“Free, a Novella” by Felicia Denise #CoverReveal

It’s been a long journey and your support and patience have been very much appreciated. What was originally intended to be a three-part short on-line story grew to ten parts and eighteen-thousand words. The revised edition comes in at just under thirty-thousand words. Most of the content posted online remains, with several new scenes added.

Here’s the first look at the cover for Free, a Novella created by the one and only Jenn Cunningham!

Free_full cover

“Free, a Novella”

Author: Felicia Denise

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Release Date: May 30, 2017

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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, however, 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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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

Need a Good Read for the Weekend?

Livvie in the hospital

“I’m ten and a half, not stupid.”

In the Best Interest of the Child

Severely injured in an accident that forever changed her life, 10-year-old Olivia becomes another faceless, underserved child in foster care. With no time to mourn or grieve, the young girl is easy prey for uncaring social workers and ambivalent foster families.

Olivia quickly learns to hold her tongue and mask her emotions. Even when exposed to neglect, bullying, and assault, no one seems to care. Holding fast to the teachings of her late father, Olivia ages out of the system broken, but no longer a victim.

Now a successful child advocate attorney, Olivia is a passionate voice for children. However, a routine case assignment by the court plunges Olivia back into the trauma of her childhood. If she doesn’t face her demons, a child will be sent into foster care, and Olivia will lose the only chance at love she’s ever had…or wanted.

Foster care for her young client is not an option. But Olivia’s emotional scars run even deeper than she realized. Reconciling with her past means Olivia must confront the one woman she blames for her battered soul.

A woman who has no idea who Olivia is.

bit.ly/BestInt

Kindle Unlimited

#WomensFiction #Romance

Updates – “Best Interest, Book 2”, “For Worse”, “Free”


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Free, A Novella

Begun last spring, this was ONLY supposed to be a three-part short story. Of course, that seems like a lifetime ago as I stare at chapter TEN!

Feedback has been very generous. I’ve received requests to publish it and/or extend it into a longer story.

While I considered publishing Free, I said ‘no’ to extending it into a longer read. I’m a character-driven writer and do not possess the super powers needed to script the usual suspects into the required scenarios.

Of course, that was before Lenore Porter and her cast of characters got wind of possibly getting their own book – and they haven’t shut up since. To avoid a free-for-all with Free, yes…there will be a full-length novel.

I will tie up the posted installments in 1-3 more posts, but not everything posted here will make it into the book. I’m in negotiations with Lenore. She’s tough. We’ll see.


For Worse

The first re-write of my 2016  NaNoWriMo project is complete. Quinn Landon and I are not getting along. In an effort to allow Quinn to tell her story in her words, she’s gone from a fierce, no-nonsense, taking-my-life-back woman to a whiny, needy, typical romance novel heroine.

That is not going to work for me.

I’m going to give her a little time – not much though. She’s holding up progress. But, enough to reform and redeem herself. It would be a real shame if a lesser character stepped up to tell Quinn’s story…because Quinn met her end in a tragic library accident. Books are heavy.

Stay tuned.


As a member of the Writing Cooperative, I’m taking part in the 52-Week Writing Challenge. Character profiles and plot developments are my focus for a YEAR.  Fifty-two times. What was I thinking?

As we roll into week eight of the challenge, you can find my weekly submissions also posted right here on my author page. Look in the pages.


In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2 – Family Matters

I’m looking forward to getting book 2 out because the second half of Olivia Chandler’s story is one wild ride! Look for the cover reveal in early March!

In book 1, Olivia faced down her emotional demons, kept a family together, and opened her heart.

Now Olivia’s heart…and soul will be challenged…to repair her own family.

Of course, anything that includes Bruce Bellamy doesn’t travel a perfect path. Here is a small teaser to show…some things never change!

Excerpt from In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2 – Family Matters

Unedited and subject to change.

She’d lost her mind.

That was the only answer. Why else would she allow Bruce Bellamy to choose their Halloween costumes? She should have gone with her ‘usual’ – Raggedy Anne or a nun.

Giving the white blond wig one last twist, Olivia ran her brush through the ends, then stood back for a good look at herself in the full-length mirror.

The black leather hugged her generous breasts and ample hips. Olivia’s matching spiked-heel boots were surprisingly comfortable and looked great on her legs.

The costume fit perfectly.

How did Bruce know her size? He’d never asked her – he just knew. Olivia smiled at her reflection. What was she going to do with that man?

Her makeup was flawless, considering the extra hour Olivia had taken to create the perfect smoky eye effect.

But the wig…

For a brief second, Olivia considered removing the wig, and just wearing her hair down. The idea vanished as quickly as it formed. She didn’t want to disappoint Bellamy.

He’d been so excited and pleased when she invited him to attend Marty’s Halloween party with her. Even though his cousins, Courtney and Marissa were having a family party the same evening, Bruce had quickly accepted. He talked Olivia into attending both parties and spending a couple of hours at each. A quick glance at the clock showed Bruce should be arriving any minute.

Taking in the wig one last time, Olivia smirked, grabbed her phone and keys, and headed for the living room.

Stopping at the hall closet to retrieve her coat, Olivia heard the chimes of her doorbell and smiled. She could set her watch by Bruce Bellamy. Heels clicking against the marble-tile floors, Olivia schooled her features before opening the front door.

Her inspection began at his feet, observing all the details of his costume. Heavy black leather boots under black leather pants. Black t-shirt stretched across his broad chest, under a waist-cut, black leather jacket.

Returning to his eyes, Olivia saw that Bruce had given her the once-over too. She smirked.

“Wolverine.”

Bruce clenched his hands into tight fists and flexible, aluminum claws sprang from the backside of his fingerless gloves. He nodded as his smirk matched Olivia’s.

“Storm.”

Logo

“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?”

“Well…”

“What?”

“We haven’t missed today’s appointment yet.”

“Huh?”

“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

“In the Best Interest of the Child” #Excerpt

Best Interest_Full_Revised

In this short excerpt from In the Best Interest of the Child, Olivia Chandler is meeting Bruce Bellamy for lunch. There is a definite attraction between the two, but both are holding back – though Bruce…not as much! Enjoy!


Having arrived fifteen minutes early, Olivia took a few minutes to visit the ladies’ room to check her hair and makeup, and wash her hands. She was glad no one else was around because every time she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Get a hold of yourself, Olivia Louise! It’s just lunch with a man. You’ve done this more times than you can count.” Exhaling slowly, Olivia hung her head. Yes, lunch with a man who seems to like me. Lunch with a man I actually like even though I just met him. Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit which was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his

Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit which was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his family, and he was very much involved in Rena’s life. The silly grin returned to her face. Honestly, she didn’t want him to disappear. They may never do more than have lunch, but Olivia wanted it badly. She wanted to be normal and have a life without her past hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles. Steadying herself with a couple of deep breaths, Olivia decided to stop hiding in the ladies’ room and talking to herself like a crazy person. She grabbed her handbag and went in search of her lunch date.

As Olivia approached the hostess stand, the young woman working there smiled. “Good afternoon, I’m Connie.” Olivia returned her smile and gave her Bruce’s name. “Yes, Ma’am. He’s already here.” Laughing, Olivia shook her head slowly.

“That man. Of course, he is.” The hostess smiled but looked confused, not understanding the joke. Olivia waved her hand. “It’s nothing. Lead the way.”

Olivia tried to spot Bruce as they approached the main dining room, but was caught off guard when the young hostess turned right and proceeded down a short hallway. No stranger to the Black Dragon, Olivia knew there were formal banquet rooms in the opposite direction, but she’d never been down this hallway. The hostess stopped in front of a small elevator. “I never realized the restaurant had an elevator. I thought it was a single story building.” Connie nodded.

“You’re right, it is.”

“Then where does this lead? You have a basement?” Covering her mouth to hide her giggles, Connie nodded.

“We do, but trust me, you do not want to go down there. This elevator goes up to the mezzanine.” The elevator doors opened as she finished speaking, and both women stepped inside.

“Well, I didn’t know you had one of those either!”

“Few people do. The owners don’t advertise it much. It’s usually for special guests or customers who request a more…intimate setting.” Olivia’s eyes quickly widened. Connie gave her a knowing grin.

Intimate setting? She had no time to process the hostess’ comment. The doors opened. Connie took a step outside the elevator and motioned to the left.

“Your date is right over there.”

“Date? But this isn’t a da-…” Connie quickly stepped back into the elevator, leaving Olivia with a wink as the doors closed.

“What am I going to do with this man?” She only had to take three steps before she spotted Bruce. Olivia froze as her mouth gaped open. Rising from the table, Bruce walked towards her. Olivia still had not moved, too in shock at his appearance. Gone were the weather-beaten jeans and worn Henley shirt. The thick heavy work boots? Gone too. The Bruce Bellamy standing before her was elegantly attired in a charcoal gray, two-piece Brooks Brothers suit and gray Sardegna Loafers. And he’d had a haircut. He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

“Good to see you again, Olivia.” He glanced at his watch. “And right on time. Why am I not surprised?”

Olivia still stared at him, wide-eyed.

Bruce frowned. “Olivia? Is something wrong?”

Taking a deep breath, she finally found her voice.

“Who are you? And what’s all”, she motioned up and down his body, “…this?” His big boyish grin returned as he took her hand and led her to their table.

“I’m a successful businessman having lunch with a gorgeous, successful attorney in one of the city’s finer restaurants. I couldn’t very well show up in jeans and boots, could I?”

“Well, no…but- “

“And besides, I had to show you I could dress myself and behave appropriately in public.”

Olivia threw her hands up, laughing.

“There you are, Bruce! How nice to see you again!” Filling their wine glasses, Bruce stopped mid-pour to keep from spilling it the laughter hit him so hard.

Laughing along with him, Olivia visibly relaxed and placed her hand on his arm.

“And just so we’re clear, Mr. Bellamy, I like you in jeans and work boots too.” The smile he gave her nearly took her breath away. Suddenly self-conscious, Olivia placed her hands in her lap.

Bruce didn’t miss the gesture but continued pouring the wine while changing the subject.

“Would you like to look at the menu, or do you already know what you want?

“No menu needed! I definitely know what I’m having!”

He chuckled as he handed her a glass of wine, then signaled for the waiter.

“I had a feeling.”

Olivia smirked.

“Think you have me figured out already, Bellamy?”

“Not even close, beautiful one. But I do look forward to the adventure.”

She grinned at the compliment and the comment.

“Oooo! I’m an adventure!”

Bruce couldn’t help but stare at her face. The way her eyes sparkled, the genuineness of her smile. She was the same woman he met in his cousin’s driveway, but there was no sign of the sadness he saw in her eyes that day. He had long ago made peace with his own issues of abandonment, but this woman was the first woman to actually make him want to risk his heart again. Bruce was getting lost in Olivia Chandler, and he had no problem with that. His cheeks reddened as heat rose into his face when he realized the waiter and Olivia were staring at him. “I’m sorry. What?

“Where did you go, Bellamy? Are you ready to order?”

He nodded.

“Of course, but ladies first.” Olivia clasped her hands together excitedly.

“I’d like Yum Nuah salad, Tom Yung Kung with shrimp, and with steamed rice, and Pad Thai with chicken…extra spicy, please.” Bruce’s eye widened. Olivia frowned. “Is that too much?”

“Not at all. It just sounds like my usual meal here. But my brother goes on and on about me not trying new dishes, so I promised to try a different entrée on my next visit.” He turned to the waiter. “I’ll have the same as the lady, but instead of Pad Thai, I’ll have Phad See-ew with beef.”

After the waiter left, Bruce folded his arms and leaned towards Olivia. “So…how long have you been into Thai food? The dish names usually confound most people, but you seem to have memorized the menu.”

Olivia laughed while shaking her head.

“Only my favorite dishes. And like you, it wouldn’t hurt me to try something new.” She folded her arms on the table and leaned in his direction. “I first had Thai food during my intern days. This place wasn’t open yet, but Siriwat’s was around the corner from the courthouse.”

“And your boss always had lunch delivered to keep you working, right?”

Olivia shook her head. “It was more the boss’ wife dropping in and reprimanding him for working me so hard, and dragging me out of the office to Siriwat’s. After one visit, I was hooked.”

“Wow! The boss’ WIFE? Sounds like you made an impression.”

“Miss Dee is good people. She and Judge Dennison have always been kind to me. He’s actually the judge who assigned Rena’s case to me.”

Bruce whistled.

“He must be really confident in your abilities. I knew you were a legal shark!”

“I am not a shark! The judge just taught me to pay attention to the details, and what is not said. I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s always seen me through, especially with the difficult cases. What about you? When did your love affair with Thai food begin?”

He refilled their wine glasses, while Olivia wondered when she’d emptied her glass.

Slow down, Chandler.

“That is yet another story in my life which involves Court.”

She smiled remembering their antics.

“You two are really close, aren’t you?”

“As brothers. He seemed to be at my side during all the important moments of my life. Including my introduction to Thai food.” They shared a chuckle. “It wasn’t too long after Joanna, my ex-wife had left. Mom and dad had taken the kids for the weekend. I’d planned to use the time working on cars, but Court shows up, says he’s hungry and orders me to get in his truck.” Olivia grinned.

“HE ordered YOU?”

“Never underestimate Courtney Bellamy. He may not be a big man, but he’s all muscle and heart. He’s dropped me on my ass more than a couple of times.” She laughed aloud and he scowled. “You laugh so easily at my pain.”

This made her laugh even harder. Olivia buried her face in her hands, embarrassed as Bruce continue to stare at her.

“I’m so sorry, Bruce. I don– “

“Don’t ever apologize for laughing, Olivia.” He reached over and pulled her hands from her face.

Olivia placed one on the table, but Bruce had not released the other. She didn’t pull away.

“Or for enjoying yourself. Makes me feel good to know you’re comfortable with me.”

Still holding his gaze, Olivia slowly flipped her hand over until they were palm to palm, and squeezed.

“I’m very comfortable with you, Bruce, and yes, I am enjoying myself.”

Bruce froze. The squeeze of her hand and the sexy timbre of her voice had gone straight to his crotch. She was flirting with him and he loved it! Bruce assumed from her demeanor, Olivia would be a tad more skittish. Perhaps she truly was comfortable with him…maybe even liked him a little. He deftly adjusted himself under the table.

“But you didn’t finish telling your story about you, Courtney and Thai food.”

“Oh yeah. Well, he gets me in his truck and we drive over to Blaine. I think we’re headed to Mike’s Dugout for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, right? He pulls up to this tiny little building near downtown. I have no idea where we are because the name is not written in English. I ask tons of questions before we even get out of the truck, and Court just said, “Trust me.” I follow him inside like a big goof, and the aromas hit me in the face. It smelled like every food dream I’d ever had.”

Olivia’s brows furrowed. “Food dream?”

“Yes, food dream. Women are not the only thing men dream about.”

“Good to know.” She smirked.

He pulled a face at her and continued. “Court had only been there a couple of times himself. Of course, introduced to it by the Mighty Marissa, so we asked the owner to bring us an order of whatever it was we smelled, and keep it coming.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. I’m sure I had at least three orders of Pad Thai and Tempura vegetables.”

“What appetites!”

“The food was great, but it wasn’t just that. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to admit how I felt about Joanna walking out on the kids and me. The family knew I was hurt and upset, but Olivia, I was pissed off…and it felt good to say it. Even if she didn’t want to be with me, what kind of woman walks away from her children? Breck wasn’t even six months old! And she just…leaves.”

Olivia tightened her grip on his hand. She understood all too well how it felt to be abandoned. But she couldn’t share that with him…could she? He made it look so easy to admit his feelings. He was open and honest. No. She couldn’t tell him her story. He’d see how thoroughly damaged she really was and walk away. Olivia knew she couldn’t have Bruce in her life forever, but she greedily wanted whatever time with him she could get. Just the chance to feel normal for a little while was better than not at all.

Bruce appeared lost in his thoughts too when she spoke. “It must be wonderful for you and Courtney to have each other to lean on. And you mentioned a brother?”

He cleared his throat.

“Actually…I have–“ Bruce was interrupted when the waiter appeared with a huge tray of hot food, followed by a co-worker with still more food. Olivia gasped.

“Bruce! What did we order?”

“Oh no, no, no! Not ‘We’…YOU. I was just following your lead, Counselor.” Glancing at the food-covered trays, he added, “And I hope you have more than a thirty-minute lunch hour.”

“That’s your defense? Blame me?”

“Only if it’s working.” One of the waiters turned away and covered his mouth to keep from laughing. “Olivia, you’re disturbing these gentlemen while they’re trying to work.”

Her mouth flew open. Then, she didn’t even try to stop the laughter bubbling forth. Neither did the waiters.

The couple chatted amiably as they devoured the hot and spicy food. Bruce loved that Olivia wasn’t one of those women who wouldn’t eat in front of a man, choosing to munch on lettuce and sip water instead.

Olivia couldn’t remember a time when she’d had more fun, and was so relaxed. Bruce was easy to talk to and attentive. She reveled in his admiring glances, so different from the leering, lecherous looks she learned to ignore around the courthouse. He told her about building up his business until he had the current dozen auto shops – and plans to open two more – and Olivia suggested new advertising ideas to him because the guy doing his commercials always looked sleepy. Learning the guy was actually a supervisor at one of Bruce’s shops, and that he had taken acting lessons at the local college especially for the commercials, caused Olivia to nearly choke on her food.

“You okay?” Bruce stood behind her, patting her back and trying not to laugh.

“I’m glad…you…find…this amusing, Bellamy,” Olivia sputtered, the coughing only made worse by her laughter.

“Here, try this.” Sliding his large hands under her upper arms, Bruce raised them straight up into the air. Within seconds, her coughing stopped. Leaning her head backward, Olivia looked up at him, frowning.

“Where did you learn that, and why did it work?”

Bruce was momentarily speechless. Staring down into her eyes as she leaned back against him tested all his resolve. He knew Olivia was special. When he dared consider his future, he saw her by his side. Bruce didn’t know how or why, and he wasn’t about to second-guess himself. He hadn’t wanted to spend more than a few hours with any one woman since Joanna left. He’d known Olivia Chandler less than a week, and he couldn’t get enough of her. Bruce hadn’t even had the pleasure of kissing Olivia, but he would wait for that too. He would do what it took to make the vision of his future a reality, but it would never happen if he followed his carnal mind in this moment. Bruce quietly exhaled, grateful for the chair separating his hardening erection from Olivia’s back.

“Just something you pick up during the journey of raising kids.” He slowly lowered her arms, then side stepped behind Olivia to adjust himself. Clearing his throat, Bruce returned to his seat, sitting down extremely slowly. “You know kids…little scamps. They can turn a quiet movie night into a high-speed car ride to the emergency room in a heartbeat. Happened to me more times than I care to remember. And boys are the worst. I took Casey, my daughter, to the ER one time in eighteen years, when she had the flu and spiked a high fever. But those boys?” He shook his head. “Science experiments gone wrong, superhero stunts, bike races…no matter what they were into, an accident could…and usually did happen.”

Olivia didn’t miss the faint smile playing on his lips.

“I’m glad everyone was okay…eventually. But, you look as though you enjoyed it.”

Bruce grinned. “Every last second!”

“Sounds like they are lucky to have a dad like you.”

“No, I’m blessed to have them. My life may not have gone the way I intended, but my children saved me. Without them, I would have been just some loser guy spending way too many evenings sitting in a bar. Having them made me see what was truly important.”

Olivia nodded slowly.

“Yes, they are definitely lucky to have a dad like you.” The slight tilt to Bruce’s head let her know he didn’t understand. “I have no problems believing you would do anything for your children.” She glanced away unable to hold his gaze. “There are far too many people on this planet having children and then treating them as an afterthought, or even a burden. Some even believe their young children owe THEM something.”

“I didn’t miss the fact you did not refer to these people as parents.”

“No. Bringing life into the world does not make one a parent.”

“I guess you see a lot of ugliness in your line of work.”

Olivia was still looking away, focused on a spot in her mind she couldn’t clearly see when she heard him.

“Excuse me, what?”

Looking concerned, Bruce grazed his fingers across the back of her hand.

“Where did you go?”

Embarrassed, Olivia tried to slide her hand away from his, but Bruce gently, but firmly caught her hand and held on.

“I meant what I said the other day, Olivia. I’m a good listener. Anytime you want to talk, I’m available. No sermons, no judgments, not even any advice. I’ll just listen.” He watched her slowly raise her head to look at him, and squeezed her hand as the pain he saw hit him like a punch in the gut. What haunted this beautiful, intelligent woman? She was engaging, witty and funny. She spoke with purpose and authority. But, something triggered a memory. An event? A person? Bruce wasn’t sure, but whatever it was caused Olivia’s walls to rise swift and high.

“Thank you, Bruce, I just may take you up on that.” He smiled as he felt Olivia squeeze his hand in return. It gave him hope.

“I hope you do, Olivia. I’ll take any opportunity I can get to look into those beautiful eyes of yours.” Before Olivia could respond, Bruce raised her hand to his lips while his eyes were still lost in hers, and kissed it gently. He didn’t miss the slight tremble in her hand nor her barely audible gasp. He was not in this alone. Olivia was affected too. Neither spoke for several seconds, both of their minds…and pulses racing. Olivia leaned towards Bruce about to speak when the Imperial Death March from The Empire Strikes Back began to play. Bruce’s eyes widened, then he smirked. Olivia had already buried her face in her free hand, totally embarrassed.

“Guess you’re a really big Star Wars fan, huh Olivia?”

Raising her head, Olivia tried to avoid glancing in Bruce directions as she slipped her hand down into her bag to retrieve the offending cell phone.

He leaned in trying to glance at the screen. “Who merits such an ominous ringtone?”

Olivia’s lips twitched as she tried to decipher the text. She figured it out on the third try and her mouth fell open.

“I’m going to kill her!”

Bruce watched Olivia, amused and curious. She finally met his gaze, smiling sheepishly.

“My office manager, Margot. She can be a bit of a…pain.”

Frowning, Bruce asked, “Has she fouled up a case or upset a client?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that. Margot’s a jewel. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“And yet, you want to kill her? What am I missing?” He leaned in again, still trying to see the cell screen.

“As an executive assistant and office manager, she’s the best. As a friend, Margot can be over-the-top pushy.”

Recognition dawned in his eyes.

“Was that text about me?”

Olivia dragged her hand over her face. “Just kill me now.”

Bruce pumped his fist in the air.

“I’m trending with the women!”

Olivia roared with laughter. “There’s only two of us, Bellamy. I hardly call that trending.”


What readers are saying…

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“LOVED IT!! In The Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise is a powerhouse novel, overflowing with emotion and real life messages that quite frankly NEED to be said...My heart strings were pulled from cover to cover!”

“Fantastic debut for Felicia Denise. Incredible character study.”


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“Free, A Novella Part VIII”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part VIII

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.”

“Douglas!”

“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.”

“Lennie?”

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

“How soon do you want an appointment?”

“Yesterday.”

They both smiled.

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

“Done.”

***

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.

“Mom?”

“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-”

“Why?”

“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

“Free, A Novella Part VII”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part VII

A lone tear slid down Lennie’s cheek as she stood in the doorway.

She had almost lost her son that night, and her children, their father.

Ranard never returned to the house on Linden Lane after that night. The next day, Lennie called her attorney and instructed him to make the legal separation permanent. She wanted divorce papers filed immediately under the same terms as the separation with two changes. Lennie still wanted no financial support for herself or the boys, but Ranard would get no visitations, and he had to sign off the house.

Her attorney balked, saying the terms were easy for a separation, but no judge would allow her to keep the boys from their father even if she wanted no financial support. Lennie briefly explained to him what happened the night before, and assured her legal representative Ranard would not contest her terms.

Moving on had not been easy for Lennie’s Porter Patrol. RJ was fearful and had nightmares about his father reappearing. Myron was tightly wound with anger at Ranard for the physical abuse he’d suffered. But getting past that fateful night had been hardest for Duncan. He seemed to be at war with himself – guilt and anger competing for dominance, and neither never too far from boiling over. Coming to grips with the fact he’d nearly killed his father also embarrassed Lennie’s oldest son. During the next week, he couldn’t bring himself to look his mother or brothers in the eyes. Duncan kept his head down during meals, and spent the rest of his time behind a closed door in his bedroom. RJ would check on him once or twice each evening. Duncan would never turn him away, but he also never looked directly at his little brother.

A week later, a messenger dropped off divorce papers for Lennie to read and sign. Determined to no longer keep anything from her boys, Lennie sat them down and discussed the divorce and the documents with them. The boys nodded with understanding as their mother went over each page. Even RJ seemed to have a good grasp of the process.

Lennie turned to the last page and froze. The Porter boys looked at each other confused. Myron leaned over and touched Lennie’s arm.

“Mom? You okay? Is something wrong?”

Still speechless, Lennie turned the document so they could all see.

Ranard had already signed the divorce papers.

RJ and Myron visibly relaxed as the beginnings of a tiny smile played at the corners of Lennie’s lips. Even with the threat of child abuse charges and contacting his father looming over Ranard’s head, she had still expected a fight from Ranard. Lennie was thankful at least this time, he had done the right thing.

Only Duncan still sat silent. Looking across the room at nothing in particular, his mother watched his eyes flit back and forth as if trying to focus. Lennie left her two younger boys high-fiving each other and approached Duncan, sliding her arm around his shoulder.

“It’s all over except for the waiting game, and in a few months, that will be over too. We’re going to be fine.”

Nodding his head absently, Duncan turned his head and looked into her eyes for the first time in over a week. “I know, mom…I know.”

The pain and guilt Lennie saw trapped in her son’s eyes nearly broke her. With her arm still around his shoulder, Lennie sat down next to Duncan and pulled his head on to her shoulder.

“I can’t tell you when or where, or how long this will bother you…and I know it still bothers you…but honey, it does get better. It will get better. I hope you can forgive your father one day. But before you get there, you must forgive yourself. You did nothing wrong. You defended your brother…stood up for your family. Something anyone would have done.”

Raising his head, Duncan looked at Lennie again. “He’s our father. I defended my brother from our father. I nearly killed my own father. How do I get past that, mom? How do I look at my brothers again?”

” Yes, sweetie, you could have killed your father. But, you didn’t. Know why?” Pulling him towards her, Lennie turned to where her other two boys were still sitting, only now they were watching her and Duncan. “Because your love for them is stronger than your hatred for your father.”

RJ and Myron nearly leapt to their feet and rushed to their brother’s side. RJ slipped his arm around Duncan’s other shoulder.

“I love you, big brother. You always eat all the Captain Crunch, but I’m glad you’re my brother.”

Duncan fought the smile trying to form on his lips and ducked his head…and found himself looking into Myron’s eyes as he knelt in front of him.

“Dunc…did I ever tell you…you’re my hero?”

Throwing his head back, Duncan roared with laughter. RJ was hit with a case of the giggles when Myron then threw a big, toothy grin at his older brother.

Lennie stood and quietly walked away, leaving her boys in a laughing, wrestling pile of brotherly love.

 

Turning away from the family room, Lenore stood in the hallway.

So much had happened. So many memories. Lennie and her boys survived it all…together.

Removing Ranard from their lives had been the best thing for Lenore and the boys. It hurt them each in different ways, but they were entitled to a good life. A decent life without the stresses of dysfunction. Without the pain of rejection and abandonment. Without wondering if someone who wasn’t a part of your life would try to exercise control over your life.

But Fate wasn’t done with them. Life still had more lessons to teach, and pain to inflict.

 

Part VI     Part VIII

 

©Felicia Denise, 2016, 2017

“Free, A Novella Part VI”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part VI

Pouring herself a glass of wine, Lennie smiled as she heard Duncan see the last of his guests out. His sixteenth birthday party was a huge success! Duncan and Myron had hosted his friends in the family room with the right foods and music, making for the right ‘cool’ factor. Lennie had set up the breakfast nook and dining room for chauffeuring parents, as well as the den for younger siblings. Everyone was happy.

Everyone was also incredibly well-behaved. Lennie and a couple of patrolling dads didn’t have to issue any warnings about dance floor antics or couples sneaking off. Though they tried to act like grownups, Lennie felt most of the teens were secretly glad their parents were so close by.

Taking a seat on the reclining leather sofa, Lennie lazily leaned back enjoying the quiet. Looking around the room, she was also pleased and impressed at how parents had organized everyone into cleaning crews. Everything was back in its place, and even all the trash was taken out.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Hearing Duncan’s raised voice, Lennie sat up. She hoped no one was having car trouble.

“I don’t owe you a damn thing!”

On her feet immediately, Lennie sat her wineglass on the bar as she moved towards the front door. Before she could even leave the family room, Duncan and Myron were standing in front of her…faces hard and anger flaring in their eyes.

“Duncan Mitchell Porter! Did I hear you swear? You just turned-” Lennie stopped abruptly when she noticed someone approaching behind the boys. Her facial features immediately mimicked theirs.

“Ranard. What are you doing here?”

With far too much swagger, Ranard stepped around his sons to stand in front of Lennie.

“Well, damn. No man should be greeted this way in his own home. My sons don’t want to allow me in, and my wife questions my presence.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, but Lennie took a step back. Ranard smirked.

“Again, I ask…what are you doing here, Ranard?” The iciness of her tone caused the smirk on his face to fade.

“I couldn’t miss our eldest son’s sixteenth birthday, Lennie. Even though I wasn’t invited to the party, I at least thought I’d be welcomed.”

“You missed the last seven birthdays, Ranard, and two or three before that. What’s different now? And how did you know we had a party?”

Ranard tried to feign sorrow…and fell short. “I’ve been sitting outside for quite a while. I pulled up and saw all the cars and knew you were celebrating in here. Since I wasn’t told about it beforehand, I decided to wait until the crowd thinned.”

“More like you didn’t want to embarrass yourself in front of a group of people who know what kind of a father you’re not.” There was no mistaking the venom in Duncan’s voice.

“Boy, is that any way to speak to your father? I may not be around, but look at the home I’ve provided for you…a home that still bears my name, by the way. I don’t need an invitation. I can come and go as I please.”

Lennie turned away from Duncan to fully face Ranard. “Since when? We’re legally separated, and this is not your address of record. So, no matter how the mortgage currently reads, you cannot come and go here as you please. I’ll ask one more time. What are you doing here?”

Giving up all pretense, Ranard threw up his hands. “Fine. Some people just won’t allow you to be nice. I want to sell the house. Even without an appraisal, the mortgage company assures me I could more than make back my investment.”

Lennie and the boys all stood there…mouths agape…not believing their ears. Duncan was the first to speak.

“You want to sell our home? After seven years, you show up to tell us you’re selling our home?”

Lenore Porter stood by silently…frozen in a rage she had never known. The man standing across the room was a stranger to her. Any love she may have still had for Ranard had faded years ago. But, now…in this very moment, she understood what it meant to hate someone. This man casually told his children he wanted to sell their home. He was more concerned with investments than their welfare. Lennie had had enough. She was done. Approaching Ranard slowly, she enunciated each word.

“This house…our home, is not for sale, Ranard. There are two names on the mortgage and without my consent, the mortgage company shouldn’t be quoting deals to you. They haven’t seen you or received a cent from you in seven years. If you try to push through any kind of sale, I’ll sue you and them! Do you understand? Do you hear what I’m saying, Ranard?”

Anger flared in his eyes. “You can’t talk to me like that! Who do you think you are-”

“Unlike you, I know who…and what I am, Ranard. But then…you know how pathetic you are, don’t you, Ranard? Gilbert Porter has made sure to remind you of that every chance he gets!”

“You bitch-”

“You watch your mouth! Do not speak to my mother that way!” Duncan visibly shook, his hands tightening into fists.

“And what about you, boy? Talking to your father like you’re a man or something! I can see your mother slacked on her job of teaching you some respect!”

Duncan took a step towards his father, but Lennie stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“My boys are well mannered, and respectable…to those who are deserving of their respect.”

“I’ve had just about enou-”

“Good! Then you can go now.”

“I’ll leave when I’m-”

“Mom? Is everything okay?”

They all turned suddenly to see eleven-year-old RJ standing at the top of the stairs. His eyes were wide with fear as he clutched the top of the banister.

Glaring at Ranard one last time, Lennie rushed up the stairs to her youngest, most sensitive child. “Yes, sweetie, it is. We all had a small misunderstanding, but nothing for you to worry about, okay?”

RJ glanced down at his big brothers, noticing…and feeling the anger enveloping them. He then looked at Ranard, his expression blank. While Duncan and Myron had time with their father when they were babies and toddlers, RJ had almost none since the day he was born. His brothers felt a sense of betrayal and rejection from their father, but RJ felt nothing. To him, Ranard Porter was someone who upset his mother. And, now Ranard had upset his brothers. RJ wanted to go to his brothers, but Lennie was at his side wrapping her arm around his shoulder.

“C’mon, sweetie. Let’s get you back to bed. No more excitement tonight.”

RJ reluctantly allowed his mother to steer him back down the long hallway.

“You can go now.” Myron didn’t bother to hide his contempt for his father.

Ranard smirked. “You got balls, boy…I’ll give you that. But sounds like you need a lesson in respect, and I’m-”

“…not the person to give it to him. I’ll walk you to the door…dad.” Duncan grimaced on the last word as though it left a foul taste in his mouth.

Sizing his sixteen-year-old son up as Duncan got closer, Ranard realized for the first time that the boy had the advantage in height and weight. He quickly took a step back.

“What has that woman been telling you boys to make you hate me so much? I’m your father, dammit! Stop treating me like some thug off the street!”

“Then stop acting like one”, Duncan countered. “My birthday means nothing to you. None of us mean anything to you. You showed up to take from us. I don’t know why you thought mom would simply agree with you, but you’re wrong. This is our home. Mom takes care of us…and we’re not leaving.”

A bitter smiled tugged at the corner of Ranard’s mouth. “She takes care of you. Your sweet, sainted mother. Am I supposed to believed that she makes a few sandwiches a week, and she can afford all this?” He gestured around the foyer. “I’m not a fool. I know she’s got some man in the shadows taking care of her.”

“I wish she did!” Ranard and Duncan both turned to look at Myron.

“Then you wouldn’t be standing here. Then maybe mom wouldn’t have to work so hard. And maybe we’d have a real dad.”

“Like I said…Saint Lenore! I’m not buying it! I know she’s whoring around to keep my house from me!”

Ranard had barely finished his sentence before Myron lunged at him.

“Stop calling mom names! Stop it! Stop it! I hate you! I hate you’re our father! I hate you!”

While Myron’s blows found their mark, he was not yet as big as his brother. Ranard easily subdued him and fisted Myron’s shirt collar at the base of his throat. Slapping his son across the face, Ranard laughed.

“You got some fire, kid, but like I said,” Ranard slapped Myron across the face again, “you need to learn some resp-” He didn’t get to finish his sentence.

Grabbing his father’s hand, Duncan twisted it behind his back. “Let. Him. Go.”

“Boy, you’d better take-”

Duncan twisted Ranard’s arm higher. “I said…let him go.”

Defying his son, Ranard tightened his grip on Myron’s collar.

Duncan continued to twist his father’s arm until his hand nearly touched the back of his own head.

Crying out, Ranard shoved Myron backward away from him, causing Myron to fall.

Seeing his brother go down, Duncan snapped. Sweeping his foot under his father’s legs, Duncan took Ranard down, never releasing his hand. Hitting the floor with a thud, Ranard flailed around helplessly.

“Let go of me!”

Holding fast, Duncan slowly applied pressure to Ranard’s hand. Screaming in pain, Ranard attempted to dig his other hand into Duncan’s leg.

He only succeeded in pissing off his son more. Duncan leaned forward, wrapping his arm under Ranard’s neck, effecting a choke hold, and tightened his grip.

Wiping the blood from his mouth, Myron watched silently, not caring if the man on the floor lived or died.

“DUNCAN! NO! STOP! LET GO!”

Myron looked up to see his mother leaning over the upstairs railing.

Duncan, with his own eyes squeezed tightly closed, continued to apply pressure to Ranard’s neck.

Lennie pleaded with her eldest son as she raced down the stairs.

“Duncan! Please let go! Please, Duncan, stop!” Lennie fell to her knees as she reached her son. Grabbing his arms, Lennie attempted to break his hold, with no success. “Duncan, you have to stop! Don’t do this! Please, baby!”

It was as if she hadn’t spoken at all. Blind with rage, Duncan Porter tightened his hold.

Lennie, near hysteria, panicked even more when she saw Ranard’s eyelids flutter.

“Duncan! He is not worth it! Please stop! Let go! Don’t ruin your life over someone who didn’t care enough to be a part of it!” Lenore grabbed at her own chest, the thought of losing her son caused her physical pain.

“DUNCAN!

The shrill cry echoed in the room and hallway as all eyes turned to see RJ standing at the bottom of the stairs, tears streaming down his face.

As though coming out of a trance, Duncan Porter looked down at his arm wrapped around his father’s neck…and released him immediately…slamming Ranard’s face against the floor. In one swift move, Duncan was on his feet moving towards his baby brother. Reaching RJ, Duncan wrapped him in his arms, hugging his close. He turned them both, moving towards Myron, and Lennie saw his face was wet from tears.

She glared at Ranard, who was drooling and sputtering as he crawled across the floor. “Are you happy now, Ranard?” She rose and went to her sons, seeing the dried blood on Myron’s face and shirt for the first time.

“I’m calling the police! They lock sixteen-year-olds up in this state like adults! You should never have attacked me like some common criminal! I’m going to make sure you go to prison for this!” His throat raw from the choke hold, Ranard’s threats didn’t hold the power he intended.Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”

Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”

Propping himself up against the wall, Ranard stared at her, confused. “What?”

“Would you like to use my phone?”

“Are you stupid? You want YOUR son to go to jail?”

“He’s not going anywhere. But, if he does, he’s not going alone. Perhaps they’ll let you two share a cell, and Duncan can practice a few more wrestling moves on you.”

Patting his pockets in search of his cell phone, Ranard tried to laugh but choked instead. “You dizzy bitch! I’m not going to jail.” He pointed towards Duncan. “He overpowered me and tried to kill me!”

Slipping two fingers under Myron’s chin, Lennie gently raised his head. “This is called child abuse, Ranard. After the police see his busted lip, swollen eye, and all the blood on his shirt…trust me…you’re going to jail.”

True fear showed in Ranard’s face. Pushing himself up finally into a standing position, he tried to challenge Lennie. “You won’t do that. You can’t do that.”

“You would be surprised at what I can do, Ranard.” She took two steps in his direction. “I’m raising my boys to be good men…despite who their father is. I run a successful business that I get offers for every week.” She gestured around the room. “I’ve hung on to, and taken care of this house without so much as a penny from you. I can do just about anything I set my mind to.”

She took two more steps towards him. “But you know what I couldn’t do, Ranard? I couldn’t help you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make you see your own self-worth. I loved you. I gave you a family. Yet, you still couldn’t see how much you mattered. Instead, you turned all the hatred you had for your father on to me…and then foolishly did anything you could to prove you were better than your father.” Lennie shook her head sadly. “But it didn’t work, Ranard. All you did was become Gilbert Porter.”

He flinched as though she had slapped him. “No! Don’t say that! I’m nothing like him!”

“You’re exactly like him. The only difference between the two of you is his wife died. You simply acted like yours did.”

“Lennie, I-”

“There’s nothing else to say here. If you’re going to call the police, do it now. If not, leave Ranard…and never come back.”

“You can’t-”

“Call the police…or leave and never come back. There are no other options. Nothing left to discuss.”

“Lennie-”

“It’s…over.”

Looking completely lost, Ranard moved towards the front door. Rubbing at his throat, he stopped and looked back at his children standing together with their arms around each other. He looked at his wife and saw her face clouded with contempt…for him.

Turning and taking the last steps to the door, Ranard reached out for the doorknob…and froze.

This isn’t what he wanted. This isn’t what he needed. The last seven years had been one long nightmare. Constantly trying to stay ahead of the game at work. Hanging out with friends and coworkers he didn’t like…and who didn’t like him. Sleeping with any woman who said yes. And Gilbert Porter going out of his way to find his youngest son every few weeks to tell him how worthless he was. He’d tell him how a real man would step up to the plate and reclaim his family…be the husband and father they needed him to be. Not some loser who couldn’t even remember his sons’ birthdays.

Ranard Porter had wanted to fix his life, but he didn’t know how. He’d wanted to push his pride aside and admit his weaknesses. But he just couldn’t. Not to Lennie. She was so smart. Always confident and sure of herself. Even when he attempted to berate and degrade her, she rose above him and continued on. Not seeking or needing his approval. Not needing anyone’s approval…the way he did. Approval he never found.

He turned slightly to look at what he’d lost. Myron stood with his arm around RJ’s shoulder, and they watched their mother comfort Duncan. His teenage son who stood ready to defend his brother…from him. A man-child…already more of a man than Ranard was…or would ever be.

Ranard silently opened the door and slipped out into the loneliness of the night…where he belonged.

Watching as Duncan knelt to console a still fearful RJ, Lenore Porter heard the click of the door when it closed.

It was over.

 

 

Part V     Part VII

 

©Felicia Denise, 2016

“Free, A Novella Part V”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part V

She would miss this room.

Where the pantry was Lenore Porter’s anchor as a businesswoman, the family room was her fortress for love. Regardless of what negativity was going on in her life, it ceased to exist when she entered this room. Here is where she was a steadfast mother to her boys, always putting them first. There was no question they couldn’t ask and no plans they couldn’t make. Discussions on friendship, school and grades were commonplace. Sleepovers, weekend getaways and family birthday parties had been planned here with much detail. As the Porter boys got older, their home was always the favorite hangout, and go-to spot after sporting events…owed in part to Lennie’s loving nature and talent in the kitchen.

After the revelations of Aunt Di’s letter, Lennie had felt uneasy around her parents, knowing how they felt about her marriage to Ranard. Avoiding the conversation for nearly a week and missing her parents terribly, Lennie invited them over for an early dinner. Afterward, while sitting in the family room, Burt and Linda Kelimore attempted to apologize to their daughter for not believing in her marriage.

Patting his stomach, Burt beamed. “That was an amazing dinner, Lenore, my compliments to the chef! Your dinner choices are always spot on! I’ve been begging your mother for lamb chops for over a month.”

Linda waved him off while speaking to her daughter. “Number one, he hasn’t mentioned lamb chops since Christmas; and number two, he’s never begged me for anything.”

“I most certainly have!”

Lennie didn’t miss the wicked smirk on her father’s face and threw her hands up. “TMI! TMI! Knock it off you two! I may be an adult, but no way am I old enough for this conversation with my parents!”

Burt snickered while leaning back on the sofa, wrapping an arm around his wife. “All right, all right. But we have no taboo or off-limits topics, Lenore. You know you can still come to us anytime you want or need to talk.”

“I know that, daddy. I’ve always known that.”

Linda Kelimore couldn’t contain her smile. “Good, dear. We never want you to feel there’s anything you cannot discuss with us.” Her smile faded. Linda glanced at her husband, then back at Lennie. “Honey, we’re sorry if we ever made you feel-”

Throwing up both her hands, Lennie left her seat and knelt in front of her parents. “Stop right there.” She enfolded one of her hands with Linda’s and rested the other on her father’s knee. “I have the most amazing parents on the planet.  You both have always been there for me and supported me even when you didn’t agree with me. I know I can be single-minded and stubborn, but that’s partly your fault. You raised me to be strong and focused…to make decisions following my first mind, and to be prepared for the consequences.”

Linda quickly nodded in agreement. “Yes, we did…and I blame your father.”

Burt Kelimore allowed his jaw to drop open, feigning offense. “You blame me? And just what are you blaming me for, MRS. Kelimore?”

Lennie ducked her head to hide her smile.

“You are the one who put all those grand ideas in her head about following her heart and her dreams. Never letting anyone deter her from her goals. The only limits she had were the ones she put on herself.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

Linda leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Not at all. You were absolutely right.”

“Did you just say I was right about something?”

Swatting him on the arm, Linda addressed her daughter. “I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you are, sweetheart. You are a fantastic mother, a shrewd business woman, and a loving daughter.”

“Just wish some of you had rubbed off on to those two sisters of yours,” Burt piped in.

“Burt! Hush! There’s nothing wrong with Elaine and Penny!”

He raised an eyebrow with a dubious look. Lennie couldn’t hold her laughter in any longer. Falling sideways from her knees to her butt, Lennie shook with laughter and said a silent prayer for the two people who could always bring a smile to her face. Exhaling heavily, Lennie tried to form a serious look.

“Mom, daddy…listen. I’m trying to say you don’t owe me an apology for anything. I should be apologizing to you.”

“Oh, Lenore! Whatever for?”

“For not having the same trust in you as you both have in me. I should have explained…certain things to you from the very beginning about Ranard and me.”

 

Exchanging worried glances, Burt and Linda sat forward on the sofa. Barely above a whisper, Linda was the first to speak.

“What things, sweetie?”

Crossing her legs, Lennie took a deep breath and told them…everything. About Ranard’s mother dying in childbirth, and Gilbert Porter having nothing but contempt for his youngest son ever since. About the constant bullying from his brothers; Ranard’s low self-esteem; and Lennie taking it upon herself to ‘heal’ Ranard and build him up. She stopped short of telling her parents about how Ranard was becoming his father and his constant verbal attacks upon her. Burt and Linda sat in stunned silence.

“Honey, why didn’t you tell us? I know we could have helped in some small way.” The pain in her mother’s voice caused Lennie’s chest to tighten.

“Ranard didn’t want you to know. He felt you would feel he wasn’t worthy of me. And, honestly Mom…I thought if I supported him mentally and emotionally, and loved him enough…things would be okay.” Seeing the hardness in Burt’s face, Lennie stood and retrieved two glasses of wine from the wet bar near the window. Handing the glasses to her parents, she folded her arms and ducked her head sheepishly. “Obviously, I was off base in my assumptions. Our marriage is far from perfect.” Exasperated, Lennie dragged her hands through her hair. “Who am I kidding? Our marriage is even far from good.”

Lennie poured a glass of wine for herself and sat next to Linda. “I know you and Auntie Di had concerns about me. She may be gone, but I know you both still have issues with,” Lennie waved her hand around the room. “All this. Ranard and I are talking more now, and I believe I’ve almost convinced him to attend marriage counseling with me.

Burt bristled, the hard set of his jaws nearly pulsing. “Almost convinced? What does that mean? Does the man want to save his marriage or not?”

“It’s not that easy, daddy.”

“Well, why-”

“Burt!” Linda interrupted him. “I’m pretty sure it took a lot for Lennie to share this with us. Let’s not interrogate our daughter, okay?”

“It’s okay, mom.” Pausing briefly, Lennie met her father’s questioning gaze. “When he was little, Ranard’s dad put him into some sort of tough love counseling. He had to admit his guilt for his mother’s death, and accept the consequences of his actions. He had to stand in corners for hours on end, sit in tubs of ice cold water, sleep on cold floors, and go without food for a day. Daddy, he was only seven years old. His memories of it still haunt him. That’s why he shuts down at the mere mention of counseling.”

“God in heaven! Who does that to anyone, let alone a child? That’s not therapy, it’s torture! How could Gilbert allow it?” Anger radiated off Burt Kelimore, while Linda tried to calm him down.

“I know, daddy. I’ve never understood my father-in-law. The best I can come up with is losing his wife warped his mind somehow. How else could he blame Ranard and expect him to admit guilt for something he had no control over? I would think if nothing else, he would have raised Ranard with even more love and affection in her memory.”

They all sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping their wine, and trying to understand. Burt finally stood and began to pace in front of his family.

“I cannot imagine what life was like for Ranard, Lenore, and I’ll never understand how some parents do not cherish and protect the bonds they have with their children.” Burt stopped his pacing in front of Lennie. “But like your mother said, we are here for you, and will try to do whatever you need us to do. You’ll never know how sorry I am for what Ranard’s been through, but you and our grandsons are our first concern. I know you will try to work things out with your husband because it’s the right things to do. But honey, please do not sacrifice yourself for a man you may or may not be able to reach.”

Lennie stood and pulled her father into a tight embrace. “I won’t, daddy, I promise.” Kissing him on the cheek, Lennie reached back and pulled her mom from the sofa and into their group hug. With an arm around each of her parents, Lennie looked from one to the other. “But you know I must try, right?”

Linda Kelimore palmed her daughter’s cheek. “You wouldn’t be our Lennie if you didn’t.” Fighting back tears, Lennie was about to respond, but Burt spoke up first.

“Didn’t you say something about peach cobbler and homemade vanilla bean ice cream?” Lennie laughed aloud as Linda shook her head, lips pursed.

“You’re awful!”

“I can’t help it if our daughter is a dynamo in the kitchen! I have to get it while the getting is good. Lord knows when we get home, you’ll be giving me rice cakes with Greek yogurt and something with quinoa in it. And what the hell is quinoa anyway?”

Still laughing, Lennie enjoyed their usual banter as she led her parents back to the kitchen.

***

Remembering that evening from so long ago, Lennie Porter smiled to herself as she crossed the room, her heels clicking against the hardwood floor. She had been blessed with amazing parents. They were always true to their word. Even though their conversation from that evening was never mentioned again, Burt and Linda had stood by her through it all without any disparaging remarks or judgment.

Lennie’s smile quickly turned into a full grin when she stopped in front of the window seat. Labeled the ‘Meeting Place’ by the Porter boys, the window seat was where all the serious family discussions had taken place. The large three-section Sunrise Bay window seat had more than enough room for four. However, most of the time only two family members would occupy the space – either Lennie and one of her sons, or two of the boys. Duncan and Myron had many long discussions stretched out on the ultra-thick cushions which covered the bench. The window overlooked a grassy, shaded area in the back yard which the Porter boys landscaped themselves.

Taking a seat on the bench, Lennie looked out at the last handiwork done by her boys before Duncan deployed for the second time nearly two years ago. Perennials in shades of pink and purple circled the Sugar Maple tree and bordered the brick retaining wall. The buds were just beginning to open and by the time the new homeowners arrived next week, the backyard would be filled with vibrant colors and scents.

A single tear made it down Lennie’s cheek before she swiped it away. After her breast cancer scare, Duncan, Myron and RJ became staunch supporters of breast cancer awareness. They all took part in a variety of sporting events supporting outreach and free mammograms for low-income women. After Lennie’s pathology report came back with no signs of cancer or precancerous cells, her three young men openly cried.

 

“Hey Porter Patrol, I’m going to be fine. Dr. Chaney said no cancer, remember?”

Sitting on the edge of her bed, Myron took her hand. “We’re just happy, mom. We have no clue what we would do without you.”

Reaching out with her other hand, Lennie froze and winced at the pain.

“Hey, hey! Take it easy, mom.” Duncan was on the other side of her bed in a heartbeat.

Leaning back against the pillows, Lennie exhaled roughly. “Who knew a few little stitches could hurt so much?”

“Dr. Chaney assured us the tenderness would be gone in a few days, and your biggest problem would be the itching as the wound site heals.”

“Guess that gives me something to look forward to.”

“Mom, c’mon.” Myron squeezed her hand. “Just take these few days to rest. Let us take care of you.”

“You’re right, sweetie. I’m just a bad patient. But Dr. Chaney did say I could go home tomorrow morning – guess I’m just anxious to get back into my routine.”

“Why? Does that change how serious this situation is?” All eyes turned to RJ standing at the foot of the bed. “You’re acting like you were here for the flu or something.” The pain in his eyes belied the harshness of his tone.

“RJ? Man, take it down a thousand. You okay? Talk to me.” Myron stood and stepped towards his younger brother, but RJ backed away.

“Breast cancer…kills. I don’t think we’re taking this seriously enough.”

“But honey, I’m fine. Our lives won’t change. We’ll continue on like always.”

“I know, mom, and you’ll never know how grateful I am for that.” The obvious turmoil on his face was confusing to his family. “Remember Peter Gleason from the baseball team? His grandma died from breast cancer when we were in sixth grade. When we were juniors, his mom had to have a breast removed. Now she’s undergoing treatment again for the other breast.” RJ scrubbed his hand over his face. “And his sister just found a lump in her breast.”

Duncan’s eye widened. “Cynthia? She’s my age. Are you kidding me?” He shared a quick glance with Myron, and they both nodded. “That’s why you’ve been so keyed up. Even after Dr. Chaney gave us the good news. Myron and I just chalked it up to more in-depth things you were learning in med school.”

“I guess I was so intent on hearing a different outcome-”

“You’re right.” Her boys watched her as Lennie slowly sat up and reached out to RJ. “Even with a positive outcome, this is still a serious situation. The doctor told me about lumps reappearing or new ones showing up in other spots. When I go in for my post-op check next week, I’ll be set up for regular labs and screenings.”

RJ visibly relaxed.

“I’m aware of the situation I’m in. I just didn’t want to burden my boys with it. You’re all at such great places in your young lives, and the sky’s the limit for your futures. I did not want negativity about my health scare impacting any of your decisions.”

Putting his hand on RJ’s shoulder, Duncan pulled Myron closer. “Mom, we’re at these great places in our lives because you busted your butt keeping negativity away from us. Nothing…and no one…came before us. We were still kids when we realized you’d do anything for us. Of course, you are a factor in every decision we make, and you always will be.”

Tears instantly sprang to her eyes as Lennie ignored Duncan’s obvious reference to their father.

“I am so proud of my boys.”

“We know, mom, and I’m sure big brother wasn’t trying to make you cry.” Myron leaned over and kissed her cheek. His brothers then did the same. “We should take off now and let you get some real rest.”

“Good idea!” Duncan herded his brothers towards the door. “We’ll be back bright and early in the morning to bust you out of here, Mom!” With that, her Porter Patrol disappeared down the hallway.

Lowering the head of her bed, Lennie stretched out and slowly adjusted the pillow under her side. She knew her oldest son was up to something. However, before she could give it more thought, Lennie drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

***

Lennie was halfway through her breakfast – after mastering using her left hand to eat – when she heard her boys making their way to her room. They sprang into the room, panting as though they’d just finished a race. The young men wore unusually bright smiles, and Lennie did not miss the small smudges of dirt on their clothing.

After quick kisses, they each grabbed a seat and pulled out sandwiches from Lennie’s favorite deli.

“How in the world did you get Mira to sell you those during breakfast hours?”

RJ grinned. “That was easy. We told her you were in the hospital and craving one of her special sandwiches!”

“Seriously? You use me as your excuse, and you’re just going to eat those in front of me?”

“Mom! We’re not heathens!” Duncan pulled another sandwich from his bag. “Reuben on rye/sourdough blend with extra sauerkraut.”

It was Lennie’s turn to grin. She slid the plate of powdered eggs aside and watched Duncan unwrap her sandwich.

The family chatted amiably as they ate. Nurses were in and out of the room, and by the time the sandwiches were gone, Lennie’s discharge was complete. While a nurse helped her dress in the private bathroom, her boys packed her bag, and Myron left to pull Lennie’s SUV – the only family vehicle big enough for all of them – around to the patient discharge doors.

Only a few minutes later, a young patient care aide wheeled Lennie through the double doors, stopping curbside. Duncan and RJ huddled around Lennie as she stood.

“Gentlemen, I got this, okay? I’ll probably need someone to close the door for me, but getting in is no problem.” Moving before she finished speaking, Lennie hopped up in the front seat. Her boys looked at each other frowning as the young aide backed the wheelchair away from the vehicle and returned inside…laughing.

Closing her door, RJ smirked. “You aren’t going to make this easy, are you mom?”

Lennie just grinned. Duncan and RJ got comfortable in the back seat, exchanging looks with Myron. He turned around to see his mother staring at him.

“What are you waiting for? Home, James!”

His brothers laughed in the back seat. Myron shook his head. “We are in so much trouble.”

Caught off guard by a wave of fatigue, Lennie relaxed back in her seat and closed her eyes, enjoying the laughter and banter of her three young men.

***

Waking to the sound of a car door closing, Lennie opened her eyes, trying to get her bearings. Duncan and Myron were standing near the front of the vehicle while RJ opened her door.

“We’re home? Oh, my god, I slept the whole way?”

RJ held on to her hand as though his mother was fragile. Lennie slipped down from the seat, suddenly aware of the brightness of the morning.

“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”

“We were enjoying the peace and quiet, mom. Well, except for the times you snored.” Duncan quipped.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Funny Man.” Lennie glared at him as she rounded the vehicle, heading for the walkway to the front door.

“Mom? Before you head inside, we want to show you something.” Duncan was backing towards the open garage bay.

Looking at each of their faces, Lennie nodded and wordlessly followed her firstborn through the garage. Myron and RJ fell into step behind her. When they reached the corner door which led to the backyard, Duncan turned and reached out his hand.

“You have to close your eyes.”

Lennie smirked, but took her son’s hand, closed her eyes, and allowed him to guide her through the door. They had only taken a few steps when he stopped.

“Okay, mom. Open your eyes.”

Lennie opened her eyes, looking in Duncan’s direction, but quickly followed his gaze.

Gasping, Lennie clutched her chest with one hand as she walked deeper into the back yard. The area around the Sugar Maple tree which had been empty when she left for the hospital, now exploded with color. There were flowers everywhere. Exotic blossoms of pinks, lavenders, and purples, obviously strategically placed, stretched proudly towards the morning sun. Tears streamed down her face as Lennie turned to face her boys. Overcome with emotion and unable to speak, she looked at each of them with a questioning glance.

Silently, RJ approached his mom, turning her back towards the tree and leading her to the other side.

She saw the banner immediately.

“Lennie’s Love Garden.”

RJ caught his mother effortlessly as her knees weakened. Audible sobs racked Lennie’s body. She held on firmly to RJ with her left hand, her right hand still clutched to her chest.

Myron walked over and knelt by the banner. “We wanted to do something special for you, mom, to let you know how grateful we are to have you for our mom, and that all your tests came back negative.” He slowly waved his hand over the floral array. “This was all Duncan’s idea.”

Lennie turned to her oldest son, and he was already at her side, kissing her on the temple.

“These are perennials. With a little weeding and a bit of pruning, they’ll bloom indefinitely.” He pointed out different flowers. “The large bell-shaped flowers are Agapanthus. These are Agastaches, and these small bell-shaped blooms are Campanulas.”

Regaining her composure, Lennie found her voice. “This explains the dirt smudges on your clothes. You all worked through the night, didn’t you?” She quickly glanced at RJ and Myron – who winked – then returned her gaze to Duncan. “And when did you become such an authority on flowers? Are the Marines including that in training now?”

RJ and Myron laughed aloud, but Duncan ducked his head sheepishly.

“Only when you’re late to PT two mornings in a row and your C.O.’s wife wants a flower garden dug.”

“Oh, Duncan…no!” Laughter overtook Lennie almost as fast as her tears had.

He shrugged. “It wasn’t so bad. She was a nice lady and explained everything to me while we worked. When she talked about perennials, I immediately thought of you.”

“Of me?” Lennie frowned. “How so?”

“Perennials are sturdy and seem to thrive in adverse conditions. Some flower bulbs need to be dug up and stored during winter. But, perennials’ roots run deep. They grab hold of the earth and pull nutrients from it. They learn to get by with less, but they still sustain themselves. As the weather warms up, perennials ‘relax’ and let their buds grow until their blossoms burst forth in the warmth of the sun. Perennials are some of the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever see.”

Duncan swiped his mother’s cheek, wiping away her fresh tears. “You’re a perennial, mom. Strong, determined. Through the worst of times, you held fast. You never let anything or anyone blur your focus. Not even our father. You gave us a great home life; supported us in all our extra-curricular activities and ran a successful business. You were an amazing mom…still are. We love you, mom.”

Planting another kiss on her temple, Duncan stepped aside as Myron kissed Lennie on the cheek. “Yeah. We love you, mom.”

Still holding her left hand, RJ raised it to his lips. “You’re the best, mom. We love you.”

RJ felt her weight shift again, and quickly slipped his arm around her. Myron did the same from Lennie’s other side, careful not to hold her too tightly. Duncan came up behind them and grabbed hold of each of his brothers, and they stood there, silently holding each other up.

***

Still looking out the bay windows, Lenore Porter smiled at her memories. She was a blessed woman, and she knew it. The more love she gave her boys, the more they gave back. She had braced herself for all sorts of conflict and resentment during their teen years. All the things other parents told her to expect. None of it ever appeared. Not having Ranard take an interest in their lives, and then not having him around at all made them stronger and more supportive of each other.

Most of the time, her husband didn’t notice or chose to ignore the regular family activities that took place without him. With all the memories flooding Lennie’s mind during her last walk through her home, she couldn’t block the one she wanted to remember least. The one time Ranard decided to insert himself into his family’s life.

Lennie couldn’t block the one memory that changed their lives…and nearly cost a life.

Part IV     Part VI

 

©Felicia Denise, 2016