Read Before the Storm Online

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

Before the Storm

Also by Diane Chamberlain

THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES

THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT

HER MOTHER’S SHADOW

KISS RIVER

KEEPER OF THE LIGHT

CYPRESS POINT

THE COURAGE TREE

SUMMER’S CHILD

BREAKING THE SILENCE

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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

teenagers in
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

Bill Lindsey.

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

character.

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
do exist,

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

Laurel

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

things?

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.

Chapter One
Andy

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?”

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diane chamberlain

“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

in stripes.

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
at
me and

sometimes they laugh
with
me, and I hoped this was one of the

laughing-with-me times.

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

13

I shook my head. “I love
her.

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

get hurt.”

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.”

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diane chamberlain

I nodded, because I had to hold up my end of the deal.

“Goodbye,” I said as I started to turn around.

“Retard.”
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

15

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

okay, Andy?”

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.

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