Secrets on Sycamore Street
A suspense story about four housewives caught up in sex, lies, drugs, and blackmail.
Abandoned on a ranch in Wyoming by her drug dealing parents, Catherine has no memory of her childhood before being adopted at age twelve by her grandmother. Educated in an all-girls Catholic school she was not prepared for the changes in her life when she moved from Fort Collins, Colorado, a college town, to Irvine, California, an affluent bedroom community south of Los Angeles.
Entering marriage as a naïve young woman, she feels unfulfilled in her role as a wife of a controlling, self-centered husband and mother of a two-year-old. With no money to finish her college education, she stumbles into a job as a sex phone operator. Fearing his disapproval, she keeps the nature of her job a secret from her husband. Surprisingly, she discovers she has a knack for dealing with the men who call, a skill she learns to use wisely.
Confiding in her friends about her job, she discovers they too have secrets. All too quickly Catherine realizes secrets don't always stay hidden when a blackmail letter arrives demanding money to keep silent.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.64(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Secrets on Sycamore Street
By Donna M. Bevans
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Donna Bevans
All rights reserved.
"Little Boy Blue," a voice whispers into the phone.
I know the voice. My heart races in my chest.
Ten years ago, Barbara, my daughter, gave me that code in case of an emergency, but before I can say a word, the line goes dead.
"Dave," I call to the senior partner at the law firm where I have worked for over fifteen years. "I've got to go."
"What's wrong, Eleanor?"
"Family emergency. I'll call you later." I grab my purse and rush out the door, glad I filled my gas tank the day before. Traffic seems unusually heavy around the Larimer County courthouse this morning. Waiting for a red light, I realize I've been clutching the steering wheel. Letting go and shaking my hands, I take a deep breath. It's going to take me an hour to get there. Another five minutes won't matter.
Once I get out of town on 287 heading north toward Laramie, Wyoming, the traffic thins out and I make good time. Alone in the car, I have a chance to think about my daughter and what her message meant. In the thirteen years since she ran away, I've only seen her three times. The first time, she called and asked me to be with her when her daughter, Sunflower, was born. Having my daughter give birth at eighteen and becoming a grandmother at forty definitely wasn't part of my plan. Shocked at her home delivery in a grimy apartment without a doctor, I said things I should have kept to myself. She didn't speak to me for over a year.
The second time, on a cold February day, she just showed up at my door. Wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt several sizes too big, I hardly recognized her. Sunflower, at almost two, clung desperately to her mother's neck wearing a thin dress and no shoes. She begged me to keep my granddaughter until she could come back for her. She gave me no reason why. For ten days, Sunflower became the center of my life. We played. I bought her warm clothes, toys, and books. At last, I could really be a grandmother and spoil this beautiful child who looked so much like her mother with curly blond hair and deep blue eyes. Memories of Barbara as a sweet and innocent child, rather than a rebellious teenager, gave me hope my daughter would change.
The time flew by, and Barbara showed up one afternoon to pick up her daughter. That's when she gave me the code.
"If I need you to come and get Sunflower, I'll use the code. I know you don't approve of Johnny, or our lifestyle, but I love him. He's in trouble, and we're moving to a ranch where we can be free. Here's the address." She pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her jeans pocket and passed it to me. "Please, don't tell anyone where we are."
Without another word, she picked up her daughter and left. If she had torn my heart out with her bare hands, I would not have felt as much pain. I missed my sweet granddaughter and longed to see her again. The note had an address and a map to a ranch somewhere outside of Laramie, Wyoming, but no phone number. I wanted to follow them, go to see Sunflower before she forgot me, but I waited for Barbara to contact me. Since then, only occasional phone calls from Barbara letting me know they were well.
I went over the nursery rhyme in my head. "Little Boy Blue" means trouble. "Come blow your horn" means come. The next two lines mean nothing. "Where's the little boy" means Sunflower is hiding. "He's under the haystack fast asleep" means she's under a haystack. Worrying about Sunflower's welfare, I drive faster.
Once off the main highway, I drive along a two-lane road leading away from Laramie for about ten miles. The next direction takes me onto a much narrower road. It's still paved for about two miles before the map has me turn onto a dirt road, hardly more than two ruts in the ground.
Just as I contemplate turning around, I see cars coming toward me. Three or four, it's hard to tell with the dust billowing up behind them. I slow down and pull over as far as I can to let them pass. I look to see if Barbara and Sunflower are in any of the cars. The first two, black SUVs with two men in each, drive past me. The third car, a black sedan with only the driver and no passengers, pulls over behind me and stops. The last vehicle, a white truck with "Albany County Sheriff" in black and gold letters on the side, stops in front of me. Surrounded, I roll down my window and smile at the Sheriff's deputy walking toward me. I've always been good at thinking fast if need be, and it seems like it will come in handy here.
"Where are you going, ma'am?" he asks.
Remembering the name of a ranch I saw a few miles back I reply. "I'm looking for The Double Crown Ranch. Is it much farther?"
His right hand, which had been resting on his gun belt, drops to his side. "You missed the turn about five miles back. And you should have turned left, not right."
"Oh my." I do my best to act like a frustrated old lady.
"Once we're out of your way, just turn around and go back to the paved road. Go left, and you'll see their sign in about five miles. This time, it will be on your right."
"Thank you, officer," I say as he walks away.
He tips his hat to me, turns, waves to the vehicle behind me, and calls out. "No problem. She's just lost."
I sit in my car as they drive away, but they're going slowly. They may be watching me. Not wanting another encounter, I turn around and head back the way I came. By the time I get to the paved road, they are nowhere in sight. With a sigh of relief, I turn around again and follow Barbara's directions back to the spot where the sheriff stopped me. Continuing down the dirt road, I pass a grove of aspen trees, and the road veers to the right. In the distance, buildings appear. Driving closer, I see an old VW van parked next to an ill-kept garden. A row of sunflowers planted along the side of the barn is a sure sign Barbara lives here, but I don't see a haystack anywhere.
What I do see is yellow crime tape blocking off the van and the doors to the house and barn. I shake my head. Do the police really think yellow tape with 'do not cross' will stop anybody?
Getting out of the car, the wind blows dust in my face as I walk slowly toward the house. I look over my shoulder for anyone who may still be here, then duck under the crisscrossed yellow tape and enter the house.
The kitchen has makeshift shelves holding a few cans of food against one wall. Dirty dishes cover the table and fill the sink. A wood stove in the corner must have been used for cooking and heat, and a dilapidated refrigerator, most likely run by propane, sits against the back wall. Looking through the house, I find no clues as to my granddaughter's whereabouts. Back outside, I quickly head for the barn. Yellow tape blocks the large sliding door. I rip it loose and go inside. Boxes are scattered along the wall on my right, and bales of hay are piled in the corner to my left. Pulling and pushing at the heavy bales reveals a crack in the wooden floor. Moving another bundle, I see a small trapdoor.
"Sunflower, are you down there?" I squeeze my hand into the tiny metal ring that passes for a handle.
I pull open the little door and peer down into the hole. The only light comes from the barn window beside me. An old ladder leans against the side of the hole. Lying on a blanket, barely visible, I see my grandchild asleep with her head resting on a paper sack. Glad I had worn slacks and not a dress to work today, I start down the ladder. The rungs creak as I step on them. Please don't break and send me crashing down on top of her, I pray. When I reach the bottom, I see a large jug of water and a box of crackers on a small stool.
I touch her gently. "Sunflower, honey, it's Grandma."
She opens her eyes and blinks. "Grandmother?"
"Yes, dear. I'm your Grandmother."
"Mom said you'd come. Are you gonna take me someplace safe?"
"I'm going to take you home with me. You'll be safe. I promise. How long have you been down here?"
Sunflower stands up, shrugs her shoulders, and grabs the paper sack she has been using for a pillow. Her clothes are dirty and tattered and her hair, in one long braid down her back, is messy from lack of care. As she climbs up the ladder, each rung creaks. I wait for her to reach the top and step out into the barn before I start to climb. Even though I'm in good shape for fifty-two, climbing the ladder in such a stressful situation leaves me a bit out of breath by the time I'm out of the hole.
Sunflower watches until I'm up in the barn and then runs outside into the yard. In the daylight, she looks small for twelve and even dirtier than before. Anger at my daughter, and how she has obviously neglected her daughter, churns in my stomach. I watch Sunflower walk to the van, slide her fingers along the tape draped around it, and look inside. When she steps away, her little shoulders seem to sag. She takes a few more steps and runs back into barn. Pushing the boxes away, she uncovers another trap door, but this one is open. She pulls a tiny flashlight from the pocket of her overalls and climbs down the ladder. I follow a few steps behind.
"Mom, Mom," she calls, but no one answers. She shines the flashlight around the room, and I can see it's much larger than where Sunflower had been sleeping. Wooden beams support the ceiling. A workbench of sorts fills one wall, and a stool is tipped over on the floor. Broken glass, bits of plastic tubing, and a few scattered plastic bags are all that's left of whatever had been here previously.
After looking around the room, Sunflower darts into a narrow doorway in the corner and disappears. I follow, her flashlight glowing as she runs through a tunnel. Light shines down from an opening above us, and she starts to climb the ladder leading to the outside. I'm right behind her. She seems to know where she's going. I don't want to think about why Barbara needed this elaborate setup.
Sunflower looks at the empty field in front of her and then up at the sky.
"Mom and Dad left me. They went away in the airplane. They left me."
"They had an airplane?" I ask.
"The man did." She takes off running across the field toward a clump of bushes. My running days are over, but I walk as fast as I can. By the time I reach her, she's pulling branches away from a big rock.
"Honey." I try to connect with her. "What are you looking for?"
So out of breath she can barely speak, she looks up at me. "Mom ... here ... in secret hiding place."
"There's another cellar?" I ask.
She nods and continues pulling brush aside until we can see the wooden door. I help her sweep away the dirt and small rocks then lift open the door. There's no light inside, and I'm sure Barbara isn't here. Not if she's alive.
"Sunflower, honey. Let me go down and look around. Mom's not in there." I take the flashlight from my granddaughter's hand and climb down yet another ladder, praying I don't find anything.
But what I find is a complete setup for what I think is a meth lab. Glass beakers, jars of chemicals, plastic tubing, a tank of propane, a gas burner, and other things I can't identify. Those men, sheriffs, FBI, DEA, or whoever they were, might have found the room under the barn but he didn't find this place, that's for sure.
Climbing back up, I try to think what I should do. "Sunflower, Mommy isn't down there. Let's cover it all up again for when she comes back."
She looks up at me and nods. Together we replace the dirt, rocks, and brush. I do my best to make the area look like it hasn't been disturbed. Then I take Sunflower's hand and walk with her back to the barn. The yellow tape, breaking free from the VW, beckons to us in the wind. I slide the barn door closed and reattach the yellow tape.
My granddaughter, standing by the garden, picks up the paper sack she had dropped and brushes a strand of hair from her face. She looks up at the row of sunflowers almost twice her size and watches as the wind blows them against the barn. Bending down, she pulls a carrot from the garden, wipes the dirt off on her overalls, and takes a bite.
"Are you hungry?" I ask.
She looks at me blankly, hardly acknowledging my presence.
Taking her hand again, I lead her to my car. "Let's go to my house." I can only imagine how frightened my granddaughter must be.
We stop at a Wal-Mart on the way home, and I purchase underwear, pajamas, jeans, and shirts for her. She doesn't let go of my hand in the store and seems mystified by the racks of clothes and shelves of soap, shampoo, and other products. That is, until she sees the produce section. Her eyes widen, and she stares at all the fruit and vegetables. Her hand reaches out and touches an orange. I quickly put some in a bag and place them in our cart. Each time she touches something, I respond by adding it to the cart. She's not talking but we've found a way to communicate.
In the vegetable section, she caresses the carrots ever so gently with her fingers. A bag full goes into our cart. The process continues. She lets go of my hand and darts from table to table admiring it all. When she finds the display of flowers, she stops. Then, moving slowly from table to table, she finds the sunflowers. With both hands, she gently touches first the yellow petals and then the dark brown center. Looking up at me, she smiles. I can't resist.
"Would you like a sunflower?" I ask.
Pleading with her eyes, she nods ever so slightly.
I place two large flowers in the cart with our other selections, and we continue on to the checkout counter.
Once in the car, she sits in the back seat holding the flowers in her lap. It may be my imagination, but she seems more relaxed as we continue the drive.
When we arrive at my house in Fort Collins, I take my granddaughter by the hand and show her around the house, room by room.
"This is my bedroom, and right across the hall is your new room."
In the bathroom, I try to explain why she needs to take a bath. She is fascinated watching me fill the tub with warm water and bubbles.
"Okay, Sunflower, now you can take off your jeans and climb in with the bubbles."
She backs away and shakes her head.
"Look," I say coaxing her closer. "Stir the water with your hand and you'll make more bubbles."
Slowly, Sunflower puts her hand into the water, pulls it back with bubbles attached and smiles.
"Now you can climb in and play," I say.
She pushes the straps of her overalls off her shoulders and carefully steps out of them. She's not wearing underwear, and her skinny little body looks more like a nine-year-old than a girl of twelve.
She's not too sure about getting into the tub. When I show her the shower nozzle she can hold in her hand, she is terrified. With a little coaxing, she reluctantly gets into the tub. She likes the bubbles and starts to play. Washing her hair is an ordeal. She doesn't want to get it wet and she doesn't want me to put shampoo on it.
"Didn't your mom shampoo her hair?" I ask.
She shakes her head and looks at me pleading with her eyes.
"I'll show you how to do it yourself." I hope she will try. After much coaxing and cajoling, she takes the plastic glass from my hand and pours water over her head. I gently soap her hair, tell her to close her eyes and pour more water on her hair. Finally, the job is done, and Sunflower climbs out of the tub. I don't think she's worn underwear before, but she puts them on at my request. The pajamas are a different story. She refuses to wear them. She insists on wearing a worn out, oversized t-shirt to bed. It was in the sack she carried along with a pair of overalls, another t-shirt, a tattered teddy bear, and a note for me from her mother. I think she likes the new jeans and shirt but it's hard to tell as she hasn't smiled or spoken a word since we left Wyoming.
The note from my daughter lies unopened on my nightstand. I waited until after Sunflower went to bed with her teddy bear tucked next to her, and finally slept, before opening it.
Carrying a glass of brandy into my bedroom, I sit down on the bed, take a sip, and reach for the envelope. As I read the note, tears run down my cheeks for the little girl asleep in the room across the hall.
"Mom, we're in trouble. We can't take Sunflower with us. It's too dangerous. John and I are relinquishing our parental rights and giving you custody. There is no birth certificate or any other documents proving her existence. We never got around to it. Please adopt her. Give her a good life. Barbara"
I keep looking at the words my daughter has written. Relinquishing her rights? How can she do it? What kind of a mother leaves her child behind?
Excerpted from Secrets on Sycamore Street by Donna M. Bevans. Copyright © 2016 Donna Bevans. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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