Forty-four-year-old Rebecca Harden Miles' imaginary past, created long ago in her best interest, is catching up with her. There was never a need to reveal the truth about herself-until now. As her daughter, Emily, prepares to get married, Rebecca is convinced she must confess, but doing so could cost her the love of her husband, Lance.
Rebecca's masquerade, a lifetime of lies that soothed her as she came to believe in them, could now expose her daughter to a life of heartache and possible catastrophe. The answer lies in the sudden and unexplained deaths of Rebecca and Lance's twin boys, David and Dennis, before they turned one, decades ago. Now, she must travel back before she can move ahead. Her gamble to discover the truth takes her on an unexpected journey with unexpected revelations.
In this compelling family saga, Rebecca seeks to protect her daughter-but in her quest for answers, she learns much more than what the time-worn medical records could have revealed.
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By JENN SHELL
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Dolores M. Hess
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Twins, 1959, Twenty-Three Years Earlier
Rebecca and Lance entered the office with concealed apprehension. "Here we are again, Doc, two for the price of one." His attempt at humor didn't fool anyone, least of all the worried doctor. Wasn't it just this morning that he had promised the young parents that the twins would be fine? Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that their world had seemed just right? But now their boys, not yet one-year-old, were going to die and he could do nothing more.
Fear and helplessness washed over both as they watched the doctor work on their sons. Gently touching their sluggish little bodies, the doctor knew this examination would serve only to give the distressed parents a measure of relief, a chance to calm down.
"Tell me, what happened between this morning and now?" he asked, "Are there new symptoms?"
"Yes, Doctor." Rebecca was quick to answer. "One minute they were fast asleep, the next they were screaming bloody-murder. Seconds later, they seemed to have trouble breathing. I checked them over. I didn't find anything wrong, no open pins, nothing." She tried to control her panic. "Now their erratic breathing petrifies me."
"I'm sure it does, Mrs. Miles," he said compassionately.
"What do you think it is, Doctor?" she asked, "What's going on with our boys?"
"I wish I had answers. I don't know." Shaking his head he explained, "The test results came back negative. There is no logical explanation. We have done all we can."
"Take more tests." Trying desperately to reason with him, Rebecca missed his pained expression as she talked faster and louder. Biting her lip, so close to tears, she added, "I don't understand any of this."
Rebecca wasn't the only one whose confusion increased. Nervously, Lance jumped in. "Can you take more tests, Doc?"
"Mr. Miles, we ran a battery of tests. I don't know of any others. Considering the circumstances, I don't want to give you false hope."
"Circumstances, what circumstances?" Unwilling to accept this doctor's dark picture, Lance lashed out. "Is that all you have to say? What about a second opinion? Somebody somewhere must be able to help."
"Mr. Miles," the dedicated man of medicine spoke gently, "I truly wish I knew the answer."
Then as Lance's anger faded, he went quiet. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his stomach clenched as he gradually grasped the reality of the doctor's bombshell. Totally unsettled he asked, "What do we do now?"
"Go home. Continue making your sons as comfortable as possible and," he added softly, "just enjoy them."
Rebecca, beside herself, raved in disbelief. "What are you saying? This isn't happening. It's just a bad dream. I don't believe you." Quickly, she scooped up her lethargic babies and rocked them as tears mingled with moans of despair poured out. Just as quickly, Lance was at her side.
"Rebecca, please calm down. Here, let me help you. Give me one of the boys."
"I'm okay now, Lance. I just want to get out of here. I want to take our boys home."
Watching the color drain from her face, he turned to the doctor for one last shred of hope.
"Doctor, please. Call us if you find anything, anything at all." The somber doctor nodded and watched them drowning in their sorrow. He couldn't even toss them a hint of a lifeline. If only he knew what was behind this tragedy.
This nightmare started about a month ago, when David and Dennis out of the blue, turned suddenly very ill. Their chipper personalities changed drastically. Irritable, they cried almost non-stop, turned a jaundiced yellow color and ran high fevers off and on. They even gave up on their favorite food, silver dollar pancakes with whipped cream. Now breathing problems added to the boys' strange symptoms.
Frantic with fear, Rebecca and Lance turned once again to the best medical advice available. Unfortunately, this latest visit, like the last few left the doctor totally mystified and extremely troubled. He had no answers. All he could do was send this family home, where they could enjoy their time together.
Chapter TwoRebecca, 1982, New Jersey
Confess: to tell or make known (as something wrong or damaging to oneself) -Merriam Webster
Rebecca had to confess. Her lifetime masquerade of lies, which soothed her as she came to believe in them, could now expose her daughter to a lifetime of turmoil. She had no choice. Rebecca had to unmask. Her daughter's future depended upon it.
Slowly she moved the paisley veil away from her face. Her reflection looked back at her the same as always. Her lies were too deep to see. No matter, the cab would be here soon and the journey would begin. She needed to finish getting ready.
At forty-four, Rebecca hid her prematurely graying hair with champagne blonde highlights. This was yet another lie. At least the results were to her liking. Rebecca finished combing her hair and began touching up her face. Mascara lengthened her lashes and accented her deep set, indigo blue eyes. A bit of blush to her high cheek bones, a matching soft shade of pink on her lips, and she was as ready as she was going to be.
Rebecca stood and patted the navy skirt that hugged her to the knees. A sky blue sweater, still smelling faintly of cedar, emphasized her well-proportioned slender figure. Statuesque at five foot ten, she happened to like this true feature about herself, too. She knotted the patterned scarf around her slim neck just as the cab arrived.
The pouring rain slowed the ride but not her thoughts. Watching the droplets stream endlessly down the window, Rebecca rested her head against the seat and began to think. Innocence created the deceit. Life perpetuated the lies. Now she had to travel back before she could move ahead.
Nervously twisting her wedding band brought thoughts of Lance. She thought, too, about her teenage idol and how, after all these years, Lance still reminded her of that handsome James Dean. Remembering the amusing remark she and her teenage friends shared, made her chuckle. At the mere mention of his name, they conceded, James Dean could park his shoes under their beds any time. That invitation, seductive and bold, triggered any nun within hearing range to race for the nearest bar of soap and mouths would sting. Smiling in amusement, just thinking about that risky challenge made Rebecca's face redden.
Closing her eyes, she focused on Lance, visualizing the man she loved complete with receding hair line and all. It didn't matter that he carried a little more paunch around his middle now. That's just more of him to love. No, she thought, Lance isn't perfect. But what man is? How many times do I remind him to twist the toothpaste cap on tightly or to switch off the bathroom light? Then there's that matter of car grease forever under his nails. If only I could convince him to take the car to the shop. That will never happen. His fear of heights, the reason he bought our rancher instead of a two-story house, is kept under wraps. The topic is closed to discussion. Even with his flaws, I consider myself darn lucky. And, he is so supportive sticking by me through thick and thin. Like now, here I am grasping at straws and, he doesn't waver. He's behind me one hundred percent. Okay, James Dean belonged to all the teenage girls. But Lance belongs to only me. What would I do without him? Wait a minute. Don't even go there. She shook her head to rid it of that unacceptable possibility and simply cleared her mind. Nonchalantly fingering her scarf, the faint scent of Lance's after shave lotion emerged. Inhaling deeply, she recalled the warm goodbye hug responsible for how the scent got there in the first place. She tingled in the flashback. I can almost feel his face nestled still on my neck. How I do love his hugs. His arms are so strong, and yet, so gentle.
Sitting there basking in the pleasant, lingering aroma, her head filled with delicious thoughts of her leading man. She was reassured of her grateful conclusion. Yes, my Lance will always be my James Dean. And yes, she smiled. He can park his shoes under my bed any time.
She reminisced about the peaks and valleys of their marriage, glad that it held more peaks than valleys. But, the loss of two of their three children almost destroyed it.
In a devastating nose-dive, it plunged them into the depths of despair. Sadly, and without warning, two boys died before their first birthday. Rebecca thought about that horrific loss and how the hole in her heart, mending slowly, would never completely heal. She remembered accompanying each son's tiny coffin to the cemetery, and the heart-wrenching anguish clawing at her insides. Why? It made no sense. How did it happen? We asked all the right questions; saw all the right doctors and still didn't get any right answers. The boys just died.
Rebecca shook her head to rid her brain of the deep seated images lodged there. With the boys gone, now from here on, it's all about dear Emily. Oh, Emily, you grew up when I wasn't looking. Yesterday you were my little girl playing with dolls. I blinked and just like that, you're all grown-up planning your wedding. It's hard for me to believe in less than a year's time, you'll be married. That doesn't leave me much time.
Even so, Emily, don't you worry. Your babies will be safe. This time, I will get to the bottom of this long before you have children. It won't happen to you. I'll find out what caused your brothers to die, I promise.
Rebecca looked at her watch which had been given to her at graduation long ago. All these years, she thought, and this treasured gift still works. She delighted in its warm reminder of the special friend who had given it to her. Then realizing that time was of the essence, she tucked the cozy feeling away until another opportunity. Now, with the wedding coming so quickly, it was time to carry out her mission. Odd how it seems everything else is moving so slowly, she thought. Even this taxi seems to be crawling.
Sitting up, she tried searching for familiar landmarks. Darn, I can't see a thing through this steamed-up window. Closing her eyes, she considered, again, the reason why she was in this cab in the first place. Simply put, it was because of her love for Emily. She thought that is the distinctive stimulus driving me into action. Love started this whole process.
I must focus on the responsibility and obligation that rests solely on my shoulders and the challenges I face. Lance can't help me with what he doesn't know. It's all up to me. That's down-right scary. What if I fail? Stop it. Failure is not an option. Yet, there's so much to learn and so little time. I don't know if heredity played a role in the death of the boys, but I have to investigate every possibility. I'm going to find out. Lance's family is fine. That much I do know. It is my family that is of major concern. First off, I have to get my parents' health records. Considering I don't even know who my biological parents are, that's not going to be easy. After that, I'll have to confess. Then there goes my secret I swore I'd take to my grave. I'll have to tell. And everybody will know. Everybody will know that I'm an orphan and a fraud. But if that's what it takes for Emily, so be it. Phew! Why am I sweating?
Damp with perspiration, Rebecca wiped the moisture from her forehead with the back of her hand and blamed the cabbie for the problem. It was, after all she surmised, his fault for turning the heat on too high.
I know they're in here. Fumbling in her purse, she soon found them. Thank goodness. Inhaling deeply, she savored the cigarette's coolness before letting the smoke slowly escape. Finished, she snuffed it out in the ashtray as the pounding in her heart and the words in her head grew louder and louder ... And Everybody Will Know.
Chapter ThreeThe truth of the matter is that Rebecca Harden Miles' imaginary past, created in her best interest, is catching up to her. But facing unknown intimidation possibly hidden in her roots is a challenge she planned never to pursue. That is not until now. There simply is no alternative, as circumstances catapult her in the direction she has adamantly refused to follow. That is, again, not until now.
Over the years, she convinced herself of her contrived scheme's success. But deep down, she knows. Eventually it will come back to haunt her. It is inevitable. Still it doesn't matter. That's not today's worry. It is always for somewhere down the road. So for now, she continues deceiving everyone; most especially, herself. Will there be consequences? You bet. They lurk just around the corner.
Growing up in an orphanage, part of her life was lived in a make-believe world. She had no choice. It's called survival.
Her background is counterfeit. That's all there is to it. Created in innocence, it isn't meant to hurt anyone. Intended only to spare Rebecca heartache, in time it naturally grows to protect her loved ones, as well.
Living in a fantasy world was just easier back then. But somehow, along the way, like Pinocchio's nose, what started out as a little lie grew and grew into a full blown deceptive monstrosity. There simply was no stopping it.
For herself and later for the benefit of her husband and daughter, Rebecca proclaims her father to have been a decorated hero who died in World War II bravely serving his country. She portrays her mother as a gentle, loving, mother who sadly died of cancer not long after her father's death. That is her story and she stuck to it with no intention of ever backing down. There was never a need. That is, not until recently.
Emily's approaching wedding is the catalyst that finally forces Rebecca to change her tune. No doubt about it, learning her true beginnings is going to create a whole new ball game. And, somewhere within its confines, hopefully, she'll hit a homerun.
Life in an orphanage, considering you don't know of any other existence, is not all that bad. Rebecca is proof of that. She didn't turn out too badly. Although, looking back, she had to admit to her share of rough times.
Chapter FourFinally, the vehicle came to a stop. It took forever to get here, she thought. She paid the cabbie and stepped out of the car. Pulling the belt on her raincoat snuggly, she stood for a long moment watching the yellow cab drive away. Okay, now what? She asked herself. I'm all alone and I can't afford to lose my nerve. I can do this. Just go.
Her eyes followed the wet sidewalk that led to the front steps of the once familiar red brick building. For a long time, I called this place home. Funny, I've been away for over forty years and yet, it still looks pretty much the same. How strange and, darn why am I so nervous?
Oh, gosh. A minute ago I was hot. Now I'm actually shivering. Rubbing her fingers to stimulate heat, it hit her. Who am I kidding? It's not only the wet, autumn weather causing me to tremble. Face it. It is fear, plain fear. This is so bizarre. Here I am facing my past and my future. Guess that gives me the right to be scared. Okay, enough of this, she chastised herself. Pull it together. Here goes.
Fear does strange things. Walking up the entrance steps, her legs felt like lead. They lacked cooperation. Taking the steps at a slower than normal pace, she felt concerned. What's happening here? I don't know. She both asked and answered her own question. I just have to coax myself. She did and she made it one step at a time. Finally, she thought. I'm here.
She rang the doorbell tentatively. Her insides were shaky as she mustered up courage. If I want to resolve all those haunting issues of my past, now is not the time for me to chicken out. Inhaling, she took a deep breath. Okay. I'm ready. Good thing, because I hear someone approaching.
The latch turned. Slowly, the door opened. There before her stood a petite nun. Mostly concealed by the religious habit she wore, at first, Rebecca couldn't tell her age. But then a few winkled furrows on her exposed face betrayed her. Holy Hannah, Rebecca surmised, sure looks like she's been around the block a few times. She's absolutely ancient. Now, that was cruel, Rebecca, she silently chastised herself.
The folds in the nun's garment were sharp and crisp from daily ironing and she gave off a scent of roses and lavender.
I don't believe it. I recognize that soap's aroma. I grew up with it. How about that? Guess, in this place, some things just stay the same. That phenomenon is remarkable. I wonder how many other surprises await me in this place to remind me of years gone by.
Excerpted from Purple Gold by JENN SHELL Copyright © 2010 by Dolores M. Hess. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jenn Shell is a wonderful story teller. I truly enjoyed this book. In this day and age it was so refreshing to read a book that was so well written, entwined just enough suspense, drama and intrigue to keep you wanting more. Can not wait to read her other books.
I have one problem with it...it is over and there's no more story to read. It was a terrific book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and about Rebecca's life. Jenn Shell did a fantastic job! I can't wait for her next book.