When Kate meets Michael Weston, she is forced to confront what lies beneath her paralyzing fear of intimacy. But will she be brave enough to take a risk to have the future she desperately wants? In an uncanny coincidence, a ghost from the past appears when one of her students reveals a terrifying secret. A secret Kate knows must be exposed to save them both.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.64(d)|
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After the Silence
By KARIN HOFFECKER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Karin Hoffecker
All rights reserved.
Saturday four a.m.... The bright red glow of the clock beside the bed illuminated the darkness of the room. Kate woke with the familiar gnawing anxiety that began in the pit of her stomach and rose to her throat. It was predictable now. She was less frightened by the sudden onslaught of symptoms: racing heart, dizziness, tightness in the chest. But the first episode, more than a year ago, had left an indelible mark. When the panic finally passed, she was grateful to have survived the unexpected siege. Then, a week ago, full-blown terror at the grocery store forced her to bolt leaving a shopping cart of food blocking an aisle. Outside, she was so shaken, she had trouble finding her car.
As she lay in bed her anxiety mounted. She suspected the roots of this latest attack were triggered by events of the previous evening. Kate knew Michael must have been confused by her bizarre behavior. At the restaurant, she'd abruptly left him sitting at the table and fled to the ladies room. In a stall, she tried to stop the escalating panic by sitting with her arms wrapped around her waist, rocking back and forth. It was ten minutes before she was calm enough to return. Michael said nothing about her absence. When he dropped her off at home, her hands were shaky as she unlocked the door. She quickly thanked him and escaped to the safety of her living room trying to forget her embarrassment.
Kate was up and pacing the room. She'd learned to deal with the panic by telling herself, "You're fine. Just breathe. Just breathe." Focusing on her breath was a good distraction. It was often enough to calm her down. She got back in bed, dozing until the sun came up. Sasha ran into the room. She greeted Kate with her tail wagging excitedly.
"Sasha's a good girl," she murmured stroking the dog's silky coat.
Adopting Sasha had been a spur of the moment decision. She'd answered an ad for an abandoned Samoyed puppy and twenty-four hours later she brought her home. Her mother had been critical when she heard about Kate's new companion. "Why on earth would you get a puppy? You don't need a dog that shits all over the place. You need a man."
There wasn't much Kate could say when her mother got started. Instead she listened, jaw clenched while the anger seethed inside. "Yes!" she wanted to scream. She wanted it all. Marriage ... a family ... If her mother's friends became inquisitive about her still being single, Kate told them she was picky and would never settle for "second best." But the truth was that for most of her life Kate had feared intimacy. It was easier pushing people away. She'd convinced herself she preferred being alone and had functioned living like this for years until the episodes of panic began. She wasn't sure now what each new day would bring.
In the bathroom, she pulled a gray sweatshirt and pants from a hook behind the door. Peeling off her nightgown, she stepped into the sweats. She brushed her long auburn hair. It fell in loose waves around her shoulders. Kate never believed she was attractive. It seemed impossible someone like Michael Weston would have an interest in her. After last night, she doubted she'd be seeing him again.
Kate called Sasha and the dog ran to her before squatting on the floor.
"Sasha, No!" she said firmly. "You know better." The dog dropped her tail cowering as she padded to the front door. Kate cleaned up the puddle with a paper towel and put a few small plastic bags in her pocket. "Okay, girl. Let's go."
There was a distinctive fragrance in the May air. Even Sasha seemed to take in the clean, sweet scent, her pointed snout sniffing eagerly. At the end of the block, Memorial Park was busy. Children rode on scooters and mothers pushed strollers with tiny faces peaking out beneath fluffy cotton blankets. Kate took Sasha's leash off and they began to play catch with a worn, yellow tennis ball. At a year old, she had lost much of her awkward puppy prance and bounded after the ball with a determined stride. She tackled it in triumph and trotted back with it anchored between her teeth.
"Good girl." The dog dropped the tennis ball at her feet and barked for more. Kate tossed it again and Sasha sprinted off. She scanned the park. In the distance, she spotted the dog's haunches in the air, nose to the ground. She ran up finding the tennis ball wedged between a pair of silver running shoes. Sasha was busy attacking the shoelace of the jogger's right shoe.
Kate began scolding her. "Sasha, leave it!" The dog let go at her command.
"So, this is Sasha."
She was startled when she looked up and saw the jogger was Michael. He was tall and lanky with a body well conditioned from running. His dark hair, long and wavy, lay matted with perspiration. He wore a black bandana and beneath it his eyes were a brilliant blue. She felt attracted to him and shifted her gaze to the ground.
"She's certainly full of spunk," Michael said bending to pet Sasha.
"I'm sorry Michael."
"It's okay Kate. Actually, I'm glad Sasha's so fascinated with my footwear. It gives me a chance to see how you're doing this morning."
Her heart began to race. "About last night. I ... I thought I was coming down with something."
"I'm glad to see you're feeling better."
"Thanks again for dinner."
"You did me a favor. Saved this bachelor from another Friday night omelet."
Sasha began to whimper. "I'd better get this troublemaker home."
"You know," Michael paused, "we missed the movie last night. I was wondering if you'd like to see it tomorrow? There's a matinee at two."
Kate wasn't expecting the invitation. She surprised herself when she accepted.
"I'd like that, but only if it's my treat. Let's meet in the lobby at one-thirty?"
"One-thirty it is. I'll see you tomorrow."
Michael gave Sasha an affectionate pat before striding off at an easy pace. Kate watched him jog across the park dodging bicycles and strollers until he was barely visible. She looked down at her mischievous companion. "Oh Sasha, what have you gotten me into now?"CHAPTER 2
The phone was ringing as Kate rushed to open the door. She let the answering machine record the message before playing it back.
Hi Kate. I'm calling to remind you about Mom's birthday dinner tonight. Seven o'clock at the Main Street Grill. See you there.
She'd forgotten about her mother's birthday. Her head begin to throb. If she was going to make it through the evening ahead, she needed a nap. In the bedroom, she found Sasha wedged between the pillows. Kate snuggled up beside her. Sasha lifted her head and moved it into the crook of her arm. It was only a few minutes before they were asleep.
She woke with a start and fumbled for the clock on the night stand. It was five-thirty. Walking from the bedroom to the living room, she noticed a trail of shredded paper littering the carpet. The student progress reports she had neatly stacked on the glass-topped coffee table were strewn over its surface. Sasha lay sheepishly under the table with paper hanging from her mouth.
"Sasha!" Kate shouted. "What have you done?" She dragged the quivering dog from under the table and swatted her across the face. Sasha whimpered and Kate slapped her again. Her hands were shaking.
"What am I doing?"
She let go and Sasha darted away. On her knees, Kate buried her face in her hands and began crying. She continued to cry as she picked up the scraps of paper. When the carpet was clean, she filled Sasha's dish with dog food. The sound of the food hitting the bowl normally sent her running to the kitchen. But she wasn't anywhere to be found. Kate carried the bowl to the bedroom and saw Sasha curled in a ball lying in the metal crate.
"I'm sorry Sasha," Kate said softly reaching her hand inside. Sasha whimpered and began sniffing her fingers. She set the dish outside the crate. It was after six. She would have to hurry to get ready.
In the bathroom, she stripped off her sweats and left them in a pile on the floor. Stepping in the shower, she let the steaming water pelt her skin. She wondered how much longer could she live with these roller-coaster emotions? Her behavior with Sasha wasn't an isolated incident. She lost her temper often. And her beloved pet was usually the target of her rage. As she dried herself off, Sasha appeared and began licking her toes.
"I guess we're friends again, Kate giggled."
She put on a cotton skirt and a white knit sweater set. She pulled her hair back into a braid to save time. As she slipped on leather flats, she called Sasha. The dog walked into her crate and plopped down with a resigned groan. Kate tossed in a few treats before locking the door.
"Be a good girl. I'll be home soon."
She stopped at the florist to buy flowers for her mother and arrived at the restaurant ten minutes late.
"I'm meeting the Daniels' party," she told the hostess.
"Right this way please."
Kate followed her through the dining room and gave herself a pep talk. "You'll be fine. Its just dinner." When she arrived at the table, Casey was sitting with a tense expression on her face. At thirty-two, she was four years younger than Kate. Casey was divorced and an Executive Assistant to the President of a mortgage firm. She was efficient, organized, and a perfectionist. Kate often wondered how her sister's marriage had lasted five years. The divorce papers cited irreconcilable differences. But she knew David just got tired of trying to live up to Casey's impossible standards. He wanted children and her sister refused to discuss starting a family. There was also the issue of her involvement with their mother, Joyce.
Casey had assumed all responsibility for her when their father died. She called every day and visited on Saturday. She did their mother's shopping, paid her bills, and took care of the small brick bungalow she and Kate grew up in. After Joe died, Joyce took a part-time job at a gift shop downtown. Having something to do helped her cope with the grief of his passing.
Her sister wore a tailored gray suit and white silk blouse that she paired with simple gold earrings. Her light brown hair was chin length and neatly cut. Everything about her suggested she had life under control. But there were deep, dark circles under her eyes she'd tried unsuccessfully to cover with makeup.
"It's good to see you Kate."
"Hi Casey." She turned to her mother. "Happy Birthday Mom. These are for you." She handed her a bouquet of carnations, daisies, and baby's breath.
"They're lovely," she said placing the flowers on the table. "Come, sit here." She motioned to the chair between herself and Casey. Kate sat down awkwardly jostling the table leg. They both had ordered wine that sloshed precariously in their glasses. The waitress approached the table. "Would you like a cocktail?" she asked Kate.
"I'll have an iced tea."
Sitting beside her mother, Kate was shocked at her appearance. She hadn't seen her in over a month and she was much thinner. The floral shift she wore hung on her small frame. Her bare shoulders were covered with a white knit shawl. She'd dyed her hair blonde and cropped it short. The style made her brown eyes look huge and she had an uncomfortable bug-eyed look Kate hadn't noticed before.
"How's my Katie been?" she asked reaching for her wine.
"Good. Things are busy at school."
"And how is Sasha?"
Kate was startled by her mother's question. She'd made it clear in the beginning what she thought of Sasha. It was unusual for her to even acknowledge the dog's existence.
"Sasha's great. We had a nice morning at the park." She began tapping her glass nervously.
"Have you seen Chocolat?" Casey asked. "I hear it's gotten good reviews."
"Actually, I'm seeing it tomorrow with a friend."
"I hope it's a male friend," her mother said sarcastically draining her wine. She called the waitress over. "We'll have another round here. But I'd like a Vodka Tonic please. Excuse me girls, I need to use the restroom."
Joyce stood up and walked away leaving a scent of White Shoulders trailing behind. She wobbled and wove her way through the dining room catching the backs of several chairs to steady herself.
Casey took a sip of her drink.
"Come on Kate. Can't you relax?"
"You know how I feel about Mom's drinking," she said between clenched teeth.
"I think you're overreacting. It's her birthday for heaven's sake."
"Give her half an hour," Kate snapped. They stopped arguing when Joyce returned from the ladies room.
"I'm so happy to be with both of you celebrating my birthday." She reached for the Vodka and Tonic. "I was just telling Esther Peterson how wo ... wonderful my daughters are," she said slurring.
"Mom," Casey said anxiously, "what looks good on the menu?"
"We have plenty of time to look at the menu. Let's enjoy our cocktails."
Kate shot Casey an angry look. Their mother's drinking was something her sister refused to admit was a problem.
"Kate dear, don't you think you'd have more dates if you took a little time to fix yourself up? See what some lipstick can do."
Her mother reached over waving the tube of red lipstick in Kate's face. She knocked over her drink and Kate's iced tea. The clatter caused the other diners to turn and stare.
"Mom," Casey pleaded, as she tried to wipe up the spilled liquid with her linen napkin. "Kate's lipstick is fine. Let's order."
"I don't want to order," Joyce said angrily. "I want my daughter to show me a little respect when I'm trying to help her."
Kate felt the room start to spin and stood up abruptly. "You always ruin everything. You're a drunk!"
She stumbled away from the table, unaware of the scene she was causing. She turned around. "And this, Casey," she motioned to her mother and the spilled drinks on the table, "is something you can't fix!"
With her heart racing, Kate bolted from the dining room. Her eyes stung with tears. She wasn't able to breathe until she was down the block, out of sight of the restaurant.CHAPTER 3
Kate woke up Sunday morning with a throbbing headache. As she lay in bed massaging her temples, she thought about the scene the night before. Her mother's drunken behavior, coupled with Casey's denial, made fleeing from the restaurant seem justified. Her mother had been a functioning alcoholic for as long as Kate could remember. When their father died two years ago, her drinking became a more serious problem. Casey's constant denial and her need to keep the peace at any price had alienated the two of them.
When she came home from the restaurant, Kate had unplugged the phone and the answering machine. She knew her mother would be calling and her drunken voice echoed in her head. "You sure know how to spoil a party. You could learn a lot from Casey. At least I have one daughter who loves me. Someone who cares about me."
Sasha jumped on her as she climbed out of bed. For a moment, she forgot about what had happened at the restaurant. She let herself succumb to Sasha's enthusiastic greeting.
"I love you too," she said ruffling the dog's soft fur. "Time for breakfast."
She took the Sunday paper and a cup of raspberry tea to the patio. The morning was warm with the scent of lilacs. Forsythia bushes lining the yard were a blaze of yellow blossoms. Kate flipped the pages of the paper. It was hard to concentrate. When she opened the Entertainment section, she saw an ad for Chocolat and remembered she had accepted Michael's invitation to see the movie. She was exhausted and wanted to cancel. But she knew he wouldn't ask her out again if she did.
Kate stood in front of her closet debating about what to wear. She tried on various things before deciding on blue jeans, a white cotton tee shirt and sandals. Sasha raced into the bedroom holding a tennis ball in her mouth.
"Not now," Kate said wearily."
Sasha dropped the ball and jumped up on her hind legs. She tried to claw her way up Kate's thighs. "Sasha, down."
The dog scurried out of the room and returned with a stuffed toy between her teeth. Sasha looked at Kate pleading for her to stay.
She looked through her jewelry box and slipped on a silver bracelet. Her best friend's husband was an artist and had made it. Kate envied Leah and Jesse's relationship. She remembered once at an art fair, walking behind his booth and finding them locked in a passionate embrace. She had turned away quickly, embarrassed by their intimacy. Leah saw her and said, "Kate, wait, where are you going?"
"I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Don't be silly. Let's go for a walk. Back to business and no flirting with the customers," Leah had said playfully to Jesse.
Kate brushed her hair and put on a navy headband. She hoped the nervousness she felt wouldn't escalate into another episode of panic.
She left at one-fifteen and walked downtown. She sat on a bench under a maple tree and watched a mother duck lead her babies single file along the water's glassy edge. Movies were good dates. The couple didn't have to talk much. And the story on the screen was a distraction. She'd been on only one date in the last year. A friend from college set her up and it was a disaster from the beginning. He monopolized the conversation and drank too much. Kate lost all interest in dating after that evening.
Excerpted from After the Silence by KARIN HOFFECKER. Copyright © 2013 Karin Hoffecker. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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