The Truth About Gretchen
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The Truth About Gretchen 
New Indie Novel

Synopsis

Sometimes when you feel like you've experienced something before, it's because you have.

Gretchen Holloway, in her final year of graduate school, is in the throes of auditioning actors for her thesis film, inspired by a murdered young football star who has haunted her dreams for two years. Gretchen believes making the movie will be cathartic. But instead of freeing her, embarking upon the film production unleashes a sequence of events that lead Gretchen to conclude that she’s the reincarnation of the young man. 

Regina Wilson has always wanted to be an actress. When her agent gets her an audition for a role in Gretchen’s film, which eerily mirrors one of the worst events of her life—the unsolved murder of her older brother, Robert—she’s hard-pressed to go through with it. Upon fleeing, she leaves behind a keepsake that features Robert’s photo. Gretchen sees the picture and recognizes Robert from her dreams. She tracks down Regina, and after being rebuffed and called crazy, Gretchen’s unexplainable knowledge of events in Robert’s life eventually convinces Regina that Gretchen is Robert reincarnated. 

The two decide to have his case reopened, but their significant others are dead set against it, and the police, who believe that Robert’s death was gang-related, are less than cooperative. However, Gretchen is desperate to get justice for her former self, and Regina wants justice for her brother. The women piece together the final week of Robert’s life. And the deeper they delve into his past; one shocking revelation follows another, leaving them wondering who they can trust and if they’ll live long enough to find Robert’s killer and bring him to justice.

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Excerpt: 
Chapter 1

 

Gretchen

Dressed in his Sunday best.

That’s how the elderly black woman who sells flowers near the university describes the man in my recurring nightmare. Stretched out in a bronze, silk-lined casket, he wears a tailored blue suit, a white shirt, and a purple tie. His shoes have a mirror shine, and a mysterious light illuminates his curly, black hair. My misty gaze always travels his length, and I stare until the moment his eyes snap open and blood spills out of them, onto his crisp white shirt, down his tie, and over his suit.


      Drenched in sweat, I bolt upright in bed, shaking and gasping.

The dream always unfolds this way, and last night was no different. So I lie here while my fiancé, who can sleep through a catastrophic earthquake, runs his finger across my back, spelling out I love you.


     I hold my breath, hoping he’ll turn over and go back to sleep. My hopes are dashed when he pushes against me. I imagine myself ramming my elbow into his stomach so hard that he tumbles out of bed, bounces off the floor, and crashes through the window, landing with a muddy thud on the dew-soaked lawn. That’s how irritable I am, because once again, I didn’t get any sleep. The last time I slept through the night was two years ago. I want this nightmare to stop. I’m tired of seeing Him—this nameless stranger, clinging to me during the night. He’s like an infected appendage that needs to be amputated.


      “Babe, are you up? I want you,” Lance murmurs near my ear, his morning breath wafting through my hair.


      Am I up? I’m always up.
My eyes land on the clock on the nightstand, its numbers taunting me. It’s 6:30 a.m. I can’t believe I’ve been tossing and turning for three hours. Lance wanted to make love last night, but I wasn’t in the mood, and I promised him we could fool around in the morning—a promise I shouldn’t have made.


      I turn over, and his square, freckled face cracks a smile. The light seeping through our bedroom blinds upstages his grin, and I focus on the light, thinking about the day ahead. The weatherman forecasted rain. I pray he’s wrong. It’s November, and we’ve had some drizzle here and there, but no serious downpours. Lance, who hails from New York, gets a kick out of California motorists. He says they don’t know how to drive in inclement weather.


      “You promised…I can’t help it, Red. You know the effect you have on me.” He scratches his head, topped with a mop of blond hair, then snuggles against me, sending a welcome heatwave my way. I bask in the warmth, hoping it’ll lull me to sleep. But a hand running up my Tom Brady Patriots jersey kills the moment. I hiss and push Lance toward his side of the bed. He bolts upright and turns on the bedside lamp, as though he’s trying to shed light on the situation. “What’s wrong with you, Greeet-cheeen?” He narrows his baby blues at me.


      I hate the way he pronounces my name when he’s annoyed. He stretches out the syllables and says it in a high-pitched tone like he’s scolding one of his middle school students. I prefer my pet name—Red. Lance and my late grandmother are the only two people in the world who’ve ever called me that. Lance is obsessed with my crimson locks. His niece, not so much. When he introduced me to her, she burst into a fit of laughter. When I asked the seven-year-old what was funny, she boldly predicted that if Lance and I had a baby, it’ll have orange hair. That remains to be seen because getting pregnant is at the bottom of my priorities list.


       I sit up. The thought of going through the day sleep-deprived fills me with dread. “Nothing’s wrong, Lance.”


      “You had the dream again. Don’t lie. You dreamt about Him. Tell the truth.”


      We sit in uncomfortable silence, gawking at each other. He slouches against the headboard and folds his arms across his hairy chest. I turn away from him. My gaze roams over the blue walls with white trim, covered in photos documenting our courtship. It lands on a picture of Lance and me wearing black caps and gowns at our college graduation three years ago. Where the freak does time go? My eyes dip to the picture on the dresser, of my father and me at Super Bowl LI, and my lips curl up into a smile. It fades when the dream I had last night floods my mind, pushing away my thoughts about higher education and my obsession with America’s second pastime.

 
       “So you’re not going to answer me,” he says.


       “Yes, I dreamt about him.”

 
       “I’m worried about you. I think you should see that doctor I found.”


      “Lance, you agreed with me that my idea to turn my dream into a film was far better than having someone trying to get into my head and prescribing me drugs. Let me get through the process. I know it’ll be cathartic. Once I get the dream out in the open, I know this weird spell will be broken. You felt the same way. So why are you backpedaling?”


      “Because you’ve been having this damn nightmare for too long. Don’t you want it to stop?”


     “It’s going to stop!” I say with the force of a category four hurricane, trying to convince both of us. I want it to stop. “Be patient, Lance.”


    “I love you. It’s hard watching this disrupt your life, not just your sleep. You don’t see it, but it’s changed you. He’s changed you.”


    “What do you mean ‘he’s changed me’?”


   “It hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been gradual. You’re distant. You spend every waking hour with Patty on preproduction for the film. And when you’re not doing that, you’re watching football. And on weekends you’re mentoring. I know all of it’s important to you, but the only time I get to be with you is when we go to bed. I want some time with you when it’s daylight when we’re up and fully awake.”


    “I’m sorry, Lance. I didn’t realize I’ve been shutting you out.”


    He scoots toward me and takes my hand. It looks small and delicate in his. He runs his thumb over the three-carat diamond ring he slipped on my finger, on my birthday this past New Year’s Day. I receive compliments on the ring all the time, then raised brows when people find out Lance is a schoolteacher. I can see their minds working, trying to figure out how someone earning a teacher’s salary can afford bling like this. What they don’t know is that he’s a trust fund baby. Last year he received his first distribution. It wasn’t enough to stop him from working, and he wouldn’t have even if it had been. He loves teaching and adores his students. But it did afford us the ring, me going to graduate school full-time, and our swanky condo in Dancing Hills—an elite Los Angeles suburb where I grew up.


    “Well, you have been distant, and I want my best friend back.”

 
   “You’ll get her back. I promise.”


   “Are you sure?”


   “Yes. I love you, Lance. You know I do.” I wait for him to give me a sign that he believes me. A smile, a nod, a peck on the lips. He does the latter.


   “I know you do. I’m sorry you didn’t get much rest. What time do the auditions start?”


   “Eleven a.m., but I want to be there by 10:00 a.m. It’s too late to go back to sleep,” I say, looking at the seven and two zeros on the clock.


   “Why don’t I fix breakfast?”


   “That sounds good.” I get out of bed and sink my feet into the plush blue carpet. “I’m going to take a shower. I’ll meet you downstairs.”


   He gives me a mischievous look and says, “Maybe I’ll join you and then make breakfast.”


  “Maybe you should take a cold shower alone, Lance, and I’ll make breakfast.”


  “I’m kidding,” he says, through laughter.


  “You’d better be.”


 “How hungry are you?”


 “Very. Thanks, sweetie.”

 
 “My pleasure.”


  He jumps out of bed and grabs his jeans, wedged between the boxes of Thanksgiving care packages. We’d spent a couple of weeks filling the packages with canned goods, dried fruit, blankets, and toiletries.  Grinning, he slips on his jeans and leaves the room. I smile while remembering the fun we had picking out the turkeys, also part of the giveaway, currently stashed in our freezer in the garage. And I laugh out loud recalling Lance hiking a frozen turkey to me, at my request. I was in a playful mood that day, feeling good about doing something worthwhile for others. While trying to catch the turkey, I backed into our shopping cart and fell flat on my butt. Lance, thinking I was hurt, wouldn’t stop apologizing. Gosh, I love that man.


   My laughter subsides when I flashback to the dream. I toss my thoughts and focus on the auditions today. Maybe I should go ahead and give Him a
name.


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                   The Women on Retford Drive
                                                         New Indie Novel

                                      Synopsis

                   They wished he were dead.                                                                                                                       Now their freedom depends on finding him alive.
  
 
                         
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Excerpt:
Chapter 1
Julia

He saw me.

Flashing red-and-blue lights appear in my rearview mirror, and my heart sinks. Oh no, not now. Please don’t pull me over. Please. I need to get home. Why didn’t I stop? I should have stopped. Exasperated with myself and now fully alert, I look ahead for a place to park. The tree-lined street in the small business district is jam-packed with vehicles. I spot a public parking lot and slowly pull in, with the cop riding my bumper. I park in the first available space and he blocks me in.

I pull the visor down to shield myself from the June sun beating down on me through the windshield of my Mercedes, wondering what he’s doing. Sweat dripping down my chest and back, I tug on my blouse that’s glued to me like a second skin, then place my wet hands on the steering wheel, my gaze shifting to the dashboard clock, its numbers screaming at me. I have to meet the movers in thirty minutes. If I miss them, I’ll have no one to blame but myself. My stomach flips when the officer heads my way.

Brawny with a mop of dark hair, he peers down at me and says, “Ma’am, have you been drinking?”

Momentarily stumped, I pause, thinking to myself that it’s barely 10:00 a.m.—too early to drink. “No, I haven’t hadanything to drink, I promise.”

“I’ve been following you since you left that nursing home. You were weaving in and out of lanes, and you just blew through a stop sign.”

“I am so sorry, officer. I’ve been up all night with my mother at the nursing home. She has Alzheimer’s. Please forgive me.” I offer him an apologetic smile.

But his eyes are void of sympathy. “I’m going to need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”

Crestfallen, I gather the documents and hand them to him. He rifles through the paperwork, then pauses. His eyes dart from my face to the license and back again, as if I’m wanted in four states. I swallow hard. What’s wrong? Then he gives me an unexpected smile. “Julia Pritchard … Ah … You played the mother of those triplets on that sitcom. My kids were addicted to that show. You still acting?”

I hold back tears of anxiety. “No, but I’m trying to make a comeback.” The show was canceled a decade ago, but it’s still in syndication. I’m rarely recognized. With an ailing mother, a stalled career, and a life-changing move, the last thing I need is a traffic citation. I pray he feels the same.

A moment later he hands me my papers. “I hope that works out for you. Anyway, get some rest and be careful,” he says, eyeing the bruise on my forehead. “And good luck with your mother.”

A wave of relief washes over me, and I smile wildly. “Thanks so much for understanding, officer. I really, really appreciate this.”

He nods, hops on his motorcycle, and moves from behind my car. I take off—not too fast—full of gratitude, hoping the movers haven’t left. When I visit my mother Sophie at the nursing home, it’s hard to say goodbye. I hate leaving her there because they’re always short-staffed, and they don’t know how to handle her when she has her periodic fits. Now that I’m leaving my soon-to-be ex-husband, Keith, she’ll be able to live with me and my stepdaughter Blythe in our new apartment. The thought alone gives me an adrenaline rush.

~~~

For the past eleven years, my home has been a Tudor-style mansion in Dancing Hills, an elite Los Angeles suburb. Turning up Retford Drive, my soon-to-be former street, I crane my neck in search of a moving truck, but see nothing but mega-mansions behind imposing gates, surrounded by palm trees and flowering vegetation. Wow, I think I may have missed the movers.

When Blythe and I finally worked up the courage to tell Keith we were leaving, he was dismissive, as if he couldn’t care less. It wasn’t the reaction we’d expected, and neither of us really thought he’d stay that way—but he hasn’t tried to stop us. Instead, he’s been fully engaged with work and taking his company public. The sound of a jet passing overhead reminds me that Keith is on his way to New York, and couldn’t keep wife and only child from leaving if he wanted to. Which, apparently, he didn’t. Thank goodness.

I park in the driveway and step from the car. Still no movers in sight. I start to turn toward the house, when in the distance I hear a truck rumbling up the street. Hope blooms in my chest when the truck halts in front of our wrought-iron gate. I motion for the driver to pull into the driveway.

The two movers—recommended by Martha, our housekeeper—exit their truck. Both men look worn out, disheveled, and sport huge armpit stains, but their smiles are friendly enough. “Sorry we’re late,” the larger man announces, “but our other job went longer than we expected, and we got turned around. I’m Juan, and this is Michael. We’re Martha’s cousins.”

“I’m Julia and no worries. I’m running late too. And it shouldn’t take you too long. We moved some things yesterday.”

“Good meeting you,” Juan says. “We’ll put a rush on it.”

They grab a couple of dollies, and I lead them to the front door. I open it with the movers close behind. They wait in the foyer while I disengage the alarm. The men swivel their heads, taking in evidence of Keith’s insatiable appetite for extravagance. Their wide eyes lock on a Picasso and matching Warhols.

I motion for them to follow me. We hurry down the hall, coming to the library filled with Keith’s favorite captain-of-industry bios and countless investment banking trophies. I slow down a bit, fearful of another fall. While wrestling my mother to bed last night, I tripped and hit my head on the edge of her overbed table. It looks worse than it is. I continue to the kitchen, movers in tow.

Keith’s kitchen features terrazzo floors and long swaths of gleaming granite countertop. Ignoring these, I grab a couple bottles of water off the table in the breakfast nook and give them to the movers, who look like they’re about to pass out. They thank me, guzzle the water, then begin loading the boxes onto the dollies.

I glance at the clock on the built-in oven: almost 10:50 a.m. There’s one more thing I need to get before I leave. I press open the basement door and descend to the wine cellar. Memories of Keith in a drunken rage flicker through my head. I shake them off and move to my hiding place—a forgotten storage room, tucked out of sight behind a pillar on the far side of the cellar.

I open the door and flick on the light—a single bulb dangling from the ceiling. The walls are bare, perfect for meditation. A small desk and chair take up half the room. A few cushions, TV scripts, and magazines occupy the rest.

I drop to my hands and knees, reach under the desk and peel away an envelope filled with photos. I slide one from the envelope, and a sickening feeling rises within me. It’s a photo of me: blond hair matted with blood, the whites of blue eyes flecked with red spots, face swollen almost beyond recognition. I look eighty, twice my age. Keith’s tearful mea culpas, endless promises of change, guilt gifts, money, and threats no longer work. Thank god, the spell has been broken.

I return the photo to the envelope and head upstairs, taking two steps at a time. I come to the kitchen, pleasantly surprised to see that all the boxes have been taken away.

The sound of running water in the laundry room gets my attention. I enter to find Martha, dressed in the gaudy red uniform Keith insists on. She’s sorting through a pile of dirty clothes, with several of Blythe’s and my things in the mix. “What are you doing here, Martha? I gave you the day off. When did you get here?”

“Just now. Mr. Keith wants the laundry done. After you left yesterday, he told me I had to come in.” Her brown eyes search my face. “Oh, my goodness, he hit you again.”

 I touch the bruise on my forehead and chuckle at the irony. “No, he didn’t hit me. I fell. Why does it smell like bleach in here? It’s really strong.”

“I have no idea. I haven’t even used the bleach. The empty bottle is over there in the trash.”

I point at the dirty laundry. “You don’t have to wash our clothes. I’ll take them.” I grab a bag from the shelf and start to gather the clothes, but Martha stops me.

“I got it, Miss Julia,” she says.

“I wish you didn’t have to work here anymore. Blythe and I are going to figure something out. And please stop calling me Miss Julia. I’m just Julia.”

“But Mr. Keith—”

“Screw Keith!”

She bends over, her tall frame shaking with laughter, then hands me the dirty clothes. “, screw him.”

“I’m about to leave, Martha. Don’t be a stranger. I’ll text you the address. We’d love for you to visit.”

“I will.” She embraces me, and I return the hug, my arms barely reaching around her large frame. “Take care of yourself,” she says.

“You too.” We separate, and I leave her there.

I exit through the back door and head straight to the movers, who stand beside the loaded truck. I give them the apartment address, pay them, and then seal the deal with a sizeable tip. They thank me profusely, get in their truck, and leave.

When I return to the kitchen, I spot a photo pinned to the fridge with a magnet: a snapshot of Blythe wearing a black cap and gown surrounded by the kids with disabilities she mentors. I grab it and slip it into the envelope with the pictures documenting my abuse.

I head to the foyer and nearly collide head-on with Blythe, who’d spent the night at the apartment and is supposed to be there now, waiting for the movers.

“Blythe, what are you doing here?”

“I left you a million texts and messages. I even called the nursing home. Kathleen, aka the assistant from hell, has been blowing up my cell. My father was a no-show, didn’t make his flight. She says he was nowhere to be found when the driver got here this morning.”

Fear clutches my chest. “A no-show?”

Blythe, face flushed and weary, throws her hands up in frustration. “He didn’t go to N





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