Dependent: A Novel

Dependent: A Novel

by Brenda Corey Dunne


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When forty-five year old Ellen Michaels looses her husband to a tragic military accident, she is left in a world of grey. For twenty-five years her life has been dictated by the ubiquitous They-the military establishment that has stolen her hopes, dreams, and innocence and now in mere months will take away her home. She is left with nothing to hold on to but memories and guilt and an awful secret that has held her in its grip since she was nineteen.

Written with honesty and grace, Dependent deals head on with real-life issues facing women in military communities today: loss, loneliness, frequent moves, the culture of rank and the specter of sexual assault. It presents a heartfelt view of the sacrifice and strength of the often invisible support behind the uniform.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780988156258
Publisher: Fortunate Frog Fiction
Publication date: 12/02/2016
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Brenda Corey Dunne grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked several years as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force before meeting her Air Force pilot husband and taking her release. She has two other published novels, SKIN (2016) and TREASURE IN THE FLAME (2012).

Brenda is represented by Frances Black of Literary Counsel. She currently resides in the Washington, DC area, but home is wherever the RCAF sends her hubby. When not writing, working or taxiing her three children she can be found either in the garden or on the beach with a book in one hand and a very, very large coffee in the other.

Find her at or @overdunne on Twitter.

Read an Excerpt


A Novel

By Brenda Corey Dunne

Jolly Fish Press

Copyright © 2014 Brenda Corey Dunne
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-939967-52-7


house no. 13

May 15, 2008

Buddy is barking.

The heat of the day has changed to cold rain, and Buddy is barking at the door.

There is a man at the door.

I won't see him. He won't be there if I don't look.

Don't look. Don't look. Don't.

Oh, God! Don't look at him!

The doorbell is ringing. I can see a shadow waiting outside the door. Buddy is barking, and I see the man standing there in the dark, cold rain. I know the man. I know that I don't want that man to come in. There are more men behind him, looking from behind and yet not looking — not wanting to see me standing here. The man looks at me and then looks down. His face is drawn and wet. I see the look on his face.

Don't look.

I see that he doesn't want to be here. The rain is hitting the kitchen window and the man is standing there, wet, asking to come in. I know he doesn't want to come in. Somewhere, within me the ache is beginning. The ache that I don't want to feel.


I will not open that door. Buddy barks again.

"Mrs. Michaels?" The wind tries to steal his voice away, like it tries to steal his hat. I hear it even though I don't want to.

"No." I whisper to the wind.

"Mrs. Michaels, may I come in?" He is trying to speak kindly. What that man has to say is not kind. I will not let him in.

Buddy barks once more and then whines expectantly. The man has a kind voice.

The man has a uniform on. His medals shine in the rain. There are other uniformed men behind him. The man is John's boss.

"Mrs. Michaels?"

My feet are walking toward the door. Each step is like stepping on broken glass. Slowly and painfully I walk toward the man at the door. My mind whispers — don't let him in! I reach for the lock as Buddy whines beside me. I won't look at this man ... but my eyes see without wanting to look. I can see a war on his face. I can see his face fighting for control. I know he is looking for the words to say what he doesn't want to say. I know that he is there to tell me what I don't want to hear. A hand that can't be mine reaches for the handle. My face is wooden. I won't let them in.

But I do.

The man comes in, and three more behind him. The wind, spiteful and wicked, pushes them through the door. They are dripping and dark. Their uniforms smell of wet wool, and their shiny shoes are flecked with mud. Buddy wags his tail but stays beside me. He knows that something is not right. The men are not dangerous, but neither are they safe as they stand there, dripping on the tiles, looking at me with pain and compassion. I don't want them to be here. Please go away!

"Mrs. Michaels, may we come in and sit down?" Says John's dripping boss.

I look at him. I feel the war he feels. I do not want you to come in and sit down, I think. Go away. Scram! Leave!

I hear my voice say yes.

The man takes off his wet hat and wet coat. We stand there awkwardly as he looks for somewhere to put it, and the wet wool drips on the floor. "May I put my coat in the closet?" He asks.

I hear my voice say yes again. My mind screams No!

Somehow the men get their wet, dripping clothes into my quiet, dry closet. They slip their shoes off and leave them on the mat. The hot, accusing sun from this morning has gone, and now rain pelts the window, fighting to get in. Buddy stays by my side. My hand reaches down to touch his warm golden fur. A protective growl vibrates deep within the warmth. I walk into our living room. A magazine sits on the couch. My hand woodenly picks it up and places it on the coffee table. I sit without thinking, and the man sits across from me. The other men look around and, finding nowhere to sit, they stand.

John's Boss clears his throat. "Mrs. Michaels ... Ellen ... May I call you Ellen?"

No you may not call me Ellen. Please don't call me Ellen. Go away!

The voice that is not mine says yes.

"Ellen, I'm afraid I am the bearer of some bad news."

Don't say it. Don't.

I will my eyes to look at him. I will them to harden. I will not let this man take away my dignity. I will not let my eyes betray me. I look into his eyes, and I can see his eyes begging to make this easy. His eyes are asking me to do what I cannot. I know what he is going to say; it will not be easy. Go away, John's boss.

"Ellen, do you remember who I am?" He asks awkwardly. "My name is Evan Connors. I work with John."

You don't work with John, I think. John works for you. John does what you tell him to do. This will not be easy for you, John's boss. My hard eyes stare back at him.

"This is Colonel Joe McMann, Reverend Don Lawrence, and Major Bob Saunders. Col McMann is the Base Commander, Reverend Lawrence is the Base Chaplain, and Major Saunders works with John ... with me." More awkwardness. Bob Saunders is one of John's best friends. Of course I know him. I look briefly at Bob. His eyes are strained and red. I look away from his eyes. The ache threatens to take me away. No!

"Ellen ... there's been an accident."

No! No, no, NO!

Go away, John's boss!

I look at the carpet, away from his eyes. Don't say it. Don't! The rain hits the windows. Bob's feet are across from me. His socks are wet on the toes. I see him shift his weight on the carpet — left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

My lips press together in a fight for control. Oh, God. I know what John's boss is going to say, and I won't let him say it. I want this man to hurt for what he is going to say. My mind searches for a way to get away from this man's words.

"Is ... he ... alive?" My voice is dead, robotic. "Is John alive?" I look at this man's face, forcing him to say it.

"Ellen ..." I can see how uncomfortable he is. His ears are red, and a bead of sweat — or is it rain? — sits on his forehead. Let him be uncomfortable. Every muscle in my body is fighting for control. My hands are clenched, the fingernails biting into my palms.

"Is ..." The rain is pounding on the window behind me. "He ..." This cannot possibly be happening. "... Alive?" I will not let this man win.

I look up at his face and the question dissolves. I know.

"I'm sorry."

The ache swallows me. My life is gone.


house no. 1

October, 1982

The transfer comes in the door with a goofy grin on his face and a haircut that can mean only one thing: military kid. No local would cut his hair that short. Nor would they swagger quite so cockily. This kid has confidence to burn.

He hands the teacher the little slip of paper that explains his presence and Mr. Brown nods, gesturing with a flick of his hand that the kid should sit. He scans the room and I look down, hoping he won't come and sit next to me because I want absolutely nothing to do with him.

I pretend to study my textbook and cover my face with my hair. Look down and he won't see me. La la la, I'm not here and there's no seat open beside me either, flyboy.

I hear his footsteps coming down my aisle, and I know I'm doomed. He flops into the chair beside me, scraping it on the floor with an obnoxious squeal. In the confined space of the two-person table, it's impossible not to smell the gum he is chewing.

Seriously? Gum is outlawed in schools everywhere. Troublemaker! I stare even harder at my textbook.

"Hey, Beautiful," he leans over and whispers into my ear, "I'm John."

Yup, definitely chewing gum.

I have no choice but to look up, and what I see both impresses and annoys me. Impresses because he is handsome beyond anything I've ever seen at this second-rate high school — well at least since Paul, my ex — and annoying because I have no time for this guy. No time at all.

I've made a pact with myself to stay single and stay sober — well, as sober as I can — for the year. I've got to get straight A's. I need that scholarship. Four years of nursing school is more than my parents can afford, even if they wanted me to be a nurse. Flyboy beside me is just bad news.

"The socially acceptable reply would be to tell me your name, now...." he whispers as I gawk at him like a slack-mouthed fish. He oozes confidence. "My name is ..." he prompts.

I shake my head and glare. "Ellen. My name is Ellen." Then I turn and face the front and try to focus on Mr. Brown's incredibly boring lecture on the wonders of the sine curve.

"Nice to meet you, Ellen." His whispering breath tickles the hairs around my ear. I swear he's drenched himself in mating hormones because just about every nerve in my body is screaming to turn to him and say something alluring. Something sexy.

No! Sine curve. Cosine. Tangent. La, la, la, I'm not listening to gorgeous, bad-news, military brats today.

He opens up his notebook and begins to write in it. I relax just a bit, glad that he's paying attention to the lecture and not to me. His pencil scratches on his page as Mr. Brown's chalk does so on the board. I try to follow Mr. Brown's logic, but nothing at all sinks in, so I simply copy his squiggles into my notes, squiggle for squiggle, until John's elbow touches my chest. He slides his notebook over into my field of view.

Instead of writing notes on the class, he's drawn an incredibly accurate sketch of two people sitting in a movie theatre, eating popcorn. On the screen in front of them are written the words — "Ellen, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the movies tonight?"

Huh? I read it again, not believing what my eyes are reading, and then turn and look at him with what I'm sure is an even more fish-like stare of disbelief. Are you serious? This guy, who I met what — five minutes ago? — is asking me on a date? He grins and nods, his eyebrows raised.

Of course, it's at this very moment that Mr. Brown chooses to ask me a question. A question which I'm sure I could have answered had I actually been listening.

"Miss McKinley. It would do you much more good to pay attention to the lecture, than to play googly-eyes with Mr. Michaels. Perhaps Mr. Michaels could answer?"

John grins at me and then turns to the board. "They are equal. The area above zero is equal to the area below it."

"Excellent." When Mr. Brown turns away John winks.

My face balloons into a red ball of embarrassed flame. I'm furious, both at him, for sitting beside me and distracting me from the lecture, and at myself, for allowing myself to be sucked in by a stupid, slimy military jerk so easily. Stupid, vile, gorgeous, conceited, rich bastard! Show-off! Asshole.

I refuse to look at him again, and spend my time mentally constructing the rudest, most derogatory insults I can. I learn absolutely nothing as the clock slowly ticks off time.

"Sorry about that," he whispers into my ear just before the bell rings. "Can I buy you a Coke at lunch to make up for it?" I stare straight ahead, ignoring him and wishing he would disappear.


house no. 13

May 15, 2008

John's boss looks awkwardly into my eyes, pleading silently for quiet acceptance. I will my face to not betray the chaos of my mind. I want to scream. I want to scratch at this man's desperate eyes. The wind howls at the window behind me, and I want to give myself up to it. My eyes burn and my forearms cramp, but I will not betray myself. Some part of my brain records the fact that Bob is holding a small black briefcase. All of these things happen in seconds, yet it feels to me as if time has stopped.

"I need you to leave."

Shock rolls across John's Boss' face. He expected tears. He expected wailing and screaming. His arms are poised for an expected comforting hug. He cannot compute the calm, hard creature in front of him. Awkward silence contrasts with the turmoil outside the window. Bob shifts his wet toes on the Persian carpet. The chaplain holds his forced smile. Mr. Base Commander clears his throat. He is used to expected results.

"Ellen, I'm not sure that's a good idea ..." John's Boss uses his 'I'm in control' voice. "We have things to discuss. There are procedures to be followed."

"Take your procedures and leave. Now."

They have taken everything from me. I will have control in my own house. I will not relinquish it.

"Ellen. We cannot leave you alone," says John's Boss.

You already have, I think.

"Take your procedures and get ... out ... of ... my ... house." My teeth are clenched. I put up my walls, and I look him directly in the eye. It takes all that is within me not to give in to his silent command. Unconsciously, I pull in my resources, which are few. Buddy sits quietly at my feet and I am thankful for his presence. This is my house. This is my fortress.

A spark of anger flickers in his eyes. He wanted to play the martyred officer. The man who helped 'the wife.' This is not going at all as he planned. Has he forgotten that I have watched it happen to others? Does he not know I have feared this moment every day for the past twenty-five years?

Idiot. He and his Base Commander have done this before. I have not. He has no idea what I feel. I will not be forced into the role of the wailing wife. Not today. Not yet.

Mr. Base Commander decides to have a kick at the can. "Mrs. Michaels," he pulls himself up as if he is sitting behind his big, expensive desk, even though he is dripping on my big, expensive carpet. "Mrs. Michaels, we have appointed Major Saunders as your Assisting Officer. His job is to represent the Armed Forces and assist you in making all of the necessary ..."

"Did you not hear me?" I interrupt forcefully. It is obvious that Mr. Base Commander is not getting his way in the playground. His face flushes a deep red. I register the fact that his shirt collar is too tight. His skin bulges over the sky blue edge. His hair is light brown. I couldn't handle this if his hair was salt-and-pepper dark.

"I asked you to leave. Get out of my house. NOW!" I glance at Bob and acknowledge him. This is not easy for him either, I know.

Mr. Base Commander tries to compose himself and carefully chooses his next words. "It is our responsibility to see you through the process. This must be extremely difficult for you Mrs. Mich —"

Not waiting for him to finish his little speech, I get up and walk to the closet. I grab their sopping coats and hats and throw them into their hands. Mr. Base Commander's hat falls onto the carpet before he can react to the rapidly burning fuse of the 'dependent' in front of him. Buddy sticks to my side, unsure of what is going on. Extremely difficult, my ass.

I walk purposefully to the door, and swing it open. The wind and rain hit my face with a vengeance, stinging and tearing at the wall I've hastily constructed. I'm not sure how much more of this I can handle — men with golden bars on their shoulders who do nothing but take. Get out now, assholes!

One of last year's oak leaves blows through the door and sticks to the tiles.

Turning my back on the black abyss outside, I take a deep breath and face the disbelieving men in my living room. Only Bob still wears his compassion. The others — even the chaplain — stare at me like I'm an errant child. Their coats are still crumpled in their arms; their faces are red and stubborn. So is mine.


"Mrs. Michaels!"


"But ... we need to ..."

"Get the hell out of my house NOW!" I've had enough of this game.

Their eyes, big and angry, look at me like I am a deranged lunatic. Their mental checklists are not cleared and their procedures have not been followed. The wind whips my hair into my face. Maybe I am deranged. Red anger swells beneath my ribs. Empty grief claws at my heart. Malicious forces swirl around and through me, threatening to pull me down.

Mr. Base Commander walks to his shoes. John's Boss follows him, glaring with dagger sharp eyes. Bob's wet toes stand firm on the carpet. I look up at him, searching for an ally in the madness that is my house. His face is bathed in grief. I watch, confused, as a tear slips down his left cheek. My knees feel weak and my hands start to shake. Please go! Please, I beg him silently. Bob sees my armour slipping.

He quickly wipes his face and reaches into his pocket. The tears continue to stain his cheeks. Without looking away from me, he bends over and places a piece of paper on the coffee table.

"My phone numbers are there. Call me when you are ready." He is concerned. He knows that his number is on our fridge, yet he leaves the paper anyway.


Excerpted from Dependent by Brenda Corey Dunne. Copyright © 2014 Brenda Corey Dunne. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
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.

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Dependent: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Gannet More than 1 year ago
A Gripping Read! What a fabulous journey! The emotion is very raw. I cried for the first three chapters, and couldn't put it down. It gives you the fear's of an airman from the perspective of someone he loves. Difficult to read at times, but definitely provocative. A well-written journey into some of the darkest fears of a military couple.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Inherent in a nation’s military is the development of a command and control structure enabling the nation to direct it’s military forces toward the successful achievement of assigned missions. The upside is that given an adequate, well trained and provisioned force, the system usually works well. The downside is that vesting control in a hierarchical command and control structure can lead to abuses… endangering the very missions and lives of members of the military force, with consequences for the members and their families. "Dependent" deals with the dilemma of a dependent wife who sacrifices all… body and spirit, to protect her military husband from the danger threatened by a rogue command superior officer. "Dependent" is an insightful and thought provoking work of fiction, written with the perspectives gained by the author, former military officer Brenda Corey Dunne, wife of a long serving and ranking member of the RCAF. Read this book ! David B. Strong; Captain, JAGC, US Navy, Retired.
LehuaParker More than 1 year ago
Dependent, the stunning new novel by Brenda Corey Dunne, is an unusual coming of age story about a forty-five year old woman finding herself after making hard choices at nineteen that set the course of her life. Ellen Michaels has been an officer’s wife for twenty-five years. Living in the military’s shadow, all of Ellen’s decisions have been influenced by her husband John’s career—where she lives, what she does, and who her friends are—as well as the choices she makes to protect her family. Lumped in with John’s worldly goods as “dependents, furniture, and effects,” it’s profoundly shocking for Ellen to discover that with John’s death her future is her own again. Much of Dependent is told in flashback, and we see Ellen grow from a young teen to a mature woman. We see the struggles every young mother faces and typical challenges even the best marriages go through. With John’s death we see the devastating effect of losing a partner and father. But Ellen also has a terrible secret she’s kept for twenty-five years, and she fears this secret is what killed her husband. Told from an insider’s perspective, everything from early marriages, frequent moves, and long absences to the culture of rank and stiff upper lip is vividly portrayed. It’s these military culture conventions—and the idea that everything is happy, happy, happy!—that keep Ellen prisoner until she finally realizes that she independent and powerful. And when she does you’re going to want to stand up and cheer. But I’m not going to spoil it!