Passages are written in chapters. The chapters with the heading Cortez Abernathy are in the present, while the chapters with the heading TheHunter are passages from the past, written within the pages of Cortez Abernathy’s memoir, The Hunter.
Note: Cortez Abernathy is romance novelist. Cort is highly sexual, romantic, and extremely emotional. Since this book is written for him, about him, and takes place within his mind, the usual linear storyline would not suffice. In essence, this book is Cort.
The blinking cursor of death.
I’m not used to this insanity. Well, I’m used to actual insanity, as in the kind in actuality. What I’m not used to is… Ugh, I can’t even think it.
I suffer from the dreaded writer’s block. I’ve been suffering for almost a year. It was a big joke between Ezra and me when I wrote my first shitty book. I wrote it on purpose. I wanted to see how Katya would react, whether or not she’d do her job versus falling for my charms.
Kitten did her damned job, alright!
The book I gave my wife was a shit-fest. I deliberately messed it all up. It was a test, or so I told myself as Ezra maniacally laughed at my plight. I was able to resurrect the horrid creation, and it hit number five on the New York Times best seller’s list. It stayed there for many weeks in fact… and then life got in the way. I lost track of the days that I didn’t write, when previously it was unfathomable that I go a few hours without putting words to page.
In the past, writing was as essential as breathing, an involuntary compulsion. I had to create to release the pent-up pressure inside my mind- the emotions, the thoughts, the sensations that choke the very life out of me. For me, writing was an emotional pressure release valve. I grin and charm my way into people’s lives. I smile when inside I feel raw, an open wound that will never heal.
First, life got in the way: relationships, family obligations, mystery illegitimate children, secrets and lies and betrayals of the deepest kind, marriages, and threats. Then the emotions came and rolled me under: Fear, jealousy, friendship, love, betrayal, fear, jealousy, betrayal, bitterness, and love. These emotions were so strong that no words could be uttered. My mind was a blank canvas without its usual colorful imagination. I was a black hole, devoid of anything but an infinite stretch of silent pain.
The first stirring appeared after I felt safe, the tingling at the back of my mind. It’s a slight sensation, rather pleasant and titillating. It was my muse awakening from a long slumber. She… and I have no idea why as a male I have a female muse, a muse I refuse to name. She stretched and yawned, and then she smiled at me, the smile of an angel. I blinked back tears, realizing that her visage is that of my long dead mother- but we all have our issues, mine just happen to be of the mommy kind.
I was elated. I was sitting on the sofa watching a movie with my family. I burst up from my seat, knocking poor Kitten off of my lap. I’d frightened Diane to the point that she gasped, a huge expression for the ultra-controlled women. Marcus knew. I could tell by the sparkling in his eye and the hearty laugh as he gazed at me in wonder. I’d shouted, “I’ve got to write. Disturb me and I’ll hurt you.” I ran to my office and sat down to write. Laptop booted up, a carafe of coffee, the whirr of the air purifier singing its song of contentment. Hell, the air temperature was perfect. I was at peace, the pressure ready to be relieved.
… And then I checked my messages. All one-thousand-four-hundred of them.
A while back, I’d joked about Bitch-Slaps through the laptop screen. It is a turn of phrase I created as Grant and I commiserated over the horrors of being a published author. Grant and I have long discussions about how reader interactions make us feel- the inspiration, the anxiety, the fear. The majority of the interactions are life-changing, friendship-building, inspiring. A scant few are like cancer, they bleed into your creativity and deplete your motivation, hell, your will to live even. Demands, ridicule, people speaking to you as if you are not a human being, but just a source of their unlimited entertainment- a puppet that’s strings get pulled for the price of your book.
I was in Hell- I burst into flame. I incinerated in my horror as my muse shriveled up and died within that special place she dwells at the base of my spine. My angel, my muse, the unnamed inspiration that I refuse to admit is Celeste Hunter. My mother died again for me that day, and I haven’t written a word since, not even a grocery list.
The demanding hands came through the laptop screen and choked me- they had me by the throat. The screams were deafening in their silence. Words of malice formed perfectly placed plunges into my heart. It was the game reawakening and ruining the only thing I had left to call my own. Ezra isn’t mine. Faith isn’t mine. Katya isn’t mine. Ava and baby Ez belong to Ezra and Katya. Zane belongs to Ezra and Faith. Azriel is mine by genetics, but she belongs to all of us. I’m not even mine. I’d freely give myself to Ezra in all ways, but the game owns me. I have no rights to anything. I thought my passion was something that couldn’t be taken from me.
… And I was wrong. My passion was torn from my soul- ashes of who I used to be, who I should have become.
I paid the penance for whatever tantrum Ezra had thrown within the bounds of the game, and the payment of that consequence was my life’s blood- my life’s work.
Thousands upon thousands of emails, comments on my websites, Facebook and Twitter were blowing up with malice… and then the reviews started. Reviews are the bane of my existence. Perfect, five-star reviews manage to hurt my injured psyche. I think to myself, what did they really mean by that? Was the tone insulting? You never know, but the mind always sees it as a slight. I don’t read reviews on principal, but how can you not when you are inundated with thousands overnight?
The mean reviews, bashing, personal attacks, suck the life from your soul. You would think because someone received my book for free, or as an ARC, or for Lord’s sake, pirated the cocksucker that that gives them the rights to taint your name. Line-by-line they shred your story, and you try not to take offense, but how can you not? You created every word, you breathed life from nothing. While it may just be a book to them, a few minutes to snicker as they taunt like schoolyard bullies, it was thousands of hours of your life put into word form. Each and every book is remembered within you mind. Just the title itself will ping memories and emotions of how you felt as you birthed your story.
The worst are the reviews when you know they didn’t even read the dang book. They take apart a few chapters, totally annihilate your work, all the while getting it wrong because they didn’t even read it. But you can’t defend, you can’t even respond, you can’t even speak out in your own private medium on your own websites. You will be scorned for life. Stoned in the way of social networking. The scarlet letter, but in this case the A stands for Author.
I was ruined.
Ordinarily it would have washed over my back as soon as I began writing again, or read a book, or hugged my children. Any sort of positive interaction to remove the darkness that smudges my soul. But over a thousand is not a handful, and the reason for the well-placed strike was another mini-death- the betrayal.
Doesn’t everything in my life boil down to Ezra and his many explicit betrayals? I was distraught, raw. It felt as if Ezra personally attacked me. Hell, at the time, I figured he did. But I knew that if Ezra hadn’t betrayed me, then it was Faith, which was just as bad. Worse actually, Faith using me to hurt Ezra, and Ezra allowing me to take his consequences- it’s a double fist to the ass, that.
For months I pretended to write, which is with great difficulty when you live with your editor and your boss. Breakfast conversation was tense to say the least, especially when asked how my work in progress was coming along. Yeah, thanks for the advance, but I ain’t got shit on paper. Unless you want me to take a crap and wipe my ass and hand it in as a manuscript. I might be able to do that at least by the rapidly approaching deadline- I hope.
Finally, after questioning concerns and plenty of razzing, they all realized I had a real problem. So instead of indulging in writing, my soul cleanser, I ignored my issues and became the best father on the planet. Never having a father myself, I took all the qualities I respected in Marcus, and all the mistakes everyone was making around me, and tweaked it to how I thought a father should react.
I’m paralyzed by fear, by suffocating emotions that have no outlet for release, by the life I’ve chosen to lead but curiously believe it’s the wrong path. This isn’t how I saw myself. I’m living in our allies’ estate with my family and children, seeking refuge from the shit-storm Ezra rained down upon our heads. I feel immense guilt as I withhold everything from the ones I love. Our hosts are being tormented by the ones they house. It’s wrong, and my mother raised me better than that, and I should be raising my children better than that.
“Daddy,” Baby Ezra’s tender voice flows as he paws at my thighs, and just like that, Celeste Hunter takes the first real breath she has had in over a year. Not the resurrected breath of rebirth, but the dawn of a new life. My muse, my mother, she croons in my mind. If you can’t live with it, don’t accept it. Change!
… And like a lightning strike, I take a deep breath and my fingers fly along the keys. In order to be reborn, one must start at the beginning…
“Wait up!” I shout at Ez’s retreating back.
This summer, Ezra is obsessed with hide and seek. We take turns seeking each other. Once caught, we go back to the center of the lawn, and begin again. He makes us do this from dusk ‘til dawn. I just want to hang around the pool with Divina and Aaron, reading books and listening to music. But Ezra stares me down and says, no, do as I say.
In the past month, we’ve expanded our game to almost a hundred square acres. Now we use compasses, and we’re working up to the seven-hundred acres surrounding ShadowHaven. Ezra expects it by the time school starts. I learned forever ago, just give Ez what he wants.
We play The Hunter, as Ez likes to call it, and he won’t tell me why. He just mumbles, it’s what you do, isn’t it? You hunt your prey, don’t you? I try to tell him that I meant: why do we play it, not why is it called The Hunter? But he always ignores me.
I can tell Ezra is holding something back for me, he’s distancing himself. He knows something I don’t. I’d asked my mom about it because Ezra was getting obsessed with hide and seek… Mom didn’t say anything, and she didn’t need to. Her petrified expression said it all. Now I wish I hadn’t said anything, because Mom and Diane keep looking at us like we’re going to turn into freaks or some shit. The little brat, Aaron, tattles on us every time we do something that they think is nature versus nurture– whatever the hell that means.
An old dude keeps coming around and trying to chat us up. After several times, I figured out that he was a headcase quack. He’s stopped talking to me. But four times a week, Ez and the Doc lock themselves in our bedroom for two hours at a clip. Ezra threw a temper tantrum, so now he only comes after dark. Dr. Weiss was cutting into The Hunter time.
It’s days like today that I get jealous. Ez is only a month older than me, but he’s huge. Ezra is all long arms and legs, which eat up the distance of our hunt. It takes me twice as long to do our route. He hated it when I called him lollypop, but it’s not true anymore. All this hunting has beefed him up. I try not to notice, but it’s impossible with him constantly strutting around naked. It’s like he wants me to see that he’s manlier than me. Divina has seen all of him, too. Ezra just laughs and looks you in the eyes- pervert.
Ezra is a good four inches taller than me. After twelve years of being identical in all ways, I’m pissed. I still look like a kid and Ez is running around with hair on his body. I try not to compare us, but it’s difficult not to when everyone else does. We get a lot of sidelong looks and people calling us twins. I don’t know why, but it annoys Ezra so much that he gets confrontational. I’ve never told him that it hurts my feelings when he goes on the attack. Our lives have always been parallel: no fathers, raised as brothers by our single mothers, we even look alike. Why would Ezra be ashamed to be my brother? I guess he just doesn’t like my skin color. He teases me about being half Hispanic all the time. I’m too tan for Ezra’s white, rich world.
“Don’t be a twit,” Ez taunts, running backwards on his muscular legs- show off. “You’ll never catch me.” Ez whips around and lopes off into the woods, sinister laugh fading in his wake.
“You’ll regret making me chase you,” I shout. “Someday, you’ll be the one eating my dust!” Ez’s answer is his creepy laugh. After a heartbeat of hurt because Ezra left me behind, I go after him.
Pumping my arms as legs as fast as I can go, digging the treads of my sneakers into the ground, I try to gain on Ezra. I slow to yank off my t-shirt and swab my face dry. It’s so humid you can practically see the moisture in the air. It’s ninety-three degrees today with the sun directly overhead. The canopy of the woods isn’t offering any relief. It’s just moist, hot, and buggy.
I’d rather be in the pool, casting looks at Divina’s bikini top. Ez would throw a fit, though. Last week he beat me for looking at her titties. I told Ezra Divina wasn’t my cousin, so I can look all I want. I was just curious. I ended up with a black eye and Ezra had Dr. Weiss for extra sessions.
One advantage of being shorter, the limbs aren’t whipping me in the face. Ez keeps cursing every time he gets lashed. I snicker as he calls a spruce a cocksucker.
“You can’t hide if you keep bitching at inanimate objects,” I sing. “Defeats the purpose of hide and seek.”
“So does chasing me, dumbass,” Ezra shouts at me from somewhere deep in the woods. “The whole point is learning to track… which you suck at.”
“If you’d shut up, I’d look for you. You might as well throw up a flare, since your chatty ass won’t zip it.” Truthfully, every time I’ve found Ezra was because he was bitching at himself or a tree, sometimes a leaf or a bug. He’s silent in the woods. His feet barely touch the ground. Ezra stalks like a perfect predator. I never even hear him breathe. It’s these random outbursts that betray his position- without fail. I know he’s not… right in the head. He’s just Ez.
The whisper of fingertips on my chest awakens me, enlivens me. I’d know these fingertips even in nonexistence, and they just may be the very death of me. The fierce hunger I feel, the pit of ache in my stomach, causes a starvation that threatens to emaciate me unto death.
“Ezra,” his name flutters, quivers from nervousness, from my parted lips as I press his palm to the center of my chest, directly over my rapidly beating heart.
The kiss is soft, a declaration of love as much as a silent apology of guilt and remorse. Ezra hovers over me, hands pressed into the mattress on either side of my shoulders. It’s just him and me, laying in our bed, as it should have always been. Gray eyes, the same shade and shape as my own, gaze down at me in wonder. Twin storm cloud asking for redemption… forgiveness.
Before the words flee my mouth, Ezra’s lips descend and consume me, suck my life down within himself, exactly where I belong.
This is like breathing. This is breathing, for without Ezra I cease to exist. We may have not shared a womb, a fact that I would’ve felt jealousy over if it weren’t for the problem of being in love with one’s twin brother. It’s bad enough that we are both men, men who are related by blood. We shan’t complicate it any more than it already is with pure incent- cousin is bad enough, but not illegal.
Ezra is my world. Ezra is my obsession. He builds me up and destroys me time and time again, and I gladly take it just to be near him. Ezra is my Sun, and I am a budding planet on the fringes of our solar system. I can never be close enough to him. I’d do anything to be as one entity. I crave the sensation of slipping my skin and entering Ezra, or him entering me, joining as one. Just as the Sun does to the planets that are sucked within its orbit- I implode. Ezra destroys my very being with a simple kiss.
“Please,” I beg, salaciously offering myself to anything he wants. A sardonic brow pops as a smirk pulls at Ezra’s cruel lips. I put all of my need into my expression, voicing without sound how very much I need him, how much I need to be with him. Ezra’s answering smile catches the very breath in my throat. It’s the smile that is only reserved for me. No matter who Ezra is: Ezra, Master Ez, or Ez, they all smile at me like that- just me, only me. Just as it should always be.
Muscular thighs part my own as Ezra settles his lower body along mine. I eagerly allow it, I crave what I shouldn’t. But this is not about fear, or right or wrong. This stolen moment is about Ezra and me, us, as it should always be. I allow Ezra to touch me in ways that most men would beat another for stealing, for violating a sacredness of privacy. But between Ezra and me, there are no line worth drawing.
Betrayal, lies, the agonizing torture that Ezra has put me under means so very little when I can smell his musky masculine scent, feel the movement of his chest against mine as he pants from excitement. The sensation of his skin touching my starving flesh has me whimpering in disbelief. It’s been too long. I’ve allowed hurt feeling to warp my love for the man that means the world to me- the man that is my life.
“Make love to me,” I forcefully demand while raising my lower body off of the mattress, trying to grind myself into Ezra. My heels dent the bed, toes curling for leverage. “NOW!”
“With pleasure,” Ezra murmurs with a smile. His tone is part sarcasm, part lust, and a whole heluva lot of amusement. His fingertips skate down my chest, outlining my abs, to my disappointment they veer around my cock. I watch in wonder as Ezra grips his flesh in his fist and pushes into me.
“Ezra,” I scream his name in exquisite torment, ecstasy isn’t a strong enough word. As a word weaver, I don’t have a word in my mental thesaurus to use for the sensation of Ezra joining us as one, as we should be… forever.
“Holy Fuck,” Kitten says with a sharp laugh. “That surely wasn’t a nightmare you were having.”
My eyelids fly open, hating the fleeting dream, despising myself for going there, even in my own mind. My wife stands beside our borrowed bed at Whittenhower Estates, fresh from Restraint and her naughty games with Dexter and Monica. She looks amused as she gazes at the sight I’ve made of myself.
My body is twisted in our sheets, sheets that only cover one of my thighs. Sweat slicks my body, as I pant, still stuck in my imagination. It’s discombobulating, the sensation of being in another time and place. The time was the future or the past, hell if I know which. The place was Ezra and my bed at ShadowHaven, the bed I miss, the bed I’ve shared with the love of my life since I left the cradle.
Tortured, I cry out, hating that my abs and chest are covered in the obvious reaction to my fantasy. I’m covered in my own ejaculate. Rivulets of semen speckle my flesh, covering me in an outrageous amount of proof of what I am, what I refuse to acknowledge. I never cum this much with anyone but him, even in my dreams.
I shade my eyes in humiliation, quickly ripping away the sheet that is twisted around my quivering thigh. I scrub my shame away. If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
“Make love to me,” I beg my wife, but the tone is different than the one from my dreams- distant, pained… desperate. Obvious. Katya’s amusement disappears in an instant. Her vibrant green eyes change, not to lust as I’d hoped. I need her to distract me from the agony. Her eyes change to pain, deeply lancing pain.
“It’s against the rules,” Katya says as an excuse, an excuse as obvious as the reason I asked her to make love to me in the first place.
“You’re my wife. Don’t we make the rules? If you really wanted to touch me, you would,” I easily manipulate, shoving the pain down and employing my charm. “Kitten, I’ll make you purr until I render you speechless.” The desperation is only thinly veiled. I need touch. I need centered. I need comforted and cared for. I need Ezra. And in his place, anyone can substitute. Katya is the substitute Ezra provided me, but she won’t comply. She’s too smart for our game, our ruination. She’s too smart to lie still while the avalanche of torment sent from the fates buries her with the rest of us. Katya is a fighter- a survivor.
“Go to him,” Katya breathes out, and agony is written across her face. “You really have to go to him- forgive him. I heard you. I watched you as you dreamed. Just as I’ve done since we started sharing a bed. You don’t dream of me, you don’t dream of anyone… but him. Get over yourself and fix this.”
“I can’t,” I cry out in shame. The pain tightens my chest, threatening to kill me with the vise-like grip clenching my heart. “You don’t understand,” I whine, and how could she, I can’t tell her the fucking truth.
“You are a selfish piece of shit,” Katya growls at me. “Grow up and fix this! Not for me, not for you, not for Ezra. Because I don’t know what is going to happen to us. Do this for our children!” Katya screams at me.
“It’s not my fault,” I shout back. “Everyone blames me when they should be blaming Ezra!”
“Bullshit,” Katya calmly says over her shoulder a second before she locks herself in the en suite bathroom.
“But it’s not,” I whisper to the Heavens. “If you only knew, you’d stop blaming me.”
Frustrated, pained, and horny, I stalk from the bed and yank on a pair of pajama pants. I can’t sleep. But I could write. With a deep breath, I smile. I can write again. The block is gone, and it’s time to heal with my words.
Whittenhower Estates is a strange, place- ominous. It’s perfect if you wanted to write a gothic novel of pain and misery. You can feel it bleeding from the walls, weeping from the mortar. I catch a flash of black and purple as Faith ghosts down the hall and rounds the corner. Yeah, just that split-second opens the wound in my heart and I start to bleed out. I lean against the wall, holding my chest against the suffocating nature of betrayal.
Another flash of color and my world fractures. I stare at the door with a cheery teddy bear plaque. I want to gouge that reminder of the past from the door with my fingernails, leaving blood and flesh from the splinters. I love Daniel, Whitt, Pretty Boy, whatever name you want to call him. Whitt is like the brother I never had, and I truly love him. Better yet, I like him. But right now, I could take a page from Faith’s playbook. I want to twist Whitt’s nutsack until it pops from his body and shove it up his virgin asshole.
That flash of color was the absence of color- white. The white-blond hair on the top of Ezra’s head as he snuck into the door with the taunting teddy bear plaque. At least Ezra asked this time, it’s not a true betrayal. Hot twenty-something pretty boys who eagerly shout their gaydom are a huge draw for my husband. Whitt is so gorgeous that it hurts to look at him, and then you melt when you hear his voice.
I’ve never wanted Whitt, I’ve never seen him as anything but a brother. But I can see Whitt’s appeal to both sexes. The perfect bastard has always wanted to take what’s mine, and I allowed it because it was a test- a test Ezra failed miserably. I’d be angrier if it weren’t for the fact that it’s caused Ezra to be even. I love Ezra enough to be happy that he is happy- that he is even. Yeah, I’m so jealous I could… tear my flesh from my body while screaming like a lunatic, but my name isn’t Ezra.
I retreat towards my office, surreptitiously wiping the betraying tears that flow from my traitorous eyes. I’m not sad. I’m not crying because Ezra is happy from playing gay-games with Whitt and his exotic boyfriend, Dalton. Ezra must feel like he died and went straight to heaven.
I stare at the floor as I enter my office, not giving a shit if obstacles take my life. It’s too bad that my office wasn’t on a different floor, I’d chance the grand staircase with my eyes shut. It would be a sweet surrender to exit this torture. Some days I feel as if I were the tortured hero written within a dark and twisted novel. Will my creator finally set me free?
“Ah, you look like hell,” Marcus wryly says, a smirk on his taunting lips as he sits at my desk, researching something on my laptop.
I sigh in relief- comfort. Thank you, Lord, comfort. “I’m no longer blocked,” I announce.
Copyright © 2013 Erica Chilson
This is the introduction of the Widower & the Widow. Chapters 1-3 happen a few days prior to Chapter 50 of Good Girl, with Chapter 4 of Widow being Chapter 50 of Good Girl. I hope this sets up the time frame. Good Girl flawlessly slides into Widow, with Malcolm Mason & Clover Webster as Narrators.
I just finished chapter 27, have outlined the rest of the scenes, and foresee Widow’s release the final week of August (depending on the muse, and all outside forces beyond my control)
Here is the introduction to the Widower & the Widow. Enjoy!
“I won’t be home very early tonight, Kieren. Sorry about that,” I exhaustedly mumble to my second oldest son as I gaze around our breakfast table. My eyes light on the empty seat and pain lances deep within my chest.
I’m failing them… my family.
“It’s alright, Dad,” Kieren shrugs off all the responsibilities I put on his shoulders. Since my wife killed herself, Kieren and Devon have been my wife and support system. The pressure combined with the painful memories is why there is an empty seat at our table- my son Devon is spiraling down to beyond rock bottom, and it’s all my fault.
“I have a shit load of paperwork and reports to file. I’d rather be here for you kids, but I have to clear some of this away so that I have some free time once school’s out.” I lamely offer my excuse.
“It’s fine,” Kieren stresses as he begins clearing away the breakfast he made me and his siblings. I stare at my son thinking to myself, NO! No, it is not alright. But I refuse to be like my father. But I am, aren’t I? My father would bring women home to take care of us. I’ve never done that. But my father left me to take care of my baby sister, Isis. Just as I’m doing to Kieren, making him take care of house and home… Weston and Raven.
When Kieren graduated high school, Devon was already at the police academy and I had to work to put a roof over our heads. My son threw away his own happiness to take care of ours. Kieren has a full ride to State on a football scholarship, but he threw it away to be a grease monkey so he could be close to home. It’s why I never let Kieren get away with shit. Most parents would have kissed Kieren’s ass, but not me. I rode Kieren hard, all the while thinking Devon was perfectly fine.
I’m a fucking failure.
“Don’t,” Kieren barks at me as he stacks the cereal bowls. “Get your book bags,” he says to Weston and Raven. “Your lunches are on the kitchen island. Meet me in the truck in five minutes.”
I stare at my hands, waiting for Kieren to light in to me. I deserve it. I sigh, wishing our lives had turned out differently… especially for my eldest sons. Kieren should taking finals for his freshman year at college, worrying about getting piss-roaring drunk and how many chicks he could bag at this weekend’s frat party. Instead, he’s playing happy homemaker, raising my kids, cooking my meals, paying my bills, and working a minimum waged job.
… but then again, Devon should be getting into the car with me to ride to the station, where we would protect and serve our community. But Devon’s marinating at rehab in Arizona.
Failure. Fucking. Failure.
My father was a ruthless, cold bastard that failed Isis. Camille failed us all. I failed us all. Devon failed Kieren, leaving him to take care of Weston and Raven. What a legacy I’ve created.
“Knock it the fuck off,” Kieren hisses, and he never raises his voice at me. Kieren will scoff or make fun of me. But usually he’s gentle, understanding and giving. I raise my eyes to the boy that looks like my father and his mother.
All of my kids are a mix of my family. Devon is the spitting image of his mother, but with my coloring: on the small side, light blue eyes and dark curls. Kieren is built like my father and me, HUGE. But he has his mother’s blond hair. Raven is all Isis. If my sister weren’t still breathing, I’d swear my only daughter was her reincarnation. I’ve never seen anyone as heart-stoppingly beautiful as the women in my family. But it doesn’t make me proud, it terrifies the hell out of me. Weston will look just like Devon when he grows up, but his hair is a shade or two lighter.
“I’m so fucking sorry,” I mumble to the reason I still breathe. Only five people mean anything to me, and I’ve failed them all. I’ve longingly stared at my service pistol, wanting to taste its barrel. But I can’t do to them what Camille did to us all. That dumb cunt even used my service pistol to end her pathetic existence. Every day I get to carry a reminder of how much I’ve ruined my family.
“I said,” Kieren bites out, “to knock it the fuck off. I’m sick of this attitude you walk around with. We were doing good until Devon’s… fuck up. He’s going to be twenty-one. Devon’s a man, and he wouldn’t be in rehab if he took responsibility for his own actions. You walking around blaming yourself is bullshit,” Kieren hisses.
“He’s my son,” I wince when my voice dips down to a whine.
“And he’s my brother,” Kieren counters. “We were supposed to take care of each other, but Devon is a selfish asshole… and that ain’t got a thing to do with you, Dad. Isis, Devon, and I are grown. Rae’s gonna be sixteen and West is closing in on fifteen. All ya gotta do is blink and they will already be out of high school. It’s time for you to move on and get a life.”
“I’m working on it,” I say with a secret smile, and Kieren laughs like a man. That satisfied rumble that only a real man can make. I’ve been waiting for Devon to join our ranks- Augustus and me- but Kieren’s beat him to it.
“I’ll have Rae text Princess to occupy Clover so you can get your loot.” Kieren heartily chuckles. “I’ll see you at lunch. And I don’t give a shit how much work you have to do, be home by seven thirty or I’m sending out a posse. We’re having spaghetti.”
“Alright, I’ll be home by seven. See ya,” I say while clasping my son’s shoulder. I grab my belt on the way by, hooking it into place. I never leave the house without pulling on my Chief Mason persona.
“Be a good girl,” I murmur against my baby girl’s velvety soft forehead.
“I will, Daddy. Not too much is going on at school,” Raven sweetly says, but I trust her as much as I trust Devon. Zilch. An angelic smile from Raven… yeah… lest she forgets who raised Isis. I know all of my daughter’s tricks before she even thinks of them.
“Um-hmm…” I murmur while smiling against Raven’s forehead. I don’t even have to ask, Weston automatically gives me a hug from behind before charging out to Kieren’s truck. Weston is a good boy, I don’t have to remind him to behave. But… I thought Devon was, too. I wasn’t completely blind. I’ve always known Devon’s issues, I just thought he had them in hand. So far so good with Weston and Raven. Rae can be a little bitch and Weston can be devious, but no issues are cropping up from our shared nightmare.
Heart still stinging over the fact that my first born isn’t with me while we ride to work, I hum a tune while I get into my town-issued SUV. But I drive in the opposite direction of the Court House. I have some treats to pick up. I said I’d never be like my dad, and I meant it. My father was a wholly male. Chief John Mason was a fair man, but he was unemotional. He liked to call me a pansy-assed girl because I’m so emotional. But the man did all that he could do to keep us alive, teach us to be good human beings, and be self-reliant. Dad worked hard, and he found harder women to take care of Isis and me. I swore I’d never do that.
… But as I park down the street from Clover Webster’s home, I wonder if I’m doing just that. Not in a million years would I call Clover a whore, like the women Dad brought home to us. But stalking a women seems wrong. But fuck if it isn’t the highlight of my day.
Clover is a good woman. It doesn’t get any more right than when your kids get pissed enough to hook their parents up. The seven kids think it’s a good idea, and I tend to agree. Plus, the woman can cook.
I rub my belly as a smile stretches across my face as I ghost down the street towards my prize. A bouncy ponytail catches my eye, causing me to growl. “Girl,” I hiss. “Gitcha skinny ass right back here!” I run headlong towards the bane of my sons’ existences, and if all goes well, my future stepdaughter, and undoubtedly, my future daughter-in-law.
Willow jogs up to me, box of baked good clutched to her chest. “Seth said Clover was guarding the front window. So I had him distract her while I grabbed the goodies,” the tiny thing breathlessly gasps out. “Here’s your cut.”
I take my two dozen sour cream donuts and scowl the girl down. “Where’s the cherry Danish?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Willow poorly lies.
“Girl, don’t make me spank your ass. I can smell the cream cheese icing…” I sniff the air. “Is that chocolate I smell?”
“Here’s your Danish,” Willow says as she flops a box on top of my donuts. Willow flashes me a brilliant grin, and then takes off at breakneck speeds towards the ancient piece of shit Ford Explorer that she bought from Robin. I momentarily get distracted by the fact that Robin would rip off a relative and that Willow can run like a gazelle.
“Hey, that’s Clover’s seven deadly sins chocolate cake, isn’t it?” I run towards Willow’s car as it idles at the curb.
Willow spills into the driver’s seat, and yells out the window, “Clover was mine first. I’ll always get dibs on her food.”
“You’ll get a fat ass,” I caustically warn, but all Willow does is laugh at me as she drives away with the cake I’d requested my reluctant woman to make. The loneliness suffocates me as Willow drives away.
I am alone, and I’ve fucked it all up.
I am the Widower.
“Did you study for your algebra exam,” I ask Seth for the tenth time. He’s ignored me while texting Willow. I love that they are as thick as thieves… but the little shits are up to something.
I hate how my son doesn’t give me the time a day. I’d ask other moms of teenagers if this is par for the course, but I’m not friends with any. I have no idea if it’s normal or not for your children to act like you were put upon this earth just to feed, clothe, and shelter their entitled asses. They do not see me as a living, breathing person that has feelings that can, and always do, get hurt.
“Uh-huh…” Seth mumbles while his fingers flash lighting quick on his cell phone. I’m not even sure Seth heard me until he replies, “I’ll ace it… I always do.” He rolls his eyes at me like I’ve lost my ever loving mind. My son is obsessed with math and science, so he can’t figure out why I’d worry that he wouldn’t study for algebra. “Why do you keep looking out the window?”
“I’m not,” I poorly deny, and fight my natural instinct to guiltily look away from the front window. My box of baked goods is still there. Two dozen sour cream donuts, a cherry Danish, a layered chocolate cake, and four dozen sugar cookies. My not-so secret admirer sent me two sets of demands last night. I hugely yawn as I think about how late I had to stay up to accommodate the requests. Sometimes… at all times… I wish I had some help.
“Sure you’re not,” Seth grumbles. “Twin,” he shouts. “Kieren will be here any minute. Gitcha ass down here.”
“Don’t be vulgar,” I chastise, and receive another disrespectful eye roll. I try my best to teach my kids not to be heathens, but it’s an uphill battle. My parents are pot-headed tree-huggers that are a foot away from a retirement home if they don’t behave, and Willow swears like a pissed off drunken pirate. Is it too much to ask for them to act civilized?
“Ass,” Seth baits me… Yes, it is most definitely too much to ask. Seth needs a father to kick his ass for the disrespect. The boy is bigger than me now, and he really doesn’t care if he upsets me or not. I’m just the person who gives him whatever he wants.
I’m invisible. Just as Sam wanted it. I can almost feel my dead husband gloating from Hell.
“Heathen,” I grumble, giving a dramatic eye roll of my own. “I can take you to school. It’s on my way to work,” I helpfully offer, wanting a few minutes where my kids can’t get away from me, where they’re forced to talk to me. I’ve yet to figure out why my kids are hanging around the Masons. Hell, why is Violet being polite? It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.
“I’m ready,” Violet happily says, bouncing into the room. Happy is not in my daughter’s vocabulary. Something is up. My self-conscious need for perfection has led Violet to act like a stick is firmly shoved up her ass. A stick she inherited from me.
“It’s just easier, Mom. Ren is already taking Rae and Wes to school. We were on the way,” Seth logically supplies as he grabs for his messenger bag.
Feeling lonely, I’ll try anything for a few extra minutes of my children’s time. “I…”
“You have enough to do, don’t worry about us getting to school,” Violet sweetly says, and my suspicions rise. I narrow my eyes, but something out of the corner of my eye catches my attention, or lack of something. My secret admirer managed to take the huge box of baked goods off of my porch without me noticing. How the hell does he do it?
“Fuck,” I hiss in awe, receiving identical looks of disbelief from Seth and Violet. I never swear out loud, but I swear worse than Willow inside my mind. “Um… nothing. Have a great day at school today,” I brightly say.
“Yeah,” Seth mutters, knowing I’m full of shit. “Later,” is his goodbye, and Violet mumbles the same. It hurts my heart that my children won’t touch me out of affection… ever. I haven’t had a hug in years, just as Sam wanted it.
I watch my children engage the Masons, hugging and giggling as they pile into Kieren’s beat up pickup truck. My twins act like kids around their friends, animatedly chatting and smiling. That hurts more than the lack of hugs. Do my kids think I’m that terrible that they can’t be themselves around me?
I grab my keys and make my way to my parents’ house to begin my daily routine. Wake and feed the kids, call the Spook House and make sure Willow is still breathing, check in on my parents for the same reason and make sure they won’t harm themselves while I’m at work, then I work a ten hour day, only to come home and take care of all the things people have a mate for. I am not a singular person with emotions and needs. I was placed on this earth for the sole reason to take care of my children and parents. I am male and female. I am husband and wife. I am mother and father. I am daughter, sister, and parent. I am a walking banker, maid, chef, handyman, servant, nurse, therapist, and teacher… and I am agonizingly alone.
I am the Widow.
Beware: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ KING *yes, it’s shouty capitals important*
“Forget your key again, sis?” My sister laughs as she lets me into the house. Her tiny mouth is curved in an amused grin, blue eyes sparking with cheer.
“Something like that,” I grumpily mumble, trying to hide my accent. It’s always exhausting to be what I’m not, so it makes me mean and nasty. “Here,” I say, while pulling the Id from my pocket. “You did well on the entrance examine. No Fundamentals of Mathematics for you. I did real good.”
“Sis, you have to try harder,” Fate chastises me. If her voice had held mocking pity I would’ve been even angrier, but she’s just trying to teach me right. “It’s ‘I did really well.’ You start Hillbrook in a few days. You can’t go another year without talking. They will eat you alive, and I won’t be able to protect you. You need to worry about appearances, especially with this scandal.” Her expression pinches when she thinks of what Daddy did to the people of this city. She isn’t sad that he’s in jail, like I am. She’s mad that he made us look bad.
“And here, I thought I was the one always protecting my big sister,” I tease, drawing her away from Daddy’s scandal. Ordinarily it don’t bother me much when she picks on my diction, but Wil’s words hit deep. “You could’ve said thanks,” I grumble- thanks for taking my test, Faith. Thanks for protecting me against the mean-looking boy, Faith. Thanks for living a different life so that momma wouldn’t be mean to me, Faith. Thanks for being the best sister in the world, Faith. But Fate, she is blind to all things Faith-related.
“Thanks,” she bubbly squeaks, not knowing why she’s thanking me. “Hungry?” Fate hops on her heels, her ponytail happily bobbing at the back of her head. She looks and acts my age, but deep inside, I feel older than her. It’s why I have to be the adult when she’s the big sister.
I roll my eyes at her and head towards the kitchen. “You’d die without me. I’ll work on my English if you work on your passive-aggressiveness. Just ask for something if you want it.”
“I’m hungry,” she whines. “Will you feed me, please?” She bats her long, blonde eyelashes and smiles sweetly.
“Worst day of your life so far was when the staff was let go, wasn’t it?” I shake my head in disgust. I fix her a peanut butter and jelly while we chat. Fate isn’t even capable of that.
“It was,” she says, bashfully hiding her face as she sits at the kitchen island.
“Sis, you have to learn how to take care of yourself. Now that you’re broke, you’re going to have to do this stuff yourself. You’re an adult now. Even the state won’t take you in.” I shudder from the thought.
Momma tried to give me to the state when Daddy brought me home. Apparently you don’t bring your dirty little secret home to your wife and expect her to keep it. No one in my parents’ social circles knows that I ain’t momma’s. They compromised. Daddy’s sister, Amelia, took me in, and I only come around when we need to keep up appearances. It would have looked strange if I didn’t go to Hillbrook. I’m starting my sophomore year in a few days. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be home until the night before school started, but Daddy’s arrest trumped everything. Dirty secret’s home and Momma’s pretending we’re a happy family.
“Couldn’t we have something better than pb&j?” Fate complains, smushing her face up in revulsion. She pokes at the bread and peeks between the slices.
“I know your palate is diverse,” I grin at her and she giggles. “How’s that for vocabulary, sis? I ate this for months at a time. You better get used to it. No money, no food.”
“I could go visit Regina, I suppose,” she sighs, a calculating light shines from her eyes- one I loathe. She takes an experimental bite of the sandwich, slowly chews, smiles to herself when she deems it tasty, and then takes a huge bite.
Sometimes I hate my sister. She is the most entitled, self-deluded person I’ve ever met. You can’t help but love her because she is blind to the fact. She ain’t doing it to be mean, she just don’t get it. After the day I’ve had, I feel my temperature rising.
“You shouldn’t use people like that, Fate,” I scold her, when usually I keep my trap shut. “It’s rude.”
“I’m not using her. She’s my best friend. Besides, she gets lonely in that huge house. She isn’t even allowed to eat in the big dining room, can you believe that?”
Blind. Blind. Blind. I repeat this so my hand doesn’t fly out and smack the entitlement from her perfect face.
“Wouldn’t have any idea what that’s like,” I sarcastically say. “No clue. How awful that must be for Regina.”
My daddy doted on me to make up for the life I was born into. He gave me endless attention. He’d spend time with me in West Virginia. He didn’t buy my love, he earned it. I want to resent him for not sticking up for me with Momma, but I can see where he’s coming from. I’d rather live real life with Aunt Amelia than this fake life. Momma and Fate are learning how easy it is to lose money. If you ain’t got a brain in your head, you’ll lie down and die. They’re dying and I’m resuscitating.
When I came home for important events, I was told to keep my mouth shut. Being quiet for Wil will be easy. I’ve went weeks without speaking to anyone but Daddy and Fate. And when my sister makes fun of me, my mouth don’t open for a long while.
I really like Regina. She thinks like me. So I just roll my eyes that Fate is upset that her friend has to eat prime rib in any room except the main dining room. Fate’s too delusional to realize she’s just making excuses to eat fine cuisine. Ironically, Fate failed to see her sister eating in her bedroom. I always ate what the staff ate. Momma had no need for Daddy’s bastard to eat her frilly food.
Only reason I’m roaming free is that Momma won’t leave her room and the staff is gone. Someone needs to do the cooking and cleaning for the blind. I do it because they’re incapable. Making a peanut butter sandwich is as advanced for them as brain surgery is for me.
“I’m going to see Daddy tomorrow. You going with?” I wipe down the kitchen while Fate eats her dinner. I pour her a glass of milk to go with it. I don’t eat. I have my own stuff in my room. Stuff I bought with my own money. I don’t want nothing from Momma, even if it did originate from Daddy.
“Dad doesn’t want to see me,” Fate grumbles while chewing.
“You lie,” I growl. “You’re making excuses. You’re acting just like Momma.”
“That’s because I’m too much like Mom. Dad doesn’t like me like he loves you. You’re his protégée.” She sounds hurt because I’m my daddy’s girl.
“That’s not really a compliment anymore, ya know. It’s like saying I’m destined to become a career criminal. Momma won’t even be in the same room with me. You heard her this morning. She said I was tainted by Daddy and my whore of a mother. She said Aunt Amelia was teaching me to be a con like Daddy. You think I don’t see her looking at me sideways? She thinks I’m up to no good. Like I’m going to steal my own dang silver and pawn it.”
“Mom’s not doing well, you know that. She hasn’t been out of her room for a few days. The problem is that you don’t see what Dad did as wrong. It was, Faith. It was wrong to scam all of those families out of money. He wasn’t being Robin Hood; he was keeping it for himself.”
“You don’t seem to have a problem spending that money, Fate,” I snap. “Your fancy clothes and your fancy schools weren’t free. Those families paid for it.”
“Don’t start this again.” She uses that tone that means I’m being insufferable. It’s the same one her mom uses. I loathe that tone, it sets off my temperature. “I know it bothers you that you grew up differently from me.”
“That’s got nothing to do with this. I don’t want that shit! I don’t care anything about it. I had everything I needed and more. I just want him out of prison, but you and Momma want him there. So yeah, it’s been started now, sister,” I snarl. I fling the dishcloth into the sink, preparing to throw down with my delusional sister.
“It was wrong,” she calmly says. Fate never loses her temper. She just backs down. I used to think it was because she thought she was better than me, now I think she’s too weak to fight back.
“It wrong, huh?” I slap my hand down on the kitchen island to gain her attention, and then I swipe her half-eaten sandwich away. I chuck the sandwich and the plate into the trash. She hungry, she can smear some bread. She thirsty, she can pour her own dang milk. I’m not her servant, I’m her sister, and this house is mine just as much as it is hers or Momma’s. I grab her glass of milk and toss it into the sink. The glass breaks, spraying milk everywhere. I ain’t cleaning it up, either.
“That, sure as shit, didn’t stop Momma from going to spas and taking vacays. You didn’t stop spending money on purses that cost more than Aunt Amelia’s trailer. Daddy may have stolen that money, but he worked hard for it. And you and Momma worked just as hard spending it.”
“There is no sense even talking to you when you get this way,” Fate says, walking away from me.
“Really,” I screech, “Really? You had no problem with me taking your SATs two years ago or your college entrance exams today. That’s was a crime. You making your baby sister a criminal. You making your Daddy a criminal to pay for your elitist bullshit. You just spent it and turned a blind eye to where it came from. And now you have no problem spending the money I worked for.”
“What are we supposed to do, Faith, starve? Our accounts were seized and this house is next. We have weeks, maybe less, until we’re homeless.”
“I don’t expect you to starve, Fate. I expect you to get a damn job or pawn your shit or treat me with some respect. I’m not the hillbilly moron you call me behind my back, and then have the nerve to ask to take your tests.”
“You offered,” Fate lamely replies, no shame in her tone. Her patronizing voice sets me off like a timer on a bomb.
“And you took me up on it,” I scream. I curl my fingers into my palms, curbing the need to pick up the wrought-iron stool Fate was sitting on and smash it into the French doors- anything to get her attention- to impart some dang knowledge in her blank skull.
“I can’t get a job. I have to go to school.” Even heated, she doesn’t raise her voice… and boy, if that don’t make me meaner than cat shit. Her innocent expression ramps up my temper to murderous-violence levels.
“Great. That’s great. I’ve been working for three years, saving for my future. That’s the money you’re spending now. So as you bitch about pb&j, you’re spending a fifteen-year-old’s future. My nineteen-year-old princess of a sister can’t get a job because she has college after she spent an entire year touring Europe and sitting on her ass. Well, no shocker here, but I have to go to HIGH SCHOOL,” I scream bloody murder. “One year ago, I graduated from junior high. You’re the adult!”
“Which is evident by the way you speak, isn’t it?” her haughty attitude dominates her voice. “If you’d go to school, you wouldn’t sound like an idiot.”
I’m stunned speechless at the level of disrespect and blindness. “Wow… just wow… You completely missed the mark on that one, sister. But thanks,” I seethe. “I’m the moron that’s too stupid for school, but smart enough to be used by you. Here, I thought I spoke like this because I was tossed from my home by my momma because she didn’t want me no more. I see this accent as a badge of honor. It means I’m not as ignorant as you. But nope, everyone here thinks it’s from a lack of intelligence. How intelligent are you, with your pretty soft spoken words, sister?”
“You’re upset and using me to vent. I will leave you to it,” Fate calmly says and heads for the front door.
“You need a dose of reality, Fate. Do you really think Daddy and I take care of you and Momma out of love? We do it because you’re weak. It’d be like tossing a dog out in the cold or throwing a baby in a dumpster. I have too much humanity for that. Today, I had to pretend to be you to save you and it goes unthanked. You’re my responsibility now that Daddy can’t take care of you. But you know what, eventually I may cut the dead weight,” I threaten.
“Are you saying you don’t love me?” She whines, her blue eyes glistening with unshed tears. Usually that would have me backing down, but not today.
“Are you saying you love me? Because from where I stand, you only love what I can do for you, same goes for Daddy. He stole, you spent, and you leave him to rot. You and Momma are leeches, sucking us dry.”
“Why are you so nasty? I’ll be at Regina’s,” she cries, heading towards the door.
“Have fun with that. Pretty sure you’ll be leeching off of her next, but maybe she’ll make you work for it. Tell the Whittenhowers I said hi!”
I trudge up to my room, pounding my feet on the stair treads. A lot of good it does me since I only weigh eighty pounds. I don’t make the impact I was hoping for. But it doesn’t matter since I see her leaning on my door and my temperature boils over.
“Don’t get too comfy, Momma. This ain’t your house no more. You always called my mom a whore because she spread her legs for Daddy. Well, what do you call what you do? You’re worthless. You do nothing but bleed Daddy dry and act all uppity about it.”
Momma looks me over for a long while. She looks disgusted that she likes what she sees. Well, I don’t like what I see. I see a dried-up desperate woman. Lara loves plastic surgery. It’s not making her look younger, just funny. I wonder if she’s jealous of Fate and me. Lara with her bleached hair, brown eyes contacted in blue, and her augmented body. Her daughters are what she’s tried to change herself into… and failed.
“Gwen was a blight on the area. Lord knows how many kids that woman has floating around. She sold you back to your father. What kind of mother does that? I haven’t treated you the best, but I never sold you.”
“You woulda if you coulda, though. Ain’t that right, Lara? I ain’t calling you Momma no more. We ain’t kin. You already sold Daddy out to the Feds,” I hiss in disgust.
“You’re all alike.” She deeply sighs, like this conversation is inconveniencing her. “Amelia raised Tom and Tom and Amelia raised you… con-artist, the lot of you. I’d thought Tom had changed, but all he did was get better at it.”
“Like you didn’t know Daddy was a criminal.” I roll my eyes at the absurdity of it. “You love to judge while you turn a blind eye on what you’re doing. You’re worse than he ever thought of being. I want you out of my house. It’s not yours. It’s Daddy’s, so it mine and Fate’s now. We’ll be here until we’re kicked out. I promised I’d take care of Fate, but I never said nothing about you. I don’t care how bad Fate acts, I’ll take care of her. But, you and I, we ain’t blood.”
“Good luck with that,” she evilly purrs, heading towards her room. “You know where to find me.”