Usually I wait until the monthly recap to include an excerpt, but I was too excited to wait.
Why am I excited?
Because my website and blog just reached 11,000 views… and the year is only halfway done!
Guys, I am seriously blown away. A big thank you for everyone’s support!
So in honor of this celebration, I decided to release a the new first chapter of my second novel, 700 Main. Enjoy!
Time goes by in the blink of an eye. That’s what they tell you.
Time is precious, time is fluid. Time can slip through your fingers, so pay attention.
Don’t blink or you just might miss it.
But I can safely tell you that no matter how many times I’d blinked, it had been the longest year of my life. And God, I wish I’d missed it.
The courtroom was abuzz, but it just sounded like white noise in the back of my mind. Like the threat of a headache, looming, worsening as the day goes on.
My palms were sweaty, my mouth dry – an interesting paradox. But I hardly noticed, my eyes trained on the door in the back corner where Nick would walk in at any minute.
A cloudy whisper came from beside me, permeating the hazy fog of background noise: the whoosh of the air conditioner, the rustle of papers, the creak of wooden benches and the coughs and sniffs from the reporters at the back of the room.
“Don’t panic,” Dani said again as I focused on her voice.
That was easy for her to say. I don’t think my lawyer had ever been anything but calm and professional.
I was a different story.
Sitting alone at the front of the courtroom just exacerbated my nerves. No friends, no family, the only support I had was a lawyer who I’d paid to be on my side. Desperation clawed at my throat, and I reached up to straighten my collar before it choked me. Any minute now.
I’d been Nick’s wife for six years, the mother of his child for four. But that identity was gone – as surely as his freedom – when I saw him led into the courtroom in handcuffs.
His dark hair was longer than usual, his frame smaller. His skin looked greasy, stark proof of his fall from grace. I couldn’t remember him ever even having a pimple.
He didn’t look at me. I was grateful for that.
When the judge entered, the room rustled as everyone stood. He was what I’d call a “man’s man” in that I could imagine him and his buddies playing poker, smoking cigars, watching football. The same man who would pinch a woman’s butt as she walked by or demand a home-cooked dinner on the table every night at promptly six o’clock.
We’d gotten unlucky when he’d been assigned to my case.
“We’re here today,” he began, “to decide upon the felony assault charges brought against Nick Foster by his wife, Brie. Are both parties present?”
Both attorneys responded on our behalf, but I found myself nodding along as well.
The judge continued. “In the eight years I’ve been a judge, I’ve sentenced about ninety defendants. On occasion, I have gone above the recommended sentence, and on other occasions, I have gone below. But the facts of each case vary greatly, and I am required by law to take all relevant factors into consideration and to impose a sentence that is sufficient, but not greater than necessary.”
Dani reached out and squeezed my hand. Was she preparing me for the best? Or bracing me for the worst?
“That being said.” He paused to clear his throat. “Considering Mr. Foster’s great contributions to the Nashville community as captain of police, his crystal clear record, and the plaintiff’s – Mrs. Foster’s – refusal to testify against him, I have thus reduced his sentence from felony assault to misdemeanor.”
My mouth fell open, and Dani tightened her grip on my hand. So it was the worst case scenario after all.
“I find Nick Foster guilty of misdemeanor assault and sentence him to confinement in the Davidson County Jail for a period of eleven months and twenty-nine days.”
The media in the back of the room went wild, their cameras flashing and popping like popcorn in hot oil. I found myself standing, leaning over the wooden railing and holding on until my knuckles turned white. I had to see his face.
He was smiling, and the acid in my stomach boiled. He waved one shackled hand at the reporters, causing another wild round of noise and light. He allowed the bailiffs to guide him back to the door and waited until the last second to turn toward me.
It was one of those moments that lasted forever no matter how many times I blinked. Every moment of our relationship – the initial golden years, his joy when I told him I was pregnant, the first time he hit me, the dangerous decline – rushed through my mind, and I knew he was seeing the same through the tenuous link I still felt. But then he tore his eyes away in a harsh moment, and I gasped at the break in connection. Nick’s charisma returned in an instant like a mask, and he closed one eye in a wink before he exited the courtroom.
He’d winked at me… It was a promise. This wasn’t over.
Dani touched my arm, applying pressure in the direction of the small room she had reserved for us throughout the trial. It was a room I’d hoped to never see again. It’s windowless, wood-paneled walls held too many memories, too many tears, too many angry confessions and too much guilt.
But here we were again. This still wasn’t over.
Dani was all business, her hand-holding from before had vanished in a fleeting instant of compassion. I appreciated both sides of her, but this was the one I needed now.
“Eleven months,” I whispered, placing both hands on the cracked leather arms of the chair to steady myself as I sat. “Just eleven months. And given the time he’s already served, it could be even sooner than that…”
Dani’s fists were clenched in anger, but her voice was soothing. “We knew this might happen. When you decided not to testify…”
My head shot up. “You know I couldn’t.”
Standing on that witness stand had been the crux of my life up to that point, the singularly most important moment of my life. But when I’d opened my mouth, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t stand as Nick watched with quiet rage from the crowd, couldn’t risk my words being manipulated again or the delicate position in which we stood in the eyes of his adoring public. So I’d just stayed quiet, and we’d lost because of it. Because of me.
Dani sighed in what seemed like equal parts sympathy and disappointment at my failure. “I know. It’s still jail-time though, Brie. He’ll be removed from the police force, they’ll take away his right to possess firearms, he’ll have a criminal record. His life is over.”
“No,” I replied, watching my hands shake in my lap. “It’s not enough.”
She nodded resolutely and opened her notebook to begin jotting down notes. “We’ll put a strong restraining order in place for when he’s released. Finalize the divorce and make sure his custody rights are terminated. He won’t be able to come near you or your daughter again.”
Maisy, I thought, closing my eyes. She’d be at recess now, and I pictured her playing, pigtails flying behind her and her pale skin and blue eyes sparkling in the sunshine. He’d always said she was a like porcelain doll I’d had designed to look just like me. He’d resented that. That she seemed more mine than his.
But she was a million times better than I ever was. Her hair redder, her smile kinder, her heart stronger. The perfect picture of innocence. And he’d shattered it.
“It won’t be enough,” I said again. “It will never be enough to stop him.”
Dani pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “I know this wasn’t the outcome we wanted. As captain of police, the community holds him in too high of esteem for any true punishment to be enacted. And ultimately the judge needs to satisfy the public in order to be reelected.”
I pressed my nails into the fleshy skin of my palms, concentrating on the half-moons they formed. She was saying nothing I didn’t already know.
“But this is a chance for you, Brie,” she continued. “A chance for you to start over.”
I shook my head. “Start over? In eleven months? That judge gave me a death sentence, not a second chance. And what about Maisy? You know he will come after her.”
Dani stayed silent, and for a moment, I thought I had stumped her. But then she stood. She walked over and knelt in front of me, grasping my hands in both of hers and meeting my eyes.
“Then get out of here,” she said. “Take Maisy and run. There’s nothing here for you now. Start over. You can do it, I know you can. Take your daugher and run.”
Our eyes met. Mine may have been filled with anxiety, fear, anger, but the strength in hers tempted me into considering the possibility. The thought of a new and untainted life… But I shook my head again.
“I don’t want to uproot Maisy. She’s already been through so much.”
Dani smiled softly and rose to her feet. “I understand,” she said. “But you’ve got one hell of a battle in front of you. I wish you nothing but luck.”
She snuck me out of the courthouse through a back entrance where none of the media lay in wait. I hurried into my car and drove for what seemed like hours, lost in thought. But when the clock struck 2:30, I aimed for the one thing left in my life: my daughter.
The carpool line was long, so I parked and made my way up the gravel drive to her school. It was packed with cars, parents and nannies, eagerly waiting for their children to walk through the school’s double doors. Heritage Elementary was technically a public school, but it may have well been private for its status in the community, booster club and Lexus’ in the carpool line.
News of Nick’s sentencing must’ve spread fast. I’d thought we would at least be back in the comfort of our own home when it hit.
But as I stood there alone, it was clear I’d been wrong. Gone were the throngs of other mothers, the chatting, the playdate planning. I was ostracized.
“I am surprised she had the nerve to show her face here today,” one woman fake-whispered a few feet from me. “Captain of the police, President of the PTA, soccer coach… Men that like just don’t beat their wives.”
I clenched my jaw and caged my tongue behind my teeth as her husband nodded his head. “Women who want half of their husband’s family trust will claim anything these days. She was a gold-digger from the beginning. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen her at pickup. Not to mention any other school activity. But Nick was always there.”
“Because he locked me in the house!” I wanted to scream, biting the inside of my cheek to restrain myself until I tasted the tang of blood. When the bruises were too difficult to hide, I’d been forced to lurk in the shadows. But they wouldn’t believe me, I thought, walking a safe distance away to the other side of the lot. It was clear they’d already made up their minds about me, and just like the punches Nick had thrown before the PTA election he’d won, nothing I could say would stop them.
Class by class, students began to file out in a single line, and when Maisy followed her teacher through the doors, I knew instantly that something was wrong. Her shoulders were hunched, her tiny brow furrowed.
“Maisy, what’s wrong?” I asked, kneeling to her level while tipping her chin so her eyes met mine. “What happened?”
Her bottom lip stuck out, but she bit it back into place.
“Is Daddy going to jail?” she asked.
I closed my eyes in defeat. Had the teachers been talking again? I knew they’d been having problems with her. Maisy hadn’t been coping well since Nick’s arrest, but that didn’t excuse them sharing any information they’d seen on the television during their lunch break.
“Where did you hear that?”
“They said you put him there.” she accused, her breath wobbling as she spoke. “That you were a liar and made him bad.”
I gripped her arms more tightly than I should’ve. “Who? Who told you that?”
Maisy pointed a trembling finger toward a young boy standing nearby. His arms were wrapped around his mother’s legs, but she ignored him, too preoccupied with the circle of gossiping women around her. They had matching blonde bobs and slim capri pants, and one was handing out birthday invitations to several children as they passed. From the hurt look on her face as she watched, I knew Maisy hadn’t received one.
I grabbed Maisy’s hand and half-dragged her to the car.
“Stop,” she yelled as I strode through the parking lot. “Let go of me!”
I ignored her, lifting her by the waist into the booster seat and clipping her in.
“Stay in the car,” I ordered while she pouted and crossed her tiny arms over her chest. After walking around the car to turn on the air conditioning, I shut the door and locked it for good measure. I didn’t want her following me.
I stalked back up to the school, each step heavy with anticipation and insecurity, threatening to drag me back to the safety of the car. But whispered barbs toward me were one thing. If they were extending to Maisy…
“Excuse me,” I said when I reached the mother she’d pointed to. I tapped on her shoulder so their exclusive circle would be broken. “Excuse me!”
They turned slowly and all at once, looking down at me like I was a gnat buzzing in their ears rather than a person deserving of their time and respect. It stoked my already boiling temper.
“Can we help you?” one woman said, and I recognized her instantly, blood rushing to my face. From the PTA meetings, the birthday parties, the school lunches. The playdate where I’d confessed Nick’s abuse and watched Tracy Blackett turn a blind eye. Her son was in Maisy’s class as well.
“I want to know what you said to my daughter,” I replied, gritting my teeth as I spoke.
She smirked. “I’ve told her nothing.”
“And your children?” I asked. “What have they repeated on your behalf?”
The women interchanged a look. “I’d really prefer not to discuss such vile matters,” Tracy said, lowering her voice to a secretive whisper.
“You had no problem discussing it before. When you ratted me out to my husband,” I replied, keeping my voice loud enough for everyone in earshot to overhear. “Might as well continue now.”
She sighed. “We’re just distraught that such a wonderful man was placed in this terrible position. It was simply the wrong place at the wrong time. So unfortunate.”
The stress of the day must’ve finally caught up to me because I began to laugh. Not a small giggle or a charming chuckle, but a deep laugh that had me bending over at the waist to catch my breath. I drew the looks of the other men, women, and children around me, but I didn’t care. I hadn’t laughed in ages, and God, it felt good.
“A wonderful man?” I asked through the laughter.
Women always took to Nick. It was that charismatic smile, the way he gave them all his attention. He’d attended every school function, every fundraiser, every parent-teacher conference, mothers and teachers swooning in his wake. And I was stuck, his antisocial and removed wife who stayed quietly and invisibly by his side.
“You weren’t there though, were you?” I asked, my laughter fading and voice shaking. “The night after you called to divulge his errant wife’s lies… Were you there when he threw his badge at me? Were you there when he pushed me down the stairs? Were you there when he kicked me in the head and broke my jaw?”
The women paled, and I thought I saw one shudder. Good.
“What about the next day when he decided I’d had enough and went after her too?” I pointed to the car where my daughter sat, safe at last. At least for the moment.
It was everything I couldn’t bring myself to say during Nick’s trial. But in his absence and in Maisy’s defense, I found the words easier.
I stepped closer until my face came within inches of the other mother’s. “I promise, if you or your son ever speak to my daughter again… I will do much worse to you.”
Tracy hardly breathed. The other mothers in the group had stepped away from her, pushing their children behind their legs to shield them from my ugliness.
I turned my back on them like they’d done to me so many times before and slowly made my way back to the car. My hands were shaking, and my legs felt like jello as they pounded against the unforgiving asphalt. My outburst had exhausted me, and I felt the energy leave my body in a rush. My cheeks flushed with the leftover remnants of anger and the new beginnings of embarrassment. I shouldn’t have said anything. It was just going to make it harder on Maisy.
I hurried away desperate for the relative safety of the car. I swung the door open and gripped the steering wheel tightly, forcing myself to breathe in and out.
“So is it true?” Maisy’s voice said from the backseat. “Daddy’s in jail?”
I took one more deep breath, turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the parking spot. “Can we talk about it later please?” I replied. “Let’s just get you home first. What do you want for dinner tonight?”
She pondered, and I glanced up into the rearview mirror to see a look of intense thought on her beautiful face. “Daddy’s Mac-N-Cheese.”
I forced my eyes to stay focused on the road even as they filled with tears. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Back at home, Maisy didn’t bring her father up again, and neither did I. Between the sentencing and the unseemly tantrum I’d thrown at school, I couldn’t bring myself to relive anything further.
So we focused on something I could control, and after Maisy’s nighttime ritual of dinner, bath, and story reading, I found myself wandering into the kitchen where pictures hung on the refrigerator door and assaulted me with memories. But only the good ones… The dangerous times were hidden beneath them, undercurrents of every touch, look or word.
Glancing around the kitchen, I came across detail after detail noting its neglect, its sadness while I’d been preoccupied with the trial: brown-speckled bananas dying on the granite countertops, a banged up wooden block holding now-dull knives, cereal floating in almost-expired milk from breakfast that morning.
I used to do breakfast so differently, I thought. I’d always been an early riser, and the first still-sleepy steps into the kitchen where the official start of my day. Freshly brewed coffee in hand, I’d used that sacred time before anyone else was awake to recall my days at cooking school, crafting bourbon and maple glazed bacon, lemon blueberry pancakes and the perfect poached egg.
But since the early days of my marriage when I’d given up my career as a chef and retired to the full-time job of housewife, I’d avoided the kitchen with guilt. Yes, I’d cooked for Nick and Maisy every night. I’d pulled off extravagant meals for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it was never the same. Not like the freedom I’d once felt in the experience. The unequivocal feeling of being just me, splattered in flour and elbow deep in batter…
On impulse, I flung open the refrigerator door, pictures fluttering to the ground, and pulled a carton of strawberries and a block of cream cheese from the shelf. I made quick work of the berries, coring them with a paring knife and setting aside as I whipped together the cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar. I didn’t bother trying to stay neat, I just whisked, letting the sugar float and fall around me like sweet snowflakes. I stuffed the cheesecake filling in each strawberry, licked my fingers and crumbled the last of Maisy’s graham crackers to sift over the top.
It was nothing fancy or gourmet or even inventive. But it was the first thing I’d done for myself in months.
As a last-second addition, I pulled the cork out of a bottle of red wine, poured myself a glass and brought it and my makeshift dessert to settle onto the couch. It was eerily quiet, nothing but the sound of my slow chewing and swallowing.
This was the part I hadn’t yet gotten used to. Before I’d decided to blow up my marriage, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been alone. Maybe that had been part of the problem, Nick’s everthere presence in my life. My kitchen had ceased to be my safe space, my life had ceased to be mine. I knew this was better. But when I looked to the indentation on the couch cushion where he usually sat – letting Maisy choose the movie, initiating the silliest of popcorn fights, and holding my hand under the blanket – my heart still ached with the loneliness.
I slid his old laptop – mine now, I supposed – into my lap, powered it on, and opened one of my favorite home auctions sites. Nick used to tease me when I fantasized of buying an old house to turn into a restaurant. He’d mock me for being a dreamer. I was, but was that really so bad?
I scanned through the houses for something that caught my eye, as I always did. That kitchen was too small, that required too much work. The bones needed to be in place, and I needed to feel that… spark.
You can start over, said Dani’s voice in my head, and I withdrew my fingers from the keyboard. Not in Nashville, I couldn’t. Not with the other policemen, the nasty mothers hanging over my head like an axe. Not with him locked up only minutes from our home, sending weekly letters to my daughter from jail.
Here, we were haunted by his presence, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
I brought the mouse up to hover over the auction site’s drop down menu of states. Texas may have been the closest in name to Tennessee but hundreds of miles away in distance.
And listed there was a historic home. Two stories – perfect for a main dining room downstairs and a private room up. I could grow my own herbs and vegetables in the overgrown garden out back. There were even a few extra rooms upstairs. A storeroom and two small bedrooms for myself and Maisy.
But I slammed the laptop shut. I didn’t want to run. The challenge of being a single parent with an angry and confused child was already too much change. Texas was too far, too different.
I poured myself a second glass of wine. That was one of the laundry list of things he hadn’t allowed, drinking on a weeknight. Well, not for me. Two or three whiskey’s was just as much as a ritual for him as Maisy begging me for a second story at bedtime. But as I swallowed a mouthful of wine – the silky texture sliding down my throat and warmth filling my belly – I looked back down at the computer screen, a different kind of thirst beckoning me.
Maybe far and different was exactly what we needed.