Angelic Measures

…because sometimes that’s the only way.

1aaab

I’m very excited to announce that I finished the first round of rewrites on my new novel. In fact I’m so excited that even though the book is not yet published (or even edited) I will share the first chapter here. Here goes:

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“Don’t do it, Luke.”

He jerked, simultaneously whirling toward the voice. The ground beneath his feet gave way in a frenzy of flailing arms colliding with a hard object. A small gasp escaped his lips, tearing him away from the dream. The few seconds before impact seemed like an eternity.

What the—?

Cold air pushed against his bare chest as he hit the floor with a loud thump. Bile surged in his throat and he swallowed hard, his tongue seemingly stuck to the roof of his mouth. He tried to pry his eyelids open, but the world rushed in a blur at the invasion of light, sending stabs of pain in his temples. Hurriedly, he closed his eyes, but somehow, he had a feeling the best was yet to come.

Sheltering his land-filled eyes with his hand, he tried to block the shards of light dancing through the blinds—his blinds. For long moments he didn’t move, anything to delay a searing headache and the full knowledge that he had just fallen out of his bed.

As his vision slowly adjusted to the light, a terrible stench invaded his nose, and with horror, he realized his breath was the cause. He’d been drinking, again.

Ugh!

His teeth clattered noisily with disgust.

Why? He’d been sober almost two months.

What the hell happened?

His alarm clock began to shout its usual, The Black Eyed Peas, he’d downloaded to his phone a while back. He swore the song could wake up dead people. From his floor perspective, all but knocking everything in his way, he patted the bedside table in an attempt to silence it. He found it, finally, and halted the annoying music, and then he checked the time.

Six.

In the morning? Shit!

He jolted to a sitting position, fully awake. He had to be at the hospital in an hour. A gentle swaying of the space weirdly continued to churn his gut. How many drinks had he had, he wondered while using the bed frame to pull himself up? With some difficulty, he stood on wobbly feet. He and alcohol did not go well together. Never had, he thought, pressing two fingers to his hammering temples. Not in large amounts, anyway.

Once he assumed the perpendicular position, he sluggishly stretched his arms above his head, the simple action stirring his headache and his stomach, even more. Momentarily, he searched his brain. How could he have fallen off the wagon? Only two days ago his AA sponsor had praised his progress, and now his brain felt like scrambled eggs, annoying the hell out of him.

Okay, okay, calm down and think, he instructed, trying to gather his scattered notions of yesterday. Thinking hurt. Muddled thoughts mingled and rushed through his head like a hurricane, leaving nothing but debris behind.

Coffee. Life begins after coffee. “Dr. Lukas Marshal needs some caffeine fix,” he mumbled just as a whooshing sound came from the general direction of his living room.

Hell, no!

He lived alone. Did someone break into his apartment? His fingers closed on the baseball bat he kept behind his bedroom door. Flattening himself against the wall, he listened as the swishing continued. His back still compressed against the wall, he tiptoed down the dark and narrow hallway toward the living room. He craned his neck to peek around the corner. Lifting the bat ready to strike, he almost collided with Josh.

“Whoa! Easy there, Champ?” his best friend said, eyeing the baseball bat in Luke’s hand.

Josh’s tone expressed reproach. It was the only time he called him that. Why? Besides, what was he doing here? Luke didn’t recall giving him a key, so how had he entered the apartment?

Good question. Josh’s clothes were wrinkled as if he’d slept in them. His detective shield tightly attached at his waist glinted in the light.

Luke knit his brows together, trying to puzzle out the hazy memory that was trying to surface. He stood there struggling to, at least, get his brain to engage in a rational inquiry, but all that came out was, “Did I call the police? Why are you here?”

Josh cast a reproachful glance that quickly changed into a phony smile. “Are you always this sweet when you wake up?”

“How did you get inside?” Luke asked, ignoring his friend’s odd behavior and attempt to lighten up his mood.

“T’s nice to see you back to your old, grumpy self. And to answer your question, you let me in, Champ.”

More reproach, and again, Luke wondered why. He and Josh were more than friends; they were like brothers. Twin brothers, if their totally different personalities and looks were ignored—Luke had dark hair, blue eyes, Josh had blond hair, brown eyes; Luke was calm and calculated, Josh was rebellious, doing everything on impulse.

Luke’s parents died buried under the ashes of Mount St. Helens. His dad a photographer for Vancouver Sun, and his mom an artist had wanted to photograph and paint the volcano. They had died doing what they loved when the volcano erupted.

Or perhaps serendipity had a really twisted sense of humor and began taking away Luke’s loved ones when he was just a baby.

His maternal grandmother, Rose, had picked up the pieces and raised him. She was the most kind, gentle person, Luke had ever known, but she was no spring chicken anymore. That was where Josh’s family came in, taking over the parental duties where his grandmother couldn’t—football games, field trips, even homework.

Three generations of Monroes gathered daily around a seven-foot table to eat and discuss various issues. In spite of ribbing each other as a result of differing viewpoints, Josh’s family—including his pain-in-the-ass little sister, Lyla—were loving, and they included Luke as one of their own. Their home was his home, filling in the void where his parents used to be. So what the hell had he done or said last night to piss Josh off?

Probably sensing the internal battle going in his head, Josh reached into his pocket and pulled out his Samsung Galaxy S6. With a worried frown, he handed it to Luke. “Read the texts. I think they pretty much cover your questions.”

Reluctantly, Luke took the phone, his stomach hardening into a ball of nerves. Blood roared through his body, pounding in his ears as he browsed through the messages.

9:05 PM Marshal: I called u want to say bye.

9:06 PM Josh: where r u going?

9:09 PM Marshal: 2 join her

9:10 PM Josh: who?

9:13 PM Marshal: Sarah

A slow burn started in Luke’s chest. Clipped, but razor-sharp memories began to roll in short pants as if scanning through random scenes from an old movie. The expanse of blue water stretching in front of him to the horizon; the sound of powerful waves crashing against the crumbling rocks below, and sending white spray high in the air; the sound of the angry swellings colliding with cries of seagulls swooping in frenzied dives to feed on the marine fish scattered on the shore.

New Brighton Park.

The name dredged up memories of him and Sarah sitting on that edge, legs crossed, voices muted. Oh, how much they had enjoyed that view. Between the squawks above and the splashes below, the sounds of the city always disappeared. They’d liked the feeling of peacefulness and solitude, of being out there all alone with nature.

More memories rushed in as pain pulled at his heartstrings. “Relax, it’s just a blind date,” Josh had told him. “If you don’t like her, you can walk away, but I have a feeling you will.”

And he did. Tough when he’d learned about her military background and how, by working in the police force she could kick his ass, he’d acted like a bumbling idiot. She’d giggled—the most musical giggle he’d ever heard. Seeing the dumb look on his face, no doubt, she’d become serious. “Oh, come on; I only hurt bad guys,” she’d assured him, then burst the bubble of laughter she had tried to hold back.

They’d begun dating, but she was so far out of his league, he’d thought it would never work. She’d proved him wrong, and the day they married was the happiest if his life. That was six years ago, almost to the day. But now she was gone. Forever gone.

Don’t do it, Luke.

Abruptly, the words sliced through his memories. The child’s voice… The voice outside himself, out beyond his throbbing pain… It was not only in his dream.

That’s it.

He remembered.

The voice.

Shit!

He’d gone to New Brighton Park to end his life when soft laughter—child’s laughter—seemingly floating around him, had stopped him. He’d seen no one when he turned around, yet the laughter felt real.

No, it couldn’t be. It was probably part of his cluttered mind. A subconscious rejection of the decision he’d made.

Wait a minutewhy am I still here? Luke wondered with panic. How was it that one moment he was standing on the edge of the seawall, ready to end his pain, and the next he was in his bed—or falling out of it, Jack and Jill style. Time seemed to stop, and he groaned as he ventured a glance at his friend, trying to figure out how much Josh knew. How much of his plan had he told him last night?

Josh made a circular motion through the air with a finger, indicating he should continue reading the messages. With a long sigh, Luke followed his friend’s silent order.

9:13 PM Josh: U drinking?

9:18 PM Marshal: Yea. I cleer now.

9:18 PM Josh: where r u?

9:19 PM Josh: Luke! Where the hell r u?

9:21 PM Marshal: Hav drink B4 go

So he had called Josh last night. Still, a thousand more unanswered questions swirled in his head as he thumbed through the messages.

9:21 PM Josh: where r u?

9:23 PM Marshal: the hole

9:23 PM Josh: Pat’s Pub?

9:27 PM yea

Okay, so that explains the drinking binge, he thought with a stab of resentment. Pat’s Pub was a night club on East Hastings that he and Josh used to frequent years ago. They had named it The Hole for the dimness inside.

How the hell did I end up there? I haven’t been to that place in years.

Raking a hand through his, no doubt, disheveled hair, he continued to read the messages while pushing his brain to remember something—anything—of what went on.

9:27 PM Josh: stop drinking. Eat something. Be there in half.

9:30 PM Marshal: have scoch

9:30 PM Josh: Great! On my way. WAIT 4 ME THERE!

9:35 PM Marshal: ont worry bout it

9:35 PM Josh: Just stay there.

“Do you know what I think?” Josh said when Luke finished reading.

No. He wasn’t in the mood for guessing games. What he really, really wanted to know was how the hell had he gone from there to here, but he had a feeling Josh didn’t hold all the answers. “The question is, do I want to hear what you think? The answer is no. But I have a feeling you’ll give it to me anyway.” Josh kept silent, seemingly giving Luke a moment to compose himself. “Man, my brain is too fogged up to solve puzzles so if you’ve got something to say, say it.”

“Fair enough,” Josh said at last. “What do you suppose Sarah would say about this?”

Ah-ha. Evidently, Josh knew more than Luke would’ve wanted. Okay, so that explained two things. One, why he was still alive, and two, why Josh was here. Clearly, Josh had rushed to him, interrupting his plans, and then stayed with him to ensure he didn’t try anything stupid. Pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, he brushed the other hand through his hair.

“You’re awfully quiet for someone who had so much to say last night,” Josh added.

What had he told him? Luke chewed on his lip, trying to find something smart to say. “It’s probably better to remain silent and appear stupid, than talk and remove all doubt.” That was the best you could come up with?

Josh seemed to be on the same page. “Excellent choice of words, Champ! Glad you see this from my perspective.” There came the reproach, this time, dipped in sarcasm. “Luke, you’ve been there for me all these years, kicking my ass to keep me out of trouble. I’m telling you this as a friend, who for a change, is trying to save your ass. I know you’re still struggling with Sarah’s loss. I miss her too. She was the best partner I ever had.” Luke opened his mouth to tell him it wasn’t the same, but Josh stole the words right out of his mouth. “I know; it’s not the same. She was your soulmate, but man, what the hell were you thinking? She loved you; she would have never wanted to see you like this.”

Afraid to witness more disappointment sprouting on his friend’s face, Luke dropped his gaze. It was long past time to grieve, Josh had told him time and again. What he hadn’t told him was who made the rules, and why he’d only been granted one year.

But Josh was probably right. He must have known what it was like to lose someone; ten years ago he’d lost his parents one after the other, but it hadn’t taken him a year to move on.

Unexpectedly, Luke saw everything with a clarity he’d never had before. A shaky sort of clarity that staggered at first, but then slowly steadied itself. Josh had a point, and a reason to be angry with him. For over thirty years, Luke had been the one always trying to keep his wild and rebellious friend out of trouble. But suddenly, the places were switched. After Sarah’s dead, Josh probably did everything in his limited power just to keep Luke from falling in the proverbial bottomless pit. He must have worked at least as hard to keep Luke alive, as Luke worked to end his life.

And Josh was right about one more thing. Sarah had fallen in love with a man who was strong, funny, the highbrow of the group. Now, he was none of those things. He was nothing but an emotional mess. If anything, she would be ashamed of him.

The thought shook him.

Sarah loved life. She loved nature. She loved people. She appreciated all the little things in life—things money couldn’t buy. She found happiness in other people’s joy. Instead of celebrating her life—the life she loved—he was tarnishing her memory.

Yep, Josh had every right to be upset with him. He’d been selfish and inconsiderate to those around him.

He glanced up at his friend. Only one unanswered question remained, one he knew Josh couldn’t answer, but he had to ask. “Do you know how I ended up at The Hole?

Josh shook his head. “No, I guess to drown your—”

After he had dropped Skyler and…

Josh’s words faded and disappeared into Luke’s new recollection.

Bingo! Skyler.

Puzzle solved. That was what—or who—had made him leave New Brighton Park. After he had dropped Skyler and Isabella, ensuring that Skyler was in good hands at the emergency room, he’d drove straight to The Hole hoping to boost the courage to go back and finish what he had planned. The drunker he got, the more attractive the idea had become. It was probably what made him text Josh.

“I’m sorry, man, but I have to go to work,” he said, lifting his eyes to meet Josh’s. It was not entirely a lie. He did have to go to work, but he used it as an excuse to make Josh leave.

“Okay. I don’t need to bring a straitjacket, do I?” Josh asked, knitting his eyebrows.

“No. I’ll be fine.”

He watched his friend leave, casting one more concerned glance over his shoulder in Luke’s general direction before the door closed behind him.

He knew Josh meant well, but now he’d figured it out on his own. Fixing it, seemed easy enough, so he released a long and slow breath.

Dragging his feet to the bathroom, he stopped in front of the wall-size mirror, and for a moment, he studied his reflection. The same face he saw every morning. Raven-black hair, blue eyes, dimpled cheeks. Handsome and refined was the way Sarah had described him. But this morning, he looked more lost than sophisticated. An icy blue surrounded by some redness—courtesy of his overnight drinking—replaced the softness in his eyes. Faint lines at the corners created a feeling of being pulled into a lake of frozen emotions. The myriad shades of blue swirled together to form a whirlpool of angst, the gentle smile gone—likely, it had been for a while. Noticing how much he’d aged, he ran his fingers through his messy hair. Yes, he would change this, he would make Sarah proud again, if only his shameful act left his mind the hell alone.

It’s not too late to fix it.

A happy bubble of excitement sprouted in his chest. He opened a bottle of Tylenol and spilled two capsules in his palm. I just need this stupid headache to go away. He popped the pills into his mouth and swallowed them with a single swig of water.

Twenty minutes later he walked out of his apartment, all showered and dressed, minty freshness doing its best to disguise the reek of alcohol that still lingered, holding stubbornly onto residues of his actions. Perhaps he needed the disgraceful memories to stick around and keep him straight. Perhaps he must carefully go over each moment to ensure history didn’t repeat itself. He pressed his lips together, thinking he would have all day to dissect each moment of yesterday.

Resilience – Chapter 1

1aaaaa                                                                              Buy the book here

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Any given day that Johanna White did not have to interact with Detective Louis White, her ex-husband, or Melinda Morton, his douchebag lawyer, was a good day in her book. By that rule, the past two weeks had been full of good ones. Today, though, was murky.

The only possible way to define it.

To calm herself down, she circled her desk and looked out the window. Thunder roared in the distance as a flash of lightning stabbed the ceiling of black clouds.

Nothing unusual about November downpours in Vancouver, she thought, still chewing on her lip.

Only today, Johanna’s mood seemed to mirror the weather outside. Like the thunder, her mind rumbled while waiting for the clock to tick ten o’clock—the time when Family Supreme Court in Vancouver opened.

She turned and glanced into the face reflecting from a six-foot crystal mirror propped against the wall. Staring back through shimmering blue eyes, was a young woman with long blond curls. A strand that refused to stay clipped back coiled around her ear. Her gaze glided from the top of her hair, down to the white silk blouse tucked in her black pencil skirt, ending with a study of her black leather shoes with three inch high heels. Fashion was not something that Johanna focused on, but she’d been told she had a natural flair for it.

On the surface, her smooth complexion and full lips looked calm and collected, but inside, a knot of nerves felt like a bomb ready to explode.

No, this was not her normal self. She hadn’t always been anxious. Fearful. Years ago she had been calm, optimistic, joyful. She had even been happily married, once. But that was a long time ago. Ten years, exactly. Ten years since Louis had charmed his way into her life—flirting with her and making promises he never intended to keep.

They used to be endlessly happy. She recalled how proud she was to be married to a cop. In fact, Louis’ direction in life was the first thing that had attracted her. But slowly, she had watched her loving husband morph into this deranged lunatic who treated her like yesterday’s garbage. “Our problems are your fault,” he’d told her time and again.

Even so, he had managed to string her along until he confessed to having an affair. That was the beginning of their end. He swore that the affair meant nothing to him. He didn’t want to lose her. He suggested marriage counseling, and for a day or so, she even considered it, wanting to believe they could work out their problems.

But her instincts, trying desperately to block his pleas, pushed her to engage in a gut-wrenching scrutiny of her married life. The word enough kept slamming into her mind, crushing her attempts to find excuses for Louis’ behavior.

In the end, her common sense had won. Certain her marriage was over long before Louis’ affair, she had filed for divorce, and their happily-ever-after had ended too soon. However, memories of the good times still played at the edge of her mind. They were few and far in between, but that didn’t make them any less memorable. Not even the bitter divorce could wipe out those blissful moments. After all, her two beautiful children, Athena and Aidan, were there to remind Johanna she had been in love. Once. For that reason, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

But now, Louis was trying to take her children away from her. Well…he had been trying since they first separated, but this time, he might just succeed. And it was the reason Johanna’s nerves had knotted in the pit of her stomach.

More than four years of fiery court battles had culminated with another hearing where a crooked psychologist had testified that she was an irresponsible parent.

The court scheduling had informed her the day before that The Reasons for Judgment were ready, but she saw the email too late. The future of her children rested on that judgment.

Everything made so much more sense now. How Parenting Coordinator George Finn had ignored her concerns; how he had diminished Louis’ actions; how he had left her feeling helpless and frustrated.

Everything had come to light when she discovered, too late, a chain of emails sent to her, by mistake, detailing how George had been hired fraudulently right under her nose.

Lies have a funny way of coming out. Well… funny only if you are not at the receiving end.

Johanna cringed, thinking how easily Louis and his family had manipulated her. If she had discovered the chain of emails before George testified, she could’ve proven they all plotted against her.

Louis, George, Melinda, and Karol—Mommy dearest, the most evil of all. They had all plotted to take her out of the picture. Out of her children’s lives. In court, the emails would’ve been gold.

Another sigh escaped through Johanna’s gritted teeth. She wrapped her arms around her waist tightly, to hold herself together as she silently recounted the tall tales.

Lie number one: George had been hired one month after the trial, not three months as ordered by the court, and as they all claimed. Even more sickening, they hired him while Louis insisted that a Parent Coordinator was not possible due to financial hardship.

Lie number two: Melinda Morton told George that the court had appointed Louis to choose a Parenting Coordinator. Not true. Louis only had the right to choose after three months from the trial and only in case he and Johanna couldn’t agree within that time frame.

Lie number three: Ms. Morton assured George that Johanna was a difficult person, on drugs. Therefore, he had to restrain Johanna from making any decisions regarding the children. This was the condition of his employment.

Lie number four: The court hadn’t given George the power to take sides, yet he had responded affirmatively to all their requests, including excluding Johanna from every decision-making.

Lie number five: “Oh, what the hell? Every single word that comes out their filthy mouths is a lie,” she mumbled.

Find out what his retainer is, Karol had written in an email to Melinda, and tell George we want to sign the agreement. We’ll worry about Johanna later.

The email had felt like a sucker punch to her gut.

“Like they celebrated my birthday without inviting me. How could I have been so naïve and not seen this coming?” Johanna pondered, shaking her head.

Unfortunately, now it was too late. The judge had released his order on their last court appearance.

The ping of a message yanked Johanna from her mind storms. Walking back and sitting in her office chair, she hoped against hope it would be the email from the court scheduling.

It wasn’t. It was Angela Grey, her assistant. Where are you? she wrote in capital letters. Your next meeting is in an hour, and I need to brief you on a few things before that.

Johanna’s cleaning business, the one she had started while married to Louis, as a way to earn some money when he’d blocked her access to their joint account, the one Louis had continuously mocked, was growing faster than she had ever expected. It employed over a thousand people. In fact, it had expanded so much that Johanna could no longer run Spic & Span Cleaning from her home, so she had leased an entire floor, a total of twelve offices. At the same time, she had to hire ten more supervisors, an accountant, and an assistant—Angela—who also served as Johanna’s general manager…and apparently, her rude keeper. Angela was a true asset, so Johanna turned a blind eye to her assistant’s lack of diplomacy…and loud voice.

With a long sigh, Johanna informed Angela that something had come up, and asked her to reschedule everything for tomorrow just as her phone beeped again.

This time, the message was from the court scheduling. Her heart did a little flip then settled into a bumpy rhythm. She didn’t need to read the message—she knew the drill. It was to alert her about the arrival of the order in the form of an email.

With a trembling hand she clicked on the Chrome menu on her computer’s toolbar. She logged into her email account and went to her inbox, then clicked on the one that read, Reasons for Judgment. The email opened slower than it should, or was that just her imagination?

Once it opened, she stared at it for an ungodly amount of time, unable to click on the attachment. This was it. Her children’s future and hers rested inside the little red rectangle. Once she opened the attachment, there would be no going back. Once she saw it, she could never unsee it. For a long moment, she contemplated whether to call her mother from upstairs and ask her to open it.

Don’t be ridiculous. What are you? Two? she scolded herself. Whatever the court’s decision, she would have to deal with it just as she had in the past.

With trembling hands Johanna clicked on the attachment, and then squeezing her damp hands into fists, she held her breath. The fraction of a second it took the PDF file to open seemed the longest of her life. Once it opened, she scrolled down to the last page. And froze.

Residency with the father jumped at her from beneath Interim Order written in bold letters. Wide-eyed and unable to read the rest of the order, Johanna sat there. The punch in her stomach slowly rising and forming into a lump in her throat. Tears welled up in her eyes, and the more she stared at the screen, the more bitter the lemons pelting her reality.

She had lost custody of her children. How?

Two mirrored calendars in both homes… the judge’s words echoed in her mind.

All air had left her lungs as a sudden sick feeling churned her insides. She peeled her eyes off the screen and stood on shaky legs as if all the muscles and bones in her body had suddenly liquefied. The room tipped and turned, and she felt herself folding like a ribbon. She reached for the desk to regain her balance.

“Johanna, are you okay?”

Still holding on to the desk, Johanna turned toward the sound of her mother’s voice with tears gushing out.

Placing one hand on Johanna’s shoulder and her forefinger from her other hand beneath Johanna’s chin, Anna raised her daughter’s face until their eyes met.

“Hey. Hey…” Anna pulled Johanna into a tight hug. “You want to talk about it?” she asked softly.

Johanna unwrapped herself from her mother’s embrace and pointed to the screen that still bore the open court file, then she collapsed into her office chair. “I’ve lost my children, Mom,” she said between sobs.

Anna’s eyebrows drew together and a crease formed between them. “What?”

“We got the order. Oh, my God! Mom, I lost my children. What have I done?!” Johanna screamed. Hearing the words aloud, made it final. Made it more than she could bear.

Anna took another step. “I don’t believe it. That’s ridiculous. We’ll appeal.” Anna’s voice sounded brittle. She leaned down to bring the screen to her eye level. “Let me see that.” Her frown deepened, but only for a few moments. As she read on, her face lit up. “You haven’t lost your children,” she said when she finished reading. “Look. It’s still 50/50,” she added, underlining the words on the screen with her finger.

Johanna’s sobbing halted, and she squinted trying to read the bullet points on the order through tear-filled eyes.

Joint guardianship based upon Joyce Model, will require the mother to be consulted on all matters regarding the children;

Access days are as follows: Mother-Tuesday and Thursday, and alternating weekends;

Holidays, spring and summer breaks, will be split equally as stated in the old order;

Parents shall create a monthly calendar that will be displayed in both homes, showing, the children’s birthdays, activities, and each parent’s access time;

Father will be responsible for the children’s sporting activities;

On mother’s weekend access, the father will pick up the children one hour before the game, and will bring them back one hour after the game;

When father is working or otherwise not available to care for the children, the mother will take over the care of the children. This is to eliminate the use of daycares and other babysitters;

Johanna shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“Forget the wording. It doesn’t mean anything. You have them Tuesday and Thursday, and every other weekend.”

Pushing her hair away from her face, Johanna forced out a breath, trying to calm her pounding heart. “I don’t have them the same amount of days. I have them for two weekdays while Louis has them for three.”

“No. This Order is only valid until the end of the school year,” Anna said, clearly trying to muster as much enthusiasm as she could. “Look,” she said, again pointing at the computer screen. “You have them Tuesday and Thursday. He gets them Monday and Wednesday. Friday is alternating. You have them one Friday, and he has them one Friday.”

“Are you sure?” Johanna wiped away tears and read the order again. This wasn’t the time for guessing. She had to be sure. “But I don’t understand. Why did he write residency with the father?”

Anna shrugged. “I don’t know why he did that, but I know I am right. Mark the days on the calendar and you’ll see I am right.”

“So, should we not file an appeal then?”

“I don’t know. We need to think about it. I mean they are just words. You still have your children, but instead of having them one week on, one week off, you guys share them on daily bases. I’m not sure why the judge did this, as it’ll confuse the children, but I’m sure if he wanted to take your children away, he would’ve. I don’t think that was his intention.”

“I hope you’re right.” Johanna wanted to sound positive, but she wasn’t sure who she tried to convince.

Anna pressed an assuring hand on Johanna’s shoulder. “It’s only until the end of the school year, dear. So a few more months.”

Who was she kidding? Clearly this was a new disaster in her life. Johanna nodded once then shook her head. “Do you know what he’ll do now? He’ll go and flash that order to everyone. He’ll show it to the children’s teachers.” More tears flowed, choking the words in Johanna’s throat.

Still on Johanna’s shoulder, Anna’s hand gave it a gentle squeeze. “Who cares? No one will care.”

Johanna buried her face in her hands and when she spoke her voice sounded nasal. “People will have the same reaction I had—she lost custody.”

Anna spun the office chair, so Johanna faced her. “Look at me,” she said. “You need to stop worrying about what other people think of you. What has he done to you? I’ve never known you to live your life by other people’s standards.” Johanna wiped out her tears with the back of her hand but said nothing. Anna added, “You need to work on that attitude. You’re scared, and that’s normal. But molding your entire life around Louis’ wants and needs is not.”

“I am trying, Mom. Believe me, I am trying. There are days when I hum on all four cylinders. Then there are days, like today, when not even a 95 octane gasoline could fire up those babies. He has turned my entire life upside-down and inside-out.” She took a deep breath. “And the worst part, I can’t even blame anyone.” She shook her head. “Actually, it’s not entirely accurate. I have myself to blame. I singlehandedly managed to screw up my entire life.”

“You need to stop blaming yourself. You have done nothing wrong.”

Johanna rolled her eyes. “Not a single thing, huh? Mom, I love you for trying to make me feel better, but how can you say that? I chose him. I chose to marry him. I chose to have children with him. You warned me. Remember? “Look at his parents,” you said. “Whatever is wrong with them, it will eventually be wrong with him.” I didn’t listen, and the signs were there, all but screaming narcissist. His, and his mother’s lack of compassion for each other, should’ve been my red flag.” She paused to let out an expulsion of air. “The only good thing out of this marriage is my children.”

“Look. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, but if your children are the only good thing from your marriage, you need to focus on them. When you married him, you didn’t know what kind of a person he was. He tricked you.” Anna flailed her arms in the air. “Hell, he even tricked me, and I always considered myself a good judge of character. Yes, I was worried about his family values in the beginning, but I never knew the lack of family values equals viciousness. Stop blaming yourself.”

Johanna’s gaze shifted to a picture of her and the children, propped against the printer. The picture was taken shortly after her divorce. She picked it up and gently caressed her thumb over each child’s face. Athena had inherited Johanna’s fair skin while Aidan was darker just like his father. But both had dark hair like Louis, which made their light blue eyes look even bluer and bigger. “I’ve destroyed my life and my children’s lives,” she said bluntly.

“Give yourself a break. You’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress. Had you shattered, no one would’ve blamed you. And yet, you’re still standing strong.”

“I don’t know about strong, but I am still standing.”

“It breaks my heart to see you suffer so much.”

“I only suffer, because my children are unhappy with this arrangement. I know they love their father, but their father is hardly around and Karol…I feel powerless. It’s absolutely nothing I can do to help them!”

“You’re wrong. Love them, and don’t let them forget that for a minute. The power of a mother’s love always prevails. Things will turn around in your favor. You’ll see,” she added with a forced smile.

Johanna reached out to her mom, and they wrapped their arms around each other. Anna had always been so strong and optimistic. She had comforted and encouraged Johanna. But now, for the first time, Johanna felt worry in her mother’s tone.

She held Anna tightly as if trying to reassure her. She had sensed the same concern in her grandmother’s tone a few days ago when they spoke on the phone.

Place your troubles in God’s hands and trust that He’ll do what’s best,” her grandmother had told her.

Clearly, Johanna’s divorce was no longer her divorce. It was stretching and affecting everyone within thousands of miles of its epicenter.

Unbullied – Chapter 1

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Unbullied is a YA novella that I coauthored with my granddaughter under pen names  Alexa & Angel

Dumas. We dedicate this book to victims of bullying across the country and around the world.

Bullying is a serious issue that affects millions of children.

 

Chapter 1

 

Daddy would never do this to me. Never. The thought buzzed in Kylee Sidhu’s head like a swarm of wasps.

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she stared in mid-air, tense energy pulsing in her ears. She pressed two fingers to her temples to calm her roiling emotions, but her anxiety slowly morphed into anger, slicing through her mind like a knife through butter.

How could she stay calm when Coquitlam was the last place on earth she wanted to be? Deep in thought, she hugged her knees, resting her chin on them. These feelings had been storming through her since Amelia Bennett Sidhu—her mother—announced her decision. HER decision.

Kylee’s opinions didn’t seem to matter to Amelia—although they should have—now more than ever, because now it was Kylee and Amelia against the world.

A crease formed between her eyebrows as the image of herself stared back from a full-size mirror hung on her door.

She’d been told she was pretty to a fault. Her freckle-sprinkled nose twitched. Now, she didn’t see beauty. All she saw was misery. The usual sparkle in her green eyes was gone and replaced only by sadness and something else…

Frustration.

Constantly, Amelia told her she loved her, but her actions proved otherwise.

Why didn’t she ever listen to what Kylee had to say? She was her mother. Wasn’t listening part of motherhood?

Had she ever heard Kylee’s concerns? Likely not—not the words, not the door slamming, not the angry exchanges.

So they had packed ten suitcases with their most precious possessions, and Charlie—their dog. At least, Amelia had agreed to bring Charlie.

A suppressed, almost silent groan forced its way from behind Kylee’s gritted teeth. Her dark hair gleamed under the fluorescent light as she shook her head.

Why did we have to move to this God-forsaken town? I hate her! Kylee’s mind screamed.

Everything was different here. No, everything was the exact opposite from their lives in London. Their house was old, not new. The streets were quiet, not noisy. The ground was sloping, not flat—in fact, their house stood on a hill high enough to reach God. And, to top it all, she had no friends in Coquitlam. Likely, she never will.

And what the heck kind of name is that? Why couldn’t we stay in a town with a name that I could actually pronounce? And spell.

Not one good reason to move, except her mother’s new job—English Professor at the University of British Columbia—which according to her mother, would allow them to live a very comfortable life.

We had a comfortable life. In London.

In less than a week, Kylee would start school.

“You’ll make new friends,” her mother had repeatedly told her.

“That’s not fair,” she had protested, and like most fourteen-year-olds, Kylee guessed, she did her best to hate her mother for making her move.

“Look, we need to do this, you know that.”

No, she didn’t know that. If there was a point to her mother’s argument, Kylee must’ve missed it, but clearly, her mother had made up her mind. Nothing that Kylee said or did would change Amelia’s mind, so Kylee stopped arguing. In fact, beyond the absolute necessary exchanges, she stopped talking with her mother altogether.

Now, what? she wondered.

Would she make new friends, like her mother had promised, or would she eat alone at lunch? Would she ever go to a school dance? Would she ever go to the malls?

QuestionsQuestionsQuestions.

She had left all her friends behind in London. Noah was her best friend in the whole world. She and Noah had known each other their whole lives.

Kylee’s gaze shifted to a picture of her and Noah, propped against a lamp. The picture of them, holding hands as they learned to walk, was taken on their first birthday. She picked it up and sighing, she gently caressed her thumb over Noah’s face.

He was five thousand miles away. They had promised to email and call each other every day. But realistically, they both knew that even if they kept their promise for a while, it would never last. It was human nature to leave the past in the past. In fourteen years of life, she’d learned that much.

Frustrated and scared, Kylee slouched back between soft pillows piled against the headboard. Hugging her knees to her chest again, she searched her mind for a seed of hope. Her research had revealed that Canadians were warm and welcoming people.

Perhaps you should just relax, Kylee, and see what happens, she tried to comfort herself.

“Mum told me that if I stay out of everyone’s way, I should be okay,” Kylee scorned aloud. The silence didn’t argue with her.

She laughed. Probably the most pathetic, sad laugh that ever left her mouth. She heard the despair in it, as a soft knock on the door interrupted her parody. The door opened, and Amelia peered into the room.

“Are you all settled?” her mother asked in her soft British accent.

Kylee’s eyes shifted away from her mother. She was still upset with her.

“Oh, come on, sweetheart. Don’t tell me you will never speak to me again.”

Kylee rolled her eyes but said nothing. Amelia reached and gently patted her daughter’s back. “You know I need this job. Hopefully, now we can start fresh here.”

“You’ve ruined my life!” Kylee shouted louder than she’d intended. Lowering her feet to the ground, she stomped into her bathroom slamming the door behind her.

***

Amelia sighed and walked out of the room, closing the door with a soft click. She stopped and in a moment of desperation, pressed her palm against the door.

What am I going to do with you, Kylee?

She inhaled deeply and released it in frustration. If she knew something about her daughter, she knew she would not be able to sway Kylee’s standpoint tonight.

Teenage hormones, she found herself thinking, but deep down she knew it was more than that. Since she’d made the announcement, she had often pondered if aliens had abducted her real daughter, because that’s how turned backward she was.

Amelia knew Kylee had reached those special years—torn between the easy life of a child and the enthralling one of a teen, but Amelia felt there was more. A lot more. She had a feeling Kylee blamed her for Rahul’s death.

Kylee had not cried since January 27th, the day her father died, but her school counselor had told Amelia not to worry.

“She’s still in shock. Even if she blames you, she doesn’t really mean it,” Ms. Lancelot had said.

Perhaps it was my fault.

If she hadn’t argued with him, Rahul wouldn’t have taken his eyes off the road.

NoNoNo. I will not go there again.

But just then, the sound of someone’s tires screeching on the pavement outside, sliced through the silence like a high-pitched scream, triggering old memories.

Amelia closed her eyes, fighting images that played at the edge of her mind. However, the wailing sounds proved to be stronger, and fragmented colors pulled together forming images from that fateful day. Each new picture felt more vivid than the last, reminding Amelia that her husband was dead, and she might have been responsible.

She shivered. The memories persisted. Emotional. Scornful. As usual, guilt swept over her.

She was there again…smelling burned rubber and hearing metal parts grinding on the icy road.

The snow had fallen in thick fluffy flakes over a compact layer of ice, and Rahul seemed to think that because he drove a four-wheel-drive he didn’t need to worry about road conditions.

Amelia and Rahul had been celebrating their fourteenth wedding anniversary when they got into an argument about Amelia wanting to return to work full time.

They carried their argument outside the restaurant and into the car, each getting more heated as the words flew back and forth.

Amelia remembered it vividly. “Why can’t you understand, Rahul? You refuse to see how important this is to me.”

“When Kylee was born we agreed that you would be a stay-at-home mom. Now you want to leave our young daughter to fend for herself. You know she’s at a vulnerable age.” Rahul hit the steering wheel with the flat of his hand, frustration emanating from him in waves. “We don’t need the money, Amelia.”

“It’s not about the money. I miss my job. I miss my life outside of being just Kylee’s mom or Rahul’s wife. I need to be Amelia, too. Please try to understand.”

He cut a glance at her, which clearly said he did not understand. They were still arguing as they approached the turnoff, Amelia knew that Rahul was going too fast, but before she could say it aloud, the car skidded and flipped. Everything seemed surreal as the car rolled in slow motion. Amelia couldn’t tell how many times it rolled or even when it stopped rolling.

Slowly, she became aware of the metallic taste of blood in her mouth. The car settled, engulfing her in silence as she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Two weeks later, she awoke in the hospital—the same day Rahul died.

From that point on, Amelia seemed just to go through the motions of life. She had loved him so much that the news of his death had brought her whole world crumbling down. Therapy had helped, but her attitude generally might have rubbed on Kylee.

No, no, no! I’ll not go there again. I won’t waste time on things I can’t change. It was just an unfortunate accident.

Brushing her dark thoughts away, Amelia walked into her tiny kitchen, considering what to make for dinner. She had two choices—frozen convenience food, or stuff she needed to chop and season.

I’m definitely not chopping anything tonight.

She grabbed a frozen lasagne out of the freezer and slammed it into the oven. Brushing her hands at a job well done, Amelia headed for the living room where she collapsed into an oversize rocking chair. She flicked through the television channels, trying to find a good show—one that would cheer her up.

Flu season had started and threatened to be a bad one. ISIS had kidnaped more Western journalists. More beheadings in the Middle East. A teenage girl was arrested in Toronto after stabbing five people, including one of her teachers.

Is there any good left in this world? Amelia wondered.

The screen flickered its images through her mind as if the whole world had turned upside down. She shook her head feeling the blood leave her skin and continued to look for something more positive to watch. When nothing satisfied her, she tossed the remote onto the coffee table and walked over to a picture of Rahul, Kylee and herself, propped on top of the fireplace mantel.

She let her fingers trail down Rahul’s face then linger over the picture. For more than a year since his death, she’d been angry with him for leaving her. Then angry with herself for blaming him. Perhaps now she could finally put all that behind and start a new life. If she could only reach Kylee.