Read an Excerpt
The Story of Ultimate Betrayal and Love
By Linda Masemore Pirrung
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Linda Masemore Pirrung
All rights reserved.
The sunlight filtered through the leaves of the huge old oak trees in Steph's plush lawn. The afternoon air was warm, but there was relief in the gentle breeze, which made the leaves rustle and tremble. They shimmered brilliantly in the golden glow of the sun. The murmur of the wind in the trees and the dull roar of a plane overhead were the only sounds until ...
"You're too big for your britches, little guy," Meg teased Tyler as she reached out to rumple his hair.
Out of Steph's house, the women came, chatting happily as they rounded up Meg's rambunctious children and then attempted to coerce them into the car.
Meg and Steph were in their twenties, both stay-at-home moms, and the best of friends. With a slew of children between them, they enjoyed sharing in the multitude of duties and details that went with the job.
A woman's scream suddenly directed their attention toward a neighboring home. It seemed to come from a recent acquaintance of Steph's. Her name was Monica; she was a mature woman who had suffered through the death of her husband. They brought their hands up to their foreheads to shade their eyes from the sunlight and squinted against the brilliance, trying to focus.
They lived in a pretty uneventful, close-knit, and ordinarily safe neighborhood, but that was about to change.
A sudden burst of fear surged through their bodies, causing them to shiver involuntarily.
The immediacy of the moment didn't allow them time to think. A rush of adrenaline summoned newfound courage in Steph and sent her rushing down the street toward Monica's house.
Meg stayed with the children, and they all watched Steph disappear from sight inside Monica's house. She listened with a mounting sense of dread.
Now Steph's ear-piercing shriek caused a constricting pain in Meg's chest and left her no choice but to leave her oldest, her six-year-old son, and concerned neighbors in charge of all of the children. Her fear intensified but didn't make her hesitate for a moment.
All the hard work it took to win the track awards and medals weren't in vain. She surely broke her own record to get to Steph ahead of the collecting crowd.
The house smelled of lily of the valley, reminiscent of her childhood visits to her grandmother's house, Meg noticed right away. She followed the low, unintelligible muttering sound. She sucked in her breath as it caught in her throat when she found Steph. She was totally inconsolable, huddled in a corner in the hall, covering her face with her hands.
"Steph?" Meg said in a soothing tone as she wrapped her arms around her in an attempt to comfort her. "What is it?"
Steph was unable to respond coherently at first. She kept trying to tell Meg something. Finally, the words came out. "A woman flew out of here and knocked me down in the process. Did you see her?"
Meg claimed she hadn't.
"In the bedroom ..." Steph cried. Her voice trailed off. She covered her face with her hands again and cried vehemently.
Meg forced herself to walk toward the bedroom door. She took in a lungful of air and stiffened her body, preparing herself to see something unpleasant.
Stephanie was sobbing so loudly by then that Meg didn't hear her son walk in. Suddenly, without warning, her precocious Tyler came barreling through the door.
"Noooo!" Meg screamed. She grabbed him too late. Their eyes widened in shocked disbelief. They experienced the gruesome scene together.
Monica was dressed in a lacy black nightgown, lying face up on her bed. Her mouth was wide open, terror congealed in her face, curls hanging loose on the pillow, except for the ones adhering to her head and cheek, stuck there with her own blood.
Meg averted her head, biting back the tears. She took hold of herself, and perfectly calm, in spite of the revulsion bubbling up in her throat, she turned her son around and guided him out the door, out of the horror scene.
Steph seemed rooted to the spot, but Meg got a firm grip on her shoulders and pulled her to her feet. Still unsteady, they managed to walk out of the house together.
A deluge of people from the neighborhood awaited them along with the beginning of the rosy sunset.
Having regained her composure, Steph couldn't help but reflect on Monica's last words to her, which were still reverberating in her head, the image of her indelibly imprinted on her mind. She allowed herself to drift with her thoughts. Poor Monica. She was no longer alone in the world. The challenge of starting a new life without her husband was no longer one she would have to face. She was back with him now. After all, heaven was where they all wanted to be eventually. Steph tried to find some comfort in that thought. But poor Monica had been summoned home so brutally. The image of her face leaped up before her eyes. She was so well preserved, not showing her years on this earth, tell-tale lines around her eyes and mouth hardly discernible, such grace, such dignity; that dignity had evaporated. Steph's eyes welled with tears. She was appalled.
Meg and Steph rejoined their children, trying to find the words to explain this cruel, ugly, distasteful part of life.
Meg put her arms around Tyler in an attempt to comfort him. There was no response. "Tyler!" she cried out. She looked him straight in the eyes. "Tyler!" Meg grasped him by his shoulders and gave him a gentle shake, as if to jog him back into reality. Nothing.
Ron drove up about that time. He approached his wife. "Steph, what's going on?"
Steph started to fill him in when Meg screamed. "Tyler!"
For the first time in all of this horror, Meg lost control. She screamed with big tears dripping off her face. "Something's wrong with Tyler! He's not responding! He looks catatonic!"
Steph begged the police to allow Meg to take her son to the doctor; she said that she'd stay and answer the questions.
Ron offered to drive Meg and Tyler to the emergency room. Meg certainly wasn't in any shape to drive.
The hospital waiting room was filled with people who loved and cared about Tyler. Ron sat with his arm around Meg in a comforting gesture.
Hayley watched them with her usual judgmental glare, which betrayed her suspicious notions. Hayley had introduced Steph to Meg and harbored a tinge of resentment since the two women had been inseparable ever since.
Meg couldn't reach her husband, Dan, so Ron assumed the role of consoling husband and protective father for the evening.
Whitney, one of the psychiatric specialists on staff, finally came out to talk to Meg. "Experiencing trauma in childhood can have long-lasting effects if not treated. Traumatized children see the world as frightening and dangerous. If trauma is not resolved, it can carry over to adulthood. It's important to communicate openly with Tyler. Let him know that it's perfectly normal to feel scared and upset. You need to set the example and let him see you dealing with the symptoms in a positive way. He's withdrawn inside himself now, but with therapy, I think he will speak again when he feels ready."
* * *
Only months before, Whitney had been anxiously looking at her petite diamond and gold watch. She was running late but still took the time to park her bright-red exquisitely new Jag convertible across the street to protect it from other cars.
She rushed up John and Hayley's front steps and across the porch to the open door.
John gave her a quick grin as he held the door open for her. "Did you take the time to wax your new wheels first, Whitney?"
Whitney wrinkled her nose at him and grinned without making an excuse.
Hayley took Whitney around by her tiny waist and propelled her toward Ron and Stephanie Adams.
"This is my oldest and dearest friend, Whitney Blake."
Whitney shook hands with them, smiling. "No, I'm no relation to the Whitney Blake, the actress."
"Ron and Stephanie have four children," Hayley continued.
"Oh, how do you manage?" Whitney mused sympathetically.
"Just barely," Stephanie replied. "I used to be a computer programmer. But Ron and I agreed that the children would be our top priority, so I traded in my forty-hour-a-week job for my twenty-four-hour-a-day, three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day-a-year job of mommy."
"Humph!" Hayley blurted, repelled. "I sure wouldn't have quit. I started back to work when Mark was six months old. I was climbing the walls with boredom. I believe a woman gets intellectually lazy if she stays home with kids all day. Her mind wastes away to mush."
Stephanie gave Hayley a stern glare. Her manner seemed brittle, as if her nerves were stretched taut like a canvas on a frame. "I think it's much nobler to postpone a career to be with and guide those precious little beings we choose to bring into this world than to go on with our lives like they don't exist. Children should be number one, top priority in the parents' lives, not last on a long list of things to do. A career woman is used to getting all the attention, having an exciting social life, self-importance, money coming in, control of her own life. When she has children, all that attention needs to go to family first. Bringing children into this world is a huge responsibility, the most important, the most worthwhile, and the hardest job there is. There's nothing more important and testing than being responsible for molding and guiding a human being. I say, if you're not willing to sacrifice a huge part of yourself, then you shouldn't become a mother. If you don't want to be bothered with children, then I say give them up for adoption. Give them to people who are capable of giving love and attention and who will cherish them."
Hayley's eyes widened in shocked disbelief. Her chest quivered with indignation as she announced with alarm, "Well, we spent every weekend and evenings with him."
Steph countered, "You think you're giving them quality time on weekends and evenings? Hah! You're with them during their sleeping time mostly. Quality time is for aunts and uncles and grandparents. It's not for the mother. If you don't have free babysitting service, it doesn't pay enough. I know too many women who have openly admitted that they pay more for a babysitter than they make working, but it's a heck of a lot easier going to work than it is being with kids for twenty-four hours a day. They're the women who don't deserve to have the noble and honorable role as mother."
"Whew! It didn't take Hayley long to crawl under someone's skin," Whitney whispered to John.
In her late twenties, Hayley was almost as tall as her husband, enough so that she felt more comfortable wearing low-heeled shoes. She had a milky-white porcelain complexion and thick, natural curly red hair that she constantly fought to keep straightened. Her beautifully defined facial features were accented perfectly by just the right touch of makeup. Hayley's lovely hourglass figure had become even more voluptuous since childbirth. Her languid manner and habit of talking slowly while not looking at one deceptively hid the sting of her frequent verbal put-downs and caustic remarks. Her defensiveness sadly took away from her appeal.
Hayley's husband, John, was over six feet tall with a dark, dense, brawny body and a dark, thick head of hair. His facial features were ruggedly sculpted with a movie-star quality. He seemed to wear a constant blush, like windburn, and his wise smile complemented his ever freshly dressed appearance. He was always impeccably groomed, and he was the model of organization and efficiency and worked tirelessly at it.
Hayley and Whitney had grown up together, sharing all the passions and heartbreaks of adolescence. When it came to boys, Whitney was always the favored one. Hayley's long-suffering struggle with jealousy toward Whitney had gravitated toward guilt-ridden loathing at times.
Whitney was small in stature but big in character. She had authority to her manner and confidence in her posture. Not only was she poised and charming, but she was kind and compassionate. Her features were pointed and delicate, and her eyes were full of quick intelligence. Her shoulder-length light-brown, blonde-streaked hair was feathered back to reveal her tiny fragile earlobes from which diamond earrings dangled.
Hayley served a variety of appetizers, along with bread, wine, and cheese. She appeared beside Whitney with a plate of snickerdoodles.
"Hayley, like I even have to ask, did you make the bread?" Whitney asked politely.
"Of course, you didn't have to ask. I spent most of the weekend kneading dough and preparing food for this shindig, but I love it! I love to cook as you can plainly see," Hayley declared, putting both hands on her rounded tummy.
"I'm impressed. I make bread every once in a while. There's nothing more wonderful than the smell of fresh-baked bread permeating through the house," Stephanie remarked.
Stephanie turned to Whitney. "Hayley tells me that you're a psychiatric specialist. I would love to hear about your practice," she prodded.
"Yes, I am," Whitney obliged. "I get great satisfaction from it. I've always been fascinated by how the mind works and how intricate it is. Every single aspect of a person's life is completely guided by how the mind works around events and people in their lives. I'm a very private person about many things, but get me on this subject and I'm an open book."
"That sounds like such an interesting career. And you're single?" Steph asked, amazed.
Her cheeks rosy from drinking, Hayley set the tray of cookies on the wrought-iron table and took advantage of Steph's question to Whitney. The light played off the planes of her face only to further reveal her disdain. Her lips curled into a sneer. "Yes, Whitney can't find anyone good enough for her," she meowed sarcastically in an acid tone.
The little group managed to maintain tactful silence.
Overhearing Hayley's unwarranted and distasteful comment, John gave her a piercing look and exhaled slowly with flared nostrils. His lips thinned with displeasure, his eyes never leaving hers until he turned and raced to Whitney's defense. "Whitney's worked very hard on her career. It took a lot of sacrifice and dedication. She has a fabulous townhouse of her own, a new Jag, and she takes exciting vacations when she feels like it. How many women can say that? She did it all on her own. Nobody handed it to her."
"You've got my vote. I'm jealous." Stephanie sighed.
Before Stephanie had her first baby, Ron felt he was secondary status in relationship to his wife, a dull appendage to his successful Stephanie. He felt at the time that it was necessary to start a family to salvage their marriage. Steph wasn't aware of his feelings at that time. She settled happily into domesticity, vastly indulging her cooking and child-rearing talents.
John and Hayley were proud of their lovely brown-and-white two-story home. It was comfortably and luxuriously appointed with floor-to-ceiling windows. Their dramatic entrance hall lent excitement and graciousness to entertaining. The marble floor flowed to a sweeping staircase, which led to a curved open balcony hall. There were floor-to-ceiling arched windows throughout their home and luxurious bathrooms with crystal and gold faucets at the end of marble-cornered tubs.
"Stephanie and Ron, I'd like you to meet Meg and Dan Lane. They have two children in the same age group as yours," John was saying.
Meg was a petite, tense young woman and was drooling sexy with her disheveled, overabundance of chestnut-colored natural curls cascading about her shoulders. Her low-cut red dress contradicted her seemingly vulnerable, defensive, and aloof manner. She had beautiful warm, brown bedroom eyes and full, sensuous relaxed lips.
Meg's husband, Dan, had a muscular, bronze build and a seeming self-cherished grin on a boyishly featured handsome face. When he laughed, he revealed perfect white teeth, which combined with his sandy-colored hair and deeply bronzed skin made him look like he'd just jumped off his surfboard. He seemed to tower over his tiny wife and had a habit of resting his elbow on her shoulder as if leaning on her.
"It's nice to meet you," Steph said, smiling politely. "Where do you live, Meg?"
"We live on Holland Drive in the stone colonial with white columns," Meg answered shyly.
"How long have you lived there?"
"About two years."
"How old are your children?"
"We have a six-month-old girl and a six-year-old boy."
"Oh? We have a six-year-old, Zach."
Dan intervened, "We've heard our Tyler mention his name. They must be in the same class at school ... I'm a mechanic. What's your game, Ron?"
Excerpted from Cracked Hearts by Linda Masemore Pirrung. Copyright © 2013 Linda Masemore Pirrung. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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