I hope you enjoy … and come back every day before release day (April 11) for more of the countdown!
Chapter One … continued (part 4)
(If you missed yesterday’s post, you can find it here.)
I draw a breath. “Almost there. And I’m fine,” I add before he has a chance to ask. I’m not fine—not entirely—but I’m hoping that by saying it, I’ll banish the hideous aching in my gut and the nausea that is starting to rise up inside me.
“Just tell me when.”
I nod, and for a moment, I picture us driving past, just going on and on until we’re out of the neighborhood, back in Dallas proper, and far, far away from the memories that are now washing over me like wave after wave crashing onto a sandy shore. Me locked in a pitch-black room because little girls need their beauty sleep, and Ashley whispering to me through the closed door, promising me that nothing is lurking in the dark to hurt me. A stylist tugging and pulling on my long, golden hair, ignoring my tears and cries of pain as my mother stands by, telling me to control myself. That I’m embarrassing her. My mother gripping my arm as she tugs me up the walkway to register for my first pageant, my eyes still red from the sting of her hand on my kindergarten-age bottom, a reminder that beauty queens don’t complain and whine.
I think of a dinner plate with the tiniest portion of plain chicken and steamed vegetables while my mother and sister eat cheesy lasagna, and my mother telling me that if I want to be a pageant winner, I need to watch every calorie and think of carbohydrates as the devil. Then her mouth pursing in disapproval when I insist that I don’t care about being a pageant winner. That I just want to not be hungry.
I was never good enough. Too chunky, too slouchy, too lackluster. Even with an array of crowns and titles, I never met her expectations, and I don’t remember a time when she ever felt like mother or friend. Instead, she was the strict governess of stories. The wicked stepmother. The witch in the gingerbread house.
My older sister Ashley escaped her clutches by the simple act of not winning the pageants she entered. After several failures, my mother gave up. And though I tried to fail, too, I was cursed with crowns and titles.
For years, I’d thought that Ashley had the better end of the deal. It was only when she later killed herself after her husband left her, that I understood how deep Ashley’s scars had run. Mine were physical, the self-inflicted scars of a girl who took a blade to her own skin, first to release the pressure and gain some control, then later to mar those pageant-perfect legs and end the madness of that horrific roller-coaster.
Ashley’s wounds were under the surface, but still deep. And at the core, both mine and my sister’s scars were inflicted by our mother.
My heart races, and I force myself to breathe steadily. To calm down. We’re almost there, and if I’m going to see my mother, I need to be in control. Show even the slightest weakness, and she’ll pounce on it.
And, yes, I’ve grabbed the upper hand before—I sent her back to Texas after she tried to take over planning my wedding, ignoring what I wanted in favor of her own skewed vision—but in Dallas she definitely has the home-court advantage.
“Nine-three-seven?” Damien asks, referring to the address, and I nod.
“The first house on the left after the bend,” I say, and I’m proud of how normal my voice sounds. I can do this. More than that, I
*want* to do it. Clear the air. Wash away all the cobwebs.
Basically, I’m doing the parental equivalent of burning sage in a house tainted with bad memories.
The thought amuses me, and I’m about to tell Damien when the car rounds the bend and my humor fades.
Moments later, my childhood home comes into view. But it’s not my mother’s Cadillac parked in the drive. Instead, I’m staring at two unfamiliar Land Rovers, a Mercedes convertible, and a moving van.
So where the hell is my mother?
Want more? Be sure to pop back tomorrow for more of Anchor Me, available April 11. Grab your copy now!
And if you’re just now meeting Nikki & Damien, why not grab of copy of Release Me, the book that started it all!