|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||7.99(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.10(d)|
|Age Range:||5 - 8 Years|
Read an Excerpt
The Troubled One
Little Caroline stared at the ghostly fog through her bedroom window and hoped for her wild mother to appear in the dark of night. After forcing herself to take three deep breaths, the little girl spotted some hot- and cold-colored lights of a police cruiser in lieu of the woman who had a history of arriving home late and with a stagger. The lights of the cruiser flickered and swerved up, down, and around Caroline's young but tired-looking face.
The sight delivered a powerful shiver to the officer below, who had come bearing news.
In Caroline's small state of Rhode Island, residents had an ironic tendency for having a connection with seemingly any other. October of 1999 — a time just a few years before this damp night, for example — had marked a period of mourning among Rhode Islanders for the loss of state native and US Senator John Chafee, a man who had died suddenly from congestive heart failure. Senator Chafee's son Lincoln succeeded him. After seven years of service in his late father's seat, Lincoln would lose his job to an opponent named Sheldon Whitehouse in a competitive, closely watched race. The elder Chafee and Sheldon's father had been college roommates at Yale.
The Ocean State weaved uncanny, intimate webs such as this. The Cranston police officer with a shiny new badge understood the phenomenon well as he prepared to knock on the apartment door of his former high-school sweetheart, whom he had once called "the loveliest Lindsay." He swallowed hard in acceptance that the home also belonged to Lindsay's husband now, as well as the little girl who was staring at him through some sheer, ghostly white curtains. The affable men hadn't cared for each other for several years despite one relationship with Lindsay being current and the other long over. Lindsay was the type of woman a suitor never got over. Both men were soberly aware of that fact.
Officer Rory tapped on his woolen police cap, which was the color of mourning, and nervously cleared his throat in anticipation of stepping into the cool rain and the even more chilling experience of telling a man that he had just lost his wife.
Losing someone was not the type of experience the officer wished on his worst enemy. Little did he know during his recent training that the closest person he had to an enemy would be the first man he'd need to console.
Rory's size thirteen officer boots created small waves and splashes atop the steps as he reluctantly inched toward duty. With another roll of life's dice, he thought, he could've been the man on the other side of the door.
It opened before Rory could knock and provided a surreal glimpse at what his life might have been. The place looked warm and humble with a picture of Lindsay laughing in sunshine on her wedding day, a trio of little Caroline's knotty-haired Barbie dolls on an otherwise tidy carpet, and a cream-colored pug puppy sleeping obliviously on a window seat. The sorrowfully sweet sights were topped only by the expiring scent of Lindsay's drugstore musk perfume that hit him at the door.
From the other side of the threshold, the confused eyes of a kind man named Kenny dropped to his own pair of size thirteen shoes, loafers Lindsay had purchased as a gift just before she went missing.
* * *
She had presented the shoes to her husband with pride on a hopeful morning as Kenny had nervously prepared to interview for a temp position in town at Harper Manufacturing. Neither the husband nor wife had expected the loafers to be Lindsay's final gift as they shared coffee and a cautious dream that his new assembly-line post would one day become permanent.
It had taken Lindsay seven exasperating tries at tying Kenny's plain navy tie, an unfamiliar accessory that irritated his neck on the nerve-filled autumn walk to his prospective employer. He had glanced often at a plain digital wristwatch that alerted him he was running five minutes early, but ten minutes later than he planned. He had dabbed at sweat easing slowly from a freshly shaved face with a worn burgundy handkerchief that served as his good-luck charm ever since the day he was introduced to Lindsay with it in his pocket. He had carefully folded and tucked the hankie away as though it were a promising fortune cookie slip before finally stepping inside Harper's front office. His tie looked sharp.
"When can you start?" asked a svelte Human Resources woman after only a few minutes of questions with zero curveballs. She wasn't lacking a backbone or lackadaisical; she just read people well. The Wellington Avenue company had a fine reputation in the community, and its work was steady. Kenny had been thrilled to land the job.
"I'll start now, if your need be, please."
With caffeine from Lindsay's coffee still buzzing in his system and new loafers on his feet, Kenny had found himself adjusting to the busy sounds of productivity on Harper's manufacturing floor even sooner than he had dreamed.
Whiz, drum, POP! Whiz, drum, POP! Whiz, drum, POP!
With every pluck of a fluorescent orange earplug manufactured by the company, he had resisted easing a couple into his already aching ears. Ever determined to make a good job work, he had distracted himself from the noise with quick glances at his new colleagues behind a pair of thick plastic goggles. There was a guy dropping zinc bars into a melting pot for the production of small auto parts. Another plopped freshly manufactured cufflinks into a bucket. A third separated cooled medical parts and chucked the odd leftovers into a pot to be melted and used again.
Finally, he had spotted on the floor's bustling center a busy man tending to the machines. The position looked most appealing to Kenny, who quickly promised himself to work up to that spot someday. He had once dreamed of becoming an engineer and blamed himself for letting application deadlines slip by for continuing his education. As he added to the growing mound of earplugs in his bucket, he had promised not to let his little Caroline make the same mistake.
Kenny had observed the man tending to the machines all day as he plucked. At three o'clock, after eight hours of work, it was quitting time. Kenny had walked the few blocks home feeling like a million bucks.
"How was work?" Lindsay had asked that promising fall evening as she shucked corn next to a humming pot of water.
Lindsay had a fiery charisma matched only by her red hair. She was not a natural in the kitchen or ambitious in keeping the home tidy. Their clothes were always lacking in the cleanliness department even though she worked at Cranston's Soap Opera Coin Laundry on Park Avenue, but those types of things didn't matter to Kenny because Lindsay was the type of young woman a guy would always wonder how he managed to catch. She made a room come alive. After only fifteen minutes of conversation, she would make new acquaintances feel as though they'd known her for fifteen years.
Kenny was a bit handsome, but, unlike his wife, he was far from a head-turner. He was horrible at expressing his feelings. He was subdued. He hadn't been a whiz in the classroom. He was a wallflower at a party. He did, however, have a kind, old soul that Lindsay adored.
Lindsay had always known deep in her heart that he was the better catch in their pair.
Kenny wrapped his arms around her and gave her a kiss hello.
"It went that well, huh? Must've been the shoes. Or the tie. And how 'bout my kick-butt 'good luck coffee?' I'm so proud of you, by the way. Shake your money may-kah! Shake your money may-kah!"
Lindsay had grabbed each of Kenny's giant paws in her own little freckled hands and shook them until a smile appeared on her husband's usually serious face. To make the moment even sweeter for him, a six-year-old miniature version of Lindsay came bouncing down the rickety stairs of their two-bedroom apartment.
"I'm a bunny! Daddy, you're back from work! Momma, can I drop in the corn? Can I set the time-ah too?"
"Well, I'm so glad you asked, Miss Caroline. Your fathah's too clumsy. When he drops the ears in the pot, the hot watah comes splashing out," Lindsay said. "I could use some sweet little hands."
"Mommy, you know Daddy will get better from all the manufattering practice. Hey, we're having ee-ahs for dinnah?"
The parents exchanged content looks and winks.
Kenny's life with Lindsay and Caroline felt perfect except for one big, seemingly unsolvable problem.
"Caroline, take my hands, little girl," Lindsay instructed. "Shake your money may-kah! Shake your money may-kah!"
The young mother and daughter twisted, sang, and danced in circles on the old black-and-white checkered linoleum floor of their tiny galley kitchen. They felt the cool floor under their bare feet, and the sensation snapped Lindsay back into her own harsh reality.
While Lindsay's loyalty to and love for her family was strong, she was a party girl at heart who also loved the drink. It was a quality Kenny had hoped would change with adulthood and then motherhood, but once their little girl was tucked in for the night, Lindsay still heard a bottle named Jack call her name.
She wouldn't keep anything in the house, so she would often sneak out to get her fix. Kenny would man the home whenever she was out and worry every minute until she returned. He had never fretted about her fidelity, but he had agonized regularly over the list of other things that could go wrong for a stunning young woman with an addicting — and addictive — personality.
On the especially late nights or early mornings, Kenny had questioned whether Lindsay was a woman who should've been caught. As much as he loved her, he knew in his bones that she was meant to be left wild. After hours of stress, his release for conflicted feelings over seeing a jovial wife stumbling safely through the family door was typically an argument.
Caroline almost always awoke from a deep, middle-of-the-night sleep during their confrontations. The fights were the only times Caroline heard her father swear.
"Jeez, Lindsay, what is wrong with you?" she'd hear him say to her mother.
"Ya need to loosen up, I'm not hurdin nobody," Lindsay would slur. "I'm not allowed to unwind after work n' half a lil' fun? What is wrong wid you?"
"You're not hurting anybody? If you don't care about hurting you and me, then what about the little girl sleeping upstairs? She'll soon uncover the painful truth about her very own mother."
These late-night scenes always went around and around and over and over without being resolved. As young as Caroline was, she understood her mother's drinking problem, but similar to when she found out the year before that there wasn't a Santa Claus and preceded to write the fictitious man a letter, she pretended life at home was the illusion. She didn't want to upset her parents further.
* * *
Caroline had awoken with a start on the spooky, rainy evening that lured her to her window. The girl initially assumed she had been roused by her father during one of her parents' fights. When she heard only a calming rain sprinkling outside and the heavy, familiar pacing of her dad downstairs, she rolled over and tried to drift back to sleep.
Her father's pacing hadn't prevented her sleep. He often paced at night. It was the time on her cotton candy-colored alarm clock reading 1:13 a.m. that scared her. She was groggy and only six years old, but wasn't it significantly past the time that her mother typically came home?
Caroline found temporary comfort in the silky edges of a blanket Lindsay had made when she dreamed of having a baby girl. The young mother had a knack for sewing and turning her own bargain outfits from secondhand stores into more fashionable styles with only some scissors, needles, and threads. She didn't own a sewing machine or patterns. Instead, the pictures of glamorous movie stars in tabloid magazines had served as Lindsay's blueprints for recreating her own gear. She had paired each of her own outfits with a Celtic locket that sparkled brightly from seven diamonds in the shape of a flower. Lindsay wasn't educated in karats, nor did she care to be, but she knew the diamonds were more plentiful than any she'd seen her girlfriends wear. She had treasured the necklace third to only her daughter and husband. Lindsay kept tiny pictures of each of them locked tightly inside.
It wasn't the value of the little diamonds or even the pictures that made the piece so special. The necklace had produced some of Lindsay's favorite moments with Caroline, when the little girl would sit on her lap with a warm, puppy-like breath hitting Lindsay's neck. Caroline would clumsily open and close the locket and touch the tip of the piece to her nose. She'd pull it snug for a better look at the sparkly gems, then zig it to the right and zag it to the left on its chain. She'd release it with care, only to open and close it with keen concentration all over again. The steps would repeat in varying order with Caroline's soft breath continuing to brush her mother's skin. The moments had made Lindsay sleepy with a sense of fulfillment. They had made her forget about needing a drink. She'd close her eyes, tuck wisps of hair behind her freckled ears, and try to memorize every nuance of her daughter's milky, sleepy smell.
The locket had been passed down from Lindsay's great-grandmother to grandmother; from grandmother to mother; and from her mother to Lindsay. What none of the generations of family members predicted, except for Kenny in his worst thoughts, was that Lindsay's daughter would inherit the piece at the young age of six.
* * *
As Kenny and Caroline paced and cuddled on either end of the lonely feeling apartment, they grew increasingly worried with every minute that ticked past. Kenny looked at the wristwatch that helped him pick up his pace a couple weeks earlier during his walk to his interview at Harper Manufacturing. Caroline fixated on the fluorescent red numbers on her pink alarm clock.
And as their clocks struck 1:30 a.m., Caroline tiptoed from bed to open her door a crack, hoping for the first time in her young life to hear an argument. She retrieved her blanket, listened, and waited by the fog-filled panes before hearing her typically predictable father do something unusual.
"Hi Lou, it's Kenny, Lindsay's husband," he said to the manager of Fitzpatrick's Pub in Cranston before raising his voice to cut through the noise of the bar on the other end. "Fine, fine. Look, sorry to bother you, Lou, but I wondered if my lovely wife is there?"
As Kenny hung up without success, he remembered that Thursday night was DJ night at Aria Restaurant and Martini Bar, where martini specials cost five dollars. The thought delivered a quick, mean punch to his gut before sending some aftershocks to his limbs. His wife was accustomed to drinking Jack Daniels. She functioned a little too well on it. Vodka was a different, less predictable game.
"Becca? It's Kenny, Lindsay's husband. Fine, thanks. Is my wife there by any chance? I see. What time did they leave? I see."
As Caroline sensed fear for the first time in her father's strong voice, Kenny's mind buzzed. He felt another one of life's cruel punches land. Its delivery was harsher than the first, sending him straight to the kitchen sink in anticipation of vomiting. At the core of his queasiness, he instinctively understood this to be the night he had been dreading. He hung his oversized head over the drain and slid a pair of slippery palms along the cool countertops. The manager at the second club had confirmed Lindsay's appearance there. The manager also said she left one or two hours earlier with a new sidekick named Natasha, a friend whom Kenny knew only three things about: She drove a small off-road vehicle. She lived in Pawtucket. And she could not hold her liquor.
He remembered a recent weekend when his daughter had a long-awaited visit with her grandparents. While Kenny had envisioned a romantic, quiet dinner at home with a video rental and takeout sandwiches from Carmine's Sub Shop, his wife had plotted instead for them to party at her friend Natasha's house.
"Doesn't she live in Pawtucket?" Kenny had asked, thinking he had one up on his wife since they didn't own a car and a trip to Pawtucket included a five-mile trip on Rhode Island's I-95.
Kenny had lost the battle that night just as he did on nearly every other. Hostess Natasha had picked them up herself in her vehicle, got tipsy after two games of Beirut, and as a parting gift tossed Kenny and Lindsay her keys so they could get themselves home.
On this rainy evening, Kenny worried that Natasha once again drank too much to drive. Apparently, it didn't take much. He knew his wife well and could predict how she'd react to the situation. Her moves were as predictable and sobering to him as they were unpredictable and wild to everyone else.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Corn Husk Experiment"
Copyright © 2018 Andrea Cale.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
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.