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Finding Purgatory Chapters 1 and 2

March 29, 2015
Finding Purgatory

Hello, lovelies.

It’s finally time. Finding Purgatory is finally ready. I’m hoping it will go live on Tuesday, March 31st, but I’ll keep you posted on that.

For now, I’m offering the first two chapters of Finding Purgatory free of charge. Meet sisters Ani Novak and Tori Kane.

Chapter 1: Ani

The persistent rhythm of little fists on her bed and a rising chant of “Dah-dee, Dah-dee, Dah-dee” drew Ani out of sleep. She reached behind her and patted her still fast-asleep husband. “Jett. Daddy, you’re being hailed.”

Jett grunted. The noise vibrated on her skin as he had somehow ended up with his nose buried against her neck during the night. His arm, draped over her waist, tightened, and he burrowed closer.

“Dah-dee.” Mara, their barely two-year-old daughter, sounded exasperated with her father’s unwillingness to snap awake.

“This is what you get for making her a daddy’s girl.” Ani grinned and snuggled further down under the covers.

By then, Mara had resorted to clambering up on the bed. “Okay, monkey. I’m awake.” Jett rolled away from Ani onto his back. “The question is why are you awake.”

Mara sat on his chest, her hair a mass of scattered curls the same deep brown shade as her mother’s. “Juice,” she said.

Jett sighed at his daughter. “That’s what you woke me up for?”

“Have fun with that,” Ani said. “I’m going back to sleep.”

“You think so, huh?”

“I do.”

“Mara. Tickle Mommy.”

“No, don’t—Mara. Jett!” Trying to thrash away from their fingers without sending her baby daughter flying proved a challenge, especially when she began to gasp for breath. Mara’s giggles reached a pitch that could make dogs howl. Her baby laughter mixed with Jett’s deep chuckle was one of Ani’s favorite sounds.

When her sides ached, Jett finally called off the attack and sat back on the bed. Ani wiped away tears, pretending to scowl at him, but she couldn’t keep it up for long. Her husband stared down at her with an impish grin. His eyes were lit with a devotion and adoration Ani didn’t ever want to get used to. She reached up and ran her fingers along the smooth skin at his jaw. He’d just shaved off the neat beard he’d worn the last few months, and while he looked quite dashing with his strong chin, she was going to miss the rough scratch of his whiskers between her thighs.

“You got her riled up at—” she turned her head to glance at the clock “—three twenty-nine in the morning. Good job, Daddy.”

Jett pressed a quick kiss to her lips before he scooped Mara up. “Come on, then. Let’s get you some water.”

“And a cookie?”

Jett tapped her nose. “Don’t push your luck.”

Ani watched, drinking in the firm lines of her husband’s back as he got out of bed. The flex of his shoulders and arms as he managed to hold Mara and put his robe on at the same time did pleasant things to her body.

When he was out the door with the baby, Ani fell back against her pillows. She yawned, drowsiness pulling at her consciousness, and then—

BANG!

~0~

Ani jumped, disoriented and displaced in time. Her heart sped, but she was confused as to why she wasn’t in her bed. She’d been in her bed almost asleep when the gunshot rang through the house.

BANG! BANG!

Each loud crash went through her body like a bullet. Her thoughts were anything but concrete. She was made of emotion then. Not a feeling she had a name for, but a sensation. The sensation of destruction. A nightmare space of shadowy figures and the shattered pieces of her broken life.

BANG!

She jumped again, and a single thought zinged through the mess of her mind.

The night it happened, there had only been one gunshot. One bullet. Not this many. One bullet from one gun, from one young man who had chosen this house in this neighborhood to break into—that was what it took to break the quiet of the night and with it the peace of her existence.

That thought was a foothold, and she scrambled for another.

She wasn’t in bed. Ani was on the floor, her back against the door. Her front door. And someone was knocking. Hard. Urgent.

“Ani, open up. I know you’re there. I know you can hear me.”

The sound of her brother-in-law’s voice pushed her from one hell into another.

He sounded so much like Jett.

If she could have concentrated, she would have been able to pick up on the nuances that separated Ian’s voice from her husband’s. They’d been identical twins, not identical people.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Her hand clenched in a fist and she banged on her side of the door with as much strength as she had, irritated. Every time she started to grab hold of rational thought, his incessant knocking sent her back to her room in that moment when the gun went off. If he’d give her a minute to think, she could pull herself out of this spiral.

She heard him sigh. “You’re scaring Mom, Ani.”

Ani pressed her palms over her ears and pushed.

“We just want to help.”

He could help a lot by shutting up. She would tell him that, but she couldn’t remember how to make her mouth form the words, and anyway, her throat was too dry.

Why on earth had the family sent him? She loved her brother-in-law, but she couldn’t see him right now. They should have understood that.

Really, she didn’t want to see anyone.

They all wanted to help—Jett’s family, their friends. That was what she’d heard over and over for two months. They were here to help.

Their version of help depended greatly on how they thought she should react to this tragedy, how they thought they would react. She’d listened to “we just want to help” for weeks until she finally went to see a psychologist for the sake of placating them. A month ago, they’d been relieved at the sight of the prescription pill bottles in her bathroom. None of them noticed they’d never been opened.

Ani took another deep breath, calming, and of course, Ian chose that moment to call her name again, making a shiver go down her spine. She banged on the door and, mercifully, he fell silent.

Because she knew better than to think he was going to take the hint, Ani groped at her side, trying to find her cell. Her cheeks were wet, her eyes blurry with tears she wiped away. She fumbled at her phone, her hand trembling too much at first. After a few more breaths, she was able to swipe the screen, dismissing the notifications of twenty-seven unread text messages.

Her friends and Jett’s family were worried again. She understood why. She’d been avoiding them all, but it was something she needed right then. She didn’t want to see the pity in their eyes when they looked at their spouses and children and said, “I can’t even imagine.”

She didn’t want to feel like a sideshow freak. They all tended to stare at her, as though they were waiting for her to collapse, to curl into a ball and wallow in anguish. How was she ever supposed to try to feel normal again when they looked at her like that?

Ani sniffled, sitting up straighter against the door. There wasn’t anything wrong with her. Her husband and baby were dead. That was hardly a mental illness on her part.

As Ani dialed, a cold calm came over her. She brought the phone to her ear when she heard Ian’s phone ring on the other side of the door. Before he could start talking, she cut him off. “Don’t speak.” He didn’t, and she continued. “I’m not going to do anything stupid. I’m coping, but I need time before I can see you. Knock once if you understand.”

There was a pause, but then he knocked once. Ani breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry, Ian. I’ll call you when I’m ready. I love you. Tell everyone I love them.”

He knocked again. Ani rested her head against the back of the door and listened for the sounds of his retreat with a bittersweet taste in her mouth. She tapped out an e-mail on her phone to her most persistent friends with much the same message: Please leave me alone. I need time. I’ll be fine.

Ani shut her phone off so she wouldn’t have to deal with their responses. For long minutes, she sat with her back against the door, letting her frazzled nerves smooth themselves out.

For all they were trying to help, Ani was never more out of control than when someone was bugging her about all this. When she was alone, she could focus on the rational. Thirty-four years of life had taught her the heart was resilient. Yes, her heart was broken, fractured even. Her life was upside down and unrecognizable, but she wasn’t the first person in the history of the world to lose someone. Others had survived worse, and she would survive, too.

She had survived.

Out in the driveway, Ian’s car started.

It wasn’t as though she wanted to keep them away forever. Maybe in a few more weeks they wouldn’t drive her into these fits. That was what she needed—a few weeks without having to see anyone from her broken life. A few weeks away from Jett’s family with their too-familiar features. A few weeks without her friends dropping by with their children who reminded her too much of her baby’s chubby cheeks and brilliant smile. Anyone could understand why she needed time to reset. Just a few weeks to get used to the fact she wasn’t part of a family unit anymore; it was just her. Table for one. It seemed impossible, but it was reality, and she needed time to get used to the idea.

Then she would let them all back in.

~0~

The next time someone knocked on her front door, it wasn’t a loud pound but a timid tap. Ani wouldn’t have heard it at all except she was in the living room, stretched out on the couch. She blinked in the midmorning sunlight, disoriented. She’d been reading, but she must have fallen asleep.

The tip-tapping came again, easing some of her automatic anxiety. It had been two weeks since she asked Jett’s family and their friends to leave her alone. None of them would knock the way this person was knocking. “Hold on,” she called, rubbing her eyes.

At this time on a Saturday she expected a salesperson or a Jehovah’s Witness. As long as they weren’t friends or family, she welcomed the distraction. Three and a half months after Jett and Mara’s death and Ani was running out of things to do.

For a while, she’d been able to keep her feet moving. She’d planned a double funeral and then methodically tackled the endless paperwork that came when two lives were cut short. She’d settled accounts, written letters, made phone calls until, one by one, she crossed off every item on her to do list.

She’d spent a surprising amount of time not doing things. It was like muscle memory, like her body tried to do the things she’d done in her day-to-day life. She waited for Jett to interrupt her stolen moments of solitude with excited chatter about his latest project or for Mara to demand her attention. On her days to make dinner, she came home after eight hours at work doing her usual mental inventory of what there was to cook only to remember dinner for one was much easier than dinner for two and a half. There were no two year-old-messes that needed to be cleaned, no bedtime kisses, no late nights making love with her adoring husband.

For the first time in Ani’s memory, the TiVo was cleared.

The timid knock came again, reminding Ani of why she was standing in the living room, staring into space.

“Coming,” she said.

On her doorstep, she found a waif of a woman, perhaps twenty or so years old. She radiated anxiety, wringing her hands as her eyes darted around.

“Can I help you?” Ani asked.

“Um. Yeah, um. Are you Antigone Novak?”

Ani bristled out of habit. She hated her given name. It was one of the things she and Jett, short for Jethro, had bonded on: their disdain for the names their parents had gifted them with. It was easy to mispronounce, as the girl did now, calling her Aunty Gone, but that was normal. “I’m Ani, yes.”

The young woman dropped her gaze. “Oh, gosh. There’s just . . . there’s no easy way to say this. Um. I . . . my name is Tara Bryant. Steven Leung was my fiancé.”

The last two sentences were spoken in such a rush, it took Ani a handful of moments to separate each noise into individual words. When she realized what the young woman had said, the blood drained from her face. “Oh.”

“I’m sorry. It’s . . . maybe it’s awful for me to bother you. I just . . . I had to try. I . . . I know what you must think about Steven. I can’t even imagine. But I wanted you to know that . . . it wasn’t him. I’m not saying he didn’t do it. Obviously, he did it, but that’s not the kind of person he was. Normally, I mean.”

Ani stared at the girl, at a loss for what to think or say.

Steven Leung had broken into her home and invaded a place that should have been private and safe. Steven Leung had shot at a man holding a baby. When Ani ran to the top of the stairs, Steven Leung had rushed at her. Her feet tried to go two directions at once, away from Steven Leung and toward her fallen family, and she’d tumbled down the steps. Steven Leung had looked down at the dead man and baby and injured woman at the bottom of the stairs and shot himself in the head, taking with him any chance Ani had to see justice served.

Ani had no interest in knowing what Tara had to say about what kind of man Steven Leung had been—she knew enough. Her hand braced on the door, ready to slam it shut before she lashed out at this ridiculous girl.

But then again, even if Ani didn’t want to know what kind of a man Steven Leung had been when he wasn’t murdering innocent people, she did have one question no one had been able to answer.

Why?

Swallowing around the lump in her throat, Ani eased her grip on the door and took a step back. “Come in.”

Chapter 2: Tori

“This is bullshit.” Tori pushed back from the kitchen table, but Shane wrapped his hand around her wrist before she could get far. His hold was loose, but she stopped anyway, glaring daggers at the walls rather than look at him.

“Sit down.” As always, his tone was quiet and unassuming. If it had been her foster parents, the Everetts, the order would’ve been laid out as if by a drill sergeant. With Shane, it was more like a suggestion.

Tori crossed her arms and sat down. She still refused to look at him. “Do I have a choice here? Do I have to see her?”

“No. But—”

“Then tell her to fuck off.”

“I think you should consider it.”

“Okay. Let me think about it. Hmm. My sister hasn’t seen me in, what, fifteen years? What does she want? Is she dying and she needs one of my kidneys?”

The corner of Shane’s mouth twitched. “She said she just wants to get to know you.”

“Oh, that’s cool, then. We could have a sleepover. Maybe talk about boys. Or maybe she could explain why I suddenly exist to her after all this time. That will give us something to chat about while we trade nail polish. Ooooh. Maybe she can teach me how to braid my hair.” Tori ran her hand through her hair, still not used to how short it was after she’d shorn most of it off the week before.

“Hilarious, Tori.” Shane shifted to lean forward with his hands folded on the table. “You’re in control here. I don’t blame you for not wanting to see her.”

“But . . .”

“But what could it hurt to at least hear what she has to say? I know you’ve had questions about your parents. At least you’d get answers.”

“What does it matter? My parents are dead.”

“Don’t say no right away. Think about it. Family isn’t necessarily the worst thing to have.”

Tori scoffed. “What are you trying to sell? Family is why everyone else is in here.” Of the five foster children in the house, she was the only one who was in the system because she was an orphan.

Shane held his hands up in a placating gesture. “Think it through. You don’t want to look back and wonder what might have happened. You don’t want to have regrets.”

Tori had to laugh. “Oh yeah. That sounds like my life. No regrets here.” She turned away, but his words had triggered a handful of precious memories. She’d been three when her parents died. Her memories of them were reduced to a few blurry images. Her mother was a melodic voice humming her to sleep. Her father was the strong arms that lifted her high into the air so she felt weightless and giddy. Her sister . . .

Almost fifteen years ago, Ani, then nineteen, had kissed her cheeks, cuddled her close, and promised she would be back soon.

“You know what?” Tori turned back to her social worker. “Fine. She wants to see me again, let her come. You’re right. I have a few things to say.”

~0~

“Oh my God, must you always be in my way?” Ariel hip-checked Tori away from the closet they shared and sent her tumbling to the floor.

Rage painted Tori’s vision. Destructive though it could be, fury was always on her side, and it whispered to Tori now, urging her to spring at the spoiled girl. She climbed to her feet, intent on doing just that, when a smaller voice stopped her.

“V, I can’t find my flash drive with my homework. I can’t find it, and Mr. Ontiveros is gonna flip if I don’t have it!”

Tori took a breath and turned away from her wicked foster sister and put on a calming smile for the youngest member of the household. “Chillax, B.”

Brooklyn was only thirteen but had the stress level of a forty-year-old single mother of six. Tori could’ve told her they had all night to find the damn thing, but she knew better. When she was younger, Brooklyn had been beaten by her biological mother when even the smallest thing was out of place, and a missing flash drive was a bigger deal than a misplaced TV remote. The poor girl wouldn’t be able to calm down until she knew where it was

With one last glare at Ariel’s head, Tori went to help Brooklyn find her missing flash drive. As she searched, she tried not to think about Ariel and how much it sucked that the hateful girl was her roommate. Being the Everett’s only biological offspring, it was only natural she was the favorite of all the children in the house, but why that meant she had to strut around like Queen Shit of Turd Island, Tori didn’t know.

By the time she and Brooklyn found the flash drive, Shane was pulling up to the house. Tori rushed back to her room only to find the door locked. She pounded on it.

“Busy,” Ariel yelled.

Tori pounded again. “I need my jeans.” The music coming from behind the door got louder. Tori jiggled the door knob. “Ariel. Open the door.” Pissed as hell, she started to kick and hit at the door at random, screaming as she did. The music blared.

“What the heck is going on up here?”

Tori turned slightly to find her foster mother at the top of the steps, scowling as usual. She strode to Tori and grabbed her hand mid pound. “Haven’t you caused enough headaches today, Vicky? Cut it out.”

“Don’t call me that.” Tori yanked her arm out of Stacey’s grasp and went back to pounding on the door. “I need my jeans.”

“You won’t die without your jeans. Your social worker is here now.” She pressed her palm to Tori’s back, trying to push her in the direction of the stairs. “For once in your life can you not be a pain in the ass?”

Tori pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth and pushed past Stacey. She didn’t want to go to this meeting in her school slacks, but her need to get away from her foster mother outweighed her need for comfortable pants. She stomped down the stairs and out the door.

“Are you ready for this?” Shane asked as they pulled away.

“Whatever.”

Shane kept up a constant monologue as they drove, but that was his way. The park they were headed to wasn’t far, so Tori didn’t tell him to shut up like she wanted to. She balled her hands in fists, irritated with herself. Her throat was dry and her hands trembled. When they got closer to the park, her heart started to pound.

“She’s already here,” Shane said as he stopped the car. Tori swallowed hard and raised her head.

In her vague memories, Ani was an imposing figure. She was tall and beautiful—glamorous. When she was a very little girl who still played pretend, Tori had dreamed of the day she would be a big girl like Ani.

The woman at the picnic table didn’t look glamorous. She wasn’t as tall as Tori remembered. She was small and short. Her hair, the same shade brown as Tori’s, didn’t flow loose and pretty around her, but was up in a simple ponytail. Tori remembered an Ani whose smile was patient, her lips shiny with lip gloss, with a cute button nose. This woman wore no makeup at all, and she looked tired. Her hands were folded on the table in front of her. Her head was tilted down.

“Are you okay?” Shane asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Tori got out of the car.

The sound of the car door shutting brought Ani’s head up. Tori froze. A weird sensation curled around her stomach. She didn’t care about her stranger-sister at all, was only going to this meeting to get Shane off her back, but when she saw Ani, her heart twisted with a hurt she didn’t realize was a bone-deep part of her.

Ani pushed herself to her feet, her face blank. Gritting her teeth, Tori shook whatever she was feeling away. She didn’t want it, and this chick didn’t deserve it. She was nothing to Tori—a stranger.

Tori strode forward and plopped down on the bench across from Ani, flashing a grin that was all teeth. “Hey, sis.”

If she was shocked, Ani didn’t show it. She cocked her head, looking Tori over. Her smile was small and fake. “Hi, Victoria. I’m glad to see you.”

“Well, I guess that makes one of us.”

Ani’s brow furrowed, but Shane stepped up to them then. “Shane McCarty. We spoke on the phone.” The shook hands. “I brought some soda for us. You like Pepsi?” He took the chance to give Tori a glance that reinforced what he’d been saying in the car. He was there for her.

Tori rolled her eyes, but she took a Pepsi. A few gulps and her throat didn’t resemble the Sahara.

“I’ll take one. Thank you,” Ani said. “And thank you for bringing my sister.”

Shane nodded. “I’ll let you talk.” He only moved as far as the opposite end of the picnic table and took out his phone.

Ani turned to Tori and opened her mouth, then closed it again. Tori raised an eyebrow, not about to help her. Her sister reached into her pocket and took out what looked like a credit card. She held it up. “It’s a prepaid card. It’s almost Christmas. I wanted to bring something, but I figured I didn’t have a clue what you might like. I—”

“Keep it. I don’t want anything from you.”

Ani’s eyebrows furrowed. “I’d like you to have it. It wasn’t any trouble—”

“I don’t really give a crap how much trouble it was or wasn’t. I don’t want it. In case you missed it the first time, I don’t really want to see you.”

Tori expected Ani to look hurt, but she didn’t. She seemed more confused than anything. “If you didn’t want to see me, why did you agree to this?”

Her tone was steady. If she wanted to play it cool, Tori could play that game. She crossed her arms and brought her feet up on the bench. “Tell me a bedtime story, sissy. I figure you wander back after all this time, the reason must be good. I’m not up to donating any bone marrow or organs if that’s what you want.”

“I don’t . . . I don’t need anything from you. That’s not what this is about.”

“So what is it about?”

Something dark flitted across her sister’s features before the smooth mask was back. “I met a woman about a month ago whose fiancé had just died. She told me about him. How he’d spent the first five years of his life in a car with his mother before ending up in the foster care system. He had problems in school. She told me his first foster family gave him up because they didn’t have time to help him. His second family thought he was being stubborn and punished him by not letting him play with the other kids. He was with three other families, and none of them helped him.”

“So some asshole you met couldn’t get through school. What does that have to with me? You want to help me with my homework?”

Ani didn’t rise to her bait. “It was a domino effect. He ended up in a bad place, and he . . . he did something he couldn’t come back from. I don’t know.” She glanced at Shane and back at Tori. “I had this idea in my head that when children go into the system, they’re taken care of. You hear that people, kids, slip through the cracks, but I didn’t want to believe it was true. I started to wonder if you were as okay as I thought you were.”

“Oh, I’m fucking fine and dandy.”

Ani looked up. “I didn’t know. I really didn’t know about the adoption not going through. If I’d have known—”

“You know what, no. Shut up. I’m not an idiot. Mom and Dad died, and you didn’t want to get stuck with a needy three-year-old. Whatever. But don’t sit there and act like you regret it. You didn’t have to walk away, and you did.”

“Victoria—”

“Hey, newsflash, sister dear. I survived. You can go back to whatever you were doing before you remembered me.”

“That’s not what I want.”

“So you do want something. Color me surprised.”

“Take it down a notch,” Shane said.

Tori threw her arms wide as she looked back to Ani. “Sorry. Go ahead. Tell me what you want. I am all ears.” She crossed her arms and stared, vindicated when Ani shifted under her gaze.

Ani breathed in through her nose and out again. “I suppose I can’t tell you what I would have done if I’d known your adoption didn’t go through. It was a long time ago. I was nineteen when Mom and Dad died. Things that made sense to me then wouldn’t make sense to me now. That’s not an excuse, but there it is.”

“Well, I feel better. Do you? Can you fuck off now?”

“I . . .” It was gratifying to Tori to see Ani’s cool demeanor thrown off, to see her sputter. Ani huffed and looked down at her lap before she tried again. “I want you to know I’m here now. If you need something, anything, I can help.”

“I don’t need anything from you.”

“You’re going to be eighteen in a few more months. Do you need help with college or some place to live or—”

“You want to give me something? How about you get out of my face, because I don’t want to see you. Ever. That’s what I need. Can you give me that?”

The way Ani looked down at the table reminded Tori of a sad, bad dog. She rummaged through her purse. “This is my work phone,” she said as she set a business card on the table. Without looking at Tori, she printed something else in writing. “And this is my cell. If you need anything, you can call me. The door is open.” She looked up, right into Tori’s eyes as she stood. “Really. Anything at all.”

Tori glared back at her and didn’t look at the card at all. She had the impulse to rip it to pieces, but that would have meant she had to acknowledge the thing was there in the first place.

Ani nodded. “Okay,” she said, and she walked away.

“Are you okay?” Shane asked after Ani had driven off.

“Would you quit asking me that?”

Shane didn’t answer. He stood and emptied the remains of their soda on the ground before he threw the cans in the recycle bin. “Come on, then. Let’s get you home.”

Tori stood. There were tears in her eyes. That was making her even more pissed. She watched as Shane reached across the table to pick up Ani’s card. He hesitated a moment, but then he held it out to her. Tori stared at his hand for five full seconds before she grabbed the thing, stuffed it in her pocket, and stormed back to his car.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2015 3:36 pm

    Holy tears, Batman! That starts out SO emotional! 😦 Sounds like it’ll be a roller coaster, Kristina!

  2. NixHaw permalink
    March 30, 2015 3:37 am

    Oh Jesus. This book will kill me.

  3. Collette permalink
    March 31, 2015 6:33 pm

    I can’t wait to read the rest. Gonna go get it right now.

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