Authors: Alexi Lawless
Copyright © 2015 by Alexi Lawless
All rights reserved.
The following story contains mature themes, strong language, and sexual situations.
It is intended for adult readers.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The use of artist and song titles throughout this book are done so for storytelling purposes and should in no way be seen as advertisement. Trademark names are used in an editorial fashion, with no intention of infringement of the respective owner’s trademark.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
Amazon, the Amazon logo, Kindle Scout, and Kindle Press are trademarks of
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“I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Samantha – Six years old
he held her
granddaddy’s rough and gnarled hand tightly as she watched the coffin lower into the earth. Some man Sammy had never met was reading a psalm from the Bible, and she listened because she didn’t want to look at the heavy black box covered in small, fragrant white flowers. The scent teased Sammy’s nose and reminded her of her mama. And even though her granddaddy had explained her mama was in that box and that she’d gone to
—the Cherokee word for heaven—Sammy just didn’t believe it.
How could that be?
Mama had been here at the ranch just days ago, braiding Sammy’s hair, her fingers as soft and gentle as her voice.
A sudden squall startled Sammy from her reverie. Her eyes darted up, and she watched her father squeeze the swaddle of fine blue fabric resting against his shoulder, his expression stony as he stared out into the distance—his ranchlands stretching out as far as the eye could see. Her daddy didn’t seem to want to look at the coffin either. When the baby continued to cry, he handed him over to her Aunt Hannah, also heavily pregnant, like her mother had been just a few days earlier.
Sammy didn’t understand it—how her new baby brother, Ryland, had arrived at the same time her mother had departed. She worried briefly if the same thing would happen to Aunt Hannah when her baby arrived.
She watched silently as her father stuffed his hands into his suit trouser pockets, his head bent, shoulders hunched. She’d never seen her daddy like this. He was always so big and strong—and now he looked…so broken. And sad.
Sammy let go of her granddaddy’s hand and stepped toward her father, her black patent shoes making no sound on the dewy morning grass. She came to a standstill next to him. He didn’t acknowledge her, but she slipped her hand into his pocket, her little palm sliding against his as she gripped his hand tightly. He squeezed her hand back—a small comfort.
“I don’t want to watch either,” she whispered over the man speaking at her mother’s grave. “Mama’s not in there.”
Her father lowered slowly to his haunches, pulled their hands out of his pocket and entwined their fingers carefully. His long, lean fingers were so much darker and rougher than hers—infinitely stronger. He pressed his lips to the back of her hand, and Sam felt the sudden moisture there. She looked up, shocked to see her father weeping—big, fat tears rolling down the strong bones of his face.
“No, baby—she’s not.” His voice choked. “Your mama’s not here anymore.”
Sam watched her father closely, fear riding the edges of her little mind.
“Where is she, Daddy?”
He opened his eyes, red-rimmed and pained, dark as night. She didn’t understand what she saw in them—couldn’t fathom the agony.
“I don’t know, Sammy,” he whispered. “I just don’t know.”
Samantha – Nine years old
Sam was bathing
Ryland when she heard a crash downstairs. Worried, she pulled Ry from the bath, toweling him down quickly before she carried him to his bed.
“Can you remember how to put on your PJs?” she asked, holding out his flannel jammies.
Ry smiled and clapped, and Sam dropped a hasty kiss onto his fine, damp hair.
“I’ll be right back,” she told him hurriedly. “You pick which stories you want us to read tonight. Stay in your room, okay?”
He nodded dutifully, his little tongue poking out as he struggled to stick his feet into his pajama bottoms. Sam shut the door to his room firmly, briefly wondering if she should lock him in there when she heard the voices downstairs.
Sam rushed toward the stairwell.
“You can’t see the kids like this, Rob—”
“They’re my damn kids,
—I can see ’em however I please—”
“Son, you’re a goddamn mess. You’re bleeding all over the place—”
Sam halted just as she reached the bottom, listening to her father’s slurred words as he argued with her granddaddy.
I want to see my kids!!
—You’re not gonna stop me—”
“The hell I’m letting you see them drunk out of your damn head and bleeding like a stuck pig—”
Sam flew down the stairs. Her father struggled on the floor while her granddaddy tried to help him up from where he’d fallen just outside his study door.
Her father had a bloody fist and blood smeared on his face. She looked past him and into the study. The large glass display case holding her father’s and granddaddy’s Navy medals lay overturned on the floor, a disaster of glass and once-gleaming mahogany. In the middle, a broken silver frame, the picture missing.
Sam rushed to her father’s side, grabbing his arm, trying to help him up. But he was too heavy and too drunk, the sear of whisky on his breath, his body too uncoordinated and lax to be moved. She looked down at the photo he gripped—a picture of him in his Navy uniform, young and proud and tall, standing next to her mother in her marriage kimono, her smile small and shy.
had been written in the corner, now smeared with blood.
“Hey, Saaammy girl,” her daddy slurred, head lolling forward, his eyes closing.
She stared up at her granddaddy in horror. “Is he okay?”
“No, Sugar Bean.” Her granddaddy grunted with exertion as he tried to prop his drunken son up. “Call your Uncle Grant. Get him over here.”
She ran into the kitchen, dialing her Uncle Grant’s number frantically.
“Uncle Grant—it’s dad. He’s hurt.”
“Where?” he asked, immediately alert.
“Here at the house.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Uncle Grant lived on the ranch, just a mile or so away.
By the time her Uncle Grant arrived, Sam and her granddaddy managed to get her father’s big body pushed up against the hallway wall. Sam had a cold, wet cloth pressed to her daddy’s bloody fist, but she was scared Ry would come down and see him like this. Her granddaddy urged her to go back upstairs, but she wouldn’t leave. She
leave her father in a mess like this, broken down and passed out drunk.
Her Uncle Grant stepped into the hallway, looked at her father with his head lolling against the wall.
“He have a fight?” he asked.
“With the display cabinet.” Her granddaddy sighed heavily. “He lost.”
“Clearly.” Uncle Grant eased his big frame down by Sam and smiled gently, though his blue eyes were sad. “You did good, Sammy,” he assured her, his big hand gentle on her shoulder. “Now why don’t you run upstairs and let me take care of him now?”
“No.” Sam shook her head, resolute. “I’m not leaving him.”
What she didn’t say was she was scared out of her mind she’d lose him too. And she didn’t think she could bear that.
Her Uncle Grant seemed to understand, so he just lifted her father’s chin and slapped him on the cheek a couple times until he started to come to.
“Time to wake up, Rob,” Uncle Grant muttered as her father blinked his eyes open blearily. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
“I’m here to see my children,” he mumbled, closing his eyes. “Never see ’em anymore.”
Sam’s mouth pressed into a hard, straight line. A wave of anger, as sharp and painful as the jagged glass on the ground, cut right through her. Her daddy never saw them because he never came home. And the few times he had, he’d been drunk out of his mind.
She’d begged him each time to stay with her, to stay with them, but he’d always disappear the next day, unseen for weeks, sometimes months. For years it had been like this, every time a variation of the same disappearing act.
Sam let go of her father’s hand and straightened, shoulders stiff with anger.
Uncle Grant shifted his big shoulder under her dad’s arm, hefting him up like a sack of feed. Her granddaddy took ahold of his other arm and they led him up the wide staircase, leaving her behind.
Sam stood, staring mutely at the mess of glass and broken wood—her father’s blood all over the floor. He’d dropped the photo. Sam leaned down to pick it up, her brow knitting as she tried to wipe off the blood with her thumb.
I can’t let Ry see this,
she thought, strain and fear weighing heavily as she gripped the picture.
And so, as before, Sam began to clean up the mess her father left behind, anger and bitterness welling inside of her, her heart feeling hard and hurt all at once.
She stopped at her father’s room before she went to bed that evening, long after she and her granddaddy put Ry down for the night. Her Uncle Grant had insisted on cleaning up the parts of the case she couldn’t lift, shooing her off to bed with a gentle hug and a quick kiss to the forehead. But she kept the photo, hid it in her shirt pocket, unsure what she should do with it.
Sam stood outside her father’s door for a long time, her heart in her throat.
She knew he’d be gone in the morning.
He always was.
It didn’t matter how much she cried and begged and pleaded. It didn’t matter how good she was or how hard she worked at school or on the ranch. It didn’t matter how she took care of Ryland and her granddaddy.