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Fiction Series ~ Lacey #2

Live Oak, spanish moss, elaina m. avalos, chasing hope, lacey mays
Photo by Ashley Knedler

Here’s another excerpt of my novel about Lacey Mays. You can find the first excerpt, here. You can find my other fiction, here.

2015

Whoever said you can’t go home again, forgot to pass that message on to Declan Jones. He called Lacey Mays three days ago. Scarlett Montgomery James, her grandmother, had passed away  – quietly, in the home she’d shared with her husband for six decades. It had probably been the only time in her life she had stayed quiet longer than her six-hour a night sleep routine. When she didn’t show up for her hair appointment, a weekly ritual kept for thirty-years, almost without fail – her friends at The Style Bar called Declan in a panic. He drove the thirty-five-minutes from his office, to find her slumped over in her favorite chair. She may have been dead, but she was a Montgomery for heaven’s sake, so she dressed in her best to see her girls – her Hermes handbag in her lap. Of course, she never made it to get her hair washed and dried, but she sure did look good and that’s all that mattered.

“You need to come home,” Declan said to Lacey, quiet and earnest.

“I can’t,” Lacy said, the tension already building in the pit of her stomach, where it always did. “Work is – it’s crazy right now. I can’t.”

“Lacey – Sugar – you need to come. You need to bury your grandmother. There are things to take care of with the estate. You need to come home. It would have meant so much to Miss Scarlett. She talked constantly about your success and -”

“I understand,” Lacey said, the slightest warmth rising in her cheeks. There’s a tinge of connection shared, that only comes through the deep ties of biology, that can’t hide in moments like these. But she answers from the depth of her cynicism – cynicism whose foundation rests in decades of loss that she’d long hoped were buried the day her dad shot himself.

The last time she been in Pamlico County, she had been nineteen and as lost as a soul could be. Heading into her 20th birthday she mustered up the strength Donna James Mays never could. Lacey had longed for a way out of that place, her entire life. So when she’d sobered up long enough to make a few things right, things she hoped were now buried with her grandma, she disappeared into a new life. Lacey handled her business the best way she knew how. And she’d handled it well enough that she didn’t need a single penny of her grandparent’s fortune.

She had reasoned that her success meant that she had not become her parents. That fact soothed the ache of loss – so why go back? Lacey didn’t need parents. She didn’t need history. She didn’t need a family home and all that it brought with it. She had created a whole new world for herself.

Before Lacey left North Carolina, her name floated on the edge of gossipy whispers and shaking heads. Most everyone thought she’d turn out just like Donna. They clucked and judged and wrote her story for her – as if they themselves were God Almighty. Her favorite critique had always been that she just needed to mature. But Lacey didn’t need to mature. She’d done that long ago, covered in blood and stroking her daddy’s hand, on the hardwood floor of a dilapidated house deep in the darkest corners of Pamlico County. She’d wisely left. She didn’t think she should return. But no one had asked her what she wanted – ever. It took her mama disappearing into the woods to make her grandparents finally stand up for her. She’d never forgiven them for leaving her with her parents until that moment.

Lacey didn’t want to go back to the land where nothing changed. Literally nothing at all. “I understand,” she continued. “But I just can’t. I don’t have the kind of job I can just walk away from. You of all people should understand.”

“I just won’t take no for an answer. You are needed here. Come home. Even if it’s just a few days. I’ll get everything ready for you to make this as easy as possible. Come home,” Declan Jones said, his accent, dripping in his signature Lenoir County drawl. “Your grandparents did everything they knew to do for your mama. They knew they failed her. But they didn’t fail you. Look at where you are now. They are – they were – so proud. Come home. It’s time.”

And just like that, Lacey knew going home couldn’t be avoided. She closed the door of her office to avoid prying eyes, booked her flight, and did her best to talk herself into a calm indifference about returning to the one place in all of the world she never wanted to see again. From the 5th floor of her Newport Coast office, Lacey felt the tension tighten into a bigger knot. Nausea gripped her then. It grew by the moment until she couldn’t hold it back. She raced for her trash can, sitting next to her desk, throwing up – over and over again until her body, shaken and weak, couldn’t take anymore. She laid down on floor and reached for the cell phone, now lying behind her – having dropped it earlier, as the first wave of sickness shook her body. She tapped her way through a few screens until she reached the photo that she kept with her always. She took a deep breath and saw her own eyes staring back at her. She kept this photo in her phone at all times. Then again, she saved it everywhere – in her cloud, on her computer, and on flash drives – and on every photo website she had ever run across.

Every living soul in the town of Seaside and its surrounding farms and communities, had long ago decided why Lacey Mays stayed away. But they had no idea. Gripping the phone to her chest, Lacey curled into the fetal position and let the tears fall. Nearly sixteen years after leaving the agony behind, she would pay the piper now.

#

The long dirt driveway, lined with live oaks, that lead to Scarlett and William James’ home, is exactly the same as sixteen years ago. It is as breathtaking as always, with ancient live oaks towering as a tunnel above and covered in Spanish moss. The sun’s beams shine through the trees in streaks. There’s a quiet dance of light and dark in the south – the warm of the golden light, the heat and steamy temps during the long summer months, and all of those supposed gentle manners. But it’s also dark with past sins, handed down through generations, rolling and roiling under the surface of what is supposedly polite society. Lacey rolls down the front seat windows of her rental car – she can’t help herself. The air is thick, hot, and sweet with the scent of jasmine that grows along the fence line. There’s a brisk breeze off the Pamlico sound and it blows through the car, blowing Lacey’s hair every which way. The memories she has long locked away are unavoidable now.

Her life hasn’t been normal, to say the least. In the same way that she has, since her father shot himself, Lacey operates out of two sides of her being. She longs for this place in the way an orphan would long for home. And yet, she is repulsed just the same. She pulls up in front of the house, puts the car in park, and sits for a moment. There are no other cars around. At one time, this was a plantation, in the truest sense of the word. Over time, bits and pieces of land were sold off. Now it’s a measly fifteen acres of sound-front real estate in Pamlico County. The nearest town, if you can call it that, is Seaside – about ten miles away. Her Granddad had successfully beat back developers for the last fifteen years. As new luxury housing popped up deeper and deeper into Pamlico County, William James held on tighter to what remained of his family’s roots – telling anyone who would listen that someday his Lacey would make this place home again.

For Lacey, a long string of blurry nights and faces, slowly covered the horrible day her dad died and her mom disappeared. One choice led to another. And then another. Until she couldn’t ignore her worst nightmare, the catalyst for finally helping her get out. But she’d long ago buried this life – deep under impenetrable concrete of her will and determination. Breaking through it would take a miracle. In the rear-view mirror of her parked car, Lacey watched the rising dust of an approaching car. She looked in the mirror to reapply lipstick, and then stepped out, taking the steps two at a time at the front of her grandparent’s home, ready as she’ll ever be to greet lawyer her family’s lawyer.

“Lacey! Is that really you? I can hardly believe it.” Declan steps towards her. She’s perched on her favorite spot, on the top step, her back resting against one of the white columns that tell anyone who happens upon this place, it’s a bonafide slice of the American South. “It’s so wonderful to see you, Shug” he says, reaching out to hug her.

“Mr. Jones, so nice to see you,” Lacey says, holding her hand out to the white-haired, lawyer. She doesn’t succeed in keeping the hug at bay. He wraps her in a hearty bear hug.

“It’s wonderful to see you – actually see you. I’ve followed your career. Well, the Mrs. has more than anything. She keeps me updated and always shows me when you’re in the magazines and such. We’ve taped every episode of every show you’ve ever been on. It’s impossible not to be proud of a Pamlico County girl that has made such a name for herself. We are proud.”

“Well thank you, Mr. Jones.” Changing the subject, Lacey says, “The house looks great. It’s been so long since I’ve been here. Nothing has changed at all. Shall we go inside?”

“Of course. I’m sure you’re tired after your trip. We can get right down to it and then I’ll leave you be.”

#

    Two hours and a rocks glass filled with Bourbon later, Lacey sat on the back porch, looking out at the sound. The sweet scent of clover, seeped up from the hot ground. The clover covered the lawn in a way that would have infuriated her granddad. It comforted her. She hated that it did. But the slight warmth that had flushed her face when Declan Jones had called just 48-hours prior, returned. With a furrowed brow and a determination to keep everything in its proper box, she stuffed the feelings back down and reviewed some of the details from her meeting with Declan Jones.

“The house, the property, and all assets belonging to your grandparents, with one exception, are all yours. The total net worth of the estate is around ten million. If you’re smart about it, you’d never have to work again.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No. Not kidding at all. Your granddad has always been a shrewd business man. He has invested and saved well.”

“Apparently. What about Donna? I’m assuming I inherited all of this because she’s dead. Or in prison.”

“Neither,” Declan said. Lacey’s eyebrows raised. “She’s doing okay. Right now,” he adds quickly – qualifying the statement. “But your Grandparents believed it would be best if you manage the estate and make decisions about whether she should receive any financial assistance.”

“Ah. I see. Well let’s not talk about her. I would, however, like to talk about something else. I’d like to sell the house and land. Before I dive into that, do you have any realtor recommendations? I will head back to California as soon as I can.”

“You’re not going to be able to sell the house.”

“Why?”

“Your grandparents specified that the house and property cannot be sold unless there is a drastic change in the financial status and the funds are needed for you to live off of.”

“It can’t be sold, ever?” Lacey asked, incredulous. “Like ever?”

“Correct.”

“Well that’s one way to do it.”

“How’s that?” Mr. Jones asks, looking a little confused.

“Never mind. I can’t exactly run my business and manage this place, too. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they would pull a stunt like this. I’m sure you’re busy, but while I’m here I’ll be looking for someone to take care of the house in my absence. Unless there’s already people doing that? Can you help me with this?”

“There is a staff in place – a gardener, caretaker, and housekeeper. The caretaker and housekeeper have been with your grandparents since around the time you left. They’re very loyal – a married couple – the Wilkins’. They’re retired now, but would love to stay on. It’s your call if you want them to stay, of course. But I took the liberty of scheduling a meeting with them tomorrow at 9:00. You can change the meeting of course. But I thought it might be good to get something on the calendar. The meeting with the funeral home is just after that.”

“Okay, thank you,” Lacey said, stuffing the fear that flashed before her, as far as she could, as quickly as possible. They spent the rest of the meeting going over details. Since starting her Public Relations company, she quickly made a name for herself. Her rise was meteoric. Her clients and the money they represented didn’t intimidate her – not even remotely. And her grandparent’s money certainly didn’t either. Even still, the fear twisted more knots in her gut. This place held every last bit of her most horrible and painful memories, her worst choices, and of the greatest losses of her life. In spite of the beauty of the sound, the Spanish moss-covered trees, and the clean still air, this would never work. She wouldn’t allow it to work.

The only thing that made sense to her had been to sell the house and its contents – literally all she considered had been left of Lacey Mays. Well, almost everything. Clearly her grandparents had other ideas about how she would manage things after they’d gone. She settled deeper into the Adirondack chair, as the fear settled even deeper still. Wiggling out of this didn’t look possible.

What Are You Reading in 2020?

Elaina Avalos, Chasing Hope, Books you care about, reading challenge 2020

Reading has always been a favorite escape. I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. I read early. I read a lot. And then somewhere in there, life got busy. I read less. I was online more (I say as I type out a blog post on my laptop). This year, I’m making a commitment to read more.

I plan on tackling my literal stack of to be read books (and the Kindle queue too). All of them have been started. None have been finished. The idea of participating in a reading challenge to help keep me motivated, is the right way to go. By the way, as far as my TBR is concerned, I’m at stage one.

I found quite a few reading challenges, but ultimately decided on this one, by author Kristy Woodson Harvey. I am not going to lie – I may stretch the categories a little. But I’m a rebel, so there you go. As an example, for January, the category is a Book Related to Your New Year’s Resolution. But I’m not a resolution kind of girl (I’m a one word kind of girl).

TBR, Elaina Avalos, Chasing Hope, reading challenge 2020

So instead, I’m going to finish Slightly South of Simple, which is the first book in The Peachtree Bluff series by Kristy Woodson Harvey. I started it last summer and then . . . life happened. While I don’t have any resolutions, I am working on being intentional about reading and writing. I thought it would be a good place to start.

While my goal is 12 books, when/if I finish early each month, I’ll plan on reaching for one in my pile, on my Kindle, or a few that have piqued my interest.

Here are a few of the books I’d like to read:

Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

The Family Fang: A Novel by Kevin Wilson

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

The Favorite Daughter (I also need to finish The Bookshop at Water’s End but it’s currently packed) by Patti Callahan Henry

What are you reading in 2020? What else should I add to my list?

Lacey Mays

written by elaina m. avalos

When Lacey Mays was five-years old, just days before she started Kindergarten, her father killed himself. If anyone in the county had been asked, they would have said it was only a matter of time that either Bob or Donna Mays would have ended up dead. They fed more than one of each other’s addictions and spent years on a downward spiral of hopelessness. On that summer evening in 1988, Bob Mays had finally had enough. Lacey’s daddy lay crumbled in a heap of blood and brain matter, just inside the kitchen. Lacey saw the whole thing from start to finish. And when her mama flew past her, out the front door, instead of staying there with her only daughter, somehow, in all of her too grown up-ness, Lacey knew she had lost both parents.

#

Moments before running home, she’d heard her mama’s voice, high and floating on the late afternoon wind. She thought it was nap time. And yesterday, her daddy had taken the paddle out and beat her bottom until she couldn’t sit, because she’d ignored her mama. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. Her white sandals carried her as fast as her little feet could run – toward the peeling paint of their two bedroom clapboard house. A house as deep into Pamlico County, North Carolina as a house could be. It wasn’t until she was in the doorway, one foot on the hardwood floor of the living room, the other still on the porch that she’d realized that Donna Mays wasn’t calling for her. She was screaming. She was screaming in a way Lacey had never heard before. Her daddy pointed a gun at her mama. She yelled out, “Don’t. Don’t do this!” And then, before Lacey’s mother could finish her sentence, a crack-pop filled Lacey’s ears and the room.

Her father fell to the floor. In one split instant, Lacey tried to believe, as her innocent-self commanded her to believe, he would be okay. And then, when her mama turned to see her in the doorway, her wild eyes filled with that thing that overtook her when she was high, she knew. She knew what her innocent-self could not. Her daddy was gone. Donna Mays stood paralyzed for a moment in the doorway between the living room and the dining room, tears running down her face. She started to move towards the front door and her daughter. But she ran past Lacey – out the door and toward the woods at the edge of the property.

Lacey, too grown for five and yet not, steeled herself in the way Donna Mays was not capable. She ran to her daddy and dropped to her knees. It wasn’t really him anymore, his face unrecognizable and distorted. The screaming came from deep inside her five-year old self. She turned to the door to see the bright pink of her mama’s shirt slip into the woods. Every last ounce of child left in Lacey’s heart and mind, slipped right out of her then. In her newfound adulthood, she stood and picked up the phone from a side table.

She dialed 9-1-1 like her Grandma and Grandpa had taught her, like she was supposed to do when her parents were hurting each other or when she couldn’t wake her mama as had happened on more than one occasion in the past. She dialed and waited for the person on the other end to answer. And just like that, when the helper answered, Lacey packed up her heart in a box and buried it deep into the dark soil of her mind where it would remain hidden from sight. Her reply to the calm woman on the other end of the phone line, “My daddy is dead.” By the time the paramedics, sheriff, and her grandparents arrived, Lacey Mays had become someone else entirely, someone she had never been created to become. It took the local sheriff’s four hours to find Donna Mays. She lay in a heap of her own vomit, deep into the woods. But it didn’t matter that she’d been found, as far as Lacey was concerned.

A Writer Who Doesn’t Write

the story has to come out

I haven’t been writing. Not even a little bit. I did here or there once I became a foster mom. But honestly, it just wasn’t happening. The fiction has gathered dust.

I’m working on changing that. I have a non-fiction book forming in my mind, but I have several novels in progress that need to be finished, first. It’s time.

While I work through this process of making writing a routine again, I plan on sharing some snippets of fiction here. I will start that momentarily. I would love your feedback.

If you’re a fellow writer, what are your favorite ways to beat writer’s block or to reinvigorate your passion when you find yourself struggling?

One of my goals during this period of unemployment (a story for another day) is to re-read some of my favorite books on writing and reading. The three books I’m primarily thinking of are On Writing, My Reading Life, and If You Want to Write. What are your favorite books about writing?

I would love your feedback as I share here!

 

Sea Glass Hearts

Elaina Avalos, fiction, author, #amwriting

I am made of salt and sand and the deep jade green of the Atlantic. The salt air courses through my veins. This place, these waves, the sea glass and shells with rounded edges, beaten constantly in the surf, are the pieces and places of my very soul. The heady scent of the ocean air tells me I’m finally home, though I’m not at all conscious of having lived near this shore. In the setting sun of a July evening, the billowing thunderheads in the distance play with the sun. Shadows and light dance on the surface of the ocean at once bringing out the sparkle, and then moments later shrouding the light in darkness. “So this is it?” I ask no one. Home. The word and all of its implications fill me with competing emotions. I look back towards the car, parked a hundred yards away in the parking lot of the town’s traffic circle. It’s the center of this beach town, on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.


I turn back to the ocean and breathe deeply, taking it all in. Just up the road is the house I bought, sight unseen, sitting first row, pointed towards the sea. I have spent a lifetime, nearly thirty-eight years, dreaming of what it would be like to find the place where I began, to return to my beginnings. To the place where I had been knit together in my mother’s womb. When I was a child, before I had been adopted and floated between countless foster and group homes, I made day trips to the beaches of Southern California. In the course sand of those crowded beaches, I convinced myself that I might as well have been a mermaid for all I really knew. One thing I knew for sure, in the deepest part of my being? I belonged to the sea.

Somehow, as I would stand there, as a kid, wearing my church charity last year’s style bathing suit, I knew that the sea called me, and would continue to call me . . . home.

Written By Elaina M. Avalos

Goodbyes

For those who have been reading for a while, you know that I had a {foster} son I expected to adopt. He is now living somewhere else and won’t be back with me.

There’s not a chance I’ll share details here. But I will tell you for sure that I am grieving this loss.

I am heartbroken. Not because I didn’t understand throughout the last 16 months that the goal of foster care is reunification and I was dead set on having it go my way. But because you make choices to love someone, pour your life into them, and love them as if they’ll never leave and will always be yours {even if they won’t}, it tears your heart in two pieces when they do leave.

I am working on a few posts about foster care as a whole and motherhood as a foster mom. But I wanted to share. The last few months have been the hardest and most painful of my life. I think today I am starting to finally believe God has all of our best interests in mind. Sometimes it’s hard to understand this when nothing makes sense – when you can’t understand the why.

I’m not sure what my future in foster care is. Hopefully I will figure that out soon. I’ll trust God to make clear what isn’t so clear right now.

I Want to Age Like Sea Glass

I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken. I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean. I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass — made not weak, but supple. I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.

When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next. Not stuck — just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause. And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.

I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along — just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.

I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina. Neither flashy nor dull, just the right luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to be in this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to realize, once again, that we have landed in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time.

I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.

By Bernadette Noll

If a writer falls for you . . .

You walked by me one day a couple of years ago, totally unaware I existed. I sat up and took notice. I thought maybe you were the most handsome man I’d ever laid eyes on.

I know now that actually is the case.

You feign calm indifference. But I see through you. Your gentleness and sweetness seeps to the surface.

Maybe you did see me back then. I try to understand how I gained trust & the gentleness. There’s no logical explanation.

But I live for these moments – when you breeze across my path. They are never long enough and always enough to keep me wanting more.

You’ll walk away. I’ll move on. But I’ll relieve your sweetness, your quiet checking on me, and the way you catch my eyes, for a very long time.

If only.

Someone once asked me if Macon is a real person. The truth is, I dreamed him into existence. And then I met you. You are like him, in so many ways.

Maybe you’re enough inspiration to get the next book written?

Dreamers & Risk Takers

Walt Disney, Elaina Avalos, Dreamers, Chasing Dreams, Dream Chaser, Dream Catcher, Disneyland

I took this photo about 10 years ago, at Disneyland – one of my favorite places on earth. That’s probably the last time I was there. I can’t wait to take another trip (hopefully with my son) soon.

When I was growing up, Disneyland was such an inspiration to the creative dreamer in me. My favorite places in the park were of places I dreamed of visiting – the French Quarter being one. In Pirates of the Caribbean, as the ride ends, you pass by the restaurant inside the ride (the Blue Bayou) and with the Spanish moss and “star” filled sky, I just knew I had to live in the south someday. How a girl from Orange County, California comes to live on the coast of North Carolina probably has its roots in those summer trips to Disneyland as I dreamed of live oaks and Spanish moss.

I had never seen this quote by Walt Disney until last night. So much of our talk of dreams can seem so flighty and honestly . . . just downright silly.

Or so it seems. Sometimes our dreams are exactly why we were placed on this earth. I love that in this quote he mentions that he tests his dreams against his beliefs. I love this – especially for me – who tries to live a life of faith.

But after a little examination – it’s time to take risks and act. This is the stage I’m in now, on several different dreams. Once you get there, it’s not always easy. I have had doubts, even recently. But you never get anywhere in life if you let your doubts rule you.

So . . . what are your dreams? What was that thing the little you dreamed of being & doing? Chances are . . . that’s truly who you were and are, meant to be.

Do a little dreaming. Take some risks. And jump in.