While I do think it is fun to just throw little teasers of my work out there, this one comes with a purpose. In my last post I talked about the construction of this book and how two separate stories come together to form one solid telling of love, tragedy, heartbreak, and healing. This sneak peek is the first two chapters, but that doesn’t mean that they’re labeled as such. One thing to look out for when you eventually (hopefully) hold the book in your hands, is the chapter titles. They’re one of my favorite details of the book. (I’m going to label them here as Sneak Peek One and Sneak Peek Two, this way it’s nice and clear without a real page break.)
So, without further ado, here’s a little glimpse into my second novel, “Life in Death”:
Sneak Peek One:
Everything seemed so heavy: the air, her jacket, and the way her limbs swung listlessly. The walk from her car to the front door had always seemed so short up until that day. Martha Dempsey paused for a moment and looked toward the sun. Its descent to the horizon had painted the sky a deep raspberry pink and mandarin. Almost dinnertime, she noted to herself before going into the house. It seemed too large at times and suffocating at others.
“Mom?” she called out, wincing as she heard her hollow voice echo through the still home. The hurt in her chest intensified, creating a dull thud of a heartbeat in the empty space. “I’m home.”
“We’re in the back, Marty.” A ghost of a smile appeared on her thin lips at hearing the nickname her mother loathed using, only assenting to it when Martha was sick or, as in this case, had a bad day.
Without a single thought accompanying her actions, Marty made her way through the house, stopping to deposit her messenger bag on the couch and hang her suit jacket loosely on the back of a wooden kitchen chair. In less than forty steps, she made her way from the front door, through the living room, and across the open kitchen to the back door.
“Mama!” A young girl wearing a hot-pink bandana wrapped around her head jumped up from her place on a cushioned Adirondack chair and wrapped her arms around her.
“Hey, Abs.” Marty held her daughter close and allowed herself to get lost in the feel of tiny arms wrapped tightly around her slim waist. For just a split second, she believed everything was right in the world. And then Denise Dempsey’s voice shattered the comforting silence.
“Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes.” Marty saw Denise’s sharp, aged eyes judging her appearance, making her feel as small as her own child in that moment. She swallowed audibly, hoping her matching green eyes didn’t hold as much scrutiny. “You should go wash up.” Marty’s mother turned on her heels and made her way back through the open screen door.
Marty looked down and tried to see herself through her mother’s eyes. Her starched white blouse was far from wrinkle-free, and her black suit pants were deeply creased from hours of sitting. The only detail of her dress outfit that seemed unblemished were the loafers, ones that had stayed in their box since she had received them last spring for her thirty-fifth birthday.
“I guess I do look pretty terrible, huh?” Marty looked into her daughter’s sparkling brown eyes and laughed as the little girl shrugged in response.
“I’ve seen you look worse.” Her arms were still around Marty’s waist, a serious expression twisting her tiny features. Marty laughed in response.
“Thanks, Abigail, I feel better already.” Marty lifted her daughter over her shoulder and let Abigail’s giggles improve her mood. She carried the small girl into the kitchen and sat her on the granite countertop. The deep indigo of Abigail’s jeans contrasted with the creamy ivory of the expensive stone. Marty looked at the light pink schoolgirl top and eyed her daughter suspiciously. “Did Grandma dress you this morning?” Abigail nodded. “Is this a new shirt?” Marty flicked at the rounded collar, a choice Abigail would never make on her own. Abigail nodded again and started playing with one of the many buttons that lined the front of her shirt.
“Leave the girl be, Martha. She liked it this morning when I showed it to her.” Denise wiped her hands on her apron. Its sunflower print was almost too cheery but did little to obscure her matching pink top with rounded collar. She looked again at Marty, this time over the edge of reading glasses she used mostly to secure her chin-length red hair off her face. Worry lines started to crease her forehead. Marty excused herself before she could ask anything.
“I’m going to go change.” She turned back to Abigail. “Abs, help your grandmother set the table.” She grabbed the little round face and planted a sloppy kiss on her warm forehead, lingering for a moment to inspect Abigail’s temperature before releasing her and heading for the stairs.
Upstairs, Marty riffled through the drawer that held all her fluffiest attire. Every pair of sweatpants she owned, every thermal, Henley, and worn sweater was folded neatly beside the others. She ran her fingertips along each row, feeling the soft comfort of old materials tease her skin. Her awful day was worthy of her oldest, most comfortable sweats and a threadbare T-shirt with Princeton written proudly across the chest in crackled screen print.
Marty avoided every mirror in her bedroom and kept her head down as she washed her hands and face in the bathroom. She knew she looked atrocious, tired, and drawn. She didn’t need a vivid reminder at that very moment. Her mother was downstairs waiting for an opportunity to do just that.
Marty moved slowly down the stairs, fatigue draining the usual bounce from her steps as she joined her family in the kitchen once again. Her appetite had been lacking, but some familiar smells from childhood caused her stomach to growl tonight.
“Chicken noodle soup and oatmeal cookies?” Marty quirked a dark eyebrow at her mother as she tied back her chestnut-brown hair in preparation for leaning over a steaming bowl. A few curls escaped and fell into her face, but Marty just didn’t have the energy to care. She sat in her usual seat. Abigail lifted herself slightly onto the chair beside her.
“I figured you may want something gentle and comforting after the day you had.” Marty’s mother ladled the soup into large bowls.
“Can we have cookies first?” Abigail asked with the sweetest, largest smile. That grin could get her anything she wanted from her mother, but not her grandmother.
“I love you, but no.” Denise pushed a bowl closer to Abigail and handed her a large spoon.
Marty looked down at her soup, moving the noodles and carrots around in search of a small piece of chicken. She brought it to her lips with a shaky hand and nibbled at it slightly. Her stomach wanted food badly, but her mouth revolted, wanting nothing to do with flavor. She knew she’d have to take it slow.
“So, did Grandma help you get all packed for our trip tomorrow?” Talking helped distract her wanting to gag. If she spoke enough, she could manage another bite or two.
“Mmm-hmm.” Abigail hummed and nodded with a mouthful of noodles before filling her spoon once more and blowing on its contents. Marty watched for a moment, wishing she could muster that kind of enthusiasm for the meal.
“Did you pack her red blanket?” Marty asked her mother.
“Of course.” Denise almost looked offended at the question.
“And her games and e-reader?”
“You’re acting as if this were my first rodeo.” The eldest Dempsey woman pierced her daughter with a chastising glare for her line of questioning.
Marty took a deep breath and looked back into her mother’s deep emerald eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You had a terrible day, I’m sure. I think it’s safe to assume you’re nervous about tomorrow as well?”
“The hospital is so far away. I hate having her sit in the car after her treatments.” Memories of the last visit intruded in Marty’s mind without permission. Abigail was sick the entire ride.
“The confrontation after today won’t be easy either,” Denise pointed out, even though it was far from necessary at the moment.
Marty pushed her soup away with her left hand and waved her right in a dismissive gesture, not quite ready to talk about it. She looked over at Abigail, who was chasing the last noodle around the base of her bowl. “Not now. Let’s talk about anything else.”
“Sweetheart, you need to talk about—”
“Done!” Abigail pushed her bowl away. “Now can I have a cookie?”
Denise stood and huffed at Marty before smiling at her granddaughter. “Of course you can.” She reached toward the counter and returned with a plate piled high with chewy oatmeal cookies, still warm from the oven. “Take two, one for each hand.”
A bright smile lit up the little girl’s face, and tears came to life in Marty’s eyes. She looked so happy, her Abigail. Despite everything, she smiled just as happily at the offered cookies as she would have if it were her first time trying them.
Denise spoke to Abigail once again, sparing Marty an audience. “Abigail, why don’t you take those cookies upstairs to your room and pick out a movie to watch with your mother when I leave?”
“Okay!” Her enthusiasm was contagious, and both grown women found themselves smiling as Abigail ran to the stairs and up to her room.
“She shouldn’t be that happy, not with me.” Marty sniffled and tried to compose herself. She had been stoic all day, and the contained emotions had started make their way to the surface. She felt it in the warmth that tickled the tip of her nose and in every goose bump that pricked at her skin.
“Parents get divorced.” Denise pointed out that truth as if it were the easiest fact to accept.
“No.” Marty spoke the word like acid on her tongue. “It should’ve never happened to us.” She looked to the plate of cookies and suddenly all the scents in her home assaulted her, turning her stomach violently. “I need some fresh air.” She stood abruptly, the legs of her chair crying out loudly as they scraped against the hardwood floors. Marty rushed to the back patio, sucking in air as quickly as she could. She was light-headed and heavy-hearted. She jumped when her mother’s hand landed on her shoulder.
“It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t.” Marty looked out across her large backyard. The sun had put itself to bed and a chill accompanied the spring evening. The flowering trees that lined the perimeter of the yard were still a vibrant green with colorful petals adorning each branch. Soon enough, however, the vibrancy would fall away and leave nothing more than deep green. “I failed,” she whispered. “I failed them both in the worst way.” Fresh tears lit up in the moonlight, and she hugged herself in an effort to ward off a shiver.
“You could never fail Abigail.” Denise pressed her hand firmly into the center of her daughter’s back.
“But I failed Suzanne.” She finished what she was sure her mother was thinking. She fell onto a deck chair gracelessly as the acceptance of her life from that day forward hit her square in the chest. She looked down at the hand that signed the papers. “I have an ex-wife.” The words were directed to no one in particular, but the crickets chirped loudly in response.
Sneak Peek Two:
Once Upon a Time…
Marty grew anxious at the prospect of being stood up. She checked the oversized face of her watch for the fourth time. Her blind date should’ve arrived nearly fifteen minutes ago and yet she still sat in the crowded restaurant alone. Two full glasses of water sat on the tabletop, condensation rolling down the cool glass. Five more minutes, Marty promised herself. She looked at the last few sips of red wine left in her large wineglass, wondering why she had allowed her new coworkers to convince her a blind date would be a great way to introduce herself to her new hometown.
Marty could hear their conniving voices as clear as day. “Suzanne is wonderful!” Charlotte exclaimed as the plan unfolded.
“Charming and beautiful too!” Annmarie chimed in with her thoughts, her large brown eyes never leaving her computer screen.
“So why is she single?” Marty couldn’t contain her curiosity. She didn’t want to seem rude or offend her coworkers and new friends, but if the woman they were speaking of was so wonderful, surely she’d be paired up already.
“We never said she was single.” Charlotte smiled deviously and tucked a strand of her jet-black hair behind her ear.
First impressions for Marty were a big deal. It could either make or break your future with her, but she had been wrong on both accounts with Charlotte Kingsley and Annmarie Ventuolo. At first they appeared uptight and far from approachable. Marty was the latest hire in the well-established real estate agency, and she expected to be treated like fresh meat. Charlotte was a few years older than Marty’s twenty-two years and intimidating with her Morticia Addams–esque pale skin, long black hair, red lips, and a wardrobe that rarely strayed from black.
Annmarie was the complete opposite. She was bubbly and over the top from the first moment Marty walked through the door. She was closer to forty, short, and a bottled blonde. She lived by the beach, and it showed in the deep tan of her skin. Annmarie seemed like the type of woman who would encourage, help, and raise you up just to watch you fall.
The fall never came; neither did the cutthroat atmosphere Marty expected. Both women eagerly took Marty under their guidance and showed her the ins and outs of real estate at the Jersey Shore.
“Excuse me?” Marty looked back and forth between both amused women. Annmarie smiled at her screen while Charlotte moved closer to Marty’s desk.
“Suzanne is sort of seeing someone,” Charlotte said.
“But nobody likes her,” Annmarie added.
“How do you know Suzanne?” Marty still wasn’t sure a setup was the best idea.
“I was into rentals at the time, and I showed her the apartment she lives in now. After the papers were signed, we went for drinks to celebrate and we’ve been friends for years now,” Charlotte all but bragged.
“What’s wrong with her girlfriend?”
“She’s rude!” Annmarie finally turned away from her computer. “She’s harsh, and she obviously doesn’t make Suzanne happy. Someone needs to come along and sweep that poor girl off her feet.” She smiled again at Charlotte. “And you’re going to get your chance this Friday.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” The loud voice startled Marty, and she jumped, almost spilling the last bit of wine on her crisp, floral printed blouse. The red would’ve stood out amongst the muted blues. When her heart calmed, Marty looked around to find the source of the rude outburst.
Behind her stood a petite blonde, no taller than five foot five. Her hair fell around her face in loose waves. The tendrils were multiple shades of blond and thick, appearing almost heavy. The stranger stood dumbstruck for a moment as Marty regarded her. She wore tight black slacks paired with a black blouse. Marty’s eyebrows rose in question.
“Suzanne?” Marty stood and recalculated the blonde’s height. She seemed taller now. Marty extended her hand. “I’m—”
“No.” Marty dropped her hand and blushed slightly. “I’m not. I’m Martha Dempsey, but please call me Marty.”
“Suzanne Carlson.” She scanned Marty with her deep blue eyes as she spoke bluntly. “I was supposed to meet Charlotte, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by another setup.” She smiled weakly. Her lips were full and pink.
“Please, sit.” Marty motioned to the empty chair across from herself. Suzanne looked as if she wanted to argue, but she was more than ready for a drink. She sat gracefully and looked to Marty again.
“I apologize for my little outburst.” Suzanne couldn’t hide the color that rose on her fair skin, painting her cheeks a shade of pink Marty found undoubtedly attractive. “This is the third time this month I’ve expected to see my friend and I walk up to a complete stranger. A surprise each time, and Charlotte knows how much I hate surprises.”
Marty winced. “That sounds terrible. I’ll thoroughly chastise Charlotte when I see her at the office on Monday, but until then let me buy you a drink.” Marty put on her most charming smile. She knew she looked good; her choice of shirt was fitted enough to advertise her lithe build, and she kept the sleeves cuffed enough to display her early summer tan. Her hair had behaved that evening and the curls fell onto her shoulders in controlled chaos. With a hint of eye makeup and lip stain, Marty was sure to be a tempting date.
“I’m seeing someone.”
Marty licked her lips and smiled again. “Then we won’t call this a date, just drinks between new acquaintances.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Suzanne matched Marty’s broad smile. “I’ll have a chardonnay.” Marty was awestruck by the vibrant blue of Suzanne’s eyes. The waiter approached the table and Marty ordered for both of them. Suzanne sat back and flashed a crooked smile.
“So, Suzanne.” Marty leaned forward on her forearms and continued to speak. “Why is it that you’re seeing someone and yet your friend continues to set you up?” She knew why, but she was curious about Suzanne’s side of the story.
Suzanne let out a sigh. “Charlotte isn’t a huge fan of my girlfriend.”
Suzanne turned the interrogation around on Marty with a bit of heat. “Why do you let your coworker set you up on blind dates? Can’t get a date for yourself?”
“I’m new to town, looking to make some friends. A blind date didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time.”
“Where are you originally from?” Suzanne asked.
“Fancy pants.” Suzanne chuckled and sat back as their drinks were delivered. She thanked their waiter. “What brings you down the shore? Point Pleasant is more of a tourist town, not exactly known for its real estate. Princeton is surely the better place to sell homes in New Jersey.”
“True, but I was ready for a change of scenery and better opportunities. Here you have homes, condos, townhomes, summer rentals, winter rentals—the possibilities are endless.” Marty took a sip of her red wine. “Plus, I’m a sucker for the water. I plan on having a boat in the next couple of years.”
“Oh yeah? What if you’re not as successful as you think you’ll be?” She was obviously a playful woman, and Marty enjoyed her company all the more for that.
“It’s part of my plan,” Marty said confidently.
“Do you always stick to your plans, Marty?” Suzanne leaned into the conversation, following Marty’s earlier action.
“Tell me more about your plan.”
The two women talked for hours. They laughed and exchanged embarrassing stories. Marty cringed as she relived the morning of her worst hangover and how little she cared when her mother found her naked on the living room floor. Suzanne quickly countered with the unexpected wet T-shirt contest she’d participated in on a train one rainy morning the summer before. Marty never hesitated before reaching out to touch Suzanne’s hand more than just a few innocent times. Once the waiter informed them of last call they realized how long they had been talking. Both women laughed in embarrassment.
“I guess that’s our cue.” Suzanne started to stand.
“You never told me about your girlfriend.” Marty stood and stretched, her shirt lifting a bit from the waistband of her jeans.
“She’s the silent type and not necessarily outgoing.” Suzanne cleared her throat. “We don’t go out much, but I like the quiet, strong types. The guy I was with before her was the same. Come to think of it, my friends weren’t too fond of him either.”
“Guy?” Marty’s eyes widened.
Suzanne laughed. She was clearly used to this reaction. “Yes, guy. Bisexuals do exist, you know.”
“Mmm.” Marty nodded and thought for a moment. She smirked before saying, “Bisexuals who happen to go after people with lackluster personalities certainly do exist.”
“Oh, that’s just rude!” Suzanne’s guffaw contradicted her words.
Marty needed to know more about this mystery woman who’d captured Suzanne’s heart. She walked around the table and placed her hand in the middle of Suzanne’s back, leading her from the restaurant in a chivalrous manner. “Does she make you laugh?”
“She can be funny.” Suzanne’s words were almost hesitant.
Marty grunted quietly.
“What? What was that for?”
“Nothing, I just…” Marty paused and met Suzanne’s gaze, a playful smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “I can’t help but agree with Charlotte. You can do better.”
“And you think you’re better?” Suzanne crossed her arms over chest.
“I had you laughing all night, didn’t I?” Just as Suzanne was about to comment, Marty continued. “But I’m just looking to make friends, remember?” Marty’s breath caught when Suzanne smiled with a twinkle in her eye. She decided to press her luck. “What’s your number?” She took her phone from her back pocket. “I’d like to have another friendly outing sometime soon.” She didn’t look up from her screen. When Suzanne gave her the number, Marty started breathing again.
“Call me soon, friend,” Suzanne said.
“I will.” Marty turned and started her walk through the parking lot, an extra bounce in her step as she approached her beat-up sedan. She sat behind the steering wheel and stared at Suzanne’s number. She wouldn’t call that night, but she would call in the morning and every morning after that until Suzanne realized that Marty was worth way more than friendship.