Sing Me Home Peek: Jack & LeAnn
Orphaned by a tragic act of violence, young Aria is shuffled amongst relatives before finding herself struggling to survive in a horrifyingly abusive home. When one terrifying act robs her of the ability to sing, Aria embarks on a quest for a new life. Along the way, she will encounter a joyful homeless man, a cowboy who works for free and others who will teach her what faith, family and song are really all about. Scheduled for a release date of July 2, 2013, Sing Me Home is a coming-of-age story in paperback format with 578 pages; you can purchase it at bookstores nationwide, Amazon or to get it at a significantly discounted price, and with free shipping, you can purchase it here.
The ringing of the phone made LeAnn stop and flip the vacuum off. Later, she would think of this as the pivotal point: what if she hadn’t heard the phone at all? Would it all be the same? Would it still have happened, only at a later date. But, for the moment, she only thought, “What if it’s Jack?” She’d been waiting for him to call, tell her he was okay and where he was. Cleaning the living room was rough. She’d picked up all the glass she could, and the vacuum was taking care of the tiny pieces. It was hard knowing that it was shattered in the first place because she’d thrown it at her husband. What was the hardest, though, was the knowledge that, even when she wasn’t high on anger and self-righteous indignation, she still believed her bottom line accusation: he loved the drink more than he loved her. It was hard picking up the Jack Daniels’ bottle and feeling jealous of it. How could she compete with liquor? The bottle was one of his loves. Hell, he had a lot of things he loved. But she wasn’t sure she was one of them anymore. Funny how, with her carefree attitude and tendency to prefer the wilder things in life, she would be the one to crave a normal, peaceful and stable home more than a good party. Was it too late to try and salvage some of their once solid marriage? Or was it too late to ever expect friendship, let alone true love?
As she plopped down on the easy chair, facing the large window, tears filled LeAnn’s eyes. She hoped the answer to those questions was no.
“Honey? How are you?”
LeAnn’s eyes closed slowly at the sound of her mother’s voice. Disappointment sneaked its way into her heart and came out in her voice as she quietly responded, “Hi, mom. I’m okay. Are you getting settled in at home again okay?” Her eyes traveled over the room, as she listened with one ear to her mother and fell on the couch Jack sat on most of the night last night. He’d been sitting still one minute until, the very next second, he’d shot out of the couch like a tiger and cornered her, using his hand on her neck to ensure she kept her hands off him.
“LeAnn, how’s Aria?”
LeAnn blinked, wetting her suddenly cracked lips with the edge of her tongue. “She’s doing okay. She’s waiting for me to finish cleaning so we can go to the park.” She scanned the room and her eyes fell on a white corner of a sheet of paper, stuck beneath the easy chair she sat in. It had been there for days, she suddenly remembered.
The sound of Jane’s voice fading, LeAnn leaned over and, with her free hand, tugged at the corner of paper. “Uh huh. Mom, I probably should get back to cleaning.” LeAnn said softly, a strange fluttering making her stomach flip. She barely heard her mother’s reply as she turned the paper over, her eyes reading the note.
***** ***** *****
Aria laughed out loud as she darted behind a tree. LeAnn ran after her and grabbed the end of her shirt, just as she took off running again. Aria was having lots of fun. LeAnn pushed her on the swings, even pushed her higher than she usually did, and even crawled through the tunnel that she usually said was made for little kids. They’d played chase and hide and go seek, and LeAnn helped her do the monkey bars. She still hadn’t been able to go all the way across but LeAnn said that getting to the third bar before falling was halfway.
The wind still blew across the trees, just enough to make it feel really nice outside. LeAnn said they could stay as long as Aria wanted to. The sad fight the night before seemed far away. She wished grandma hadn’t had to go home so soon—she hadn’t even stayed the night, but instead went to a hotel the night of the fight. She wished she’d seen her daddy today. But, right now, none of that mattered. She was just happy, playing with her mom. Every now and then, she saw her mom looking away at something in the trees, and one time LeAnn’s face looked like she was going to cry, but that had only been for a minute and then she’d seemed better.
“Hey, hey, Aria, look,” LeAnn said, bending to pick up a dandelion. Aria cautiously took it and tried to smell it, because she knew that’s what she was supposed to do with flowers. LeAnn smiled, sitting down on the grass and shaking her head. “No, no, you aren’t supposed to smell these. You make wishes on these flowers.” Then she closed her eyes for a minute—Aria always thought her mom was pretty when she had her eyes closed—then opened them and blew on the flower. Dandelion dust blew everywhere.
LeAnn picked another one and handed it to Aria. As Aria took it, her mom laid down in the grass. Aria closed her eyes tightly. “I wish we could have more fun like this day,” she said and blew.
LeAnn winked at her, then patted the ground beside her. Aria laid down, staring up at the pale blue sky. Several large clouds dotted the blue, and a flock of birds flew over the treetops. Nearby, a bee buzzed and the wind blew. “What do you think that cloud looks like?” LeAnn asked and Aria looked to the big one her mom pointed at. “An ice cream cone.”
“An ice cream cone?” LeAnn asked, in mock horror. “That’d be one big ice cream cone.”
“What if you ate it for real, mommy?”
“I’d probably have a really big bellyache.”
“What if you ate a hundred of them?”
LeAnn rolled her eyes and put her hand across the middle of her belly. “I’d probably have to go to the hospital.”
“Would they make you better?”
“Yup. That’s what hospitals do. Make you better. Well, them and God.”
“God don’t need hospitals.”
“Cause He is the hospital.”
Aria looked at the clouds again. Suddenly, she missed her daddy. “Mommy?”
“I wanna go home.”
It was the third time in ten minutes Aria said she wanted to go home. They’d spent all afternoon, and the first half of the evening, away from the house. The girl needed a bath and then bed. LeAnn couldn’t avoid Jack forever. She saw maple trees along the road and a red Honda pulled up to the drive-through window. A young woman with blonde hair, probably in her mid-twenties, walked by with her Golden Retriever on a leash. LeAnn felt her eyes track the woman’s walk to the counter. Who was she?
“Mommy,” Aria stood now by her side, pulling her wrist.
It was time to go.
“Okay, okay,” LeAnn said. Minutes later, in the car, she tried to listen as Aria talked excitedly about the day. Tomorrow was church and she promised LeAnn she’d get dressed early and be “set to run” into the church because, after such a good day, church didn’t seem so scary. Besides, she added, she’d liked her Sunday School teacher the week before. They had time where each child got to tell about something good that happened that week and Aria couldn’t wait to tell about her day at the park, all her play time with her mom.
LeAnn was glad Aria had fun: that had been the whole point of going. Well, that, she amended silently, and trying to avoid seeing Jack until after bedtime. She knew another confrontation was brewing, and she did not want to risk blowing up at Jack in front of Aria. As they turned onto their quiet street, LeAnn ordered herself to take a deep breath and then slowly release it. Her hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as she tried to prepare herself for what she might feel when she saw Jack. Butterflies began swimming through her belly, and she could feel her throat go dry as she slowly inched the car down the street. She could see their house. Was Jack’s truck there?
She breathed a sigh of relief, not concern, when she realized Jack still wasn’t home. Maybe she’d have time to put Aria to bed before he returned.
“Is daddy here?” Aria asked, climbing out of the car. LeAnn exhaled, shaking her head. “No, honey. I’m sure he’ll be back here when you wake up in the morning.”
Aria yawned, still trying to state her case for remaining awake until Jack showed up. Closing her eyes briefly, trying to hold on to her last shred of patience, LeAnn said nothing, dropping her keys on the foyer table and ushering Aria up the stairs. After such a good day, she usually would have allowed Aria to stay up late and wait on Jack. But today was not normal. Nothing about the day was normal, not from the fact that Jack still hadn’t made an appearance, not even for Aria’s sake, to the strange anxiety that haunted her stomach, to the constant flow of tears she’d been holding at bay, to the feel of red hot anger boiling just below the surface. No. Today was not normal. Aria needed to be in bed tonight for many more reasons than just exhaustion.
Thankfully, the day of play wore her out and she was sound asleep moments after her bedtime story, which LeAnn recited from memory more than actual reading. She stood for a long time at Aria’s bedroom door, her hand on the knob and the other on the door frame, watching her only child sleep. Aria was so innocent, so filled with the same fire for life, the same joy that had, once upon a time, consumed LeAnn.
LeAnn’s small eyes roamed over Aria’s perfectly round face, the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the eyes that—when open—dominated her face with their size and beautiful color. When she’d said her bedtime prayer tonight, Aria thanked God for “my beautiful and nice mommy,” and “being able to play outside so much today” and then, towards the end of the prayer, “for my daddy. Please let him come wake me up in a little while so I can tell him I love him, too.”
LeAnn dropped her own eyes to the floor as she slowly backed out of Aria’s room, pulling the door closed behind her. Tonight would be a new start to life for all of them.
***** ***** ******
Sitting with her feet curled under her in the easy chair, LeAnn shoved a hand through her thick auburn hair, exhaled harshly, and moved only her eyes to the clock on the living room wall. Eleven fifteen. Red patches stained her high cheekbones from the tears she’d been indulging in off and on for the past three hours. Since Aria fell asleep, LeAnn had paced, cursed, admitted reluctant concern and finally broke, sitting now, silently, in the easy chair.
The longer she sat with her anger and pain, the more violent she felt—yet it was all being contained. She closed her eyes, inhaled slowly, trying to calm her raging emotions. When she opened them, she saw headlights shine through the curtains. At first, all she felt was relief that he was, in fact, alive. Then, came the nervousness. She clasped her hands together and was sitting like that when the door opened and Jack walked in.
LeAnn just watched him, silently, though the sight of him felt like acid on an open wound. Jack turned and caught sight of her in the easy chair. Their gazes locked before he ran his fingers over his nose and pinched its bridge. Then he walked past her, towards the kitchen, without a word. LeAnn exhaled in disbelief and stood. “Jack,” she said, her voice a warning. “We are going to talk, if I have to stand in front of you all night long.”
“I needed a break, okay? I’m back now.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? How about telling me where you’ve been since late last night?”
LeAnn held up a hand, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head. “No, actually, that’s okay. You don’t have to lie anymore.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed as he paused momentarily at the cabinet to glare at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”
LeAnn reached into her pocket and withdrew the paper she’d found beneath the chair. Wordlessly, she held it out. “What the hell is that?” Jack asked, reaching to take it, his eyes narrowed. Just as his fingers brushed the paper, LeAnn jerked it out of his reach.
“So…now that you’ve had it all day and night, how long do I have before you start asking me for it again?”
***** ***** *****
The sound of something breaking woke Aria. She rolled to her side, her eyes still closed, and curled her legs into her chest. She lay there a moment longer before the sound of her father’s voice registered, and her eyes opened.
“What was I supposed to do, LeAnn? I’m not a priest, I’m a man.”
“And that explains it? Well, you know what? I’m not a nomad and yet I’ve followed you across state lines how many times already? Bastard! I married you, I left my family, had a child with you and all I get in return is promises and money? Oh, and two affairs to date.”
“It’s not an affair–”
“Really? How would you classify it? Have you slept with her or was that note all in her imagination? She described it pretty well.”
“If I didn’t love you, do you honestly believe I’d have stayed married to you? Obviously, I can find willing women who are capable of acting like real wives pretty damn easily–”
Aria’s left hand clinched in a fist as she heard movement. In her mind’s eye, she knew that meant the fight turned physical. Aria’s eyes widened in fear, and when she heard her father yell her mother’s name, followed by the sound of something breaking, she jumped up and, on legs that shook, walked out of her bedroom door to stand at the top of the stairway. Her heart raced at the sight of her father holding her mother’s wrists. Her mother bucked her head backwards, hitting Jack in the mouth. He cursed and let go of her wrists, only to instantly be confronted with LeAnn’s fists.
“Dammit, LeAnn, stop!” Jack yelled, and LeAnn finally backed away from him, her chest heaving. They stood and stared at each other for a moment before Jack lifted a hand in the air.
“How many, Jack? How many affairs have you really had? And, so help me God, I want the truth this time.”
Jack eyed her but said nothing.
Aria’s heart skipped a beat and her eyes watered when she saw LeAnn reach out and slap Jack’s face. “Answer me! Don’t I deserve the answer to that question, after doing everything I’ve done for you and for our marriage?”
“This is the second one. Happy now?”
“Am I supposed to believe that?”
“Obviously not. Frankly, I don’t really give a damn what you believe.”
“Why don’t I care? Because, LeAnn, you are going to believe whatever you want to, regardless of whether it’s actually true or not. So–” he shrugged.
“I don’t have to have someone spell it out, Jack. It’s not like I’m imagining it—you just admitted there’s been two affairs.”
“You stood beside me and let my father give me to you, promised, you bastard, to love only me–” LeAnn struck again, and this time Jack attacked, yanking one of LeAnn’s arms behind her back and pulling her hard against him. He stumbled backward, bumping into the window.
“No one hits me, LeAnn. I’m finished allowing it from you. Don’t touch me again.”
“Get your hands off me,” LeAnn spat.
Jack used one hand to push her head back and then lowered his mouth to hers violently.
Aria’s lips quivered and her hands clutched at her hip. “Please, God, make them stop. Please, God, please. I’ll be good. I promise, I promise.”
Jack’s scream of pain slashed the air. LeAnn spat at him. “If you ever try to kiss me again, I’ll do a hell of a lot worse.”
Jack used his bit tongue to moisten his lips and then grabbed LeAnn by the side of her hair. “I am your husband. I can do whatever I want.”
“Like hell,” LeAnn spat.
Jack pushed LeAnn down and, once she was on the floor, stepped back.
“Give me my wedding ring,” LeAnn ordered. “I bought it. Get it off your finger.”
Jack shrugged, yanked the band off his left hand and threw it at her. Tears fell from LeAnn’s eyes as she grabbed the golden band. She sat on the floor a moment longer, looking at it, before she scrambled to her feet.
Jack had headed for the kitchen but, before he’d gone two steps, LeAnn threw the ring across the room and used her elbows to attack his back. The result was unlike anything Aria had ever seen from her father. He whirled around so fast it knocked LeAnn down and then he grabbed a statue of a horse and hurled it at her. She blocked it from hitting her head and started to scramble to her feet but Jack reached down and grabbed her head. “I warned you not to hit me again,” he said, reaching out and jerking the drawer of the coffee table open. Before Aria could register what he retrieved, she heard LeAnn scream, followed by two short but very loud blasts. Aria screamed as she watched her father crumple to the floor, the gun falling from his hand.