Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dark Woods: Chapter Two © 2017

Chapter Two

She sat back and glanced at her clock, five hours later, she realized.  She had been in her head for five straight hours without so much as to get up for a drink or a bathroom break.  That wasn’t exactly her normal, but she wasn’t surprised either.  In her experience, sometimes when you were so stuck in your characters, it’s hard to pull yourself out, even for your own needs.
Her bladder was screaming, her stomach was growling, and she’d been gnawing on nothing but hard candies she kept in her desk.  She was starving and needed to pee worse than a toddler who drink five juice-boxes.   She got up, stretched, and walked to the bathroom.  After she washed her hands and dried them, she made her way to the kitchen.
She hadn’t even taken out the braid she had put in her red hair the night before to sleep.  She had thrown on a pair of form fitted leisure wear pants that were so comfortable and soft along with a long comfy white lacey shirt.  She reached back, pulling out the hair band, and combed through her long hair with her hands until the braid broke up.  She gathered her long red locks with her hands, pulling it up, and twisting it into a messy bun, using the same hair tie. 
She grabbed her phone from where she had put it that morning, to charge, on the kitchen counter.  As she opened her refrigerator to make herself something to eat, she was simultaneously checking her Facebook.  She saw that both Gullia and Catrina had responded in the message, and with Gabby, the three of them had continued chatting over the day as she found 75 new messages in the group discussion.  As she skimmed it, it seemed that the majorities of the younger girls and all the male children, except the baby, was going to be invading various grandparent’s houses.  It wasn’t going to be a girl’s night, but rather an adult night, with the four girls having their own night.  The men all discussed and decided there would be a BBQ and they’d be using her grill.  Then there was talk of dragging along another guy so they could play poker. 
She sighed. 
They would all be congregating at her house in about two hours, Emma would be home in a little over an hour.   She put her phone back down on the counter and walked back to the fridge.  She started pulling stuff out for a good salad; roman hearts greens, cheese, her favorite dressing, some onion and peppers she kept diced up in small round Tupperware that she kept in her fridge.
She was in a good place to stop writing for a few days.  Her main character, Detective Penelope Hennessy had just come across a very good clue in her homicide investigation.  The love interest was trying to help her, which was only hindering her.  Typical love hate relationship with a high kick in the pants of sexual frustration.  A few more clues and more leg work that would have otherwise been necessary without the man on the short leash because he wouldn’t stop trying to solve things himself, the book would be done.  Though, they had a brief drunken night of sex about six books ago, they were both fighting the clear lust they felt for one another.  It was about time to just let them take a step into a coming together in a relationship.  The sexual frustration between the two of them had her ready to scream. 
There was a knock on the door. 
She looked down at her salad, already half eaten.   How’d that happen?  She thought.   She really was stuck in her head still.   She walked over to her front door and saw her sister on the other side of the glass with a diaper bag slung over her shoulder and an infant car seat hooked on her arm. 
“I didn’t think you were coming until later,” she said opening the door. 
Gabby walked in.  “I didn’t know if you had the alarm on or not.”
“Nope, although the way I just wrote, I probably should have.”
Gabby put the baby, still in his car seat, on the floor and slid out of her jacket.  “I really wish you weren’t so apprehensive after all these years.” 
“Better safe….” She said trailing off.  She kneeled down and quickly made work of the complicated baby buckle and slid her tiny new nephew out of the car seat.  “Hello my sweet Xavier,” she fussed at the baby.  She looked at her sister and stood back up.  “I already pulled out the play pen and swing and stuff.  I put it in the family room by the fire place in case it gets chilly tonight.”
“Wonderful,” Gabby smiled.  “Am I bugging you being early?”
Bella laughed.  “Not at all.  I just didn’t come out of my head until a little bit ago.  I was catching up on the message and all the plans while trying to scarf down some salad.”
“Give me my son so you can eat.”
Bella made and evasive move.  “Not on your life!”  She laughed.  The baby was tucked into her arm and sucking on his fist already, giving clear indications he was probably going to start hollering for his dinner soon. 
“What’s going on with the book?”
Bella kissed the baby all over his face as they walked to the family room, he’d turn towards her when she kissed him.  He was most definitely hungry.  “I am going to give him to you, because I know what is about to happen, however I reserve the right to use my Auntie-Never-Put-Him-Down card for the rest of the night.  Plus, you are going to have to pump and dump tonight.”
“Oh I know it,” Gabby snickered.  She took the baby as Bella handed him to her.  She immediately sat down and unbuttoned her top to nurse the baby.  “Now the book.”
“Hang on,” Bella left the room, walked to the kitchen, grabbed her bowl of salad, and walked back.  She sat down on the sectional across from Gabby.  “Okay, so…” she started as she got comfortable.  “Penelope got her first big break on solving the double murder she’s investigating.  Everette is being … well… Everette.”
Gabby couldn’t help but to giggle, which startled the baby making him cry.  She soothed him, humming as she tried to get him to latch back onto her breast.  “What is the murder this time?”  She asked when Xavier latched on and started to suckle again. 
Bella looked up.  She forgot she really hadn’t gotten to give Gabby a run down because she’d had Xavier only six weeks prior.  Gabby was always her literary sounding board.   “So it’s a young teenage couple who are doing sacrificial killings to please the God they are trying to gain favor with.”
“Oh that’s a new one,” Gabby said. 
“Yeah I needed something shocking, and true.   The two girls they already killed, were virgins, of course.”
“Makes sense,” Gabby said.  “What about Everette.”
“His editor is putting a lot of pressure on him to get the scoop of the story, so of course he’s trying to pick Penelope’s brain while trying to get the scoop and doing his own digging which keeps him bumping into Penelope in places he shouldn’t be.”
“Well of course, but what happens if he somehow stumbles on them doing one and doesn’t ever see their faces, but manages to save the girl, because I assume they are only killing femals….  What if he got some photos of it with his phone or something, before the two got spooked and ran off – which is what initially ends up saving the girl.”
“I like that,” she said.  She pulled her cell phone out making some notes and sending it to her main computer.   “So who is this dude that’s coming tonight for poker?”
“Oh Jensen,” she said.  “You know Jensen.”  
Bella started blankly at Gabby.  She couldn’t place him.  Then it clicked.    “The Sheriff?”
“Yeah,” Gabby whispered.  “Come on Bell, we’ve been here, what… five years now?  I think we’re good and I know that underlying fear of cops they instilled in you is still active but, I think it’s time to try to work through some of this stuff.”
“I have worked through it,” Bella uttered.  “About as worked through as one can work through living a nightmare and not being able to leave it because, well, it’s real.”  She countered.  “And it’s not that I don’t trust cops, Gab, it’s more like I don’t trust anyone.”
“You trust me, right?”  Gabby objected. 
“Gabs, I have always trusted you.  There was a time where you were the only person I trusted, and you know that.  Then it grew with your family,” she muttered.
“Our family….”
“Our family,” Bella corrected.  She reached over and pulled her sister’s reddish-brown hair.  It was funny, at least to her at times, how people didn’t question if they were related or not.  Gabby’s reddish-brown hair and her atomic red hair were really only a few shades away from each other.  Gabby had blue eyes and she had these bluish green eyes that could look either vibrant blue or emerald green depending on the light.  They both had round faces, but Bella’s chiseled nose was a contrast to Gabby’s cute but wider nose.  Gabby’s eyes were a bit smaller, but they had the same general shape, which is something they had both commented on a lot.  How much they did kind of look like sisters. 
“You trust me, I know you trust Callum.”  Gabby started talking as she repositioned the baby.  “You know they like to play poker and it’s better the more people are involved.  Don moved and so they had to find themselves a forth for their regular games.”
“But Sheriff Jensen Gatewood?”  Gabby nodded and snickered at Bella’s questioning.  “His family is so prominent in the town.  His one Granddad is Major, people in his family own half the town, I mean they’ll have to leave town if they don’t let him win.”
“Why Bella as I live and breathe,” Gabby said throwing out her best southern accent.  “If I didn’t know better I’d swear you felt more for our local hunk of a sheriff then butterflies and fireflies.”
Bella rolled her eyes as she stuffed her face with the last of her salad.  “I’m not interested.”
Gabby gave her a sideways glance that said she don’t believe a word out of her face.  “Bella…” she trailed off cocking her head to the side. 
Bella looked at her sister, her best friend, and all she saw was the most beautiful girl.  In school Bella couldn’t imagine what she wanted to do with some rail thin frizzy red head who had on thrift clothes and was perfectly happy melding into whatever chair her ass was parked in.  It wasn’t until Gabby started talking to her that Bella started coming out of her shell and really stopped being afraid, started being herself, and started finding her voice. It was Gabby who taught her how to brush her hair, use a tampon, and put on makeup.  If she were a hundred percent honest, if it weren’t for Gabby, she’d be dead.  She might not have run away that night, she would have had no one to trust, and she wouldn’t have had the courage to tell the police. 
“What?”  She got up, quickly taking her empty bowl into the kitchen.  She left it in the sink and walked back into the room where she found Gabby a little more comfortable with a sleeping baby on her chest.  “I don’t know why you seem to be under the impression I have any feelings for him.”
Gabby rolled her eyes.  “Remember when I first moved here?  We were at the diner and he came in.  You watched him, slowly, move from the door as he tipped his hat to people all the way to the far end of the bar, even turning in the booth as he moved past us, and he sat down.  His mom came out, leaned over and kissed his cheek, threw down a slice of pie in front of him.  He scanned the room, you two made eye contact, and I swear on my children, you blushed and you spun around back towards me acting like you hadn’t just exchanged a smoldering glance with a really hot guy in uniform.”  Gabby watched her sister’s eyebrows furrow together and her eyes get squinty.  “And then you tried to make me believe that you hadn’t just got caught like a kid with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, or it that case, the hunky man jar.  Then you spent the last couple of years avoiding the hell out of him.”
Bella shook her head.  “You seriously need to start writing smut books.”
“It’s about time you stop avoiding him.  He’s not a fucking pit bull or something.  He doesn’t bite.” Gabby smiled in a slow sly way.  “But I bet it would feel so good if he did!” She cracked herself up laughing.  “Especially if it’s the lobe of your ear or your lip after a hot steamy curl your toes kind of kiss.” Gabby stopped snickering, amusing herself.  The baby was fussing and she automatically started to pat his back.  “Shoo I need to stop or I’m gonna end up pregnant again.”
This time Bella did laugh.  “Sometimes I hate you.”
“Nah,” Gabby countered.  “You never do.  Oh, by the way, don’t forget to put on something sexy and wear your hair down.”
“So, sweats and a messier messy bun?  Got it!”

Two hours later she found herself in her bathroom.  She had showered, brushed her teeth, and now she was staring at herself in the mirror.  She’d be damned if she was going to go out of her way to pretty up for a night in with the girls, in her own home.   She didn’t have feelings for him.  Though, if she were going to be honest with herself, she had to admit that day in the diner she couldn’t take her eyes off of him, and she did get spooked when he caught her staring at him.  If she had her way, she would have gotten up and left the diner too, but her whole family was there and that would have been a little hard to explain. 
Fact is, she was still very spooked by cops, but less spooked than her sixteen or eighteen-year-old younger self.  She didn’t get that inbred fear and rabbit response to bolt.  Gabby was right, she really needed to get over her fears but at this point in her life, she didn’t see that happening.  It wasn’t like she’d ever see the monsters again.  They were both sentenced to the death.  Why was she still on edge?  Why did she still panic and feel like she needed to look over her shoulder?  It had been 16 years since she had left that house that day, running for her life.  She had literally doubled her life, and she still felt like there were monsters lurking in the corners.
Every place she had ever lived, it seemed someone she knew would wind-up dead.  There would always seem to be a serial killer that would happen, and someone she knew – either well or someone she was acquainted with – would end up dead by that serial killer.   Every city!  She’d panic and pack up and leave.  Normal people just didn’t experience that.  She was sure she was reading something into it.  She had to of, because the monsters were in prison on death row. 
She shook off the thoughts, the memories, and walked out of her on-suite and into the bedroom.  She had the best security system, she lived in a small town, had a whole new name, and she knew where the monsters were.  She was safe. 
She was safe!
She kept repeating it in her head like a mantra.  One she kept saying in her head, no matter how old she’d get, she would always find herself saying it at times.  Luckily it was further and further apart, but it was still there, still needed.   She walked into her closet and stood there for a moment taking it all in.  After a brief moment, she reached out taking a black tank top off the shelf, picked out some blue jean looking form fitting soft pants, and a light weight button down shirt that she’d just leave open.  She walked a little further in to her dresser, pulling out a clean bra and matching underwear.  She might not be sexually active, or even plan on being such, but it was always a boost to a girl’s self-esteem when pretty underthings made her feel sexy. 
She quickly got dressed and threw her hair up in a messy bun again. 
She refused to look any different then she would any other night for a girls’ night in.  She wasn’t trying to impress anyone.  What was the point?  She did not want or need any kind of relationship.  She would never again.  She just couldn’t trust people, she certainly couldn’t trust men, in general.   There were a few she did trust.  Her brother Reed.  Her Dad Phillip.  Her brother in law, Callum.  Her friend’s husbands, Aaron and Greggory.  She didn’t get a bad feeling off anyone in town, not one person, and that was a rare thing.
That was a lie.  There was one person who she crossed the street to avoid.  The town crazy old man who always seemed to be drunk and talking to himself.   The town’s people she was somewhat close to told her he was harmless.  She hadn’t ever seen him do anything weird or strange besides being the town crazy old drunk who talked to himself, so she couldn’t say she had a bad vibe, just a cautious vibe. 
There were a few men she dated while on her travels.   She didn’t date anyone in high school.  She had guy friends, but no one she dated.  They’d go out on group nights, but it wasn’t ever a date between her and anyone else.  She was still friends with some of them, from high school, on Facebook.  Then there was David, who she dated in college.  After David had died, she dated one guy named Hunter for about six months while she was in college. 
Then she didn’t date anyone for a few years.  While she was in San Diego she dated Samuel for over a year, while she was there.  She got itchy once her friend Daisy was murdered.  She couldn’t stay there anymore, so she moved.  Previously she moved to Las Vegas, and she didn’t date anyone there.  She’d previously been in New York City, she didn’t date anyone there either.  She lived in Montana for about four months, it was then she moved to San Diego.  
She walked out of her closet, after getting dressed, and went in her room to sit on the edge of her bed.   She laid back and started thinking about her past. 
After Florida, the whole family had moved to Oregon.  It wasn’t long before Gabby and Bella headed off to Berkeley College, though, in California where they had both been accepted.    Reed had gone there already, and moved on to Harvard Law School by the time they got there.
She had gotten pregnant, had Emerson.  It was a horrible experience, the birth.  Right at the same time she was having Emma, David died.  The c-section ended up being an emergency.  While she was laboring, Emma’s heartbeat had slowed down.  The stress of labor wasn’t agreeing with her.  She was in grave distress.  Everything happened so quickly, she was rushed to the operating room. They had cut her open and she remembered hearing the doctor gasp.  The scar tissue inside her was extensive.  After she was in recovery, the doctor had come in to talk to her.  She had asked everyone to leave and asked her a bunch of questions.  The doctor concluded that because of all the sexual trauma that happened to her as a child, she had extensive trauma inside of her that resulted in her body responding extremely.  She was shocked when the doctor told her that not only was her daughter a miracle, because based on what she saw she was shocked she could even get pregnant and carry a pregnancy, but she determined that she wouldn’t be able to have any more children.  It was like being abused and assaulted all over again.  The doctor had also said the reason the birth hadn’t progressed was because of the damage to her insides.
She had originally started to write as a suggestion from a therapist during the trial.  She started writing again because it had helped before.  She hadn’t decided on her major at the point she had Emma, but she had taken the summer off of college and decided not to take summer courses at that point.  Gabby and Bella had gotten an apartment a block from campus, and that summer Bella wrote, and wrote and wrote.  She decided at that point that she wanted to write.  So she knew at that point what her majors were going to be. 
After college, she moved to New York with Emma. She had already published her first two books under a pen name while she was in college and she had a good stream of income coming in as they were selling very well.   It had been decided that she would hire someone to pretend to be her for publicity things.  That’s the way it had been since. 
She continued to write, the same characters.  Her main character, Penelope Hennessy, had started out as a beat cop in the first book.  She had an accident, shot in the line of duty right in the head, and woke up feeling like a different person.  She ended up, after a medical leave, on the scene of a murder.  It was then that she realized she could travel back in time, to a place where she hadn’t been before, to watch events, and find clues.  She would end up knowing who the murderer was, and have to figure out how they tried to get away with it.  She would be able to see where key evidence was.  She would get promoted to a homicide detective.  She would have a weird hot and cold relationship with a reporter named Everette Mason, whom she eventually would start sleeping with and the plan, at some point, would be for them to get married.  The relationship was slow moving though, although they did kiss periodically now and they had slept together.  But Penelope wasn’t sure she wanted a relationship with him.  He was the only person she had ever told her secret to, though.  Things did change as she wrote books.  She had fourteen books written so far, the one she was working on was number fifteen. 
When she had moved to New York after college was done it was because she felt drawn there.   Though when she had been there for several months, news reports started flooding in that women were disappearing mysteriously around town.  Then their bodies slowly started to be found.  She panicked, packed up so quick she didn’t even have much time to think.  She moved and never looked back.    She lived for a few months in Chicago.  The news had a lot of gang related and non-gang related murders.  She couldn’t deal. She went from Chicago to New Orleans, to San Antonio, then to Las Vegas, then the quieter life of Montana.  She wasn’t long in each place, and always leaving because it seemed that dead bodies were following her.  A friend, a neighbor, a boss … they haunted her.
Then she moved to San Diego.  She had that relationship.  Once Daisy died, she made an excuse to go see family in Seattle… and the rest was history.   She had driven up to meet her new niece, and stumbled across this town where she felt she wanted to plant her roots.  So she did. 
Every city she was in, women were disappearing, showing up dead.  It wasn’t that men weren’t dying, but it was the deaths of the women that triggered her response to flee.  It made her feel like she could never escape her past.  Like she had to keep looking over her shoulder.  She knew that wasn’t going to change in the Seattle area, but at least she would have Reed.  Gabby had been talking about moving closer to Reed too, and their parents had moved from Oregon to Washington already.  Dad wanted to be close to the military bases, since that’s what he was doing now.  Various government jobs with his military background.   They were already living on the Peninsula. 
Once she stumbled across this town, it was like she stepped back in time.  It was a small town.  Everyone seemed to know everyone.  People didn’t always lock their houses, or their cars.  Occasional domestic disputes broke out, the bar fights were the worst thing that seemed to happen.  There was a lot of theft of large rare trees in the area.  People would go and chop them down in the middle of the woods, and then sell it.  People would occasionally go missing but were either found or got lost in the woods and perished, it wasn’t a matter of murder.  It felt safe.  It felt protected.  It felt right. 
She got up.  Made her way out of her room and into her house.  She passed the stairs going upstairs to some guest rooms, and another family room.  She passed Emma’s bedroom door which was open and she heard Emma giggling with her best friends.   There was the first-floor bathroom door, open and unoccupied.  She of course had her own bathroom in her room with a huge deep soaking tub.  The house opened at that point, after the bedrooms and bathroom.  Her large office was across from the kitchen, but on the other side of the office, to the right, was an opened patio with two sliding glass patio doors, one side lead to the back yard, and the other opened up to the large screened in patio.  Now that they were heading into the summer season, she had pulled all that glass off and the whole thing was open to the cool evening air.  She had a great view of the Olympic mountains on the left side of the room, and a great view of the water from the right, complete with her own private beach and dock.  Out the back she had her own nice view of the woods along the edge of her property.  The open kitchen and dining room were to the left.  She saw the guys already putting up the poker table in the large screened in patio area.  They had moved her patio furniture around to make room for the poker table that seated eight people.
It’s funny, she thought, how a simple girls’ night in was turning into a big party with almost all the people she was closest to.  The door opened, startling her and making her jump, when her brother Reed and his wife Natalie yelled “surprise” before shutting the door.  Immediately she saw Gabby get up with the baby.  She hugged Natalie then handed her the baby, while she tossed her arms around Reed for a big hug.  “We heard there was a party going on here tonight and thought we’d come join in the fun!  Dropped the kids off at Mom and Dad’s and drove up here.”
She walked across the room and when Gabby started happily chatting at Natalie talking about labor and babies, Reed spotted her and walked across the room, eating up the distance with his big strides and long legs.  “Hey Sweetie,” he said kissing her forehead. 
“Hey Bro,” she smiled looking up at him.  “Just happened to go see Mom and Dad?”
“Yeah, I got two weeks of vacation time I had to take, so I took it.  Asked the kids where they wanted to go and of course they wanted to see their Nana and Pop-pop, and Aunties and cousins.  We’re thinking about doing some touristy stuff, but haven’t really decided.  We’re kind of playing it by ear, which we both know is really hard for me.”
“Mister plan down to the minute, yeah, I know,” she laughed. 
“Mom suggested we crash here for the night in one of your guest rooms, is that okay?” He asked her. 
“Of course, you know you are always welcome.  This morning I woke up to silence and tonight I’m having an impromptu party.”
“I know,” he ruffled her hair a little.  “But it’s always nice to ask.”  He looked at Natalie and Gabby, “She’s been dying to get her hands on that baby.”
“She has baby fever doesn’t she?” She asked looking at her sister and sister-in-law practically looking like conjoined twins over the baby. 
“Oh you have no idea how badly.  After they got pregnant with the girls around the same time, and how they had the girls the same day, I think it spoiled them a bit.”
Gabby and Reed both had four kids.  Reed and Natalie started their family first, they had their son Jacob before she had even gotten pregnant with Emma.  Jacob was 14 now, Sawyer was 10, Katie was 5 and their youngest, Mollie is 3.  Gabby started her family after Emma was born.  Gabby and Callum’s oldest, Caleb, was 10, Zoey was 6, Hollie was 3 and then finally little 6-week Xavier. 
Gabby and Natalie were pregnant at the same time, due a month apart, but Hollie and Mollie were born two hours apart on the same day.   Gabby was 1 weeks late with Hollie, and Natalie was 3 weeks early with Mollie.  Both spontaneously went into labor on their own.  Natalie was laboring longer, at the hospital, Gabby went there to be supportive and ended up going into labor after her water broke while in the room with Natalie. Surprise!  The girls were born the same day to the shock and awe of the whole family who was there for the event. 
“I think it’ll happen real soon, Reed,” she smiled. 
“You always had that knack of knowing things before they happened,” he kissed her forehead again and put his arm on her shoulders. 
They watched as her friends and family mingled.   Then there was a knock on the door.   Reed’s arm dropped as she excused herself to answer the door that no one else beside her and Reed seemed to hear. 
She made it across the room and opened the door to find Sheriff Gatewood standing on the other side.  All six foot of his strong muscular stature, his dark hair and green eyes starring a hole right into her.  “Hello Sheriff,” she said opening the door.   “The guys are setting up the poker table.”
He held up a bottle of wine, “Gift for the ladies,” he said.  Then he held up a six pack of beer, “and something for the guys.”  She moved aside to let him in, and took the bottle of chilled wine as he handed it to her. 
“You certainly come prepared,” she smiled at him.  She didn’t understand why she got butterflies around him, every damn time she saw him.  She didn’t like it, didn’t welcome it, and certainly didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Boy Scout for life,” he smiled.  Damn if she couldn’t smell him.  He smelled like a mixture of citrus and musk.
She shut the door cursing the butterflies even more.   She had no idea how she was going to get through this night with the bastard butterflies and the lack of room to escape.  At least when she saw him around town, she could avoid him at all costs, she could cross the street, duck into a business, turn the other way and flee like the scaredy cat she was.  She’s avoided him for years since their first meeting, but she couldn’t avoid him in her own house. 
This was the only guy who ever gave her butterflies and she had no clue why.  There was just something about him.  “You’ve been in the town for how long now and I’ve barely seen you,” he said to her.  “Mostly I just see your back.”  She looked up at him.  “It’s hard to miss that red hair of yours.”
She automatically reached up and ran her hand over her messy bun.  Always thankful they were tight spirals but that there was some waviness and curls to her hair depending on the day and the humidity.   “Well, good to know that I’m noticed,” I guess, she thought. 
She took the bottle of wine from him and crossed the open front area of her house into the kitchen and dipped her hand in the trough of ice with other bottles of wine and wine coolers of various size, colors and flavors, making room for the new bottle that she ended up shoving in the ice to keep it chilled. 
She turned around and walked right into his chest.  It was like hitting a brick wall, there was no give.  He was a very solid man.  She looked up, slowly, and met his eyes.  She was absolutely captivated with his amazing sage green eyes.  They were practically bewitching.  “Sorry for …” she backed up a few steps “bumping into you Sheriff Gatewood.” 
This wide smile spread slowly across his face.  “Call me Jensen, I’m not on duty.”  He pointed to his left breast area on his shirt, “see, no gold star here.” 
She rolled her eyes and couldn’t hold back the little bit of a smile.  She took the beer from him and walked across the dining room and through the open patio door into her screened off back patio area.  “Jensen brought more beer.” She said as she walked into the room.  The word beer made all of their heads snap up.   She slid each bottle into the ice that filled up the long metal tub out there.  There were already a dozen bottled beers in the ice and a bunch of different cans.   As she slid the beer in the ice to chill she looked blankly at all the guys, “no one is driving home tonight, there are a bunch of guest rooms upstairs, everyone can crash here tonight if you want. If there isn’t enough, I have plenty of long surfaces people normally sit on that can also double as a bed.”  She smiled looking at all her friends’ husbands, and she considered all of them friends too.  
Her brother-in-law Callum she had grown very close to, Gullia’s husband Aaron he come early while Gillia had been waiting for her parents to come spend the night and watch their kids at her house.  Greggory and Aaron had been best friends since high school.  He had walked over with Aaron and he was setting up the poker chips.  Catrina was hanging out with Gillia until the grandparents showed and then they’d walk over. Reed walked into the room with a beer already open.  “Hey, are we ordering pizza tonight?”
Bella rolled her eyes so hard that she was surprised that they didn’t roll right on out of her head.  “Only if you are paying there Mr. Big Shot Lawyer man.” 
“Hey, I’ll pay Miss New York Best Seller Author woman,” a sly crooked smile crossed his lips.
                She looked at her brother and couldn’t stop the large smile that spread.  “Oh, you saw that, huh?”
                “Damn right I did,” he took a swig of his beer.  “I keep track of my sisters. Proud of you too, what is this, the fourth book now that’s made it up there?”
                “First one that’s made it that far up.”  It was currently sitting at number four.
                There was a pat on her back as the Sheriff walked into the room.  “Congrats,” he said walking in.  “I didn’t realize you wrote.”
                “Yeah, I write under a pen name.  I also have a girl that I’ve hired to pretend to be me so I don’t need to do any of the press release stuff.”  She told him as he walked closer to the poker table.
                He turned and looked back at her.  “Why would you do that after working so hard on a book?”
                “Well,” she felt a little panicked, and looked at Reed with probably a caught in the headlights deer kind of look.  “I don’t like attention,” she continued looked back at Jensen. 
                “She REALLY doesn’t like attention,” Reed proclaimed.  “Every chance she can get to fade into the background she takes,” he all but snorted a laugh.
                “Meanwhile,” she gave her brother a slanted sisterly look.  “Reed wants all the attention and I gladly let him take it.  That’s why you are a lawyer and I am not.”  She laughed.
                “And that’s why you hide in your office and sometimes don’t come out until it’s dark out.”
                She nodded, “truth.”  She smiled looking at each of them, thinking, she got pretty lucky with her group of guy friends.  Based on what happened to her when she was a child and teenager she wasn’t sure she would have ever trusted another guy in her whole life had it not been for the family that embraced her and showed her what love truly was. 
                “Bella here is the famous writer also known as Alison Gaynes.”
                “Oh wow!” Jensen looked from Reed to Bella.  “My sisters love those books. They all come in, practically have book club meetings with each other, Amber is always coming in, taking over my desk chair, gushing about these books and the characters.  Dragging Natasha, who works at the police station, and Nicole, who owns the Spa, in for impromptu book club meetings. The cop books, right?  They quiz me on if certain things are possible.”
                “Do I pass?”
                “One hundred percent,” he smiled.  “I will keep your secret, but I may have to have you sign some books so I can be the best brother in the world.”
                “I can do that,” she smiled.  “Well I’ll leave you guys to it.”
                As she turned to leave the room she heard Reed pipe up again.  “Best poker player I’ve ever seen is walking away boys, we should count our lucky stars.”
                Gabby popped out from somewhere, “You know Reed,” she challenged … “We could play a few games before Gullia and Catrina get here, I bet she can still kick your ass.”
                “Nah,” he said waving off both of his sisters.  “She cheats.”
                “I don’t cheat,” Bella laughed.  “I never have, at …. ANYTHING.”  Her hands hit her hips before she could stop them.
                Reed looked pleading at the other three guys.  “Please,” he whispered.  “Don’t do …”
                “I’m game, and curious,” Jensen said.
                Reed’s hand hit his face so hard it caused Bella to giggle.  “He’s just scared,” she whispered.  “But I’d gladly take all of your money.  Sadly, Reed is paying for the pizza I still need to order and if I play you guys he’ll be broke.  Then my sister-in-law would be horribly mad at me.”
                “Right!” he pointed at Bella.  “Right!  So let’s just go with a guys only game.” He turned toward the guys who were sitting down. 
                “Actually, I’m curious too,” Callum said.  “I had no clue that she even played.”
                Gabby blew out a howling breath of laughter.  “Well that’s because I like us having money.”
                Bella found herself sitting down at the poker table.  “Go ahead, sit down and deal.”  She told Reed. 
                “Well boys,” Reed said, “I am going to order the pizza and not lose my money.  You have fun with this death trap.”
                Bella laughed.   After agreeing on the game and rules, the cards were dealt.  Bella had put ten dollars out and ended up walking away with 100 dollars twenty minutes later when Gillua and Catrina walked in the door.  She had laughed, joked, laughed some more.  She forgets, sometimes, how fun it is to be around other people.  She’s one that normally would rather lock herself in a room, with her computer, and the voices in her head. 
                She got up from the table, thanked the boys and proceeded with the girls’ movie and wine night in the basement where she had a theater room set up with recliners and a huge screen. 
                At one point, Gabby leaned over and whispered to her.  “You know, it was really nice to see you laughing and smiling.  Plus, you really like him and you know it.”
                Bella leaned over closer to her sister.  “I will deny, deny, and deny some more.”
                “Yes, but, you forget.  I saw you around David and you weren’t this…  scared avoid at all cost girl with him.  What’s different? I’ve never seen you anything but confident…. Pretending or whatever, doesn’t matter, you project confidence and you don’t do that with him.”
                “Is it that obvious?” Bella asked looking at her sister. 
                “Blatantly…” Gabby murmured. 
                “Well shit,” Bella hissed and sunk into the chair even more. 
                “What are we whispering about?”  Gullia asked. 
                Bella just shook her head, reached into her popcorn and threw it at her friend.  This started a mini popcorn fight which had Bella laughing again.  “Okay okay stop now, I don’t have hired help to come clean this up for me. Nor do I have ushers.”
                “Well you have a housekeeper,” Catrina said. 
                “Yes, but I don’t leave messes hanging around for her to get around to them.”  Then she threw a few more popped kernels at Catrina before turning her attention back to the movie. 

                Several hours later, the Poker game had wound down, the big winner of the night was almost a tie between Reed and Jensen, but Jensen had pulled ahead by about twenty-five dollars.  There were amused threats of kicking him out of the bi-weekly poker games already.  Gabby had gone up to bed, with the baby, so she could feed him and try to settle down for the night.  Gullia and Catrina were sitting at the dining room table with cups of coffee in their hands, waiting for their husbands.  The four of them were going to walk home together, even though it was after 1 AM.  Bella offered for them to crash there but they said they would be fine, they only lived a few blocks away and walked over so they knew they could walk home. Plus Catrina’s kids were being watched by a babysitter who was expecting them home that night.  
                It didn’t take long for the poker table to be put away along with everything else.  The screened room was cleaned up and she was hugging her girlfriends, and saying goodnight to all four of them. 
                She went out and sat on the front porch swing.  The girls were sleeping, Callum had gone up to go to bed with Gabby.  Reed and Natalie had gone up to bed.  It wasn’t often that Natalie got a bit tipsy and she sure did tonight.  She was giggling all the way up the stairs. 
                Jensen walked out of her house, shutting the door behind him.  “Thanks for having me over tonight,” he said to her, spotting her on the swing.  He leaned on one of the patio beams. 
                “My pleasure, seemed like you had a good time.”  She was swinging just a little bit. 
                “It was great.  It’s been a long while since I’ve played poker, or had a good lad’s night with friends.”   He smiled at her.  “Cop’s work is never done.”
                “I supposed it’s not,” she whispered.  “Luckily not a whole heck of a lot goes on because of it being a small town, though, right?” 
                “You’d think,” he said leaning a bit more onto his elbow.  “But I’m sheriff for most of the county.  Since most of the townships around us don’t have cops of their own, I’m a bit on call all the time.  My deputy’s wife just had a baby about six months ago, neither of them have gotten much sleep at night since the baby came, so I’ve been making sure that I’ve covered most overnight calls around here.”
                “I see,” she said. 
                “You’ve been here, what, about five years now?”  He asked her. 
                “Yeah about that, we moved here when Emma was seven, it was when my brother’s daughter, Katie, was born. Took a little bit to find this place, but we snagged it up as soon as it came on the market.  I had a contractor come in, build an addition, make some changed, update stuff, and we moved in about six months after we first saw it.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been here that long,” she said looking up at her house.  “Seems like yesterday we were unpacking.”
                “What brought you to these parts?”
                “Well, I happened to find the town on accident.  We were driving around and just …” she shrugged.  “Got a little lost.  We came across the town and it felt so charming.  I liked the close-knit feel.  Seemed like a great place to raise Emma.”  And to hide from my past, she thought. 
                “Well,” He smiled.  “It is a nice little town.”  He straightened up and stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans.  “On that note, I’m going to head home.”
                “Are you sure?” she asked.  “I don’t want you getting into an accident.”
                “I only had two beers, been drinking water and coffee since. It’s been what,” he looked down at his watch, “four hours ago.”
                “Oh, okay.  There is another guest room,” she offered. After the words came out of her mouth, she almost wanted to kick herself.  Why was she offering him to spend the night in her house?
                “I don’t live that far away.  I’ll be fine.”  He took a few steps towards her and she got up from the swing.  “So I’ll just say goodnight.”
                She thought he was going to hug her, but instead his lips settled on hers, and his arms wrapped around her.  He deepened the kiss and she let him.  She was kissing him back, she realized.  She was enjoying it.  Her stomach started to burn with lust and want she didn’t really crave, or didn’t realize that she wanted.  The kiss was filled with heat that had her smoldering. 
                She pulled away, “Um,” she whispered. 
                “Goodnight,” he smiled, slowly.  “Sweet dreams.”
                She stood there, confused.  “Goodnight,” she muttered.
                She looked and he wasn’t there anymore.  She looked up, she could see the stars.  Sinking back down onto the swing she sat there, starring up at the stars, wondering what just happened.  Everywhere her head went. trying to make logic out of it, she ended up back at a big gaping hole of confusion. 

Standing on the edge of the property he patiently watched as some people slowly trickled out and leave her residence. He was watching her sit on her porch on her swing.   Her hair was so pretty, he just wanted to touch it, run his fingers through her hair and down her shoulders and arms, reaching up and ever so lightly tracing her breast. The though was almost too much, so he started thinking about something else.  He watched her for a few more moments, imagining that swing falling to the porch with her on it sent a curl across his lips.  He could hear her scream echo through his imagination.  He was longing to hear her scream in terror.  
He could make it happen, he would make it happen.  Maybe he’d even tamper with her swing so that it would crash to the porch. 
She needed to die.  Dying was the ultimate goal, with her.  The last thing that he would do was to kill her and possibly himself, after all, there was really nothing left after the death of Maribel.  There was no purpose, unless he could think of something to keep him happy.  Something he could build to.  They’d never catch him, he knew that.  They never would. 
He watched the bastard cop come out on her porch.  He ducked into the tree line a little further, but not far enough to no longer see her.  He watched them talk, and her whole demeaner change.  She sat a little straighter, smiled a little more, he could practically hear her heart trying to beat it’s way out of her chest.  He snarled at the thought. 
Now that she was located again, the fun would once again start.  The little game of how long she would wait before bolting from an area like a scared little jack rabbit.  How many woman would he have to kill before   There was stuff to do, like case out her house, figure out her security, decide how to kill that brat kid of hers.  He’d have fun with other women while he waited for the right time.
He had waited for years to finally kill her.  For over a decade he had bid his time.  That was coming to an end though.  He knew he needed to end this.  As much as he wanted to do watch her run again and have fun locating her, he was really getting tire of the cat and mouse chase.  It’s time to finally get the mouse and have his way with it.   

Sunday, December 24, 2017

New Year ... Writing for Fun!

I have been a "writer" since I was 13 years old.  I have loved photography for about the same amount of time.  I can remember the moments when both clicked for me.... 

First.... because I'm starting about the beginning of becoming me, I have to tell a story that goes a little further back...  I remember when I was in 5th Grade, we were doing spelling tests... I failed.  I spelled everything phonetically and we all know, that doesn't work in English language.  What with it's stupid rules and weird multi-spellings.  I remember my 5th grade teacher put my test on my desk, and I had failed it.  She looked at me and goes "You have to learn to spell" and I remember looking up at her and saying to her ... "What?  It's not like I'm going to be a writer or anything" .... 

Yeah...  jokes on me!  Needless to say - I have learned to spell but I still have my moments.  I also have my grammar police moments.

So ..... when I was 13 my mom would make trips to Superior, WI.  We'd go up there for the day because she had meetings up there, I don't remember what they were, but they were at the Day's Inn (which is funny, because that was also our last name....  Day.)  Well - just a few blocks from the hotel was this mansion.  My best friend would come with us to keep me company, and we'd walk around this little area of Superior.  Well this day Cat and I had decided to go walk down to the mansion and see what we could see, because it was open to the public as a museum.  It was a self guided tour and so we paid and started to explore the three floors. 

photos borrowed from Google
I remember as we toured the house...  we came to the "nursery" and I sat down on the floor.  I just sat there, I'm not even sure how long I sat there.  But I sat and sat and thought and thought and suddenly this plot was rolling around in my head.  And I spent the whole rest of the day, on the way home, all of it ... with my head rolling and my hand writing in a notebook.  It was then, in that moment, on that day, when I was 13 years old, that I became a writer and McCrady Manor was born.  It took me a long time to get the first chapter right....  I kept starting and restarting and I was never happy.  I wrote a book called Death Wish ... and my best friend Cat and I wrote a book called Masks during the years of high school ... but McCrady Manor has always been my baby, my biggest project and the one that I have to get absolutely right.  It's a series, and I always said I would seek getting published after the 2nd book was finished.  I know that a beginning of the story didn't stick until after I was in my 20's and Calahan was born.  Here I am in my 40's and book two is half finish and sitting on my shelf, never that far in case I find inspiration again ... I think part of me never wants to finish it because it's the end of it .... 

...... or I may not finish it because I've never been good and sitting down and writing - I have to wait for the brilliance of it ..... 

........... unless it's blogging, that I can do .... 

This is one of my photos, how it looked a blistery early winter morning.... the grass was frosty and so was I ... This house holds a very special place in my heart.  Always has, always will ...  

I'll chat about the house and history in another blog...  because this is where it's at for me.  

It's where it all started.  

As for the photography, which this blog is TOTALLY not even about but I'll share anyway ... 

It was a day I was probably 14 or 15 ....  I had taken my 35mm camera with me on a walk to the gas station from the apartment my mom and I lived in ...  and from behind the gas station I saw the sun setting and I took this picture.... 

And when I got it developed, I thought...... WOW .... that is really cool.   

And I started taking my camera with me ........... everywhere ...  

Anyway - I am hoping to become more structured in my writing now, so I'm going to ATTEMPT to do writing prompts and have some fun in 2018.  My kids are independent now and I don't have to be hyper aware, they are all in school and I don't have to chase tiny feet all over ...  so I'm going to start doing what I want .... NEED ... to do ... and write.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dark Woods: Chapter One ©2017

Chapter One

There is a day, in everyone’s life, where suddenly – everything falls to pieces.  Either through heartache, nothing in your life going the way you wanted or hoped, or something …someone…being taken from you without your control, or you do something horribly wrong.   There are so many variables to life, and it is in that moment of shock and reflection that you realize that 98% of your life is completely out of your control. 
Life isn’t easy. 
What happens to your soul, to your psyche…when your whole life is filled with that kind of low?  What happens when all the people who are supposed to love you, who are supposed to gather around you and hold together the pieces falling apart, just don’t?  What happens if you are neglected, told you aren’t wanted, and treated lower than the lowest?
Does that person then become a monster?
Perhaps they turn into the type of unique person who only see the world differently. 
That’s what she wondered.  That’s what she was an example of.  She just wondered if she was the exception to the rule.
She stood at the large window in her den, pondering, and watching the birds around the bird feeder fighting for seed.  She had found some bad bread in her kitchen that morning when she was making some breakfast.  She had already taken that outside and broke it up, spreading around the bases of the feeders.  She loved feeding the birds and being able to see the wildlife from her windows.  It was the great thing about leaving away from town, and a small Mayberry type town at that.  She had seen a lot of deer, even a couple bear cubs, and lots of racoon from her windows. 
She watched a robin pop out of the birdhouse nailed into the big backyard tree.  That single tree was so big it shaded a good portion of her backyard all by itself.  It had taken two years, but birds were finally using the bird houses she had gotten when she moved in.  The bird feeders they used right away, but the bird houses had taken longer. She imagined that they finally figured out she wasn’t planning on going anywhere. 
At least that’s what she hoped.  Moving was never in her plans.  She never planned on moving around or being a theoretical gypsy, but she would wake up some mornings and just know it was time to leave.  This was the place, though, she had finally decided to make a home.  The place where her roots were going to dig in.  This was home, she was done with moving.
She managed to find a small town that felt welcoming to her.  It was kind of like those older black and white television shows, where everyone knew everyone and everyone’s business was discussed as entertainment over the white picket fences, or at the diner over the meatloaf special, and in every waiting room there was.  This was where she believed she belonged.  Where she wanted to bury those roots after they dug in.   Now the whole family was in the general area.
Though, she was still known as the girl so full of “mystery” around town, which she typically laughed off.  She typically only let anyone in to the surface, but never deep enough to figure out the skeletons she kept shackled in her closet.  The ones that she didn’t want anyone to ever find out.
She was lucky that she had come out of her childhood situation alive.  She couldn’t go as far as to say she had been unharmed, because she had been plenty harmed.  It had taken her years of therapy to work through fears and trust issues.   Nevertheless, she certainly wouldn’t call her issues “cured” or “gone” by any definition. 
            After everything that had happened, she had only completely trusted four people in her life, until she moved here.  Four people!  Well, four people and various therapists, but the therapists she didn’t necessarily trust, she just paraded her skeletons around them.  It was astonishing to her.  She couldn’t imagine her daughter living like that, like she did. 

She sipped her coffee as she watched the robin while the other birds join her.
You ask most children, who understand what trust is, and they will tell you that they trust their parents, their grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, family friends, the list goes on.   Not with her.  She trusted the only girl who had befriend her, that she had ever told her secret to.  The girl who had become her sister for the last fifteen years of her life.  The one who had married ten years before, settled in one place and up-rooted her family to be where she had finally decided to settle.  The whole family had become her lifeline.  They had become her everything.  Her Mom, her Dad, and her brother.  They insisted on doing, and did, everything that they had to in order to keep her before the trials started.  They were the ones who got up in the middle of the night, while she screamed out – waking the whole house – from nightmares that plagued her sleep.  They’d hug her, talk softly and soothingly to her, and let her cry until she couldn’t cry anymore.  They gave her allowances in her behavior, warning her more than they would worn Reed and Gabby.  It was Gabby who saved her when she had been contemplating killing herself.  It had been Gabby who had sat there and said that if she insisted on doing it, they’d both do it. 
She couldn’t take on that responsibility, she wasn’t that selfish.  It was in that moment, sitting on that bathroom floor, crying with her best friend, when she realized how selfish that choice would have been.  She couldn’t do it, she didn’t do it.  All it took was for her best friend to stand by her.  They never spoke of it again. 
They made her their family.  They never let her forget.  She knew that they loved her like they did Gabby and Reed.  They supported her through the trials, the therapy, the nightmares, the fear, and the trust issues.  Now she called them her Mom and Dad.  If it hadn’t been for them, for that sliver of trust she had for them to begin with, she wasn’t sure what might have become of her. 
She still had scars and she always would.  That’s the thing about scars, they never went away, no matter how they faded.  But the one thing she couldn’t do anymore was live in fear.   She was done walking around, looking over her shoulder.  She could no longer be the roaming gypsy she had been, even with a daughter in tow.
She had put her biological father and brother away for life, both sentenced to death.  They had been found guilty of nearly eighty deaths, suspected of so many more.  They referred to them as some of the worst serial killers in history.  It was discovered that they had traveled to neighboring cities to get victims.  At least once, they traveled one hundred miles out of town.  There were books written about them, movies made about them, about their story, about her story.   Some of the proceeds had been given to her, but she’s sure it was only a sliver of what had been made. The Johansons’ had put them into a savings account for her, they wouldn’t take a penny of it.  They might share her genetics, but they had never been her family.  
She sat down in the overstuffed chair she had placed next to the window.  Her coffee still hot in her cup, steam still rising from it, billowing in the air until it dissipated.  She sunk back, and relaxed, still watching the birds.   Her black Huskey, Luna, got up from the dog bed and walked over to her, resting her head in her lap and she automatically started stroking Luna’s head.
Then she noticed the squirrels starting to come out.  There were three of them that lived in her yard.  There was one that had a black paw and a black ear, she called him Willy.  The one with the chunk of ear missing, well, she called him Ulysses.  The normal gray one she couldn’t find any distinct markings on, she called Pudding.   She left a bowl of peanuts out for them every morning.  They would sit there and break open the shells to get the treat inside.  She always had fun watching them, even taking pictures of them for her blog.
Things happened in her life, the courts had allowed her to change her name so that she could try to have as normal of a life as possible.  Her life would never be normal though.  She would never be rid of the nightmares and the things she saw and experienced.  Seeing a bloody naked woman in a cage, tied up, was something one could never get over.  She had been alive when the police got there, she survived, but during the trial – after she had testified, she had killed herself.
“Mom,” she heard from behind her.   She turned around and saw her daughter with her fiery red curly hair falling around her face, down to about the middle of her back.  She was blessed with blue eyes that contrasted her own green eyes.  She looked just like her Mom but for the color of her eyes.  She dressed in a long sleeved white shirt and a jumper. 
“What Emma?”
“What if we were living on someone’s face, and the mountains were really pimples.  The mountains would just disappear when people popped them, and it was like our volcanos spewing lava puss all over killing everyone on that part of the face?”
“Emma,” she couldn’t help but to laugh.  “That’s pretty gross.”  She encouraged her daughter to be creative and use her brain.  Sometimes, she really wondered about her daughter’s pre-teen mind and if it was a danger to herself.   She watched her daughter smile and skip out of the room.  “I think you do that to try to get reactions out of me,” she yelled after her. 
She chuckled as she turned back to her window, seeing the squirrels trying to figure out how to climb the pole to the main bird feeder she has just filled up that morning when she had spread the bread around the base.  The squirrels, who had tried it a thousand times already, were not getting anywhere.  They did gobble up whatever seed the birds would push over the edge that fell to the ground, and whatever bread was left.  They also ran back and forth to the bowl of peanuts in the shells she kept outside. 
It was only a few minutes before Emma hopped back into her office.  “Mawm-mee” she said drawing out the word that was the absolute best nickname and the worst she had, all at the same time. 
“What has crawled into your bonnet this morning Emerson?”
“Well,” her daughter hopped across the room and wrapped her arms around her mom’s waist.   “Hannah, Cicaly, Harper and I were wondering if we could have a sleep over.” 
Her daughter was referring to the children of her two best friends, Gullia and Catrina.  When she had moved here, she had joined the elementary school PTA and met Gullia and Catrina who had both come up to her and started carrying on conversations like they had known each other all their lives.  It was a feeling she had only ever had one other time, and that is when she met Gabby. 
The PTA was something she was part of but she wasn’t heavily involved.  It was a dare to herself to get out of her loner comfort zone.  She just sort of blended into the background while her two best friends ran the show.  She wished Gabby had kids her daughter’s age, but she loved all of her nieces and nephews so much.  She loved that Gabby was there now, and that Reed and his family was in Seattle, just a couple hours away, or an hour by boat, and their parents were just south of them by about an hour. 
They were her parents, in every way she had never had until they surrounded her with love and support and didn’t even let her think twice about them not being her parents.  She had never met two people who were more loving than Phillip and Rose, though, these days they were just naturally Mom and Dad. 
They had fought so hard to keep her with them.  Luckily Rose’s sister worked in the Family Welfare department and had pulled some strings back then so that they could take her home that night from the police station.  They had supported her, loved her, stood by her while she battled the demons of her past, and cheered for her for every single accomplishment she made.  She got the opportunity to be adopted by them, and to change her name.
Gabby had given her the nickname of Bella.  It was the first time, other than her biological mother, that anyone had given her a nickname.  It was important to keep Bella as her nickname.  So, becoming Isabella was easy.  Rose had suggested Grace as a middle name after the grandmother she loved dearly.  Of course, she took their last name as her own, and she officially had become Isabella Grace Johanson, Bella for short.  A name she hoped the evil monster whose DNA was used to create her, and the brother she shared DNA with, would never know. 
She didn’t talk about them anymore, not one word.  It was like a silent rule these days.  Just not to think about them, or talk about them, but every now and then, they crept into her thoughts hanging onto memories mostly.  He daughter would never know them, or of them, if she could help it. 
“Sleep over where?”  She asked turning her back to the window for the moment and facing her daughter.  She pretty much knew what was coming.  The girls loved to come over to her house for sleepovers because both Hannah, Harper and Cicaly had other siblings.  At least at her place, it was just the four of them. 
“Here,” she said giving her mother her best pleading look.  “Indy won’t leave us alone and Dakota and Hayden go and burp and fart wherever we are, it’s gross!  Anna is always coming in where we are, plus Matt and Micha are just brats, Mom!”
Indiana was Hannah’s older brother, Dakota and Hayden were her younger brothers, and Annalisa was Hannah’s younger sister.  Harper and Cicaly were Irish twins. Matthew and Micha were their younger brothers.  Indy was in the grade ahead of the four girls.  Bella suspected he liked Emma, but she wasn’t going to say anything to anyone about that.  It was a matter of the way he looked at her sometimes that caused the suspicion.  Dakota and Hayden were seven and five respectively and typical little brothers. Annalisa was only four years old and looked up to Hannah and all the girls.  She was a little girl who wanted to do everything the big girls were doing.  Matthew was seven and Micha was three, those two did everything they could to make their older sisters scream, especially Matthew.  Anytime the girls were all together over there was best time to make all of them scream.  It was actually amusing if you were a witness to it.  Matthew had a very mischievous mind and some of the things he came up with were pretty genius.  Of course, Micha just wanted to be cool like his brother. The stories that were told.  She didn’t envy Catrina and her husband Greggory in the slightest. 
“Have they talked to their parents?”
She looked around innocently, “Not yet,” she muttered.  “I wanted to see if it was okay with you first.”
Good call, she thought.  “When are you thinking?”
“Short notice, there, Emma Rose.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said going back to giving her the best pleading look she had.  All the girls were in drama club, all of them had been in some of the community plays.  They all knew how to bring out those acting skills when and if needed.   She stood up and went to her desk, sitting back down in her computer chair.
She was thinking about asking Gabby, Gullia and Catrina over for a wine night.  They could all shoo the three dad’s and little boys for a poker night, she loved hosting poker night, but the girls really wanted to be just the four of them.  It was a thought.   “I will talk to their moms, okay?”
“Really!?!” she squealed. 
“School is getting out soon, we’re headed into summer vacation.  So if this plan doesn’t work out, just remember there will be plenty of other opportunities, okay?”  She told her daughter. 
“But Moooooooooooooommmmmm,” she was a very dramatic child.  “It’s a four-day weekend!”
“I know, I’ll see what I can set up.”
Emma squeezed her mom extra hard in a hug and skipped back off to finish getting ready for school.  Bella just shook her head.  She had no idea where that child got her dramatic flair from, but it certainly wasn’t her. 
She debated on shooting her sister and friends an email, a text message, or a phone call.  Figured it would be easiest to pop on Facebook and shoot them all a message at the same time in their group message they kept going.  It was someplace where they only had to say something once instead of having to repeat it ten times, plus share photos and gossip. 
She walked around to her desk chair and sat down.  Putting the coffee cup on the quilted little coaster, she quickly worked past her computer security measures and got onto Facebook.  She shot them all off a message in one shot.

Interested in a movie and wine night tonight?  Emma wants to have the girls over for a sleepover.  Dads could play poker and have their own guys night with the other kids.  Would be such a full house though – where ever it would happen.  Girls could stick around until the campout on Sunday, it’s fine by me. 

While she was sitting at her computer, she glanced at her email.  Her editor was bothering her for her newest finished book.  Problem was, it wasn’t finished yet.  She needed to get it done, but she was having a hard time feeling it.  She shot her off a reply explaining she was having a little bit of a block.  She didn’t understand what the rush was, they already had a book that hadn’t been released yet.  She always liked to have that “buffer” book though.  It was her own fault.  The first few years she wrote, she was getting two or three books done in one year, now that she was twenty books into the series – it was a little bit rougher to find the brilliance that seemed to flow out of her fingers so easily before.
There was an email from an address that she didn’t recognize marked “Urgent.”  She was about to click on it when she heard the chime from Facebook meaning that someone had replied to the message.  She switched tabs of her browser and saw that Gabby had replied. 

I’m in!  I will have to bring the baby because I cannot even think about leaving him for a few hours.  Plus, I figure you all will love taking him from me every moment you can. 

She smiled.  She couldn’t wait to hold her nephew and smell him.  She longed to have another baby, someday.  She just held him two days prior, but twenty-four hours was way too long.  Sadly, she’d never have another baby.  Just the hand that life had dealt her.  Didn’t mean she couldn’t spoil all her nieces and nephews.
Emma had been such an amazing gift to her.  It happened her freshman year of college.  Her and Gabby were lucky enough to share a dorm room.  They had been taking different paths, but still were the best of friends.  Just then, they needed to spread their wings more independently.  Gabby was really interested in the Greek aspect, and pledged a sorority.  Bella still had issues, hard core issues, about large groups of people and trusting anyone. 
There was this guy named David in her creative writing class.  He was charming and handsome.  He would look at her during class and smile at her, but she would always shy away, figuring that he wasn’t looking at her but past her at someone else.  Until he confronted her after class one day.  She heard him saying “Hey” from behind her but it wasn’t until he caught up to her and tapped her shoulder.  She had spun around and seen that it was David, and he had in fact been talking to her. 
He started talking to her, and at first, she was almost feeling panicky.  He asked her if she wanted to catch a movie with him, or dinner, sometime.  She said sure, because she wasn’t sure what else to say.  She had never had a boyfriend before, never even going out on a date.  Gabby had a boyfriend in high school and there was a lot of group outings and activities as their core group of friends. 
Regardless she met up with David and he took her out to a nice sit-down restaurant.  She had barely eaten, did the classic order a salad crap because she wasn’t comfortable eating in front of this guy.  As the night moved forward he was making her laugh and she was becoming comfortable around him.  He made her forget about her fears and anxiety and all those demons in her closet.  She felt pretty and smart and like she was valuable.  She fell in love with him, or at least, what she thought was love, first love kind of love. 
Then small things started to happen, and she’d dismiss them or try to talk her inner voice out of the panic that sat on the edge of her soul jumping at saying what was going on was wrong.   Her inner voice was screaming and she brushed it off as being silly.  He’d make rude comments and he’d see the look of confusion, or that it upset her, and he’d laugh about it and claim he was joking. 
Then he started to show up at the restaurant that she was waitressing at for spending money.  He’d show up when she wasn’t working and he’d demand answers for the people she worked with on if anyone was interested in her, if anyone was flirting with her, including customers.  Then he’d start sitting at the bar and drink while she was working, and he’d give her this angry stare the whole time she went from table to table to take care of her customers.  Waitressing was a huge step for her out of her comfort zone, it was a big deal to her.  Luckily her boss wasn’t mad, more so concerned about her safety, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t get in trouble.    
The first time he punched her in the face was after work one night.  She had closed, and she was so angry because he had made a scene and almost gotten her fired.  She had come out of the back door and he had started in on her right away.  She had swung around on him and yelled at him about how he almost got her fired.   It was the first time she had actually ever stood up for herself.  She was rewarded with a black eye.  One of her co-workers and friends came out as his fist met her face and she fell to the ground.  He ran off, like a thief in the night, and when her co-workers had asked if she had known who had done it, she lied, and said no. 
He had punched her one other time.  It was about a month after the first time, they had been dating about six months at the time.  They were sitting at her dorm room having pizza and watching a movie. Gabby was doing stuff with her sorority and she was staying at the sorority house.  She had done something, and spilled a glass of Coke on him.  He just punched her in the head a second time.  She demanded he leave between her crying hysterically and him apologizing profusely. 
The last straw happened when she was avoiding him, because she was truly fearing being around him.  All those feelings of living with her biological family was flooding back and she couldn’t go back there.  He got mad about being ignored.  She was trying to figure things out in her head and asked him for space.  One night, after a party she had been invited to on Greek row by Gabby, he found her starting to walk back to the dorm and started to accuse her of sleeping with another guy and various other horrible things.  She started to go back to the sorority house out of fear.  In that moment, she decided, it was clear they couldn’t be together.  It was such an unhealthy relationship and she was beating herself up internally while she was breaking up with him outwardly.   She didn’t see it coming.  She just remembered screaming at him it was over, and next thing she knew she was waking up in the emergency room with an IV bag, bruised and swollen face, Gabby was crying.  She couldn’t open one eye and two ribs were broken. 
The doctor came in with the police.  She gave them all the details.  After the police left, the doctor came back in and started going over test results.  Then he said five words that forever changed her life.  “Did you know you’re pregnant?”
She was three months along already and had no clue.   She’d been pregnant for almost half of the relationship with David and hadn’t known. 
She didn’t tell him. She pressed charges and got a 90-day restraining order.  They went to the same college though and unless someone was going to change colleges, it was hard to truly avoid each other.   When she started showing, really showing, there was one day where she was walking to her next class and out of the corner of her eye she saw someone walk into a pole.  She turned to look and it was David, and he was still staring at her and her large pregnant belly.  
            He had asked a mutual friend to give her a message after the restraining order was up.  He asked if she would meet with him with Gabby in a public place.  He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable and he promised he wouldn’t hurt her.  She agreed and told him to meet her at a coffee shop that evening. 
            When she had gotten there, he was already waiting.  She got in line first and got herself a hot tea before she went and sat with him.  She hadn’t even told Gabby she was going to meet him.  They exchanged some small talk and then he decided to address the elephant in the room, because that’s what she felt like, an elephant.  She didn’t lie to him, she was honest about being pregnant with his child.  Other than what had happened to her before her escape, she hadn’t ever been with anyone that way but David. 
            He said he was very remorseful for what had happened. He’d gone to anger management and had even started to volunteer at a woman’s shelter where abused women and kids came in all the time.  He didn’t expect to mend things with Bella but he hoped they could be tolerable towards each other.  He had told her he wouldn’t make excuses about how growing up in a family where his father abused his mother had damaged him, because what he had done was beyond wrong, but he did want to say he was truly sorry.  It did feel like he was being sincere. 
            She had given him her cell number and he stuck to his word.  He didn’t push anything with her and they were forming a bit of a friendship.  He wanted to be involved in the baby’s life, but he didn’t want to push anything either.  So, she agreed to play it, basically, by ear. 
            She moved into an apartment with Gabby after college ended for the year.  They were pretty much right on campus still and very close to Greek row since Gabby would be highly involved with all of that.  Bella had joined the staff of the college newspaper and the photography club.  They had gotten a three-bedroom place so that the baby could have her own room.  She knew Gabby probably wouldn’t be there a whole lot but it would be nice when she was. 
            She went into labor on July 3rd that year.  She had called him to tell him when she found out she would be having the baby, for sure.  While she labored, he rushed to the hospital.   On the way there he ran a red light at a high rate of speed and he ended up hitting a semi-truck.  His car ended up getting wedged under the truck’s cargo area. The top half of the car was completely ripped off.  David’s head was ripped off with it, as his body remained seat belted into the car.
            She found out that his car had hydroplaned through the red light on the very wet blacktop.  It had been raining hard that day, sometimes causing visibility to be less than a hundred feet.  It didn’t help matters that he was talking on his cell phone, which had been found still clutched in his hand.  She had gotten so mad when he had told her he was coming and he didn’t show up.  So mad!
She didn’t find out until the following day that he had died.  She kept trying to call him, and kept getting his voicemail.  She left one message.   The last time she called, a detective had picked up the phone.  He informed her that he had been in an accident.  The detective had come to talk to her.  She once had strong feelings for him.  The fact that – she thought – he was so excited about the baby, and rushing to the hospital, and died on the way there, made her heart sink. 
He died before his daughter was born in the very early hours of the 4th.  His family had come and they had no idea that she was upstairs holding their granddaughter and niece. 
            She had attended his funeral a couple days after she went home with the baby.  She didn’t know his family, had never been introduced, but she had gone and hung back.  There were a lot of people there that she knew, from the college, and so she tried to blend in.  She didn’t go tell his family.  From what she understood, based on what he had told her while they dated and after when he was explaining to her why he reacted the way he had, she didn’t feel like she wanted them involved in her daughter’s life. 
            “Mom!” Emma slid through the door in the fast pace she moved at.  “I’m headed out for the bus,” she said crossing the room in only a few steps.  She hugged and kissed her mom and rushed back out as quickly as she had come in. 
            She was like a whirlwind, that one.
            She wanted to think that David was watching over Emma, wherever he was.  She found comfort in that.  Her daughter’s own personal guardian angel.  She had told Emma about him.  She left all the bad stuff out, just saying they decided they’d be better friends.  Luckily, she did have some photos of David, so Emma could see what her Dad looked like. 
            After she was done with college she moved around the United States some.  She’d be here a few months, there a year.  Once Emma had started school, she had to stay in one place for the school year, at least.  Then it got to the point where it was really weighing on Emma, all the moving around.  Her own gypsy heart needed to settle down and plant some roots.   So one summer she had gone to visit Reed and his wife in Seattle.  Emma had just turned 7 years old.  She would be starting Second Grade in the fall.  Reed and Natalie had three kids at the time.  Jacob was 8, Sawyer was almost 5, and little Katie Marie was born six days after Emma’s birthday.  They were there to cuddle the baby and for family. 
            One day, Reed suggested they take a drive, enjoy the peninsula and the Olympic Mountains.  So she and Emma got in the car and did just that.  They took the ferry over from Seattle to Bremerton and drove around from there. 
            They had stopped in the small town of Sable Thicket to eat.  The diner they stopped at, Lizzy’s Diner, was really good food. The staff had been so friendly, they commented on and interacted with Emma like they had known her since she was born.  The waitress, Candice, had even given Emma a small stuffed unicorn, and Emma had carried that thing around with her for a couple years. 
            After they ate, they had gone across the street to the park and hung out there for a little while.  She watched Emma play with the other kids at the park that day, and she just had this feeling that this is where she belongs.  This is where she needed to plant those roots with Emma. 
            She ended up buying her house, going back down to California and packing up their stuff, she hoped, for the last time.  The whole process was quick.  Before she knew it, she had planted roots.
            Her sister Gabby had quickly followed.  The funny thing was that Gabby’s husband Callum had already gotten a transfer to a Seattle hospital.  By ferry, it was about an hour commute.  So they had already settled on getting a house in Sable Thicket too.   Mom and Dad were both retired and ended up moving up to a town just south of them, by about an hour.  Dad wanted to be close to the bases in case they ever had a job for him, once a military man, always a military man.  The whole family was within an hour of each other.
            She sipped her coffee and opened her writing program.  She got up, to get more coffee.  As she made her way to the kitchen, putting her cup on the counter, she decided to open the windows in the house to let the breeze of cool air come in.  She walked to the front door, disabled the security for the house, and opened all the windows, and the heavy front door leaving the screen door secure.  She walked back through the kitchen, grabbed more coffee, and walked around continuing to open the windows.  When she made it back to her office, she flipped on the security monitor that showed the various views from the numerous security cameras.
            Then she sat down at her desk, with the window open so she could watch the birds in her back yard, and got to work on her book.  She wanted to get what she could done before she had company that night. 
            The silence in the room was almost deafening except for the heavy punching of the computer keyboard at such a quick pace.