Excerpt #1 from My New Novel-The Desert Between Us

Father and son on beach

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Desert Between Us is a story of love after loss. If you lose your soulmate or spouse prematurely, can you ever love again--to the same depth--in the same way? Or will your heart always hold something in reserve for the one lost? These are questions Chase Kincaid is wrestling with after the sudden loss of his wife, Aimee.

This excerpt below takes place two years after Chase Kincaid, 37, lost his wife. He and his eight-year-old son, Clay, are riding a tandem bike along the ocean, near Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, California. They stop to have a picnic lunch at the beach.

~

As they approached the palm trees, Clay pulled over and held the bike upright, allowing his father to dismount first. Chase lifted his backpack out of the front basket before laying the bike on its side and finding a shady spot to picnic. Chase handed him a brown bag lunch, grabbed his, and sat alongside him facing the Pacific. 

“Do you love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as much as I do, Dad?” Clay asked.

Chase winked at him. “They kept me alive when I was a kid.”

“Really? Why?”

“Without your grandma to cook for us, your grandpa and I didn’t always eat the best.”

He took a sip of his fruit drink. “I could live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too.” Chase smiled and tousled his hair. 

They ate in silence, enjoying the natural beauty of the beachfront. Chase looked out over the water and reflected on how often they picnicked on this beach when they were a family of three. Clay broke his concentration with a question he didn’t see coming.

“Do you still think about her?” Clay asked as he took another bite of his sandwich.

“Every day,” he admitted as he turned to his son. Chase had stopped talking openly about Aimee over the last year, hoping silence was synonymous with healing. Talking about her, even with Clay, was akin to ripping off the scab. All that does is start the bleeding again, he reasoned. It was the same mistake his father made with him—hoping grief would dissolve if buried. Grief, Chase knew, had a way of bubbling to the surface when ignored. Grief unresolved builds up its own pressure over time and, like a volcano, explodes unexpectedly. They needed a relief valve.

He knew he was becoming like his father on this dimension, too. If he failed to confront and release his own feelings, how could he possibly help Clay with his grief?

“What do you miss most about her?”

Chase bit his lip. “I don’t know.” It was a fair question, but he wondered how far he should allow this conversation to go. He deflected by answering the question with a question.

“What do you miss most about her?”

“He thought for a moment, then smiled. “I miss her teasing you.”

“Really? That’s what you miss the most? Why?”

“Because it made me laugh. And then I could tease you, too.”

Chase brushed Clay’s hair off his forehead from the gentle ocean breeze. “You saying you two loved to gang up on me?”

“Yeah, and we always won.” Clay could not grasp the emotion he just stirred within his father. Like waves pounding into shore, Chase felt a rhythmic flow of memories. He could feel Aimee again. She was still there. Each wave bringing its joy as it rolled into shore and agony as it receded once more. It was easy to see her smile again. Hear her laughter, feel the warmth of her embrace. Why did she have to die?

He gazed out over the water, stifled a tear, and then turned to his son. He lovingly tousled his hair again. “Yes, you two always won.”

Clay’s voice became softer. “Teasing you made me feel like we were a family.” He raised Clay’s chin with his finger to look him in the eye.

“Do you feel like a family now?”

“Sort of. But,” his voice trailed off.

“But something’s missing?” 

“Yeah.” Clay sipped his juice pack till it was empty.

He stared into Clay’s blue eyes, another place he routinely found Aimee. “I feel it too—every day.” 

The skin between his eyes wrinkled again. “Will it always feel this bad?” 

Chase searched his memory. It was a question he asked himself a thousand times growing up after losing his mother. A question he thought time would answer. A pain he’d prayed time would dull. He wasn’t sure how to answer his grieving son, and it helped him better understand his father’s struggle to help him overcome the grief of losing his mother.

“Someday it won’t hurt as much,” he said, reaching for his son’s hand. Someday you will only remember the good things. God has a way of letting the hard things fade away and the joyful things to find a permanent place in our memory—and that will make you happy again.”

“Like Mom teasing you?”

“Yeah, like Mom teasing me.” Clay sniffled and wiped his nose with his napkin. “There’s something else I miss about her.”

“What’s that, Buddy?”

“I miss her touch. Like you just did when you brushed my hair out of my face. I liked it when she would mess up my hair. Hug me. Tickle me.”

“Don’t I do all those things?”

“Sometimes.” He paused. “But not like Mom.”

“How come?”

Clay shrugged. “Because you’re not Mom, I guess. It just doesn’t feel the same. She used to hug me more.” Chase felt his stomach tighten with the revelation of another failure as a single dad.

“Don’t I hug you when you need it?”

“Sometimes, but…”

Chase waited for his son to finish his sentence. “But?”

“Mom used to hug me for no reason. She just knew when…” Clay’s voice faded. Chase knew what he meant. He had felt the same way after he lost his mom. 

Chase nodded and exhaled hard. “I get it, Clay. Moms are special. They just know how to make us feel—loved. Dads, well, we just do the best we can. Grandpa did his best with me—and I’ll do my best with you—promise. But give me a chance. I’m not too good at the single-parent stuff.”

Finishing the last few potato chips, Clay crumpled up the bag. “You’re doing pretty good, Dad.” 

He held his breath, waiting for the exception.

Clay reached into his brown paper bag for a cookie. “It’s okay, Dad. You don’t have Mom’s superpowers.”

Chase laughed. “Superpowers?”

“Yeah. She always seemed to know what I was thinking.” 

“Clay, dads don’t have those superpowers. It’s reserved only for moms. I hope you understand that I can’t be both a mom and a dad to you. It’s tough enough to be a father. We’re going to have to work together.”

“I know. It’s okay. But could we do more stuff together?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Stuff. It just feels better being together than being alone.”

Chase took the last bite of his peanut and jelly sandwich. His schedule kept him busier than he wanted to be working on his novel, drafting executive speeches for his clients, and creating ads—not to mention, managing his own grief. It was obvious he had not paid enough attention to Clay and now he knew he had to make some changes, alter his priorities. 

“Sure. We can do more stuff together. Let me think about what that could look like.” He recalled the loneliness he felt coming home from school years ago and his father was still at work. As an only child, there were too many idle hours. Isolation heightened his grief. Chase remembered how empty hours needed filling and how, as a boy, seclusion had often forced him to replay his mother’s death in his mind on an endless loop. Chase finished his drink and recollected how activity fueled healing in his life when he was young.

~

That evening after Clay was in bed, Chase sat out on the patio enjoying the breeze off the ocean and thought about how he was failing as a father. During the last year, he had emotionally abandoned Clay to deal with his own grief. His father had made the same mistake with him—so he should have known better. 

As clouds slowly rolled across the evening sky, he laid his head back on his soft patio chair, hoping he could reconnect with the one person who could help him recall precisely what Clay was going through now: his twelve-year-old self. He closed his eyes in the moonlight and felt his mind drift back to the week of his mother’s passing.

~
 

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