The Broken String: A Short Story

The Broken String: A Short Story

by Diane Chamberlain

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The Broken String: A Short Story by Diane Chamberlain

In celebration of the forthcoming novel The Silent Sister, Diane Chamberlain introduces Riley MacPherson in the e-short story The Broken String.

As seventeen-year-old Riley MacPherson rushes to the side of her brother who has been gravely injured in Iraq, she recalls their growing up years when he was her protector and best friend. Why did that relationship fall apart? She longs for a second chance to connect with her brother, not realizing that family secrets may prevent them from ever having that closeness again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466877917
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/26/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 35
Sales rank: 45,197
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of twenty-one novels published in more than eleven languages. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.

DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels published in over eleven languages. Her books include The First Lie, Her Mother's Shadow, The Good Father, and Kiss River. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.

Read an Excerpt

The Broken String

A Short Story

By Diane Chamberlain

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Diane Chamberlain
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7791-7


"What happens if lightning hits the plane?" The little girl turned from the window to look at her brother, who sat between us. I recognized the expression in her worried brown eyes. She thought her big brother, who was at most nine or ten, had all the answers. The two of them reminded me of Danny and myself when we were kids, although they looked nothing at all like we did. They were both redheads, while Danny had been — and still was — blue-eyed and flaxen-haired, and I was a brown-eyed brunette. Still, the way the girl turned to her brother, the way she looked up at him as though he was the smartest boy in the world ... that had been me and Danny.

The truth was, right now nearly everything I saw or heard or felt reminded me of my brother.

"It's not going to hit the plane," the boy said. "At least it better not." He turned to look at me as though I might know the answer, but I'd been wondering the same thing. Here we were, suspended thirty-five thousand feet above the Atlantic on a pitch-black night, while lightning pierced the sky like knife blades outside our small window.

"I'm not sure what happens," I said. I was only seventeen. This was my first flight ever and I'd had no time to prepare myself for the experience, nor did I really care. The flight wasn't important. It was getting to the hospital in Germany that mattered. "But the one thing I do know," I said to the children, "is that the pilot's had lots of training and has probably flown through hundreds of storms. He'll know what he's doing."

"Right." The boy looked at his sister with a grown-up sort of confidence that touched me, because surely he was afraid, too. Their mother was in front of us with two younger children, one of whom had not stopped crying since we took off a little more than an hour ago. "The pilot's had tons of training for storms and stuff," the boy said to the wide-eyed little girl. "He's probably been through lots worse than this."

The plane suddenly dipped like a roller coaster and the little girl let out a cry. Her brother took her hand. I wished I had someone to hold mine. While I considered myself an adult in all other matters, tonight I felt like a child.

I shut my eyes and rested my head against the back of the seat. It was going to be a very long night.

* * *

"Excuse me, miss?"

I opened my eyes to see one of the flight attendants standing next to my seat. The pin on her collar said Julianne, but she looked too old for the name. Her chin-length brown hair was dusted with wisps of white. "Yes?" I said.

The plane gave a toss to the left and Julianne held onto the back of the seat in front of me to stay upright. "Is your name Riley MacPherson?" she asked.

Oh, God. I wanted to tell her "no" to stop whatever words she was about to say next. Her smile was warm, though. She wouldn't be smiling if she had terrible news. Besides, how could she possibly know anything?

"Yes." I spoke so quietly I was sure she couldn't hear me over the sound of the engine and the wailing toddler in the seat in front of me.

"Please get your carry-on and come with me," she said. "We're moving you." Her smile was wide now, but my heart nearly stopped beating. Why would they move me? Could they have gotten word in the cockpit that Danny had died and they wanted to tell me in private?

The plane took a nauseating tumble as I got to my feet, and Julianne had to help me pull my small, hastily packed suitcase out of the overhead bin. I waved goodbye to the little girl and her brother. I tried to smile at them, but I knew by the flat expressions they gave me in return that I had failed. I followed Julianne up the long aisle of the plane, my eyes already filling with tears.

We reached the curtain that separated the economy cabin from first class, and she pulled it aside. I followed her into the dim and far quieter atmosphere of first class.

Julianne suddenly stopped walking. "This is your new seat," she said, pointing to two roomy, leather, first-class seats, both of them empty. She took my suitcase from my hand and lifted it easily into the overhead bin. "Go ahead," she said. "Sit down and buckle up."

"I don't understand," I said, lowering myself into the aisle seat. "I didn't pay for —"

"Move over and I'll explain." She motioned toward the window seat and I slid into it. As she sat down next to me, the light above our seats illuminated her gray eyes and the freckles on the bridge of her nose. "Buckle your seat belt," she reminded me.

I did as she asked, my gaze never leaving her face as I tried to read her expression.

"So, you spoke with one of the other flight attendants when you boarded," she said, once I was safely buckled in. "Robert?"

"I don't know his name," I said.

"Well, he told me where you're going and why." She smoothed a strand of her hair behind her ear. "I have a nephew in Afghanistan," she said. "I'm really close to him — it's like he's my own son — and I can picture myself in your place all too easily."

"Oh," I said, relieved. She didn't know anything about Danny's condition. I would be able to live in welcome ignorance for another six hours or so.

"I'm so glad we had empty seats up here in first class," Julianne said. "That doesn't happen very often, and we want you to be comfortable on this flight."

"That's so nice of you," I said.

She started to stand up, then stopped herself. "Why are you alone, though?" she asked, her forehead lined with worry. "You're only ... how old are you?"


"And you look even younger than that. Are your parents ... is your family already over there?"

I shook my head. "They couldn't come," I said, "so I told them I would go, but I'm afraid by the time I get there ..."

"Shh." She squeezed my hand where it rested on my thigh. "Only positive thoughts, okay?" she said. "Can I announce it? We can get this whole plane full of people praying for your brother. What's his name? Or is that too private?"

"Danny," I said, overwhelmed by the thought of a planeful of prayers. They couldn't hurt. "Daniel MacPherson."

"Were you close?"

I winced at her use of the past tense. Once again, I wondered if she knew something I didn't.

"Yes, we're close," I said, although it wasn't the truth. Somehow my brother and I had lost our closeness. I felt as though I didn't know him any longer.

"I hope he'll come through this okay." Julianne got to her feet. "What can I get you to drink?" she asked. "And here." She took a pillow from another empty seat and dropped it next to me. "Here's an extra pillow for you."

I tucked the pillow between my shoulder and the window. "Nothing to drink right now, thank you," I said.

"You need anything at all, you just call for me, all right?" Another spear of lightning cut across the sky outside the window, illuminating her face.

"I do have a question maybe you could answer," I said.

She raised her eyebrows, waiting.

"Can lightning strike the plane?" I asked.

She laughed as she sat down again. "Lightning hits planes all the time," she said. "It just bounces off, so nothing to worry about. And anyway, most of that lightning is far, far away from us. The pilot's doing all she can to avoid the storms."

"She?" I asked, surprised.

"Captain Hobert. She's been flying forever." She smiled as she got to her feet.

"She's even older than me, so you know she's seen her share of storms."

Once Julianne left, I got up and walked back to the economy section of the plane. The aisle seemed even longer to me now as I made my way to my old seat. I sat down next to the boy.

"Where did you go?" the little girl asked. Either she or her brother had pulled the shade on the window, and I guessed they didn't want to watch the light show any longer.

"I'm sitting up there now." I pointed toward the front of the plane. "But I wanted to let you know that I found out that lightning strikes planes all the time and nothing bad ever happens. It just bounces right off."

The boy smiled. "Cool." He turned to his sister. "I told you it was nothing to worry about."

"And our pilot is a woman," I added.

"No way!" He looked a little worried about that revelation, but I felt comforted. I thought a woman would be less likely to take risks in a storm. She would get us safely where we needed to go.

By the time I returned to my new seat, the plane was rocking and rolling worse than ever and I buckled my seat belt tightly across my hips. I wrapped up in the thin blue blanket Julianne had given me, pulled the shade against the storm outside, and shut my eyes. Just as I was beginning to drift off to sleep, the loudspeaker coughed to life.

"Ladies and gentlemen," a female voice said. I thought it was Julianne, but the sound was scratchy and it was hard to tell. "We have a traveler with us today who could use your best wishes. She's only seventeen and she's flying on her own to her brother's bedside in Germany. He was gravely injured in Iraq. I hope you'll hold him in your thoughts."

Gravely injured. I heard almost nothing after she said those words.

A few people came to talk to me. Each of them sat in the seat next to me, and although I'd thought I only wanted to sleep my way through this flight, I was glad for their company. A man who had flown helicopters in Vietnam told me he was praying for Danny. "He'll make it," he said, as if he knew this for a fact, "but he'll be changed. He'll need your love and acceptance."

Changed how? I wanted to ask. I could see darkness in the man's eyes, and I thought he knew what he was talking about. I was afraid of his answer, though, so I only thanked him for his prayers.

One woman gave me her rosary. Another, a little Jehovah's Witness pamphlet. A very old man gave me a small pastry his wife had made. I accepted anything I was given, tucking them all into my purse like good luck charms.

Then the little boy came to see me. "Are you the lady they talked about?" he asked. "The one with the brother?"

"Yes." I motioned toward the empty seat next to me, inviting him to sit down.

"What does 'gravely' mean?" he asked.

"It means he could die," I said.

"I was afraid that's what it meant." He looked worried. "I hope he doesn't," he added. "You're really nice. I wish only good things happened to nice people."

"I like how you take care of your sister," I said.

"She's really afraid of thunderstorms."

"I was, too, when I was her age," I said. "You should probably go back to her. Thank you for coming up here to see me."

I was tired and pretended to sleep to put an end to the visitors, but I knew I would never be able to sleep on this flight now. After a while, I lifted my window shade and saw a flash of lightning that seemed to fill the whole sky with its ragged silver fingers. It was enough to make me gasp out loud. With a shudder, I lowered the shade again, hoping the little girl still had hers closed. With any luck, by now she was sleeping soundly.

* * *

I was six years old, the age of that little girl, when my parents decided I should no longer fear thunderstorms. Storms were frequent in New Bern, North Carolina, where we lived, and when they came at night, I would leave my bedroom, race down the hall to their room, and crawl into their bed with them. It had become something of a ritual, one that turned a scary night into a rare night of closeness with my parents. The night I turned six, however, that changed. We'd gone out to dinner to celebrate my birthday, and I'd fallen asleep feeling happy, excited by my gifts and an overdose of sugary birthday cake. I woke up with lightning blazing through my room and the thunder so close that I felt it booming in my chest. Grabbing my teddy bear, I ran from my room. I screamed the entire way down the hall and burst into my parents' room, breathless with relief.

"No." Daddy was quiet but firm as I started to climb into their bed. "You have to stay in your own bed tonight." Next to him, my mother was asleep, or perhaps only pretending to be. I could see her closed eyes as the lightning swept across the bed. I knew she'd been down after we came home from my birthday dinner. That was the word Daddy used to describe her when she was sad. Your mom is down today, he'd say, and Danny and I knew that meant we should be good, entertain ourselves, and stay out of her way.

"But Daddy, I'm scared!" I couldn't believe he was changing the rules so abruptly.

"Shh." Daddy got out of bed and put on his slippers. He took my hand and led me back into the hall, shutting their bedroom door behind him. I thought he might walk me back to my room and stay with me there, but no. He let go of my hand and looked down at me, his face hard to see in the dark hallway. "You're six years old now, Riley," he said. "A big girl. In a couple of months you'll graduate from kindergarten. It's time you got over being afraid of storms. We're not doing you any favors, letting you stay with us. Now go back to your room."

I didn't budge. I held Teddy tightly against my chest as I looked up at my father, trying to make out his features in the darkness. He seemed so much bigger than me at that moment, and I needed that protective bigness. He reached down and took me by the shoulder, turning me in the direction of my room.

"Go on, Riley," he said, as I took one baby step into the dark hallway. "That's a good brave girl," he added, and when I turned to look at him, he'd stepped back into the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

I had taken one more small step when a clap of thunder suddenly shook the house. I froze, paralyzed, in the hallway, Teddy clutched in my arms.


I jumped at the sound of my name and turned to see Danny standing in the doorway to his room. He looked ghostly, his white-blond hair and fair skin standing out in the darkness of the hall, but I was thrilled to see him.

"I'm scared," I said.

"You can stay with me." He held his hand out to me and I grabbed it as if he were saving me from drowning. We walked together into his dark room and my bare feet seemed to find every Lego and Matchbox car scattered on his floor, but I didn't care. I climbed onto his bed as a bolt of lightning lit up the sky outside his window, and I buried my head in his pillow.

"Pull the shade!" I shouted.

"Shh!" he said. "They'll hear you."

"Pull it," I whispered, and he got into bed beside me and pulled the shade closed.

"I like to watch the storms," he said.

He was so brave! I couldn't imagine watching those streaks of lightning on purpose. I wondered if I'd miraculously become brave when I was ten, too.

"It's too dark in here," I said, my voice muffled by his pillow.

He reached behind the bed and turned on his reading lamp. I saw his Game Boy on his night table. His prize possession.

"Check this out," he said. He lay down next to me, holding his hands in the air above us.

I rolled onto my back. "What are you doing?" I asked.

He nodded toward the animal-shaped shadow he'd formed on the wall. "What is it?" he asked.

"A dog?" I guessed.

"No, stupid. Look how long its head is."

"A horse!"

"Right! Want me to show you how to make one?"

For the next half hour, we made shadow puppets on the wall. Horses, ducks, dogs. We made them talk to each other. Danny's horse told a lot of stupid ten-year-old-boy fart jokes, and mine told insipid knock-knock jokes, which were the only jokes I knew. Before long, the storm was over, and I was asleep with a smile on my face, breathing in my big brother's scent from his pillow.

I yawned my way through kindergarten the next day after talking and laughing with Danny for so much of the night. When I got home that afternoon, I found my mother sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, a cup of coffee in her hand and her brown hair sticking up every which way all around her head. I smelled dinner cooking in the Crock-Pot. Our house always smelled like a Crock-Pot meal. Every morning, Mom would toss a chicken or a hunk of meat into the pot, along with vegetables and a can of cream of mushroom soup. She loved the easiness of it. She had no energy for cooking.

One of her soap operas was on the TV, and I knew she was still down, but she smiled at me.

"Hi, baby," she said. "Did you have good day?"

"Yes." I climbed onto the couch to sit next to her and rested my head on her arm.

"Be careful," she said. "You'll make me spill."


Excerpted from The Broken String by Diane Chamberlain. Copyright © 2014 Diane Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's 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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
The Broken String: A Short Story,
Excerpt from The Silent Sister,
Books by Diane Chamberlain,
About the Author,
Author Photo,

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The Broken String: A Short Story 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
Diane Chamberlain’s intriguing THE BROKEN STRING, an e-short story novella and prequel to her exciting drama of family secrets in her upcoming book, THE SILENT SISTER.(Oct). As seventeen year old Riley MacPherson travels by plane alone, to visit her older brother, Danny who has suffered injuries in Iraq, she flashes back with fond memories of her childhood, a time when her brother had always been there for her to protect her from life’s messiness. Her mom, is sad and haunted. Her dad, distant and obsessed with collections and things, leaving two children without a warm and caring family atmosphere. Due to a suicide tragedy by their child prodigy and famous violinist daughter, Lisa, when she was seventeen. No one talks about her-- where secrets are dark and voices, silent. Riley has no recollection of her older sister as she was only a baby. She recalls a time, when she was just a little girl, when she longed for her mom's smile, trying desperately to share in the happy place where memories were pure and happy, but she lacked the key to this door and had no clue where to look. An old photograph with the girl and the violin--her mom looked happy. Riley always looked up to her older brother, who was always there to protect her, and she thought that his strength and confidence was a good thing. However, she has no idea it is the beginning of a defiance that would later rule him. Her memories are a long string of events that bound her brother to her. Somehow though, that string had been broken –the anger that had been a part of him took over, finally pushing her away, as well as their parents. She longs to be there for him, as he has been for her, when they were children. Fortunately, I had the opportunity of reading an ARC of THE SILENT SISTER (5 stars), by the publisher, and Diane once again delivers a riveting and suspense page turner. She skillfully crafts a complex family drama mystery, with multi-generational rich characters. I wanted to go back and read the novella, rewinding to a time earlier to hear from Riley, before the setting of THE SILENT SISTER where we connect with Riley and Danny, years later after their parent’s death, when the secrets begin to unravel. Highly recommend both THE BROKEN STRING and THE SILENT SISTER a moving story of a family tragedy, and the desperate attempt to pick up the pieces.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A prequel to the book I am reviewing tomorrow The Silent Sister. The Broken String centers around seventeen-year-old Riley MacPherson as she is on a plane headed to be by the side of her brother who is injured in Iraq. While on the plane she is thinking about their childhood and the ups and downs within their family. This novella is a collection of those thoughts.
Holly More than 1 year ago
The Broken String is a novella to The Silent Sister. Riley is a seventeen year old rushing to Germany to be with her older brother, Danny who was injured in Iraq. During the flight over, Riley remembers some moments that her brother was there for her during their childhood with her parents being so distant and full of secrets. As Riley gets to Danny's bedside, she now knows what secrets her parents were hiding and she is now realizes that she needs to protect Danny like he did when they were kids. This maybe a short read but it gives you a deeper sense of the story that happens in The Silent Sister. I haven't read The Silent Sister yet but I do have it on my nightstand waiting to be read soon and with me reading this book first, I'm gonna understand the story a little bit better since I read this book first. I find myself buying Diane's books every-time I have a little extra money just to be able to get totally into the story and there is not that many Authors out there that I do that with!! Thank You to Diane Chamberlain for writing yet another fantastic story!! This book came from my own personal Library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a prelude to start the main book