Authors: Diane Chamberlain
Tags: #Family Life, #Fiction, #General, #Literary, #Mothers and Sons, #Psychological Fiction, #Arson, #Patients, #Family Relationships, #Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, #People With Mental Disabilities
Also by Diane Chamberlain
THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES
THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT
HER MOTHER’S SHADOW
KEEPER OF THE LIGHT
THE COURAGE TREE
BREAKING THE SILENCE
On my first research trip to Topsail Island, I stumbled into a
realty office to ask directions. When Realtor Lottie Koenig heard
my name, she told me she loved my books and gave me a hug.
That was my introduction to the friendly people who call Topsail
Island home. Lottie gave me a tour of the island and hooked me
up with another valuable resource, fellow Realtor and longtime
Topsail Island resident Patsy Jordan. In turn, Patsy introduced
me to Anna Scott, one of the few teens on the island. Anna gave
me a wealth of information about what life would be like for the
Before the Storm.
I’m grateful to these three women for
their help and enthusiasm.
Thank you to special friends Elizabeth and Dave Samuels and
Susan Rouse for generously allowing me to use their Topsail Island
homes as I did my research.
I could not have written this story without the help of
Ken Bogan, Fire Marshal of the Town of Surf City’s fire
department. Ken went out of his way to give me an understanding
of my firefighting characters, instruct me in arson investigation
and much, much more. Ken and his wife, Angie, also introduced
me to Sears Landing Grill, where I arrived armed with a list of
forty-five questions for them to answer over dinner. They answered
them all and would have answered another forty-five had I asked.
Thank you, Ken and Angie! Thanks also to these other Surf City
firefighters: Tim Fisher, Kevin “Butterbean” Head and
I found several excellent resources on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum
Disorder, but none better than Jodee Kulp, an FASD activist,
author and mother of a daughter with FASD.
The Best That I Can Be,
a book Jodee wrote with her daughter, Liz, was a huge help to me
in understanding Andy. Jodee not only answered my questions,
but read Andy’s first chapter to make sure I was on target with his
For helping me understand the legal and juvenile justice system,
I’m indebted to attorneys Barrett Temple and Evonne Hopkins,
as well as to Gerry McCoy.
I kept Ray McAllister’s book,
Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea,
close at hand
as I wrote. It’s an excellent, lovingly written treat for anyone wanting to
read further about the Island.
In a raffle sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network,
Jabeen Akhtar won the right to have her name mentioned in
Before the Storm.
I hope she’s happy I named a coffee shop after her!
Although some of the places mentioned in
Before the Storm
Jabeen’s Java, Drury Memorial Church and The Sea Tender are, like
the characters themselves, figments of my imagination.
I’m also grateful to the following people for their various contributions:
Sheree Alderman, Trina Allen, Brenda Burke-Cremeans, BJ Cothran,
Valerie Harris, Christa Hogan, Pam “bless your heart” Lloyd,
Margaret Maron, Lynn Mercer, Marge Petesch, Glenn Pierce,
Emilie Richards, Sarah Shaber, Meg Skaggs, David Stallman,
MJ Vieweg, Brittany Walls, Brenda Witchger, Ann Woodman and
my friends at ASA.
Thanks to the readers of my blog, especially Margo Petrus, for
inspiring this book’s title.
Finally, I often hear that agents and editors are so busy that they
can’t take the time to help their authors create the best books
possible. That certainly is not true in my case. Thank you to my agent,
Susan Ginsburg, and my editor, Miranda Stecyk, for their skill,
wisdom, commitment and passion. You two are the best!
For John, both helpmate and muse
They took my baby from me when he was only ten hours old.
Jamie named him Andrew after his father,because it seemed fitting.
We tried the name out once or twice to see how it felt in our mouths.
Andrew. Andy.Then, suddenly, he was gone. I’d forgotten to count his
fingers or note the color of his hair.What sort of mother forgets those
I fought to get him back, the way a drowning person fights for air.
A full year passed before I held him in my arms again. Finally, I
could breathe, and I knew I would never, ever, let him go.
WHEN I WALKED BACK INTO MY FRIEND Emily’s church,
I saw the pretty girl right away. She’d smiled and said “hey”
to me earlier when we were in the youth building, and I’d
been looking for her ever since. Somebody’d pushed all the
long church seats out of the way so kids could dance, and the
girl was in the middle of the f loor dancing fast with my
friend Keith, who could dance cooler than anybody. I stared
at the girl like nobody else was in the church, even when
Emily came up to me and said, “Where were you? This is a
lock-in. That means you stay right here all night.” I saw that
her eyebrows were shaped like pale check marks. That meant
she was mad.
I pointed to the pretty girl. “Who’s that?”
“How should I know?” Emily poked her glasses higher up
her nose. “I don’t know every single solitary person here.”
The girl had on a floaty short skirt and she had long legs that
flew over the floor when she danced. Her blond hair was in
those cool things America-African people wear that I could
never remember the name of. Lots of them all over her head
I walked past some kids playing cards on the f loor and
straight over to the girl. I stopped four shoe lengths away,
which Mom always said was close enough. I used to get too
close to people and made them squirmy. They need their
personal space, Mom said. But even standing that far away, I
could see her long eyelashes. They made me think of baby bird
feathers. I saw a baby bird close once. It fell out of the nest in
our yard and Maggie climbed the ladder to put it back. I
wanted to reach over and touch the girl’s feather lashes, but
knew that was not an appropriate thing.
Keith suddenly stopped dancing with her. He looked right
at me. “What d’you want, little rich boy?” he asked.
I looked at the girl. Her eyes were blue beneath the feathers.
I felt words come into my mind and then into my throat, and
once they got that far, I could never stop them.
“I love you,” I said.
Her eyes opened wide and her lips made a pink O. She
laughed. I laughed, too. Sometimes people laugh
sometimes they laugh
me, and I hoped this was one of the
The girl didn’t say anything,but Keith put his hands on his hips.
“You go find somebody else to love, little rich boy.” I wondered
how come he kept calling me little rich boy instead of Andy.
before the storm
I shook my head. “I love
Keith walked between me and the girl. He was so close to
me, I felt the squirmies Mom told me about. I had to look up
at him which made my neck hurt. “Don’t you know about
personal space?” I asked.
“Look,” he said. “She’s sixteen.You’re a puny fourteen.”
“Fifteen,” I said. “I’m just small for my age.”
“Why’re you acting like you’re fourteen then?”He laughed and
his teeth reminded me of the big white gum pieces Maggie liked.
I hated them because they burned my tongue when I bit them.
“Leave him alone,” the pretty girl said. “Just ignore him and
he’ll go away.”
“Don’t it creep you out?” Keith asked her. “The way he’s
staring at you?”
The girl put out an arm and used it like a stick to move Keith
away. Then she talked right to me.
“You better go away, honey,” she said. “You don’t want to
How could I get hurt? I wasn’t in a dangerous place or
doing a dangerous thing, like rock climbing, which I wanted
to do but Mom said no.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Go home to your fancy-ass house on the water,” Keith said.
“If I tell you my name, will you go away?” the girl asked.
“Okay,” I said, because I liked that we were making a deal.
“My name’s Layla,” she said.
Layla. That was a new name. I liked it. “It’s pretty,” I said.
“My name’s Andy.”
“Nice to meet you, Andy,” she said. “So, now you know my
name and you can go.”
I nodded, because I had to hold up my end of the deal.
“Goodbye,” I said as I started to turn around.
Keith almost whispered it, but I had very good
hearing and that word pushed my start button.
I turned back to him, my fists already flying. I punched his
stomach and I punched his chin, and he must have punched me
too because of all the bruises I found later, but I didn’t feel a
thing. I kept at him, my head bent low like a bull, forgetting
I’m only five feet tall and he was way taller. When I was mad,
I got strong like nobody’s business. People yelled and clapped
and things, but the noise was a buzz in my head. I couldn’t tell
you the words they said. Just bzzzzzzzzz, getting louder the
more I punched.
I punched until somebody grabbed my arms from behind,
and a man with glasses grabbed Keith and pulled us apart. I
kicked my feet trying to get at him. I wasn’t finished.
“What an asshole!” Keith twisted his body away from the
man with the glasses, but he didn’t come any closer. His face
was red like he had sunburn.
“He doesn’t know any better,” said the man holding me.“You
should. Now you get out of here.”
“Why me?” Keith jerked his chin toward me.“He started it!
Everybody always cuts him slack.”
The man spoke quietly in my ear. “If I let go of you, are you
going to behave?”
I nodded and then realized I was crying and everybody was
watching me except for Keith and Layla and the man with
glasses, who were walking toward the back of the church. The
man let go of my arms and handed me a white piece of cloth
from his pocket. I wiped my eyes. I hoped Layla hadn’t seen
before the storm
me crying. The man was in front of me now and I saw that he
was old with gray hair in a ponytail. He held my shoulders and
looked me over like I was something to buy in a store. “You
I didn’t know how he knew my name, but I nodded.
“You go back over there with Emily and let the adults handle
Keith.” He turned me in Emily’s direction and made me walk
a few steps with his arm around me. “We’ll deal with him,
okay?” He let go of my shoulders.
I said “okay” and kept walking toward Emily, who was
standing by the baptism pool thing.
“I thought you was gonna kill him!” she said.
Me and Emily were in the same special reading and math
classes two days a week. I’d known her almost my whole life,
and she was my best friend. People said she was funny looking
because she had white hair and one of her eyes didn’t look at
you and she had a scar on her lip from an operation when she
was a baby, but I thought she was pretty. Mom said I saw the
whole world through the eyes of love.Next to Mom and Maggie,
I loved Emily best. But she wasn’t my girlfriend. Definitely not.
“What did the girl say?” Emily asked me.
I wiped my eyes again. I didn’t care if Emily knew I was
crying. She’d seen me cry plenty of times. When I put the cloth
in my pocket, I noticed her red T-shirt was on inside out. She
used to always wear her clothes inside out because she couldn’t
stand the way the seam part felt on her skin, but she’d gotten
better. She also couldn’t stand when people touched her. Our
teacher never touched her but once we had a substitute and
she put a hand on Emily’s shoulder and Emily went ballistic.
She cried so much she barfed on her desk.