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.

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.

Hope When We Least Expect It

Beaufort NC, Beaufort, Crystal Coast, Hope, Fear, Grief, Southern Fiction, Women's Fiction

My novel, Chasing Hope, is about . . . hope, light, and healing after fighting your way through grief. It’s about loss and renewal. It’s about finding a family where and when you least expect it.

I’m hoping to return back to my Sample Sunday tradition to end 2018 & head into a new & BIG year for my little family. So in keeping with that, here are some of the first words I wrote for this novel that holds a special place in my heart.

Chasing Dreams – Book Anniversary

Chasing Hope, Elaina M. Avalos, novel, indie author, fiction, novel, Beaufort NC

One year ago today, my novel was published. It was a long time coming. I started writing this book so long ago. Like all of us, as we grow and change over the years, it changed too.

But it was always about family, adoption, and love. To celebrate the anniversary of finally chasing my dreams . . . the book will be on sale, starting June 12th!

You can read an excerpt, here & here. You can find it on Goodreads, here. You can find the Amazon reviews, here.

What dreams have you been chasing lately, friend?

New Fiction to Share

On Facebook, I’ve shared some quick, “new” fiction.

One, flash fiction of sorts, can be found HERE. It’s a love story in less than 500 words. It sounds like something from my Macon & Ava’s story. Maybe it will go in the sequel?

“He, the beautiful man of the hard way, is a challenge I am sometimes convinced I can’t meet. Even after all these years. Today, in a quiet moment in the midst of a busy day, I thought about the way his eyes hold mine. There has been fire and light for me in his eyes – for me, for as long as I can remember. Me. His fierceness lights me from the inside out with just one look.”

Read the rest, here.

New Bern NC, flash fiction, love story, love, romance, Elaina Avalos

You can read my short story, called “It Looks Like This,” HERE!

Hold Fast to Your Dreams

chasing hope, elaina avalos, fiction, novel, hold fast to your dreams

A year ago today, I posted this photo on Instagram & Facebook. I had finally finished editing my novel, Chasing Hope. This novel, set in beautiful Beaufort, NC, had taken me far too long to write. Over the years, as I grew and changed, the novel did too. In many ways I’m thankful for that.

However, there is one primary way I would change things if I could. It is this . . .

I would not have let anything stop me from writing every day (or starting the foster care/adoption process sooner). I take on too much. I put things off in the name of my job. It was always, “Later. I’ll get to it later,” with me. I am sensitive – sometimes too sensitive. The way people treat me deeply impacts me. I take those burdens home.

chasing hope, elaina avalos, beaufort nc, fiction, novel

Or, I am burdened by other’s hurt, trials, etc. On one hand, this is not a bad thing. I don’t want to change who I am. However, I didn’t do such a great job separating out my own life from my career or the organization that employed me.

When you’re weighed down by the extras, it tends to hold you back from what it is you actually want to be doing. At least that’s true of me. I’m sure there are many others out there like me, however. Especially those of you that are sensitive, artists, or just generally don’t believe in yourself.

Even after publishing Chasing Hope (read an excerpt by clicking the link) last summer, I have done what I did for so many years – I put off writing the second book and stopped working on promotion of the first one.

There is an extra person in my house that impacts when I can write. But that’s really not the biggest impediment to me holding fast to and pursuing my dreams.

It’s the way I let my day job impact my personal life. Here’s the thing. I love what I do. I love the people that I have been working with since 2010. I truly do. I wouldn’t trade these 8 years.

What was so badly needed, was for me to learn sooner, how to leave work at work. The truth is, after all this time, the Marine Corps has made major changes to the program I love. And though I won’t lose my job (this time), in an instant, they’ll part ways with me, without a second thought.

chasing hope, elaina avalos, chasing hope by elaina avalos, fiction, novel, beaufort nc, pamlico county nc

A wise man, who knows this organization so well, once told me that it will do what is best for itself. No matter what. So . . . I probably should just go ahead and do what’s best for me and be who God has called me to be, right? Why silence, hide, or put other things first?

I do not regret for one second the two units I have invested so much of my heart in. Not even for a second. What I do regret is that I forgot to do that at home. That was my choice. No one else’s.

In the last two weeks, I’ve come to face some hard truths about myself and the organization I love. I’ve come to realize how patient God is with me as I put off the me He created me to be.

elaina avalos, chasing hope by elaina avalos, maya angelou, writer

Waking up this morning to that post was a reminder of what I want so badly for my life. In the book “Draw the Circle,” Mark Batterson talks about “circling” people, situations, dreams, etc., in prayer. Essentially that just means pray without giving up. I have a 3×5 card of the main things I want to circle in prayer.

On that card is my dream to write full time. Now that I have a little guy living in my house, this has grown in importance. Every time I pick him up from childcare and I’m reminded of what I wanted to be true of my life, I know that I need to throw everything I have at being home full time with him and whomever else joins our little family.

This is the dream. It may not be your dream, but it has always been mine.

For those of you sitting on your dreams, don’t do it any longer. Maybe that dream is your side hustle right now. Maybe you can’t begin to imagine how you’ll make it all come together. I understand.

You know what they say? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Here’s the thing, I can pray until I’m blue in the face. But if I’m not out there doing my part, how exactly do I think doors are going to open for me and my family? If I’m not hustling, how exactly do I expect this dream to happen?

So, my friends . . . hold fast to your dreams. If you’re a pray-er, pray.

But get to work.

I’ll get to work with you.

What dream of yours has been languishing, as you put other things first? Care to share? Maybe it’s time to share and speak that dream out loud?

A Love Story in Progress

Follow your dreams

Brushing a girl’s hair
behind her ear
once a day
will solve more problems
than all those
therapists
and drugs.
– Atticus

I’m writing a love story. I thought I was stuck. Last weekend, I thought I’d never get past this mess of my own heart. The pieces still broken – fearing hope.

But the story lay hidden beneath the fear – the fear living closer to the surface.

Something changed yesterday though. I’m writing the story. I found the words. I found what I needed through a quiet challenge from God in the middle of my CPR/First Aid class – have faith. Someday maybe I’ll explain that in detail.

But for now, the love story I most want to write, is being written.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. – Maya Angelou

This love I have wanted to write about? It’s the kind of love that is rooted in friendship. It’s the kind of love that gives you a vision of your future in someone else’s eyes. It’s the kind of love that ignites your belief in another’s gifts and talents far beyond what they even see for themselves.

It’s the kind of love that is passion and fire but comfort and normal. It’s the kind of love that brings a sense of calm in the midst of trial, when he brushes your hair behind your ear – his tenderness toward you is all you need. Or maybe how with one look, he knows what you need before you even speak. And above all else, it’s the kind of love shared by two broken people that didn’t fit anywhere else.

It’s the kind of love you do the hard way.

So I guess we’ll have to do it the hard way. – Keith Urban

I’m responding in faith in a lot of areas right now, my writing is no different. This is the story I most want to write.

Huge Sale!

Chasing Hope, Elaina M. Avalos, novel, indie author, fiction, novel, Beaufort NC

My novel, Chasing Hope, is on sale! The Kindle version is 80% off and the paperback version is 50% off! The sale is for a limited time only. Find the book, here.

You can read what some of my readers have said here, here, or here.

To read excerpts, go here, here & here.