St. Charles at Dusk started as a standalone story, but since then I have written several additional stories about the two central families, the Sullivans and Deschanels. This has turned into a series, The House of Crimson and Clover, and I am currently working on editing the second book, The Storm and the Darkness for publication in 2013.
I’ve decided to post the prologue for St. Charles at Dusk (approximately 600 words), in several installments here on the blog. Depending on how that goes, I may consider posting more of it as well. Obviously it goes without saying that everything I post here is my own creation and is copyrighted. Please do not reblog these entries without permission, however you are welcome to leave comments, and I always answer all of them.
PROLOGUE (Installment 4 of 4)
Present, Summer 2001
“Oz? Are you alright?”
I heard her voice, at least I thought I did, but it was echoed and distant like a faraway whistle of a train at the end of a tunnel. I had no perception of what was happening to me, no firm grasp on reality, and it happened so fast I didn’t have time to make sense of it.
Everything started to fade and blur and come together and I could still hear her voice, and yet all I could feel or sense was Janie, Janie, Janie, and it wasn’t until she was standing above me that I realized I was on the floor.
“Oz, talk to me. Can you hear me? Talk to me damn it!” I was pretty sure she was shaking me.
Her mouth was moving, so I knew she was still talking, perhaps screaming. The room continued to dance around me, taunting me with my dead wife’s life print on everything we owned. The grandfather clock, the armoire, the chandelier, the grandfather clock, the armoire, the chandelier, over and over and over.
When I came to, I was lying on my bed, and she was sitting at my side. She had been crying, though she had taken great pains to cover it. I could see her eyes were bloodshot.
“What happened?” I asked her, though I remembered every painful last moment of the episode.
“I don’t know Oz. One minute we were talking, the next you were on the floor, screaming.” Her voice trembled and she placed a cool washcloth right above my eyes.
Really? I had opened my mouth, but I hadn’t thought anything had escaped.
I looked up at her and in her eyes I saw a look that I instantly recognized and just as instantly regretted seeing. It was a look that had stopped time for me when I was twenty-one years old. The feeling I had from seeing that look gave me butterflies, only roller-coaster caliber. It was a way Janie had never been able to make me feel, but I had always wished she could so that I could associate that feeling with her instead of this girl that I no longer wanted to feel that way about.
Right then, lying on my bed, I wished more than anything that she would stop looking at me like that.
I wanted Janie back. I wanted to hold her again; I wanted to make love to her. I wanted to talk to her about my clients at the firm, and tell her how my day was, and learn about hers. I wanted her to come with me to the park so we could take Naomi on a picnic. I wanted all of these things that I hadn’t wanted enough when she was alive.
But the reality of it was I had eight good months with my wife. Eight. I had the eight months that all married couples daydream about years down the road when the honeymoon stage is but a distant memory. Eight months of her giving me everything she had to give and me only meeting her halfway.
We spent the rest in and out of hospitals, going for chemotherapy, and praying for the chance that we might see the cancer go into remission.
It never did. And I could deny it until I was blue in the face, but Janie had really died four months ago in the doctor’s office the day we received the news. And though she put on a brave face for me, and for Naomi, inside she had already given up, already thrown in the proverbial towel. She had begun to accept what I refused to until the very end. Part of me wasn’t even surprised when the police officer showed up at the door with Naomi shivering in a blanket to deliver the news.
Whether I was willing to face it or not, I knew that, with the exception of my daughter, the last year of my life would just be a whisper in the face of the rest of it. I could not go back and give her more of me, and make the last year of her life more worthwhile. And that, maybe, is what really hurt the most.
True as that may be, your feelings stem more from guilt than love. And that is what hurts the most.
“I don’t know what made me come here.” She was overwhelmed with all she had just seen and seemed to realize for the first time the impact of her impeccable timing. “I can come back another time and we can talk,” she suggested. I reached out and seized her arm.
“I don’t want you to leave, Adrienne.”
My eyes pleaded with her not to refuse me, all the while knowing I was acting on irrational feelings, trying to make plans that I would come to regret perhaps even more than the last conversation I had with my wife. She was giving me an out and I knew I should take it. Still, I was overcome with such a deep and succumbing loneliness that I knew of no other way to conquer it.
“You don’t want this,” she whispered and brushed my forehead softly with her hand.
“I know,” I said, just as soft, but less convincing. After all, being right was only half of it. Was I going to go to hell for trying to sleep with this woman on the same day I put my wife into her tomb? Probably. It didn’t matter. Whoever it was I had grown up to be, it was not the person I set out to be.
I turned from her then and closed my eyes, allowing the tears and the exhaustion to lull me into sleep, knowing that I would be lucky to get any. I pushed the voice of guilt from my head, banished it away so that I could get momentary peace. Adrienne made no move to leave, and when I woke up around one the next morning, I found her curled up sideways in the chair beside my bed, sleeping peacefully.
Not so long ago, at the tender age of one and twenty, I had been ready to make this woman my wife, but instead she had chosen another life and so I had chosen mine.
But it was with her, before my life as it is now, that my life really began.