From the top of a cliff in New Brighton Park, Luke Marshal watches the seamless orange, red, and purple tossed at the horizon. He, however, is not there to admire the beautiful sunset; he’s there to end his year-long pain—a pain that has closed his heart, and has shattered his life and faith—when his plan is disrupted by a young girl and a snake.
13-year-old Skyler Cooper does more than interfere with Luke’s suicidal plans; she brings her mother, Emma, into his life in sync with a world of doubts and desires.
Luke and Emma’s instant, mutual attraction is obvious, but they have their practical ways to consider. Emma’s past has taught her to put her life in God’s hands, and never to trust another man. Luke on the other hand, has lost his touch with God long ago. Plus, he had five amazing years with Sarah, and he can’t love another woman. But there is a little angel, who is determined to intervene and prove them both wrong. If only Emma’s past wouldn’t spill into her present…and possibly into their future.
Tuesday morning, June 7th…
“Don’t do it, Luke.”
He jerked, simultaneously whirling toward the voice. The ground beneath his feet gave way in a frenzy of flailing arms colliding with a hard object. The few seconds before impact seemed like an eternity as a small gasp escaped his lips, tearing him away from the dream. Cold air pushed against his bare chest as he hit the floor with a loud thump.
Don’t do it, Luke. The words rumbled in Luke’s mind as bile surged in his throat. He swallowed hard, his tongue seemingly stuck to the roof of his mouth. He tried to pry his eyelids open, but the world rushed in a blur at the invasion of light, sending stabs of pain in his temples. Hurriedly, he closed his eyes, willing the throbbing away. Somehow, he knew, the best was yet to come.
Sheltering his gritty eyes with his hand, he tried to block the shards of light dancing through the blinds—his blinds. For long moments he didn’t move, anything to delay a searing headache, and the full knowledge that he had just fallen out of his bed.
As his vision slowly adjusted to the splash of light, a terrible stench invaded his nose, and with horror, he realized his breath was the cause. Was he drinking again?
His teeth clattered noisily when he slammed his mouth shut with disgust.
He’d been sober almost two months.
What the hell happened?
His alarm clock began to shout its usual, The Black Eyed Peas, he’d downloaded to his phone a while back. He swore the song could wake up dead people. From his floor perspective, all but knocking over everything in his way, he patted the bedside table in an attempt to silence it. He found it, finally, and halted the annoying music, and then checked the time.
“In the morning? Shit!”
He jolted to a sitting position, fully awake. He had to be at the hospital in an hour.
A gentle swaying of the space continued to churn his gut. How many drinks did I have? he wondered while using the bed frame to pull himself up. With some difficulty, he stood on wobbly feet. He and alcohol did not go well together. Never had.
Once he assumed the perpendicular position, he sluggishly stretched his arms above his head, the simple action stirring his headache and his stomach, even more.
He stood there, searching his brain. How could he have let this happen? Only two days ago his AA sponsor had praised his progress.
Okay, okay, calm down and think, he instructed, pressing his fingers to his hammering temples, trying to squeeze out scattered notions of yesterday. His brain felt like scrambled eggs, which annoyed the hell out of him. Thinking hurt. Muddled thoughts began to mingle and rush through his head like a tornado, leaving nothing but debris behind.
Coffee. Life begins after coffee. “Dr. Lukas Marshal needs a caffeine fix,” he mumbled just as a whooshing sound came from the general direction of his living room.
He lived alone. Did someone break into his apartment? His fingers closed on the baseball bat he kept behind his bedroom door. Flattening himself against the wall, he listened as the swishing continued. With his back still compressed against the wall, he tiptoed down the dark and narrow hallway toward the living room. He craned his neck to peek around the corner. Lifting the bat ready to strike, he almost collided with Josh Monroe.
“Whoa! Easy there, Champ,” his best friend said, eyeing the baseball bat in Luke’s hand.
Josh’s tone conveyed reproach. It was the only time he called him that.
Besides, what was he doing here? Luke didn’t recall giving him a key, so how the hell had he entered the apartment?
Josh’s clothes were wrinkled as if he’d slept in them. His detective shield attached at his waist glinted in the light.
Luke knit his brows together, trying to puzzle out the hazy memory that was struggling to surface. He stood desperately wanting his brain to engage and all that came out was, “Did I call the police? Why are you here?”
Josh cast another reproachful glance that quickly changed into a phony smile. “Good morning to you too. Are you always this sweet when you wake up?”
“How did you get inside?” Luke asked, ignoring his friend’s odd behavior and clear attempt to lighten his mood.
“It’s nice to see you back to your old, grumpy self. And to answer your question, you let me in, Champ.”
More reproach, and again, Luke wondered why. He and Josh were more than friends; they were like brothers. Twin brothers, if their totally different personalities and looks were ignored—Luke had dark hair, blue eyes, Josh had blond hair, brown eyes. Luke was calm and calculated, Josh was rebellious, doing everything on impulse.
Luke’s parents had died buried under the ashes of Mount St. Helens. His dad a photographer for Vancouver Sun, and his mom an artist had wanted to photograph and paint the volcano. They had died doing what they loved when the volcano had erupted.
His maternal grandmother, Rose, had picked up the pieces and raised him. She was the most kind, gentle person, Luke had ever known, but she was no spring chicken anymore. That was where Josh’s family came in, taking over the parental duties where his grandmother couldn’t—football games, field trips, even homework. In spite of ribbing each other as a result of differing viewpoints, three generations of Monroes were loving—including Josh’s pain-in-the-ass little sister, Lyla—and they included Luke as one of their own. Their home was his home, filling in the void where his parents used to be. So what the hell had he done or said last night to piss Josh off like this?
Probably sensing the internal battle going on in his head, Josh reached into his pocket and pulled out his Samsung Galaxy S6. With a worried frown, he handed it to Luke. “Read the texts. I think they pretty much cover your questions.”
Reluctantly, Luke took the phone, his stomach hardening into a ball of nerves.
9:05 PM Marshal: I called u want to say bye.
9:06 PM Josh: where r u going?
9:09 PM Marshal: 2 join her
9:10 PM Josh: who?
9:13 PM Marshal: Sarah
A slow fire started in Luke’s chest, followed by a roar of blood pounding in his ears as he browsed through the messages. A vague memory shimmered through the haze. An expanse of blue water stretching in front of him to the horizon. Powerful waves crashing against the crumbling rocks below sent white spray high into the air. Another image flashed: The angry swellings colliding with cries of seagulls swooping in frenzied dives to feed on the marine fish.
New Brighton Park.
The name dredged up memories of him and Sarah sitting on that ledge, legs crossed, voices muted. Oh, how much they had enjoyed that view. Between the squawks above and the splashes below, the sounds of the city always disappeared. They’d liked the feeling of peacefulness and solitude, of being out there all alone with nature.
More clipped, but razor-sharp memories rolled over him like random scenes from an old movie. “Relax, it’s just a blind date,” Josh had told him. “If you don’t like her, you can walk away.”
He had liked her, tough when he’d learned about her military background and how by working in the police force she could kick his ass, he’d acted like a bumbling idiot.
She’d giggled—the most musical giggle he’d ever heard. Seeing the dumb look on his face, no doubt, she’d become serious. “Oh, come on; I only hurt bad guys,” she’d assured him, then burst the bubble of laughter she had tried to hold back.
They’d begun dating, but she was so far out of his league, he’d thought it would never work. She’d proved him wrong, and the day they had married was the happiest of his life. That was six years ago, almost to the day. But now she was gone. Forever gone.
Don’t do it, Luke.
Abruptly, the words sliced back into his memories. The child’s voice… The voice outside himself, out beyond his excruciating pain…
It was not only in his dream.
He’d gone to New Brighton Park to end his life when soft laughter—child’s laughter—seemed to float around him…had stopped him. He’d seen no one when he turned around, yet the laughter felt real.
No, it couldn’t be. It was probably part of his messed up mind. A subconscious rejection of the decision he’d made.
Wait a minute…
Why am I still here? Luke wondered with panic.
How was it that one moment he was standing on the edge of the seawall, ready to end his pain, and the next he was in his bed—or falling out of it, Jack and Jill style.
Time seemed to stop, and he groaned as he ventured a glance at his friend, trying to figure out how much Josh knew. How much of his plan had he told him last night?
Josh made a circular motion through the air with his forefinger, indicating he should continue reading the messages. With a long sigh, Luke followed his friend’s silent order.
9:13 PM Josh: U drinking?
9:18 PM Marshal: Yea. I cleear now.
9:18 PM Josh: where r u?
9:19 PM Josh: Luke! Where the hell r u?
9:21 PM Marshal: Hav drink B4 go
Judging by the horribly misspelled words, I must’ve had more than one drink. So I called Josh last night. Have I told him everything? Is that why he is upset…no, disappointed? A thousand more unanswered questions swirled in his head as he continued to flick through the messages.
9:21 PM Josh: where r u?
9:23 PM Marshal: the hole
9:23 PM Josh: Pat’s Pub?
9:27 PM Marshal: yea
Okay, so that explains the drinking binge, he thought with a stab of resentment. Pat’s Pub was a night club on East Hastings. He and Josh used to frequent it years ago. They had named it The Hole for the dimness inside.
How the hell did I end up there? I haven’t been to that place in years.
Raking a hand through his, no doubt, disheveled hair, he carried on with the messages while pushing his brain to remember something—anything—from the previous day.
9:27 PM Josh: stop drinking. Eat something. Be there in half.
9:30 PM Marshal: have scoch
9:30 PM Josh: Great! On my way. WAIT 4 ME THERE!
9:35 PM Marshal: ont worry bout it
9:35 PM Josh: Just stay there.
“Do you know what I think?” Josh said when Luke finished reading.
No. He wasn’t in the mood for guessing games. What he really, really wanted to know was how the hell had he gone from there to here, but he had a feeling Josh didn’t hold all the answers. “The question is, do I want to hear what you think? The answer is no. But, I have a feeling I’ll hear it anyway.” Josh kept silent, seemingly giving Luke a moment to compose himself. “Man, my brain is too fogged up to solve puzzles so if you’ve got something to say, say it.”
“Fair enough,” Josh said at last. “What do you suppose Sarah would say about this?”
Ah-ha. Evidently, Josh knew more than Luke would’ve wanted. Okay, so that explained two things. One, why he was still alive, and two, why Josh was here. Josh had likely rushed to him, interrupting his plans, and then stayed with him to ensure he didn’t try anything else. Pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, he brushed the other hand through his hair.
“You’re awfully quiet for someone who had so much to say last night,” Josh added.
What had he told him? Luke chewed on his lip, trying to find something smart to say. “It’s probably better to remain silent and appear stupid, than talk and remove all doubt.” Albert Camus was the best you could come up with?
Josh seemed to be on the same page. “Excellent choice of words, Champ! Glad you see this from my perspective.” This time the criticism came dipped in sarcasm. “Luke, you’ve been there for me all these years, kicking my ass to keep me out of trouble. I’m telling you this as a friend, who for a change, is trying to save your ass. I know you’re still struggling with Sarah’s loss. I miss her too. She was the best partner I ever had.”
Luke opened his mouth to tell him it wasn’t the same, but Josh stole the words right out of his mouth. “I know; it’s not the same. She was your soul mate, but man, what the hell were you thinking? She loved you. She would have never wanted to see you like this.”
“I’ve lost everything when I lost Sarah. I have nothing left.”
“But you still have a lot to give. No, you couldn’t save Sarah, but man, think about all the lives you save—Every. Single. Day. Don’t give up, especially on life.” Josh studied Luke for long moments. “Promise me you’ll never try this again. I’m your friend. Call me whenever you think you can’t go on.”
Afraid to witness more disappointment sprouting on his friend’s face, Luke dropped his gaze. It was long past time to grieve, Josh had told him time and again. What he hadn’t told him was who made the rules, and why he’d only been granted one year.
Josh was probably right. He must have known what it was like to lose someone; ten years ago he’d lost his parents one after the other, but it hadn’t taken him a year to move on.
Unexpectedly, Luke saw everything with a clarity he’d never had before. A shaky sort of clarity that staggered at first, but then slowly steadied itself. Josh had a point and a reason to be angry with him. For over thirty years, Luke had been the one always trying to keep his wild and rebellious friend out of trouble. But suddenly, the roles were switched. After Sarah’s dead, Josh probably did everything in his limited power just to keep Luke from falling in the proverbial bottomless pit. He must have worked at least as hard to keep Luke alive, as Luke worked to end his life.
Josh was right about one more thing. Sarah had fallen in love with a man who was strong, funny, the highbrow of the group. Now, he was none of those things. He was nothing but an emotional mess. If anything, she would be ashamed of him.
The thought shook him.
Sarah loved life. She loved nature. She loved people. She appreciated all the little things in life—things money couldn’t buy. She found happiness in other people’s joy. Instead of celebrating her life—the life she loved—he was tarnishing her memory. Yep, Josh had every right to be upset with him. He’d been nothing but a selfish, inconsiderate prick.
He glanced up at his friend. Only one unanswered question remained, one he had a feeling Josh couldn’t answer, but he had to ask anyway. “Do you know how I ended up at The Hole?”
Josh shook his head. “No, I guess to drown your—”
After he had dropped Skyler and…
Josh’s words faded and disappeared into Luke’s new recollection.
Puzzle solved. That was what—or who—had made him leave New Brighton Park. After he had dropped Skyler and her grandma, Isabella, off at the emergency room, ensuring that Skyler was in good hands, he’d drove straight to The Hole hoping to boost the courage to go back and finish what he had planned. The drunker he got, the more attractive the idea had become. It was probably what made him text Josh.
“I’m sorry, man, but I have to go to work,” he said, lifting his eyes to meet Josh’s. It was not entirely a lie. He did have to go to work, but he used it as an excuse to make Josh leave.
“Okay. I don’t need to bring a straitjacket, do I?” Josh asked, knitting his eyebrows.
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“Remember. Call me if you need to talk.”
He watched the door close behind his friend after Josh cast one more concerned glance over his shoulder in Luke’s general direction.
He knew Josh meant well, but now he’d figured it out on his own. He could fix this. He could.
Luke released a long, slow breath. Dragging his feet to the bathroom, he stopped in front of the wall-size mirror, and for a moment, he studied his reflection. The same face he saw every morning. Raven-black hair, blue eyes, dimpled cheeks. Handsome and refined was the way Sarah had described him. Now he looked more lost than sophisticated. An icy blue surrounded by some redness—courtesy of his overnight drinking—had replaced the softness in his eyes. Faint lines at the corners created a feeling of being pulled into a lake of frozen emotions. The myriad shades of blue seemingly swirled together to form a whirlpool of angst. The gentle smile was gone—likely, it had been for a while.
Noticing how much he’d aged, he ran his fingers through his messy hair. Yes, he would change this, he would make Sarah proud again if only his shameful act from last night would leave his mind the hell alone.
It’s not too late to fix this. It’s not, he decided silently.
A happy bubble of excitement sprouted in his chest. He opened a bottle of Tylenol and spilled two capsules in his palm. I just need this stupid headache to go away. He popped the pills into his mouth and swallowed them with a single swig of water.
Twenty minutes later he walked out of his apartment, all showered and dressed, minty freshness doing its best to disguise the reek of alcohol that still lingered, holding stubbornly onto residues of his actions. Perhaps he needed the disgraceful memories to stick around and keep him straight. Perhaps he must go over each moment to ensure history didn’t repeat itself. He pressed his lips together, thinking he would have all day to dissect each moment of yesterday.