Happy Easter to one and all – now I could off you a nice chocolate egg but you would eat that in seconds… so instead I would like to share with you a copy of my book… And if you’re not sure if it’s something that will appeal to you (although I think it would 😉 ) why not have a little read of this opening chapter and then, if you want more… well clicky on the link at the end and snaffle yourself a freebee – what have you got to lose??
Before taking hold of the key and raising it to the lock, Ellie took a deep breath and wiped the palm of her hand over her jeans.
Slowly, carefully, she fed the key into its home, her knuckles turning white as, millimetre by millimetre, it slipped into the lock silently until her fingers brushed against the wood of the door. With an equal measure of concentration, Ellie turned the key, her brow furrowed and her bottom lip caught unintentionally between her teeth until, at last, the lock gave way and the door released.
The key slid free of the lock, and Ellie pushed the door open quietly and stepped inside, and then she turned to close the door behind her, manually turning the lock once more rather than letting it close itself to noisily.
Ellie let out the breath she hadn’t realised she’d held and dropped the key into her pocket.
The hallway stood almost completely dark—the winter evening affording little light, and the streetlights not quite reaching the small stained glass window in the door. Ellie, however, needed no illumination to find her way. She knew every inch of the hallway, how many steps it would take until she was at the first doorway to her left, and how many more until the second. Just two more careful steps and she would be at the bottom of the staircase, and then a quick sprint upwards would take her to her bedroom, her sanctuary. Just one more …
‘Is that you, girl?’
Ellie’s head fell forward until her chin almost rested on her chest and her shoulders slumped as if a huge weight had just rested upon her.
Just this once, she’d hoped to get up the stairs. Just once—was it really too much to ask for?
Apparently, it was.
When Ellie pushed open the second doorway off the hall, she almost gagged on the wave of cigarette smoke (and, perhaps, something a little less legal mixed in here and there). While she stepped into the room, Ellie tried her best to breathe as shallowly as possible—partly in an attempt to avoid taking in too much of the noxious smoke, but mainly to avoid the chance of the smoke making her cough. Only once had Ellie given in to the need to cough in the face of such smoke; voicing her distaste just a moment before realising her mistake. Ellie had worn long sleeves a lot that summer. It had been the best way to hide the bruises.
Seated upon, or rather sunken into, an old and battered brown leather armchair, the woman held out her hand to Ellie. The wrinkled palm led to nicotine stained fingers, and red painted long nails, but clearly that had been done some time ago, as now they’d mostly chipped.
The woman’s bleached blonde hair, which some time earlier must have been styled and lacquered into place, now escaped its clips and pins to fall haphazardly around her face. Her makeup, originally immaculately applied, had smeared and faded, and smudges of mascara emphasised the dark circles beneath her sunken green eyes.
Once, folks had called her beautiful, but the woman had become just a shadow of that girl. The spirit of joy had gone from her eyes to be replaced by bitterness, and the soft song of her voice had given way to harshness.
With a reluctant internal sigh, Ellie handed over a small envelope of money, which the woman snatched from her hand before squirrelling it away in the handbag at her side.
‘How are you, Mum?’ Ellie asked with a half smile—a question met with a sneer before her mother returned her attention to the cigarette in her hand. Her daughter dismissed without another word.
Silently, Ellie retreated from the room, allowing herself lungs-full of clearer air once the door behind her had closed to.
There was a time when her mother’s blatant disregard for her had been a cause of great sadness for Ellie, but that time had long passed. It didn’t matter anymore. She had other things to concern her, and from an early age, she had learned to live with her mother’s distaste for her. Now, at twenty-two years old, it barely even registered.
Stephanie Forrester stared at the closed door for some time after her daughter had gone, her eyes not seeing the nicotine stained paintwork or the faded wallpaper around the door frame that had lifted and curled at the edges.
The décor that Stephanie saw glistened with bright paintwork and fresh, colourful wallpaper, just the way it had been, the way he’d done it. Before. Before it all changed. Long before ‘her’.
Stephanie stubbed out her cigarette in an already overflowing ashtray and got to her feet, kicking aside an empty wine bottle when she moved toward the mantle. One hand reached out to grasp the only ornamental item there. An old photograph in a simple silver frame. Unlike everything else in the room, the frame still glistened and the glass shone brightly, allowing the smiles from the faces trapped inside to radiate from it.
Slowly, Stephanie ran a finger over the man’s face. The most handsome face she’d ever seen. He would have looked at home on the silver screen of the Hollywood classics, or on the pages of any fashion magazine promoting the latest styles or fragrance. However, he was neither of those things, and if his looks ever caused heads to turn, he rarely ever noticed. His heart was already well and truly captured. In the photograph, he smiled widely, and love and pride filled his face as he held a champagne glass toward the camera, raised in celebration.
The young woman beside him mirrored his actions; her head tilted slightly—subconsciously—toward him while they shared a toast for the camera.
Her hair shone in the camera’s flash—a golden blonde that she’d spent hours weaving into place, allowing no single hair to go astray. Her eyes sparkled a shade of green, and even on a still photograph, you could see how they danced, how they shone.
The picture had been taken on Stephanie Forrester’s eighteenth birthday and, unlike all other years when she had been thrown an elaborate party, that year, she’d chosen to celebrate it with the one person who meant more to her than the whole world. Her father.
David Forrester had met his wife at just fifteen years old, his teenage heart had been captured completely, and he had pursued the object of his affections relentlessly. Reams of bad teenage poetry and wilting supermarket discount flowers had been left on her doorstep until the fourteen-year-old Joanna Fielding had finally agreed to go on a date with him.
From that evening on, the two had become inseparable, and it surprised no one (and nor did anyone object) when they announced their engagement on Joanna’s seventeenth birthday.
Two years later, the couple married in a small, simple but beautiful ceremony, which had left barely a dry eye in the house, certainly not David’s, who had wept openly at the altar when his bride swore her oath of undying love for him.
David’s job in a bank, and Joanna’s work as a medical secretary, gave the couple a comfortable life and they became the epitome of a happy marriage—nothing and no one could ever come between them, and theirs was a love that would stand the test of time.
The morning she took the pregnancy test, Joanna had almost burst with joy, and David had raced to the spare room, eager to begin changing it into a nursery for their new daughter.
‘It will be a girl,’ David had said with certainty. ‘You just wait and see. A beautiful girl just like her mother … we could call her Joanna—a beautiful name.’
Joanna had objected, ‘No no. She should have a name of her own … how about Stephanie? I like Stephanie.’
So, with her pregnancy only a few weeks along, Joanna and David’s first child already had a name, and neither of them ever considered the idea that their baby could turn out to be a boy. Even when friends and family insisted that the baby’s room should be painted in a neutral colour like yellow, the couple had stood firm. They knew, somehow they just knew, and baby Stephanie would be coming home to a room designed for a tiny princess.
Joanna’s pregnancy had progressed uneventfully, her belly slowly filling and swelling as the child within grew, and she would grab David’s hand eagerly each time the baby kicked, both of them revelling in the growing excitement for the new life about to join them.
When Joanna finally went into labour, they were completely prepared—overnight bag packed by the door and the fastest route to the hospital mapped out, with several variations to take into account the time of day. Nothing could go wrong.
Then everything went wrong.
David stood by his new daughter’s cot in a daze. She was so small, so perfect, and so innocent. How could she have caused so much damage?
The baby girl cried out, her hands reaching up, grasping for someone, but David turned away, his cheeks soaked with silent tears—surprised to find he had any left to cry.
‘Your baby needs her daddy,’ a nurse had said kindly, her hand touching at David’s shoulder, but he had shrugged it off in an aggressive manner.
‘And I need my wife,’ he had snapped back before racing from the room, desperate for air, and desperate to get away.
David didn’t stop running until he reached the small chapel at the far end of the hospital. He’d never believed in God and felt he had even less reason to now, but still something drew him in. The room seemed filled with a peace that he had felt nowhere else in the whole building. When he slid into a seat, his head fell forward to rest on the back of the chair in front of him.
It had all happened so quickly, or so it had seemed. Later, when he caught a glimpse of a clock, David had been shocked that several hours had passed.
One minute, everything had been going to plan, and then the next, the midwife had rushed from the room, doctors swarmed in, and words like ‘complications’ filled the air while they ushered him away. David could see the fear in his wife’s eyes as the doors closed on him, and he called out to her that he loved her. He hoped she’d heard him.
Then the doctor told David how sorry he was, nothing more they could do, and that she had lost too much blood. The words swam around David’s head, and he followed blindly when the nurse suggested he went to see the baby.
‘Can I help you?’
David looked up at the sound of the man’s soft voice, shaking his head; there was no help to be found, not here and not today.
‘No, I just …’ David looked at the man. He looked small, probably only a little over five feet, and his slender build made him look even more petite. David suspected that the small moustache and goatee beard were an attempt to make him look more his age than the boy he might have appeared if he were clean shaven. The white dog-collar marked him as the chapel’s, what was it? Priest? Vicar? Minister? David didn’t know the different between all those titles, but whatever he was, the man still smiled at him with a look of sympathy in his eyes. ‘I just needed some space,’ David said, his gaze lowering to his feet. His shoes looked scuffed. When did he last polish them? Joanna would be cross if … no, Joanna wouldn’t be cross ever again.
‘Well, I’m around if you need to talk,’ the man in the dog collar said kindly and turned away.
‘Wait,’ David said. ‘You, you believe in God, right?’
‘Of course,’ the man replied, his hand touching at his dog collar. ‘It rather goes with the job.’ His smile remained kindly and warm, but David didn’t return it.
‘So, tell me this, if there is some God out there watching over us, then why do so many bad things happen? Why do good people die and the evil go on living? What sort of God would let that happen, eh?’
‘I can’t answer that,’ the man said. He understood the question and had heard it countless times, probably, in one variation or another. Grief looked for answers, for blame, but that wasn’t always to be found. ‘I can only believe that God has plans for us and, although we might not understand them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t for the greater good.’
‘No.’ David got to his feet, shaking his head. ‘No, sorry, that just won’t do … no God would just let my wife die like that. There is no God.’
‘I am sorry for your loss.’
‘Tell that to my daughter,’ David said, his lips curled in a snarl while he spat the words out. ‘To my little baby girl, who will never know her mother … who doesn’t have her mother …’
‘Or her father right now, it seems.’
‘How dare you …’ David’s anger subsided as quickly as it arose, and a torrent of tears cascaded down his cheeks while his shoulders shook in time with his silent sobs. He accepted the embrace of the man in the dog collar who believed that his God had taken Joanna for a reason, and wept in the man’s arms until he was spent. ‘I have to go,’ David said finally, his breath coming in hiccupping gulps. ‘I have a daughter who needs me.’
‘God be with you.’
David did not reply. Could not reply.
Stephanie Forrester grew up a spoilt little girl. The apple of her father’s eye, David denied her almost nothing, as he wanted nothing more from life than to make his daughter smile. In some ways, he was trying to compensate her for the loss of her mother, but he need not have tried so hard. Stephanie loved her father completely, and although she enjoyed the gifts he lavished on her, she would have been happy with much less. All she needed was the time they spent together. Never did she miss having a mother because she had the best father in the world, and never felt happier than the times they curled up together on the sofa, reading or watching television, his arm protectively around her shoulders, and her head against his chest. Stephanie never felt safer or more loved.
Despite the associated grief it brought him, David celebrated each of his daughter’s birthdays with gusto, determined that sorrow should never spoil the day. Stephanie’s birth had both taken from him and yet given him so much, and each year, the smile on his daughter’s face lessened the pain in his heart.
By the time she turned eighteen, Stephanie had grown into a beautiful young woman. Her green eyes sparkled with life—the echo of her mother—and when she laughed or smiled, David felt sure he could hear music.
While in the early stages of planning her the biggest party yet, with the largest cake and the most guests that David could dream of, Stephanie told him she didn’t want it, not any of it.
She wanted to mark her coming of age simply, with the man who had loved her and raised her, and the person who mattered most to her in the world. She didn’t need a party or a cake or a band—she only needed him.
Stephanie wiped a tear from her eye as she looked at the photograph taken at the restaurant in which she had celebrated her eighteenth birthday. She looked so happy, so full of life and potential, and her father looked so proud of her.
Stephanie’s hand touched at the diamond necklace around her throat. The girl in the photograph wore the same one—a single stone suspended on a white-gold chain. A birthday gift from her father, which she had worn every day since.
Less than three months after the photograph was taken, Stephanie’s world crumbled, and the girl who’d raised a glass of champagne and looked forward to the future didn’t survive.
David was late home from work, which rarely ever happened, and when it did, he always phoned Stephanie so that she wouldn’t worry.
At thirty minutes late, Stephanie felt a little annoyed. She had cooked a roast dinner for him, and now it had burned.
At an hour late, Stephanie grew angry. His dinner had both burned and gone cold.
After two hours, Stephanie felt worried enough to call his office, only to get no answer.
Two and a half hours after David was due home, a knock came at the door.
‘Did you forget your keys?’ she asked with a laugh as she flung open the door, relieved that he’d come home and forgetting how cross she’d just been.
However, it wasn’t her father on the doorstep. Stephanie’s heart skipped a beat in fear when she took in the sight of the policeman’s uniform, matched by the woman beside him, who’d already stepped forward to catch the girl when she fell at the sound of the words coming from her colleague’s mouth.
One word ran round and round in Stephanie’s mind while she held the cooling cup of tea in both hands. She couldn’t remember making it, or getting hold of it, and assumed the female police officer must have given it to her.
There had been an accident.
It seemed such an inadequate word. Burning the toast was an accident, spilling the milk.
A drunk driver ploughing into the side of her father’s car and killing him on impact wasn’t an accident. It was a tragedy, a catastrophe, a devastation; it was not something as simple, as harmless, as an accident.
David Forrester had planned to live to a ripe old age. Had planned to watch his daughter grow and marry and give him several wonderful grandchildren. David Forrester knew all too well that life didn’t always care what it was that you planned, and so had made provisions that, should the worst happen and he was no longer there to do it, his daughter would be taken care of.
Stephanie didn’t understand all the legal jargon that had gone along with the reading of her father’s will, but what she did grasp was simple. She was taken care of for the rest of her life.
The four-bedroomed house in which she had grown up was now hers outright, with no mortgage left to pay. David’s life insurance meant that she had a tidy sum in the bank and, should all of that not be sufficient, David had made several shrewd investments that would give Stephanie a regular, if modest, income for the rest of her life.
Stephanie Forrester had suddenly become a wealthy woman, but (unfortunately) she was still a young woman reeling from the loss of the one constant grounding force in her life, and as such, was easy prey for a gaggle of new friends only too willing to help her spend her newfound fortune.
At first, the parties seemed harmless enough. Young and free, what did it matter if Stephanie drank a little too much, or smoked a little too much, or tried the latest designer drug?
With no one around to tell her to stop, and dozens of self-proclaimed best friends egging her on, Stephanie indulged in everything put before her. Each shot of whiskey or snort of cocaine helping to blur away the pain of her loss, and each stoned, drunken fumble with a man she could neither recognise nor remember let her pretend that she was loved as she had always been loved.
Stephanie became a broken woman with no one around her to help pick up the pieces. Rather, she chose to surround herself with those who pulled her further and further apart until barely a trace remained of the girl she’d once been.
Despite the obvious signs, some time passed before Stephanie allowed herself to suspect that she may be pregnant. By which time, she had no idea who the father was or if he was still a member of her party circle, as people drifted in and out so often that many were barely there before they had gone again.
When the doctor kindly, but firmly, told her that she had left things far too late to ask for a termination and she was going to have to accept that, in a few months time, she would become a mother, Stephanie had wept.
Stephanie’s female friends cooed around her, gushing over the idea of having a cute little baby to dress up and fuss over. They would help her out, they swore. They would stand by her. They wouldn’t let her do this on her own.
By the time Stephanie’s baby daughter, who she named Elizabeth, reached three months old, her house stood empty. The party had moved on to somewhere that didn’t have a crying, puking baby or dirty nappies or a hormonal new mother, and Stephanie was left alone to raise a child she’d never wanted or been able to bond with.
The nurses told her that it was normal not to feel a sudden surge of love and that not every new mother did, but it would come in time, she would see.
The health visitors told her that she was doing well, the baby was thriving, and clearly, Stephanie was a good mother.
When Elizabeth reached six months old, Stephanie considered putting the child up for adoption. Surely that would be better for them both? But at the last minute, a glimpse of her father’s photograph changed Stephanie’s mind. He would have been ashamed of her for thinking such things. He had raised a child alone, and no one could have done a better job. She just had to try harder, that was all; just put more effort in. It would get easier as the child got a little older. New babies were always the hardest work—everyone knew that.
It would get easier.
Stephanie returned her father’s photograph to the mantel, and her fingertips brushed over his face one more time before she turned away. Mascara stained tears dampened her cheeks, and she made no effort to wipe them away.
‘I miss you, Daddy,’ she murmured as she opened another bottle of wine, and then she drank down a full glass without taking a breath.
It had never gotten any easier, and she had never found it within her to love the child she’d borne.
Stephanie made sure that the girl never went hungry; after all, she wasn’t a cruel woman. She provided the food, shelter, and clothing that any young child would need. She made sure that Elizabeth was enrolled in school when the time came, and for the first few months, she even walked the girl to school in the morning and collected her in the afternoon, but at the same time, she couldn’t be the loving mother that she’d hoped she would be. And when, at the age of around five or six, Stephanie saw that the child was capable of looking after its own basic needs, she retreated once more to the solace of the bottle. This time, she never crawled back out of it.
So… do you want to know where this goes next? Well grab a copy now and find out: http://mybook.to/SpiritoftheBook