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First pages

The Bond (Chapter 1)

“Daddy! Daddy! Dump? Make it dump!” Alicia ordered once she deemed her loading job complete.

A whole fifteen minutes had elapsed since she irately grasped the handle of her small toy shovel and flailed it wrathfully against the frigid fall air like only a boisterous toddler could do. Her large sand castle had begun to lose its initial shape as the tiny, dry sand particles began rolling away; and her tightly-clutched knuckles became ghost white with anger. Eventually, after chucking the yellow shovel and its accompanying blue bucket as far as her little arms would allow, she began screaming through her sobs, “I can’t do it! It’s too hard! I never make castle! Why not I do it?”

Fearing she would eventually decide to stubbornly hold her breath to the point of passing out again, her father immediately started assisting with the rebuild in a very calm, reassuring fashion; but it nevertheless took her a few minutes to stop hyperventilating, catch her breath, calm down, and allow for the high level of frustration to gradually subside. The resulting hiccups took even longer to diminish, but she didn’t seem bothered by them.

“Awesome! Simply awesome! You look like you’re having more fun than she is,” the neighbor proclaimed with a playful grin and a chuckle that resonated throughout his entire corpulent body. He was obviously completely unaware of the child’s most recent emotional outburst.

It was a gorgeous, although quite chilly, afternoon in late September. Brian, who had been too preoccupied with his two-year-old daughter, scarcely noticed Al’s friendly blue eyes peering at them over the brown picket fence. In fact, he became uncharacteristically startled for a brief moment upon hearing Al's booming voice. The large oak trees, some of which encompassed portions of both yards, were decorated with vibrantly-colored fall leaves; and wooly bears tickled the nearby ground with their fuzzy black and brown bodies.

“I’m having a blast!” Brian responded with a huge smile as he continued, without missing a beat, to slowly maneuver a metal toy dump truck through the fresh sand toward his petite little daughter. Its freshly oiled wheels made a precise trail of swerving parallel lines; but in her possession she held a smaller yellow plastic truck of her own and was busy methodically loading the back of it with a mountain of new sand, paying no mind to the interesting analogous lines or the “vroom vroom” sound effects her father was making.

“Daddy! Daddy! Dump? Make it dump! Make it dump!” she commanded again.

Tugging lightly at the black sleeve of his lightweight jacket, she looked up at him eagerly with an urgent smile and soft eager eyes. Her round little rosy face was outlined by the furry white lining of her hood and escaped strands of curly brown hair. Upon hearing her request, Al chuckled again. The jovial sounds of his booming laugh echoed vibrantly between the surrounding houses as Alicia attempted diligently to figure out the toy’s release mechanism, but its latch was still too intricate for her tiny hands. Moreover, the overabundance and weight of the sand were not helping her cause, and she quickly became visibly frustrated again with herself. Before her father had time to even react, she located a nearby quarter-size rock and started harshly banging it against the toy.

“I have to run into town and get some things, but I just thought I’d stop by and say that you really did an awesome job building that big sandbox for her. Alicia looks like she loves it. At first I was wondering why you were having so much sand hauled in. Hey, do you need anything when I run into town?” Al asked with a smile. Alicia looked up at him as if to proclaim innocence, taking a brief break from nearly cracking the top of the truck.

“Thank you very much, Al. Actually, Peggy just went grocery shopping. I think we have what we need, but I really appreciate the offer,” Brian responded as he removed the rock from his daughter’s possession. With that, Al displayed a quick acknowledging nod and waved goodbye as he slowly walked away.

Brian and the family became forever indebted to their delightful neighbor a few years ago when Peggy became distracted and mistakenly left food unattended on the stove. Alicia’s mother understandably panicked when the fire started, and their kitchen was nearly devoured by the resulting merciless flames. If it were not for Al’s easily-accessible fire extinguisher, rapid thinking, and instant action, they would have certainly suffered a catastrophic loss. As it was, it still took months to file the necessary insurance claims and completely recover; but the situation could have been much worse.

But regardless of the bumps or detours Brian experienced in life, he always persevered. Projects, diffusing his daughter’s chronic tantrums, and daily work were no exception. The amount of pristine detail and time invested into the huge, extra deep sandbox was extraordinary. Brian had been determined to construct it as perfectly as possible for his daughter. He had spent hours waterproofing and staining the thick boards a rich brown color. The dovetail joints locked firmly together; and the roof, which was mathematically angled to fit together flawlessly, was fastened very securely on top of six extremely sturdy posts. It certainly served its purpose and shielded their eyes from the afternoon sun quite well.

“Okay, honey. I know you might find it entertaining, but we really don’t need to test the durability of the truck. No thank you. Let’s not bang on it and break it to the point Daddy won’t be able to repair it,” he suggested as he gently threw the rock to the side.

“Daddy, a wooly!” Alicia exclaimed, abruptly changing the subject as her father paused to dump the sand out of the plastic truck for her. The metal of his truck had become rather cold to the touch, sucking a small amount of dexterity from his large but gentle hands.

“Ahhh, neat! Be very careful with him,” Brian instructed as he tenderly lifted the caterpillar off the grass and placed it on the palm of her right hand. Even at the age of two, she already knew to be very cautious and patient with the tiny creature. She would never intentionally cause it harm.

“Fuzzy. It make ball? Why?” she questioned as the wooly bear abruptly curled itself into a small, stiff, thick circle.

“That’s how he tries to protect himself if he’s scared. He doesn’t know that we’re not going to hurt him at all,” he explained with tenderness in his voice.

He was grateful the tiny critter served as a direct distraction, thereby saving him from another potential meltdown. The wind’s intensity increased slightly, gently ruffling the browning grass and trees as it quietly pushed through the backyard. A couple of the leaves detached from their assigned branch and floated to the ground, but one of them landed softly atop the blue plastic pool that rested carefully against the side of the garage. In preparation for the looming winter season, Brian had recently cleaned the pool and decided to let it dry for a while before stowing it away in the rafters.

“Yes, I no hurt him. I only like to hurt myself, so I set him down again. He like the grass,” she reasoned as she leaned over the edge of the sandbox and carefully placed the creature back in the grass. The colorful spiral-shaped wind chime hanging near the patio door began to sing delicately. And even after laying comfortably in the grass for a minute or so, the caterpillar remained petrified and stubbornly refused to move even a millimeter.

“Umm, sweetie, you don’t want to hurt yourself, either,” he quickly interjected as he looked directly into her eyes, but he said or thought nothing further of her statement. Given her young age, he knew her language skills were still developing. Toddlers and early preschoolers frequently use common phrases incorrectly, completely misinterpret sarcasm, and grossly misuse points of view. Even for native speakers, English can be an unforgiving language that refuses to adhere to any concrete rules or consistency.

She watched the caterpillar with boundless curiosity as they continued to play with the trucks. She was delighted when the little critter eventually relaxed, straightened itself, and proceeded to crawl its way onto a fallen crunchy red leaf. It rested momentarily before inching forward again, allowing itself to be guided by one of the leaf's large and dry sunken veins. The day’s sunshine slowly diminished, and they eventually returned to the warm house just in time for dinner after passing a little more time merrily swinging on the swing set.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Let me pet it! Let me pet it!” six-year-old Alicia exclaimed excitedly as her father was finally able to net the gargantuan northern he had been desperately fighting on his four pound test line for nearly twenty minutes. The fish had fought obstinately, was clearly exhausted, and (to Brian’s amazement) weighed just over fourteen pounds. But regardless of its fatigue, it did its best to provide a few more splashes of utter discontentment as it was being lifted into the old fifteen foot fishing boat.

The weather couldn’t have been more inviting or perfect on that warm and sunny June day. There was not a single cloud in the sky, the water was unusually calm overall, and the boat slowly rocked from side to side as Brian quickly ensured the livewell was filled to the brim with water. He carefully placed the fish in it, causing a slight but manageable overflow, and closed the cover. The fish, being approximately three feet in length, certainly did not have an overabundance of room in its confined quarters; and it splashed around loudly for a brief moment to audibly display irritation.

The strong morning sun was blinding as it relentlessly reflected off of the deep lake’s crystal clear water, and both of them definitely required sunglasses. Brian, who was still in complete shock over the fact that the weaker line accommodated a fish of that size for as long as it did, looked back at his small daughter and grinned from ear to ear. Yes, the fish was nearly as big as she was.

“I’ll tell you what, sweetie. Let’s get back to shore, and then you can see the fish again,” he assured her. “But I’ll help you look at it when we get there, because we have to be very careful. We don’t want him to accidently bite or scratch you.” Admittedly, he was deeply concerned for her safety. Those uncontrollable fins and teeth could be as sharp as razors.

“Ahhh, it wouldn’t bother me if I got bit or scratched, but do you promise?” she asked proudly as she squinted hard through her pink Care Bear sunglasses. Her own Snoopy fishing pole, strategically equipped with a matching Snoopy bobber, lay securely off to the side near the trolling motor. She normally respected and used the pole often, but she was too excited about the incoming monstrous fish to pay it any mind this time.

“Promise!” he reassured her warmly, completely dismissing the biting and scratching portion of her statement. “And we’ll start a nice bonfire tonight at the campsite, okay?”

“And roast marshmallows! And make s’mores!” she exclaimed with additional eagerness in her voice.

“Definitely! I have the graham crackers, the gigantic marshmallows, and the Hershey bars all ready to go,” he agreed with a nod as sweat began to slowly creep down the side of his face. Perhaps it was a little warmer than he originally realized.

She smiled approvingly at her father but continued to hover closely about the livewell with great anticipation, like a famished buzzard yearning to land on and devour newly discovered remains. She was certainly proud of her father for catching that fish and had perpetually cheered during the entire event, but the fish calmed after a few minutes and became rather motionless. As Alicia cracked the cover slightly and watched it intently, she noticed its gills methodically moving in and out with an occasional wave of its side fins. Eventually the tempo of the fish’s movements slowed to an almost undetectable pace, and the fish appeared lifeless.

Cottonwood seeds finished sprinkling themselves over the shallow waters near the shore as the boat slowly drifted around one of the lake's small, weedy islands; and a hidden loon called noisily to all nearby creatures as an unusually large, blue damselfly stopped to rest momentarily on top of the large gray tackle box. The insect became alarmed, immediately realized its mistake, and buzzed away as soon as Alicia turned her head. She smiled again and watched it fly toward the island; and if they listened intently from their current position, the roar of the lake’s dam could be heard in the far distance. Ultimately, a beaver heard their approached and slapped its tail noisily against the water to warn other animals of potential danger.

“And how about we go swimming tonight? Does that sound like fun?” he added after the bug covertly escaped out of site.

“Yeah! Let’s do that!” she exclaimed with even more enthusiasm. Thanks to her father’s ongoing lessons, she had become an incredibly strong swimmer for her young age and had zero fear of deep water. In fact, she almost always stubbornly refused to wear a life jacket while in the boat; and Brian somewhat regretted not instilling at least some fear in her. But regardless of her astonishing swimming abilities and overall phenomenal athletic nature, he always forced her to put on a life jacket and never failed to watch her like a hawk as she swam or splashed about in the lake or pool.

After ensuring all loose items were secured in their proper location, Brian started and revved the engine. The smell of gasoline filled the surrounding air, and the boat began to vibrate madly in response. As they raced across the large lake toward shore, being especially careful not to create any wakes that may disturb surrounding houses or beaches, Alicia planted herself comfortably in the back of the boat. With her father’s attention focused mainly on driving and maneuvering the watercraft, Alicia began fidgeting with her own fishing pole. In her opinion, the sharp hook made interesting poke marks on her pointer finger. One of the jabs even caused her to bleed slightly; but it quickly clotted, and she managed to keep it a secret. She was becoming a master at selectively keeping thoughts and actions to herself.

“Alright, today we present our reports on the New England colonies,” Alicia’s fifth grade teacher, Ms. Williamson, informed the class on a beautiful spring afternoon.

A collective moan could instantly be heard coming from a number of the children, most of whom had become rather restless as a direct result of the breathtaking weather outside. A select few griped because they failed to meet the deadline and didn’t complete their portion of the project; but some of the students, including Alicia, exhibited a fair amount of excitement (at least initially). Although she yearned to go outside and participate in an enticing game of Red Rover, she had spent many hours carefully crafting every miniscule element of her display. The vivid color and perfect shape of every three-dimensional figure made her efforts apparent. She also planned, with painstaking care, how she was going to efficiently and effectively explain every minute detail to her fellow peers. Yes, they were destined to be very proud of the exhibit and presentation. If not, it would tear her apart inside. She needed approval. She wanted approval. She yearned for approval. Some days she required it to function at even the most basic of levels.

She took one last glance through the filthy old window before determining the location of her fellow group members. The sun’s blinding rays bled translucently through the grime, and it made the aged wooden floor appear even more antiquated. The angle of the natural light also unveiled the floating dust particles put forth by the countless sticks of chalk, accompanying erasers, and an overabundance of epidermal matter. Sadly, the school system lacked the budget money necessary to replace the chalkboards with dry erase white boards.

“Please get into your groups,” the teacher instructed politely but with a hint of authority. “And as an added bonus, we have a very special visitor. Today we will be presenting our findings to King James himself.”

That was certainly an unforeseen twist of events, and the new announcement quickly seized the attention of nearly every student. What did Ms. Williamson have up her sleeve? She had never before mentioned the fact that King James would actually be present. Who was going to play King James? Would he be played by another male teacher, perhaps? Sporadic whispers begun to dramatically increase in volume, and conversations quickly returned to decibels beyond what was normally associated with regular speaking. Regardless, the children took heed and slowly congregated into their assigned groups of three.

Alicia attempted to harvest some creativity and allowed her mind to meander elsewhere as she physically weaved in between a cluster of desks toward her group. Did someone exhume the king’s body and bring him back to life? Perhaps Ms. Williamson somehow managed to travel back in time and convince the king to return with her to the twentieth century. Conceivably, then, this could be the real King James. Persuading him to abandon his kingdom must have been quite the undertaking, even if it was only a temporarily leave of absence.

“Okay, everyone; please quiet down. Let’s not keep him waiting anymore. Without further ado, I present to you his royal highness . . . King James,” she proclaimed after pausing a brief moment for dramatic emphasis, forcing Alicia’s mental roaming to come to a screeching halt. Because with Ms. Williamson’s introduction, in strolled Brian. He was equipped with a Burger King cardboard crown, a royal red cape seemingly fashioned from a cheap plastic disposable tablecloth, and a very charming smile. A light chuckle erupted from the young audience. They all knew, without question, that he was Alicia’s father.

“Really? Burger King?” Alicia muttered noiselessly under her breath as she rolled her eyes in frustration and disgust. She yearned to elope like the tiny fly that just escaped through a small hole in one of the flimsy screens. Apparently, Ms. Williamson had secretly reached out to her father a few days prior to the event. Brian immediately made arrangements to start his work shift slightly later than normal and accepted the assignment without an iota of hesitation. He also took the extra time and went out of his way to obtain the Burger King hat.

If there was any way the situation could have been avoided, Alicia would have undoubtedly taken advantage of it. Instead, she turned as red as a rotting tomato and proved rather distracted during her entire presentation. In lieu of speaking directly to her peers, she purposely buried her face in her highly organized pile of notes as she spoke softly, almost inaudibly. Nevertheless, she haphazardly muttered through her portion of the report and received a solid “A” grade (mainly for the thoughtful content); but the favorable review did not relieve her of her self-contrived humiliation, and she tactically avoided her classmates as much as possible for the remainder of the day. She was completely oblivious to the fact that the other children actually found her father’s participation to be energizing, they welcomed the unusual entertainment, not a single person scoffed directly at her, and many of the students would have considered her embarrassment completely unsubstantiated; but perhaps they’d have a slightly different perspective if it was one of their fathers. She couldn’t see past the notion that it was all in fun, and it was a lesson in not taking life too seriously.

“P, P, P!” chimed the antiquated (but durably constructed) large tube television as Brian rapidly tapped on the black wired controller with his pudgy thumb. The Daytona USA disc spun wildly in the family’s Sega Saturn gaming console; and a monsoon of rain loudly pounded on the basement egress window, seemingly begging to be let in. The green hue of the sky was also indicative of possible impending hail. It was truly a perfect July day to remain indoors and enjoy some quality family time, but Alicia was not in the mood to interact with anybody. She repeatedly twisted her controller’s thin cord as tightly as possible around one of her fingers, purposely cutting off its circulation until it became red and painfully numb.

"Ummm, Dad . . . You are allowed to select your own actual initials when you obtain a high score," thirteen-year-old Alicia reminded him in a snotty, almost callous fashion as she unwound the cord slightly and eventually retightened it. “The stats page is completely plastered with the same stupid letter now. You can use the 'D' pad and select other letters. It's not too difficult. It’s all in alphabetical order.”

She had become abnormally edgy lately, even for a heavily hormonal teenager. The slightest deviation from her anticipated schedule of events or what she considered to be the norm typically irked her immensely, and the foul mood sometimes lasted for a prolonged period of time; but Brian never failed to exhibit the patience of a saint, especially when it pertained to his daughter. As hard as he tried, getting her to open up and express herself had become quite the chore recently. Her unquestionable intelligence and vocabulary skills were more than adequate to verbalize the reasoning behind her emotions (if there was a good reason), but she typically opted to internalize her feelings.

“Yeah, but I don’t like using my 'BAD' initials,” he playfully joked in between crashes of deafening thunder. “And the 'P' is highlighted by default when the screen pops up.”

“Okay. Yeah. Whatever,” she sighed as she obnoxiously rolled her eyes, forcing her own brown irises to almost completely disappear. In fact, if anybody ever created an eye rolling contest, she would undoubtedly win.

The television screen switched to a new menu with different music, readying itself for a subsequent racing session. Alicia could vividly remember the time, approximately nine years ago, when lightning struck dangerously close to the house. The earsplitting boom of thunder was enough to petrify any four-year-old child, but her father was immediately by her side and proceeded to assure her that it would soon pass. Aside from hitting the family’s tall oak in the back yard, the electrical charge had also rendered the television completely inoperable; but, at that time, repairing the television was substantially cheaper than replacing it.

It was finally Alicia’s turn. She frowned as she chose a different, allegedly faster blue car with upgraded features; but she didn’t deviate from the same race track. Her sense of humor and interest in many once-cherished activities had also been dwindling steadily. Brian prayed daily that her depressive nature was strictly a phase, but today she didn’t consider his pun the least bit amusing. Her chronic condescending reactions to everything was living, breathing proof that his prayers remained unanswered. He couldn't help but ask himself, "Where did I go wrong? What happened to my happy little girl?" He was terrified of the road ahead, for he anticipated it to be quite hazardous, narrow, and bumpy.

Although she normally drove the virtual car rather well and was fully capable of obtaining a better score than her father if she concentrated, her mind got ahead of her fingers. She repeatedly smashed into another car, skidded helplessly into the grass, flipped over a few orange cones, and lost a significant amount of valuable time. Knowing there was absolutely no way she could recover from her mistakes, frustration eventually overcame her. She threw the controller down against the floor before even finishing the race, nearly breaking it in the process, and stormed out of the room without saying another word.

The Daily Ritual (Chapter 2)

His office telephone extension had become pure muscle memory, so thinking about the actual digits was no longer required. In fact, if anyone were to ask, she’d probably have to physically pretend to dial his number if she wanted to accurately recite it. Her cubicle was fairly spacious, tidy, and arranged exactly how she preferred. As long as the layout of her equipment, papers, and file cabinets was precisely how she envisioned, she was incredibly efficient and productive. And no, nobody would ever find one of those intrusive circle coffee stains perpetrating her desk. Dirt, grime, a dead pen, bothersome loose cords, or anything slightly out of place still had the potential to drive her crazy the moment she spotted the culprit.

She shrewdly created a home away from home at work. Recently dusted pictures of her nieces and nephews (housed in dark, pristine, wooden frames of high quality) were strategically positioned about her desk, and a certificate signaling her status as a certified public accountant rested on the wall opposite her computer. A colorful company calendar boldly displaying period end and Julian dates hung in perfect alignment; and a shiny key of great sentimental value stealthily sat near her computer monitor. She never mentioned or showed the key to anybody (not even her father), and nobody ever asked. It just rested there, and that’s the way she preferred it. She didn’t have the heart to carelessly bury it in her dresser drawer or jewelry box, so with her to her place of employment it came.

“Yo! It’s that time! I finally got that huge stack of invoices processed, so lunch it is,” she exclaimed after dialing his extension for the last time, and it rang only once before he answered. “My brain is officially fried after all that, and I can’t see straight.”

“Hah, your brain is fried anyway!” Brian cheerfully teased. “Okay, I’ll meet you downstairs in just a minute.”

“Funny, Dad! Funny!” she lightheartedly joked as she placed her phone back on its receiver, logged out of her computer, and rushed down to the first floor. High heels were definitely not her thing, and she nearly fell down an entire flight of stairs as a result.

“Ahh, Dad, come on,” she begged with a sly smile and mischievous glimmer in her inquisitive, cheerful brown eyes. Her ankles were still sore from the tripping escapade as she attempted to covertly slide the large box of chocolates—chocolates she indubitably knew contained peanut butter—across the lunchroom table toward her father, but the lighthearted ploy had failed miserably. Brian didn’t fall for it. She was thoroughly convinced that, at times, he could read her every thought and playful clandestine scheme. Or perhaps it was simply the peanut butter smell that gave it away. He was usually quick to locate evidence of any form and evaluate it instantly, accurately, intelligently, and thoroughly. He was very observant and rarely overlooked details.

The background buzz of their coworkers’ conversations gradually increased in volume as more people gathered their food and made themselves comfortable at the round neighboring tables. Despite the congestion of people, Alicia enjoyed the cafeteria. Unlike her cubical, this rather spacious room was well lit and provided her with an opportunity to gaze through myriad windows.

The two worked for the same company now (just on separate floors and in completely different departments), so a slightly early lunch together had become a daily ritual. Some days, it was difficult to converse over the cacophonous racket of silverware clinging against the large red lunchroom trays and endless chatter between colleagues; nevertheless, provided their job duties permitted it, they would each make their way to the cafeteria at 11:30 AM. They were both, as a rule, habitually punctual. Their communal motto: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Yes, one could usually set the clock by their arrival. They were, once again, two peas in a pod after a number of disproportionately turbulent years.

“Alicia, you’d think by now you’d figure out I abhor peanut butter with every fiber of my being. How old are you now? Twenty-four? That means you have known me twenty-four years,” he jokingly reminded her with tired eyes, as if she forgot her own birthdate and hadn’t the faintest idea how old she was.

“Yeah, but I can only remember probably twenty-one of those years with any notable reliability,” she sarcastically replied with a grin, her eyes also sporting some fatigue. The two were definitely accustomed to these sporadic jocular jibes, and she quickly continued, “I figure if you stop being stubborn and keep trying it, you can learn to enjoy peanut butter again. You’re definitely missing out. Peanut butter is especially wondrous in chocolate. Contrary to what you believe, you do not need celery to mask the taste. It’s not like you’re allergic to peanuts or anything like that, because that would be an entirely different scenario if you were.”

“You know I had peanut butter nearly every day as a kid and am still beyond sick of it, even after not having it for all of these years. Besides, I’m saving room for the banana bars your mother made,” he stated as he smiled back at his rather articulate, well-rounded daughter. Yes, she had truly become a completely different individual; and the positive change had been undeniably consistent for the last few years. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he finally felt she was “out of the woods” and could rest easily knowing her emotional strength had grown in abundance.

“A likely excuse. It’s ironic you never get sick of bananas. You’re going to turn into a banana one of these days, or a monkey,” she told him with a smile as they both stood up. “Damn, it’s already past noon. That went quickly. Lunch is over already for us.”

She retrieved the peanut butter-infused chocolates, and their wooden chairs made a harsh synchronized scraping noise against the worn tile floor as they pushed them neatly underneath the table. The table, they promptly discovered, was slightly wobbly but certainly still usable.

“Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down,” her father had reminded her with a positive smile when they initially sat down.

They proceeded to swerve their way through the crowd and eventually out of the lunchroom. The monotonous beep of the cash register gradually subsided as they entered the corridor, and he completely towered over her rather short stature as they both walked side by side.

“Dad, what’s up? I can see the excruciating pain in your eyes. Is your back killing you again? It’s been nearly two years now since you had those four vertebras fused. Sometimes I wonder if that surgery helped at all,” she questioned with grave concern.

“Alicia, you remember how bad I was prior to the surgery. I couldn’t function at all it was so horrible. At least I’m off the harsh pain medication now. That stuff made me feel like a permanent drunk, and I hated every minute of that feeling. But yes, I am currently a little stiff and sore. I’ll be just fine, though. Don’t you worry one bit. See you tonight?” her father inquired, smiling through another intense jolt of discomfort. “Uncle Ben, Aunt Kelly, and Cousin Ellie will be at the house. They came down from up north and are staying the night. I’ll probably be baking some fish for dinner. Uncle Ben has an appointment in the cities tomorrow.”

“Awesome! You bet!” she replied excitedly.

With the mention of fish, she smiled and temporarily allowed her mind to completely wander elsewhere again. The remainder of the work day proceeded normally; however, she should have stayed the entire night at her parents’ house. Unfortunately, she lacked omnipotence and had absolutely no way of foreseeing the future.

The Call (Chapter 3)

“Huh? Whaa?” Alicia mumbled to herself as she abruptly awoke to her father’s programmed ringtone. For a very brief moment, the sound had begun to incorporate itself into a dream whose subject and wildly creative plot she instantly forgot. She glanced tiredly at the bright red numbers of her alarm clock, and they peered boldly back at her. 01:02 AM in the morning? Still too disoriented to ask herself why her father would be randomly calling at such an unusual hour, she nearly fell out of bed and hazardously stumbled toward her dresser. But it didn’t matter why he was calling, for she would never intentionally miss a call from him (regardless of the time). Being as she was an excessively tidy housekeeper, there were no rogue objects upon which she could stumble; nevertheless, she still managed to accomplish tripping over nothing but her own two feet. She immediately fumbled for her cellphone and clumsily pressed the illuminated green answer button, sparing perhaps a single nanosecond before the call was redirected to her voicemail.

“Hello?” she answered inquisitively. “Dad? What’s up? Is everything okay?”

“Alicia?” No, it wasn’t her father on the other end; and the distress in Cousin Ellie’s voice was immediately apparent with just the sound of Alicia’s name. “Your dad . . . He . . . He fell, and he’s not breathing. He’s unresponsive.”

“Huh? What! How . . . How long? I was just there, and he was fine,” she managed to stutter. Upon hearing her cousin’s permanently piercing words, any disorientation Alicia may have been experiencing up to that moment instantly fled her mind and body. It’s amazing how only a couple of short sentences can render a sleepy person immediately awake, impale the heart, and cause him or her to instantaneously run on pure adrenaline—and all within a split second. No, this was definitely not a dream. She wished it was.

“We . . . We don’t know exactly how long it’s been, and we don’t know what happened. Your mother thought she had heard him fall and then just found him like that. The ambulance is on its way. Uncle Ben’s trying his best to do CPR in the meantime. We got to him as quickly as we could. I’m sooooo sorry!” Ellie explained in choppy, yet coherent, sentences. It was at that point Alicia overheard her mother’s blood-curdling moans and sobs in the background. She became completely paralyzed for a few seconds as she listened, almost as if she was just hit by a taser.

“I’m leaving right now!” Alicia informed her after her temporary paralysis had lapsed. “I’ll be there as soon as I possibly can.”

There were no goodbyes to finalize the conversation. She numbly ended the call and quickly shoved the phone into the side pocket of her purse. Still dressed in her pink leopard-spotted pajamas and not realizing or caring what a tangled rat’s nest her hair had become, she hastily jumped down nearly the entire flight of carpeted stairs with a single leap and tore her winter jacket off the coat hanger. She fetched the cold, lifeless ring of car keys from one of its deep pockets as she carelessly draped the coat over her scrawny shoulders. Her keys were honestly the only reason she even bothered with the stupid coat. She was simply too distressed, sick, worried, and numb to concern herself any further with the subzero January temperatures.


About me

Marie was born in 1983 and is the mother of two beautiful young children. She works fulltime as an IT professional and considers writing to be an incredibly rewarding, wholly entertaining, and intriguing hobby.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
With two young children and a fulltime job in IT, finding time to actually sit down and write proved difficult on many occasions. And, when I was really able to take off running with the characters and plot line, it almost became a second reality into which I became completely absorbed.
Q. Why do you write?
Writing is my outlet. It is my brief escape from the fun, organized chaos of motherhood.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
Some of my favorite novels include '1984,' 'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Ordinary People,' and 'The Color Purple.'