Monday, May 28, 2018

#BookFeature: White Witch by Larry D. Thompson #thriller @ldtauthor

WHITE WITCH by Larry D. Thompson, Thriller, 291 pp., $14.95 (Paperback) $5.95 (Kindle edition)

Author: Larry D. Thompson
Publisher: Story Merchant Books
Pages: 291
Genre: Thriller
Jamaica is a place where the surreal is simply everyday reality. When a ruthless American aluminum company plans to strip mine the Jamaican rainforest, they send former Navy SEAL Will Taylor to Montego Bay to deal with local resistance on their behalf. But he’s unaware that the British had signed a treaty deeding the rainforest to the Jamaican Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves, over 300 years ago. The Maroons fought and died for their land then, and are more than willing to do so now, whether it’s the British or the Americans who threaten them this time around.

Upon Will’s arrival, a series of inexplicable murders begin, some carried out with deadly snake daggers that were owned and used by Annie Palmer, a voodoo priestess better known as the White Witch. She was killed 200 years prior, but is said to still haunt the island at night, and the local Jamaicans are certain she’s responsible for the gruesome murders, her form of retaliation against the new turmoil taking place in the rainforest.

And Will has been forced directly into the middle of it. After a few close calls, he’s finally convinced to leave his company and join forces with the Maroons, headed by Vertise Broderick, a Maroon who resigned from her position at the New York Times to return to Jamaica to stop the mining. Together they hire a Jamaican attorney to prove that the Maroon/British treaty is still valid to stop the mining, and they take it upon themselves to solve the White Witch murders, because the legend of the White Witch can’t possibly be true…
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Will returned to his room, too wound up to sleep. He stripped to his
underwear and flipped channels on a large screen HD television until he ran
across First Blood with Sylvester Stallone. Having lived that life for a few years,
he never passed up the opportunity to watch it again. He settled back and had
drifted off to sleep when his cell chimed. He glanced at the television to make
sure it was not coming from there and found Fred Astaire waltzing Ginger
Rogers around a ballroom. He turned off the television and reached for his


“Will, Alexa here.” It was nearly three in the morning and Alexa was still at
her desk. Smoke drifted from a cigarette in her ash tray while she sucked on a
Tootsie Pop. She was on the speaker phone. When Will answered, she walked to
her window and stared at the lights of Baltimore.

Will turned on the nightstand light, glanced at the clock, and swung his feet
into a sitting position on the side of the bed. “Yes, ma’am. Little late for a booty
“Cut the crap. Kaven was just found at Rose Hall. He’s dead.”

“What? Are you sure? I just saw him a few hours ago.” Will got to his feet
and began pacing the room. “Shit.”

“Must be those goddamn Maroons. He called me last night once he got
back from Accompong. He told me about what happened up there. By the way,
they let the pilot go. They said they had no beef with him.”

“So I heard. What was Kaven doing at Rose Hall? When I saw him, he was
going to his room.”

“How the hell should I know? I got a call from some local detective. They
found his employee identification in his wallet. When the detective called here,
the operator knew I was still in my office and put the call through to me. You need to get to Rose Hall now.
“Yes, ma’am,” Will agreed.
“And I’m flying down there tomorrow before this gets any more out of
hand. See if you can keep anybody else from being killed until I get there.”

Will’s cell went dead. He put it on the nightstand and picked up the hotel
phone. Pleased to find it working, he punched the key for valet parking.

“Good evening, Mr. Taylor. How can I be of assistance?”

“Bring my company Land Rover to the front as quickly as possible.”

Getting assurance that it would be there when he got downstairs, Will hung
up and walked to the bathroom. Five minutes later he was met at the hotel
entrance by a valet.

“Can I give you directions, Mr. Taylor? It’s a little late at night.”

“No thanks. I know exactly where I’m going.” Will got in the car, fastened
his seat belt, and left the hotel.
When Will got to Rose Hall, he turned onto the road they had just come
down the evening before. At the top of the hill he could see the mansion, now
well lighted. He dodged tree limbs and utility wires and parked among several
other vehicles. Police cars were positioned so that their headlights focused on the
steps of the mansion where Will could see the yellow police crime scene tape. He
walked up a path from the parking lot between the police cars that faced the
mansion to the yellow tape where an officer stood watch. The officer came to
attention as Will approached.

“Sorry, mon. I can’t let you past here. We’re investigating a murder.”

Will kept his voice even but controlling. “I know, officer. That’s why I’m
here. Name’s William Taylor. I’m head of security for Global American Metals.
Here’s my identification.” Will tried to hand him an ID. The officer just shook
his head. “Officer, the dead man is one of Global’s employees. Can you get
someone in authority to let me up there?”

Before the officer could reply, Miles Harper, the St. James Parish Chief of
Detectives, approached. Harper was a lean, fit man with a shaved head and a no
nonsense manner. He was dressed in a brown suit, yellow shirt, and matching
tie. He looked like he just stepped out of GQ Magazine, even at three in the

“Mr. Taylor, I’m Miles Harper, Chief of Detectives in this parish. I was
told by your company to expect you.”

Will extended his right hand. Harper ignored it. Instead, he nodded at the
officer and motioned for Will to follow him. Harper went up a dozen steps and
turned to Will as he stood beside Kaven’s body, sprawled on his back with dagger in his chest. Will bent over for a closer look and found that the handle of
the dagger was in the shape of a snake. At the top of the handle was the snake’s
head. The snake’s eyes were two bright rubies.

“Shit,” Will muttered, “He was almost killed because of one snake on the
road today and now someone finished the job with a, what would you call this, a
snake dagger?”

“That’s as good a name as any, Mr. Taylor. My officers reported what went
on up in Accompong and the incident with the boa.”
Will continued to study the body. “Looks like he’s been dead a couple of
hours. I last saw him about ten last night. Who found him?”

“The hotel has a security guard that roams the mansion grounds and up to
the club house in a golf cart. He spotted the body.”

“Where’s your coroner?”

“He’s a local Justice of the Peace, not a medical doctor. He won’t set foot on
these steps until morning. My men here won’t go past the tape either. They
believe the White Witch did it.”

Will shook his head in disbelief. “Come on, Chief, this is the twenty-first

“Old beliefs die hard, Mr. Taylor. Come on. Let me show you something.”

Harper stepped around the body and climbed the steps with Will behind
him. Entering the ballroom, Will said, “I was just in this room yesterday evening during the storm.”
Harper turned to study Will. “Would you care to explain?”

Will covered the details of the previous day and their time in the mansion
while they waited out the storm. “You know a woman named Vertise?”

Harper nodded his head. “She’s a local. Works for the paper and tends bar
for the hotel. Since you were in this room a few hours ago, come over here.”
Harper led Will to a glass display against one wall with pictures of two snake
daggers above it along with the history of the daggers. The glass had been
broken and the daggers were gone.

“You see this case when you were up here?”

Will studied it and thought back to the day before. “Can’t say I did, Chief.
It was pretty dark in here, lit only by candles since the storm knocked out
power. I wandered around the room but never glanced toward this case. And I
don’t believe anyone else mentioned it. Now that I think about it, Vertise told
us the legend of Annie Palmer and her using a snake dagger to kill an overseer.
evening during the storm.”

Harper turned to study Will. “Would you care to explain?”
Will covered the details of the previous day and their time in the mansion
while they waited out the storm. “You know a woman named Vertise?”
Harper nodded his head. “She’s a local. Works for the paper and tends bar
for the hotel. Since you were in this room a few hours ago, come over here.”
Harper led Will to a glass display against one wall with pictures of two snake
daggers above it along with the history of the daggers. The glass had been
broken and the daggers were gone.

“You see this case when you were up here?”

Will studied it and thought back to the day before. “Can’t say I did, Chief.
It was pretty dark in here, lit only by candles since the storm knocked out
power. I wandered around the room but never glanced toward this case. And I
don’t believe anyone else mentioned it. Now that I think about it, Vertise told
us the legend of Annie Palmer and her using a snake dagger to kill an overseer. Surprising that she didn’t show us these daggers when she was telling the story.”

“Interesting,” mused Harper. “You have any idea why your man would
come up here in the middle of the night?”

“Not a clue. Have you checked his cell phone? He always carried it.”

“Yeah. The last calls were with you yesterday afternoon and one with Ms.
Pritchard later in the evening.”

Will nodded. “He called me from Accompong, warning me of trouble up
there. I should have gone with him.”

Harper shook his head. “Whether you were there or not wouldn’t have
made any difference. Just would have been one more person that was in my
police car that rolled, assuming, of course, you didn’t take a bullet up on the


“How did you get in the mansion?”

“Vertise said she knew where a key was hidden and let us in.”

“Strange that she could get into the locked mansion. It was my
understanding that only the manager of Rose Hall had a key. He locked it and
left when the storm was hitting. The hotel spent a fortune on period pieces to
recreate how it looked two hundred years ago. One of his jobs is to make sure
they are not stolen.”

“Any signs of a break-in?” Will asked.

“This is not for publication, you understand, but when I got here the
mansion was locked and the lights were off.”

“So, you’re saying that someone got into the mansion, stole two daggers, let
themselves back out, killed Kaven, and left no trace.” Will paused to absorb all
that he had just said. “Wait a minute. If someone wanted to kill Kaven, why not
just use a gun? Why go to all the trouble of getting that dagger to do it?”

“I’ve been wrestling with that very question,” Harper said. “It’s illegal for a
private citizen to own a gun in Jamaica, but that doesn’t mean they are not
available if you know the right people. My working hypothesis is that the killer
or killers wanted the public to think voodoo was involved, or maybe even the
White Witch. The only other possibility that comes to mind is that the Maroons
are trying to send a message to Global. They tried to kill Tillman in Accompong
and failed. Maybe the message is that they finish what they start. Either way,
someone is trying to make trouble for your company. I have another problem
that may not be apparent.”

Will looked quizzically at the detective.

“As you can see, there were two snake daggers in this case. One’s accounted
for out on the steps. The other is gone. Nearly everyone around here thinks that
they are voodoo daggers with magical powers. They were found in an overseer’s
grave during the restoration of the mansion thirty years ago.”

“Does ‘everyone’ include you? Looks to me like the killer or killers are just
trying to mess with the minds of my co-workers, maybe keep some locals from
hiring on with us.”

Harper stuck his hands in his pockets. “Not up to me to decide if they’re
magic or not. I’ve got a murder with one of those daggers. My job is to solve the
murder and along the way, find that other dagger before someone uses it.”
Will’s eyes searched the room in a futile effort to see any clues to the crime.

Then he focused on the chief. “Look, I’m going to need a gun. My company is
obviously under attack. I’m licensed to carry back home.”

“No way, Mr. Taylor,” Harper exploded. “Foreigners are not permitted to
have guns in Jamaica. For that matter, as I just told you, neither are Jamaicans.
And I want you to stay the hell out of my investigation. We don’t need your
help. Understand?”

“Yeah, I understand. You know that each of our mines on this island is
permitted a certain number of guns for our guards. I’ll just get one of those.”

“The hell you will. Don’t you dare go behind my back. Those guns never
leave mine property. I have an officer that inventories them. If one turns up
missing, I’ll confiscate every damn weapon that Global has and put you under
house arrest. Clear, Mr. Taylor?”

Will clinched his fists and tried to hold back the anger that was apparent in
his face. Without another word, he turned and stormed out of the mansion,
pausing only to gaze at Kaven and say a prayer for him and his family. At the
bottom of the steps, he got in his car and glanced toward the mansion. The
lights from his car somehow caught the ruby eyes of the snake, making them
appear briefly to be alive. Will shook his head, put the car in reverse, and
returned to the hotel.

Book Trailer:

After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Larry spent the first half of his professional life as a trial lawyer. He tried well over 300 cases and won more than 95% of them. Although he had not taken a writing class since freshman English (back when they wrote on stone tablets), he figured that he had read enough novels and knew enough about trials, lawyers, judges, and courtrooms that he could do it. Besides, his late, older brother, Thomas Thompson, was one of the best true crime writers to ever set a pen to paper; so, just maybe, there was something in the T hompson gene pool that would be guide him into this new career.  He started writing his first novel about a dozen years ago and published it a couple of years thereafter. He has now written five highly acclaimed legal thrillers. White Witch is number six with many more to come.

Larry is married to his wife, Vicki. He has three children scattered from Colorado to Austin to Boca Raton, and four grandchildren. He has been trying to retire from the law practice to devote full time to writing. Hopefully, that will occur by the end of 2018. He still lives in Houston, but spends his summers in Vail CO, high on a mountain where he is inspired by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
His latest book is the captivating thriller, WHITE WITCH.




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#BookFeature: Breathe In by Michelle Bellon @michellebellon

BREATHE IN by Michelle Bellon, Thriller/Suspense, 272 pp., $13.99 (Paperback) $3.99 (Kindle)

Author: Michelle Bellon
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Pages: 272
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Breathe in. Breathe out. This mantra gets Tessa Benson through the day. The man she loves walks all over her, and she just wants to get by without her heart shattering to pieces. If she could find her voice, she’d scream. Everything changes in one night, when she’s snatched from the streets and tied to a bed, a camera set up to capture her dying moment. And the person who paid to watch her die…is still out there somewhere. Tessa prowls dark neighborhoods in a quest for justice, but she doesn’t find the killer. Not until they strike again…in the place Tessa is least expecting, and where it hurts worst.


I grip the steering wheel and focus on my breath in an effort to steady my shaky hands. Breathe in. Breathe out. I can do this. I gaze up the long driveway toward the house through my car window. It sits tucked away from the road in a cove of evergreens. An immaculately decorative landscape sprawls before the stone home. Amber lights filter out of the windows, adding warmth to the otherwise cold exterior. It’s impressive. Bold. Like Tom, it quietly exudes money and power. I’ve never been to his home before. He never invited me. Though it stung a bit, I figured he was waiting until our relationship progressed.
Even with a thin gray mist blanketing the scene, I feel oddly conspicuous. Am I the crazy stalker girlfriend? Have I overstepped my boundaries by looking up where he lived and showing up unannounced?
Groping through the contents of my purse, a sense of relief rises to the surface when I feel my phone. I hold my breath. Please, please, please.
As I press my thumb to the sensor, the phone recognizes my print and the screen comes alive. Scan notifications. One missed call. Click. Shit, it was my mom. Another kind of dread fills me. I’m not up for a conversation with her tonight. Click over to text messages. Two from Gerald. Scroll right past it. I’m not in the mood for him and his needy bullshit right now. Terin. I’ll read it later. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Click back and forth, checking again.
Nothing from Tom. Disappointment swallows my entire being. My body grows heavy. Sour resentment rises in my throat.
Why is the wrong guy so relentless in his pursuit while the other blows me off? It’s completely backward. How am I so thoroughly messing this up? Tom hasn’t called or texted back in almost a week. He’s clearly avoiding me. Maybe I had been too clingy before. Maybe I’d—
Stop. Just stop. Those are negative thought patterns. There’s probably a good reason I haven’t heard from him. He could be very busy with work. He could be out of town. Maybe he’s not feeling well. That thought worries me. Maybe he needs help, someone to care for him?
My heart races, my movements are quick and jerky as I slide out of the Subaru Outback, pretending I’m not anxious to see him as I face his home. Why do I do that? Try to fool myself? I mean, how can one even accomplish such a task? You can’t really, because it’s…well, it’s impossible. You’re the one thinking the thoughts, so you cannot hide them from yourself. Yet, I try. Why is this?
The banter in my brain is ridiculous. Two dichotomous personalities consistently bickering. Both of them annoying. Always. Stop. Just stop.
I shut the driver side door and take in a deep, cleansing breath, closing my eyes and letting the day go with my exhale. I’ve been practicing this a lot lately. Breathing. Letting go. Sounds easy, but it’s actually quite difficult for me. Every night for the last few weeks, my nightly ritual before bed has been listening to fifteen-minute guided meditations. I put my earbuds in, close my eyes, and listen to the gentleman’s calm, hypnotic voice, telling me that regret is living in the past, anxiety is living in the future. Hyper-focusing on either is a waste of time and harmful. It causes stress, which can poison the mind and body.
Yeah, tell me about it.
So I breathe in and I breathe out. Letting it go. Except it doesn’t work. A mixture of panic and anticipation breaks through as I walk toward his home, my heels clicking on the sidewalk. I stare at the French doors for what feels like an eternity before I finally knock on the door.
Moments later, the door swings open and Tom’s confident presence fills the entryway. I both love and fear this about him.
“Tessa, what are you doing here?” He steps out of the front door and closes it behind him, as if he doesn’t want anyone who may be inside to hear us. I shuffle backward and bring my arms in tight to my side to make room on the porch, feeling it necessary to make myself smaller than I already feel.
His reaction is a mix of surprise and disappointment and, maybe, a little anger? I’m suddenly acutely aware that I’ve made a huge mistake. I cringe and wish I’d never been such a stupid girl. “Tom! Hi.” I clear my voice, hoping to bring it down an octave so I don’t sound like a school girl. “I…uh…well, you hadn’t answered my texts and I was beginning to worry. I thought maybe you were sick…or…I don’t know. I shouldn’t have dropped by like this.”
“No. You shouldn’t have.”
His sharp tone has me taking a clumsy step backward. “I’m sorry. I…” Unable to finish my sentence, I wait for him to jump in and explain what is going on.
“How did you find out where I live?”
An uncomfortable silence lingers between us as I strain to find the right words, any words, to answer the question.
He shakes his head. “Never mind. This is my fault. I should have responded to your texts and just told you I can’t see you anymore.”
My head spins. The world tilts. A daunting thought washes over me. “Oh, my god, you’re married.” I want to die.
“Look, Tessa.” He takes a step toward me, his six-foot-two frame reminding me how meager my own is at five-four. “I’m not married. I’m just a very private person. I always have been and I want to keep it that way.”
“So that’s it? You’re ending what we have, just like that?” The pitch of my voice is embarrassingly high, but I can’t seem to control the way I’m escalating.  
“What we have? Tessa, we’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks.” Tom stares down at me, his brows pinched in mixed emotions. I can’t tell if he’s sad, frustrated, amused, or just feels sorry for me.
A wave of embarrassment floods over me. My heartbeat pulses throughout my body, echoing the impending sense of doom that quickens my breath. “Yeah, but it was a great couple of weeks. Almost two months, actually. And we’ve been together almost every day since we met. I thought things were going really well. This is just a shock. I don’t understand what’s going on. If you’re not married, then what? Did I do something wrong?”
He closes his eyes and sighs before answering. “It’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s just that I don’t really see it going anywhere. Besides, what about that Gerald guy you were seeing before?”
“Gerald? I told you. I stopped seeing him after that first day you and I spent time together. He…he’s contacted me but, I’m…Gerald isn’t what I want.”
“Look, don’t make this harder than it needs to be. I like you. You’re…sweet. But I don’t have time for a fling. And you can’t be here, so just leave.”
I flinch at the bark of his tone. I’m sweet? A fling? Just leave?
Grasping for dignity, I take three shaky steps backward. My ankle rolls but I stumble and catch myself before I fall on my ass. Searing pain shoots hot through the tendons of my lower leg. My lips pinch to hold in the gasp of pain. Without saying another word, I turn and bolt down the driveway. The slap of my shoes against the pavement reverberates into the cool air, echoing my shame. My ankle throbs with each motion. Confused and frightened, I slide into my car, start the engine, and pull away from the curb. My hands shake so hard I can hardly grasp the steering wheel.
What in the hell just happened?
Breathe in. Breathe out. Let it go. Tears roll down my cheeks in a steady stream as I drive away.


Parking across the street from my brownstone, I scan the dark streets before turning off my vehicle. Tom made fun of my fear of the dark. “You’re too skittish,” he said, “like a beaten dog, and you need to find your backbone. No one likes a wimp.” Tom can be a bit harsh like that. Or as he’d say, “direct and to the point.” Well, he was certainly to the point today. No holds barred. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s right. I do need to stand up for myself. I wish I had stood up for myself in front of his home earlier. Told him he couldn’t treat me so terribly, at the very least. Like that would have done any good.
It also doesn’t change the fact that these streets are a bit frightening, even during the day. I’d have never chosen to live in this part of town of my own accord. But when my grandmother passed and left the small unit to me, I had no other choice. As a student, still struggling to finish my doctorate of philosophy, I felt only gratitude for the sudden change in my living situation.
I’d just finished my master’s in English literature and resigned myself to the idea that I’d have to wait to move on to the doctorate program when I received the news that I’d inherited the home. I’d no idea I was even in the will. Free accommodations are a godsend to a stressed and struggling student.
Grabbing my keys and purse, I wait until the street is clear of traffic. I note the glisten of the wet pavement from the earlier rainfall and my shoes don’t have the best traction. I want to slide out of the car, cross the street, and retreat to the sanctuary of my home as quickly as possible, without slipping and breaking an ankle.
Ready, go. Open the car door. Step out, look right and left. Close door. Scurry across the street, making sure to keep my feet low to the ground for solid placement amongst the fallen golden leaves smushed against the pavement. Quick leap to the curb. Almost there. My keys slip from my fingers as my feet hit the sidewalk. Shit. I stop to pick them up. Out of the corner of my eye, movement catches my attention. My heart rate flutters nervously under my thin skin. Stooped over, I turn to see a woman standing at the curb about fifteen feet away. Nothing to worry about. My heart slows down.
I’ve seen her before. Thigh-high boots. No stockings or jacket, though it’s cold out. Hair cropped short, in purposeful disarray. Clearly a hooker, she’s decided this part of town is more profitable as of the last month or so, and frequents this area often. As I stand up and put my keys into my peacoat pocket, she turns and locks eyes with mine. She squints ever so slightly, measuring me up. I wonder if she thinks I’m judging her. Am I? What must her life be like? What events have pushed her to a life of prostitution? How does she swallow the fear? Are we really so different, she and I? After the way I just let Tom humiliate me, like so many of my other boyfriends have, I’m not sure I like the obvious answer to that question.
Her lips purse together tightly as she shakes her head and turns away, as if disgusted.
I take in a short gasp. I’m the one who has been judged. She recognized my fear and it sickened her. Heat rises to my face and I hike my purse onto my shoulder before scurrying up the stairs, anxious to hide from this hideous day. Could it get any worse?
Two stairs up, I stop mid-step and glance upward toward the male voice. My heart sinks. Things just got worse. “Gerald.” My voice cracks. “What are you doing here?”
Gerald stands on the top stoop, staring down at me with a pathetic look of desperate hope dripping from his gaunt features. What did I ever see in him? Was I really that lonely?
He steps forward and offers me a hand. “Come on out of the cold and we’ll talk.” His voice has always struck me as oddly deep compared to his looks. Like James Earl Jones bred with Popeye’s girlfriend, Olive Oil, and Gerald was the result. I ignore his offer for assistance and remain rooted on the spot, staring up at him incredulously.
“Gerald, it’s been a long day. I’m not up for company right now. I just want to go home and crawl into bed.”
His lips press together so tight that they blanch white and the upper right side twitches. He gives an almost unperceivable nod of the head, as if clearing his thoughts, brushing away the rush of agitation. The previous look of calm concern returns as he offers a forced smile. The wave of anger that flashed over his features was so quick I almost didn’t catch it. Almost.
He takes a step back and clasps his hands together, as if showing he’s retreating and harmless. “I’m sorry you had a long day. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped by unannounced, but I began to worry when you didn’t respond to my texts. It’s been nearly a week since we spoke last.”
I finally trod up the last few steps. “Gerald, I told you, I just don’t see a future between us. I’m not really interested in a relationship right now.” It’s hard not to grimace as my words essentially echo what Tom just said to me only moments ago.
“You mean you’re not interested in a relationship with me. But I know you’ve been hanging out with that new Tom fellow, the suit. I bet you want a relationship with him. Is that where you were just now?”
“First of all, I’m not in a relationship with anyone. And second of all, it’s none of your business.”
He blinks three times, as if suppressing another fleeting emotion. “So you’re not seeing him?”
Closing my eyes, I rub my right temple and wish to God this day was over. “No, Gerald. I’m not seeing him. I’m not seeing you. I’m not seeing anyone.” I look up. “I just want to go to bed. I don’t feel good.”
His expression softens. “You poor thing. I’m sorry I came over like this. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just concerned. Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you?”
“No, not really.” A small part of me softens to his kindness. I wish I could muster feelings for this guy. He really is sweet to me when he’s not being so overly persistent, so clingy. I just can’t force what isn’t there.
He hesitates. Looks down the street as if searching for what to say two buildings down. Looks back. “All right, well, I’d better be going then. If there’s anything you need, just call.”
I nod. “Okay.” I just want to be left alone.
He traipses down the steps, pauses on the stair below me, turns, and places a wet kiss on my cheek. “I’ll text you tomorrow.”
I suppress a shiver. Please don’t. “Fine.”
I hold my breath while I watch him get into his car and drive away. Anxiety and relief flood my system as I turn and bolt up the stairs. The building is locked for the evening, so I scramble for the keys in my pocket and quickly open the door.
I love that wonderful, safe sound of the click as it locks into place. Push thoughts aside. Turn and walk down the hall to my door. Unlock and step inside. Yet another layer of safety as I lock both the handle and the bolt. I’m home.
In the sanctuary of my building, socks keep my feet warm as I pace around the kitchen, trying to make sense of today’s unexpected turn of events. My cell phone sits on the counter silently next to a plate of untouched cheese and crackers. I keep it close, just in case Tom calls to apologize or at least explain. He will, won’t he? A siren screams in the distance and I pretend it’s not there. Someone hasn’t committed a crime or suffered a terrible injury. Too gruesome of an idea for the evening. I’m tired and a bit frazzled, but trying my best to find a calm end to the day.
A text comes in and I scramble to retrieve my phone from the counter top, knocking over an empty glass in my haste. Mother blinks on the screen. I close my eyes tight against ugly emotions: angst toward my mother’s relentless nagging about my cheating father, and shame because I had hoped it was Tom. What is wrong with me? Sometimes I wonder if my consistently poor choice of men is due to watching my mom and dad’s toxic relationship all through my childhood. The ups and downs, the ebb and flow of when things were good and then suddenly bad again, the constant feeling of walking on eggshells, of pretending it was all okay. even though it never was. It certainly couldn’t have helped.
My appetite has waned, so I clean the kitchen and retreat to my bedroom for the night. Peeling out of my slacks and blouse, I slip into a t-shirt and forgo the shower. I don’t have the energy for it. The sheets are cool against my thighs as I slip under the covers.
Before I put my phone on the nightstand, I do the one thing that I know I shouldn’t, but keeps nagging at my conscience. I pull up Tom’s number and send a quick text.
Me: I just want to say I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dropped by like that. Good night.
Refusing to allow guilt or regret to slink into my thoughts, I toss the phone aside and sink down into my soft pillow. I remember the last time Tom and I spent the night together. Lying in the dark with only the light from the hotel bathroom filtering in. The cool night air drifting in under the wispy curtain of our hotel room. Tom always insisted that a window be open. If a hotel didn’t have windows that opened, he wouldn’t stay there. It always struck me as odd. Only half awake, I ran my index finger over the tattoo that adorns his left bicep. “What is this?”
Sleepily, he glanced down. “It’s a phoenix. Don’t you know what that is?”
“It represents death and rebirth. Burning to ashes and then rising again into a new life. Right?”
He closed his eyes, drifting to sleep in a post-sex reverie. “Something like that.”
I continued to run my fingers over the tattoo and imagined myself burning from the inside out into a heap of wasted ash and then suddenly bursting to life again into a stronger, more beautiful self. A self that speaks my mind and lives a braver existence. “I wish I had a tattoo like that,” I whispered into the dark, more to myself than to Tom.
To my surprise, he answered without opening his eyes. “You have to earn it first.”
Tilting my chin up, I watched his strong jawline against the pillow. “How did you earn yours?”
A pause lingered in the air between us.
“I don’t like to talk about it, but my dad died when I was only three. After that, my mom went through a slew of men. I guess she couldn’t handle the idea of being alone. Some were cool. Some weren’t. One was a sick bastard that had a thing for young boys.”
Another pause filled the air as I processed what he’d just shared with me. I gasped and my stomach rolled as I realized the underlying meaning of what he said. I placed a hand on his chest. “Tom, I’m sorry that happened to you. Did you ever tell your mother? How did you cope?”
His body stiffened in the bed next to me. His breathing was shallow and slow. “My mom knew. For four years, she knew and did nothing. As for how I coped, when I was old enough, I made sure to be there as a witness to their karma.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked down at me, but his eyes had glossed over, his brow furrowed as if seeing something from his past rather than my face. He shook it off. “Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He rolled away, turning his back to me. His voice was gruff. “I earned the tattoo. That’s all you need to know. Now go to sleep. I’m tired.”
Now his words echo in my mind as I lie here in bed, feeling like a broken fool, wishing he’d respond to my text. This is my pathetic pattern. There is no possible way I could ever earn a symbol like that. I cannot be someone that I’m not, no matter how hard I wish it.
Shoving aside old conversations and images of a burning phoenix, I roll to my side. Click. The light goes out. Ear buds in. A calm, soothing, masculine voice tells me to breathe in and breathe out.
I am calm. I am calm. I am calm.


An obnoxious sound taunts me out of dreamland. I’m conscious enough to know I’m rising out of the depths of REM sleep, but out of it enough to resist. Limbs are heavy. Lids won’t lift. Mouth is hanging open and dry. The sound is incessant, so I drag myself to the surface. Eyes open and close. Open and close. Open. Brain processes sound. My cell-phone ringer.
Rolling over to the other side of the bed, I reach for my phone, hoping it’s Tom. What time is it? A quick glance at the red digits of my alarm clock tells me it’s only five after ten. I haven’t been asleep all that long. Still, it’s kind of late for phone calls. At least for me it is. Eyes focus. It’s Terin. Oh, yeah, I forgot to read her text earlier.
“Hey, Terin, what’s up?”
“Girl, you sound tired. Were you sleeping already?”
I lie back on the pillow and close my eyes again. “No. I mean, yes, I guess I fell asleep. But I’m awake now. What’s up? I saw the text from you earlier and meant to read it, but I didn’t get to it. Then I fell asleep and…it was just a long day, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever, it’s cool. You’re super busy these days. I get it. I was just texting to see if you were still pining over that Tom asshole, waiting for him to text you back.”
This girl. She’s the one person I can be myself with. The one person who has my best interest at heart. She’s brutally honest, and sometimes that sucks, but it’s always something I need to hear anyway, so I take my lumps as she serves them. “I’m not pining over him. Not really. I had hoped to maybe…I don’t know, see him again. Have some closure?”
“Closure? I’m sorry, is him ignoring your texts and phone calls for over a week not enough closure for you?”
I cringe. There’s no way in hell I’m going to tell her about tonight’s incident. “Jeez, Terin, go easy on me. It’s not that simple. I think I just got caught up in our little…fling.” The words taste bitter on my tongue. “He and I had a good time and I got ahead of myself. No big surprise. I’ve done it before.”
“So I take it you still haven’t heard from him then?”
I sigh, contemplating how much to disclose. “Look, he’s much older than me and I think that’s always bothered him. Plus he’s a very wealthy and successful businessman. He travels a lot and work takes almost all of his time. He said he likes his privacy and wants to keep it that way…”
“So you have heard from him?”
Her critical discernment is the thing I both love and hate about her. It births doubt within me. It reveals my stupidity. I pause and think carefully before I answer the question. “Yes. Today. He said that he couldn’t see me anymore. That he was a private person and too busy for…complications. That vague explanation is all he gave. I’m confused and a little heartbroken, to be honest.”
She sighed loudly. “Shit, I’m sorry, Tess. I know I’m busting your balls here, but I love you and hate seeing you hurt. And if you ask me, he’s hiding something. I have a hard time believing he was all hot and heavy after you these last few weeks and then he suddenly drops you like a hotcake and gives you a lame excuse about being too busy or too private, or whatever. It just doesn’t set right with me. You know?”
I shrug. “I guess.”
“Come on, think about it. His behavior has been off from the very start. I suspect he’s got something to hide, but I never wanted to mention it before and kill your hopeful joy. It’s been a while since I saw you that lighthearted and happy. I couldn’t bear to rain on your parade. Maybe I’m wrong and he’s just an asshole.”
“I know you don’t like to upset me. Plus, I wouldn’t have listened anyway. You know how I am.”
She gave a light chuckle. “Yeah, I know. You ostrich everything. Something crops up that you don’t like and you stick your head in the sand to avoid conflict. Seen it a hundred bazillion times.” She pauses a heartbeat. “Listen, I just worry about you. You know? I mean, you’ve always been so…”
I close my eyes, bracing for what she’s about to say. “So what? Such a pushover?”
“Well, that’s not what I was going to say, but now that you mention it, yeah.” Her speech picks up as she tries to recover. “I don’t mean that as an insult, Tess. You know that. I love you. You’re my best friend. But as your best friend, there are times when I just want to scream and pull my hair out when I watch you be so dang nice all the time. I mean, don’t you ever feel like not being nice? Don’t you ever feel like telling someone to shove it where the sun don’t shine?”
I shrug into the dark room. “Not really. I don’t think so. I don’t want to be mean to anyone or hurt someone’s feelings.”
“But see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes in life, you have to step on other people’s toes just so they stop stepping all over yours. It’s not always fun, although, it can be. But it is often absolutely necessary. You hear what I’m saying? Sometimes it’s not an option. You gotta stand up for yourself simply because it needs to be done. Does that make sense? You feel me?”
I nod. “I understand what you’re saying. I do. I just can’t fathom finding that kind of bravado anywhere inside of me. Have I thought of speaking my mind? Yeah, sure. Can I act on it? Heck no! I’m not like you. I wish I was but, then again, let’s face it. If I acted anything like you, I would have probably already bitch-slapped my uptight boss and been fired long ago.”
The offhand comment has the exact effect I had intended. Terin sputters and spurts as she laughs into the phone. “Isn’t that the truth? Oh, what I wouldn’t give to watch you do something like that. I know it’s in you, girl. Way down deep. You just don’t know it yet. And don’t worry about that bitter woman, Tess. She just needs to get laid. Is she still giving you a hard time?”
“Nothing more than usual. She’s a bitter, angry old woman and I’m the one she likes to take it out on. Story of my life. Reminds me of high school and the way Cindy Lorde used to make my life a living hell.”
“Oh, jeez, Tessa, when are you gonna get over all that? It was a long time ago. And she’s probably a washed up has-been by now with twenty kids and a big butt.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, well, she was the cool girl back then and that’s a perfect example of a time when I should have stood up for myself.”
“That’s true and further proves my point. It’s time you started sticking up for yourself. So, back to the Tom thing…you’re over him then? You’re doing okay?”
I bite my lip and stare at the ceiling fan overhead. Mostly shadows in the dark room, its blades are still and my clock light reflects off it oddly in the center so that it almost appears to have eyes. It looks like a starfish clinging to my roof.
Should I lie or tell her that I’m miserable and praying he’ll call me? I don’t even know why. Like she said, he’d told me he couldn’t see me anymore. Not that he didn’t want to see me. Just that he couldn’t. That thought makes me sick to my stomach. How could I want a man who no longer wants me? I bet Gerald would be more than happy if I called him tonight. Ugh, I’m such a stupid girl sometimes.
“Yeah, yeah, Terin, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I, uh…”
My phone buzzes as a text comes in. Without thinking, I pull the phone from my ear to take a peek. It’s Tom. My heart thuds against my ribcage. Hit the text. Read it silently, holding my breath while my friend rambles on.
Tom: Stop. Texting. Me.
That’s it. That’s all he has to say to me. Tears well up and I feel like I might choke on them. Swallow down the shame. Terin was right about him. I never meant anything to him. I’m probably one of many. Insignificant. I place the phone to my ear and listen to the last bit of whatever Terin prattles on about. I can’t focus. When she pauses, I take the chance to escape. “Hey, I hate to cut it short, but my stomach is killing me. I think I might have eaten something bad. Do you mind if we hang up for the night?”
“No, no, sure. Sorry you’re not feeling so good. Hope you’re not on the toilet all night long. Remember that time I ate the bad clam chowder and nearly died from projectile diarrhea?”
No answer.
“Okay, I’ll let you go then, Tess. Just call me in the morning to let me know you’re alive.”
Hoping I still sound cheerful, I say goodnight, hang up, and toss the phone to the foot of the bed.
I’m not even going to try to breathe through this. I stare up at the ceiling and let the tears run down my cheeks, into my hair, and onto my pillow. The starfish on the ceiling stares back at the sad, pathetic girl and laughs.

Michelle Bellon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her four quirky and beautiful children. She loves coffee, Superman, rollercoasters, and has an addiction to chapstick.

She works as a registered nurse and in her spare time writes novels. As a multi-genre author, she has written in the categories of romance suspense, young adult, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. She has won four literary awards.




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