An inspirational writer must put her teachings to work when her husband leaves ruining the wonderful life they had built...
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Courage of Fear
Angela Hearly-Peterson had it all--a beautiful home, adoring husband, a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, even a Pulitzer for her best selling inspirational memoir Wrestling With the Demons. Little does Angela know it's all about to come crumbling down. Her husband Jackson--the beloved 'moon to her sea'--has a secret gambling problem and has lost their entire fortune. In debt to Las Vegas casinos, he commits an unspeakable act that will send Angela into a downward spiral. She flees the West Coast for her family compound on Nantucket, where she plans to end the miserable charade that her life has become. The island remains home to people who still love Angela and remember the little girl she used to be before fame and fortune struck One man in particular has been waiting for her return. Leo, her unrequited high school boyfriends, still holds a torch for Angela and believes that they will end up together. Slowly, the motley group of islanders bands together to coax Angela back from the edge.
Human existence, or one's manifestation of it, is the greatest riddle of all. Many people will pursue this curiosity through insurmountable tragedies to get to the unanswerable other side.
Angela Hearly-Peterson. Wrestling With the Demons.
A champagne colored BMW Z3 sport car twists through the Malibu hills. In the distance heat vapors distort the pavement. On the hillsides partial glimpses of the many mansions strobe in and out of view as the Z3 follows the isolated curving road. The Beamer jets up a drive to a steel security gate. A woman's arm, clothed in a man's thick blue wool sweater, extends from the window. Chipped and bitten manicured nails stroke the numbered keypad.
The automobile wheels spin, spewing gravel, before it accelerates past the swinging black gate. As the car draws closer to the Italian stucco mansion, one of the garage doors begins opening. A twin midnight blue BMW is parked inside the quad shelter. The California whale license plate reads HRH. The champagne Beamer license is OT LF. Slowly the massive garage door rumbles down again.
Angela's hiking boots crunch in the white pebble chips of the walk. Why was everything so damned difficult? She yanks at her over-sized blue wool sweater that now begins to accumulate the moisture of the sweltering day. As tempted as she may be, she refuses to remove the garment that engulfs her. Even her tightly fitted blue jeans scream for her to return to the simplicity of days gone.
Jimi, the German shepherd greets Angela at the door. His wet loving kisses slide over her sweat drenched hands and he entwines himself in her walk. But today his efforts at comfort and familiarity go unnoticed.
Every step Angela takes through the meticulously maintained mansion is slow, dragging. She lingers at pictures of herself and Jackson displayed around the formal living room showing as much as film can, the passionate energy that was once a home, a life filled with love. God, they were as beautiful as any couple plastered on a Calvin Klein billboard or the cover of People Magazine's "100 Most Beautiful People" issue.
The photos cover a wide spectrum of love's moments: two young lovers on the lawn of the University, living on loans and part-time jobs, the future bright in their eyes; a posh, elegant wedding that would have even Joan Rivers drooling; their college graduation; various parties gathering friends and family. The quiet intimate moments the couple shared: the many stages of building their dream home, Angela's book signings, Jackson designing and building Jimi's doghouse, Jackson leaning over his drawing table at his office and at home, Angela and Jackson lying on the deck of their boat out in the blue Pacific . . .
The moments seemed so insignificant when they were captured on the film. Now her mind played them over and over, and she would give a last breath to live them again, because the total of all of those moments was the very essence of her life. An energy and love so vivid she finds herself actually entering the moments of the snapshots. It is overwhelming—and she welcomes it.
Her shaking hand lifts a picture from the piano and holds it close to her heart, bonding with its memory, opening the door to a compartment in her mind where passion once lived and thrived; where she once smelled the sweet fragrance of lavender love. She turns around and finds the living room empty as it was when Jackson carried her in his arms, as any groom would his bride, over the threshold of their first home. The smell of new paint now long dried fills her senses. Their laughter echoes in the front hall.
"Is it everything you dreamed it would be?" Jackson asked.
"Better than dreams," She whispers with her memory, as her lids begin to close and the once connected kiss now burns on to her lips, the lips of the observer.
A screaming match turns her attention from the front of the home to the rear. The living room is now decorated in celebration of the birth of The Savior. Christmas candles exude ginger, cranberry, bayberry, and vanilla.
"How can you invite sixty-two people?" He shouted. "I don't understand you! You're not making any sense."
Angela slammed her open hand down on the cold brown granite counter. "Well, why would you want to be with someone you don't understand?" Knowing she was about to completely lose control she fled from the kitchen.
As she passed Jackson he grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward him. He slid his hand up her arm bringing it to rest on her cheek. He took a deep thoughtful breath. "Why would I want to be with someone I always understand?" He lifted her lowered chin so their eyes connected. "Besides, why would anyone not want to be with someone—" Using his thumb, he wiped her tears away. "I am a better man reflected from here," he softly kissed her eyelids, one then the other. "Who would refuse to be part of that?"
She places the memory in its rightful place, back on to the black baby grand piano.
Her body shivers as the fear returns, leaving her breathless once again. The musty dampness has replaced the sweet scent of peace. She wonders if she will make it to the next doorway. She wonders if she even has the willingness to make such a passionless attempt. And if she does, will the darkness overpower her ability to see what might be right in front of her?
She feels herself weaken even more as she goes through the foyer to the stairwell. Her feet connect to the base of the stairs, careful to step around the spot where the two young lover's foreplay turned to passionate lovemaking.
With every step she takes, the weight of that one day returns: the cold chill climbing up her spine, the unbearable weight of the rain dripping from her body, the squish of her toes being pressed like a vise in her soaking wet Anne Klein leather pumps. Her heart pounding to the premonition of finality. Mere seconds take lifetimes, and no matter how swift her feet, she would have to spend a forever knowing she was too late. Yet secretly—despite the rain . . . despite the horror . . . despite the terror—inside, she would give it all away to be able to live that one day again. Just to have the chance to convince him to stay.
Angela drops to her knees outside the bedroom door. She brings her oversized sleeves to her face and takes three deep, long breaths, trying to recapture the courage of the sweater's rightful owner. She needs for him to be on the other side of this door. Silently she pleads, envisioning him lying on the bed reading Plato. His soft tone welcoming her home and making her feel safe once again.
The bedroom door swings open. Angela hesitates before passing through the doorway. There is no Plato. There is no softness. There is no Jackson patiently waiting for her return.
The room is full of exquisite eighteenth century, hand carved Queen Anne mahogany furnishings, but no bed. She had the bed removed. Parts of the carpet have been cut away. The ceiling fan is missing its blades and the domes to its lights.
An aluminum painter's ladder blocks her path to the dresser. She begins to walk underneath it, stops, backs up, and goes around. The fresh primer that covers parts of the ceiling and walls is a reckless, angry disruption, masking the once subtle softness of the original pale yellow.
On the north wall, on opposite sides of the centered master bathroom, are his and hers walk-in closets. Gucci, Dior, Posen, Karen, Armani, and Polo hang evenly spaced on wood-brass hangers. Shoes line one wall. On separate mannequins hang Jackson and Angela's clothing from the Friday of a few weeks past.
Angela stumbles to the dresser and opens two of its drawers. They are crammed full of bundles of one hundred-dollar bills. She hesitates briefly, staring at the mounds of banded crisp paper. She cannot help but think what is in these two drawers is supposed to replace, or buy back, what she lost. It is absurd that anyone, especially Jackson, could or would ever believe that possible.
She runs to her closet, grabs a large army surplus duffel bag, and begins shoving it full of the cash. With each fistful, she feels a growing disgust. Finally she shoves the last of the bills down past the small green rope ties and fights to pull the strings closed. The more she fights, the harder it is to swallow her rage.
Then sunlight pierces through the window and bounces off a silver ring on the dresser. Her heart freezes. Amongst the cologne, cufflinks, watches, and hairbrush (still holding remnants of Jackson's cocoa brown hair), there it is. The moon band, the unity of their eternal love. How had she missed it before? She feels possessed by the gravity of the moon ring that had always drawn the waves of her own sea band. Before she can resist, her fingers bond with the band that used to rest on his finger.
Succumbing to the rings' seduction, she closes her eyes. As if in slow motion, the moon ring slides down her finger, over her own sea band, until it clicks in place, as they had designed it to do. She can feel his energy woven into the metals. When she opens her eyes for a split second, she sees in her reflection that she is whole again.
The feeling is gone as quickly as it came over her. How could something so powerful disappear so completely?
She turns to the mirror and stares misery in the eyes, wearing the same blue wool sweater Jackson wore on the University lawn so many lifetimes ago. She takes a long close look as her fingers outline her reflection, an image she no longer recognizes. Her usually stylish blonde hair lies limp and heavy from days of oil buildup. Her face is puffy. Not even her extravagant makeup could conceal the dark circles under her swollen sea blue eyes. Her once tanned skin is now as dull and colorless as her world.
Lost are the days of Estee Lauder flawless make-up beginnings. These days are consumed laboriously swallowing the darkness. Where even a breath is a constant conscious effort. How does one tire so easily over a task once done so naturally it was somehow taken for granted?
Her hand slides down the mirror leaving an unsettling smudge and distorting her image. She feels her knees buckle beneath her. Angela grabs the sides of the dresser, tugging on the tapestry runner scattering Jackson's deserted possessions.
A heavy pewter picture frame falls forward. She does not need to right it to know what it contains. Her smile in the picture, once so charismatic and natural now seems cruel and mocking. She no longer knows that woman so full of life, enthusiasm, and happiness. Sudden rage boils up and she slams the heavy pewter frame against the reflection before her. Mirror fragments sail through the air freeing the pain of her soul. Even if she wanted to, she can't stop. She needs to breathe.
She uses the pewter as a weapon, wielding it wildly around the place that used to be their sanctuary . . . sending plaster, wood, glass, perfume, books, and lamps flying through the air like dancing demon fairies screaming victory. She hurls the pewter frame out through the window, over the garden, and into the swimming pool below. She yanks out the dresser drawers, flips them upside down, sending the contents cascading through the air. The dresser drawers too, go out the window, over the garden. Effortlessly, as if with years of practice, she shifts dismantling the nightstands. After she finishes with the second nightstand, she notices a crusty brown spot on its edge.
Her sight blurs.
Slowly her eyes travel around the vast wasteland created out of her once domesticated silence. Her legs give way to the weight of her feelings of emptiness, and she drops to the floor in tears of exhaustion and grief.
As the tears flow she is powerless to stop them, as she has been powerless against so much these last few weeks. She buries her face in the thick white pile. Even there, she can smell him.
Presently she looks around the room. What started as a mere mess now looks like the revenge of Zeus. She can't really tell where she ends and the devastation begins. What used to be only on the inside now surrounds her as well.
Jimi's barking from outside is heard through the chaos in and around her. This brings her back to her reason for being there. She lifts her head and notices Jackson's writing on an envelope sticking out from the pages of her book, Wrestling With the Demons. Though she fears his words, she also longs for them. She grabs the letter and shoves it in the duffel bag with the money.
Her leg muscles throb when she forces herself to her feet. She makes her way to the master bathroom, opens the medicine cabinet, flicks through the many medicines to find the one brown bottle that holds her future. She throws the pills in the bag, tosses the bag over her shoulder, then leaves the room, without looking back.
At the car, Angela throws the duffel bag into the trunk next to two forty-pound bags of organic dog food, two large CD cases, and a Stevens double-barreled, twelve gauge shotgun. She slams the trunk closed. Her keys are clenched in one hand and she has a fist full of papers in the other.
She looks at the key chain that links the mansion keys and two sets of BMW keys. The heart shaped key ring is inscribed: Sweet Angel. Forever by your side. Love, Jackson. She looks toward the mansion, then to the keys, then back to the mansion again.
She slides her exhausted body on to the warm tan leather seat, opens the passenger side door, and whistles for Jimi.
Jimi runs to the car door, props his two front paws on the seat and then jumps back out again. He looks to the mansion and then to her. He runs to the grassed area lining the circular drive and rolls around as if finally freed from years of confinement.
"Jimi," she says, "not now."
He looks to the car, barks, then jumps in, grabs the keys from the ignition and darts to the grassed area.
Agitated, Angela begins chasing after him. They face off on the grass like linemen in a football game. He goes right, she goes left. He darts fakes left and bolts. She chases him in a large circle. Her tears turn to laughter then to tears again. With the weight of her world she collapses to the ground.
He hesitates, then trots over and drops the keys at her side. With his dripping wet tongue hanging he waits for her cue. When he receives none, his chest goes down. His chin delicately rests on his front legs, butt up in the air swaying ever so slightly with his wagging tail.
She doesn't move.
Ears perked, he whines and nestles his nose under her chin.
He whines, barks, then gives her another nudge. He presses his wet cool nose under her chin staring eye-to-eye with her. Patiently and delicately he holds this position.
There is something all too familiar about Jimi's eyes, as if the one who trained him now possesses them. Angela smiles, glides her hand through the fine abundance of fur on his neck as she rises. She makes her way toward the car.
He quickly takes his position riding shotgun.