Leaving Annalise: a WLT MS ’10 winner


2010: Winner in the Writers’ League of Texas Annual Manuscript Contest  and 2nd in Houston Writers’ Guild Manuscript Contest in Romance (it’s not a romance)!

A crazy baby daddy, a nephew, and a ne’er-do-well sister stand between Bloody-Mary-loving attorney KATIE CONNELL and nearly-divorced investigator NICK KOVACS.  Katie believes she has escaped them all after a solo rehab stint on the island of St. Marcos becomes permanent relocation into a half-built jumbie house in the tropical rainforest, but Katie couldn’t be more wrong.

About Leaving Annalise:
Leaving Annalise is a completed upmarket fiction manuscript of 84,000 words. As of September 2010, I am seeking representation. If you like this excerpt, please feel free to refer me to an agent that you know or work with. Pamela Fagan Hutchins holds the copyright on Leaving Annalise and all rights are reserved.

Just for fun Mash-up Tagline: Stella struggles to make a choice between Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff while getting her groove back.

Leaving Annalise, “1st 3 Chapters”
By Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Chapter One:

Work wasn’t supposed to be this much fun.  Especially for a lawyer.

I leaned my head closer to Nick’s and tried to breathe without exhaling so that the last traces of my ill-advised roasted garlic and hummus lunch wouldn’t push him out of “zing” range.  It had been great, though.  The roasted garlic and hummus, that is.

Nick stayed put – thank you, God – and whispered his thoughts about the pool of potential jurors to me.  Nick and I were picking the jury together, and the judge had called a recess in the proceedings.

“Helen, juror number seven hates you because you are a younger, better looking, more successful woman, and she won’t get over it.  You know how women are.”

I did.  But my name was not Helen.  Who the hell was Helen?

“Helen?  We’ve only worked together for two years now.  Hi, I’m Katie Connell.  Nice to meet you.”

He looked down at his notes.  “I was calling you Helen, as in Helen of Troy.”

“Why is that?”

With full-on 1000 amp extra heavy duty voltage eye contact, he said, “Because she was so beautiful that her face launched a thousand ships.”

Nevermind the lack of originality, does any woman ever really not fall for that line?    I was Helen, I was beautiful, and his words threw me into a narcotic haze.  My cheeks burned as red as my Irish hair.  The safest course was to ignore him.  I could replay the moment later.  I changed gears to snippy to cover “over eager” and ignored his explanation of “Helen.”

“But she’s married to a man with an almost identical background to Barrett.”

Barrett was our client, a fifty-two year old white male who was suing his former employer for sex and age discrimination.  Burnside Construction – not a great name if you asked me —  had fired him and replaced him with two younger women.  The problem for us was that they had a decent reason to fire him; he “kinda sorta” bent some invasion of privacy laws vis-a-vis one of his employees.  Who would have guessed she wouldn’t appreciate him digging through the garbage can in her driveway to find a document he claimed would show she was embezzling?  A win was by no means a shoo-in for us.

“Yes, and juror number seven is pretty sure Barrett has a crush on you, which means her husband would, too.  Strike juror number seven.”  Nick flashed me an image of white-toothed lips curved upward surrounded by olive skin.

“More like she sees the huge crush you have on me.  I like juror number nineteen, though.”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“She’s the one who asked the judge to send her home because she’s a single mother with three young kids.  She’s going to identify with the women who replaced Barrett.  Both of them have children, and one of them is a single mom.”

Oops, I’d missed that.  I recalled the harried glaze in her eyes, the same one in the eyes of all the women I no longer hung out with because they had become mommies.  Child-related information tended to fly over my head.  It’s not that I disliked children.  It’s just that as a never-married mother-of-none I had no interest in them whatsoever.  Kids from a distance didn’t bother me; kids within a 30-yard radius broke me out in hives.  Redheads are notorious for our sensitive skin.

“What about juror number eleven, oh clairvoyant one?  I can’t get a read on him.”  I arched an eyebrow challengingly at Nick.

“I’m glad you asked, since I did a Blackberry background check on him.  While I am very, very good, I needed more information.”  He paused for me to express my appreciation, but I wasn’t that easy.  “We want him.”

I tried to look superior but I knew I my traitorous lips were smiling back at him.  Maybe I looked professionally pleased instead of besotted.  “Pray tell.”

“Can’t you ever just trust me?  You sell me short you know.”

Nick fished, and I gave him a little tug on the line but then spit out the hook.

“Oh please, I’m your biggest fan.  But I also did not get to my exalted status as a partner at Heygood & Hart through being a yes-woman.  Spill it.”

“Mr. Smith failed to disclose that he sued his previous employer for wrongful discharge, and he lost.  Mr. Smith wants to sock it to the man, Helen.”

“Get outta here.  Really?”

“Really.  We want him.”  He hummed the theme from Rocky and I giggled before I could stop myself.

Now I perma-pressed my mouth back into a serious line.  I could not betray myself to opposing counsel.  Laughs echoed in the courtroom as the two stuffed suits from one of Dallas’ snootiest mega-firms yucked it up with the corporate honcho sent to represent Burnside.  Two suits versus one; I represented Barrett alone.  Nick worked for the firm as an investigator.  Nick worked with me whenever I could finagle it to happen.

When we worked together, the electricity hummed, and we were smarter and more creative.  Nick held a Sociology degree with a minor in Psychology from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, and one of his roles at the firm was to help in our jury selection phase; hence his presence in court with me today.  Many firms pay jury consultants big bucks.  We didn’t need to because we had Nick.  What he couldn’t deduce from observing the potential jurors he could find by working his investigative magic online.

Nick and I both tended to be “empathic” which to me meant we understood people’s feelings and thoughts and how to relate to and persuade them:  think Deanna Troi, ship counselor for the Enterprise on “Star Trek Next Generation,” but without the lavender bodysuits.   Although I did have on a lavender silk blouse today under my gray Donna Karan pantsuit.  But I hadn’t worn a bodysuit since an 80’s-themed college mixer over 15 years ago.  Anyway, not only were we both empathic, but we were more empathic when we worked together, and we were most empathic about each other.  Nick knew what I was thinking even when I put on my best poker face.  Not such a good thing sometimes.

Right now, though, our actions synced perfectly without a word of strategy exchanged.  We sat on one hot piece of information.  The defense attorneys usually underestimated firms like ours.  The rules of law snobbery prescribed that big firm lawyers disdain small firm lawyers and downright condescend to small firm plaintiff attorneys.   This prevailing attitude could work in our favor today.  If only my opponents phoned it in like I expected, we could turn our “so-so” case into a sleeper of immense potential.  Monetary potential.

The bailiff called “All rise” as the judge returned to the courtroom.  The George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building in Dallas was austere, a far cry from the red brick spires of the former courthouse; Old Red housed a museum today.  The newer courthouse lacked personality although it provided greater space for Dallas’ clamoring litigants. The space had become insufficient almost as soon as it opened, and it was still tight now, even after the addition of a new “tower.”  Perspiring humans crowded its halls, their various odors mixing into a smell at once indefinable and absolutely recognizable to me as “court.”  Stress permeated the atmosphere from the moment you entered its doors and navigated the security gauntlet required to gain access to its interior.  I never entered without longing for purse-sized Lysol Antibacterial spray and Clorox wipes.

Judge Hutchison presided over a smallish courtroom and smallish cases.  He had assigned us four days on his docket, starting on a Monday, and including today’s jury selection.  We would finish opening arguments today, as well.  The judge shuffled some papers and put on his spectacles.  He left his face pointed down, but I could see his eyes scan the courtroom.  The surroundings didn’t provide much aesthetic stimulation.  The mono-color décor was broken up by wooden benches for spectators, a paneled jury box, and a large “bench” area for the judge himself, but that was it.  No paintings hung on the walls.  The wooden counsel tables had been thrown over for new versions with high tech equipment years ago.  The equipment provided needed functionality, but the mismatch gave the courtroom a flea market ambience.  In fact, the only thing in here that looked really good was Nick.

Focus, you idiot.

Potential jurors filled the spectator benches today.  Once we weeded this group down to twelve, the benches would remain nearly empty for the balance of the week.  Barrett v. Burnside did not have the city on the edge of its seat.

As I reviewed my notes and smiled vaguely for the benefit of the jurors, my subconscious began sending messages through my body to the conscious me.  Cold prickles ran up the back of my neck, telling me to turn and look toward the door to the courtroom.  A newcomer had arrived and stood one foot inside the entrance.

How odd.  Everyone who should be here is already present.

I ran through the possibilities: counsel? media? Burnside executive? court employee? friend or relative of Barrett?  I rejected each one quickly.  The man wore tattered jeans hanging low on his skinny frame.  He covered his white t-shirt with a black leather jacket even though winter had passed in favor of spring.  Sometimes photographers or journalists adopted a tatty look, but he lacked the requisite bags they carried.  He stood in the back of the room without taking a seat.  I pegged him as Hispanic, but I wasn’t sure.

His eyes raked over us all.  He was searching for something, or someone.

I shivered.  He looked pissed.  And he didn’t just look pissed.  He looked scary; he radiated danger.  I could feel him.  Couldn’t everyone else feel him?  Couldn’t they see him?  He was not the type of person that came to watch civil jury proceedings for their entertainment value like the retired Perry Mason groupies.  He would have fit in well if we’d been holding a criminal trial on drug trafficking charges.  But not here.

“Nick, incoming.  Back of the room.  Do you know him?  Is he with our group?”

“Just a second.  I’ve got to hit send on this email before the judge gets us started.”

Nick typed expertly on his tiny keys.  His long dark fingers matched his lanky frame.  I lost myself for a few beats watching his fingertips strike the keys, but the malevolent presence of the newcomer yanked me back.

The bailiff eyed the man in the back of the room now, too.

The judge’s voice rang out.  It sounded tinny for such a large man.  We were underway.

Nick swiveled his head to the back of the room.

“There you are, mother fucker!” the man screamed.

I turned back to him in alarm at the same time as everyone else in the courtroom.

Oh my God.  He’s talking to me!

The man’s eyes bored right through me.  But I’d never seen him before in my life.  Had I?

“Order,” the judge said.  “I will have order in my courtroom.”  His gavel thunked down hard on his desk, two times.

The instruction had no impact on the newcomer.  “Yeah, you, I’m talking to you, asshole.  Remember me?”

I was moments away from answering, “No,” but Nick spoke.

“What are you doing here?  You need to leave.”

Holy cow.  What a take-charge attitude from Nick!

The bailiff strode rapidly toward the man with his right hand on the gun in his left hip holster.

“I ain’t going anywhere.  I’m here to see my woman.  Where is she?”

The drama electrified the bored jurors.  This scene would give them something worth talking about over the water cooler; it would merit a diary entry from me, for sure.   But what they didn’t seem to realize yet was that it was not theater.  I prayed he didn’t have a gun.

“She’s not your woman.  And you will see her over my dead body.”

The jurors gasped in unison.  I gasped with them.  Maybe the man wasn’t talking to me, but what in the world was going on with Nick?  This guy was here about Nick and some woman?

“Stay the hell away from me,” the man said to the bailiff, who had made it to the front of the witness benches, 15 feet away from the interloper.  “Don’t make me do something you’ll regret.”

“Sir, I need you to put your hands behind your head and stand very still.  I am going to move closer, and then you and I will be exiting the courtroom together.”

The judge had not made another sound.  I knew he had a panic button under his desk.

Push it now, Judge.  Push the button.

“Put my hands on my head?  Like I done something wrong?  I ain’t done shit.  This asshole,” he pointed at Nick, “is keeping my woman and my son from me.  I drove all the way up from Corpus Christi today to find them, and I ain’t leaving without them.  For all I know he’s kidnapped them.  Make him put his hands on his head, not me.”

Nick spoke again.  “Tony, you know I didn’t kidnap them.  But she doesn’t want to see you.  Go back to Corpus.  Leave her alone.”

This Nick seemed as much of a stranger as the man at the back of the courtroom.  His tone chilled me.  A woman?  A child?  Kidnapping? Consorting with people like this…this…criminal?

One detail I normally blocked from my mind popped into it now.  Nick had a wife.  He had told me they were separated and getting a divorce.  He had not said a word about a child.

How could a woman married to Nick be involved with a man like this one?  And what did this say about him?

Hush, hush, hush. My mind needed to shut the heck up.  There would be plenty of time to obsess about the details later.  I was pretty sure right this second I should use my brainpower to stay out of the line of fire when this banger pulled a gun on Nick.

And then ten seconds of pure chaos reigned.

The doors to the courtroom flew open with concussion force, slamming into the walls on either side.  Five armed officers burst in.  Three officers pointed guns at the back of the man’s – Tony? – head.   Two others leaped onto his back, tackling him before his body finished its rotation toward the sounds behind him.  The three men went down hard, but I could not hear the impact over the screams of the potential jurors.  Theater had ended and reality hell had set in.  Screams subsided into weeping and a cacophony of voices.

“Order, order, order!” Whack, whack, whack punctuated the judge’s thin voice, but the crowd ignored him.  He turned on his microphone and tried again.  “I will have order in this courtroom right now!”  This time he got our attention.  Slowly, the panicked group settled back into their seats, and their voices lulled to a buzzing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve all had a bit of excitement, but the officers have it under control and we need to let them do their jobs.”

The bailiff and one of the officers approached counsel table.

“This is him,” the bailiff said, pointing at Nick.

“Sir, can we ask you to come answer some questions, please?”

“Of course.  Give me a few moments to gather my things.”

Nick looked at me for the first time since he had turned to see Tony.  His dark eyes held none of their earlier playful sparkle.  His jaw flexed slightly as he clenched and ground his teeth.  He seemed to be searching for words he couldn’t find.  Or maybe he was holding back words he didn’t want to say.

“What’s going on?”  I asked.

“Later.  I’ll tell you more later.”

“Are you in trouble?”

“No.  Nothing like that.  I’m sorry I have to leave.  Emily’s still here,” he said, referring to my good friend and paralegal Emily Peters, “and you’re ready for jury selection.  I would have been leaving soon anyway.”

He stood.

“Can I do anything for you?  Call anyone?” I asked.

He shook his head.  And then he walked away with the cops, who had already removed Tony from the courtroom.

Numbness settled over me.  I guessed it would not be seemly for counsel for the plaintiff to sob and run out the back door begging her possibly-married co-worker to tell her what was going on.  In the span of ten minutes, a fantastic day of pretending my work was really my life had ended abruptly: dreamus interruptus.

Emily, whose presence had been washed out by the glow of Nick until now, hovered, clutching a stack of files.  I realized she was talking to me under her breath.

“Katie, everyone’s waiting for you.  The judge asked if you are ready to proceed.”

Shit.

“Yes, sir, your honor, counsel for plaintiff is ready.”

Ready for what, I did not know.  Barrett looked at me quizzically.  He deserved to have his attorney remain present, physically and mentally.  I mustered up an expression of faux confidence, shot him a thumbs-up, and hit the stage.

Chapter Two:

Apparently I delivered an A-plus performance despite my disquietude over Nick, if the results were any indication.

We didn’t strike Mr. Smith from the jury. The other side didn’t have Nick, and they kept Mr. Smith, too.  The jury came back on Thursday morning and awarded our client $3.5 million dollars, with Mr. Smith as its foreman.  After expenses and Barrett’s cut, the firm pulled in a cool million bucks.

Not bad at all for a so-so case.

“Nothing says ‘big verdict’ like shopping at Neiman’s,” Emily informed me as we left the courtroom just before noon.  “And it’s Last Call.”

Dallas women shopping Neiman Marcus’ Last Call sale was akin to salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  Sure, the parking was terrible and the prices still too expensive, but no matter how irrational it seemed, you shopped it.  Because that was just the thing we Dallas women did.  Period.

So Emily and I did it.  With a mutual promise of restraint.  Two hundred and fifty dollars each and no more.  One hour later, we slumped into chairs at The Zodiac Room and admitted defeat.

“I spent $375.00 on a blouse and jacket I didn’t need.  Rich will kill me.”

“I spent $325.00 on scarves I’ll never wear, but I don’t have a husband.  I’ll buy lunch.”

The waiter appeared.  “What shall I bring you to drink, ladies?”

“We’re celebrating.  Could you bring us a bottle of chardonnay?”

“Of course.” He flitted away without a sound.  How could he walk like that?  I sounded like an elephant compared to him.  So much for feminine grace.

“Thanks, Katie.  Are you sure?” Emily asked.

“Absolutely.  And it will nearly be happy hour by the time we get back anyway.”

The restaurant hummed with the restrained conversation of doyennes, occasionally punctuated with the laughter of strident younger women with big hair, bigger boobs, and skeletal frames: a hodge podge of diners scooped from the deep end of the Dallas estrogen pool.  Emily and I fit in the working women minority group, the group that had the least number of shopping bags at their feet.

After our wine came, Emily spoke first, and thank goodness she brought up the subject of Nick before I had to do it myself.

“Did you ever find out anything about what’s going on with Nick?”

Nick had not come back to the courtroom after he left with the cops.  I had not seen or heard from him since.  I’d thought about him, but my thoughts had not been enough to summon him to me.

“No.  I can never figure out anything when it comes to Nick, though.”

Emily knew this all too well.  I confided in her about Nick, and she shared her marital ups and downs with me.  So she knew what was coming.

“ I’m a cliché, Emily.  ‘Unfulfilled 35-year old single woman in fear of never having a real relationship, God forbid great sex, falls in an instant for the soulful-eyed musician/surfer, the reformed bad boy whose hair is still a little too long.’ Why does it have to be Nick?  Why can’t it be some nice unmarried guy who works anywhere but at Heygood & Hart?”

“We don’t get to choose, but I do wish you would try.  I’m not sure what you see in him anyway.  He seems too intense to me, kind of Heathcliff-ish.  If you dated, you might find that what you feel for Nick is infatuation.  The real thing could be out there.”

I doubted it. Nick rocked me, and I was torn between elation to realize I had the capacity for this monumental sexual desire, and devastation because it was a hopeless attraction.  From the first moment we got within an arm’s reach of each other, our chemistry, or at least my chemical reaction to him, was intense, and surprising for a woman who didn’t believe in nonsense like “soul mates” or “the one.”  There were no Modern Bride magazines on my bedside table, just a book light, my diary, and my Neutrogena Anti-Wrinkle Cream.

“But he sends these signals that he feels the same way.  I know I’m not imagining it.  He’s making me craazzzzyyy.”

My flirtation with Nick seemed mutual, but I tried to resist.  Every day I told myself, “You won’t call him. You aren’t dropping by his office, and you absolutely will not invite him to lunch.” My good intentions would last the first five minutes of the day.  Then he’d send an email or text, just enough to entice me, and I was a goner.  I wasn’t above fishing for it either.

“I dropped my damn Treo in the bathtub.” I emailed, hoping to pique his interest.

“Now that’s a very interesting image…” he replied.

But mostly, he just made things – work, life – fun for me.

“One of the best songs of all time: Dream On, Aerosmith,” he proclaimed.

“Doesn’t come close to Cowboy Take Me Away, Dixie Chicks.”

“That’s if you like chick singers…”

“Was that ‘if you like chicks?”

“Ha, if anybody knows I do, it’s you!”

To say I found him sexy was an understatement.  But I also loved the irrepressible goofball he showed to me in contrast to the angst-y persona the rest of the world saw.  One morning I looked up from my desk to the sight of Nick’s lips pressed to the window like a grouper.  He feigned embarrassment, sheepishly wiping the glass with his shirt, while his eyes sparkled with the joy of misbehaving in the stodgy law firm environment.

Emily dragged me back to the present. “You’re in the honeymoon phase; you’ll get over it.  If he’s flirting like this with you, then you’re not the first.  As far as I can tell he’s still married, whatever the rumors floating around the office say.”

Emily had experience with flirtatious married men.  Her husband Rich was a dangerous flirt.  She was attractive, in a Jessica Alba sort of way, but his flirtations ran more toward the Paris Hilton-type.  He adored Emily, though, and never gave any real indication he wasn’t faithful.

“Thanks for the buzz kill, Em. My mind knows he’s married, but my body doesn’t care.  I’m waking up at night and spontaneously combusting over him.”  I had developed an agonizing tendency, envied by all my girlfriends, to have actual orgasms while dreaming of Nick at night.  This was not Nick at Nite on the Nickelodeon Channel, to be sure.  While spontaneous combustion sounds great, and it’s nothing unusual if you’re a teenage boy, the experience for me was becoming like Chinese water torture, in a painful “wow wow wow I want to go back to sleep and do that again” sort of way.

“Quit bragging,” Emily shot back dryly.

Without acknowledging her interruption, I went on.  “I deserve some magic in my life.  Tell me why I want to get over feeling this good?”

“Maybe so you can keep your job and have a real relationship with someone who isn’t already married and acknowledges you in public,” she lectured.

She had a point.  No matter how Nick treated me at work, he acted like he didn’t know me outside the office.  I had once delivered a rousing beer-fueled karaoke rendition of “Like a Virgin” at an after-work happy hour that had the whole bar on its feet … everyone except Nick, who was engrossed in a conversation with the bartender and never once glanced my way.

After finishing off the bottle of wine and some of our salads, we dragged ourselves and our small Neiman’s bags back to the office, which was located in a 25-story building just north of downtown in the Turtle Creek area.  Emily chatted with Rich on her cell phone; I was lost in my own thoughts.

Was it Nick’s wife Judy – and some baby – who the crazy guy in the courtroom had been talking about?  If so, this was really bad news; I’d hoped Judy was out of the picture.  She was the daughter of the firm’s biggest client, a heavy handed “oil man” with a great love for suing over failed deals, perceived slights, and neighbors’ biting dogs.  He was a dream client.  Judy studied accounting at Southern Methodist University, but she never worked a day in her life.  The closest she came to using her degree was adding up Nick’s pay check plus her trust fund and subtracting out her purchases each month to calculate the minimum payments on her wallet full of credit cards.

By the time I met him, their marriage was a source of office speculation and gossip. “Why does he stay with her?” was the question no one could answer.

Whatever the reason, he had stayed with her for 12 years. Until recently, supposedly.  And no one seemed to be sure about what was going on.  I wasn’t about to be the one to ask him whether he was or was not with his wife.  I would just remain optimistic.

I had essentially quit noticing that the rest of male-kind existed when I met Nick.  It was an anomaly for me to be stricken with this depth of feeling.  In college I was infamous for serial dating – nothing too slutty, just notches in my lipstick case.  I chose to begin and end relationships for practical reasons, like a guy having the right clothes for a couple of events.  As a female attorney, I developed an assertive personal style that pushed men further away from me.  Each year, the pool of datable men in my “plus or minus five years range” dwindled, but the number of dates I got from it decreased at an even faster rate.

Until I fell in love with Nick, it didn’t bother me that I pushed men away, sometimes by my choice and sometimes not.  But after I went all loopy for him, I became concerned in an “Oh God, no one else wants me so he won’t either” sort of way.  Still, he hadn’t been running the other direction, so in my love-addled state I convinced myself there was reason to be hopeful.

The elevator doors opened onto the 17th floor and the lobby of the Heygood & Hart offices.  Tan on beige on brown accented by more tan met my eyes.  We needed a decorator intervention in here, bad.  Did they do a ‘What Not to Wear’ show for lobbies?  I could nominate our office.

“Surprise!” the receptionist chirped, when she saw us.

She thrust a balloon bouquet and a bottle of champagne at me.

“Bob’s Irish Bar is open.  Everyone’s gathered in the conference room to celebrate your big verdict.”

“Thanks, Mary.  I hope you’ll be able to join us?”  The happy hour was not a surprise.  More like an expectation.  Our office looked for any excuse to throw a party.

“I will.  Klara and I are taking turns covering the phones.”

“OK then, see you there.”

“Bob’s Irish Bar” was a longstanding firm tradition, named in honor of founder Bob Heygood, who was definitely not Irish and didn’t even work at the firm anymore.  The man had loved his Bushmills then, and he still did, I heard, well into his retirement.   You would think a law firm would be much more concerned with the potential for liability if one of their employees had a drunken wreck driving away from the office, but you’d be wrong.

The original Bob’s Irish Bar differed from the version we held now.  Then, the drinking centered around Bob’s office, his Irish whiskey, and an actual bar set-up he had installed beside his desk.  The modern version more closely resembled progressive drinking, where revelers wandered from room to room to see what people were pouring.  Today the firm had a cooler of Miller Lite in the main conference room and Cook’s champagne in the ice-filled breakroom sink.  We weren’t shelling out for the good stuff, apparently.

Most people assumed I was Irish Catholic because of my name and red hair.  Irish, yes; Catholic, no.  My parents raised me as a Baptist.  But they also raised me to appreciate a fine drinking tradition like Bob’s Irish bar.

Emily and I entered the offices to applause, congratulations, and the stereo pumping out “We Will Rock You” by Queen. We accepted the plastic champagne glasses and congratulations like victorious Amazon warriors returning from battle.

I tried not to be obvious as I searched for Nick.

I spy a gorgeous guy with my naked eye.

“Nick!”

He nodded at me, smiled, and hoisted his beer.

Not good enough.

I made my way to him, hoping I sauntered rather than scurried.

“Congratulations, Katie.”

“Thanks!  You did it, though.  You were spot on about Mr. Smith.  It went better than I ever could have hoped for.  After the incident during jury selection, of course.”

“Yeah, that can’t have been the highlight of the trial.”

“Maybe for some of the jurors,” I said.

He pursed his lips.  “I guess I owe you and Emily an explanation.”

Yes, he did.

Chapter Three:

Just because he owed me an explanation didn’t mean getting it out of him would be easy.  I waited expectantly, but he did not elaborate.  I filled the silence.

“I’ve been worried about you,” I said to Nick.

Just for a moment, his eyes flashed something hopeful, then quickly darkened.  “I’m fine.  It’s ridiculous, really.”

He didn’t continue.  Again.

“What’s ridiculous?  I don’t mean to pry, but I have no idea what’s going on.”

Finally he got the words out.  “My messed-up little sister, Dorothy, is staying with me.  Actually, she’s hiding out from her ex-boyfriend-slash-baby-daddy with me.  With a newborn baby.”

Not the ex-wife.   Or wife.  Or whatever she was.  Sister.  Sister was good.  I hid my relief.  Had I known he had a sister?

“Wow, Nick.  A sister and a newborn baby.  And a crazy baby daddy.  I’m sorry.”

“Tony didn’t used to be so bad.  He was alright when he was a kid.  His father got murdered when he was about thirteen years old, left him and his mom and a baby brother.  After that, he went bad fast.  Somewhere along the way, he took Dorothy with him, too.  She’s a lot younger than me, ten years younger.  She’s been in trouble since her late teens:  drugs, juvie, and rehab.  My family had their fill of her and was trying not to think about her or let her problems run our lives, so I probably never mentioned her to you.”  He looked at me questioningly.

Good.  I hadn’t forgotten about something as important as a sibling.

I said, “No, you never mentioned any brothers or sisters.”

Nick nodded slowly and stared back at me for several moments, looking into my eyes without making real eye contact before he pulled himself back into the present and refocused.

“It’s just one sibling: Dorothy.  She showed up on my parents’ doorstep – after they hadn’t heard from her in, oh, I don’t know, maybe five years – with a baby.  She was trying to get away from Tony, who was dealing meth to teenagers in Corpus Christi.”

“So they took Dorothy and the baby in?”

“They took them in.  The baby, Thomas, is adorable, and Dorothy had changed; maybe being a mother did it.  She and Thomas have come to stay with me for a while in Dallas, away from Tony, while she figures out her next move.”

I was astonished.  The thought of him with a little sister and a nephew was brand new for me.

Sexy Nick had a baby at his house.  A human baby.  And a wife somewhere, don’t forget about the maybe-wife.

He continued over my silence.  “Tony figured out she had come to Dallas, he found me, and you saw the rest.”

“Did the cops keep him in jail?”

“Even better.  His courtroom stung violated the conditions of his parole, and he’s back in prison waiting for a hearing.”

“Back in prison?”

Nick’s face pinched as if it pained him to say the words.  “He got a 10-year sentence for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute seven years ago.  He’s been on parole for the last two years.”

“Oh.”

“So everything will be alright, now.”

Nick seemed curiously flat for someone who thought everything was alright.

“Thank you for telling me.  I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got to take off now.  Dorothy needs to run some errands, so I’m going home to sit with Thomas.”

I might not have known what to think about Nick with a sister and a baby in the house yet, but I was leaning toward not liking it since they were the reason he was leaving.

I begged off the happy hour fairly early, too.  Today was a three-drinking-hole day for me.  I spruced and spritzed at my condo without much hope for a miracle.  Then my brother picked me up at 6:30 for a trek over to Fort Worth for his birthday dinner.  Despite the mildly troubling realization that I should have been too drunk to do so yet wasn’t,  I picked up the conversation with him where my thoughts left off after lunch with Emily.

“You scare men, Sis; they think you’re a Femi-Nazi,” my beloved brother Collin pronounced.  “I mean, you’re not, but guys think you are.  Plus you make more money than most of them do, and that causes things to shrivel up, if you know what I mean.”  We were sipping margaritas over chips and salsa outdoors on one of the beautiful poolside patios at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant by this time.  “Maybe you could lighten up a bit, ya know, kind of soften your edges.”

I looked at him through slitted eyes.  “Like get a boob job and tell my dates I work as an exotic dancer?”  Changing the pitch of my voice, I simpered, “I need a strong man to take me away from all of this and give me babies, big fella.”

Collin was older than me by eleven months, which made us Irish twins.  My dad insisted on holding him back a grade, though, in the Texas tradition of helping him gain a size advantage over his fellow students on the football field.  Thus, we had been classmates as well as siblings.  Katie and Collin Connell: our parents had a thing for alliteration.

“Fine, don’t listen to your smarter and better-looking elder brother.”  Collin paused perfectly before he jabbed me with, “And I think you’ve gotten a bit old to dance topless, Katie.”

By now I only had half of Collin’s attention.  His eyes followed a woman much like the type I had just described as she hip-rolled her way past the fountain and by our table.  Collin talked trailer-park, but his last girlfriend was a harpist in the Dallas symphony.

I chose to ignore his comment and said, “I think the only logical solution for me is to move to the Caribbean and learn to make fruity rum drinks.”  We talked islands for a while, one of our favorite and main topics of agreement.

Our family had vacationed in the Virgin Islands when Collin and I were in our late teens.   If anything was less than perfect, I don’t remember it that way.  It was magical.  On our way home from the islands, our family split up, with Collin and me off to visit our grandparents in Jacksonville, and Mom and Dad back to DFW Airport.  After many delays, their plane made it in late that night.

But they didn’t make it home. They died in a car accident when Dad fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a tree on their way back to Denton from the airport.  Our childhood – and dreams — ended abruptly.

If I were telling this story back then, I might talk for hours about it. Fifteen years later, I’ve accepted it and moved on the best I could. Their deaths were a horror and a shock. We were old enough to be grown-ups, but too young to let go of our parents.  And to lose them on the trip they gave to us as a gift?  Our grief was laced with a strong shot of guilt.  The impact was permanent.

Neither of us had ever gone back to the islands.  We talked about going, but we always found excuses for why we “couldn’t” do it.  It didn’t take Dr. Phil to figure out the reason why.

“You seem down, Katie,” Collin remarked.

“Nah.  I’ll be fine,” I hedged.  Collin didn’t know about Nick, and I wanted to keep it that way.  He wouldn’t approve of the whole “married co-worker” thing.  Come to think of it, I didn’t approve of it either.   Except that he probably wasn’t married anymore.  But he might be. What was wrong with me?

We kept it light through the rest of our meal, the birthday flan with a candle, strumming mariachis singing ‘Feliz Cumplenos a Ti’, and another pitcher of Joe T’s margaritas.  After dinner, Collin took me home and excused himself to go chase women.  I chased away my blues with a few glasses of wine in my jetted bath tub.  It only took one glass for me to slide into my usual tortured thoughts of Nick.


Comments from readers (as originally sent via email, Facebook fan page, and comments to predecessor blog):

Anonymous said…

Ok Pam! I really need to read the ending of this! This is a really great read. I was called out on a rescue while into the middle of Ch. 18 and Lil Red asked me why was I cursing? Then she started to read it all and well… when I returned, I had to wait my turn to finish the rest.

Big Daddy
February 8, 2010 8:10 PM
Anonymous said…

Thank you again… what a fun story… just goes to show,
reality can be stranger than fiction… but I am glad you
used all that reality to create some good fiction.
February 8, 2010 9:22 PM
Anonymous said…

I am completely drained!! What a wonderful ending!! I was soo heartbroken thinking of ________, then went to horrified that ________only for it to ______!! Great twist I must say! And then of course ______ all at the end!!! And now… A bit of sadness that I am at the end!! Maybe you could write another one??? I just want more!!!🙂 For now I will have to just wait for a printed version to come out.. Put me down for one of the first copies and I will get a check in the mail before the ink dries! Big Kudos!
February 8, 2010 9:24 PM
Anonymous said…

Digging the book, I am hooked after 3 chapters.
February 9, 2010 10:47 PM
Anonymous said…

But, but, but….how could you leave us hanging with a hurricane raging????!!!! If I promise not to share with anybody can I get the rest? Pretty please!
February 10, 2010 8:48 AM
Anonymous said…

Having seen your beautiful Annalise last winter when visiting my brother on the island I feel connected to your story. Ava or should I say Natalie showed us all around the island and we fed “beer” to the pigs. We in turn got to show Jasmine her first snow in Canada the day that she came to ride KaydenCaliper, as she called the horses. All that being said I NEED to read the rest of the story! I am HOOKED!!!!!

Pretty please!
February 10, 2010 8:49 AM
Anonymous said…

This book has me hooked… eagerly devour each chapter set as soon as they are released… so much fun knowing the settings and backgrounds of both places and characters..
February 5, 2010 2:04 PM
Anonymous said…

Enjoying the read will check it out further
February 5, 2010 2:04 PM
Anonymous said…

This was one of best reads I’ve had in a long time!!! Fresh, exciting and endlessly entertaining! You won’t be able to walk away from it!
February 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Anonymous said…

Great read!! Love it!
February 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Anonymous said…

I have gotten through the first 12 chapters and fine myself wanting more. Fabulously written and I advice anyone of whom knows the Islands to read it and anyone who loves to read a book that will most definitely take you away. READ IT!
February 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Anonymous said…

I could not put it down! It absolutely made me decide that my next trip is to the Virgin Islands! Pamela paints a vivid portrait of life there, and her love for the area is apparent. A fabulous read!
February 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Anonymous said…

totally awesome!!!
February 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Anonymous said…

Have you found a publisher yet? I am soo wanting to hold this book, the feel and smell of the pages just can’t be beat!
February 6, 2010 9:51 AM
Anonymous said…

I’m liking it alot! You have a talent!
February 6, 2010 9:51 AM
Anonymous said…

New chapters are the same as the others….AWSOME!!! Keeping me glued to every word! I think this book is a “jumbie book ” as I swear I can feel katies emotions as if they were my own!!
February 6, 2010 9:52 AM
Anonymous said…

Sunday is my day to escape and read. Got through a few more chapters and just want to say “IRIE” LOL! I love the statement, “They were plastered not the walls” hahaha! So got a laugh out of that. Being an Island girl myself for 15 years, the Mango’s, Carnival Parade’s, scent of sizziling food and Reggae’ band’s are now brought back to life in in my sprit while reading this book. For that I thank you Pamela! Soooo Miss it! Love Katie’s comment, ” Chef Boyardee” LOL! And I am now in-love with Nick. This is REALLY, REALLY GOOD!
p.s. Love the photo of the kids traling down to Horseshoe Bay….. Adorable!
Hugs n Kisses,
Page
February 7, 2010 4:55 PM

Ahhhhhh!!! Cliffhanger! How cruel, you are Pam! LOL
February 3, 2010 2:49 PM
Anonymous said…

want more… thank you… much fun…
February 3, 2010 2:49 PM
Anonymous said…

Michelle loves your book. She’s mad she can’t read it at school. Her husband downloaded it for him from your link.
February 3, 2010 2:50 PM

Anonymous said…

great story! can’t wait for 16-19! And your discription of can e vall is so right on it!
February 2, 2010 8:07 AM
Anonymous said…

Yay…can’t wait till wednesday! I kept running chapter 15 through my mind tonight at zumba class… Was nice to think of something other than the pain during class! I’m so afraid that Katie is so happy with Nick back something terriable is going to happen to squash it all!
February 2, 2010 8:07 AM

Anonymous said…

Hurrah!
January 31, 2010 1:56 PM
Anonymous said…

Enjoyed it!
January 31, 2010 1:56 PM
Anonymous said…

Okay, that wasn’t enough and left me wanting more!😀
January 31, 2010 3:00 PM
Anonymous said…

I love Ava, my fav quote of hers so far is “Let’s do it tomorrow. I’m suffering from a high level of low motivation today.” haha…I love that!!Just reading about the mangos made me want one, and your descriptions of the scenery, the roads, and the people are so good that I have such a vivid picture in my mind that it’s almost like I have been there myself. Thank you for explaining what a jumbie house is as well, it helps explain the feelings of the house so much more!!!
January 31, 2010 9:46 PM
Anonymous said…

I have read it to myself, read it ouloud to my husband on a road trip and now I want to listen to it. Gonna download it today.
February 1, 2010 11:42 AM

Anonymous said…

I wanna go to Horseshoe bay!!!! These chapters are just getting better and better!! I am so engrossed in each chapter that I don’t even notice time passing! I just spent an hour of nap time reading to myself!!!🙂
xo keep up the excellent work!
January 28, 2010 1:03 PM

Anonymous said…

Sent via FB: I’m not much of a reader – aside from running articles — but, last night I started reading Leaving Annalise and could not stop reading. I found it very enjoyable and before I knew it I was through chapter 7. Can’t wait for more!
January 26, 2010 8:13 AM
Anonymous said…

A VERY good read. Looking forward to more chapters.
January 27, 2010 9:30 AM
Anonymous said…

The last time I wanted the next chapter so much I was reading the Twlight series!! I have re-read 1-7 twice already this morning!!😀
January 27, 2010 10:53 AM
Anonymous said…

Wow… what a great story, any Cruzans out there who haven’t read it… MUST! Can’t wait to start chapter 8! It’s really GOOD reading! and I LOVE to read!
January 27, 2010 7:25 PM
Anonymous said…

From Jasna: OMG, …. I am soooo famos….. There is a chapter in the book about me… YES….. and she even wrote in “srpsko-hrvatski”. Please support my friend Pamela Hutchins via FB or visit her blog http://pamelahutchins.blogspot.com/
She is not only a great author, …..She rocks as a mom and as a wife. And the most important,… she inspires me to do and be all I can do and be.
January 27, 2010 7:58 PM
Anonymous said…

Just got to the part where she kills the big rat. Am LOVING it so far!!
January 27, 2010 11:03 PM
Anonymous said…

Before I knew it, I had read all seven chapters! It’s really good. Can’t wait for the rest.
January 27, 2010 11:13 PM
Anonymous said…

Well, okay now, YOU GOT ME. THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!! You need to send me the balance of the book right now. I’ll pay you for it. You took me back through some old memories of my youth. Let me start by suggesting that you might investigate self-publishing until find a publisher. In the future I can see this a a Lifetim…e Movie, so start the sceenplay.

You have all of the elements of great novel already and I have even finished. It has me spellbound on the edge wanting more. (And imagine that I do not like reading anything but Non-Friction and Self-Help books, so this was a reach for me.
January 27, 2010 11:16 PM
Anonymous said…

I am loving the book. Finally was able to devote time last night and read the first 100 pages or so and am hooked!
January 28, 2010 9:47 AM
Anonymous said…

Can’t wait for more!!! I’m really enjoying your book, Pam.
January 28, 2010 11:55 AM

Anonymous said…

Well done! I am so looking forward to chapter two. Do very much like the idea of the audio version. I’m thinking she does allow herself to get sucked in even further into this married man and begins a relationship beyond flirting. But at the end I hope she Kills Him! Already I dislike Nick. hahaha!
Thank you for sharing Pamela. I will be passing this a long to others.
Page~
January 17, 2010 4:16 PM

Anonymous said…

Ok I finaly got some time to continue reading. This is really a good read and I love the personality of the writer that shines through ~
Chapters 2 & 3:
I see Collin and I both agree on the Nick factor! hahaha!
I was sorry to hear about Collin and Katie’s parents and I wishes katie had gone with her first thought on texting while intoxicated. Very good!
Will finish 4 – 7 over the weekend and post more thoughts.
All the best,
Page
January 30, 2010 4:25 PM
Anonymous said…

Ok just finished up to chapter 10. Soooo Good Pamela. I am loving it! I have always believed anyone with a heart broken should always have a beach to walk on! And if they can afford to buy a manison, that too! LOL
I Love her brother Collin! “Get up off that couch” LOL
Very moved,
Page ~
January 31, 2010 4:58 PM

Anonymous said…

I could not download this to my computer — too much security, but would buy the book based on you being an Aggie (alone). Anxious to read it!Best wishes!
January 15, 2010 12:33 PM
Pamelot said…

Creator:
Thanks for the info — I fixed the twitter button.
Let me look into .lit format, and I’ll get it up.
Pamela
January 15, 2010 1:42 PM
Pamelot said…

I put Word 2003 instead of my 2007 on my laptop, then downloaded the Reader Add-In. The sites I found advised this would be an automatic solution resulting in a cute Reader Icon magically appearing in my tool bar. HOWEVER, that didn’t work the first 7,256 times (install, test, uninstall; install, reboot, test, uninstall; reboot, install, reboot, test, reboot, uninstall, reboot; and so on). I found some troubleshooting discussions that finally clued me in to installing a Com Add-In button from Customize/Tools, to my tool bar, then Adding the Add-In.

Word 2007 does not to my knowledge yet support .lit conversion from .doc, which seems silly since Microsoft owns Word and the Reader.

But I won!!!
January 15, 2010 9:13 PM
Heidiopia said…

Wow!! You’ve snagged me hook, line, and sinker! A great read– more, more, more, please!
January 16, 2010 8:36 AM
michmatney said…

I want more!!! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book so I can finish the story!!!
January 20, 2010 11:41 AM

Anonymous said…

I love Chapter One!
January 20, 2010 4:07 PM
Anonymous said…

From Amarillo:
Wow, those sound like exciting books. I can relate to having to raise a dead mothers kiddo. My girlfriend and I are raising a 4 yo girl. My GFs sister died 2 years ago. We’ve been raising her. We’ve also been having to fight off the drug addicted father.
Wow.
So, how do I get to read this masterpeice?
I read constantly
January 20, 2010 4:11 PM
Anonymous said…

From Florida:
I’m a follower and fan and posted your request on my wall!! Get ready for the phone calls from agents and publishers.

Ah – yes do an audio recording;I’m a fan of audio recordings – great idea!

Peace.
January 20, 2010 4:12 PM
Anonymous said…

From Austin: Tell me when I can buy it! Pretty interesting…since I love to read…to actually know an author! I am so excited!
January 20, 2010 4:13 PM
Anonymous said…

I loved Chapter One and I can’t wait for chapter two. *Unless you want to send me the whole thing…hint hint.
January 21, 2010 11:05 AM
Anonymous said…

I got to read the ending! OK, chills on arms and tears in eyes after laughing out loud.
January 21, 2010 11:06 AM
Anonymous said…

I am so glad you decided to release the next chapters a little early. I am totally hooked in. It is such a fun enjoyable read that the chapter is gone before you blink. I dont think the next two will hold me for long so please keep them coming. Your style is fun and smart, draws you in and doesn’t insult your intelligence. I love it.
You really do rock Pamela. Way to go.
January 22, 2010 4:03 PM

LOVE LETTERS TO THE UNIVERSE said…

I want MORE! I love your non-apologetic, edgy and unselfconscious style of writing – so like you. This is filled with high energy, wit and humor. Fun! Kathleen
January 15, 2010 10:23 AM

Comments
4 Responses to “Leaving Annalise: a WLT MS ’10 winner”
Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] full manuscript for Going for Kona right now on exclusive, and I am working on a zippy revision of Leaving Annalise for her which she already reviewed on exclusive — this is a huge and wonderful […]

  2. […] first novel, Leaving Annalise, was selected as the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas‘ 2010 Manuscript Contest in […]

  3. […] was the judge of the WLT Manuscript contest, and in the top left is her critique and scoring of Leaving Annalise.  * By the way, the critique is worth the cost of entering the contest, fellow writers. *  The […]

  4. […] was a stomach-churning, second-guessing, nail-biting experience.  But many correctly guessed that Leaving Annalise contained an autobiographical element, or, rather several autobiographical elements.  This is one […]



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