Benedict Nowak bailed on his marriage, taking his son with him but leaving behind his five year old daughter. He had his reasons. He had no idea they’d come back to haunt him.
TJ had come to terms with the mother she despised, making those small concessions that made life bearable. But her mother’s death changed everything.
Her brother, Anton, was the parent missing in TJ’s life, until he found a calling in violence, and left his sister at the mercy of shrinks and a mother with ice in her veins.
Roman Rincon was the juvie rescued by Father Marcus and placed in the care of Benedict Nowak. With his records sealed, no one knew what happened that fateful night when Roman was only fourteen. All Father Marcus knew was the boy had confessed to a crime not even the cops would talk about.
In the small coal mining town of Montville, two teens whose lives have been shattered beyond repair must find a way to cope … with school, with each other, with growing up marked as broken in a town dying under the weight of secrets and lies.
Warned off having anything to do with Roman, TJ is all too willing to agree, except for one little thing. The young man lives in the apartment above her father’s car repair business so avoiding him might be a problem.
As for Roman, he will take his secret to the grave, no matter what the cost.
It’s sodden, without a bottom, like my heart.
Father Anthony murmured false promises. Better places. Just rewards. Charon without oars, floating soft. Going somewhere … nowhere.
TJ’s dad stood back, hardly part of the solemn proceedings, uncertain. He looked way older than his due. It wasn’t his fault. At least not much, though she laid blame easy enough. She had to. Eleanore hadn’t given choices back then.
She snickered at that thought. Choices. Her mother would be at the devil’s gate right now giving him whatfor, dripping with spite and quid pro quos, making an offer he’d find hard to refuse. She wondered what the do-good Father would think about that, if he even cared. How could he, never being a party to her mother’s life … or hers.
Eleanore Delancie had been a lawyer, milking misery and her percentage from victims of society’s failings. TJ considered how fitting that the same ugliness that inflicted those who paved her road to glory would lay her low.
The tap dance continued. It would be her turn next.
The bubble of fake sad expanded, breathing like some living thing. In, out, out, in. She’d gotten used to the sound at the end, before they’d pulled the plug. Sucking all the air out of the room, out of her lungs. Suffering wasn’t pretty, even when she hated the carcass and all the woman had left behind.
She hadn’t been much of a mother, not much at all, but she was all TJ had.
Her and Anton. They’d been the ones who counted, who were … there, like a physical presence when the thing inside her went walkabout. When she zoned, not exactly running, more like a shuffle in place.
The bubble pushed her close to the pit yawning at her feet.
“She’s at peace, girl.” He unclenched the fist, the one not hers, never hers, peeling, prying each finger loose. Breath hissing, she didn’t anticipate the slick, slippery, iron sweet blood bubbling and smearing across his rough fingers. “Let it go. What’s done is done.”
When had he grown so wise, this brother of hers?
“Throw the dirt.” Anton. Angry Anton.
Sound dulled. Dirt, sloppy with the ooze of her soul, pinged and echoed; and the mass of mourners bowed respectfully and pressed back.
The air sighed with relief.
The good Father patted her shoulder, shook her dad’s hand and gave Anton a wide berth.
“Let’s go home, TJ.”
Yes, let’s do that little thing.
Anton gripped her elbow, palms sweaty, guiding her with uneasy steps. She risked a look at his eyes but they shifted down and away, that same uncertainty afflicting him.
TJ pulled haughty and a sneer out of the shallows where she stored emotion.
“Don’t…” he sounded coarser than she remembered, tougher, roughened. Two tours would do that. He wasn’t the teen she knew anymore. That boy, that older brother, wouldn’t have been perceptive enough to murmur, “He needs you.”
Oh, news flash, bro. Let me explain need…
Manicured lawn turned to uneven gravel and the hood of a generic SUV blocking her path. Somehow Anton had levitated her to the conveyance of her doom. Her father held the door, patient. He opened his mouth, then shut it, opened it again like a parody of a fish gulping air.
The reflection in the window magnified the slash of distaste. Anton, her dear precious Anton, towering at more than six feet of solid muscle, bent her head and eased a body stiff with the little deaths that plagued her into the back seat. She allowed him the tiny victory of strapping her in, the whispered, “See you back at the house,” and the steady pressure of the bubble collapsing about her.
She was going home.
To Pennsylvania. To modest and hard-working. To a life with a man she barely knew and a brother who would escape back to a war and the kills that marked his soul. She envied him.
Copyright© Kennedy Streath. All rights reserved.