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To the Last Breath
ONEThis is how it began: with warm sun and cool Gulf Coast waters gently splashing against the Galveston beach. There was infectious laughter everywhere as young voices, most of them belonging to college students, celebrated the intoxicating freedom of the annual ritual known as spring break. They came for the beer parties and the pot, or simply to kick back and enjoy the freedom from parental watch, classroom lectures, and boring jobs back home.They got drunk and high, a lot of them got sick, and a few were even arrested. Some fell in love ... .There had been a time when the Galveston Island spring break festivities were sole property of college students--young men and women, single and carefree, who came to spend Daddy's money, flash their fraternity pins, and put aside the mysteries of calculus or introductory tort law for a few glorious, fun-filled days.By the spring of 1987, however, the caravan of students from the University of Texas and SMU and even Bible-thumping Baylor University had been joined by an increasingly large number of party-crashers. There were the high-school kids, wide-eyed and impressionable, who had grown up with the legend of sun-and-sex fun the event promised and simply had to get an early preview of its magic. Though more spectators than participants, they could be counted on to return home with wild good-time stories generally woven of pure sideline fantasy.Then there were those of college age but no college affiliation,young people whose academic pursuits had come to a screeching halt on high school graduation night. They worked the graveyard shift at local refineries or in secretarial pools, part of a generation already enslaved to the two-dollar woes and second-lien mortgages of adulthood. They had begun trekking to the Galveston beaches in greater numbers, mingling with the Sigma Nus and Tri Delts, partying away precious vacation time or manufactured sick days in an attempt to recapture the delights of fun and freedom.To those who studied the social makeup of the annual gathering, the latter group was judged the saddest. They called them the "wannabes," outsiders peering through a window at lost youth and missed opportunity.Tanned and athletic-looking, Michael Shane Goode--he preferred that his friends call him Shane--could have easily passed for a collegian. His dark hair was razor cut and, though alone, he moved about the beach as if there was purpose to his presence.In truth he was neither collegian nor man on any specific mission. Shane Goode, a postal worker in the nearby Houston suburb of Clear Creek, married but separated from his wife, had made the trip to Galveston on his motorcycle, hoping to restore some excitement to a life that had grown increasingly boring. Since his 1979 graduation from Pasadena High School, his life had followed a routinely flat-line path: a couple of years in the army spent stateside, marriage to his high-school sweetheart, fatherhood, and a going-nowhere job as a Westinghouse salesman before his dad had helped him get a job with the post office.Shane Goode was a walking definition of the spring break wannabe, cruising the beach in hopes of getting in on the action.Annette Tollett, meanwhile, had somewhat reluctantly joined a visiting cousin who had insisted they drive down from Houston and see what the spring break phenomenon was all about. Shy and generally uncomfortable in crowds, Annette was a pretty girl, tall and brunette. Divorced and working as a bookkeeper for a car rental agency, she felt out of placeamong those traveling to the historic Gulf Coast island.Even before striking up a conversation with her, Shane Goode would make. note of what he determined to be an endearing vulnerability in her face. And it pleased him greatly that she seemed genuinely flattered that he had singled her out. The Shane Goode charm, though maybe a little rusty, still worked.Before the day ended he had entertained her with stories of his exploits in the military, soothed her concerns about his impending divorce, and had asked for her phone number. To her surprise, Annette readily provided it.Almost giddy during the return home that evening, she and her cousin talked at length about the concept of love at first sight.The following day Shane phoned and they talked late into the evening. Soon he was stopping by every afternoon after work. They went out to dinner and movies. He took her dancing. And he began to send roses so regularly that the ones previously delivered were still fresh when another dozen arrived. She would find notes (" ... hope you have a great day... find time to think of me ...") in his familiar handwriting waiting beneath the windshield of her car when she left for work.Annette was, for the first time in her life, the object of an old-fashioned courtship and she delighted in it. Her relationship with this well-mannered, funny, caring new man in her life was light-years removed from previous experiences. The husband whom she had finally divorced a year earlier had become so abusive that she had finally taken her year-old daughter and moved out. The display of violent anger had made Annette skeptical of trusting another man anytime soon.Yet Shane was different. There was a warmth and gentleness to him which she had to admit was disarming. He spoke lovingly of his own daughter, vowing that he would make every human effort to see to it that his divorce did not damage their relationship. Annette liked the fact that he showered her child with attention on every visit to the house. He loved kids, he said, and it showed.Even if she had been determined to detect flaws, she was convinced she could not have found them. Unlike her ex-husband, Shane wasn't a drinker, didn't spend long nights out in the company of buddies, prowling the Houston strip joints. Shane had a good job which he obviously took very seriously and talked optimistically of a bright future he had planned for himself. In a word, he was more mature than any man she'd ever met.They had been seeing each other on a daily basis for almost three weeks before he kissed her. And even then it was accompanied with an apology. He didn't want to rush things, he said; didn't want to scare her away by moving their relationship ahead at a speed that might make her uncomfortable.In truth, Annette was feeling no discomfort at all. She was already in love with Shane Goode.By May, she and two-year-old Michelle had moved from their duplex into Shane's mobile home in the nearby suburb of Pasadena. He had seemed almost giddy with excitement on the day they arrived. It was good, he said, to have a family again.Soon they were talking of marriage.
It pleased Sharon Couch to see her daughter happy again. The long-absent sparkle had returned to Annette's eyes, the lethargy that had set in during the aftermath of her failed first marriage was replaced with new energy and optimism. As do all caring parents, Sharon, herself a divorcee, quietly shared in her child's newfound happiness. It was something that had been, for her and her family, in short supply for far too long.In truth, Sharon knew little about this man who had swept into her daughter's life. On those occasions when she had been around him he had appeared painfully shy, the complete opposite of the gregarious, fun-loving person whom Annette had described to her mother. Attempts to lure him into conversation were met with short replies. "Shane, have you decided where you're going on your vacation?" "Don't know yet." "How's work?" "Okay." He never made eye contact, evenwhen they did have their brief, one-sided talks. Sharon eventually joked that her future son-in-law seemed to have a remarkable fascination with her living-room floor.None of which caused her undue concern. It was no business of hers to pick at the personality traits of others. That Shane seemed to make Annette happy and treated her well, that her granddaughter liked him and had quickly forged a strong bond with his daughter was more than enough. When Annette announced that Shane's divorce was final and he had asked her to marry him, Sharon was pleased. Given time, she was sure, Shane would warm to her and the rest of the family.Her first real doubts formed as the planned October wedding date neared. Annette had, for months, been spending every spare minute in preparation for the event, shopping for her gown, choosing bridesmaids, writing and rewriting her list of those who would be invited.It wasn't until after all the plans were set and the invitations had gone out that Shane Goode got cold feet. Two days before the wedding he told Annette that he was not ready to get married."I love you and don't want to lose you," he said, "but it is too soon for us to be married. We've got to be sure--both of us--because I want us to be together forever. Let's just give things a little time."Annette was perplexed by the turn of events. If Shane loved her so much and wanted to "be together forever," why had the idea of marriage--his idea to begin with--suddenly become so frightening? The signals he'd been sending out were, at best, confusing. Since she and Michelle had moved in with him he had constantly talked of how much he enjoyed being in a family setting. His single-minded devotion to Annette had, in fact, seemed to border on the obsessive: On those rare occasions when one of Annette's girlfriends would stop by for a visit and still be there when Shane returned home from work, the routine would always be the same. He would disappear into the bedroom to sulk until the visitor had left, then later would remind Annette how precious he viewed their time together. "I work all day, thinking about nothing but gettinghome so I can spend time with you," he would say. "I just hate the idea of anyone taking that time away from us." Annette had never before encountered this kind of jealousy, and at first, she found it flattering. Avoiding her friends in order to spend more time with the man she hoped to soon marry seemed a logical and worthwhile trade-off. There would be plenty of time for friends after she and Shane became more comfortable and confident in their relationship.But Annette's mother, a cut-to-the-chase, bottom-line kind of person, found that the issue of the canceled wedding posed a big problem. Her fear was that Shane, for all his charm and the lavish attention he showered on her daughter, might not be what he seemed. But she also knew that it would be futile to suggest this to her daughter. Annette was blindly in love and motherly advice would only cause damage to a mother-daughter relationship already marked by a history of stubborn disagreement.Sharon's relationships with her children had, in fact, always perplexed her. From childhood, Annette, her oldest, had been the headstrong one, quietly determined to chart her own course, quick to rebel against rules and motherly advice. Sharon's son Steven, meanwhile, had been easygoing and demonstrative with his affection.Annette and her mother, friends had often observed, were simply too much alike to get along.And so Sharon remained silent on the matter, resigned to keeping her concerns private. It is unlikely she would have been able to maintain that silence had she known that Shane, after announcing he was not ready to marry, refused to call any of the invited guests to inform them of the change in plans. That responsibility fell to an embarrassed and confused Annette.Two months later, as the family gathered at Sharon's home for Thanksgiving dinner, Annette told her mother that the wedding was back on."When?"She was taken aback when Annette told her it would take place the following day.Instead of the long-planned ceremony with dozens of friends as guests, Annette and Shane Goode were married on November 27, 1987, with only Annette's daughter Michelle and Sharon in attendance.Sharon thought it strange that no one from Shane's family was present.
For the first few months of their marriage, Shane and Annette Goode blended into that melting pot of young couples starting new lives together, both working, keeping tight rein on their budget in hopes of soon moving from the trailer park into a house. Young Michelle looked forward to those times when Shane's daughter Tiffany came to visit. On weekends, Sharon routinely volunteered to baby-sit so the newly married couple might get out for a movie or an evening of dancing.Actually, what she saw during the brief periods of time she was around her daughter and new son-in-law pleased her. They seemed happy and eagerly looking ahead to the future.Sharon had no idea that a dark and troubling side to the relationship had already begun to develop. She saw only signs of a happy relationship and heard only positive comments from a daughter who had always been reluctant to share even the most trivial of personal details with her. Annette, her mother knew, had, since childhood, suffered her personal anguishes, large and small, in private.Among the things Annette did not reveal to her mother was her growing concern over the changes she had seen in Shane in recent days. Without provocation he would fall into a sullen mood that would last for days before finally exploding in anger. Annette would ask repeatedly what was troubling him, only to learn after his mood developed into an angry outburst, that the cause was some obscure event that had taken place days, sometimes weeks, earlier. She was quickly learning that her husband kept things bottled up inside, allowing them to fester until they had grown completely out of proportion before exploding to the surface. When Annette suggested they talk things out, Shane would abruptly end the conversation.After he had had his say, had vented whatever anger he harbored, the discussion was over.And though he was never physically abusive, he seemed to relish the exercise of mental cruelty. As their first Christmas together neared, he arrived home from work one evening with a large, gaily wrapped box. Placing it under the tree with great fanfare, he assured Annette that she was going to be really surprised when she opened it. Excited, she could only hope that the sports jacket, slacks, and tie she had selected as his gift would match up to what he had purchased for her.When, on Christmas morning, she expectantly ripped into the package, she found that it contained nothing but a pair of old black pumps that Shane had obviously taken from her closet. Laughing heartily at his "joke," he said her stunned expression was even better than the one he'd seen on his first wife's face when she had opened a gift of what he had promised her was a string of cultured pearls. What she had found instead was a cheap dimestore necklace.Later, when Annette's birthday neared, Shane would make mention of it almost daily. "You've got a birthday coming up ... just a few more days until the big day ... birthday's tomorrow ..." She could only interpret his constant reminders as hints of some special plan he had for the occasion. Then, on the day, this same man, who once showered her with flowers and loving notes, would avoid even the slightest mention of it. There would be no gift, no trip out for a romantic dinner. Nothing.One evening at a popular Pasadena country-western dance club, things had started off well--until one of Annette's friends from work and her husband arrived. Annette had been talking with the woman for only a few minutes when Shane excused himself to go to the men's room. When he did not return after a reasonable period of time, Annette began looking for him, finally going into the parking lot to find that his pickup was gone. Embarrassed, she had to ask her friend for a ride home.When she arrived the pickup was parked in front and the lights inside were out. Her purse, locked in the truck, containedher key and she had to knock for some time before Shane finally answered the door. He explained that he had already gone to bed and hadn't heard her knocking.When Annette pressed for an explanation for his strange behavior, he only shrugged and said it had been clear to him she was more interested in talking with her friends than spending the evening with him, so he'd left.It was a devious, childish form of behavior with which Annette had no previous experience, and not the slightest idea how to handle.In time she reached the decision that had always been her way of dealing with turmoil. She blindly hoped the problems would magically go away, that some fairy-tale solution waited in the days ahead.Meanwhile, she would simply do the best she could to keep her husband happy.Copyright © 1998 by Carlton Stowers. Postscript copyright © 1999 by Carlton Stowers.