The Beginning: An eShort Prequel to the Bridge

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CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Excerpt from
The Bridge

CHAPTER ONE

Fall 1971

T
he pains began at two-thirty in the morning.

A sharp, twisting sort of pain that woke up Donna Barton and sent panic coursing through her veins.

“Charlie!” She screamed his name, and immediately he sat up in bed beside her.

“What?” He was breathless, frantic. Ready to carry her to safety or tackle monsters on her behalf. For a few seconds he looked from one side of the room to the other getting his bearings. Then he seemed to remember. His eyes met hers. “The baby!” Even in the dim moonlight it was easy to see the color leave his face. “Is it time?”

Donna closed her eyes. The pain moved in waves down her stomach, across her lower spine. She tightened her legs, fighting it. “I’m . . . not sure.”

“It must be.” He threw off the covers and ran across the room to a small heap on the floor. Yesterday’s clothes. He pulled on the pair of shorts and T-shirt.

Sweat beaded on her forehead.
Hurry, Charlie. Hurry.
This was the hottest North Carolina fall in fifty-two years. The heat and humidity made her feel like she was underwater.

He ran to her, his eyes wide. “Your bag’s ready. Stay here. I’ll get your clothes.”

Something cool. She needed something cool. “Maybe my—” Her pain doubled. “Charlie!” Fear mixed with desperation. Each word came slowly. “What if . . . what if it’s too . . . strong?”

“It’s not . . . it’s normal.” His voice was higher than before, strained and breathy. Like he was trying to convince himself. “We have to get you to the hospital.”

The pain didn’t fade like Donna expected a contraction might do.

Normal.

Yes, that was what she was feeling. This pain was good and right and normal. Pains that would bring their baby into the world and make them a family. A beautiful pain that would erase all the pain she’d already lived through. They needed to go. She would wear her nightgown. She slid her feet onto the floor, but her lungs refused to work. “Help . . . me!”

“Baby, don’t move!” Charlie was at her side, her bag flung over his shoulder. “I’ll carry you.”

Donna felt her body go limp as he scooped her into his arms. Her breaths came in short, shallow gasps. “I’m . . . scared.”

“Hold on . . . I’ll get you there.”

She couldn’t keep her eyes open. Somewhere in the back alleys of her mind she felt herself moving, felt him carrying her. But the pain became a thick, dark, suffocating lava, pulling her in, covering her, consuming her. His voice was only a faint whisper now, and finally she couldn’t fight the pull another minute.

In the blackness that overcame her, she reminded herself once more of the truth. This was a good pain. Her past swirled before her, the terrible sad reality alive again. Before the chapter when she met Charlie Barton, Donna’s story was dark and depressing, one pathetic page after another. The only child of a couple of drug addicts, Donna never stood a chance. Other boys and girls went home to hugs and help with homework.

Not Donna.

She would walk through the front door to her parents crashed on the floor or keeled over on the dirty sofa. Drugs sat in the open, plastic bags of white powder and dark green crushed leaves. Needles and mirrors and razor blades and matches. It was the sixties, but even so, Donna’s parents were ahead of the drug game.

Donna wanted nothing to do with their world so she found one of her own. The world of books. She earned straight As and didn’t come home from school until she absolutely had to. None of her teachers was surprised when Donna earned valedictorian honors or when she received a full-ride scholarship to North Carolina State. Donna was tempted to believe that the sad parts of her story were behind her.

She was wrong. Her mom overdosed on heroin three days before her graduation.

Donna’s English teacher took her in until she headed off for North Carolina, but left alone, her father didn’t handle the loss well. A month later he went out one night with his friends and never came home. Police found his car wrapped around a tree the next morning. And like that, Donna was alone in the world.

That was real pain. The pain that lived within for years after, one that came back without warning, taking her breath away with its severity.

This . . . this aching, stabbing, tightening . . . this was life. A variation of the sort of happy reds and vibrant oranges and brilliant blues that had colored her existence since God led her to Charlie Barton. She let herself focus on the beginning, the first day she saw Charlie. Within minutes of meeting him he made her do something as foreign as it was fantastic.

He made her laugh.

Charlie was the only son of a local cement contractor, but despite his father’s mandate, he had no intention of pouring cement for a living. Charlie was innovative and sensitive. When he earned his degree in business it created a rift between him and his father that still remained. The broken relationship reminded Charlie of a thousand times growing up when his father would discourage his academics and the craziest thing of all.

His dad forbade him to read.

The rule only made Charlie more determined. He’d sneak books into his backpack from the school library and read them under the covers by flashlight late at night. Books opened a new world to Charlie, a world of
Tom Sawyer
and
Robinson Crusoe
and
Treasure Island.

But books remained a secret for Charlie. Only after he and Donna had been dating for several months did he tell her about his private love for stories, and his greatest dream of all.

The dream of opening a bookstore.

Her memories mixed together in the darkness. Just last week Charlie had called his father, looking to make amends. Instead the man had lit into him, berating him and reminding him that he would never amount to anything. That he was a failure.
You’re a Barton, and Bartons aren’t businesspeople. You’ll fail, and then you’ll come crawling back to me and the cement.

A knife couldn’t have left deeper scars.

Donna’s pain grew stronger, twisting her insides and burning through her body. She needed to get to the hospital. Giving birth shouldn’t feel like this, right? Maybe she was dying. She wasn’t sure. Her thoughts were less clear now, less organized. They swirled and faded and grew more distant until only two things remained.

Her pain and the darkness.

CHAPTER TWO

T
he bad feeling plagued Edna Carlton from the moment she got out of bed.

She opened her eyes, stretched her legs to the empty side of the mattress, and like a sudden storm, it hit her. A sense of doom, or despair. Darker than despair. Outside her bedroom window a pair of bluebirds swapped familiar songs, and the smell of sweet jasmine wafted on a cool breeze through the screen. The day looked perfect, beautiful. Everything in all of life was fine.

So why did she suddenly feel like the world was ending?

Edna climbed out of bed and walked to the kitchen. Coffee. That’s what she needed . . . fresh coffee. She added water to the kettle and turned on the flame beneath it. The jar of instant Maxwell House sat nearby. A couple of spoonfuls of the dark granules in the bottom of her grandmother’s china teacup and she was ready to go.

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