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“In the Best Interest of the Child”
In this short excerpt, Lenore Porter is reading a letter from her beloved Aunt Diane who recently passed away.
In every area of your life, you always stood out. You never tried to be the center of attention or sought the limelight, but it found you! It always found you! Your beautiful inner light shone like a beacon drawing people to you. You were never a vain or prideful child, but your dignity and grace were evident long before you reached your adult years. Why are you allowing this man to dim your light?
And you are allowing it, Lennie. I don’t for one minute believe that Ranard controls or dominates you in any way. He’s more like an unruly child acting out and you’re the tolerant, long-suffering parent.
That’s not what marriage is about, Lennie.
I’ve watched you both when you weren’t looking. I’ve never seen him hold your hand, or kiss or caress your cheek. I’ve never heard him compliment you, or say anything positive about you. But I held out hope. You have a reason for everything you do, so I knew there was a reason you married that man. But was it love, Lennie?
As your third anniversary fast approaches, you’ve already been married longer than Conrad and me. But we had so much joy and laughter, Lennie. We were disappointed I didn’t get pregnant before he shipped out, but it didn’t dampen our happiness one bit.
Where is your joy, Lennie? What makes you happy? It has to be more than your children because they will grow up and leave for their own life journeys. I speak from experience even though I wasn’t blessed to be a mother. I shared my sister’s heartache and anxiety when you left.
I also shared my concerns about you with her after our vacation. I was both relieved and saddened to find out she understood and felt the same way. Relieved because I now had someone to talk to about it – I couldn’t talk to you, Lennie. I knew you’d be angry and I didn’t want to lose you – and I was also sad because if Linda saw the same problems, they were real and not the overactive imagination of a nosy old woman.
I’ve always known you would be my heir. I almost told you on a couple of occasions, but I knew you’d insist that I sell everything and donate the money to some organization saving whales, or hamsters, or gophers… or whatever is all the rage at the moment. But no, I want you to have what was mine. It gives me peace to know I can do this one last thing for you and the children.
However, I am not done. I’m sure you’re fit to be tied by now. Clutching this letter with both hands, beads of perspiration forming on your forehead as you think about digging up my body to tell me about my bossy self.
My sweet Lennie Penny.
I hope you are sitting down because if you are angry with me now, by the time you finish this letter, you WILL dig up my body!
Lenore Porter’s life had not gone as she planned.
The marriage she put her heart and soul into failed.
The man she sacrificed so much for abandoned her.
But Lennie refused to be broken. She pushed on, running a successful business and raising her three sons alone.
Through health scares and severe family dysfunction and trauma which forever changed their lives, the Porter family clung to each other to keep from sinking into the darkness.
With her marriage over long ago and her adult sons living their own lives, Lenore Porter decides to sell the cold fortress she worked so hard to make a warm, loving home.
A short, final inspection of her former home turns into a confrontation with ghosts from the past, and decisions and events Lennie felt she’d dealt with and moved on from.
Free, a Novella is a short, clean read recounting one woman’s determination to not be broken by life or lose her identity.
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When the Writing Cooperative announced their 52 Week Writing Challenge in January 2017, I thought long and hard about entering. I wasn’t fond of writing challenges and had problems sticking with some which were only ten to fourteen days.
But a year? Me?
I threw caution to the wind and signed up and figured any amount of time in the challenge would be good practice and help me work out a writing regimen I could stick with.
I sailed through the first three months.
I mentally reprimanded myself for fearing something which was too easy for words.
And then April happened. Hello Reality check!
Between my husband’s hospitalization for a serious infection related to his ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) and me, getting hit with the mother of all Fibromyalgia flare-ups, I was done.
I had two submissions saved in Scrivener and decided after posting them, I was out of the challenge. I’d missed editing and publishing deadlines for my debut novel’s book two, no way could I also be stressed over a writing challenge.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Writers can be a quirky bunch, and whether we’re burning the midnight oil editing or rising before dawn to flesh out characters and plots, we make our families (and close friends) aware of our projects and schedules.
So, they’ll understand missed appointments, preoccupations with fictional characters, or if dinner is late… or pizza… again.
But we also keep family and friends in the loop because they’re our first level of support… and our biggest cheerleaders.
Time passed, and I submitted the two completed pieces to the challenge with no plans to continue.
My family had other ideas.
Our three adult children took turns passing through and staying for a night or two with me until their dad was discharged.
(Told you guys I needed a supervisor!)
When the mister was finally discharged, I was ready to sleep for a week.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The oldest blindsided me with, “Is your weekly writing challenge done?”
I was floored. This is the guy who thinks I write Victorian romances starring Fabio! God’s honest truth… I kid you not! Other than a couple of early story outlines, he’s never read a word I’ve written and probably never will. So, when he called me out, what else could I do but write?
That was the week I wrote Dumped, based on a true encounter I had with a homeless man when I was six months pregnant with HRH, the firstborn!
I won’t say it was easy, but I never considered quitting again after that.
And it paid off… even if the timing wasn’t the best.
Just hours after we lost my mother-in-law on January 12th, I received a congratulatory email naming me the winner of the 2017 52-Week Writing Challenge.
I was shocked, excited, and grateful… still am. But Life and family had to come first.
We’ve fallen back into our routines again, and it’s time to go to work.
My prize is a publishing package from the great folks at Standout Books, so I need to give them something to publish.
Wish me luck.
In The Best Interest of the Child spans nearly thirty years in the life of Olivia ‘Livvie’ Chandler.
As a ten-year-old, Olivia has the perfect little girl’s life: a school she loves, good friends, a nice home, a talented mom, and a successful father she adores. Tragedy rips all of this away from her, and plunges Olivia into the foster care system, where for eight years she is neglected, humiliated, abused, and nearly raped.
Fate smiles on Olivia shortly before she ages out of the system, allowing her the means to attend college and law school. Determined to put her past behind her, Olivia Chandler forges ahead, burying her trauma in the deep recesses of her mind.
It will not stay there.
Years later, Olivia is a successful child advocate attorney, giving a voice to children who are so easily ignored by those claiming to act in their best interest. She has little time for personal relationships, and her lifelong fear of abandonment reminds her never to get too close to anyone.
The successful attorney stumbles though, when she’s assigned a case by the court that too closely mirrors her own haunted childhood. Olivia never gives her minor clients less than her all, and the only way she can help her eleven-year-old client is to face down and acknowledge her demons. This same case also brings a man into her life who sees her for who she truly is, and will not allow Olivia to push him away.
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Leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, Lennie stared across the empty living room. The day Duncan ran from her had been one of her most painful. He had always been a high-spirited child. More prone to wander, break a rule, or lead his younger brothers astray. However, he’d never done anything that warranted more than a time-out. Duncan had never been cruel to anyone or deliberately put anyone in harm’s way. Had someone told Lennie the argument in the high school parking lot with her son would take place, she would have thought them crazy.
But it did happen.
Insistent on not entering counseling, Duncan had run from Lennie. The anger building inside her at his disrespectful tone dissipated immediately at her last glimpse of his eyes.
The memory of it all in her son’s face made Lennie even more determined to get him to a therapist. She would not allow this to scar his life… not if she could help. Ranard had received no help for the verbally abusive childhood he had because of his father. Lennie knew his failure as a husband and father were directly related to his relationship with his father.
Duncan deserved a better life.
The memory played on rewind in Lennie’s mind.
Sitting in her Chevy Tahoe, still taking glances in the direction Duncan had gone. She wanted him to come back… but knew he wouldn’t. The despair Lennie knew he felt would now be enhanced by the shame of his behavior with her.
Consumed with the situation with her eldest son, Lenore Porter drove home. Pulling her vehicle into the garage, she exited and went through the garage’s rear entrance to her back door… and found Duncan sitting in the old swing near the Sugar Maple tree.
He shook his head slowly without meeting her gaze.
“I’m sorry, mom.”
“I’m glad you’re safe, sweetheart.”
“I shouldn’t have run away like that.”
“You were feeling overwhelmed. Looks like you still are.”
“I’m not crazy, mama… I’m not.”
Lennie’s chest tightened. He had not called her that since second grade. Sitting her bag at the bag door, Lennie walked over and took the swing next to Duncan.
They both silently rocked for a few minutes.
“Most people who go to counseling aren’t mentally ill, Dunc. Life just has a way of dumping too much on us at once,” she touched his hand, “the drowning feeling you mentioned? That’s where it comes from. It happens to us all at some point during our lives.”
“Have you ever felt like you were drowning, mom?”
“Not drowning so much as helpless.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, don’t take this as clinical or anything, but I knew the problem, and I knew the cause. I just couldn’t fix it.”
“Dad.” It was a statement, not a question.
Lennie’s smile was bittersweet. “Yes.”
“He hasn’t been very nice to you, mom.” Taking a deep breath, Duncan continued. “But you never gave up. You’ve always been… mom.”
“Darlin, the obstacle doesn’t exist that could separate me from my Porter Patrol. Good days or bad, you and your brothers always got the best of me, and you always will. I couldn’t give you the stereotyped version of a good family life, but I tried to make sure you have a good life. I don’t think we’ve done too badly. This is a bump in the road, and-”
“Can you make me another appointment with the shrink?”
Duncan laughed at the smirk on her face.
“Okay, okay. Counselor, therapist… whatever. I still don’t want to go, but I’ve let you down enough.” He stared at his feet.
Lennie didn’t speak again until he looked at her.
“You have never let me down. You’re sixteen years old and going through a bad time because of the actions of adults. You haven’t done anything wrong. But this is something you have to want. You cannot do it for me, baby. You don’t have to want to go to counseling… you have to want to get better and be your old self again.”
“So, you’ll make the appointment?”
“We haven’t missed today’s appointment yet.”
“I was picking you up from school early… to give us time to talk before the appointment.”
Lennie looked at her watch.
“We’ll just make it. Run in and wash up and change your shirt. I’ll wait right here.”
Nodding, the teen stood and headed for the back door, but turned, walked back and kissed his mother’s forehead. Still silent, Duncan entered the house.
The smile on Lenore’s face faded as Duncan walked away. Her son was angry… and afraid.
The past had scarred them all.
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“You have two weddings coming up? Wow.”
He gestured holding up a finger. “Yes, but I only have to pay for one of them. Farren, Pat’s fiancé, is the daughter of two attorneys. I’m sure their wedding will be glorious.”
“Two attorneys? What’s Farren’s last name?”
“Her parents are Collins and Catherine Foster?”
Pat and Bruce both nodded.
Olivia’s eyes widened. “That wedding will be more than glorious. It will make Hollywood A-listers jealous. The Fosters are the go-to investment attorneys in this part of the state. They have a waiting list… and they’re not cheap.”
“You know them, Olivia?” Bruce asked.
“Very well. I was a client a few years back.”
Bruce sat back in his chair, his mouth hanging open. His children all stared at Olivia with surprised expressions too.
“What’s wrong, Bellamy?”
“A successful law practice, that amazing house, and you’re a client of high-powered financial attorneys.” He leaned forward and smirked. “Who are you, Olivia Chandler?”
She grinned. “I’m merely a humble attorney who’s smart about managing her money.”
Bruce cast a doubtful look at her. “So you say.”
Before Bruce Bellamy could continue, Breck spoke up. “What made you decide to become an attorney, Olivia?”
Bruce’s jaw tightened, but Olivia smiled, regarding Breck warmly.
“My father was an attorney. Estate Planning and Management.”
Casey Bellamy frowned. “Really? What made you choose child advocacy instead of following in your dad’s footsteps?”
Bruce started, but Olivia reached out her hand in his direction. “It’s okay.” Clasping her hands together, Olivia regarded each of the young faces.
“When I was ten-years-old, my family was involved a very bad car accident.”
Pat returned to his seat and Shaun made no move to leave.
“M-my father was killed instantly. My mom and I suffered serious injuries. She was in a coma twice. We’d been taken to different hospitals, and I didn’t know how she was…or get to s-see her…”
Bruce had to stop her.
“It’s okay, Bruce. I’m okay.”
Casey looked from Olivia to her father, the term of endearment not lost on her.
Olivia took a deep breath to settle herself before continuing.
“When I was well enough to be discharged, my mother was still in a coma. We had no other family, so I was put into temporary foster care.”
Casey’s gasp was the only sound in the room. Pat glanced at his father, while Shaun slid down in his seat and Breck stared down at the table surface, his features marred by anguish.
“I can tell by your reactions, you know a little something about foster care. It’s not a death sentence, but it’s no walk in the park either. But I did get to go home a few months later. My mom was weak but her physical injuries were healing.” Olivia stared at her clasped hands. “Her mind was another story.”
“What happened, Olivia?” Casey question was soft and whisper-like.
“I didn’t understand it at the time, but my mother was losing touch with reality… a day at a time. Not to mention, her mental issues were hindering her full recovery from the injuries she suffered. Her doctors decided she needed care she couldn’t get at home and admitted her to a private mental facility.”
“And you went back to foster care.” It was a statement, not a question uttered by the youngest Bellamy.
“But you went to college… and law school. You’re successful, right? Your mom got well and came back, right?”
Olivia Chandler’s jaws tightened for a fraction of a second before she raised her head and answered Casey.
“No. My mother is still in that facility.”
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am at Breck. We don’t get to see him so animated often.”
Casey passed a dessert dish to Olivia as they prepared plates in the kitchen.
“I don’t understand, Casey. What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve seen how no one in this family has trouble speaking up. Except for my baby brother. He’s the shy one. The Introvert.”
Olivia smiled. “But he doesn’t miss much, does he?”
“Not a thing. Shaun thinks when Breck is quiet he’s writing screenplays in his head… about us.”
“I know, right? My family on the big screen? It would be slapstick for sure.”
Shaking her head and laughing, Olivia grabbed the serving tray and stacked three plates on it. When she turned for more, Casey wasn’t dishing up more plates. She was staring at Olivia.
“Is something wrong, Casey?”
“It’s because of you. You know that, right? Breck being comfortable enough with you to open up?”
“Oh, honey. I’m flattered, but I’ve only been here for an afternoon. Maybe Breck is just happy to have his family together.”
“I don’t think so, Olivia. We’re a busy lot, but we’re together at some point at least once a week. Breck is always quiet. It’s you.”
Olivia opened her mouth to respond, but Casey continued.
“You work with children, right? You’re a child-advocate attorney?”
“And the children you work with… they never have difficulty talking to you… opening up to you, do they?”
“Well, no, but-…”
“I didn’t think so. I’m sure you’ve had your share of worst-case scenarios, but for the most part, children can sense you’re genuine. Not trying to scam or trick them. I believe Breck senses that too.”
“Children deserve to hear the truth, no matter how painful. Lies only build mistrust or worse… cause children to blame themselves.” Olivia turned away and squeezed her eyes shut, blocking out a memory.
Casey reached out, touching Olivia’s arm.
“Where did you go, Olivia? You okay?”
Returning her gaze to Casey, Olivia smiled. “I am. Thank you for-”
Olivia’s words faded as both women looked towards the kitchen door.
“Des-sert! Des-sert! Des-sert!”
Casey Bellamy giggled at Olivia’s wide-eyed expression then quickly filled the remaining plates.
“Seriously, Casey? Chanting? Are they in the dining room or cell-block D?”
Chuckling, Casey loaded the plates onto the tray and backed toward the door. Olivia lifted the tray and followed her.
“You should be honored, Olivia. They’re on their best behavior.” She pushed the door open for Olivia and stood to the side. “At least there hasn’t been a food fight.”
Olivia froze mid-step, a horrified look on her face.
Casey laughed harder.
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