First Chapter–A Message in the Roses


Chapter One


On a snowy morning in Atlanta, Carrie Sue rummaged through an old cedar chest, searching for a journal. The storm had knocked out her power, but she was grateful to have a fire in the hearth and a kerosene lamp to read by.

She shook her head in dismay at all the stuff she’d collected. Only a pack rat would keep a stack of reporters’ notebooks and a cassette recorder from the 1980s. That was so long ago. No cell-phones or social media then.

When she uncovered her wedding dress embroidered with roses, she buried her nose in the crinoline and inhaled the sweet musk, still lingering after all these years.

Beneath the dress, was a small safe. She fumbled with the combination lock and eventually opened it to reveal the lovely leather-bound book.

Her hands shook as she withdrew the diary. She sucked in a sharp breath and opened it.

But as she began to read, a painful nostalgia stung her. She barely recognized the passionate and reckless young woman she used to be.


Journal of Carrie Sue Justice


December 8, 1986


My stomach knotted when I saw the strange car in my driveway. Damn it, my key wouldn’t open my front door. Deadbolt was locked.

The door vibrated from the blaring stereo inside, as if my house were possessed. I couldn’t imagine my husband blasting music. He’d always complained about loud noise in the morning, and when I left an hour ago, he looked fast asleep.

As the Eagles belted out Heartache Tonight, I punched the doorbell nonstop. No response. By now snow clouds had buried the sun.

Dad used to say, “Always trust your gut.”

My gut screamed disaster, reminding me of the day I received the tragic news about Mom and Dad. They’d died in a plane crash on their way from Atlanta to Ethiopia.

I shook off that sad memory, and focused on trying to get in the house. Kyle didn’t expect me home. He thought I was interviewing Police Chief Barnum about the recent shooting death in our community.

As a news reporter, my job was to find out what happened. Why did police arrest four black teens for the murder of a white teen? Were their arrests racially motivated? Barnum had promised to give me the full scoop.

Unfortunately, my car broke down.

Tyrone, of Ty’s Wrecker and Repair, kindly offered to take me to my appointment in his tow truck. But I had him drop me off at my house so I could drive Mom’s old Cadillac to my meeting. I can’t stand to be without wheels. My downfall.

I couldn’t back the Caddy out of the garage, because Kyle had parked his car behind it. The other car, a red Thunderbird, had parked beside his Alfa Romeo.

How inconsiderate of him to block the driveway like this. I wanted to protest his rudeness, but first I needed to get inside.

I zipped up my leather jacket against the icy wind and inspected the unfamiliar Thunderbird. It had a Georgia tag with the letters “Hot stuff,” and a graduation tassel hanging from the rear-view mirror.

I peered through the T-Bird’s window and saw papers and spiral notebooks scattered everywhere, along with crumpled up paper bags and a pizza box. I pulled at the door handles. Locked.

Who was visiting my husband? And why was he up this early, blasting the roof off? He’d worked late last night, which suited his nocturnal clock.

I’m usually up and out with the chickens. This morning I’d left the house before seven, in plenty of time to stop by the newspaper office before driving to my interview with Barnum. If my car hadn’t died, I would have arrived early.

I stomped my feet like a toddler. The tantrum and fierce wind dislodged my hair from its bun. Unruly strands whipped my face as I pounded on the front door and rang the bell.

Kyle had some nerve, locking me out. This house has been in my family forever.

I’ve lived here most of my twenty-five years. My closest neighbor and buddy, Freemont, said my home, with its white pillars and large veranda, reminded him of Tara in Gone with the Wind.

After I lost Mom and Dad, the so-called “classic antebellum” house I inherited became more of a burden than a home. I’d gladly trade this old relic and all my possessions, if only I could turn back the clock and stop my parents from boarding that fatal flight.

I probably wouldn’t have married Kyle if they’d been alive to advise me against it. Sadly, they weren’t, and I fell in lust too quickly.

Knowing Dad, he would have broken down the door. Mom would have said, “Be patient. Patience is a virtue.”

“Give me patience,” I whispered as I followed the veranda to the back porch. I thought I could get in this way, but the door wouldn’t budge. The slide lock was engaged.

Burning with rage, I ran back to the front of the house and rang the doorbell again. I could barely hear the chimes above the blaring stereo of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire.

I screamed like an angry banshee, or what I thought an angry banshee might sound like. I yelled loud enough to be heard from miles away. My hollering would have woken the dead.

After a while, I gave my burning lungs a rest, and glanced at my wristwatch. He’d given me this watch to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. I found out he’d charged it on his American Express card, and couldn’t afford to pay the bill. He even had the audacity to ask me to pay for it. For crying out loud, what kind of man surprises his wife with a gift she didn’t ask for, and then asks her to fork out the cash for it? I’m glad I had sense enough to keep our bank accounts separate, or else he would have bled me dry.

My expensive timepiece showed eight thirty. I needed to call Barnum to reschedule, pronto. At least the earsplitting music had finally stopped.

I pushed on the doorbell again. The chimes echoed loudly. I waited and waited. No Kyle.

I knelt down to pick up the stone planter from the veranda. A pang of guilt warned me against what I felt compelled to do. Mom loved these windows. She called them “sentinels.” They’re nearly as old as the house.

I gripped the giant vase in both hands, bent my knees for leverage and drew back the urn. Then the front door creaked open.

My husband’s handsome face appeared, looking like Hamlet seeing his father’s ghost. Indeed, Kyle had played Hamlet a number of times for the Shakespeare Festival. His wavy hair, the color of a copper penny, was all mussed up. His two-day stubble gave him a rugged bad-boy look. He had on a beige long-sleeved tee-shirt, open in the front to show wisps of chest hair. His snug corduroy jeans displayed his abundant manhood. His brown eyes glared at me like I was crazy Ophelia.

He stepped outside and grabbed the planter out of my arms. “What’s wrong, love?” His mouth looked puffy, and he seemed to be exaggerating his Irish brogue, the one he used to charm my pants off. He wrapped his arms around me as if he thought I needed a strait jacket.

I shoved him away and walked inside to see what he was hiding. Lo and behold, I ran smack dab into a young woman about six feet tall, Junoesque and voluptuous.

I’m her opposite; blonde, five-seven, and skinny. Mom used to say I looked like a popular model, the one with the gap like mine between her front teeth, but of course, my mom would say that.

Kyle’s lady friend tossed back her silky long hair, the color of last night’s sunset—reddish orange. She looked me up and down.

My messy hair was frightful, but the rest of me appeared decent. I’d worn my favorite black dress, leather jacket and heels. Kyle’s paramour had on tight blue jeans and a velour sweater that matched her hair. Her sweater was wrong side out, as if she’d dressed in a hurry, in the dark.

She glanced at the tiny watch on her wrist.  “Oh, no, I’m late for work.”

“Who are you?” I spat out.

Rather than answer and explain why she was in my house with my husband, she turned toward Kyle.

He answered for her. “Carrie Sue, this is Maryann Nielson. She’s Blanche in Streetcar. We’ve been going over her lines.”

I bit my tongue and considered Kyle’s explanation. He directs plays for Stage Atlanta at night. In the afternoons he teaches two college classes, with ample time to coach actors at the college or at the theatre. I saw no legitimate reason for him to invite this woman to our home.

Maryann’s lips twitched nervously. “Hi,” she said, as her green eyes ping-ponged from me to Kyle. “Thanks, Kyle. See you later.” With that, she dashed away, jumped into her red Thunderbird, and sped down the long circular driveway like a racecar driver.

I glared at him. “You and Maryann have been screwing around, haven’t you?”

Kyle gave me a stern stare. “No, absolutely not, Carrie Sue. Maryann called this morning and asked me to help her get into character. You know how it is…Opening Night jitters. She’s nervous, unsure of herself.”

I gasped in disgust. “You think I’m stupid enough to believe you were rehearsing with the stereo blaring the way it was?” I slammed my hands on my hips to keep from slapping him.

He rolled his eyes. “I turned on the stereo to try to wake up. And when Maryann arrived, I thought it’d be more appropriate to rehearse on the back porch.” He stepped closer, thinking he could charm me. “And I forgot to turn the music off, love. I’m sorry.”

I slapped his chest, pushing him away. “Don’t give me that crap. You weren’t on the porch. I walked back there trying to get in the house after I discovered my key wouldn’t open the front door, because you’d engaged the deadbolt to lock me out.”

Rather than argue, he strolled outside like a tomcat on the prowl, and looked around. After a moment, he wandered back in. “Where’s your little car?”

“That’s none of your concern.”

He frowned. “Did it break down?”

Seething with anger, I refused to answer.

“If your car broke down, why didn’t you call me?”

“Get real. You wouldn’t have heard the phone above the blaring music. Plus, you were preoccupied with Maryann.”`

He grabbed my arms. “Stop it, Carrie Sue. I love you. Don’t you know that?”

“Get your filthy hands off me.” I pushed him backwards.

“You’re overreacting.” Tears welled in his deceitful eyes.

I turned away, determined not to let this Shakespearian Iago deceive me again. He might be a great actor, but he didn’t have a sincere fiber in his body.

He grabbed my waist and pulled my butt against his sex. “I think I know what you need, baby.”

I poked him as hard as I could with my elbows. “Get out of my house,” I shouted.

His arms tightened around my waist. “You don’t mean that.”

I elbowed him again and stepped toward the antique hunt board. Dad used to keep his snub nose pistol in the top drawer. It was the same type of gun Jack Ruby used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.

I didn’t find the gun but spotted Mom’s stainless steel letter opener. She called this her “paper knife.”

I wrapped my fingers around the handle, not intending to kill him. My main purpose was to get him out of the house and away from me. However, I have to admit, the thought of destroying his manhood crossed my mind.