Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Chapter reveal: Original Cyn, by Sylvia Dickey Smith

Genre: women’s fiction
Author: Sylvia Dickey Smith
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: About Original Cyn:  Protagonist Cynthia Carter’s life appears perfect—but for the fact that she and her husband, The Reverend Wilburn Carter, are controlled by fear.  Cynthia is afraid she’ll displease Wilburn and if not him, his parishioners. But her biggest fear is the emptiness swelling inside her.

In the pulpit, Wilburn is the hero:  God’s right hand, the messenger, the revered Reverend. At home, however, is a different story: he’s cold, controlling, selfish and self-consumed.  Every Sunday, Wilburn stands at the podium and worries which parishioner might stab him in the back.  But his deepest, darkest fear is that people will discover he’s a phony.

As Cynthia drowns in her lack of identity beyond what’s assigned by her preacher-husband, she wonders if she should stay in the relationship.  Could there be more to life than just being the Pastor’s wife?  Before she can decide, events force her to flee.  If she goes far enough fast enough, those back home will have to deal with the chaos they created—deal with it or go to hell in their sanctimonious handbaskets. Until a phone conversation leaves her with even more difficult choices…

A powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking story, Original Cyn is extraordinary. Novelist Sylvia Dickey Smith takes readers on an unforgettable journey that spans anguish, heartbreak, hatred, love, fear, humor, peace and joy.  Resplendent with compelling characters and an exceedingly-relatable storyline, Original Cyn is wholly—or perhaps holy—an original tale about moving beyond the black-and-white and living life in full, vibrant color. Sylvia Dickey Smith’s latest novel is a richly-drawn, rewarding read destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.  


When the sun came up that morning, Cyn Carter did what every other burned-out unambiguous preacher’s wife did. She crawled out of bed, threw on yesterday’s jeans and tee shirt, and did a quick finger-comb as Wilburn strolled out of the bathroom. “If you don’t mind Cynthia,” he said, “can you get a move on? I have an appointment at eight o’clock, and you haven’t even gone downstairs yet, much less started my breakfast.” Sarcasm dripped from his words.
Big fat hairy deal.  Cyn hustled down the hall toward the stairs. Same story, same attitude, every single solitary day.
Out of habit, she paused just inside the door to her son’s bedroom. His recent departure to college left the house feeling so empty, so quiet.
“I said get a move on, Cynthia,” Wilburn barked as he came up behind her, then stopped to check his reflection in the full-length mirror. After a quick adjustment to his tie, he spun on his heels and walked on, an overdose of aftershave trailing behind him.
Cyn took a long deep breath, as if his departure returned oxygen to the room.
He waited for her at the bottom of the stairs worry lines creasing his forehead. Cyn followed him into the kitchen where he went straight to the coffee pot, prepared and set the night before. He often teased that he expected the coffee ready when he got up every morning, much like the cruse of oil in the Bible. As the story went, the cruse remained full of oil, regardless of how much the poor widow used, implying, of course, that God kept the righteous woman supplied with oil. Guess that made a statement about Cyn’s righteousness, or the lack thereof, for she supplied their coffee.
“I see you’re still moping around like you lost your best friend.” He spooned a heaping teaspoon of sugar into his coffee and stirred, stirred—and stirred.
It made her want to grab the spoon out of his hand and shove it up his butt.
“I wish you’d get over this notion of having nothing more to live for since Justice left for college.” He tapped the spoon against the rim of the cup and tossed it on the granite counter top.
“Don’t be stupid.” Her sharp words startled her. She wasn’t accustomed to talking back.
“Then stop acting like he died. I get depressed just looking at you.”
“You make it sound like I can simply wish away whatever bothers me,” she said through clenched teeth. “That bugs the heck out of me.”
“You watch that pronoun curse word, young lady.” Finger-quotes bracketed his words.
“It’s not a pronoun.” She did her own bracketing.
“Maybe not, but you use it in place of a curse word, so it counts as the same thing.” He tapped his forehead as he spoke as if any idiot should know that. “I never said you could wish anything away, but you sure can do something about it.”
He took a few sips of coffee then ambled to the breakfast table, newspaper in hand. “What I said was to get out and go do something—get it off your mind. Mrs. Turner and a couple of other ladies fold the bulletins on Thursdays. Why don’t you come help them? At least it’ll get you out of the house.”
“No thanks.” She bit her tongue before it released the dictum that a snowball had a greater chance in hell. Mama’s words bounced around in her head. You can think it, Cynthia Ann, but that doesn’t mean you have to say it.
She’d cooked Wilburn’s breakfast so many times she could do it blindfolded, and might as well today, for all the interest and energy she had in doing so. True to form, however, the smell of frying bacon soon filled the house, half-cooked, the way he liked it. After plating the bacon, she basted the eggs, whites firm, and yolks soft.
All while Wilburn read the newspaper and slurped coffee.
As she moved the eggs from the skillet to Wilburn’s plate, being careful not to break the yolks, her mind drifted to the night before. In their twenty-plus years, she’d never known him to take much notice of his dreams, but he’d awakened at straight up 3:00 o’clock in a cold sweat brought on, he’d said, by the image of her vaporizing like an early-morning fog exposed to bright sunlight.
“It’s only a dream,” she’d said, trying to comfort him. She stopped short of admitting how close his dream touched reality, that as of late she felt herself fading into someone else. No, more like exploding into it.
When she put his food in front of him, he folded the paper and laid it beside his plate, eyes still glued on the article he’d been reading. Approaching his mid-forties, Wilburn looked every bit as handsome as he did the day she first laid eyes on him talking to a group of girls at her hometown church. His trim frame and impeccable taste in clothing still made him stand out, regardless of the crowd. The sprinkling of gray at the temples didn’t hurt either. Women, young and old, worshipped him and envied her.
They needn’t have bothered. Although she worshipped him herself before they married, afterward, she’d sworn someone kidnapped him and replaced him with a stranger. Like once he caught her, the romance ended and doing God’s work began. Over the years, he kept her at an emotional arm’s length. Except for the God-talk, she had no idea what went on inside the man’s head.
But she knew what went on inside hers. The day stretched painfully in her thoughts—clean the kitchen, make the bed, wash the clothes, and have Wilburn’s lunch on the table at straight up noon. She poked her eggs with a fork and bit into a slice of toast.
“Cynthia.” His voice was strident.
“What?” She glanced up to see him glaring at her.
“Shame on you. You know we never eat without first saying grace.”
Good lord, she’d broken the cardinal rule of the parsonage, a rule, without a doubt, written on tablets of stone hidden somewhere in the house.
Tempted to say “Grace,” and get on with eating, Cyn thought better of it. Instead, when he bowed his head and closed his eyes, she kept hers up and open, fork in midair. The memory of Justice doing the same thing years ago, and the shame heaped upon him by his father, still rattled her heartstrings.
However, what bothered her the most was Wilburn’s so-called prayers always—always—targeted more than one agenda item, each intended not for God, but for Wilburn’s audience and more often than not, her.
After the blessing, Wilburn glanced her way then back at his food. “You haven’t said anything about my sermon yesterday.” He reached for the blackberry jam and spooned a mound onto his toast. “Didn’t you like it?”
The exact same question, word for word, he’d asked her over breakfast every blessed Monday for the last twenty years. This time, she said nothing. Just kept eating, but not tasting.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
Wilburn broke it. “It’s evident you’re still thinking of no one but yourself.” He shoveled in another mouthful of eggs. “You’ve acted like this ever since Justice left for college.”
Their son Justice, a young teen when they first moved to Mobile and into the century-old parsonage, soon started calling his dad’s church the “Do Right Be Good Church,” but never in front of his father.
“I miss Justice, yes, but the boy leaving for college has nothing to do with what I’m going through.” She tried to explain the unexplainable. “It’s not the empty nest that bothers me. It’s me. I’m empty.”
“You’re just depressed. Probably time for your period or something.” He shrugged. “Anyway, if you want something to do, as I said, every Thursday, several women get together and have fun folding the bulletins. If you want to—”
“I don’t want to fold your damn bulletins.” She spat the words through clenched teeth.
Wilburn stood and slung his napkin onto the table. “Watch your language, young lady.” He stormed out of the kitchen, slinging words over his shoulder as he tromped down the hall. “I’ll be home for lunch, Cynthia. See that it’s ready on time. Think you can at least do that much?”
The front door slammed behind him, leaving a tension she could pierce with one of Justice’s epées. Did other dutiful preachers’ wives ever daydream about murder?
Over the years, Cyn had learned not to push. After growing up with an abusive father, Wilburn shied away from physical violence, but he learned the more manipulative ways of his mother. Add to that, he suffered the aggravation of an older brother who acted like Mr. Perfect in front of their parents, and tormented Wilburn without mercy behind their backs.
To say Wilburn never crossed the line wasn’t totally accurate. On occasion, he resorted to his father’s ways of dealing with frustration. He never hit her or Justice, but a couple of times he came mighty close when she questioned one of his religious beliefs, and he couldn’t convince her to see it his way.
Addicts filled their cravings with something. His father used alcohol. At times, Cyn wondered if Wilburn’s extreme religiosity was a type of addiction. The thought of that bothered her as much as his lack of intimacy. The distance between them wasn’t new, but it hadn’t improved over the years either. In fact, it seemed to have grown worse.
She’d vowed to be the submissive wife, to honor and obey him at every turn, and Lord knew she’d done that—for decades. So why hadn’t it worked? Why, instead, did she feel like some soul-sucking monster slipped in and gobbled her up from the inside out?
Cyn shoved the chilling questions aside, shifted her brain into zombie-mode, and loaded the dishwasher, wiped the table, made the bed, and started a load of laundry, her 14,200,656th load—but who’s counting?
After the laundry, she ran the vacuum, boiled a couple of eggs for the tuna salad she’d make later for their lunch, and then headed outside with a mug of hot coffee. Strolling through her flower garden, the one place where she found peace, she cupped a late-blooming gardenia in her palm and inhaled, letting the fragrance soothe her soul.
She wished Wilburn understood her feelings. Wished he wanted to understand them. Perhaps if he did, he might not resent her reluctance to go to church every time someone unlocked the frigging doors. Instead, he nagged about the responsibility she’d accepted when she married a preacher. “He forgets he wasn’t a pastor when we married,” she muttered, “and he certainly didn’t consult me before enrolling in seminary.”
She felt trapped, like she lived inside the world rather than outside where the air smelled fresh, where possibilities came true, or had the chance of doing so. She longed to breathe, to flap her wings like the baby bird after it outgrows its shell and pecks its way out. 
Lost in rumination, she hadn’t heard the back gate open and close until a familiar voice called out, “So that’s why you didn’t answer the doorbell. I hoped I’d catch you out here.”
“Dee?” Cyn dumped her coffee into the thirsty soil and hurried to meet her younger sister. “Sweetheart, I thought you were headed to Europe or something.”
“Operative word, headed, until they diverted my flight to Mobile. Mechanical problems they claimed. Canceled the whole trip until tomorrow. I stood in line at the ticket counter for over half an hour trying to make a connecting flight before my boss texted and said, ‘Hold off, complications of some kind.’ So, anyway, I took a taxi and here I am.”
They embraced for the longest, each bubbling with the joy shared by sisters, who couldn’t be more different, yet never got enough of each other.
As a baby learning to talk, Dee struggled to pronounce her older sister’s name, but could only manage the first syllable, Cyn. The nickname stuck, much to Cynthia’s delight and their mother’s horror. From then on, everyone except Cynthia’s mother called her Cyn. That is until she married Wilburn.
He swore no one would ever call his wife Cyn again. A person might be born in sin, but that didn’t mean he’d let someone call his wife that ugly word.
However, with Dee, Wilburn met his match. She simply ignored his order, acted like she hadn’t heard him. The girl knew no fear. All her life, she slashed through any obstacles in her way as if they existed to encourage her, to prod her into action. Perhaps the red hair and freckles had something to do with it. She spent her childhood fighting and scratching through taunts in elementary school until the bullies ran. Unlike Cyn, she did not tolerate bad behavior or fools.
Arm in arm, Cyn and Dee strolled into the house while Dee chattered about her adventures as a foreign correspondent. “You should see my new cameraman.” She flicked her fingers, laughing. “Hot, hot, hot.”
Cyn smiled, wondering what it might feel like for a man to turn her on again, or to be more accurate, for her to turn on a man.
“Now, tell me about my favorite nephew. How’s Justice? He’s in college now, right? What a neat kid—takes after his mom, that’s for sure.” Dee gave Cyn’s waist a gentle squeeze.
“I’m afraid he takes more after his Aunt Dee.” Cyn laughed. “A thought goes in his head and comes out his mouth. Got himself in trouble a few times because of it too.”
Dee raised her eyebrows in question.
“I remember one night at a church picnic when a bossy deacon ordered Justice to go gather wood for the bonfire.” Cyn smiled at the memory. “Justice felt demeaned by the way the guy spoke to him and countered with, ‘You want firewood, go get it yourself.’”
Dee doubled over with laughter. “He didn’t? Really? Good Lord, I’ll bet Wilburn had a coronary.”
“Wilburn wanted to beat the kid black and blue, but thank goodness he didn’t. Ate a big piece of humility pie with the deacon, though, that’s for sure. And Justice received a heated lecture from his dad on the topic of courtesy.” Cyn smiled, remembering how embarrassed she and Wilburn were over their son’s behavior. Later that same night, Justice had asked Cyn why he should treat someone he did not respect with that same courtesy and respect his dad yelled about. Put Cyn back on her heels for a few seconds, but when she felt the answer in her heart, she knew it to be true. “Justice, you treat all people with courtesy and respect, not because of who they are, but because of who you are, a person who treats others with—”
“Respect and dignity,” he said, finishing her sentence. “Okay. I see what you mean, Mom. Thanks.” He’d given her a big hug and went on his way.
She never needed to talk to him about courtesy again.
Cyn and Dee spent the day catching up on the goings-on of family and friends. That, plus Dee’s latest love interest, which changed as frequently as the weather.
Wilburn always asked why Dee didn’t pick one man and settle down. What did she want to do, hump every man in the country? Cyn hated it when he started in on Dee.
The two sisters dropped any further mention of Wilburn until he called after lunch to cancel lunch. “And don’t bother about dinner either,” he added. “I’ve got a building committee meeting this evening and will likely go straight from it to the deacon’s meeting.”
“And you’re just now telling me? I already prepared—”
“The building committee, Cynthia,” he said as if his precious committee took precedence over everything else, especially her. For months, the committee had been working on an expansion project and planned to present their proposal to the deacons for approval later that evening. Last minute rehearsal, she guessed, but she figured he knew about the meeting before now.
She slammed the phone down and threw the spatula across the room. Before it landed, however, she realized with him not home for dinner she and Dee could breathe easier, longer.
Dee shrugged. “Well, at least you’ve already got tomorrow night’s dinner done.” She stood at the sink cleaning up after Cyn’s prep for a canceled dinner. “I swear, girl, I don’t know what you ever saw in the man. He’s good-looking, if you like that type, but he’s a turd, big sister. I know it. You know it.”
“He’s not that bad.” Cyn laughed, but her words felt like fish bones in her throat.
Dee glanced over her shoulder. “If he isn’t, why didn’t you tell him his call came too late. Look at this mess, all for a man who surely knew of a committee meeting before now. Good Lord, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we still lived in the twentieth century.”
Relieved when Dee’s ringing cell phone and her subsequent exit of the room ended the conversation, Cyn moved to the sink full of dirty dishes, took one look, and shuddered. Bits of greasy food floated to the top. Not-so-greasy bits swam around the bottom, waiting.
She shuddered at the thought of putting her hands in that mess under the pretext of cleaning the dishes. It stood to reason, use dirty water, get dirty dishes. Oh, they might look clean, but without a doubt, they contained more germs than before they took the plunge.
All her life, Dee argued dishwashing should be done one way, and one way only. Put in a stopper, fill the sink with hot, soapy water, and plunge every filthy dish into the depths and scrub. Voila, the dishes came out clean.
Not on Cyn’s watch. She pulled the plug and loaded the dishes in the dishwasher.
A few minutes later Dee returned to the kitchen. “My boss called. Former boss, I guess I should say.”
“He fired you?”
“Used the term cutbacks.”
The two stood with their mouths open, staring at each other. Then, Dee cracked a smile. “Look on the bright side, you’ll get to tell dipshit I’m here after all.”
“Don’t act ugly.” Cyn turned her back to hide a grin.
“I’m just sayin’...”
“Well, I’m just saying let’s take a glass of ice tea outside and sit on the front porch.”
What she’d say to Wilburn about her sister visiting, she hadn’t a clue. One thing she did know, she had to tell him before he walked in and saw Dee, or else he’d pout for a week.
Once outside, the sounds of a creaking swing and the rapid-moving wings of a hummingbird soothed the silence until Dee spoke up.
“You know what? I’ve heard Catholic nuns consider themselves married to Jesus, right? Thing is, you’re not a nun. You’re not even Catholic. But I get the idea you married Jesus all the same, or at least to a man who sees himself as second-in-command.”
Weary of the topic, Cyn didn’t respond. How could she, and stay loyal to her husband? Plus, she hated to admit her sister spoke the truth.
Cyn’s silence, however, did not discourage Dee. “I guess when you go to church you still sit on the front pew like Wilburn tells you to, so you can catch his drippings from the pulpit. That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.” Dee laughed so hard she almost spilled her tea.
“He laughs when he says that, and you know it.” Cyn sucked through her teeth.
He joked all right, but Cyn had come to realize that, once again, the joke fell on her. Most church members pooh-poohed the New Age phenomenon of channeling. Humph—nothing new to her. Wilburn channeled God every service and most times in between.
However, she certainly wasn’t going to admit that to Dee. Instead, she changed the subject.
“There’s a women’s circle meeting at church tonight. I’m expected to attend. Hope you won’t mind staying here alone. Wilburn is at a deacon’s meeting, so I should get home before him. You won’t have to face him by yourself.”
“Why don’t I go with you?”
“That’d be great, but are you sure you really want to?” Cyn shuddered to think what Dee might say or do at a group like that. Shock the conservative women right out of their pantyhose and padded bras.
“Better than sitting here by myself. Besides, I’ll make sure those biddies don’t take pot shots at my older sister.”
“Careful on that older stuff.”
It felt good to laugh. Cyn couldn’t remember doing so since Justice left. His antics always gave her comic relief.

Book Feature: Though I Don't Deserve It, God's Hand of Protection Watches Over Me by Arthur Luke

Inside the Book:

Title: Though I Don't Deserve It, God's Hand of Protection Watches Over Me 
Author: Arthur Luke 
Publisher: iUniverse 
Genre: Biography 
Format: Ebook/Paperback

Though I Don't Deserve It, God's Hand of Protection Watches Over Me: My Story spans sixty-four years in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ, telling how God has watched over him and his family. Arthur Luke begins with his childhood in Georgia, follows the sojourns of his military family, narrates the key events in his adult life, tells about his stroke, and shares the decision he and his wife, seniors at the time, made to adopt a child. He pairs twenty-four powerful scriptures with the key events in his life's journey. This potent mixture of personal history and biblical witness demonstrates an enduring truth. With faith in God and obedience to him in your life, his favor—his hand of protection—will guide you and lead you to offer him praise in all seasons, no matter what happens. Though I Don't Deserve It, God's Hand of Protection Watches Over Me: My Story promises to inspire and encourage readers by showing how God works, in accordance with his promises in the scriptures, to guard and guide all who believe in him. This is the story of Arthur Luke's life, but its message applies to all who believe.

Meet the Author:

Arthur Luke, a retired preacher of the gospel, holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and an MBA in financial management from National University in Sacramento. He and Sharon, his wife, have five children and live in Elk Grove, California.


Arthur is giving away a $25 Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Gift Certificate to the e-retailer of your choice
  • This giveaway begins March 28 and ends on April 8.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on April 9.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Feature: Saving Jesus by Ralph William Ausman

Inside the Book:

Title: Saving Jesus
Author: Ralph William Ausman
Publisher: iUniverse
Genre: Alternative History
Format: Ebook/Paperback
The canvas of history provides a complex pattern of culture, change, and conflict. Colorful individuals were often the driving forces behind the progression of history. Was there a grander purpose behind these developments, beyond the individual people, locations, and events? History often turns on a simple thought or decision by those in a position to have a significant impact on the ultimate course for humankind. What influence did some of the most significant personages in human history unknowingly contribute on the world stage, even beyond their own individual stories and experiences? Was his story truly the driving force of history, the basic thread that ties the global human experience together? Author Ralph William Ausman’s novel, Saving Jesus: Resurrecting John the Baptist takes us on a journey through history, from the Holy Land, to China, India, Greece, and ancient Persia. It follows the origins of religious thought as world empires play out across the globe in preparation for the defining moment in world history: the birth of Jesus and the subsequent emergence of Christianity that would define world growth and development for the next two thousand years. Ausman looks at such questions as what would have happened had the wise men followed Jesus and his family or if John the Baptist had become Jesus’s first disciple. Saving Jesus: Resurrecting John the Baptist is not intended as a refutation of the Bible. Instead, it invites you to take an interesting-and different-look at the most important events and people of history.
Meet the Author:
Ralph William Ausman earned a degree in computer science from California State University, Northridge. He then lived and worked in Europe and Singapore with his wife and daughter before returning to the United States. Ausman has always had an interest in different religions and their effects on culture and history.


Ralph is giving away a $25 Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Gift Certificate to the e-retailer of your choice
  • This giveaway begins March 28 and ends on April 8.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on April 9.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


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Friday, March 25, 2016

Chapter reveal: Irish Jewel, by Julie Ann James

Genre: Suspense
Author:  Julie Ann James
Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Irish Jewel opens, bride-to-be Amy Reid is living out a fairy tale.  She’s engaged to be married to the love of her life, Michael Cambridge, an Irishman. Michael, a member of one of Dublin’s most  prominent families and heir to the Cambridge precious gem business, is everything a girl could dream of—and more.   He’s handsome, loving, charming, smart, successful, and, as icing on the wedding cake, Amy and Michael will be married in an elaborate ceremony in Dublin. This lavish, spare-no-expense event will be an exquisite dream-come-true-affair—a beautiful beginning to their lives together.

But this dream-come-true quickly turns into a nightmare:  what begins as a vague threat quick escalates into something much more sinister. On the eve of what should be the happiest day of her life, Amy is quickly swept up in an insidious web of danger, kidnapping, and murder.

When long buried truths emerge and dark secrets come to light, this fairy tale will be irretrievably fractured.  Nothing is as it seems—and the only way to win this deadly game is to get out alive. But the odds are stacked against Michael and Amy.  Will they even live to see “till death us do part”? Expect the unexpected in this twisted tale...   

Irish Jewel
Julie Ann James
Chapter One

The captain’s deep monotone voice interrupted the restless sleep of some 120 passengers to prepare them for touchdown. They were about 20 minutes outside the Dublin airport at the end of a smooth but long flight, something that Amy Reid was still getting used to since her engagement to the love of her life, an Irishman, Michael Cambridge. They had met two years earlier as seatmates on a flight out of Dublin to her hometown of Sarasota, Florida.
Since then, they had been inseparable, other than the exasperating fact they lived across the pond from one another, which put an unexpected spin on the term, “long distance relationship.” Last summer, his proposal was sweet and romantic. Following a shared meal, he offered her an after-dinner mint, and hidden inside the wrapper, a princess-cut diamond ring, a whopping three-carats! His family is in the jewelry business. How lucky can a girl be to wear on her left hand what are literally the family jewels?
It was hard to believe that their wedding would take place in ten days after months of planning, choosing the perfect dress, and brilliantly persuading her entire family to make the trip to Ireland. Now that most of the details had fallen into place, she felt as though she had conquered all. A March wedding in Ireland—inside a castle—was a dream come true for any girl.
The seatbelt sign turned off, giving passengers permission to move about the cabin. Amy rifled through her purse making certain all her belongings were in order, pulled her carry-on out from the overstuffed compartment, and took her place in the crowded aisle.
The flight attendants thanked the passengers for flying Aer Lingus and provided concise directions on how to get from the gate to the baggage claim. Amy couldn’t care less what they were talking about, as her mind was in an entirely different place. She couldn’t believe she was going to marry someone she considered to be her soulmate. As corny as that sounded, she made sure complete strangers were aware that she was about to marry a “Cambridge.”
The Cambridges were known for their generosity, as they donated to charitable organizations throughout the country. They hosted elaborate parties at their estate located just outside County Clare—all on behalf of the miracle of medical research for so many causes. This made a lasting impression on Amy and was one of the many traits she admired about Michael. The Cambridge donations made a huge difference in many deserving lives. The family’s name and pictures were plastered in the newspaper quite often, but for the greater good, which was refreshing to say the least.
Michael wasn’t able to pick her up from the airport due to a work thing, so she was prepared to hail a cab to take her to their temporary flat in the city. It felt so good to be back in Ireland, where the Celtic history overflowed in each charming town. It wasn’t unusual that one of their endearing people would offer a 30-minute dissertation of that history in response to one simple question.
To her pleasant surprise, a limo waited for her arrival outside the airport doors—Michael’s doing no doubt. The driver, in a sleek black suit and top hat, rescued her from her heavy bags and opened the door with a gracious nod and smile.
“Thank you so much—this is great. I can’t believe Michael did this for me. Wait, what am I talking about? Of course, he did this—he’s Michael. You will have to forgive me, driver. I often talk to myself, so pay no attention to me. I am just so very excited to be getting married in ten days—count them, ten days—in Ireland for that matter.” Amy held up her freshly manicured hands to give the visual of ten days as she slid into the back seat.
“So I have heard, Miss Reid. That rumor has been spreading all around town. Believe me, everyone knows of your upcoming wedding. The Cambridges might just as well be royalty.” His eyes sparkled directly at hers, and then he closed the door.
“I am going to be a bride, Michael’s bride.” She giggled and danced her feet on the floorboard of the moving limo.
Amy settled back into the plush leather seat and pulled out her overstuffed wedding planner, skimming the pages for the final “to dos” before the “I dos” actually took place. Of course, her newly launched ad agency back in Sarasota had been somewhat difficult to leave behind and was always on her mind. But she had great confidence in her staff. They should be able to hold down the fort in her absence.
Her clients were few, but the word of mouth proved to be steady and went beyond her wildest expectations. She hoped to double her clientele by the end of next year. She wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the rest of them and push her business hard, all the way to the top. Her goals, which had been in place since she was twelve, were to get married before she turned thirty, start her own business, and travel the world—not too shabby for a 28-year-old University of Florida graduate.
Now that her feet were touching solid ground, the reality set in about why she was in Ireland, and the butterflies started to work on her stomach. There was a chill in the air, the kind that went straight to the bone. It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing were applied, one never seemed to warm up. A Florida girl through and through, the frigid cold was something she might never get used to.
The scenery was breathtaking as usual, never disappointing. It was picture-perfect and resembled one of the many postcards she had collected and received from Michael in the past two years.
Suddenly she realized she didn’t recognize the part of town they were driving through. “Driver, excuse me, but I believe you missed the turn back there somewhere, but I could be wrong. Didn’t Michael give you directions to our apartment?”
“He had a change of heart as to where you will be staying for the next few days and wanted it to be a surprise. By the way, my name is Matt—not driver.”
“My apologies, Matt. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I have quite a few friends and relatives flying into the Dublin airport. Will you be picking them up too?”
“Yes, I’m Michael’s new personal driver, and I’ve been instructed on your family’s flight plans, arrivals, and departures.”
“Great, I’ll check that off my list. I thank you, kind sir.”
Amy’s eyes were to her list and not the scenery, so her confusion and wonder peaked when they arrived at a 15-foot wrought iron gate, the entrance to the most enormous castle she had ever seen.
Matt opened the limo door and escorted her up the walkway to the massive entrance. Waiting for her on the other side was a familiar face.
At six foot two, Michael Cambridge’s rugged Irish looks and wavy brown hair would stop anyone in their tracks, as they might wonder how one person could be so amazingly handsome and perfect from head to toe.
“Darling you are finally here! Welcome.” He took her hands in his, and pulling her close, kissed both of her cheeks and her soft lips.
“Michael, what are we doing here? What is going on?”
“Now, don’t worry your pretty little head about anything. God, you look gorgeous. It is so good to see you.”
“I thought you were at work.”
“Nope, I lied,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“What do you mean?” Her voice ascended an octave.
“I lied because that’s the only way I could have pulled off your surprise.”
He opened the double doors to the ballroom proudly. Her entire family stood in the center of the room, each with a glass of champagne in their hand, ready to toast the birthday girl and soon bride-to-be.
“Oh my God, what did you do? I thought they weren’t flying in until midweek.” Tearfully, Amy hugged Michael.
“They wouldn’t miss your birthday, pretty girl.”
“Wait a minute,” she stuttered. “I’m still 28 in my head.”
“Not anymore. You are officially 29, Ireland time.”
“Michael, you say the sweetest things.” As they laughed together, he handed her a glass of sparkling champagne and proposed a toast. Amy listened to his eloquent speech of adoration and flushed with embarrassment from the attention.
“To my blushing bride, Amy, Happy Birthday, my love.”
The sound of glasses clinking echoed, and the crowd called out, “here, here” and “to Amy.”
“Are you surprised, darling?” he whispered in her ear, his strong arm wrapped around her slender waist.
“Surprised? Of course! You never cease to amaze me, Michael Cambridge. This is why I love you so much.” Then she whispered, “I just wish I would have dressed more appropriately. I still have airplane on me, if you know what I mean.”
“But you look amazing to me. You could be wearing a potato sack and still look great.”
“Oh Michael, you are so funny. Who talks like that?”
“I suppose I do,” he confessed.
“I do,” she repeated. “I cannot believe we will be saying those two little words to each other in just a few short days.”
The next 30 minutes or so were spent getting reacquainted and greeting relatives from both sides of the family. Coming together for the first time, the Cambridges met the Reids. It was so odd to see, but at the same time, it felt right. The conversations were mostly small talk, both pleasure and business, but they always segued back to the happy couple.
Dinner was served sit-down style in a smaller room adjacent to the main ballroom. Irish food, something pureed no doubt. Either one loves it or hates it. Mostly, it’s tolerated.
Michael stepped out of the room to take a phone call from the concierge’s desk. While he was gone, one of the servers tucked a note next to Amy’s dinner plate, but said nothing and just refilled her water glass and walked away.
How strange, she thought. She glanced over her shoulder to see the server who had delivered the note, but she only caught a glimpse of the back of his head before he quickly made his exit.
She searched the faces at the table, but it didn’t appear that anyone was looking her way. They all seemed engaged in their own bubbly conversations.
Dabbing at the corners of her mouth with the embellished napkin, she unfolded the note and discreetly read it.
“He is not who you think he is...”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chapter reveal: Ninth-Month Midnight, by Marie Bacigalupo

Title: Ninth-Month Midnight
Genre: women’s fiction
Author: Marie Bacigalupo
Publisher: KDP
Purchase on Amazon

About the Book

Ninth-Month Midnight is contemporary women’s fiction with a paranormal twist. The novella focuses on Dolores Walsh, a bereaved mother who, hiding a guilty secret and verging on mental breakdown, defies her husband and her religion to get what she wants. With another pregnancy highly improbable, she wants the seemingly impossible: she wants her baby back. The loss has transformed Dolores into a zombie-like chain smoker who stays unwashed and unnourished until her husband, Joe, bathes and feeds her.

Enter Salvador Esperanza, a charismatic psychic who helps the grief-stricken communicate with their dead. Dolores cannot resist this new hope or the man who offers it. But in order to attend Sal’s séances, she must do battle with her jealous husband’s hard-core rationalism. When Sal decides to move on, only a miracle can save Dolores from the numbing despair that threatens her sanity.

About the Author 

When Marie Bacigalupo was nine, she read Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and was instantly hooked on fiction. She grew up to teach high school English before focusing exclusively on fiction writing, studying under Gordon Lish at The Center for Fiction, taking classes at the Writers Studio, and attending a number of university-sponsored craft workshops.

Marie won First Prize among 7000 entries in the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Short-Short Story Competition with her entry, “Excavation.” Her other works have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, The Examined Life Journal, Romance Magazine, and elsewhere. Ninth-Month Midnight is her debut novella.

The author is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Visit her at

Connect with the author on the web:

Ninth-Month Midnight
Chapter 1

A year has past, and still Dolores hates waking up to another day. The morning light pours, unwelcome, into her bedroom. Dolores feels her husband shift position behind her on the king-sized bed, his lanky six-foot frame extending only four inches beyond hers. She looks outside the open window where the first buds peek through the dogwood branches that front her Fresh Meadows Cape. April again. She fumbles for her pack of Salems on the dusty night table and knocks over the ashtray teeming with butts. Ashes scatter. The odor of stale smoke clings to the carpet, the linens, the furnishings, her clothes. No matter. She props herself on her elbow, lights up, drags deeply, and exhales with a raspy cough.
Dolores turns to her husband. “I can’t find her, Joe,” she whispers in his ear. “Today’s her birthday, and I can’t find her.”
Joe, his sandy hair tousled, faces his wife and draws her close. “I’ll run you a warm bath,” he says, then pushes himself off the bed. He walks barefoot in his jockey shorts to the bath that adjoins the bedroom. When the tub is half-filled, Joe walks back to Dolores, who allows him to draw the faded gown over her head and lead her to the tub. When her husband leaves, she reaches for the pack of cigarettes and lighter on the bathroom vanity. She has scattered cigarettes and lighters around her house and her person—on counters, tables, shelves, and niches, inside handbags and pockets—so they’re always in easy reach.
Ten minutes later, water streaming down her torso and legs, Dolores throws on a white terrycloth robe, and towels the dripping strands of her shoulder-length hair. She walks back into the bedroom, tripping on an area rug and knocking over a night-table photo of three-year-old Bertie at the beach, the child’s hands reaching out, hungry for all the wonders that life promised to serve up—rolling waves, billowing sand, boundless sky. She wears a powder blue playsuit. The wide-brimmed straw hat that protects her face against the high-noon sun has no power to shade her smile. Dolores runs an index finger over the plump cheek.
The sun no longer shines for Bertie. Now it’s always midnight.
Dolores loved being pregnant, and in labor she welcomed the searing pain and pounding pressure that pushed her baby home. She loved being a mother. Who is she now? she wonders. If both her parents were dead, she’d be an orphan, but her mother isn’t dead. If Joe were dead, she’d be a widow, but Joe isn’t dead. Her baby is dead. What does that make Dolores? There’s no word for her because mothers aren’t supposed to outlive their babies.
“Did the bath help?”
She replaces the photo on the table and shuffles into the kitchen, where her husband waits for her, as always willing her into his meaningless world, his eyes full of fear that she might slip away from him.
The white wood cabinets and yellow walls once made the kitchen warm and sunny; now they mock her grief. She sits at the white-tiled table under the pricey pewter chandelier, a relic of the time when she devoted a lot of money and most of her energy to making a home for her family.
A damp curl hangs over her cheek, obscuring one brown eye and a new pimple on her once flawless olive complexion. Joe winds the curl around his forefinger and tugs gently. He’s calling her back.
“I’ll be okay. Please stop worrying.” Dolores checks her pocket for a cigarette and finds one, bent but serviceable.
Her husband opens a window.
“Your mother called me at the office yesterday, said you keep pushing her away.”
“She spent weeks here a year ago. I couldn’t bear it, remember? All she did was follow me around the house and yak, yak, yak.”
“She loves you. She wants to help.”
“Let’s not talk about my mother.”
He waits a beat. “Okay. Let’s talk about our four o’clock appointment with Dr. Kaur. I’ll leave work early, meet you there.”
She says nothing.
“Dee? You were walking in your sleep again last night.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be all right.”
“Don’t worry? It’s been a year, and it’s not getting any better. You don’t even go to Church anymore. You used to find strength in your faith. I’m telling you, we need help. Give Dr. Kaur a chance, please.”
“I’m not ready for a shrink.” She flinches when he cracks a knuckle. 
“It’s time, Dee, time to pick up the pieces. Maybe go back to teaching.”
“I have no interest in other women’s children.”
“Please don’t give up. You have to go on living.”
Dolores is sorry as soon as the word leaves her lips. Joe looks stricken. She knows it’s guilt, not empathy, she feels. No surprise, considering Catholic nuns used to be the voice of her conscience. Dolores can still hear Sister Ann’s last-chance admonitions before she entered a secular high school: Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost; keep it pure for the man you marry. And remember, a good wife supports her husband.  She stopped listening to that voice when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all three of them, let Bertie die.
Maybe Joe’s pain should move her more than it does, but right now, she needs him to stop nagging. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll see Dr. Kaur.” Even though it’s pointless, a certainty she leaves unsaid.
When Joe leaves for work, Dolores remains at the table and thinks about her mother’s last visit. She recalls the time her mother was washing dishes, blocking her cigarette drawer. Dolores, standing behind her, addressed her by her given name. Did she mean to goad the woman? She’s not sure, but the reaction was instantaneous. Her mother spun around. “Don’t you call me Roseann!” she said, her voice rasping. “I’m your mother, so it’s Mom when you talk to me!” Dolores took a step back and mumbled an apology.
A week later Dolores put her on a plane back to Florida, though her mother resisted. “It’s better if I stay,” she said. “Your heart is heavy. Let me take care of you.”
“Joe’s made that his job. You’d put him out of work if you stayed.”
The truth is Dolores can’t overcome her bitterness toward Mom. The rift widened when her father died, though her mother saw to all his final needs and, she has to admit, was always an excellent caretaker. Dolores remembers when she caught the chicken pox and wanted to scratch her skin raw. Her mother dabbed calamine lotion on the rash and read Dolores’s favorite fairy tales again and again to distract her. After the stroke, she kept watch at her father’s bedside day and night, assisting the nurses, coming home only to feed Dolores and catch an hour or two of sleep. Still, as far as Dolores is concerned, the loving attention to her dad came too late.
Her head is starting to hurt. When her four o’clock appointment worms its way into her mind, Dolores has had enough. She gets up, returns to bed, and wills herself to sleep.
The taxi gets caught in traffic halfway over the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge. Hopelessly immobilized in a cab reeking of pot, Dolores regrets her decision to keep the appointment with the psychiatrist. She’s stuck in a bumper-to-bumper lineup. Frustrated drivers crane their necks, step out of their cars, fling epithets, but accomplish nothing. The cabbie, taking it all in stride as the meter keeps ticking away, hums along to lilting West Indian music.
It takes half an hour to cover the short span of the bridge. Dolores decides to get some air by walking the last few blocks to Park Avenue. The gentle breeze, though, does nothing to lift her spirits. And why should it? April is the cruelest month, the poet said. It promises life and warmth forever, but before you know it, the darkness and cold return. She forces herself to focus on the street numbers. The doorman greets Dolores as she approaches the Park Avenue building that houses a half-dozen high-priced doctors, including Kaur. She hesitates in the lobby. Just get it over with.
Exiting the building elevator, Dolores finds the door marked Afifa Kaur, M. D., and enters an office with upholstered period chairs and a rich walnut coffee table displaying late issues of Architectural Digest and Forbes Magazine. She recognizes a print of Hopper’s Cape Cod Afternoon on the wall. Inside the sitting area, Joe is waiting and greets her with a kiss. Dolores leaves her name with the puppy-eyed receptionist, who looks fifteen but is probably closer to twenty-five, young enough to make her feel old. Joe hands Dolores the partially completed paperwork.
She steels herself for the tedious task of completing multiple forms. Opposite her, a wan middle-aged woman reads a hardcover edition of “The Metamorphosis.” She looks up from her book once, dead eyes meeting dead eyes, and returns to Kafka. “If I’m not called in fifteen minutes,” Dolores says to Joe, “I’m out of here.”
She barely has time to complete the questionnaire when a strikingly attractive woman, black tendrils escaping a tight bun, calls her name. Under a white lab coat, the doctor wears a black skirt-suit that is custom-tailored to downplay her full figure. Dolores grabs Joe’s hand, and she walks into a room where a floor-to-ceiling bookcase shelving medical texts, their spines neatly stacked, lines the back wall, and period chairs posture like peacocks on either side of a fireplace. If the doctor is striving for a homey look, she isn’t succeeding. Brass andirons straddle the fireplace, and a gorgeous mantelpiece of ivory filigree frames it. Behind the doctor’s over-sized mahogany desk, eight-foot French windows open inward.
“I hope, for your sake, the insurance picks this up,” she whispers to Joe.
“Sit, please,” says the doctor, pointing to the chairs in front of the desk. She takes a seat behind it. “We spoke briefly on the phone, Mr. Walsh, when you called on behalf of your wife. Tell me again how I can help.”
“My wife and I lost Bertie, Roberta, our little girl, a year ago,” says Joe. “My wife needs help picking up the pieces of her life.”
The psychiatrist fixes her black eyes on Dolores, whose own eyes dare the doctor to comment.
“Do you agree with your husband, Mrs. Walsh?”
“I guess so.”
“You are not sure?” she asks, using the precise diction of a non-native speaker.
“I don’t know.”
The doctor turns to Joe. “Mr. Walsh, since your wife is the patient, I will ask you to leave the room.”
Joe, about to protest, looks to Dolores for a reaction. When he gets none, he squeezes her hand. “I’ll wait outside,” he says, and closes the door behind him.   
Again Dr. Kaur fixes her penetrating eyes on Dolores. “He seems like a loving husband.”
“The two of you obviously share burdens. Do you make time for leisure activities?”
“Joe tries, but he works long hours.” 
“How do you spend your time when Joe is working?”
Dolores is confused. “I don’t know. Waiting for it to pass, I guess.” She runs her fingers through hair the color of bitter chocolate, then checks the spaces between her fingers. At least it’s stopped falling out.
 “You look tired. Do you sleep nights?”
“Night and day. The sleep of the dead, at least for a few hours.”
“Are you taking sleep medication?
“Mrs.—May I call you Dolores?”
“Seconal is a dangerous drug. How long have you been taking it?”
Since . . . no . . . a couple of months after . . . I forget.  I need another prescription. Can you write me one?”
“No. It is not good for you.  Tell me, please, do you dream?”
Dolores hesitates. “Maybe.”
“I’m not sure it’s a dream. Sometimes I sleepwalk.”
 “Please describe what you say may or may not be a dream.”
“I hear my baby crying, but I can’t find her. I search through the house, but I can’t find her.” Dolores bends over in her chair, her knees at her chest.
“How did Bertie die?”
“Yesterday was her birthday. She’s . . . she’d be five years old.”
“How did she die?”
“She had a cold.” Dolores almost giggles, but catches herself in time. Whenever she laughs or cries, she can’t stop until Joe talks her down.
“She died of a rare cancer. The tumor was in the sinus cavity. At first we thought she had a cold.” She clears her throat. Maybe if we had caught it earlier . . .” 
“Did you want a child?”
“I wanted nothing more out of life, but we waited till Joe’s career got started--he’s a CPA--and then till his school loans were paid off. In the beginning I suggested we use the rhythm method—that means abstaining from sex during fertile cycles.  The Church condemns all other forms of birth control as mortal sins. But Joe made a joke of it.  ‘Know what they call people who practice the rhythm method? Parents!’ he said. So I went on the Pill, and every First Friday eve I confessed to Father Tom, my parish priest. I’d say the usual ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys till the next time, when I’d make the same confession. Pretty soon I realized I was making a sham of the sacrament.  A person has to be truly penitent to be absolved of sin; you can’t keep committing the same sin and expect God to forgive you. So I stopped going to Confession. And then came the payback: by the time it was okay to conceive, I couldn’t get pregnant . . . eight precious years wasted. Finally, we went to a reproductive specialist.”
“What was the problem?”
“My cervical opening was too small.”
“Please go on.”
“I had an operation to correct it, but the improvement was minimal. Next came injectable hormones followed by endless temperature monitoring, the rhythm method in reverse: wait till the fertile period, then rut like animals.  The sex was joyless. Every month the blood flowed.  Finally someone decided to test Joe. Turns out he has a low sperm count.”
Dr. Kaur keeps her silence.
“The Almighty seemed to be punishing us for our arrogance. We had waited too long. Already thirty-two years old, I would never have a child. But then the miracle happened. I thought God had forgiven me.”
“Do you feel responsible for your daughter’s death?”
“Oh, God, Doctor! That’s so glib! Of course, I feel responsible. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to protect her.” Her broken nails cut into her upper arms. It feels good.
“What did you do wrong?”
“We shouldn’t have waited so long. My eggs got old.”
She can’t continue. She takes time to get herself under control.
            “Sometimes I hear her calling me . . . she was talking at two, so bright, my baby, so smart . . . I see her in her Hello Kitty romper. I smell her sweetness. It’s like she’s almost a ghost. I want her to be a ghost. I want her to haunt me, but she’s gone before she fully materializes.”
            Dr. Kaur stirs. “Right now you miss your child acutely. You will never forget your child, nor should you, but you can learn to live with your loss, and even in time to take satisfaction in what the world offers.” The psychiatrist ignores Dolores’s twisted grin. “Grief is a process that the bereaved must undergo in stages in order to heal. The danger is getting stuck in one of the stages, in your case despair, and never recovering.”
Dr. Kaur underscores her words with hand gestures, her fingertips adorned by an elegant French manicure. “Right now you are convinced beyond a doubt that you will never be happy again. But if you are patient and kind to yourself, and cooperate with those who would help you, you will one day value life again.”
Dolores hates the doctor’s facile lecture. She rises from her chair. She needs to get out of the office.
Dr. Kaur looks up from her seat behind the desk. “Before you bolt, may I ask what made you come to see me today?”
“Joe. He’s worried that I’m losing my mind, that I’ll do something desperate.”
“Does he have reason to worry?”
“You’re the psychiatrist, you tell me.”
“Those scars on your wrist are not too faint for a doctor to read.
The antique wall clock ticks off the passing seconds. Kaur’s words have conjured a lurid scene: Only half conscious at the time, Dolores remembers the blood spurting from her wrists, swirling in the bath water, spilling over onto the tiles as she lay face up on the floor. Joe, blue eyes bulging, racing into action, wrapping her wrists, sobs racking his body. Then a shrieking ambulance, jouncing bumps, probing needles, blackness swallowing her.
The doctor breaks the silence. “Those scars tell me your husband has cause for concern. I advise you to get off the Seconal. Barbiturates may be causing some of your symptoms. Sleepwalking and vivid dreams are documented side effects. The drug has even been known to trigger hallucinations.
“I’d like to see you again soon, say in a week. You can make an appointment with Miss Bell at the desk, or call the office at your convenience. For now I am going to prescribe medication to ease your depression.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. My feelings are all I have left of Bertie.”
Kaur writes the prescription and, rising, hands it to Dolores. “Think about filling this. It will make you feel better.”
The psychiatrist continues speaking as she escorts Dolores to the door. “Dr. Kindry tells me he gave you a list of bereavement groups in Queens. I urge you to choose one that is convenient and join.” With her hand on the doorknob, she gives Dolores a final piece of advice. “Build up your physical strength. You need at least another ten or fifteen pounds to support your tall frame. Eat regularly, exercise. The body and the mind work together in the healing process.”
As far as Dolores is concerned, she’s done her part. She has seen the psychiatrist. With a formal handshake, she thanks Dr. Kaur and walks out, ignoring Miss Bell and leaving Joe to make a more gracious exit.
Dolores regards Joe’s decision to take a taxi back to Queens as a second exercise in futility. This one forces them to endure the screeching decibels of angry horns and the unintelligible curses of a cabbie brandishing his middle finger.  
Joe sits quietly beside Dolores. She knows what’s on his mind and steels herself to ward off his appeals. His final goodbye to the psychiatrist involved an inaudible exchange. Sure enough, even sooner than expected, Joe speaks up.
“A bereavement group makes sense, Dee.” He lists the benefits: she can find out how other people cope; she can talk to mothers who understand; she won’t feel so alone and hopeless.
“I don’t need other people. I need Bertie.” The hurt look on his face annoys her.
When they finally arrive home, Joe wants to talk, but Dolores needs a nap. He helps her out of the worn black coat they picked out together in another life and follows her into the bedroom. Dolores stands motionless as he unbuttons the coffee-stained white blouse and draws it off her arms.
“Dee, please. We need help; we need to learn how to live again.”
“I’m so tired, Joe. Let’s not talk now.”
“We have to talk. You want to give up, and I won’t let you!” He sits her down on the bed, and kneels to remove her scuffed loafers and peel off wrinkled jeans. She smells his pungent after-shave as his lips brush the nape of her neck, and she feels his swelling need against her thigh. She allows his hands and tongue to probe the mounds and recesses of her body in search of comfort; she herself is beyond comfort. He enters her, then heaves his body in desperate lunges. A final frantic thrust brings release. His muffled words moisten her neck. “Dee, Dee, I can’t lose you both.”
“Okay, Joe,” Dolores says, “we’ll try the support group. But, please, don’t expect too much.”