About the Author
Kathryn Cushman is a graduate of Samford University with a degree in pharmacy. She is the acclaimed author of over a half-dozen novels, including Leaving Yesterday and A Promise to Remember, which were both finalists for the Carol Award in Women's Fiction. Kathryn and her family make their home in Santa Barbara, California.
Read an Excerpt
By Kathryn Cushman
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2009 Kathryn Cushman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy son was dead. I knew it the minute I saw the black-and-white car pull to the curb in front of my house.
Clods of potting soil still clinging to my gloves-like the debris of the last few years clung to everything in my life-I turned back to my house, walked up the porch steps, opened the front door, then closed and locked it behind me. Perhaps a reasonable person would understand that the clink of the deadbolt sliding into place did nothing to stop the impending news. Well, show me the mother who thinks with reason when faced with the news that her only remaining son is dead.
I walked into my kitchen and tossed my gloves on the counter, ignoring the splatter of soil they left over what had been spotless granite. I grabbed a cup from the top shelf and shoved it against the slot in the refrigerator door, holding it in place with such force I thought the glass might shatter. Cold water filled it almost to the rim. Just taking a little break from gardening, that's what I was doing. That policeman outside had turned onto the wrong street, that's all. He had probably realized his mistake and was gone by now.
I took a seat at the kitchen table and opened the home improvement catalog that sat atop the mail pile. I thumbed mindlessly through page after pageuntil one particular ad reached out and wrapped its fingers around my throat. The boys in the photo looked nothing like Nicolas or Kurt, other than the fact that my sons had once been boys that size. Still, looking at the picture, I couldn't help but remember them as their eight- and ten-year-old selves. A smiling father held up the latest power drill beside the tree house in progress; his smiling wife stood atop the latest greatest ladder. Even the chocolate Labrador at the bottom of the picture appeared to be smiling at the two boys, who stood beside the pile of lumber. A world so full of promise.
Just like ours had once been.
The chime of the doorbell brought me back to the present. And reality. A reality I didn't want to face, but I had to. Time had just run out.
As I walked toward the front door, it occurred to me that these would be the last steps I would ever take without knowing for certain that Kurt was dead. I needed to hold on to this time for as long as I could, remember each step as something precious. One step. Two. Three ... At ten, I reached the door.
I took a deep breath and put my hand on the brass handle, still smeared with dirt from my useless attempt to shut this moment out. In spite of the fact that I didn't want it to, the lock pivoted beneath my fingers. There was no turning back now. I tugged at the front door, surprised by how heavy it felt, and then came face-to-face with my worst nightmare. Only what I saw did not match the image I had expected.
Everything about the officer's appearance surprised me. Missing was the grim undertaker expression on a face sagging with age and sorrow. At the very least, I expected a strong undercurrent of discomfort from the poor unfortunate officer saddled with delivering this kind of news. Instead, his demeanor was pleasant, almost amiable as he looked at me. His reddish hair and youthful freckles reminded me of a grown-up version of Opie from The Andy Griffith Show. "Alisa Stewart?"
I held on to the doorknob for support, waiting for the blow to come. "Yes."
"I'm Detective Bruce Thompson from the Santa Barbara Police Department." He didn't say more. I supposed he was giving me a chance to respond with some pleasantry, or to ask about the nature of his visit.
What could I possibly want to say to him? We both knew what was coming. Why would I want to ask the question that would bring on the inevitable? I simply stared at him and waited.
He shifted on his feet and finally looked down at a small pad of paper he carried in his right hand. "You are Kurt Stewart's mother. Is that correct?"
Again, he waited. His military-short haircut stood at attention, as if it, too, anxiously anticipated my response. What was he expecting? I'd answered the question; that was more than enough talk for me.
Finally, he asked, "Do you know where we might find him?"
"What?" The doorframe beside me seemed to waver. I reached my left hand to grab it for support. "You're not here to ... you're looking for him?"
He looked as confused by my response as I was surprised by his question. "Yes. Is he here?"
I turned to lean my back against the doorframe and slid to the ground.
Detective Thompson knelt beside me. "Are you all right?"
"I'm, I'm fine. It's just that, I thought you were here to tell me that he was ..." I rested my head on my knees and took deep breaths. Deep, freeing breaths.
My son was still alive.
To Detective Thompson's credit, he waited quietly beside me, giving me a chance to pull myself together without any clumsy attempts to be helpful. Finally, I looked at him and shrugged. "I thought you'd come to tell me that you'd found my son dead." How many years now had I dreaded just such a visit? To an addict's mother, it was woven into the fiber of daily existence as completely as the fragile thread of hope-and often with more clarity.
Detective Thompson rubbed his hand to his forehead. "I am so sorry. If it had occurred to me what you might think, I would have stated up front that everything was okay."
I became aware of a woman walking her golden retriever on the sidewalk across the street, eyes fixed right here on my front porch. It didn't take much of an imagination to know what kind of story this could make around the neighborhood. I stood up and gestured weakly back inside. "Would you like to come in?"
He nodded and followed me in. Whatever his reason for the visit, it didn't matter. My son was alive. "Here, let me get you some water."
A moment later we were seated at my kitchen table, the magazine still opened to the family tree house picture. I touched the face of the smallest boy, suddenly thankful for his presence.
"Back to my earlier question, is Kurt staying here? Do you know where I might find him?"
I shook my head. "I haven't seen him in over a year." I took a sip of my water, feeling the coldness slide down my throat. "We have a young daughter, and my husband believes ..." I stared out the back window at a group of crows roosting in the giant oak on the other side of our fence. I envied the lack of complication in their existence. "Well, at some point a parent has to quit enabling bad choices. You know, tough love, all that." I looked into his eyes, wondering what a police officer thought about tough love. Did he see it as the cruel, uncaring act that it often felt like, or did he see it as the necessity that Rick did? As a mother, my head told me one thing, my heart another.
"I understand that." It was stated as a fact, nothing more. Not an agreement or a disagreement, just the truth of his understanding. "So, you have no idea where I might find him?"
"No. The last I heard he was working odd jobs at construction sites around town, but that was a while ago." As the fear of Kurt's death ebbed away, reality set in, and another fear began to grow and take its place. "Why are you looking for him?"
"Just routine questioning." He flipped up a sheet on his pad of paper.
I reached my hand across the table and grabbed his. He looked up, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Detective Thompson, in the last few years I've lived through one son's violent death and the debilitating addiction of another. My husband has recently left home, and I am using the last ounces of strength I possess to make it through each day and be here for my daughter. I cannot afford to be blindsided. I need to know how bad this might be."
He drew his hand away, studying my face as he did so. Surely a detective trained in interrogation could take one look at me and see the depths of desperation, know beyond a doubt that I spoke the truth. After a moment, he shrugged and said, "A drug dealer was killed downtown last weekend. I'm just looking to ask some questions."
"Why would you want to question Kurt?"
Again, he searched my face before deciding to offer a response. "Do you know what a pay-owe sheet is?"
"It's a record that drug dealers keep of people who owe them money. In that line of work, somebody always owes you money."
"I guess so." I focused on my glass of water. The ice cubes were slowly shrinking and disappearing, just like I was. "Am I to assume that Kurt's name is on the-what did you call it?- pay-owe sheet of this drug dealer?"
"Yes it is."
"And that makes him a suspect." I stated this as a resigned truth, something I'd mastered over the last few years. Resigning myself to all sorts of unsavory truths had become one of my strengths, if you could call it that.
"Your son's name was on that list along with more than a dozen others. He's not a suspect. We're just doing some routine questioning, hoping he might be able to shed some light on who might have done this."
Yes, of course my son's name would be on the list of people who owed a drug dealer money. He had descended just that far since his brother's death. Still, I knew Kurt well enough to know that he did have limits on how low he could go. "Detective Thompson, my son may be an addict, but he is not a murderer."
"I'm sure you're right. There are over a dozen names on the list, and it's highly likely that none of them killed the guy. It could have been a member of a rival gang, another drug dealer, anyone. We're just looking for pieces of the puzzle right now."
Relief flooded me. Of course they didn't suspect Kurt. "Well, sorry I don't have any more information for you."
"Thanks for the water." He pulled a card out of his pocket. "If your son should call or come by in the next few days, would you let me know?"
Would I? I wasn't sure, but I did know that my son would not be calling or coming by. His father had made certain of that some time ago. It was a safe answer. "Of course." I took the card and held open the front door for him. "Uh, Detective Thompson, if you should see him before I do, will you tell him ..."
He waited for me to finish the sentence. What would I want him to know? That he was ripping my heart out? That I desperately needed to see that he was okay? "Just tell him that his mother loves him."
He nodded and smiled. "You got it."
Excerpted from Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn Cushman Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cushman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"This is a heart-rending story that actually radiates hope. Just not the kind of hope we're used to seeing in today's modern church. Alisa is the kind of woman I'd want as my friend---my closest friend.
"I only hope, after reading this novel, that I can be the kind of friend women like Alisa need in their lives. Kathryn Cushman writes stories with heart and passion, about people who could very well be living in your neighborhood.... I challenge you to read one Kathryn Cushman novel without a package of tissues at your side!"--(Deena Peterson, TitleTrakk.com)
"Cushman does a good job of bringing up some weighty themes even as she weaves this entertaining story. No mother will be able to read this book without asking herself if she would she go to the lengths Alisa did if she were in the same shoes.... For a hard-to-put-down read that will prompt you to take a thoughtful look at your role as a parent and as a child, Leaving Yesterday is an excellent choice."--(Violet Nesdoly, Blogcritics.org)