care of itself.”
Van Lowe says his greatest reward has been the fans. Although his protagonists are always teenagers, his books appeal to young and old alike. Van Lowe particularly loves interacting with his younger fans. “They’re so enthusiastic,” he says. In 2009 Van Lowe’s young fan’s enthusiasm was on display when many of them showed up to his Never Slow Dance with a Zombie Fest hours early to get made into zombies by a professional Hollywood makeup artist.
Van Lowe was on a roll. His second and third novels, (the first two books in The Falling Angels Saga) “Boyfriend from Hell” and “Earth Angel” became eBook Best Sellers in 2012. The four-book saga is being published by White Whisker Books, owned and operated by Van Lowe’s college classmate and friend, Christopher Meeks.
“Working with Meeks has been a dream. I’m able to have a hand in all aspects of the publishing process, including design, marketing, and release dates. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I try to write page-turners, and with Chris’s help, I believe we deliver the best visceral experience for my fans that we possibly can.”
Meeks only has admiration for Van Lowe. “Ehrich saw what I was doing at White Whisker and asked if I’d considering publishing his Falling Angels Saga. I was only one chapter in and saw this guy is a magician. He can write. His fourth book comes out in two months.”
Van Lowe takes as much care with his new career as he did with The Cosby Show. The highly anticipated fourth and final book in the saga, entitled “Falling,” debuts on March 13th 2014. White Whisker is hosting a launch party at Vroman’s Books in Pasadena on launch day, where Van Lowe will do a reading. The event is free and open to the public. Van Lowe is hoping his latest book becomes another best seller. “My fans are going to love the final book. I put everything I had into it,” he says with pride.
Van Lowe is quite busy in his new career. He spent much of the summer in meetings at every major studio and many production companies shopping his projects. He and a partner wrote a sitcom pilot for a cable network. In December, he teamed with Hollywood heavyweight Peter Bergmann to produce the Falling Angels Saga as a feature film franchise. He is currently at work on the screenplay for “Boyfriend from Hell,” the first book in the franchise. In January, he resumed taking meetings for more TV projects based on his works. He’s also working on a new novella and his next novel.
“I can’t believe how busy I am,” says Van Lowe. “Two years ago I couldn’t get arrested. Some days I feel overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My new career is every bit as rewarding as my first, possibly even more rewarding because I’m older and wiser. Who said youth is wasted on the young? I feel as youthful as ever. I’m having a ball.”
Van Lowe hopes his story can be an inspiration for men and women who believe the work world is preparing them for pasture. “We can all continue to be productive members of society,” he says, “if instead of lamenting the end of our careers, we take a moment to rethink our career strategies.”
White Whisker Books
An Excerpt from Stronger Than This by David-Matthew Barnes
An Unspoken Eulogy
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Daniel Pryor. We are here today to celebrate the life of Martin Thalberg.
Martin was many things to many people, but to me, he was my partner. My soul mate. The absolute love of my life.
I think it’s strange. I’m a man who writes words for a living. I can come up with a winning campaign slogan. I can create the best ad copy in the industry. I can convince you in the shortest amount of time possible to buy a product you don’t even need. But to describe Martin Felix Thalberg to you? To do this wonderful man justice and speak the perfect words to tell you about our love, our beautiful life together, the luminescence of his very magical soul? It is impossible. Words have failed me. And in this time of the greatest sorrow of my life, so has love.
What I can tell you is this: Martin was the kindest man I ever knew. He loved people. He loved life. He loved me. And for that, I am eternally grateful. When I met Martin Thalberg, he was a junior in college. He was twenty-one. He already knew who he was. He was an artist. He was a photographer. He was a gay man. He was the son of a very important woman who was ashamed of him. He tried to keep to himself—he was always sort of an under-the-radar kind of guy—but he was too handsome to go unnoticed. Everyone wanted to know Martin. They wanted to be in his presence. Especially me. From the very moment I laid eyes on him.
I was clueless and fumbling. I had just turned twenty-eight. My life was shit. I was flunking out of grad school and finally coming to terms with the death of my parents. I was accepting the fact I’d turned out to be a major disappointment to anyone I’d ever met. Pure and simple, I was a screw-up. I’d blown shot after shot, chance after chance. I’d depleted every ounce of luck. It was to the point I’d thought about running away somewhere that summer. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. Europe. Alaska. Jupiter. As far away from my loneliness as I could possibly get.
Before I met Martin in that university library on that fateful spring day in May, I’d given up on many things. I’d resigned to the fact that true love would always elude me. I would never find someone—a man—who would be satisfied to love me, and only me. It seemed every man I met suffered from the same disease—infidelity. I would never have the type of storybook love my parents had. I would be miserable and unhappy, just like my sister Julie. She just knows how to fake it a lot better than I do. I would forever be the guy everyone felt sorry for, the poor pitiful man who sat alone at dinner parties, who always stayed longer than he was supposed to, the one who just needed to meet the right guy. I’d sworn off blind dates and online hook-ups. Both left me exhausted and angry. Why didn’t I have the same thing everyone else did? Where was my shot?
Lucky for me, love was sitting all alone. As if he was waiting for me to show up. I found him sitting at a table not far from the German philosophy section. His eyes were cast downward, staring intently at the photograph of a painting in a book. It was Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, I believe. One of his favorites. And he looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” And I thought he was talking about the instant connection between us. Because it was there and it was intense and I know we both felt it. So I sat down beside him. I looked at the painting. I looked at his hands. And then into his eyes. Deeply. And I knew.
How can I put into words the beauty of his smile? The gentleness of his touch? The incredible sound of his laughter? How can I stand here and describe to you the way Martin made me feel? The way he made everyone feel? He was an artist who possessed the beautiful ability to capture the poetry and humanity in the world around him through his exquisite photographs. I just hope that today we can do the same for him. Yet I fear it will not happen. We cannot do him justice. No matter who stands up here and speaks to you, we cannot convey the true essence of his being.
Sure, we can try to summarize him in the simplest terms. Martin was a man who loved his friends, his dog, his art, this world, his life.
For the rest of mine, I will never be able to make sense of what happened to Martin on that night in that store. Do the men who murdered him know that the second they decided to pull their triggers, none of our lives would ever be the same? Now we must try to fathom a world without Martin in it. I, for one, find that unbearable to do.
When I leave this church, I will go home. Back to the apartment we shared. Back to our dog Luther, who has no idea when his other father is coming home but for whom he’s patiently waiting. Back to Martin’s clothes that still smell like him. His pillow. His toothbrush. His razor. His favorite cologne. Those black-and-white photographs that were an extension of his brilliant mind. The half-empty yellow cup of peppermint tea he left sitting on the kitchen counter. To all of these things I will return. But I do so alone. Without him. Without the man I’ve woken up next to every morning for the last six years of my life. I go home to silence. To an empty chair where my best friend used to sit. To no laughter. To no touch. To the absence of love. I return to the state I was before the very second I met Martin.
Again, I will become nothing. For without him, that is all that I am.
From the daunting, charismatic Vikings, to the charming, brazen Alpha male heroes of modern day, you’ll be whisked away to a world filled with fast-paced adventure, unforgettable romance, and undying love.
Lessons I learned from my hero (heroine/villain).
Claire Sanchez, 25 year old medicine woman, curandera, is a young woman who has lost her mother when she was five years old, witnessed her murder at the hands of a black robed man. She is a woman of tremendous courage and resolve. Fear tries to get her by the throat and squeeze the life out of her. There are so many times that she fought not to give up, to surrender to despair. I find her so human here, the draw to give up and make oneself disappear when confronted with evil. Evil, the real thing, can be so overwhelming, big and mysterious, and appear to be way out of our influence or control. She is one person, a very young and inexperienced person at that, up against a veritable force not only of society but of nature gone bad. To feel the odds stacked against you and yet know that you can’t be true to yourself, to your life, and to go on with life without getting answers and doing what you need to do to find those answers, no matter what, is sheer inspiration. Courage is courage only when it is face to face with one bad ass enemy…Archbishop William Anarch! If she dies then she knows that she has done what she has needed to do. Death is a real possibility for her. She knows this and yet has to risk it in order to be true to herself as a woman. To risk everything, life itself, in order to be true to self…that is courage and this is a lesson to be learned.
“Hush now, child,” said a voice she recognized as that of her mother’s
closest friend. “The man cannot harm you, mijita, as long as you are with us.
We will make him think you are dead. But you must be very quiet. Ya no
llores,” the woman warned, raising a finger to her lips.
The woman then carried her into a dark cave illuminated by the light
of a single candle. The cave was frightening, with shadows of what appeared
to be goblins and demons dancing on the red sandstone walls. “I will return for
you soon. You will be safe here,” the woman said. The girl watched the woman
walk away, shivering as a breeze blew through the cave’s narrow passages.
Closing her eyes, she rocked back and forth—imagining herself safe in
her mother’s arms—then opened her eyes to the light of the full moon shining
through the mouth of the cave. The shadows on the walls were just shadows
now, no longer goblins and demons. As she slipped into a trance, images
flickered in her mind. She saw the woman who had brought her to this place
scattering pieces of raw meat around the open mesa where her mother had
struggled, helped by two other women the girl could not identify.
Suddenly, the scene shifted to a stone ledge jutting over the mesa, and
she heard the pounding footsteps of a man running toward the women. The girl
felt her heart race and her breathing quicken, afraid that the bad man would
spot them and kill them. Then the image shifted again, and she now saw on the
mesa three gray wolves circling the raw meat and the man walking away from
the granite ledge. As he left, she heard his thought: The child is dead.
Never acknowledge the fact that you’re a girl, and take pride when your guy friends say, “You’re one of the guys.” Tell yourself, “I am one of the guys,” even though, in the back of your mind, a little voice says, “But you’ve got girl parts.”
You are born on a ranch in central Colorado or southern Wyoming or northern Montana and grow up surrounded by cowboys. Or maybe not a ranch, maybe a farm, and you have five older brothers. Your first memory is of sitting on the back of Big Cheese, an old sorrel gelding with a sway back and—you find out later when you regularly ride bareback—a backbone like a ridge line. Later, you won’t know if this first memory is real or comes from one of the only photos of you as a baby. You study that photo a lot. It must be spring or late fall because you’re wearing a quilted yellow jacket with a blue-lined hood and your brother’s hands reach from the side of the frame and support you in the saddle. You look half asleep with your head tilted to the side against your shoulder, a little sack of potatoes.
Your dad is a kind man, a hard worker, who gives you respect when no one else will. When you’re four, if he asks, “Birdie, do you think the price of hogs is going up?” ponder this a while. Take into account how Rosie has just farrowed seven piglets and how you’re bottle-raising the runt and how you’ve heard your brothers complaining about pig shit on the boots they wear to town. Think about how much Jewel—that’s what you’ve decided to name the pig—means to you and say, “Yes, Daddy, pigs are worth a lot.” He’ll nod his head, but he won’t smile like other people when they think what you say was cute or precocious.
Your mother is a mouse of a woman who takes long walks in the gray sagebrushed hills beyond the fields or lays in the cool back bedroom reading the Bible. When your brothers ask “Where’s Mom?” you won’t know. You don’t think it odd when at five you learn how to boil water in the big speckled enamelware pot and to shake in three boxes of macaroni, to watch as it turn from off-yellow plasticity to soft white noodles, to hold both handles with a towel and carefully pour it into the colander in the sink while avoiding the steam, to measure the butter and the milk—one of your brothers shows you how much—and then to mix in the powdered cheese. You learn to dig a dollop of bacon grease from the Kerr jar in the fridge into the hot cast iron skillet, wait for it to melt, and then lay in half-frozen steaks, the wonderful smell of the fat and the popping of ice crystals filling the kitchen. When your brothers come in from doing their chores, they talk and laugh instead of opening the cupboards and slamming them shut. And your dad doesn’t clench his jaw while washing his hands with Dawn dishwashing liquid at the kitchen sink and then toss big hunks of Wonder Bread into bowls filled with milk.
When you wear hand-me-downs from your brothers, be proud. Covet the red plaid shirt of your next older brother, and when you get it—a hot late summer afternoon when he tosses three shirts on your bed—wear it until the holes in the elbows decapitated the cuffs. If you go to town with your dad for parts, be proud of your shitty boots and muddy jeans and torn-up shirts. It shows that you know an honest day’s work. Work is more important than fancy things, and you are not one of those ninnies who wear girlie dresses and couldn’t change a tire if their lives depended on it.
Be prepared: when you go to school, you won’t know quite where you fit. All the other kids will seem to know something that you don’t, something they whisper to each other behind their hands. They won’t ever whisper it to you. But they won’t make fun of you either because—you’ll get this right away and take pride in it—you are tough and also you have five older brothers and the Gunderson family sticks together. Be proud of the fact that, in seventh grade social studies, you sit elbows-on-the-table next to a boy about your size, and he says with a note of admiration, “Look at them guns. You got arms bigger than me.” It’s winter, and you’ve been throwing hay bales every morning to feed the livestock.
Your friends will be boys. You understand boys. When you say something, they take it at face value. If they don’t understand, hit them, and they’ll understand that. For a couple of months—until your dad finds out about it—your second oldest brother will give you a dime every time you get into a fist fight. The look on your brother’s face as he hands you those dimes will make your insides puff to bursting. Use the dimes to buy lemons at the corner grocery during lunch time. Slice them up with your buck knife and hand them out to see which of the boys can bite into it without making a face.
Leave the girls alone, and they will leave you alone. When you have to be together, like in gym class, they’ll ignore you, which will be fine with you. Always take the locker by the door so you can jet in and out as fast as you can. You’ll be mortified that they’ll see your body, how gross and deformed it is. Be proud of the muscles, but the buds of breast and the peaking pubic hair will be beyond embarrassing. Still, you’ll be fascinated with their bodies, not in a sexual way, but in that they seem to be so comfortable with them, even—to your disgust—proud. They’ll compare boobs in the mirror, holding their arms up against their ribs so that their breasts push forward. One girl, Bobbie Joe Blanchard, won’t stand at the mirror though because she’ll get breasts early, big round ones. She’ll quickly go from a slip of a girl who never says anything to the most popular because the boys pay attention, and the attention of the boys is worth much more than any giggling camaraderie of the girls. You’ll agree with this, but you’ll also be mystified as to the boys’ motivations. Ask your best friend Jimmy Mockler, “What’s up with that?” He’ll just shrug and smile, sheepishly but with pride too.
In middle school, don’t be surprised if the guys who used to be your friends forget about you. They’ll still be nice, but they’ll spend their time playing rough games of basketball and daring each other to talk to this girl or that. You won’t be good at basketball—you’re tough, but you don’t have the height or the competitiveness. Plus, they don’t really want you to play—you can tell. Think about this a lot, how to regain their respect. Go so far as to ask the coach about trying out for football. He’ll look at you like you’re a two-headed calf and say, “Darlin’, girls don’t play football.” You’ll want to scream, “I’m not a girl!” but you won’t. Instead, never tell anyone, especially the boys, and hope to God that the coach never mentions it in gym class, which he teaches. He won’t. He’ll agree with you that it’s embarrassing.
One day at lunch time, Jimmy Mockler will tell a story to the other guys about Bobbie Joe Blanchard and how he’s asked her to meet him under the bleachers in the gym during fifth period study hall. There is no gym during fifth period. He and Bobbie Joe are going to get passes to go to the bathroom and sneak in when no one’s looking. “I bet she lets me kiss her!” he says and laughs and the other boys laugh. Then he says, “Maybe she’ll even give me a hand job.” He’ll glance at you and this look of horror will come over his face. They’ll all look at you. Right then you’ll know you’ve lost them. At home that night, cry in your room without making a sound in case your brothers walk by.
Realize at this point that you have two choices: either you have to win back the boys or you have to throw in with the girls. But you don’t understand the girls at all. You wouldn’t know the first thing about it. How do you talk to girls, anyway? Don’t lose heart. Maybe there is a way to make it through to the boys. If pretty girls are what gets their attention, maybe you’ll have to learn to look like a girl, even if you aren’t really one. You can learn. Didn’t you teach yourself how to make peach pies from scratch? How to braid horsehair into hat bands? How to pick the lock on the second oldest brother’s bottom drawer, only to be disgusted with the magazines you found there? You can do this.
Imagine the looks on the boys’ faces. The admiration filling their eyes. Respect, even. And the jealousy in the girls’ eyes. Jimmy will walk up to you and put his arm around you and say, “Where you been?” There’ll be no more awkward silences, no more conversations that switch when you walk up. It’ll be the same as before, once they notice you. All you have to do is get their attention.
Raid your mom’s closet for a dress. Smuggle it into your room. It’s the one you’ve seen her wear to church—knee-length, sky blue with a white scalloped collar. You are her height now, and it’ll fit you. To your surprise, you’ll even fill it out in the bust. Surreptitiously steal a copy of a girls’ magazine from the library and study it—the way the girls’ hair is curled, the way their lips shine, how clean their hands are. Decide to try it the following Monday. Sunday night, take a long bath and try to soak off all the dirt and scrub the elephant hide off your feet. The leg bruises from working in the barn won’t come off, but sacrifice your toothbrush to scrub your fingernails. Tie up your wet hair in rags like you’ve seen your mother do on Saturday nights before Sunday church services. The next morning, get ready in your room so no one will see you. Climb into the dress. You will feel naked and drafty around the legs. This is normal. Brush out your hair. Instead of nice wavy curls, it will stuck out all over the place. Wet it down just a little, which will help, but it will still look like an alfalfa windrow. You don’t have any lip gloss, so use bag balm, the sticky yellow substance you put on cow teats when they chap. This won’t really be new because when your lips crack from sun or wind burn, that’s what you use. It will feel different though.
Look at yourself in the mirror. You won’t recognize yourself. It will be a weird double consciousness—this person in the mirror is you, you’ll know it, but you’ll have to glance down anyway just to match the image in the mirror with the one attached to your body. Beware. It will creep you out. It looks like a girl in the mirror, but it can’t be because you aren’t one of them.
Whatever happens, keep telling yourself: it’ll be worth it if it works.
Don’t go downstairs until just before your brothers are ready to drive to school. When you come down, your brothers will stop talking. The brother just older than you will laugh, but then your dad will whistle and say, “My, don’t you look pretty today.” This will make you feel a little better and stop the boys’ wolf whistles, though they’ll keep glancing sideways at you in the car. If the brother just older than you whispers, “Look who’s a ger-rel,” the oldest one will tap him upside the head to shut him up.
Make your oldest brother drop you off two blocks from school and hide behind a tree until you’re sure school has started. You won’t want anyone to see you ahead of time. In fact, you’ll be having second thoughts about the whole project. Be brave. You’ll think of Jimmy Mockler and the embarrassed way he looks at you, maybe even avoids you when you come down the hall, and that’ll help. Creep in a side door, scoot to your locker, get your books, and go to homeroom. If you feel like you might let loose in your pants as you peek into the classroom through the wire-latticed window, wait—this will pass. Mrs. Garcia will probably have everyone working in groups, and desks will be pushed together in four messy circles. The guys in the back will be in one group, including Jimmy. Rest your hand on the door knob for a long time, take a deep breath, and then push through the door.
The noise of everyone talking at once will hit you as the door opens. That and the smell of the fish tank and Mrs. Garcia’s sickeningly sweet perfume. Stutter-breathe and make a beeline toward the boy’s circle. Talking will begin to peter out as you enter the room, and you’ll make it halfway along the wall toward the back before there’s dead silence. Everyone will be looking at you, but keep your eyes on the boys’ circle. The looks on the boys’ faces will be wonderful. All their eyes fastened on you, looking admiringly, small smiles in the corners of their mouths. They will be looking at you, noticing you. Jimmy, particularly, will have a wide-eyed slack-jawed grin on his face.
Celebrate. You’ve done it. You’ve regained their attention. You are once more an honorary boy, respected and included.
But then it’ll be like a slow-motion horror movie. From behind you, Mrs. Garcia will say, “Why, Birdie Gunderson, I almost didn’t recognize you.” Watch these words register on the boys’ faces. Some of them will give a little shrug and turn back toward the others, but it’s Jimmy’s reaction that will bruise you to the core. You’ll see the time delay of the words entering his ears and then his brain and then the look on his face fix as his brain processes the words and then his eyes widen as he finally understands. Then, it’ll be as if someone grabs the center of his face and twists. The look will be so awful your body will wander to a stop, and you’ll stand, unbelieving, still caught in the adrenalin of the moment before. You’re going to cry, so flip around and push back out through the door and run down the hall and out the big double doors by the principal’s office. Run until you can’t breathe and then walk, taking in big hiccupping breaths of air, all the way to the high school. Make your oldest brother take you home.
Accept your fate. You’ll never regain that special place with the boys, and you become a second-hand friend. Every once in a while your brothers will say, “Remember the time Birdie tried to be a girl?” and they’ll laugh. Laugh with them. You know how ridiculous it was.
High school will be a long lonely blur, but take it like a man. Never go on a date, never kiss a boy. Instead, watch football and memorize the stats and, if anyone tries to strike up a conversation, bring up the Dallas Cowboys. Take your one stab at getting outside your life—after high school, go to community college for a semester, but when your mom dies of some unnamable female ailment, your dad will need you on the farm. You’ll tell yourself that you can always go back and get that degree, but you won’t. Fill your days with the routine of agriculture. The animals won’t care if you’re a boy or a girl—they just need to be fed and watered. Same with your dad and brothers. Don’t think about being a man. Or being a woman. You are an efficient cog in the machinery of the farm.
“Sis, you’re the best,” they’ll all say. “Birdie is as faithful as a hound dog.”
You are, you know? You’re a good cook, you know a lot about football, and you work hard. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any friends, men or women. It doesn’t matter that you don’t get out much and you’ll never be kissed, much less married. When you have needs, take care of them yourself. Don’t think about becoming a skinny whiskery-chinned old batty with too many dogs. You’re happy. Or at least you’re not sad. You’re comfortable. You have a full life taking care of your dad and your brothers. You do. You really do.
Or, maybe this isn’t the way it goes.
Maybe, when you’re in your early thirties, your fourth oldest brother will bring home an old college buddy for two weeks one summer. Conrad Patel. You’ll resent the hell out of it, this change in routine. This guy will make you uncomfortable. At first you’ll think he’s gay because he’s thin and has a loose-limbed way of walking. This will make you wonder about your brother. Then you’ll understand by the way they talk about women that they’re just comfortable with each other. They understand each other. It’ll remind you of how it used to be with you and Jimmy Mockler—you’ll be sad at first and then angry. Go out of your way to avoid this Conrad Patel. You might even do little things to make yourself feel better, like flushing the downstairs toilet when he’s in the upstairs shower. Every time you get the chance.
A lot of your energy during the summer goes into growing the garden, and after your dad and the boys leave for the fields, spend your mornings watering and weeding. In the evening after the supper dishes are done, walk through the garden and inspect things—pollinate the tomatoes, check for potato bugs, and shut the hothouse boxes. You will love this time of cool breeze and setting sun. But it will annoy the hell out of you when Conrad Patel breaks away from the card game or the sitcom TV to follow you out the back door and down the porch steps. He won’t seem to understand the very strong hints you drop. Start sneaking out the front door, but don’t be surprised if you find him already there in the garden.
“But you don’t grow coriander?” Conrad Patel will say. “You don’t grow fennel? Not even tarragon?” He will say this with wonder, as if these things are essential to life.
Say, “If you don’t like what I cook, don’t eat it,” and turn your back.
If he says, “Oh no—your cooking is a marvel. So very different from my mother’s,” you won’t be sure how to take this, just like you’re never quite sure how to take anything he says. Say, “You’re comparing me to your mother?” It will irritate you. Really irritate you. You’ll wish you were ten again so you could sock him.
“Yes, of course,” he’ll say, once again as if this were a given.
Realize that he doesn’t understand you any more than you understand him. You won’t know what to say so don’t say anything and hope that’s the end of it.
But it won’t be. He’ll say, “You would drive across this country to eat her mashed potatoes. The key is browning the mustard seeds, with just enough chilies to make your lips burn. This makes me want to drop everything and go for a visit.” His voice will be both intense and wistful.
As you finish up in the garden, he’ll talk about cooking but then about his family. He’ll tell you about his mother and his aunts and grandmother. Also about his brothers and his dad, who has passed away. It’s not what he says so much as how he says it. Women to him are a mystery, much like they are to you, but not in a contemptuous way. He talks about them with such respect and such admiration, like they are men and men are women. To him, women are the source of all goodness and men are the source of all evil. Women are the ones who get things done, the practical ones, and men spend their time being frivolous with money.
It will all be so foreign to you that when he stops talking it’ll be as if you walked out of a movie theater. Remind yourself of where you are. And who you are. Your body and your approach to the world will have traveled to another place where what you were supposed to be doesn’t seem so far from what you are. You’ll want to reject it whole cloth, but there’s a part of you that will want to break into tears.
Shut the last hothouse lid and turn to leave.
Conrad Patel will say, “I have said something wrong.” He will step in front of you. “What I meant was that your potatoes are the same. Not the same—they don’t contain mustard seeds. But the same in that they are wonderful. And your beef stew is wonderful. You are a wonderful woman.”
Are you? Do those words go together?
It’s dark enough that you won’t be able to see his face, but if he steps closer to you, don’t step away. He’ll stand in front of you and you’ll feel the heat of his body through the cool of the evening. You’ll like this feeling. You might wonder what’s coming, if he’s leaning toward you ever so slightly—it will be hard to tell in the fading light. Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t run away. Face your fears. Be a man.
The shooter has disappeared. Ky and Gabe have made it to shore and are waiting for the crew to come rescue them.
She could see the Belle’s staff rushing up and down the boarding ramp preparing a rescue cart. Behind the rescue team, paced Rosie, hands flying everywhere as she gave directions. Hoping to relieve her friend’s worry, Ky waved.
“Maybe you shouldn’t draw attention to yourself,” commented McGregor. “The shooter could be hiding among the crew.”
Good advice, and another reason to think he was a cop. He remained in the water and took off one boot, then the other. They were lizard skin, and judging from his pained expression as he poured out muddy water like from a pitcher, they were the real deal.
“Lost my hat,” he said, morosely. “My daughter gave it to me when she was a first grader.”
She wanted to take petty satisfaction in his misery, but the river had cost him, too. Although she’d bet a rack of poker chips that he looked a whole lot better sans hat and boots than she looked without her cosmetics.
The sunset glowed behind him, softening the harsh lines on his face. Without the Stetson, he looked less formidable. Almost as if he might truly be on her side.
Finished emptying the boots, he tossed them on the shore and walked over to Ky. He stopped within arm’s reach, dug into his jacket pocket, then extended his hand. “These yours?”
He held her pushup pads. Both of them.
She’d only noticed losing one.
Her gaze dropped to the V of her blouse, which was no longer filled out by the pads, and now hung open to reveal her water-puckered nipples. She flushed, tugged the blouse together. “Let those things go. They’re ruined anyway.”
He grinned wickedly. “And pollute the mighty Mississippi? No can do.”
Though at her expense, his humor was infectious. And very needed after they’d been shot at and half-drowned. She felt lighter, giddy even. She smiled despite herself.
“And, Red,” he added with a broad, theatrical wink, “I must add that you’ve never looked more natural.”
This time Ky laughed outright. She stripped off her remaining eyelash extensions and placed them on top of the foam lumps in McGregor’s large hand. “If I must look natural, I’m going all the way. And you’re in charge of carrying out the trash.”
McGregor stared wide-eyed at the mess in his hand. “You want me to slay this beastie? Oh, no. Oh, no.”
She laughed again, absorbed in the moment.
As if in blessing, the sun fell to the horizon in a last blaze of orange, red and yellow. She closed her eyes against the brightness, let the rays warm her chilled body.
This time Ky laughed outright. She stripped off her remaining eyelash extensions and placed them on top of the foam lumps in McGregor’s large hand. “If I must look natural, I’m going all the way. And you’re in charge of carrying out the trash.”
McGregor stared wide-eyed at the mess in his hand. “You want me to slay this beastie? Oh, no. Oh, no.”
She laughed again, absorbed in the moment.
As if in blessing, the sun fell to the horizon in a last blaze of orange, red and yellow. She closed her eyes against the brightness, let the rays warm her chilled body.
Light. Warmth. Laughter. Well-being. Ky sensed these had been missing from her life for a long time.
She’d have to let go of this moment soon, have to deal with a past that might be scarier than she’d ever dreamed, but not now. . . . Not now.
She took in a deep breath, holding on for a little longer.
The name was spoken in a hushed voice — McGregor’s voice.
Ky opened her eyes to find him staring at her. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
Suddenly, neither was she.
Chapter 1 Preview
The night is at its darkest in the suburban area of Gwinnett County when the residents of the Sugarloaf Country Club retire for the night. The Casper-white moon light radiates brazenly, polishing the streets. The crickets begin to creak and mingle, while the waft of the earth’s musk flows into the nostrils of Chantrelle Hayfield.
The young 22-year-old tattoo artist and entrepreneur loves to put on her white and purple striped pumas, black puma tights, and white sports bra and jog through the streets. The streets serve as a sanctuary. With every step, a jolt of lightning surges through her, releasing the frustrations of the day. There is no need for music. The thumping of her feet hitting the ground serves as the perfect accompaniment to Mozart. Her strides stay consistent until she reaches her mailbox.
“Let’s see what we have here?” she says softly to herself. She shuffles through her mail and discovers it’s all junk mail. She was hoping for another check, but it’s no big deal. Besides, it’s not good to be money hungry all the time. Chantrelle knows this all too well. She owns several booming tattoo shops, has written several books about tattooing, and is a freelance model. Her days are never dull, but they are always full, leaving little time for herself.
She walks steadily toward her doorstep and discovers an unknown vehicle in her driveway.
“Who car is this?” she asks.
It’s not uncommon for an unknown car to be in her driveway. Her neighbor has a bad habit of getting drunk and parking at the wrong house. When you work sixteen hours a day at a law firm and just recently got a divorce, alcohol can easily become your new mistress. She shrugs it off, steps in front of her door, inserts the keys, and opens it.
“Drew! I’m home.” Chantrelle announces. “I had such a good workout just now.” No reply. Strange, Drew is always eager to see his baby come home, but today, it seems that only the television is awaiting her arrival.
“This is a little strange.” Chantrelle wanders into the living room to see open pizza boxes, a running kitchen faucet, and open bottles of Hennessey. Just what the hell happened after Chantrelle left for her one-hour run?
She finds strands of blonde hair all over her leather couch. This is highly upsetting for Chantrelle. She gathers all the hair and proceeds to the kitchen, slamming the hair in the garbage before going to the sink to wash her hands. As she scrubs the vermin off her hands, she can’t stop a barrage of curse words from flying out of her mouth.
With clean hands, she lets out a deep sigh of relief. In her peripheral vision, something added more suspense to this mystery. There are three wine glasses. One is half filled and the other two are empty, with a pink lipstick residue. Chantrelle lifts the glass of wine and nods her head in disapproval.
She lifts the other glass with the pink lipstick and examines it.
“I can’t believe this shit!” Chantrelle shouts out loud. Her mighty hand crushes the champagne glasses into shards like a gemstone being drilled into finer fragments. Her hands drip with balefire-red blood as she opens the sink cabinet to arm herself with her trusted 9 mm. She cocks the chamber back and marches toward the bedroom. But just a few feet down, all the might within her to advance any further is sapped. Her steps change from loud and determined to a discreet muffle.
The murmuring activity in her bedroom isn’t making Chantrelle exactly comfortable. In fact, it’s only adding to her anxiousness. She continues to creep toward the bedroom door and notices it’s cracked open. She peeps inside. The lights are dim–bright enough to see inside, but dark enough only to show silhouettes. The humidity of the room punches Chantrelle in the face along with the full-bodied aroma of another woman’s sex and sweat. Even though she is armed, her hands tremble as she witnesses her boyfriend of four months with two unknown women in her own bed. Her eyelids bear the weight of a battered soldier, shutting them is the only way to block this reality and her tears.
The noises the women make with Drew are similar to the ones Chantrelle makes with him, but they were more lustful. It’s sickening to know that the love she was trying to forge with this man is now tainted. Unwillingly, she slowly opens her heavy eyes and grasps her lover’s betrayal.
Drew and his two companions find themselves entangled in the threads of ecstasy. His dark skinned lover enjoys riding his shaft as she slowly coils her hips onto him. His Asian persuasion girl watches alongside and nibbles his rigid nipples. They continue to deepen themselves into the webs of their lustful threesome, until a series of bullets are shot into the ceiling. That put a stop to the orgy; the girls scatter off the bed, grabbing a few articles of their clothing to cover themselves. Drew is taken aback when he looks into Chantrelle’s once soft, now hard, arctic eyes.
“Baby,” Drew extending his hands toward Chantrelle, attempting to explain. “This isn’t what you thi–.”