Rena Averest – In The Best Interest of the Child – Character Profile


Olivia Chandler’s latest client is eleven-year-old Rena Averest.

Rena and her parents were involved in a weather-related, multi-car accident. Her mother was killed and her father was severely injured and comatose for several weeks and remains hospitalized indefinitely.

Rena suffered extensive injuries and was also hospitalized for several weeks. When she was well enough to be discharged, the hospital ran into major obstacles. Her mother’s only living relative was an older brother who lived two thousand miles away. Suffering from chronic cystic fibrosis, he was unable to care for Rena and had in fact, even missed his sister’s funeral. Rena has grandparents, and two aunts on her father’s side of the family…and they want absolutely nothing to do with her.

A benevolent judge, taking into account all that Rena is currently dealing with, allows her to be placed temporarily with Courtney and Marissa Bellamy, friends of her parents since college, and Rena’s godparents. Not knowing how her father’s medical situation will resolve itself, the judge feels Rena needs the stability and familiarity of the Bellamy home. The Department of Children’s Services disagrees and take legal action to remove Rena from the Bellamy home and place her in foster care. The presiding judge spurred on by the irony of DCS wanting to remove Rena Averest from a non-relative home only to place her in a non-relative home, stays the case and appoints a child advocate attorney to research the case and protect Rena’s interest.

And that’s exactly what Olivia intends to do.

Rena Irene Averest

Age: 11

DOB: May 6, 2003

Parents: Duncan and Irene (Deceased) Averest

Siblings: None

Favorite color: Yellow

Favorite music: Todrick Hall and all songs Disney-related

Favorite Book: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Pets: A turtle named Brutus

BFF: Margie Macy

Wants to be a surgical nurse when she grows up

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Margot Schultz – In The Best Interest of the Child – Character Profile


Dynamic and vivacious Margot Schultz never met an obstacle she couldn’t overcome… or knock down. Executive assistant/office manager to Olivia Chandler, Margot always seems to know the right amount of charm, wit, and panache to use when dealing with anyone from grumpy judges to cagey Department of Children’s Service employees to Olivia’s peers – some of whom are less-than-ethical.

Early in her career, Margot worked for some of the less than-ethical-crowd. While they could be gods and magicians in the courtroom, pulling out wins from seemingly unwinnable cases, outside the courtroom was another matter. Margot could remember each and every personal errand she’d had to do, each gift she’d had to buy for multiple girlfriends and mistresses, and every lie she’d told to one of her bosses’ wives.

When Margot heard through the courthouse grapevine that the executive secretary of a successful young, female child advocate attorney was retiring for health reasons and had no replacement, she grabbed her resume, took an extended lunch and went in search of Olivia Chandler. Despite her unusual approach, Margot and Olivia clicked immediately.

The two women have worked side by side for ten years. Olivia admired Margot’s work ethic. She encouraged Margot to continue her education when time allowed, and even paid for it, calling it a ‘sound investment.’ Margot would eventually advance from executive legal secretary to executive assistant and office manager.

Margot knows Olivia has no family and was a foster care kid. She doesn’t know the intimate details, but she does know Olivia’s adolescence was bad enough for Olivia to keep herself closed off to most people. Her boss seems to ‘live’ when focused and working on a case for their minor clients. The rest of the time, Olivia just seems to exist.

The divorced office manager is not one of those people who believe a woman needs a man in her life to be complete, but Bruce Bellamy has suddenly appeared in Olivia’s life, and Margot will do her part to keep him there.

Things are going to get interesting.


Margot Rose (Parker) Schultz

Age: She’s not telling – but probably mid to late 40s

Born: New York, New York

Marital Status: Divorced – has adult twin sons who are both Marines

Is two classes away from a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management

Loves to dance and can be found on a dance floor most Saturday nights

Collects souvenirs from the Roaring 20s – always says she would have made a great Flapper

Plays acoustic guitar, but rarely does as it reminds her of her musician ex-husband

Is somewhat estranged from her parents and siblings since she dropped out of college nearly 30 years ago to elope with her now ex-husband

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Martin ‘Marty’ Knight – In The Best Interest of the Child – Character Profile


After their initial visit to the hospital where Rena has daily physical therapy, she and Olivia meet hospital volunteer, Martin ‘Marty’ Knight as they leave. Marty is concerned about the sadness in Rena’s eyes and tries to cheer her up as he helps her into the car. He is shocked to find out that Rena’s injuries and the death of her mother were caused by the same weather-related, multi-vehicle accident that claimed the life of his best friend, Victor Roddy.

During Marty and Rena’s conversation, Olivia finds herself staring at the man, convinced they have met before. She just cannot remember where. Marty also cast several glances in Olivia’s direction trying to figure out why she looks so familiar. His memory fails him.

As the story unfolds, Marty Knight will not only become a good friend and ‘grandfather’ to Rena, he will play a pivotal role in Olivia Chandler sorting out her past…and navigating her future.

  • Martin Eugene Knight
  • Age: 71
  • Retiree, Veteran, and Hospital Volunteer
  • DOB: October 31, 1943
  • Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Marital Status: Widower. Wife, Sarah, passed away three years ago after a difficult battle with liver cancer.
  • Sarah died two weeks after their 50th wedding anniversary.
  • Has five children and eleven grandchildren.
  • A veteran of the Vietnam War. Entered the war near its beginning and served four years.
  • Received a Purple Heart and Medal Honor.
  • Enjoys building miniatures, fly fishing, and watching westerns.
  • Carries a keychain with a picture of his wife on one side, and a picture of his dog on the other. His dog passed away two months after his wife, at the age of 16. Sarah named the dog Dwight because she was convinced he looked like Dwight D Eisenhower.

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©2016 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

Courtney and Marissa Bellamy – In The Best Interest of the Child – Character Profile


As best friends to Duncan Averest and his late wife, Irene, Courtney and Marissa Bellamy knew they would stand by Duncan. Whatever it took to help him through the loss of his wife and the serious injuries sustained by him and daughter, Rena, the Bellamys would do. And, as Rena’s godparents, of course she would live with them until her father was well enough to take care of her. They took their vows as godparents very seriously. But someone is trying to stop them. Someone is trying to keep them away from Duncan and make sure Rena gets sent into the foster care system.

Court-appointed child advocate attorney Olivia Chandler is the answer to their prayers. They’re moved by her genuineness and promise to “do right by Rena.” There is an immediate bond between the attorney and her young client, and Marissa cannot help but wonder if it has more to do with the flashes of sadness she sees in Olivia’s eyes than with simple job commitment.

The instant interest in Olivia by his cousin, Bruce, hasn’t been lost on Courtney. Abandoned by his ex-wife when their children were mere toddlers, Bruce hasn’t shown little more than a passing, casual interest in any woman since. Olivia will be spending quite a bit of time with the Bellamy family in the near future, and Courtney thinks it’s just enough time to do a bit of matchmaking. And, where you find Courtney…you find Marissa.

Let the games begin!

Courtney Ardan and Marissa Anne (Monroe) Bellamy

Met in Botany 101 during their freshman year of college

Married November 30, 1996

Two sons – Bishop, 18 and Brian, 16

Courtney works in IT/Computer Systems for the local school district, Marissa is head of Library Sciences for Hennepin County Public Libraries

Courtney (Caucasian) and Marissa (African-American) are an Interracial couple who haven’t suffered much of the disdain shown to interracial couples by some of society due to their steadfast commitment to each other and the love and total support of their families.

Bruce Bellamy – In The Best Interest of the Child – Character Profile


A former amateur race car driver, and current owner of a successful chain of auto repair shops, Bruce Bellamy is a cousin to Rena Averest’s current caregivers. He and Olivia meet for the first time when she gives Rena a ride home from physical therapy, and he is there trying to diagnose the problem with his cousin’s car.

Bruce is instantly smitten with the attorney. Her voluptuous body pulls him right in, but it’s the guarded sadness in her eyes that propels him to get to know her. She has a beautiful smile, and he thinks she should use it more often.

The easy going business owner has been alone for nearly two decades, when his ex-wife walked away from him and their four children in search of a more affluent lifestyle. Her callous, mercenary heart caused him to close his off, and he’s not been in a relationship since, nor had any involvement with women worth mentioning, choosing instead to concentrate on raising his children and making his business successful. So when Olivia gets his attention, the entire Bellamy clan takes notice, and proceeds to help him win her over.

Having spent her adult life avoiding romantic entanglements, Olivia knows she’s walking a tight rope by allowing Bruce to get too close. Rena’s case has brought Olivia’s childhood back to the forefront of her mind, making her believe she has nothing to offer Bruce.

He seems to think otherwise.

Bruce Ambrose Bellamy
Age: 42
DOB: June 28, 1972
Place of Birth: Duluth, Minnesota
Has four (adult) children
Owns a chain of successful auto repair shops
Loves ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘Married with Children’ reruns
Has a BA and MA in Business earned while attending night, and online classes
Hates golfs and considers it pointless
Loves football and is a diehard Minnesota Vikings Fan

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Fiction with a Touch of Truth and a Lot of Love

Free, a Novella full cover

When I began writing Free, a Novella in early spring of 2016, it was supposed to be a 3-4 installment short story with Lenore Porter remembering the breakdown of her marriage as she finalizes the sale of her home.

Honestly, it was writing practice.

I was working on my debut novel, In the Best Interest of the Child and kept stalling out and hitting walls. So, Free was supposed to be a little pseudo-flash fiction to keep me writing.

I posted the second installment and had already began the ending of Lenore’s story, when on April 8, 2016, my mister went into renal failure. His kidneys could not be saved and everything changed from that day forward… the addition of hemodialysis, his employment status, his diet, his daily medication regimen… and my stress level.

As I sat in hospital rooms, dialysis units, and doctor’s offices over the next few weeks, Lenore Porter’s story changed too. Best Interest was still my focus, but Lenore would not be ignored.

I continued to post installments of varying lengths on my author page, but the once-a-week postings died a quick death. I moved the release date of Best Interest twice and attempted to push Lenore’s story to the back burner.

The mister’s fistula implant was a problem from the beginning, making dialysis difficult. By the time we’d made all the rounds for MRIs, ultrasounds and vascular procedures and found some semblance of normalcy, it was Halloween. Best Interest was published and I was exhausted. And… Lennie Porter was standing in the corner giving me the duckface.

I didn’t have much of a current word count for Free, but what I did have was sixty-one pages of notes!

As I organized and typed up the notes, the story continued to change.

It was clear by the time I had a working MS, oldest son Duncan Porter would need counseling to get past his issues with his absent father to avoid lasting emotional trauma.

As a character-driven writer, I generally sketch out characters before adding them to any story.

That wasn’t necessary this time.

While Free, a Novella is a work of fiction, the characters of psychologist James Richie and his wife/receptionist, Alice, are not fictional characters.

James ‘Pas’ Richie was my mentor, father-confessor, co-conspirator in epic pranks, and at one time, my boss. He and Alice were like family and can be seen as often in my family photo albums as my mother.

Pas Mom and Alice

James ‘Pas’ Richie on the left, Alice Richie on the right, and my mom, Helen, in the center. It’s obvious by his expression that Pas was quite a character.

In Free, Pas, is a retired minister with a successful practice in clinical psychology specializing in treating men and boys.

In real life, Pas was a minister for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. However, he didn’t receive the call to the ministry until well after his fiftieth birthday and put aside his career and degree in chemistry to enter the seminary.

It wasn’t long after Pas received his appointment to a Battle Creek church the community considered him “the city’s pastor.” (This was about the same time I gave him the nickname ‘Pas.’)

You didn’t have to attend his church… or any church… for Pas to lend a helping hand. Many who regularly attended other churches would find their way to his office when needing to talk.

And he would listen.

I don’t know if Pas solved any of their problems.

But I do know they left with a smile and a, “Thank you, pastor.”

He’d always respond with a hug and his trademark, “Peace & Blessings!”

Like Lenore Porter’s parents, Burt and Linda Kelimore, Pas and Alice were together over fifty years.

And the banter was epic!

In addition to his pastoral duties, Pas was the executive director of a local community outreach ministry, and Alice was a regular volunteer.

The days when Alice came in were the best days!

Staff would all suddenly find reasons to be near Pas’ office for another episode of what I dubbed “The Pas and Alice Show!”

Their banter was amazing, rocket fast… and hilarious.

Of course, Alice always won, but Pas wasn’t about let her have the last word and would always end with something like, “You’re adorable! I’m taking you to lunch!”

Over the years, through trials and tribulations in both our families, the Richie banter was an anchor for us all—as long as we could still laugh, everything would be okay–and their marriage was the model for couples newly married or married for decades.

After almost ten years, life broke up our small family circle, taking us in different directions, but the Richies and I stayed in regular—my children would say constant—contact.

Plans were put in motion for them to visit Arizona after Pas retired, which he did in January 2015. After a short search, Pas and Alice relocated to a small town in central Georgia which put them close to their three children and grandchildren.

Pas became ill while he and Alice were getting settled with what was first believed to be an upper respiratory infection.

It wasn’t.

The next year would see Pas hospitalized… and in a coma for several months.

But being the incredible man he was, James Richie came out of the coma, moved to a rehab center and learned to walk and talk again. He was discharged and went home to regain his driving privileges. He even went back to swimming three times a week.

Pas and Alice

Even a coma couldn’t keep Pas down for long.

Pas and Alice took a vacation to visit their children, and attended several social events, including one held by my family in Georgia.

I was encouraged. Alice said he still had a long road ahead of him to regain his strength, but they would get to Arizona.

Things in Arizona weren’t going as well.

Dialysis was still difficult for the mister and his blood pressure stayed at stroke levels despite several daily medications.

Alice called one evening and knew by my tone of voice something was wrong. We talked quite a while. I ended the call with a promise to call her in a couple of days after the mister saw a vascular surgeon.

Of course, she told Pas.

He called early the next morning.

Though the mass found at the base of his throat was benign, he still wasn’t strong enough for surgery to remove it. And it caused other problems. His voice was raw raspy and it hurt me to hear him speak. I tried to rush him off the phone. But Pas wasn’t having it.

He called to pray with me and the mister… and he did.

It was the last time I talked to him. Ten days later, he was gone… June 14, 2016.

Loss is a part of life and we all experience it. I’d already lost my father and a brother, but when Alice called me with the news, something inside me broke.

Suffice it to say, I managed to keep it together enough to take care of the mister, but I lost the fight with depression and spiraled for over three months.

This is why the release date for Best Interest was delayed… twice.

This is also why (and how) Pas and Alice became part of Free.

It took another four months to complete Free. Not because it’s long, in-depth or complicated. It was simply very emotional.

And it was cathartic.

I didn’t tell my family I’d added a bit of real life to Free until it was completed, and I still didn’t allow them to read it. I published it on May 30th and immediately began the formatting for print.

I received the proofs a week later. I signed a copy, stuck a note inside and sent it to Alice Richie.

I hadn’t told her what I’d done either. I was a little nervous with it being the first anniversary of Pas’ passing, but pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to concentrate on writing.

I was caught off guard a couple of weeks later when I answered my phone without looking at the caller ID… something I never do.

It was Alice…laughing… and crying, and screaming, “Girl, you nailed us!”

I laughed with her, and did some crying of my own when she said, “Richie would love it. And he would be so proud of you.”

It wasn’t an instant cure-all, but for the first time in a year, thinking of my dear friend didn’t cause me pain. Alice’s words were the best review I’ll ever receive for Free… and that’s enough for me.

Pas and Fle

Memorial Day Weekend 2012 at the Richie home in Cassopolis, Michigan. It was our last time together. I moved to Arizona two weeks later.

So, if by chance you read Free, just remember James and Alice Richie aren’t fictional characters and their dialogue isn’t scripted or contrived. Their words were real, spoken in another time when life was a little easier and less burdensome.

Peace & Blessings.

This was one of Pas’ favorite songs.

Disclaimer: I have no copyrights to the song and/or video and/or hyperlinks to songs and/or videos directly above. No copyright infringement intended.

The Journey of “Free, a Novella” by Felicia Denise

Lennie's letter

It’s been a year since we first met Lenore Porter.

We’ve read her words, watched her struggles, and felt her pain.

As Lennie attempts to make peace with the past, she questions her own motivations, and her own heart, determined to give her three sons the best life possible. She’s sure didn’t always make the best decisions, but she made them for the right reasons.

Today’s installment is short, but it’s an insight into a side of Lennie not yet explored during this online journey – Lennie, the woman.

While it is short, it is not the end. Tomorrow, Friday, May 12th, the cover for “Free, a Novella” will be revealed. Free is coming to an ereader near you soon!

To Be Continued


Free, a Novella

by Felicia Denise

Part X

The two women worked together in silence on opposite sides of the large kitchen island. Linda Kelimore stirred the peach filling, tasting and adding more sugar, while Lennie readied the dough pockets for the fried pies.

“I’m pretty sure that dough is sorry.”

Lennie paused from punching and rolling the dough and frowned.

“Huh? What?” She looked down at the pastry circles on the floured counter. “Sorry for what?”

“For whatever reason, you’re abusing it like that!” Linda smirked. “We’ve made fried pies together dozens of times, and I can’t remember you ever punching the dough down so many times. “

Lennie’s face heated hearing her mother’s words. Laying the rolling pin aside, she wiped her hands and grabbed a bottled water from the fridge. After several sips, she looked pointedly at her mother.

“Is it normal for married couples to not have sex?”

Linda continued stirring the large pan of fruit but regarded her daughter with an understanding smile.

“Yes, it is.”

Eyes widening, Lennie sat the bottle of water on the counter and leaned toward Linda Kelimore.

“Are you messing with me, Mom? How is it normal?”

Covering the pot with a lid, Linda removed it from the stove top burner and set it aside to cool.

“Marriage is between two people, honey. Two flawed, imperfect people who make mistakes, forget special dates, and can sometimes be incredible pains-in-the-ass.” Linda chuckled at her own comment. “So much goes on in life’s day-to-day routine, of course, there will times when sex isn’t even a consideration.”

Lennie’s expression blanched, her eyes wide in disbelief. “I guess… I… never really thought about it that way.”

“Of course, you didn’t. You’re a young woman. A newlywed chasing the happily-ever-after.” Her eyes flared to match the wicked grin on her face. “You’re still living in the days of your husband rushing in from work, ripping your clothes off, and taking you right in the middle of the living room floor.”

Horrified, Lennie backed away from the counter, holding her hands up in front of her. “Enough, mom! This just got awkward!”

Linda popped from around the island counter, dancing toward her daughter. “How is this awkward, sweetie? We’re just two old married ladies discussing life!” Wiggling her eyebrows, the older woman gracefully slid from side to side, dropped into a squat and bounced back up, perfectly executing the Cabbage Patch.

Brushing off her mother’s previous statement, Lennie grinned. “Wow, mom! Didn’t know you could still move like that! You got some moves!”

Still dancing to the music in her head, Linda twirled gleefully, melting away the years. “Thank you, sweetie! You know your dad and I always loved to dance. That man really has the moves on… and off the dance floor.”

Screaming, Lenore Porter clamped her hands over her ears. “Mom! TMI! TMI! This conversation is over!” She watched her mother dance in her direction and Lennie turned and fled from the kitchen in a very quick waddle.

Laughing to herself, eyes still on the door her pregnant daughter just hurried through, Linda plopped down on a counter bar stool. She was proud of her performance. She succeeded in taking Lennie’s mind off her troubles… if only for a little while.

Linda wasn’t a fan of Ranard Porter. If she were being honest, she didn’t like him and felt he was not the man her daughter needed. But it wasn’t her call. Lennie chose and married him. In a few weeks, the young couple would be new parents. No matter what her personal feelings were, Linda would never do anything to hurt her oldest child.

And Ranard had better not either.


Catch up of Free using the links below!

(Links open in new window.)

Part I    Part II    Part III

Part IV    Part V    Part VI

Part VII    Part VIII    Part IX

©Felicia Denise, 2016, 2017

“Free, A Novella Part IX”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part IX

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. Confusion. Pain. And fear. Lennie had seen it all in her son’s face and was 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 failures as a husband and father were directly related to his relationship with his father.

Duncan deserved a better life.

The memory seemed to be on rewind in Lennie’s mind. Sitting in her Chevy Tahoe, still taking glances in the direction Duncan had taken. 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.

Still thinking about the situation with her eldest son, Lenore Porter absently 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 an old swing. 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 looked at his feet.

“Duncan? 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 must 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 suddenly. He walked back and kissed his mother’s forehead, and still silent, headed into the house.

Smiling as he kissed her, Lenore’s smile faded instantly as Duncan walked away. Her son was angry…and afraid. The past had scarred them all.



With ten minutes to spare, the Porters entered the restored Victorian home bearing the address of James Richie’s therapy practice. Neither of them knew what to expect, but Lennie watched Duncan visibly relax as they walked through the reception area. The muted earth tones and overstuffed furniture gave the office a homey feel. A low counter ran the length of the room, and an older, African-American woman sat behind it, finishing a phone call. Turning to greet them with a warm smile, Lennie was momentarily taken aback.

Auntie Di.

The resemblance to her deceased aunt was incredible. Diane Clayton had worn her dark brown/gray hair in a simple flip for most of Lennie’s life. This woman wore her salt and pepper hair a short, natural style. Other than the hair, the two women would have been twins.

“You must be Duncan Porter.”

He smiled, ducking his head. “Yes, ma’am.”

Lenore stifled a laugh at the shy guy her big kid had suddenly become.

“Nice to meet you, Duncan. I’m Alice.” She turned to Lennie. “And you have to be Mrs. Porter.”

“Yes, but call me Lennie, please. Nice to meet you, Alice.”

Handing Lennie a clipboard of documents, Alice lowered her voice. “I have the new client packet all ready for you, and take your time with it. Do not rush. You’re on time for your appointment, but my husband never is.”

Duncan laughed aloud. “You’re Dr. Richie’s wife?”

“Young man, do not call him ‘Dr. Richie’. He’s already impossible to live with. If you call him that, he’s going to want me to call him that…and that’s not going to happen.”

Lennie laughed with her son this time.

“But, yes. We’ve been married for nearly forty-five years. Forty-five…long…years.”

“What should I call him?”

“Well, some of the clients call him Dr. James, and some Dr. Jim. The older clients simply call him James. But he’s a retired pastor, and most of his clients just call him ‘Pas’.”

“Pas. I like that.” Still nodding to himself, Duncan joined his mother who was already seated completing the paperwork.

Fighting the urge to look at her son, Lennie could still tell he was not the same boy she’d found in their backyard. If his wife was this good at putting patients at ease, Lennie was cautiously optimistic at what James Richie could do for Duncan.



New client packet completed, Lennie and Duncan sat quietly discussing ideas for dinner, when a door on the far side of the room opened.

A teenage boy a couple of years younger than Duncan appeared first. His thick dark hair was just long enough in the back to curl towards his collar, but in the front long dark curls nearly covered his eyes.

But you couldn’t miss the smile on his face.

A couple followed him, older than Lennie, and they also seemed quite pleased.

The last figure through the door was an extremely tall and bald African-American man. He moved easily through the reception area, calling out to the boy.

“Remember what I told you, Jonah. Bring that report card with you next time. And Jonah? Help your uncle with the yard work, okay?”

Jonah was standing at the counter, having already retrieved a card from Alice for his next appointment.

“I will, Pas. I promised Uncle Todd I’d do the whole front yard on my own. And oh man, you are gonna love my report card! Who knew all this time I was a genius!”

The couple with Jonah laughed. The man, who must have been Uncle Todd, reached for the woman’s hand. “C’mon, Nina. I’m in the mood for Mexican food, and I’ll bet I can eat more tacos than this scrawny kid.”

“Tacos? Yeah!” Jonah rushed towards the door, and it was then he noticed Duncan for the first time.

“Hey. I’ve never seen you here before. You new?”

Duncan nodded. “Yeah. First time here.”

Tilting his head towards the counselor, Jonah held Duncan’s gaze. “He’s a good guy. If he can help me, he can help anyone.” The teen’s eyes momentarily became dark and reflected a pain no one his age should know. “I was pretty messed up.” Rebounding just as quickly, Jonah grinned. “But now I’m going to show my uncle who the real taco king is!”

Jonah bounded toward the door his uncle was holding open and froze. Turning to Duncan, he added, “And if he cons you into bringing him candy, make sure it’s sugar-free. He’s diabetic.”

“I’ll thank you to leave now and stop telling my business!”

Everyone in the office laughed as the family left. Everyone except Alice Richie.

“Don’t give me that look, Alice.”

“You’ve been eating candy. As I look back, the spikes in your blood sugar all make sense now. Always at the end of the day…after seeing certain clients.

“You heard Jonah. It was sugar-free…mostly.” James Richie pointed his finger at his wife in mock consternation. “This is all your fault!”

Alice smirked, looking over the tops of her glasses at the Porters. “Here we go.”

Strutting around the desk where Alice was sitting, the counselor preened. “I was a strapping, young, handsome lad-”

“You were never a lad.”

“Don’t interrupt my story. As I was saying. I was a strapping, young, handsome LAD,” he glared at his wife emphasizing the last word, “when I met this pretty little flower.”

Alice struck a pose, batting her eyelashes. Lennie and her son had stopped trying to cover their mouths and stifle their laughter.

“She was super smart with a kind, compassionate heart. And, had no problem putting me in my place.”

“Someone had to…might as well be me.”

“See how she is? I knew I’d found the love of my life…I just had to convince her of that.” He gestured in Alice’s direction. “And as you can see, I did.”

His wife smiled lovingly at James, shaking her head at his antics.

“While we were dating, I found out Alice was diabetic. I didn’t know much about diabetes at the time. Especially that it was contagious!”

Lennie frowned. “What? I know very little about the disease, but my background is in nutrition and food sci-”

“Oh yes, it’s true. After we were married, guess who became diabetic?” The retired pastor’s dancing eyebrows made Duncan laugh aloud.

“And you ‘caught’ it from your wife?” Lennie smirked, not hiding her skepticism.

“I wasn’t diabetic before we were married, and now I am. You do the math.”

Duncan scrubbed his hand down his face next to his mother who was shaking her head.

Alice Richie shrugged. “What did I tell you? Forty-five…long…years.”

Glaring at his wife while taking the file she was holding out to him, James walked over to the Porters, bowing.

“By now you know I’m James Richie. Please do not let anything you’ve witnessed concern you. I’m good at my job…and my wife is a bully.”

“A bully who will be eating dinner alone at this rate.”

“See how she treats me?” He motioned toward his office. “I’d better get you away from her. She’s cutting back on coffee this week and it’s starting to wear on her.”

A laughing Duncan Porter heads towards the office, but Lennie remains seated. James frowns.

“Aren’t you coming, Mrs. Porter?”

“But…this appointment is for my son. I don’t want to…intrude.”

“Mom?” Rolling his eyes dramatically, Duncan walks back to her and reaches out his hand.

“Perfectly understandable, Mrs. Porter-”

“It’s Lennie. Or Lenore.”

“Okay…Lennie, it is. Should he decide to continue to work with me, sessions will be between Duncan and myself. But I like to use the first visit…and sometimes the second one to get to know clients and their families. So, please…join us.”

Trying to shake her own fears and anxiety, Lennie accepted her son’s still outstretched hand and walked with him into the office, suddenly not sure who needed help more – Duncan or her.


Part VIII     Part X


©Felicia Denise, 2016, 2017

“Free, A Novella Part VIII”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise


Slowly making her way down the hall, Lennie suddenly was exhausted. Her memories had not only overwhelmed her but reliving them in this house…alone, as she was trying to break from her past consumed her energy.

Glancing into the small sitting room as she walked past, Lennie shook her head thinking of the hundreds of Christmas and birthday gifts this room had stored over the years. She stopped abruptly and looked back at the sitting room door. A sense of nostalgia washed over Lennie and brought something to mind she rarely had – a good memory of Ranard. A small grin graced her face as she reflected on their first Christmas in this house. A frustrated Ranard Porter had already injured himself several times attempting to assemble a tyke bike for little Duncan.

After putting the boys to bed, Lennie, armed with hot cocoa and snacks, joined Ranard. Handing him his cup, Lennie grabbed hers and sat beside him on the floor.

“You know you’re over-complicating this, right?”

Shaking his head vigorously, Ranard disagreed. “Not possible. I didn’t create this nightmare. Who uses seven different types of screws for a toddler bike? This is insane!”

“I’ll swap with you.” She took the instructions from him and handed him the snack tray.

Lennie’s eyes widened as she looked over the paper. “Wow. There are a lot of screws, aren’t there?”

Munching on a turkey wrap, Ranard simply nodded.

Looking over the top of the paper, Lennie noticed the jumbled pile of hardware. “And you dumped them all into one big pile, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t know a Master’s Degree in physics was required to put together a child’s toy, Lenore.”

Covering her mouth with her hand, Lennie tried to hide her smirk…and failed. “Finish your snack. Then we’ll start at square one…again.”

Ranard reached for a handful of sugared almonds while his wife sorted the screws into seven piles. They both sat back and chatted quietly, enjoying the childless silence. After draining their cups, they approached their task as a team.

Less than an hour later, a shiny, red tyke bike sat between them. The floor was empty – with no leftover screws.

“I almost ruined Christmas, but my wife saved the day. If this gets out, I’ll lose my man-card for sure!”

Giggling, Lennie reached out and caressed his cheek. You were not going to ruin Christmas and I did not save the day.  It just took a little more patience.” She glanced at the bike. “And there were a lot of screws!”

Taking her hand from his cheek, Ranard held it in both of his, then kissed it. “And you’re always so patient with me.”

“Only because I love you.”


But her love had not been enough, and Lennie’s patience had run out.

Lennie had stopped mourning the end of her marriage long ago…if she ever truly had.

Her heels clicked against the marble tiles. Approaching the living room from the west side, she had traversed nearly the entire first floor. Looking at her watch, Lennie was shocked to see she’d been in the house for over three hours. So much for the “ten-minute walk through” she promised the realtor she would do before leaving town.

Taking a seat on one of the steps leading down into the living room, Lenore Porter buried her face in her hands. She’d had a good life here. She’d made mistakes…the wrong choices, but wasn’t that part of life? Although there had been several intense situations, they were nothing she didn’t rebound from, right? There were no serious and lasting repercussions, right?

A mirthless chuckle escaped her lips.

Yeah, right, Lenore. Keep fooling yourself.

Her marriage had been a train wreck. Her ex-husband had turned against them, and their son had tried to kill his own father.

Not exactly G-rated stuff.

Lennie and Ranard made bad choices and their sons paid the price, losing their family. When she tried to fix her mistake, Ranard’s bad choices almost cost him his life…and their son’s life. Lennie’s fix for that situation led her down yet another rocky path.

Duncan seemed to return to his old self after Lennie filed her divorce papers. Noise and chaos once again ruled the Porter household. But when the district marking period ended and Lennie received the boys’ report cards, her heart sunk. Every one of Duncan’s grades had fallen, and comments like “Incomplete projects”, “Assignments not turned in”, and “No class participation” accompanied every subject.

Lenore Porter became angry. She was angry with herself for not following through and missing any signs that Duncan was not okay. She was angry with the school for not contacting her as Duncan’s grade fell. Six teachers. SIX TEACHERS, and not one had sent an email or picked up a phone.

But Lennie was not angry with her son. Despite his size and demeanor, Duncan Porter was still a child. He was still dependent on adults for leadership. He was still dependent on adults for guidance or solutions to problems. She was his mother, and he was still dependent on her. And Lennie felt she had let him down. Duncan was holding in painful emotions he should never have had to deal with. If his grades were so negatively impacted without her sensing anything was wrong, what else had she missed?

After a quick call to Bea, her staff team manager, Lennie rushed out her front door, walking the short block to her destination.

Doug Henry was a psychiatrist who specialized in mental health issues in men. Though he usually consulted with veterans’ and first responder support groups, He did take on the occasional private patient and worked from home. His four children were close in age to Lennie’s boys leading them to work on many school projects and sporting events together over the years.

Anxiously ringing the doorbell, Lennie tried to steady herself.

Kay Henry opened the door wearing a warm, welcoming smile. One look at Lenore Porter, though, and her smile faded. Kay grabbed her neighbor’s arm and quickly pulled her inside.

“What’s wrong?”

Lennie opened her mouth to respond, but froze. How much should she tell her friends? Should she tell them about Ranard showing up after Duncan’s birthday party? The fight? Duncan’s depression? Deciding to tell them only about the divorce for now, Lennie opened her mouth to speak, but could only utter one word. “Duncan.”

Without taking her eyes on Lennie, Kay Henry took a couple of steps backward and called out to her husband.

“Doug! Lennie’s here…something’s wrong! Doug!”

Only second later, Doug Henry rushed into the foyer. “I heard you the first time, honey. What’s all the yelling for and wha-” He stopped mid-sentence seeing a troubled Lennie Porter fidgeting near his front door.

“Lennie, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Near tears, Lennie could still only utter one word. “Duncan.” Shrugging slightly, her arms fell limply at her sides.

With a quick nod to his wife, Doug slowly approached Lennie, gently taking her by the arm. “C’mon, Lennie. Let’s go to my office.

Without a word, Lenore Porter allowed the psychiatrist to lead her down the short hallway to his office. Just as he seated her on an overstuffed love seat, Kay came through the office door with a tray of coffee. Setting the tray on the coffee table in front of Lennie, Kay turned to leave when Lennie spoke.

“Please…stay.” She glanced at Doug. “Can she stay? I’d like a mother’s input on this.”

“Of course, she can, Lennie.” Before Doug could go any further, Kay Henry was already seated next to Lennie, pouring her a cup of coffee.

“You like it sweet, right Lennie?”

“Yes. Thank you for remembering, Kay.” Lennie accepted the coffee mug with both hands. Holding the mug close to her face, she didn’t sip from it, but instead simply stared into its dark, steamy depths.

Doug allowed a few minutes of silence to pass before pulling his neighbor out of her reverie.

“What’s going on with you, Lennie?”

Lennie didn’t take her eyes from the mug as she spoke.

“A few weeks ago, Ranard showed up unannounced. We had a horrible, ugly argument. So ugly, in fact, I called my attorney the next morning to start the proceedings to change our legal separation…to a divorce.”

A barely audible gasp escaped from Kay’s lips.

Lennie regarded her kindly. “It’s all right, Kay. Removing Ranard from our lives was the best thing for us. I should have done it long ago. I thought by having a legal separation, the boys would still have an opportunity to build a positive relationship with their father…without the stigma of divorce. I was wrong.” She turned to Doug. “The argument affected us all, but I think I got off the easiest because I had already closed that chapter of my life. If we had no children, I would have divorced him from the start.

But the boys…they each dealt with it in their own way. Myron was angry and RJ was fearful. After a few days…as the argument slipped into the past, those two seemed to settle down and move past it. But not Duncan. He was so intense and full of rage, guilt…and I think a bit of self-loathing…he couldn’t even look his brothers or me in the face.”

“Lennie, wait.” Doug sat his mug on the table. “Rage is understandable, but why would Duncan feel guilt…and self-loathing? Did something else happen?”

Sitting her own cup on the coffee table, Lenore scrubbed her hands, then folded them in her lap. “The argument was between Ranard and me…but it was…physical between him and the boys.”

“Son of a bitch!” Doug leapt to his feet, his face hard-set in anger. “The bastard walks awa-”

“Honey!” The pleading look in Kay’s eyes and slight head tilt in Lennie’s direction caused the psychiatrist’s face to redden.

“I-I am so sorry, Lennie. It’s just…just…”. Defeated, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m sorry, Lennie. That was unprofess-”

“I didn’t come here just because you’re a psychiatrist, Doug, but also a friend – someone I trust. You have nothing to apologize for. I was angry too.” Taking a deep breath, Lennie continued.

“Ranard and I argued…and Myron and Duncan were right there. Things were getting heated when RJ appeared. It was all upsetting to him, naturally, so I took him back to his room. When I…came back…Myron was sitting on the floor…motionless…watching Duncan…watching Duncan…”

“It’s okay, Lennie.” Kay patted her arm lightly.

Tears fell from her eyes as she looked first at Kay, then Doug. “Duncan had his father in a…chokehold.”

Husband and wife stared at each other…their expressions incredulous.

“I tried everything I could to get Duncan to release his father…but he was just too strong. I screamed at him, pleaded with him…but in the end, it was RJ-”

“RJ? But I thought you took-”

“I did take him to his room, but he heard my screams and came back. I’m grateful he did. His screaming out his brother’s name was the only thing that saved Ranard’s life that night.”

Kay rose and grabbed a box of tissues from the bookshelf. She held the box out to Lennie, then took a couple for herself. Still standing, Doug leaned against his desk.

“Do you know what happened after you left the room?”

Lenore shook her head. “I didn’t at first. But after releasing his father, Duncan ran to RJ. That’s when I turned and took a good look at Myron. His lip was split and an eye was swelling. Wasn’t hard to figure out Duncan was defending his brother.”

Doug Henry absently shook his head, swearing under his breath.  “I’d like to choke him myself.”

“Doug!” Kay Henry stopped wiping her eyes to glare at her husband. “You’re not helping things.”

“I know, honey…I know. I’m sorry, Lennie…again. It’s just for most of the years we’ve known each other, it’s always been you carpooling, and you volunteering at the games, and you hosting the family potlucks. Ranard’s never done a damn thing. And when you finally do what you have to do for peace of mind, he shows up years later out of the blue, and gets violent with your children. No real parent does that. No real father who loves his children does that. I’d give anything to be able to knock him on his ass right now.”


“Nope, not sorry this time, Kay. A man who will put his hands on his child to inflict harm or injury deserves the same treatment!” He walked over and retook his seat. “What do you need from me, Lennie? Do you want me to talk to Duncan?” Kill Ranard?”

Kay smirked, nodding in approval this time, and Lennie couldn’t help but grin.

“No, Doug. I think someone from outside of our lives would work better. For whatever reason, Duncan is wearing masks around his family and friends, but those same masks didn’t save his grades. Every single one fell.”

“Damn! This just won’t do! What do you need, Lennie…a referral?”

“Yes…please, Doug? I don’t want to waste time hunting down and researching therapists, trying to find one who’s a good fit. I need to get Duncan in to see someone who can help from the first visit. Is that possible?”

“Any other time, I’d say no, Lennie. Counseling can be a very tricky tool to use properly. Patients who have spent months…even years with psychiatrists or therapists with no measurable progress switch to someone new for whatever reason…and seem to be greatly improved after one visit. That means they were paired with the wrong person from the beginning, and either the counselor…or the patient refused to speak up.”

“Wow. I know the relationship is important, but I never realized it could be detrimental.”

“Unfortunately, yes. But I got this. I know Duncan and know he’s an exceptional kid. I have just the person in mind.” He stood and went to his desk. “Would you ladies give me a few moments to make a couple of phone calls?”

“Of course, honey. C’mon, Lennie. My cinnamon rolls aren’t works of art like yours but come let me know how I measure up.”

With a grateful look at Doug, Lennie Porter followed Kay from the room. “Oh, stop it, Kay. I’ll bet they’re amazing.”


She turned hearing Doug call her name. “Yes?”

“How soon do you want an appointment?”


They both smiled.

“Today, tomorrow…just tell me when, Doug, and I’ll get him there.”



Less than an hour later, Lennie was on her way to the high school. Doug had referred Duncan to James Richie, a licensed clinical psychologist with one of the highest success rates in the city for counseling teens and young adults. Also a retired pastor, Doug assured her that James Richie wasn’t one of those who used scripture to shame or mock. Like Doug, James also preferred counseling males. Admitting to mental issues was a usual roadblock for most men and boys, and could jeopardize their therapy and recovery. The stigma was a focus of both Doug and James in their therapies.

While signing Duncan out of school, Lennie decided to save the issue of his falling grades and her not being notified sooner for another day. Getting her son the help he needed was her priority.

Lennie stood at the exit near the parking lot only a few minutes before Duncan walked down the hallway.

“Mom? What’s going on? What are you doing here? They said you signed me out for the rest of the day.”

Lennie had to stretch up on her tiptoes to kiss her growing son’s cheek. “Whoa! Slow down, kid. One question at a time.” She smiled and linked her arm in his and started towards the door.


“Let’s get outside first, sweetie.”

Duncan held the door for his mother, then followed her down the ramp to the parking lot. As they approached her SUV, Duncan stopped.

“Mom? I’m starting to freak out a little here. What’s going on? Are Myron and RJ okay?”

She turned and faced him. “Your brothers are fine, Duncan. This is about you.”

The oldest Porter son frowned, confused. “Me? What about me?”

“Your report card came this morning.”

Duncan’s entire body seemed to sag and he hung his head.

“I-I’m sorry, mom…I messed up. I thought I could fix it before grades came out.” Duncan raised his head. “But I promise, mom…I swear, I’ll get back on track before the school year ends. I’ll work harder…stay after school for-”

“Duncan, stop!” Lenore shook her head slowly. “Honey, your grades are important. But this isn’t about your grades falling, it’s why they did, Duncan.”

Before her eyes, Duncan’s face began a slow morph…from ashamed, humiliated teenager to angry young man.

“What do you mean, ‘why’, mom? Kids get into trouble all the time with their grades. Not studying enough, distracted with games and music…even friends.”

“But that’s not the case with you, is it, son?”

“I guess you have all the answers, mom.”

Momentarily taken aback at his tone, Lennie took a step towards him, her own face setting in anger. “What did you say to me? Since when do you speak to me that way?”

His shoulders fell in defeat. “I’m sorry, mom…I was wrong to do that. I just…just feel like I’m drowning lately…or the walls are closing in on me, and-”


“Huh? Mom? Why what?”

“Why do you feel that way?”

“Gee, I don’t know mom. Growing pains, teen angst…Malcolm in the Middle was canceled…pick one.” His defiant tone was back.

She let the disrespect go…this time.

“Your father.”

“C’mon, mom! You can’t-”

“You haven’t been yourself since that night. I knew you were having a hard time right after it happened, but I thought you got better after I filed for divorce. I was wrong. And I bear the brunt of the blame for this. I let you down, sweetie.”

Side stepping his mother and heading for the car, Duncan waved his hands. “Mom, stop. You’re not to blame. No one is to blame. There is nothing wrong. I screwed up, Mom…simple as that.” He reached for the door handle. “And where are we going in the middle of the day, mom?”

Swallowing her anger, Lennie slowly approached the SUV. “I made an appointment for you to…talk with someone.”

Confused only for a few seconds, Duncan suddenly realized what his mother meant. “Talk to someone? You mean like a shrink? You’re taking me to see a shrink? I’m not crazy, mom.”

“No, baby, you’re not. But there is a problem?”

“Why? Why? Just because I had trouble in my classes and didn’t tell you? I’m not crazy, mom.”

“Duncan, you are not crazy…we both know that. But you yourself just said how you felt like you were drowning…that the walls were closing in on you. Your mind is overwhelmed with something, baby. We need to find out what.”

“No shrink.”

“It’s not up for discussion, Duncan.”

“I said no shrink! I’m not going!”

Lennie had had enough. “Boy, I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, but you’d better get your butt in that seat, now!”

He looked away, staring across the parking lot. When he faced her again, a lone tear slid down his cheek. “I’m sorry, mom…no.”

“Duncan Mitchell Porter…enough! In the car, now!”

Backing away from the car slowly, Duncan shook his head.” I’m sorry, mom. I’m so, so sorry.” Then Duncan Porter turned and ran towards the street. When he reached the corner, he turned right and disappeared from his mother’s sight.

Lennie just stood there…stunned.

Part VII     Part IV


©Felicia Denise, 2016, 2017