Authors: Clare Kenna
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Sagas
WHERE ANGELS TREAD
A Kensington Family Novel
Where Angels Tread
The Kensingtons Book One
© Copyright 2015
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
When Zachary was a little boy, he used to bounce off the last step of the school bus and directly into Heidi Griffin’s arms, eager to tell her everything about his day with the kind of innocent childhood excitement that made her heart burst with love. She would lead him into the cozy kitchen and sit him down in front of a tall glass of milk and two warm peanut butter cookies, his favorite, and listen raptly as he chattered on and on about his latest art project, or else recited his multiplication tables, his cheeks flushed pink with pride. She knew then that those days would be short-lived, that she needed to drink in every moment with her son before he became an awkward, surly teenager who breezed by her without a backward glance.
Unfortunately, Heidi thought as she pressed her fingers against her temple in irritation, that time had come sooner than she ever imagined. As she looked at her son, now ten years old with a shock of red hair and a wiry body he had yet to grow into, she longed for the days when scraped knees and other childhood traumas were fixed with a quick kiss and a trip to the ice cream parlor. But the events of the past three years had left Zachary floundering; the sparkle in his blue-green eyes had faded, along with his infectious laugh and zest for life. He had become a shell of the boy she once knew, but Heidi, in her own heartache, had yet to figure out how to reach him. She felt like they were both drowning in their grief, desperately grasping for each other’s hands but finding nothing but air instead.
Trying to control the quake of rage in her voice, Heidi waved the principal’s note in front of Zachary’s sullen face; he did his best to appear nonchalant, but Heidi knew from the way the color crept into his cheeks that he was steeling himself for a fight. “I need you to explain this to me,” she said quietly, silently rereading the note once more. The principal of Zachary’s middle school had mailed home a handwritten letter to Heidi, voicing his concern over Zachary’s recent spate of absences; the only problem was that as far as Heidi knew, Zachary hadn’t missed a day of school at all this year.
Zachary merely shrugged in response, his face mutinous, his shoulders hunched. Despite her anger, Heidi felt a rush of affection for her only child as he stood there in pants two sizes too big and a black faux leather jacket that looked as though it had jumped right out of an eighties hair band video. She knew that he was trying to be tough—as tough as any ten-year-old could be, that is—but to her he was still the sweet boy who used to climb onto her lap every night and plant a soft kiss on her cheek before scampering off to the warm cocoon of his bed.
“Listen to me, Zachary,” she said, placing two fingers beneath his chin and forcing him to look into her eyes. “This is completely unacceptable. Mr. Lange wrote here that you’ve missed ten days of school in the past two months. Where have you been?” He averted his eyes and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, studiously ignoring her. She took a deep breath, and decided to try a different tactic. “Sweetheart, I know things have been rough around here. For both of us. But I can feel you slipping away from me and that scares me so much, Zachary. I don’t want to lose you, too.”
Zachary’s eyes filled with tears, and he ducked his head and swiped roughly at them with the back of his hand. Heidi reached out to rest a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he swatted her away impatiently; she felt a wetness behind her own eyes, the familiar sensation that she had experienced all too much of these past three years.
“I’ve been cutting, okay? What else do you want me to say? School is stupid.”
Heidi squared her shoulders, preparing for a battle of wills that she was determined, for once, to win. “And where exactly were you going? You shouldn’t be out wandering around by yourself. It’s not safe. Not to mention the fact that you’re going to have to repeat fifth grade if you continue acting like this.”
“I don’t care!” he shouted, startling Heidi so much that she took a step back, her eyes widening in alarm. When, she wondered, her chest swelling with emotion, had things gotten so bad? They used to be a tight-knit, loving family, before the accident that claimed every ounce of happiness she had. She remembered, before Zachary was born, how she used to dream for hours on end about giving him the perfect childhood, like the kind she used to see on those sappy classic television shows. She always thought that she would be the best mother in town. But somewhere along the way, things had begun to unravel like a ball of yarn, and once that first strand came loose, it was practically impossible to put the ball back together again.
“Zachary…” She reached out a hand toward her son, but he turned and darted away from her and down the hallway to the front door, which he disappeared out of, slamming the door behind him so hard that its decorative glass panes shook. That, she thought, sinking onto one of the wooden stools that circled her kitchen table, did not go as smoothly as she had hoped. Lately, there had been too many times when, rather than confronting what was really bothering him, Zachary took off, roaming the streets for hours until Heidi’s fingernails were bitten down to the skin with worry. Try as she might, she was unable to control his behavior.
What he really needed was the same thing that every other little boy needed. A father.
Heidi’s throat tightened as she caught a glimpse of John’s photo, taken three summers ago during a family trip to San Francisco. She gently picked up the photo, a sad smile creeping up on her face as she remembered how much fun they had on the trip, the first “real” family vacation they had taken since Zachary had been born. She and John had scrimped and saved for months to afford the trip, collecting spare change from their wallets and hosting garage sales to sell some of the items they never used anymore. They weren’t rich, but they were happy.
Heidi had been behind the camera for this particular shot, trying to frame the photo just right so that she could capture the glorious purple and orange sunset lighting up the sky behind the Bay Bridge. Like most seven-year-olds, Zachary was getting impatient at having to stand still for so long, squirming in his father’s arms and hopping from one foot to the next. “Mommy,” he called impatiently as she twisted the lens to zoom out, “hurry up! I’m hungry and you
we could have pizza tonight.”
“I know,” John said, kneeling down to brush a lock of Zachary’s hair back from his forehead. “Let’s take one real photo for Mommy because it will make her happy, and then we’ll do one with silly faces.” He stroked the little boy’s cheek with the pad of his thumb. “How does that sound?”
“I’m going to pretend to be a dinosaur, Daddy. Rawr!” Zachary bared his teeth and clawed at the air. John grabbed Zachary around the waist and twirled him around in mid-air. Heidi snapped photo after photo of the two of them, Zachary shrieking with glee, John throwing his head back and laughing that deep belly laugh that Heidi so adored.
Months later, when she finally mustered up the energy to have the photos from their trip developed, she thumbed through them until she reached those shots. Her boys, carefree and laughing, so wrapped up in each other that they forgot about the beautiful scenery behind them and the line of other tourists waiting to have their own pictures taken in the same spot. She plucked a photo from the pile and carefully arranged it in a frame on the kitchen counter. When Zachary had returned home from school that day, he took one look at the picture and fled to his room, slamming the door behind him. He stayed there all evening, Heidi crouched in the hallway outside his room with her head pressed against the wall, hot tears sliding down her cheeks as she listened to her precious boy cry himself to sleep. She had known that it was her responsibility to comfort him, but nothing she could do or say would bring back the one thing that would take all of their pain away. So they remained the same, cloaked in their sorrow, until life slowly returned to normal. Or, as Heidi now thought of it, the new normal.
After one last glance at John’s smiling face, she set the photo back on the counter and bent down to retrieve a heavy pot from the cabinet. She filled it with water, glancing out of the window every now and then to try and spot Zachary’s willowy form walking up the sidewalk to the front door. She never knew where he went during these times; when he returned, her questions always fell on deaf ears. There wasn’t even anyone she could call; her parents had died not long after Zachary was born, and as far as she knew, he didn’t have any close friends at school.
An hour later, Heidi’s spaghetti dinner lay forgotten, the sauce hardening on the plates, the mozzarella cheese congealed into unappetizing globs. Heidi stood at the front window watching the rain come down in droves. The California sky had darkened to an inky blue despite the early hour, and the only souls she saw outside were scurrying into their warm homes to escape the downpour. A streak of white lightning crackled across the sky, followed by a deep rumble of thunder. Heidi crossed her arms around her body protectively and hurried down the sidewalk, the wind whipping her hair around her face wildly. Zachary was still nowhere to be seen.
Terrifying images of her son, soaked and trembling, alone in the dark somewhere, flashed through her mind. She grabbed her purse and keys and clambered into the old but reliable station wagon she bought used from a slick car salesman who had been trying his best to flirt with her. Cranking the volume on the radio up to mask the pounding of her own heart, she ground the engine to life and steered onto the slick roads, praying that she would find Zachary before he got hurt, or worse.
It was ironic, really, Heidi thought to herself as she drove through the neighboring streets. She had always loved the rain. As a child, she would stand at the door impatiently, waiting for the clouds to split open. As the first drops tumbled out of the sky, she would grab a blanket and a book and settle herself under the weeping willow tree in the front yard of her home, spending hours watching the puddles dance in the wind. “You’re crazy,” her mother used to say as she braved the rain to bring Heidi a steaming mug of hot chocolate. “Maybe you used to be a mermaid in your past life.”
Even on her wedding day, when most brides prayed for sunshine and warmth, Heidi secretly wished that storm clouds would swirl through the sky. She believed then that rain was a promise of future happiness, a sign of good luck. But now, especially during these crisp fall nights, the rain haunted her, pelting her with memories of the day her and Zachary’s lives had changed forever.
Shane Kensington was bored. He was on desk duty at the station again, a position he had become all too familiar with over the past few years. What he craved were the days when he could patrol the streets in his cruiser, and the thrill he received every time a call came over the radio. His partner Buddy would always turn to Shane, a mischievous gleam in his eye, and say, “Ready to party?”
Shane always had the same response. “You better believe it.” It had become a running joke between the two men, who were as close as brothers. They had been assigned to the same station after graduating from the police academy and eventually requested to become partners, sharing countless late night cups of coffee, bleary-eyed talks about the future, and maybe a few dirty jokes here and there. Despite the fun they had together, when duty called, they were always first at the line of action, ready to serve and protect the community—and the people—that they loved so much.
From the time he was a little boy, growing up in the rolling hills of Central California’s Santa Ynez Valley, Shane knew that he was destined to become a police officer. When he was in fourth grade, the police chief visited his school to talk to the class about safety. At the end of the presentation, Shane raised his hand and boldly asked if he could try on the officer’s cap. “Now, Shane, that’s not a good idea,” his pretty teacher Miss Winters had scolded, wagging her finger at him. “Officer Palen has to get back to work now.”