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By Virginia L. White
Abbott PressCopyright © 2012 Virginia L. White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Dreamer
November 22, 1980
Cassie Ramsey rushed out of the house and into the cool, crisp morning, paused on the porch, and turned to shout orders to her husband, Richard. "Watch out for Trisha! Make sure she doesn't forget her homework, and make sure she wears a warm coat!" She let the door slam over her last words. In no time at all, she was in the car and was on her way to work.
Cassie and her husband lived in Mason County, Washington, with their six-year-old daughter, Trisha Marie. Their home stood at the southwestern tip of Puget Sound, with the Cascade Mountains on the horizon. Puget Sound held water from the Pacific Coast to provide a port for oceangoing ships from Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. This peaceful waterfront had been home to the Ramsey family since their move from New Orleans before Trisha was born.
This particular morning, Cassie could not concentrate on the beauty of her surroundings. Her mind was wandering as she drove to the local high school where she taught English. She recalled the reason they had moved here from New Orleans because that reason still haunted her very existence. "I miss the old place," she said aloud, heaving a sigh as she thought about the place where she had grown up. Her life, as far back as she could remember, had been riddled with the unrelenting persistence to learn about her heritage, and recurring nightmares continued to plague her restless nights.
"You're obsessed with digging up the roots of your past!" Richard often accused her. "I thought moving to Washington would solve everything—the constant nightmares that leave you empty and tormented ... and what about that insane desire to claim your biological identity? You're obsessed with your biology! Why can't you just appreciate who you are, Cassie? Maybe then your nightmares would stop."
"You've always known how I feel about that!" she would argue.
"All the same," he'd persist, "you need to let go, Cassie. If anything, the problem has only intensified. You're obsessed, woman, and even after we've been settled here in Washington for over eight years, nothing has changed. We know it just isn't going to go away. Apparently I am helpless to do anything about that. Why can no one seem to help? Not any of those so-called doctors I keep dragging you to see. Your obsession with your past is going to destroy this family. It's stealing precious time away from me and Trisha."
Cassie suddenly slammed on the brakes, interrupting her train of thought as she swerved to miss an oncoming car. Shaking, she pulled off the road. When the car came to a full stop, she rested her forehead against the steering wheel. She tried, but she couldn't let go of the past. She could feel the goose bumps creeping across her flesh.
Henry Porter and his wife, Gwen, had adopted Cassie as an infant. Even though she had questioned her parents periodically about how she came to be adopted, they had always been reluctant to discuss the details with her. She could remember one afternoon—she was five years old at the time—when she walked in the house unexpectedly and saw her mother and father sitting at the kitchen table totally engrossed in a conversation, unaware of her presence.
"Maybe we should have been honest with Cassie to begin with." Her father had sighed, taking her mother's hand in his.
He looks so sad, Cassie had thought at the time. Without another word, they both turned to stare at her, looking a little frightened. Cassie couldn't explain what was going on that day, but she could read the fear written all over both her parents' faces.
Henry Porter was killed in a boating accident when Cassie was just six years old. She could remember very little about her father. He had been gentle and kind, and he had loved to play with her. He always made room for her, regardless of how busy he was at the time. He made her laugh with all kinds of silliness, such as letting her "honk the horn" until his nose turned red, or pretending he couldn't see her and then looking surprised when she approached him. The thing she remembered most was his loud, hearty laugh as he swung her high in the air until she was dizzy and unable to stand on her feet when he finally put her down.
"I'll never forget the feel of those strong, safe arms holding me, and that hearty laugh," she repeatedly shared with her mother. Cassie and her mother were very close. Gwen had always been supportive, but she was also always equally evasive whenever Cassie questioned her about her biological parents. Gwen always turned a deaf ear and claimed to know nothing about them. Although Cassie had no reason to disbelieve her mother, curiosity would always rear its ugly head and get the better of her.
She started up the car and continued on her way to work.
Back at the house, Richard was pouring his second cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. "I was on my way to the grocery store," Gwen greeted him. "I thought you might need me to pick up some things for Cassie's birthday party tonight."
"Now, Gwen," he reminded her, "Trisha has insisted on doing everything herself. So if it turns out to be a disaster, it's no big deal. I promised to let her do all the planning and the decorating. But here is a list that I will swear I know nothing about, just in case!" He grinned. "I'm not saying the child can't get carried away when she's left on her own, but we both know how high-strung and sensitive she's always been. It doesn't take a lot to get her wound up, especially when she's in cahoots with that imaginary friend of hers, Nomed."
"No problem! My lips are sealed," Gwen said, placing a finger to her lips as a gesture of cooperation as she grabbed a chair and planted herself at the kitchen table. "Now, how about a cup of that coffee? I didn't come empty handed," she said, setting a grease-spotted brown paper bag down on the table in front of him. "I got doughnuts! Just the kind you like—chocolate with raspberry filling. Although I never could understand why you like those mushy filled things. Give me the old powdered sugar–covered cake doughnuts any day."
"That's just because they remind you of beignets," Richard reasoned, reaching in the bag for a doughnut. He took a bite and uttered a sigh of contentment while the jellylike substance oozed from the corners of his mouth.
Gwen was a very outspoken woman. Cassie, Richard, and Trisha were the only family she had or needed. They were a close-knit family and spent a lot of time together. She never found it difficult to speak what was on her mind at any given time. Richard loved that about his mother-in-law and saw it as a positive trait. "I always know where I stand when it comes to my mother-in–law," he was often heard to say.
While Richard poured more coffee, Gwen propped one elbow on the table, supporting her head with her hand as she crossed her legs and continued to chatter on aimlessly between bites of doughnut. "Speaking of Trisha, you do spoil that child you know," she commented.
"Listen to the pot calling the kettle black!" he fired back.
"Yeah, but that's my job, Richard. Your job is to make sure she grows up to be a responsible adult. And mine is to make your job harder and enjoy just being Grandma." She grinned over at him, wiping her mouth with a paper napkin. Richard was about to sit down with another cup of coffee when they heard a loud crash from the living room.
"It's okay!" Trisha shouted from the next room. "I just up-dumped the box!" A few minutes later, she appeared in the kitchen dragging a huge cardboard box behind her. It was filled with an assortment of decorations. She paused for a moment to catch her breath. "It's for the party!" she proudly announced.
"Looks as if you've got everything in there but the kitchen sink, honey," Gwen noted, peering down into the box.
Trisha glanced toward her grandmother, frowning. "I've got a bunch of ideas in my head—but not in the box," she boasted.
"I'll just bet you have, honey," her grandmother said, trying hard to keep a straight face.
"How about we all sit down and have some breakfast?" Richard suggested. "I made enough food for an army."
Trisha wrinkled her nose, looking a bit puzzled.
"It's just a saying, honey," he assured her. "Now get busy and eat. You're going to be late for school and get me in trouble with your mother."
"Don't touch my box while I'm gone," she told him.
"I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole," he promised. Again, the troubled look came over the little girl's face as she tightened her lips in puzzlement. "Never mind," Richard said, shaking his head as he looked over at Gwen's smug reaction.
"Some people never learn!" She smiled, draining the last of her coffee. After a quiet breakfast with Richard and Trisha, Gwen got up to leave. "I have to be going. I have a lot of shopping to get done. I'll see the two of you tonight," she said, hurrying toward the door.
"You run upstairs and get your books, Trisha," Richard urged his daughter. "You don't want to miss the school bus." After much urging, he finally managed to get her safely on the school bus, only to have to chase it down to give his daughter her coat. He drained his last cup of coffee, cleared the table, and left for his job at the local bank.
Tall and slim, Richard was a gentle and easygoing man. He was as patient as he was intelligent. His family always came first and foremost in his life. He was well liked and had few anxieties, except for his distress over Cassie's nagging dreams and the endless torment that haunted his family. He often compared Cassie's nightmares to a troublesome sore that couldn't be healed.
It was late that afternoon when Cassie arrived back home. It had been a long, stressful day at work. She pulled into the driveway tired and worn out, the stress she felt exacerbated by the lack of sleep from the night before. She put the light-green Ford Mustang convertible in park and stumbled out of the car. Somehow, the stack of books she was carrying spilled out all over the driveway. While she bent down to retrieve the scattered books, the neighbor's big, gray-and-white cat Caesar jumped up onto her back, leaving a little parade of wet, muddy, telltale paw prints across the back of her coat.
She grabbed for the cat, but he slipped through her fingers and streaked his way across the front lawn toward the house next door. "Come back here you little demon fur ball!" Defeated, she let herself into the house. "Lord, it's good to be home!" She heaved a sigh of relief, dumped the books and her purse on the kitchen table, and kicked off her shoes. Finally beginning to settle, she put some water on the stove to heat for tea.
"Is anyone home?" she called out. No answer. She sat down at the kitchen table to review the day's events while she waited for the kettle to boil. It had been a rough day. Although she was an English teacher, a good many troubled students persisted on approaching her for personal advice. She loved her work at the high school. She was comfortable with her job, though the principal, Mrs. Tuttle, would sometimes tend to take advantage of her good nature. All in all it worked out very well. She knew her hard work was appreciated. It keeps me from thinking and dwelling on my own problems, she often told herself. It was hard for her to believe she had turned thirty-two years old today. She heaved another sigh as she reached for the steaming teakettle. After a relaxing cup of herbal tea, she made her way upstairs to take a bath.
Cassie had no sooner stepped into the bathtub than her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the front door slamming. "Hi, Mom," Trisha shouted. "It's me and Daddy! We're home! Grandma's here too!"
"Your loved ones are home!" Richard added.
"I know what this means," she said. "Party time!" They always made a big fuss over her birthday. She would keep insisting they not do that, because she preferred not to advertise the fact that she was another year older and didn't need to be reminded of that fact. But they knew she always appreciated all their efforts.
"I'm upstairs in the bathroom!" she yelled back, taking a deep breath as she slid slowly down into the warm, sudsy water, feeling the slick surface of the smooth, white porcelain against her wet back. The sweet vapor of lilac-scented bath salts drifted lazily across her face. She couldn't help smiling to herself, thinking about Trisha downstairs. The little girl would be so excited getting ready for the big birthday party. It took so little to get the child all worked up; she was very excitable. She could brighten up the gloomiest day with just a tilt of her pretty little head and a flash of that innocent smile she carried so well.
Trisha was a delightful, mischievous little girl who was as carefree and happy as only a young child can be. She was petite, and her hair was the color of pumpkin. She had a healthy appetite for life. She had a low level of understanding for the English language but made up for it with her incredible talent for the art of drawing. She loved to sing, but sad to say, her voice never realized that love. She could not carry a tune, and anyone who had heard her sing could certainly vouch for that fact. But it never discouraged her. At every opportunity, her voice would ring out with enthusiasm while listeners cringed in rebellion—but not enough to discourage her from singing.
"Hurry up, Mom!" Trisha yelled upstairs a short time later, her voice once again piercing Cassie's solitude.
"I'll be down shortly!" she shouted back as she continued to linger in the luxury of her warm, silky bubble bath. Her thoughts immediately turned to a recent conversation with Richard concerning her nightmares. "The visitors are so real," she had explained to him. "Sometimes it seems as if I can almost reach out and touch them. When I wake up in the middle of a dream, I can still feel their presence. Why me, Richard? What do they want of me? I've been having nightmares since I was a child; they keep getting more and more intense as I grow older. I keep trying to talk about my dreams with Mom, but she's so touchy about the subject. Every time I reach out to her, she just clams up, leaving me even more anxious and confused. She reacts the same way when I approach her with questions about my adoption. I have a hard time understanding why she is so secretive about the whole thing."
"Enough of this!" she mumbled to herself, grabbing a towel from the round brass ring on the wall next to the tub as she reluctantly stepped out of the water and pulled the chain to release the bath water. "Its party time!" she voiced, wrapping the soft, wooly, red towel around her wet body. (She didn't like plain white linens. She complained that they were too sterile looking, and she bought only colorful towels and sheets.) She padded down the hall in her bedroom slippers, her straight, ebony hair still dripping down across the towel that covered her back and shoulders. Cassie was tall, and her eyes were remarkably blue. She was a natural beauty with her long, shapely legs and the easy way she carried herself.
Back in her bedroom, she slipped into her favorite outfit—a soft, pink, silk flowered blouse with a V-shaped neckline and a short, pink skirt with a matching jacket. She was about to go downstairs when her mother stopped her on the stair landing. "Don't go down there yet, honey!" she cautioned. "Trisha is trying to surprise you. But as your mother, I thought it only fair to warn you what's going on. The child has truly outdone herself this time. I don't need to tell you to look surprised—that will come naturally!" She chuckled quietly. "Just try not to look too shocked. I think Richard has had a hand in this whole scheme. He even looks guilty. It's a little bizarre down there!"
Gwen turned away from Cassie's puzzled expression, but not before Cassie realized her mother was struggling to keep herself from breaking out in laughter.
"Good Lord!" Her expression forced her mother to turn and look at her. "If Richard is involved in this, we're probably in a lot of trouble. You know how that man allows Trisha to wrap him around her little finger. He gets tongue tied whenever it comes time to say no to the child. We should go down there before they get carried away with this party." She marched down the stairs, stopping a few steps from the bottom, and peered into the living room.
To Cassie's shock, the downstairs was alive with color, flavored with every conceivable holiday design all rolled into one. "I—I don't believe this!" she stammered. She turned to face her mother, who had followed right behind. "It looks like a drunken, runaway carnival!" she gasped.
There were strings of colored lights everywhere, and there were some Happy New Year streamers and Japanese lanterns stretched across the living room. They had blotted out the words New Year and added Birthday. Everything was covered with ghosts and bunny rabbits. There was even a plastic Santa Claus! Cassie paused long enough to catch her breath.
Excerpted from Broken Branches by Virginia L. White Copyright © 2012 by Virginia L. White. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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