“The novel moves quickly. From the beginning, you will be captivated and intrigued by Victoria as she discovers the betrayal hidden behind every blessing. You will accompany her every step as each secret unfolds about her past and why she struggles to achieve ultimate happiness and success. Her one true friend Tabitha, holds a letter that can set Victoria free. The question, will they be strong enough to accept what it reveals?
This story is magnificently written and will have you reading in the middle of the night to find out what happens next. Be sure to pick up your copy of this courageous novel.”
-Five Star review from R. Dean Turnbow
“This is one book that will touch your heart. Superbly written and it immediately catches your attention straight up out the gate. A real page turner.”
-Five Star review from Shakaistar
About the Book:
Victoria’s life is a jigsaw puzzle. Her nightmares, unfeeling mother and a secret picture of her sister are the puzzle pieces. The ghost of her nanny and her best friend begin to help her put the puzzle together.
A near fatal accident reveals one of the missing pieces, but will Victoria solve the puzzle in time? Blessed with the love of her life and betrayed by the secrets of her past, Victoria finds herself torn.
This is a novel about unexpected love, forgiveness and letting the past shape, not dictate your future.
The room was cold, it felt eerie. As if she was already dead. Bleach smell wafted through the linens, as did the scent of medicine and old wood.
Victoria heard a strange noise, like a gasp, and looked over.
Shirley reached for Victoria, her hands were like ice, “Nothing is as it seems, Victoria.”
Victoria’s hands enveloped hers, trying to warm them.
She stroked her withered face, “It’s okay Shirley, just rest.”
A noise in her throat made Victoria’s heart skip a beat, “I’ve always loved you.” Her voice was a croak.
“I love you, too. Just rest.”
Victoria knew it wouldn’t be long.
“You need to know. Before it’s too late.” Shirley fought to keep her eyes open.
Victoria inched closer and whispered, “I’m listening. What is it?”
“I’m here…” Victoria’s face scrunched, “I don’t understand.”
“Nothing is…..as it…….. seems.” She finally managed.
Shirley’s grip loosened and then went limp.
Victoria looked at her, as if she didn’t expect her to die. “No! Shirley no!”
Her head was buried in Shirley’s chest. A phantom heartbeat remained.
The voice echoed between her ears, “Nothing is as it seems, Victoria. Nothing…is….as it seems…..Nothing….Noth-“
BLEEP! BLEEP! BLEEP! BLEEP! Slamming her fist down on the alarm clock, she said a curse under her breath. Victoria rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, yawned and stretched, wishing the nightmare hadn’t awakened her. It was so warm inside her bed. The thought that summer would be over soon was depressing.
After showering, she opened her creaking closet door. Clothes were lined up on hangers like soldiers and organized into work scrubs, weekend wear and ‘mom approved’ outfits: below the knee skirts, button-up blouses and the kind of dress pants a librarian would wear. Victoria grabbed her work scrubs and began to dress. She looked at the clock, her suspicions confirmed, she would not have enough time to swing by the vet’s to see how Lady was doing.
Lady, the emaciated dog she’d found on her walk home from work the previous day, was due to be released today. Despite her growing anticipation, Victoria knew she would have to wait until after work to pick her up.
Most people would think I’m crazy to walk home after a long shift at the hospital, but to me it’s invigorating. My car is a beat up old Honda Civic, it needs to be replaced but my transportation requirements are minimal, so it spends a lot of time parked in my garage. After completing another day of training at the hospital, my feet began their trek back home. As I was walking, I noticed there was a dog following me.
The poor dog was practically starving to death. Dog’s have a sixth sense with me. At first I thought she was with the family behind me, but I turned around and realized the family had disappeared.
Bending down to the dog’s level, my hand slowly traced the circumference of her neck and I was disappointed to find no trace of a tag or a collar. The nearest veterinary clinic was just a few blocks away. Still bent over, I gently took her scruff and began walking. I could have passed for a veterinary assistant since I was still in scrubs.
Her back legs started to shake just as we approached the hospital. Trying to stabilize her with my balancing hand was no use, as she was a large dog; a Labrador Retriever mix. Her coat was blonde; she had the long shaggy tail of a Retriever but the face of a Labrador, except her snout was longer. She collapsed; mere feet from the clinic. On my knees, hands flailing about in the air, the receptionist caught a glimpse of the spectacle.
“I’m not aware of any lost dogs of this description,” the vet said.
“We can keep her here until she’s well and then give her to the Humane Society.”
I had a childhood friend named Sally who adopted a cat from the Humane Society. I had never seen anything like it. You could hear dogs and cats crying for loneliness, fear and lack of space. When I got home I told my mom.
Mom’s face scrunched, “Oh gosh Victoria, go wash your hands, those places are so dirty.”
I couldn’t bear putting the dog through that. I named her Lady after my friend Sally’s cat.
The day I brought her home, I felt my nurturing instinct fulfilled. We walked home with a warming camaraderie I hadn’t felt in a long time. Lady walked in my house like it was her own.
When I closed the door, the phone rang. I smiled, recognizing my sister’s voice.
“Hey sis, how’s life?” Carmen asked.
“I can’t complain, how’s life in the law office?” I asked, waiting for the burning question.
“Same. Met any men yet?”
“Uh, no, not unless you count the one who asked me to change his bedpan.”
“No luck, huh.”
“Nope, it’s difficult to find eligible bachelors where I work.” I said, “You can’t tell if they’re bald from age or chemo.”
“So, what’s on for the weekend?”
“This weekend, I’m taking out a Lady.”
I hadn’t told her about my new house mate yet.
Carmen cleared her throat, “Um, you’re taking out a LADY?”
“Yeah, you and mom should come meet her.”
Carmen’s pounding heart was audible. I let her sweat a few seconds and then explained.
“Wait, you have a DOG?” she said, “…..oh, mom’s going to LOVE this!”
“Do you think so?” I asked sarcastically.
“Have you met mom?” Carmen replied.
“I know, but it won’t be different from anything else I do, right?”
“Well, she’s warmed up to your new job.” Carmen ventured.
“But she still has daggers in her eyes.” I said.
“It’ll pass. It did for Sean,”
Carmen was referring to our brother, and the fact that he decided not to keep the family tradition going by becoming a lawyer.
“He and Allison and the kids might actually come around for Christmas this year….so I’ve heard.” Carmen said.
“If he’s smart he won’t.” I said.
He’d been through enough with mom. She nearly ruined their marriage. But he always took the high road.
“Sean’s a great guy. But I think mom meant well.” Carmen said, “She wants him to be successful. They want their kids to do better than them. You know how they are, everything comes down to money. Grandma and grandpa were like that, too. You never knew them of course, but I remember all the expensive stuff they had that mom and dad have now.”
“Yeah, I know. It just sucks, that’s all.” I said, “I like their intentions, but not their tactics.”
“Well you’re used to it by now, and they’ll never change.” Carmen slurped what sounded like a mug of coffee.
“I am used to it, I guess. When did she finally let you off the hook for divorcing Charlie?” I asked.
Charlie and Carmen divorced shortly after her law practice opened. Some say it was because of her success, others say it was because he wanted children and she didn’t.
“She had a Freudian slip the other day.” Carmen laughed, “She called dad Charlie right in front of me.”
“Huh. Classy. So what did you do to piss her off?”
“Oh, I was wearing that skirt set she hates.” Carmen laughed again. I heard another call coming in for Carmen.
“You gotta get that, so I’ll see you later.”
My selection of dishes was lacking. I needed something for Lady, so I found my childhood Bunnykins cereal bowls and placed them on the floor. Looking at them, I remembered the day Shirley and I washed the dishes and then went to the park. It was humid, and some kids were playing with water guns.
One of the kids, whether accidentally or not, kept getting Shirley in the face. She got up off the bench and started hobbling towards them. She lifted her wrists up to her chin and left her fingers dangling, like what you would do if you were trying to show someone your nails. Then she disguised her voice like a witch, and shouted out in a terrifying scream, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”
The kids ran away so fast one of them tripped, and I think one of them wet their pants…..and not with the water gun.
My mom’s fluffy friends would come over for afternoon tea on the weekends, and Shirley managed to pull a laugh or two from them. Or we could have a crowd of screaming kids at the house, and she would roll around on the floor playing with them.
Before I saw Shirley cry, I thought only kids did that. There were some times when I would even cry, and Shirley would cry with me. I never knew if she was doing it just to make me feel better, or if she actually felt like crying. Either way, she cared and showed it.
Once the kids had gone and Shirley returned to the bench, I turned to her and asked why she became a nanny. I have no idea why the question came to mind.
“Sometimes life gives us challenges, and we have to do the best we can with what we are given.” Shirley explained.
“So, you didn’t really want to be a Nanny?” I asked.
She gave me a very concerned look, as if she suddenly realized that I was only ten years old. Then she closed her eyes for a quick second. She looked like she was making a wish before blowing out birthday candles.
“No, Victoria, that’s not it at all.” Shirley said, “It was a tough time in my life when I found out that Karen retired.”
I had forgotten that Karen (the former nanny) and Shirley’s mom had been neighbors.
“I needed a job quickly, and I always loved kids,” she continued, “So I took this job, and never regretted it.”
My bungalow is situated on a small, quiet street. There are no drug dealers or crazy people. My mom and sister were coming over for lunch. In the middle of tidying and trying to give Lady a bath, I realized a trip to the groomer would be time better spent.
The house I live in was bought by my parents. I wanted to venture out on my own, to learn the world’s ropes through my own experiences, but Mom and dad forbade me to rent an apartment and instead bought me a house.
My best friend Tabitha got word of this and said sarcastically, “Wow, what a bitch your mom is…..I’m about your age, do you think she’d consider an exchange?”
As I finished cleaning, Lady looked up at me as I sat on my clean floor, and I asked “Well, what do you think? Will it pass?”
She put her head on my lap, licked her lips and glanced at my hand resting beside her head, then licked it. I assumed in doggie body language that that meant she was giving me a kiss.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” I said.
My eyes instinctively peered up at the clock above the kitchen door, “Shit! Is that the time?! Dammit they’ll be here any minute!”
Lady jumped out of my way as I raced to the bedroom to change into ‘mom approved’ clothes. Just in the knick of time, too. The dirty clothes barely made it to the hamper when I heard Carmen’s car pull up.
As I parted my drapes I realized my dad was here too. I opened the door for Carmen. It’s obvious we’re sisters: we look the same except she’s shorter and I have different ears, eyes and shorter hair. You wouldn’t guess there was such an age gap.
I gave her a quick hug, and she glanced back at mom and dad. Mom was helping dad out of the car. My face dropped.
Carmen interrupted as I began speaking, “Don’t worry, dad hurt his back and he’s been grumpy all week, so mom wanted him to come out for some air.”
Lady approached Carmen and sniffed her hand. Carmen smiled and gave her a pat on the head.
“Well, this must be Lady.” Carmen said.
“Did you tell mom about her?” she whispered.
She could read me like a book. I wanted to see the horrified look on my mom’s face. But now that dad had come it just took all the fun out of it. As mom approached the house, she saw Lady. Mom stopped dead in her tracks, and Lady began to growl.
Carmen leaned in towards me and whispered, “Dogs can smell evil.”
Later that day, Tabitha came over for drinks. She nearly wet her pants laughing when I told her what happened with my mom.
“Oh my God! Tell me again….what her face looked like when she saw the dog!”
“Cut it out. You know my mom. She hates dogs. I just wish my dad hadn’t been here so I could have rubbed it in.” I said, filling my wine glass.
Tabitha and I met in fifth grade, and we’re opposites: I’m taller and she’s a redhead (I’m a brunette) and her hair is long. Her body could give a pole dancer a run for their money. Mine looks like I’d make good friends with the giraffe family at our local zoo. She’s been married and divorced twice. My relationships with men have never spanned beyond a few PG rated movies and dinner at Pizza Hut.
Tabitha struggled to get up from the couch.
She looked back at me with her glassy eyes and asked, “Hey, you want another drink?”
I looked at my glass, still half full and answered, “No thanks, I’m good, and you should switch to coffee.”
She turned at the opening to the kitchen, grabbed each side of the trim, leaned down and said in a sultry voice, “Do you love me babe?”
That was her response to everything when she’d been drinking.
Our usual drunken routine followed: I looked at her, and answered, “I do, ‘cause who do I got?”
I got up from the couch, took a giant step toward her, grabbed my pretend microphone (a couple of unlit candles on the coffee table), threw her one and then we said together “babe”.
Then we sang the rest of ‘I Got You Babe’.
“Hey Vic, you got any of that coffee you so intu…..int…intu-i-tive….ly suggested?”
“Yeah, it’s just instant though, I hope that’s ok.” I yelled from the bathroom.
“Do you want one?” she yelled back.
“No, I’ve been having enough trouble sleeping lately as it is.”
“Uh oh, you haven’t been having any more of those freaky Shirley dreams again have you?”
“Yeah, she’s still melting.” I answered in my best witch voice.
The problem with telling your best friend everything is sometimes they drag it out to make fun of you when you just managed to forget.
“No seriously, have you been having more lately?” she asked, after drinking about half of her coffee and handing me one, disregarding my refusal of it.
“I’ve had a few.” I admitted.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s cool.”
“It’s just that I miss her, I guess.” I said, running my finger around the rim of my mug, noting that it didn’t make as interesting a sound as when I ran my finger around the rim of my wine glass.
“Well, of course you miss her; she was like your mom.”
“Does your mom know you’ve been having dreams?”
“No.” I said.
“Because you know my mom, if it’s anything weird, she doesn’t want to know about it.”
I continued, “I told Carmen though.”
“Yeah, she just told me to ignore it, that it would pass. Like I had gas or something.”
“Yeah, she kind of changed the subject. It was strange.”
“Hmm.” she said casually, like she was trying to decide between tartar fighting and regular mouthwash.
“Well, she probably just doesn’t know what to say to you, she knows how close you and Shirley were.”
“You gonna stay over tonight?” I asked.
“Sure, cause who else I got?” Tabitha said.
I rolled my eyes, “Not again, I’m going to bed. Good night.”
She answered, “Babe…
Shirley was standing over my bed, and then as I rose, she knelt down beside me. I was ten years old again, and suddenly we were back at the park on the bench.
She took my hand and looked at me with reddened eyes, “You know I love you, don’t you?”
In my sleep, I nodded yes.
There was a shadow behind Shirley. The aura was familiar, but unclear. Shirley saw my attention was elsewhere.
She gently took my chin in her thumb and index finger, “You know I would never keep anything from you, right? You know I would never do anything to hurt you?”
I tried to embrace her, but as I did she disappeared, along with the shadow.
I awoke with a start. Lady was sleeping at the foot of my bed; she jumped up and shook her head. I had forgotten that Tabitha was still here and suddenly there she was, standing at my bedroom door. I jumped.
“Shit, sorry Vic, I didn’t mean to scare you. What’s goin’ on? Did you have another bad dream?” She asked, scratching her head and yawning at the same time.
I answered in a raspy voice, “Yeah, it’s cool though, I have my guard dog here, you know?”
“Shit, I don’t know how you get any sleep anyway with all the damn snoring.” she said as she walked back to the couch.
“I don’t snore!” I yelled back.
“One of you bitches does.” she said.
I threw my pillow at her.
In the morning, I offered Tabitha some Aspirin and a coffee, which was taken with gratitude.
“So, whatcha up to for today?” Tabitha asked.
“I gotta work in a couple of hours.”
“Shit, I still can’t get used to these freaked out hours of yours.”
After Tabitha left, I went over to my computer and took down some information from the classifieds regarding a dog walker. The air was still thick with summer. I waved to my neighbor, Kim on my way out. She waved back, observing Lady’s head sticking out the back window and her tongue hanging out like she could taste the air. From the look of her dripping tongue, Lady wouldn’t be the only thing needing a wash.
Once I entered the clinic, I was surprised at how many large, smelly, drooling dogs existed in this town. They were lined up like they were on death row for public sniffing, all panting away in their kennels, suffering from a serious case of Halitosis. Dr. Bob was standing behind a table with a large tabby cat on it, looking as though he didn’t notice the smell.
“Good afternoon, Miss Williams, and how are you and Lady doing today?”
I swear Dr. Bob never goes home. He looked like he was wearing the same smock and pants as when I first brought Lady in.
“I’m good…..Lady could use a bath.”
“No problem, Janie will get her in the tub shortly. Just open that end kennel and put her in.” he said, motioning to the only empty spot on death row.
“Great, thanks.” I said, trying not to notice that he was about to shove his gloved hand up the cat’s rear end. My head turned in disgust, and I quickly led Lady into the kennel.
Without looking back at Dr. Bob, I scrambled for the door, “I’ll be by to pick her up later tonight.”
“Sure, no problem.” he said in a cheerful, muffled voice.
I was disturbed by this thought: why was he so cheerful? And worse, why would his voice be muffled if he had his hand up the cat’s butt?
The drive to work was crazy for a Sunday afternoon. As I was sitting in traffic, I surfed the radio stations. Just as I found a good song, I was forced to slam on the brakes. The traffic had not improved and there were only two blocks left before reaching the parking garage at the hospital. It would be a long day at work since this accident no doubt would cause a backup in our Emergency room, and all departments were expected to help with patient overload.
I swiped my security card into the parking slot, grabbed my gear and entered the hospital. On my way to the elevator, my coworker Michelle walked past me. She’s worked at the hospital for about thirty years.
“Good morning Michelle, how’s everything?” I asked cordially.
“Oh, its fine, but it’s really busy today, I hope you enjoyed having half the day off, we got a new guy today and he’s a peach.” Michelle said sarcastically.
Getting new patients made me nervous. It usually meant that we lost an existing patient; most of them go by natural causes, not by release from their doctor, as one would hope.
When I checked the charts, all patients were accounted for. The nurse’s station was empty except for the switchboard, which was lighting up intermittently. My supervisor Lisa was nowhere to be found. There were a few post-it notes stuck to the side of the computer, and one large post-it stuck to the front of the computer screen.
It read, “Victoria, Mr. Webber just arrived last night, he is for you. His chart is in the file beside the desk.”
Well, the good news was nobody died.
Michelle walked past me once again as I retrieved Mr. Webber’s file.
“Oh, is Mr. Webber your new patient?” she asked teasingly.
“Yep, looks like.”
She stifled a smile and walked away with slightly more bounce in her step.
Mr. Webber’s chart said that he was transported here by ambulance. He had chemotherapy at the other hospital to treat Leukemia, a form of cancer that required a bone marrow transplant; he was on a waiting list for a donor. The cancer wasn’t in remission yet. There was no next of kin listed, the only contact was a co-worker. There was a big smudge across his date of birth. He was on several medications, including morphine for pain. His vitals have been good based on the nurse’s notes from earlier. And, of course, I recognized Michelle’s handwriting and initials as the last nurse to take his vitals.
I took a look at the other charts, and it looked like Mrs. Smith was coming around. With her chemotherapy completed now, her weight was up. She had breast cancer. They did a double mastectomy and gave her a round of chemotherapy, no radiation, so she was happy as a lark because she wouldn’t lose her hair. She didn’t care that she lost both her breasts.
She said, “Honey, men never looked at my breasts anyway.”