Read an Excerpt
BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME
By M. William Phelps
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 M. William Phelps
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe morning of August 6, 2003, began without complication for forty-three-year-old Chris McGowan. A pleasant, reserved, middle-class Irishman, enjoying what were the best days of his life, Chris opened his eyes at 6:00 A.M. to the sound of the alarm clock buzzing in his ear. After a few moments of silence, lying in bed staring at the ceiling, Chris slipped into the shower, shaved and, after putting on a pair of Dockers and a Polo shirt, bent down and gave his fiancée, Jeanne Dominico, a kiss on the cheek.
"I'll see you at work later on, honey," he said. It was one of the more memorable moments of Chris's day: waking up and seeing Jeanne next to him.
"OK," whispered Jeanne. She was still half-asleep, bleary-eyed.
After a quick bite to eat, with the morning newspaper downstairs, Chris headed out the door, being sure to lock it behind him. Greeting the pine-scented air of Nashua, New Hampshire, the same way he had every other morning, Chris took in a deep breath, relishing the peacefulness of the New England town he had called home for a better part of his life.
As Chris approached his car, the sun was just beginning to light up the New Hampshire skyline over the mountains off to the north. Already 71 degrees by 6:50 A.M., with a forecast promising humidity levels near 80 percent and temperatures into the mid-to-upper 80s by noon, it was a tranquil morning, as most were in Nashua, so gracefully beautiful in its launch. Save for a few cars on Route 101A nearby, all Chris heard as he got into his vehicle was the chirp of the birds and rustle of the wind moving the trees gingerly back and forth. Having been born in Norwood, Massachusetts, fifty miles south, spending four years in New Jersey during the 1980s, Chris took comfort in the unadorned, slow pace of life in the Northeast.
"Nashua is home, pleasant and peaceful," Chris later remarked. "I have lived other places, but I don't feel like I'm home unless I'm in Nashua."
From Jeanne Dominico's house on Dumaine Avenue, located northwest of downtown, it was a short drive for Chris-about twenty minutes-to work at Oxford Health Plans on Central Park Drive in the town of Hooksett. Leaving Jeanne's driveway, downtown Nashua was a ten-minute ride east on Amherst (Route 101A), following the train tracks running in back of Jeanne's house, by Boire Field, Daniel Webster College and the contemporary homes dotted about Broad Acres. On those work nights when Chris stayed at Jeanne's, he liked to leave the house early the following morning. Arriving at his desk before most of his coworkers allowed Chris the opportunity to go over his schedule for the day and plan appointments. Jeanne, who worked for the same company, generally showed up an hour later, around 8:30 A.M. Both Chris and Jeanne worked on group contracts for the Benefits, Brokers and Administration department. Jeanne was the mother of two teenagers. It was important to her to be able to make sure the kids were prepared for the day before she left the house: food, rides over to friends, soccer and baseball practice. She couldn't keep a leash on them all day long while school was on summer break, but she could certainly make sure they understood she cared about what they did and where they went while she was at work.
Jeanne Dominico was preparing to celebrate her forty-fourth birthday on August 29, 2003, a matter of weeks away. Chris McGowan didn't have anything special planned for his fiancée, other than dinner, drinks, Jeanne's kids and friends around her. Just the way she'd want it. Born in 1959, Jeanne was one month older than Chris. It had turned into a joke between them. "I like older women, what can I say?" Chris jabbed jokingly while they were out with friends one night.
Jeanne smiled, laughed. Rapping him on the shoulder, she said, "Stop that."
Since they had started dating back in 2000, staying the night at Jeanne's house during the week wasn't something Chris was all that fond of doing. For Chris, the house could get chaotic and cramped at times. It was a standard New England Cape Cod-style home: two small bedrooms downstairs, a tiny eat-in kitchen, one bathroom, and a bedroom for Jeanne's only daughter upstairs, converted from an attic.
"There really wasn't a lot of room," recalled Chris. "Especially with two teenagers trying to get ready for school and Jeannie getting ready for work. That's really the only reason why I didn't sleep over that much during the week."
Chris remembered the moment he met Jeanne. It was such a vivid recollection because it was his first day on the job at Oxford. Jeanne, who worked two part-time jobs on top of her full-time gig at Oxford, had been with the company for years. Both had been assigned to the same department and started training on the same day. Since her divorce from Anthony "Tony" Kasinskas in 1999, Jeanne's focus had been on the two kids: fifteen-year-old Nicole and fourteen-year-old Drew (pseudonyms appear in italics on first occurrence). While she was at work, the kids had the run of the house. Jeanne worried about them, like any single parent, but trusted they'd make the right decisions when faced with difficult situations.
She is so different, Chris thought, staring at Jeanne, sizing her up on that day they met. Her hands held a faultless delicate mixture of femininity and ruggedness; Chris could tell she was a hard worker, yet also took the time to have her nails polished and painted, as any woman might. Her straight hair, short, cut around the ears and just to the nape of her neck, had a faint reddish tint to it that accentuated the pronounced brown burnish it held in the light. Chris was taken with Jeanne's eyes: a pale blue, just wonderful. Her face, too, was different, but then again so darn lovable; she had pudgy cheeks that bulged outward when she smiled, cute and definitive. There was no other woman Chris knew (or had ever met) who could exude such charm and eloquence with just the simple facial expression of a smile. Before he could mutter a word on that day, it was Jeanne's grin, that same mannerism her friends and neighbors later called "contagious" and "infectious," that had grabbed Chris. He felt comfortable and weak at the same time.
Chapter TwoChris McGowan lived by himself in an unassuming three-bedroom ranch a few miles north of Jeanne Dominico's house. On most weekends, he'd stay overnight at Jeanne's, but liked to give her and the kids the space they needed during the week. On top of that, Jeanne's daughter, Nicole Kasinskas (she'd kept her dad's name after Jeanne divorced), had her boyfriend, William "Billy" Sullivan Jr., a good-looking kid with buzz-cut brown hair, pimples and a lanky adolescent build, staying at the Dumaine Avenue house during the week of August 6, 2003. So, things were even more overcrowded than usual. Billy had turned eighteen that March. He'd just finished his junior year at Windham High School, and he admitted later that he immediately began supporting his mother and four sisters, with whom he lived two hours south of Nashua, in Willimantic, Connecticut. Billy took a line-cook manager's position at a Willimantic McDonald's. He had been seeing Nicole since May 2002, after he sent her a random instant message one night while he and Nicole, just fourteen, were online.
Within days, they had fallen in love.
After much discussion and debate between Jeanne and Nicole, Jeanne decided to allow Billy to stay that week in August; he had arrived on Friday, August 1. Jeanne, however, encouraged Chris to sleep over and, as she put it, "keep an eye on things." Two teenagers left alone, Jeanne opined several times with a cringe, "couldn't be trusted." It wasn't that Jeanne viewed Billy as a bad kid with the wrong intentions, but with a teenage girl and eighteen-year-old man under the same roof, left unsupervised-well, anything was possible.
"You can keep an eye on them," Jeanne had told Chris a day before Billy arrived, after reluctantly succumbing to Nicole's pleas to have him stay the week. "I'm sure Nicole won't do anything like that, she's a good girl. But let's be sure."
Chris rolled his eyes. "Jeannie ... hello," he said sarcastically, "don't be so naive. He's eighteen. She's sixteen. She's a pretty girl. Testosterone takes over. They're home all day alone while we're at work. What do you think they're doing?"
Jeanne shook her head. "It's not gonna happen, Chris. It's not gonna happen. I know Nicole."
"Well, they're kids, Jeannie. Come on. Wake up."
In any case, Billy and Nicole, at least while Chris and Jeanne were home, weren't allowed in Nicole's room together. Chris had been taking on a self-described "father figure" role in the household, ever since he and Jeanne started talking about marriage. More than that, Chris didn't want to see Nicole get hurt. He had become close to her and Drew as his relationship with Jeanne blossomed. Best he could, Chris kept peace among everyone and dealt with certain situations Jeanne had little tolerance for-mostly, Billy's persistent stance regarding being with Nicole all the time, and his shameless, dreamlike talk of one day marrying her. Most of all, when Chris was home, he kept the kids busy: talking, playing board games, watching television. So they wouldn't, he said, "get bored."
As Chris suspected, it was much too late to stop the progress of Billy and Nicole's relationship. Over the past fifteen months, despite the distance between them, they had built an insuperable bond, which had caused great tension between Nicole and Jeanne. By the third day of Billy's visit, Jeanne had explained to both kids that Billy needed to go back to Connecticut that Thursday, August 7. And she had told Chris and Nicole she wasn't thrilled about Billy returning anytime soon. Jeanne wanted Nicole to start focusing once again on being a teenager; and wanted her to get back into the chorus at school, a role Nicole had always embraced and excelled in-that is, until Billy came along. Nicole was much too young to be thinking about spending the rest of her life with Billy, or any boy for that matter. She had consistently made honors in school. Jeanne and Chris didn't want to see her potential (or life) wasted by getting wrapped up in a heated love affair at such a young age. They felt the upcoming school year was not only pivotal where her future was concerned, but would be one of the most difficult. With Billy now talking about marriage and living together, filling up space in her head, it put pressure on Nicole to stay focused on the relationship, instead of school. Jeanne was afraid school was going to become secondary to Nicole's love-or, as many later said, "lust"-for Billy. They had been talking about moving into their own apartment. It was impossible for Jeanne to dismiss the relationship as puppy love. Billy had written a list of household items he and Nicole might need once they moved in together, and estimated the cost of each item. It seemed simplistic, even adolescent, on the surface, but showed, at least, how seriously he and Nicole were taking the relationship.
Then there was the letter Jeanne had received recently from Billy that was telling, in and of itself.
"First of all," Billy wrote, "I'd like to thank you for giving birth to the most amazing and beautiful girl in the world." He said he loved Nicole with "all my heart and have every intention of spending my life with her.... I will love her and ... treat her with all the respect in the world." He also mentioned that he and Nicole had been talking about moving to Connecticut and living with his mother and sisters. Nicole could transfer to Windham High School. It would all work out, Billy promised. Still, he wanted Jeanne's support and blessing.
About six months after Nicole and Billy first met, then-fifteen-year-old Nicole wrote Jeanne a similar letter, explaining her feelings for Billy. The letter was a bit more blatant, persuasive and, quite honestly, sobering, detailing how seriously Nicole was taking her feelings for Billy. First, Nicole said she'd discussed the situation with Billy and agreed that it was time for her to be legally "emancipated" from Jeanne.
"Mom ... I want to move in with Billy," wrote Nicole. "I'm really not happy here.... Billy is the only person who makes me happy.... I'm sick of this house ... family [and] ... don't want to live here anymore."
It wasn't the Nicole that Jeanne, Chris or even Drew knew. She was clearly being influenced by Billy, they believed, maybe even controlled.
As Nicole suspected, the letter didn't sit well with Jeanne. She became "very angry" and started screaming, Nicole later explained. Weeks after, Nicole mentioned that she was thinking about opening up a joint bank account with Billy in Connecticut.
"Haven't I taught you anything?" raged Jeanne when she found out.
Nicole walked away without responding. "She wasn't very pleased with me. I thought she just didn't understand me."
After Jeanne explained to Nicole that Billy was going back to Connecticut "for good"-"Don't ask me again!"-and Nicole wasn't allowed to see him for a while, Jeanne told her there wasn't to be any more discussion of the relationship. It was time to end it, or at least allow a cooling-off period. Nicole was Jeanne's baby, her firstborn. Billy was overstepping his boundaries and coming between them.
For crying out loud, Jeanne told Chris, "I want my daughter back."
Chapter ThreeWhile they were at work during the day on August 6, Chris McGowan and Jeanne Dominico didn't talk much beyond a quick, passing hello. Chris stopped by Jeanne's cubicle once in a while to "chitchat," but it was minimal at best. It wasn't that they didn't want to talk, or had trouble communicating. Jeanne was adamant when they started dating that their relationship not affect their job performances.
"It's not fair to our employer."
Chris agreed. Work wasn't a place for romance. They could say hi, certainly. Maybe eat lunch together once in a while, if their schedules permitted it. But that was going to be the extent of it.
At around 4:30 P.M., Chris walked over to Jeanne's desk, which was on the opposite side of the building from where he sat. It was the end of Chris's day. He wanted to stop by and tell Jeanne he was leaving. Ever since they'd started dating, Chris rarely left the office without stopping by Jeanne's desk and "touching base." They had decided earlier that afternoon Chris was going to his house after work to grab a quick shower, change and meet Jeanne at her Dumaine Avenue house between 7:00 and 7:30 P.M. Jeanne mentioned something about picking up dinner on the way home. There was a pizza place, Ciao's, near the house. Jeanne loved it. On certain nights, beginning at five o'clock, the price of a pizza was determined by the time a customer called: 5:00 P.M. meant a five-dollar pizza.
"Jeanne was a penny-pincher," Chris remembered with an admiring laugh in his voice. "She looked to save wherever she could. She would have called Ciao's exactly at five P.M., not a minute sooner or later. I know her."
Approaching the aisle of Jeanne's cubicle, Chris poked his head around the corner. "I'm heading home to change, shower and check my mail. I'll be over around seven, seven-thirty."
Jeanne had a routine every night when she returned home from work at five-thirty. She'd clean up after the mess the kids left during the day, something that bothered Chris, and then tend to her many other single-mom suburban chores.
"I told her they needed to clean up after themselves. The kids would trash the house. And that's the type of person Jeanne was. She wouldn't think twice about working all day and going home to clean up. She didn't like it when I'd come over while she was cleaning up after them, because I'd get on her to make the kids do it."
As Chris hung around Jeanne's cubicle, itching to leave, Jeanne said, "I called the kids. I'm gonna pick up a couple of pizzas on my way home."
"Do you need anything else?" asked Chris. "Soda? Chips?"
Jeanne was totally absorbed in her work. She had spent the day training a coworker and they were still engaged in their work as the clock ticked its way toward five. Jeanne had received flowers from Chris the previous day, August 5. The flowers weren't supposed to arrive until August 14, which was Chris and Jeanne's anniversary of meeting each other. But the flower shop botched the order and Jeanne ended up with the flowers that Monday. When coworkers asked Jeanne about the flowers, she said with a smile, "Just because."
"She beamed when people stopped and asked about the flowers," said Marge Alcorn, the woman she was training that day.
"No, we don't need anything. I'll see you later, honey. OK?" said Jeanne as Chris stood by.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
"No wine ... anything?"
Excerpted from BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME by M. William Phelps Copyright © 2007 by M. William Phelps. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.