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Whoohoo...the picture contest was fun! Folks sent in pictures of themselves reading All For Love. Scroll down to read the first two chapters . . .
All For Love was released on August 23, 2012 from 5 Prince Publishing. It is getting great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Here are a few reviews:
"Not your average romance novel - it is a realistic journey through one woman's relationship with the man of her dreams that isn't always perfect. Through past and present scenes, we see how Liz's and Quinn's story unfolds, their triumphs and their failures, and the secrets that can tear a family apart. Personally, I wouldn't categorize this novel as simply a romance - I would call it Literary Fiction and Family Drama at its best."
★★★★★ ALL FOR LOVE "Poetic. Could not stop reading!"
Review~All For Love: ★★★★★
"I would call it Literary Fiction and Family Drama at its best."
Barnes and Noble Amazon http://tinyurl.com/cf6m3vg
We were drinking iced tea at our favorite sidewalk café when the plastics plant exploded.
One moment Ronnie was checking my left hand to see if my wedding ring was still there, and the next thing I knew she was crawling across the blistered sidewalk in slow motion, reaching out for me.
Ronnie and I have been friends since college. She and Carol were my dorm mates. The best friends I’ve ever had. But college was a long time ago.
“How long do you think it takes to fall out of love?” I had just asked.
Stalling for time, Ronnie gazed about The Sidewalk Café. The strong breeze should’ve been cool, but it was dry and hot. Instead of our usual twelve inches of rain for the year, we’d received just less than two. The drought in our area of West Texas had been catastrophic; a simple spark from a piece of machinery could start a wildfire that might burn for days or even weeks. The weather channel delighted in telling us we were smack dab in the middle of the worst dry spell since the nineteen fifties.
In a way, it was fitting. I seemed to be smack dab in the middle of a drought myself. My nest felt as empty as the prairie, and my husband, who could’ve been the spark to light my world, was also brittle and dry. In fact, he was so dry he was practically nonexistent, like the prairie grass hiding in the earth, waiting for moisture.
Ronnie swished a fly away from her drink. “What’s going on, Lizzie?”
I hesitated. She was so good at taking the wind out of my sails. In fact, I’d swear she was using “wait time” on me, a technique we had learned in our education classes at the university about a hundred years ago.
Shrugging nonchalantly, I forged ahead. I really wanted her input. I still valued it every bit as much as when we were nineteen. “I think he’s screwing around again.” I sipped my tea. Mine was sweet, hers was not . She was usually the sensible one—at least when she wasn’t toasted on Mexican red.
She smoothed the shiny fall of hair off her face. It was still the fresh reddish color of a blood orange.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Or is it just suspicion?” She swirled her tea, giving me a moment to answer. The amber liquid climbed the inside of her glass like a tiny tsunami. She reached across the table to touch my hand. We weren’t very demonstrative anymore, not like when we were in school. I don’t know why, but I suspected it was my fault. A hug upon meeting was the extent of our physical relationship. Sometimes one of us would hug the other when we parted—it all depended upon our emotional altitude at the moment. But this time, she wasn’t being demonstrative by clasping my hand, she was simply checking to see if my wedding ring was still in place. She turned my hand over and pushed it flat down on the table.
The emerald-cut diamond was in the same place it has resided—almost continuously—for over thirty years.
“Well, I guess you’re still together, so either no proof or you want to stay.” She was blunt, as always.
I opened my mouth to explain, but my words were cut short by the tremendous explosion that blasted my streaky sienna hair into a halo, shivering the plate glass window behind us. Ronnie was on her feet in an instant, her own heavy hair standing out from her head like a fright wig as she stared toward the southwest, toward the Pan-Tex Plastics plant that has crouched there for years.
“Oh My God!” Her voice, though it should have been loud, was dim, as though the blast had flattened her words. Later, I realized it was my eardrums that were flattened, not her words.
I tried to stand but my wits were scrambled. My scarf, the one Quinn bought for me in Italy during our one and only European vacation, was hanging from the little teal-striped awning. My eyes darted here and there, searching for something to label. Searching for some cause. Terrorist? Yes, that must be it. Terrorist. My eyes continued searching high and low, but there was nothing out of the ordinary except for the staticky condition of my hair, the tingling of my skin, and that pesky scarf hanging inexplicably from the awning above us. And then I realized my insides were vibrating, tingling just like my skin. Breakers of air rolled in from the plant, thrashing me like the waves of tea had thrashed the inside of Ronnie’s glass.
Up and down the street people poured onto the sidewalks, pointing southward. That’s when I saw a great pillar of black smoke billowing from the place where there should have been only tall towers, slim columns, and fat boilers. Inside the smoke, orange flames were eating the edges of the deceptively serene noontime sky. Not many folks realized that raw plastic is made from natural gas.
I shaded my eyes and looked away. It was too much, too surreal. But normalcy wasn’t found when I looked away. On the ground, dozens of black smudges caught my eye, grackles knocked out of the air by the concussive blast; the smaller gray spots were undoubtedly sparrows.
Sirens began to whoop—both the ones at the plant and the big one atop the nearby courthouse. The only time I’d ever heard it go off before was during tornado season, and that was only from a distance. Up close it was like being inside a disaster movie in surround sound.
Central Fire Station, three blocks over, began to empty its wide bays of fire and rescue vehicles. Police cars added their warbling wails to the cacophony. We watched, dumbfounded, as the cruisers shot past the intersection in a hurry to join the maelstrom. The visible sound of rushing flames perfectly matched the tremor inside my body.
The second explosion knocked us to the ground.
My head grazed a table as I fell. I sensed the concrete rushing up to meet me, but there was no pain; instead, silence engulfed me like deep water. Everything slowed. After a moment, I became aware that my knees were bleeding inside my new white Capri’s, speckles of blood seeping through. That’s when I spotted Ronnie crawling across the blistered sidewalk toward me. Her face was dotted with red like a Botox-party nightmare. Slivers of plate glass glittered brightly all across the patio and only then did I realize I was screaming.
My husband of thirty-two years was at work in that plant.
“C’mon.” Ronnie had my arm, attempting to pull me up. My extremities seemed filled with sand. “Let’s go,” she instructed. “Who knows what will happen next!”
I struggled to my feet catching a glimpse of my face in the one remaining section of the café’s plate glass window. It looked like a full white moon staring back at me. Touching the side of my head gingerly, I felt a lump rising where my skull had caught the table when I fell. But Ronnie was the one who really needed help. The second explosion had knocked her into the edge of the new brick flowerbed and as a result, she had a large leaking gash above one eye. This is in addition to the dozens of pinprick-spots of blood dotting her face.
My own head was swimmy, my vision blurry. Together, we were able to gain our feet, and I watched numbly as Ronnie swiped her hand across her bloody forehead.
Crumpled napkin still clutched in my fist, I reached out, blotting at her wounds randomly as we staggered across the street toward the courthouse like a couple of book clubbers after an afternoon meeting complete with wine.
A paramedic stopped us near an ambulance (when did they arrive?), handed Ronnie a thick square of cotton and instructed her to keep pressure on the gash. He sat us down on the courthouse steps and told us to stay put until he came back. Then he ran toward the knot of people gathered a little further down the street. Was someone injured there? I couldn’t make out exactly what was going on.
We sat like stone mice on the warm cement steps, Ronnie’s arm clasped around my shoulders, her other hand pressing the cotton to her forehead. The leaves of the live oaks trembled overhead and I recalled a squirrel we’d been watching from the café. Glancing upward, I half-expected to see the little creature scampering to safety, surprised by all the noise and confusion. But it was not there.
Then I spied my purse hanging on the back of my overturned chair across the street, and it dawned on me: my phone was probably still there, nestled in its little phone-pocket on the side.
The gorgeous day was now filled with so much sound it was like white noise—there but not there. I found it impossible to think, and as the cloud of smoke grew heavier and blacker, the notion of fire reminded me of the tinder-dry fields surrounding the plant. The acrid smell of melting plastic was so strong it scratched my throat and stung my eyes, and that finally prodded me into action.
I disentangled myself from Ronnie and headed back across the street. The owners of the café were standing on the sidewalk in shock. The little tables and chairs that had seemed so cosmopolitan only moments earlier were now scattered across the patio like so much wrought-iron rubble. The table umbrellas looked like giant turquoise tops upside down in the gutter.
With great effort, I leaned down and prised my purse strap off the back of the chair where only moments earlier I’d been sitting, sipping tea, trying to decide whether my handsome husband was sleeping around—again.
Jana, one of the owners, hurried over. “You all right, Liz?”
Nodding, I dug out my cell phone and automatically dialed Quinn. Nothing. No ring, no voice mail, nothing. It was as if I was dialing the very nothingness of the universe.
I felt myself graying out, the world blowing away from me like the smoke rising from the plant. My head throbbed, the ground wavered as if a giant was shrugging his shoulders just beneath the surface, and I felt myself sinking …
When I came around I was vaguely aware of Ronnie and Jana lowering me into my now-upright chair.
“Liz!” Ronnie was patting at my face as Jana rubbed an ice cube up and down my bare arms. “Lizzie! Can you hear me?”
I could feel my eyelids fluttering, but I was powerless to stop them. Is that drool running from the corner of my mouth? Maybe Jana rubbed the ice cube on my lips. Then it hit me. I must’ve fainted.
“I’m okay,” I sputtered. It came out more as, “I yuh-kay.”
Inside my eyes I still saw black smoke tinged with fire. Surprising tears welled up and spilled over my bottom lid—ahh, so that’s the moisture. My eyes finally opened all the way (seemingly of their own accord) and I was staring into the bloodshot-blue peepers of my dearest friend. So it’s true, I thought. It really happened: the plant exploded.
The look on her face told me I was neither dreaming, nor imagining. That one look told me it wasn’t something that simply appeared in my head because I’d fainted; no, it was the other way around. The realization that Quinn was in that explosion was the reason I fainted.
It seemed like forever before we got clearance to drive to the hospital in my Ford Explorer. Ronnie wanted to drive, but I ignored her and got behind the wheel.
The sirens had become background noise. I couldn’t keep my eyes from straying toward the fire. Is he in there? Is he battling the blaze alongside the city firefighters? He qualified for first responder status when he took fire and safety courses shortly after getting hired on twenty years earlier. And he’d faithfully attended the two-week refresher classes each year to stay certified. They’d had a few minor incidents over the years, and he’d responded to those right away. But there was never anything like this.
I glanced at Ronnie. She was sitting with her forehead resting on her hand. The 4x4 square of cotton was pretty much soaked. I may have been the one who fainted, but she was the one who needed stitches.
The line of cars headed to the hospital was backed up around the corner. I couldn’t get within two blocks. A cop was directing traffic. Slowly we inched forward, air conditioner blasting. Ronnie’s face was pale, her eyes closed. As I watched, a fat drop of blood oozed from beneath the cotton and plopped onto her beige jeans. That’s when I noticed a larger stain already there, in that very spot. Apparently the blood had been splatting there for several minutes.
“Officer!” I waved my hand out the window at the policeman who was directing traffic.
He started toward us and then motioned for me to drive forward.
“Problem?” His voice sounded frayed.
I bit the end of my tongue to keep from blurting out a smart-ass reply. “My friend is hurt,” I said simply.
He leaned over, looking across me at Ronnie.
“She need stitches?”
“I think so. She’s really bleeding.” I exhaled wondering how long I had been holding my breath.
He backed away, nodding, and motioned me to maneuver around the car in front of us and follow his hand signals. My own hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, my wedding ring digging into the leather padding.
He kept motioning me forward.
Suddenly, new tears overflowed onto my cheeks. I hoped he didn’t see me wiping them away but a thought had just hit me: what if Quinn is in there? In the hospital or in one of the ambulances queued up near the ER entrance? For the tiniest split-second I thought it might be fitting for him to be there. But that was just my negative nature getting the best of me. After all, the woman on the phone last week could have been almost anyone.
Ronnie laid her free hand on my forearm. Her face was a whiter shade of pale—just like the old song by Procal Harum. I remember playing that record over and over as a teenager sitting with my first real boyfriend on the floral sofa in our pine-paneled den on the street where I grew up. We must have played that song a hundred million times as we sat there, holding hands and pretending we weren’t. I was such a kid—I wanted a playmate, not a real boyfriend. We broke up when the other kids at school learned we had never even kissed. When he pressured me about it, I backed away. I’ve never performed well under pressure.
I tried to pull my mind back to the present. It kept trying to slither away, like a snake on the road at high noon. Another old song tried to crowd into my mind … something by The Doors … something about a snake on the road, or was it a toad? Idiot. Get a grip! I think it was a lizard; no, Jim Morrison was the lizard king … oh, God. Maybe I have a concussion.
I let Ronnie off at the curb. “You sure you won’t faint like I did?”
“I’ll be fine,” she insisted. She didn’t look fine. She looked frail. But I had to go park the car—it was madness near the entrance.
“Just sit down if you start to feel dizzy … ”
“Yes, mother,” her habitual sarcasm sounded forced. We both grimaced.
I scowled at her and crept away, my foot hovering above the brake in case I had to turn suddenly and go back. The cop was trying to keep at least one lane open each way. My front tires finally bumped into a curb and I let the truck jump it so I could park in the vacant dirt lot three blocks away. The heat seemed to have been magnified by the fire even though the plant was miles from the hospital.
My stomach clenched into a slick knot of fear and I knew I was going to be sick. I threw up all over the curb. The spatters on the gray concrete were Rorschach-like: What did you see when your husband was blown to bits in the plant explosion? Just my life, doc. My life spattering down into the dust like a nude descending a staircase. Or something by Picasso. Or perhaps it was just a butterfly after all. Hard to tell sometimes. Know what I mean?
I almost threw up again when I thought of having to tell Ashley her daddy was dead for suddenly I knew that he was. I could tell he was no longer in the land of light and air. How I knew for certain, I can’t say, but I didn’t question it, I didn’t get hysterical, I just grew nauseous again, slumped down beside the same curb I had just driven over with my truck.
Sitting on the ground, I put my head between my knees. I hoped Ronnie was okay, but I couldn’t help her at that moment. The sun was baking the back of my neck, the sirens were whooping and wailing; the fire crackling in the distance, and he was dead. Somewhere, in the universe where we connected and made love and made our daughter and vowed to love each other till death do us part, in that universe, there was a sudden hole and he slipped through. I felt it in my guts, “Till death,” had arrived.
I remember thinking: This is shock. It isn’t real. I didn’t even feel any sadness, just nausea and disbelief. I found out about the sadness later, though, and the anger. And when those emotions finally did make their appearance, they didn’t go away like the nausea. They just stayed and stayed. And stayed.
Ronnie was sitting in chairs in the Emergency Department waiting area, still holding the sopping cotton square to her forehead. Her skin was pasty, cool. Her eyes were closed and her head was tilted back. There were people lingering here and there, coughing. The ambulance entrance slammed open, slammed shut. Sirens from far away would build to a crescendo and then cut off abruptly when they arrived in the covered turnaround—or when they lined up in the ambulance queue to get to the turnaround.
On my way inside, I walked past nurses performing what I assumed to be triage. That word from the old M*A*S*H TV program popped into my mind when I saw them doing lightning fast exams and using hand signals to direct the gurneys this way and that.
The bloodiest patients got taken directly in without stopping by triage, don’t pass GO don’t collect two hundred dollars. It appeared that every city ambulance and several private ambulance-transport companies had been put in service.
I looked for blue uniforms—the kind worn by employees of the plant—but most of the patients were unclothed with towels covering their private parts. I recalled that the first thing EMT’s do is cut off clothing to check for injuries. Some of the bodies had inflated air bags around their legs like brown balloon pants. A few appeared to be severely burned, their skin blackened. I stepped aside as a gurney was wheeled past me with one charred, fingerless hand dangling off the side.
I overheard the head nurse—I couldn’t help but think of her as “Hot Lips” Hoolihan even though she was at least fifty and heavyset—instruct the EMT’s to take the two worst victims up on the roof as soon as they were stable. Life-Flight was waiting to helicopter them to Lubbock’s burn unit two hours away.
I took Ronnie’s hand and felt for her pulse. It felt fast and weak, but what did I know? The splotch of blood on her slacks was the size of a cantaloupe. That seemed like a lot of blood to me.
My mind wanted to flick back to the realization that I was probably already a widow, but I wouldn’t let it. I refused to let it go there. Instead, I tried my luck at the admitting counter.
The clerk behind the window assured me the neediest patients were being treated first. She glanced in Ronnie’s direction and then turned back to her computer.
I tapped the glass again. “Excuse me … ”
She slid the window open once more, her raised eyebrows appearing to question me and scold me at the same time.
“I – I – has my husband been brought in?”
She waited expectantly for my mind to catch up with the stupid question my mouth had just asked.
“His name is Quinn. Rose.”
She continued to stare at me.
“He works at the plant.” My voice was surprisingly strong, but flat, like my eardrums.
She glanced at the monitor, then at a clipboard. “No one by that name yet.” Her hand reached to close the sliding glass again.
Mine got there first. “But how do you know?”
The clerk sighed, dropped her hand. People behind me made exasperated noises. They had questions too.
“How can you know for sure?” For once in my life, I was assertive. “Most of the people on those ambulances didn’t even have clothes on, much less I.D.s.” I heard the abnormal tremor at the end of my sentence, but I was not backing down—not this time. I had to know. I didn’t know what else to do.
“You’re right, honey. We don’t have names for everyone who has come in—you’ll just have to be patient—we’re doing all we can.”
I nodded. Her accommodating tone had disarmed me.
Back in chairs, a million new people had arrived. My seat beside Ronnie was now filled with a woman and two children who had been driving toward the plant when it exploded. Probably taking their dad some lunch—we used to do that when Ash was younger—she loved going to the plant to visit Daddy.
The boy was shaking his head. He appeared to be about four. “Deaf!” his mother shouted to no one in particular. The little girl, younger, clung to her mother. She had the biggest blue eyes I’d ever seen, and they were fixated on the blood drying on Ronnie’s forehead. She sensed me looking at her and closed her eyes, hugging her mother’s arm like a lifeline. Her mom appeared to be in a wide-eyed trance.
Digging my cell phone from my purse, I happened upon a peppermint and popped it into my mouth as I automatically hit redial. Slime from the earlier bout of vomiting still gilded my tongue.
Quinn’s number gave me nothing. Or nothingness. Again.
I thought of the way our kite had flown the day we’d picnicked at Castle Gap—after the string broke, it had grown smaller and smaller and smaller—until it was a speck and then, nothing. As if it had never even been. I suddenly got the feeling that’s how it was with Quinn—he’d gone far away, perhaps the land of Nod, as if he had never even been.
Ronnie’s son, Beck, answered his phone on the first ring. “Aunt Liz? What’s going on? Where’s my mom?” His voice was tight with emotion. “I heard the news. And I’ve been trying to call. Where are you? Are y’all okay?”
“Your mom’s okay.” I picked at a cuticle, wishing for a cigarette, but I’d given them up ten years earlier. “She’s getting a few stitches, but she’ll be fine.”
I heard a gulp of air. “Stitches! What happened? The TV says the plant exploded. Were you and mom there? How’d she get hurt? What about Uncle Quinn? Why isn’t she answering her phone?”
The questions came at me like water through a floodgate, but that was good. I was glad to answer; it took my mind off possibilities. “We were downtown, eating lunch. The windows exploded. Your mom fell and cut her forehead—she’ll be fine. She isn’t answering her phone because they’re stitching her up now. That’s why I’m calling you.”
My voice refused to fill the silence.
“Was Uncle Quinn at work?”
I sat there, nodding my head at the phone, willing the tears not to fall. Ronnie and I had been friends for so long. Her kids called us Aunt and Uncle; Ashley called her Ron-ron.
The hospital brightness was blinding for a while, and then it also became nothing. A chair had opened up on the opposite side of the room and I dropped into it gratefully. After another half-hour, my eyelids fell down of their own accord; my body slumped sideways in the molded-plastic chair. As I dozed, my exhausted mind tried to convince me we were in the Amsterdam airport on our way to, or on our way home, from Italy. We’d toured Venice, snuggled deeply into the creaking gondola with woolen scarves and a steaming Cappuccino to share. We’d fallen in love with Verona, lingering over every detail of Juliet’s home and the incredible view from the famous balcony. We’d visited Vicenza—bought gifts for all in the glass factory shops—and then we were headed home. We’d missed Rome somehow, lingering so long in Verona, but we vowed to return on our twenty-fifth anniversary; and now my drifting mind said we were there, in the bright, sterile confines of the Amsterdam airport, on our way to commemorate the rest of our lives together, or on our way back home to begin the celebration.
Fur Elise woke me. The song was my personal ring tone for Ashley.
“Mom?” her voice was not in my dream. It belonged in a nightmare. She knew. Somehow, she already knew.
“Baby.” I couldn’t say more. She was calling from Denver.
“It’s all over CNN. What happened? Was Dad at work? Where are you? I’ve tried calling everyone … ”
I almost hung up. If I could just hold off a little while longer. Go back to Verona, back to Italy.
“Mom? You there?”
“I’m sitting in the ER with Ronnie.” There. That was a safe beginning.
I could hear the confusion in her voice. She was trying to put Ronnie in the context of the news reports on TV.
“She fell down. We were downtown, eating lunch when the, you know, when the umm plant …”
“When the plant what? Mom? The news says it exploded! Blew up! Mom, where is my dad?” Hysteria now.
I was not doing a good job at all. My fingernails suddenly became the focus of my attention. They were grimy, broken, ragged. I thought of the nail file in my makeup bag inside my purse; a diamond dust file from one of those fancy manicure kits you receive for Christmas every few years when someone, usually a niece or a nephew, runs out of ideas or has to grab something quickly at Walgreen’s or CVS on Christmas Eve.
Bile began to creep back into my throat, and my mouth. I stood shakily. Only one person had been allowed to go back with Ronnie. When Beck arrived, I’d left the two of them in the trauma room and gone back to chairs. Hal, Ronnie’s husband, was on his way. I was supposed to be the lookout. How long had I dozed? Were they still in trauma, or had they walked by me while I was in Italy?
“I’m coming out there, Mom.”
I came back then. Back to the present, back to the phone. People around me were bleeding, calling out for nurses. Others were like me, dozy, woozy, in denial.
“I’m here, Ash. I’m here. Umm, they took Ronnie back to stitch up her forehead—she’ll be fine. Beck is here. I – I don’t know about your dad. No one seems to know, or they won’t tell me. I’m just here, waiting.” A round teardrop plopped onto the hard blue plastic armrest. I was pretty certain it was one of mine.
Quieter, now. I was afraid to break her silence.
“I’ll be there as soon as possible,” she said.
I could hear clicking in the background. My baby. Mine and Quinn’s baby. Our girl. All grown up.
A nervous pounding began behind my eyes. I could hear Ashley’s voice from a distance. I thought she would hang up before I could figure out what to say. I fished a Kleenex from my purse to blot my lips, keep the bile at bay.
“I’m still here, Mom.” She didn’t desert me. “I’m booking a flight on the Internet. The earliest I can get there is tomorrow afternoon—I could drive it and be there in the morning.”
“No, no. Don’t drive by yourself. Wait—is Tracy coming too?” I pictured my only child coming in alone, into this crowded awful place with people crying and bleeding and my stomach tried to clench up again.
“Don’t worry. Tracy is coming too. Now, tell me … was Dad at work?”