There’s a saying new writers often hear: “don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.” It means that sometimes authors have to delete a scene they love to make the story stronger. This scene is the very first scene I wrote for Deliberate Deceptions, one that had flashed in my mind when I was writing a scene in Personal Protection where Sam is arguing with Chad. The vision of him walking up to the grave, made me cry while I was writing it so it became my beloved “darling scene.” But as I was writing further and further into the story something in the back of my head kept niggling that readers wouldn’t give Lauren (or me) the chance to explain why she left Chad. I figured if I didn’t like her for walking away, even though I knew why she’d left, why would you like her enough to keep reading? So after months, I had to admit to myself that the story needed to start somewhere else. Which meant I had to “kill my darling.”
For those wondering where it would go in the story, since it takes place in 2002, eight years before the rest of the story takes place, it would be the very first scene instead of the love scene that currently opens the story. For those who have read Deliberate Deceptions, you may also noticed that in the finished copy, I played with the timeline so Lauren didn’t wait two years to leave. Since it was cut before I submitted it, even before I did final edits on it and my critique partners never even got to see it, the writing is still rough, but I thought you might like an insight into a scene that had been cut, and why…
Oh, and the photo I’ve inserted below — I saw that after I’d signed the contract, and already cut the scene, but when I saw it I had to have it, because I can see Chad sitting there with one of Emily’s toys, wondering what the hell had happened. And my son “Curly” photoshopped the photo of “Lauren holding Emily” on the packed box for me. It’s used in the book’s trailer…
Copyright © 2011 Leah Braemel
All rights reserved
It wasn’t right. Nothing was right.
There should be thick clouds dimming the sky. Jagged lightning arcing across the heavens. Thunder rumbling and clashing, shaking the ground with its ferocity. The heavens should open up and pour it grief upon everything below. The wind should lash the trees, chill the faces and fingers of anyone foolish enough to brave its fury.
Chad Miller stared at the flower-lined path leading up the sunlit slope, willing his legs to move.
One step. Another. Gravel crunched beneath his feet, grating his nerves, shredding his soul. From the effort it took to walk, his legs might have been lead stumps.
It wasn’t right that the leaves of the maple tree just beyond were a joyous explosion of red and yellow, like a firework exploding. It should be bare, barren. The way it was first time he’d come here. The breeze shouldn’t be a warm caress on his face; instead icy fingers of sleet should pelt him, freeze him in place. The way ice had wrapped around his heart two years before and never defrosted.
It damned well wasn’t right when a breeze ruffled the leaves, sending them cascading through the air like in a joyous dance. They should carpet the ground, dry and brittle, their color faded, to be trodden and destroyed beneath the next visitor’s feet.
He reached the top of the hill, and stopped, unwilling to set foot upon the lush lawn yawning in front of him.
He shouldn’t be here. No. That was wrong. She shouldn’t be here.
Heaving a deep breath that sliced through the remnants of his heart, he took that first step off the path. Freshly mown grass cushioned his steps, silencing them until all he could hear was the trill of a robin somewhere behind him.
Six steps—six long, agonizing steps later, he stopped. He knelt down on one knee and stroked the granite marker with the tiny angel carved on it. His fingers trembling and cold, he brushed the leaves from the plaque, their bright red obscene against the grey stone, until he could read the inscription.
Emily Ann Miller
August 22, 2000 – October 17, 2000
Satisfied the pedestal was clean enough, he removed the tiny stuffed bear from the bag he’d brought with him and positioned it against the headstone. “Hey, baby girl. Daddy’s here.”
Heedless of the dew clinging to the grass soaking both his trousers and his hand, he stroked the grass covering her grave. It should have been a blanket, pink with butterflies or some fussy design a little girl would like, not damp grass covering her. “Two years old, baby girl. You would have been walking by now. Probably running us ragged. And talking too.”
Calling him Daddy.
Instead she’d forever be a memory of a baby he’d once held in his arms. She’d never take her first step or smile at him with that toothless grin. He’d never watch her squealing and giggling at a birthday party filled with other squealing, giggling little girls.
Gravel crunched on the path behind him then stopped. Damn it, couldn’t he have just five minutes alone? After taking another deep breath to steady himself, he stood up and turned around, jamming his hands in his pockets. At first all he saw were a half dozen pink and white balloons, a giant silver Mylar balloon bobbing in their midst. The balloons moved to the side and the ache in his chest split wide open.
“Hello, Lauren.” Her black dress contrasted starkly against the pink balloons, and the pink miniature roses in the tiny bouquet she held in her other hand. The black also washed out any color in her face, accentuating the dark circles beneath her eyes, increasing the appearance of fragility that had him wanting to take her in his arms. To comfort her. To cling to her and let her cling to him.
Lauren nodded, cool and polite, her civility more chilling than any slap. “Hello Chad. I can wait in the car if you want.”
And let Emily see what had become of her parents? See the rancor that had developed and split them apart? No, not rancor. Except for that fight the day Lauren had moved out, they’d not fought or yelled at each other. No. they’d been very civil. They’d each withdrawn, their speech reduced to single syllables, spoken in polite monotones. They’d both rolled over and faced their own sides of the bed instead of holding each other. Their marriage hadn’t exploded; it had just expired with a quiet sigh.
“No need.” He stepped aside, allowing her to continue to their daughter’s grave.
Lauren sank to her feet with the same litheness that had first attracted his attention. As she positioned the balloons at the side of the marker and lay the flowers beside his bear, the sun glinted off the strawberry highlights in her blonde hair, two shades darker than Emily’s had been. He reached out, his hand hovering an inch above her hair, needing to feel that silk against his fingertips once more. When they’d first met, it had tumbled halfway down her back, a golden curtain that he’d loved running his hands through, winding it around his fist to hold her in place while she’d gone down on him.
The week after Emily died, she’d cut it short. For some reason he couldn’t explain even now, he’d taken it personally. Oh, he hadn’t yelled at her or any said anything disparaging. But he’d made sure she’d known he disliked it. A week later, Lauren came home with her hair dyed black with blue tips, filled with some gel until it stuck up in spikes like some goddamned goth teenager.
Strange how they’d never said a word about it. Such a trivial matter, yet it had become a symbol of the problems between them.
They’d tucked the original Mooshie, their daughter’s favorite stuffed bear, into the casket beside her. “That’s why I bought him.”
She stroked the grass the same way he had earlier. How long had it been since she’d touched him with such tenderness? Such love?
Damn it, what the hell type of man lusted after a woman at his daughter’s grave? Even if that woman was the mother of his child. Emily deserved his respect. His restraint.
Now was the time he should leave, give her some space to be alone with their daughter. Yet he couldn’t move. That pull he always felt whenever she walked into the room was as strong as ever. Why did she still affect him like that?
She straightened, and took a deep breath. “I’m glad I caught you.”
She was? A tiny ember of hope flared. Was she going to move back in to the house? To try again? To forgive him?
“I have something I need to tell you and didn’t want to do it over the phone.”
That didn’t sound good. He braced himself, unsure of what would come next. The ember of hope flickered, wavered, as if a gust of wind threatened to extinguish it completely.
“I’ve been offered a job.”
“Congratulations.” That was good, right? The counselor they’d been seeing had suggested she find something new to help her focus on something other than Emily’s death. It wasn’t like she could go back to the FBI. Not with the inquiry hanging over his head. That everyone assumed that she’d known what he was doing was unfair, but what could he do now? If she’d found something to do, maybe it would help her move forward, maybe she could find a way to forgive him for destroying her career along with his own, and that would be another hurdle overcome.
“Thanks.” She clutched the straps of her purse so tight her knuckles turned white. “Anyway, I wanted to say goodbye before I left.”
“Left?” Left? What the fuck did that mean?
“The job’s in London. I leave tomorrow.”
Sonovabitch, he’d been thinking she was talking Atlanta, maybe New York. California even. Somewhere on the same continent at least. But England? The fragile flicker of hope extinguished as surely as if someone had doused it with water. Hell, she’d just drowned any lingering hope at the bottom of the entire Atlantic ocean.
“When did you apply?” How long have you known you were going to walk away from me? They’d talked a half dozen times in the past few weeks since she’d left yet not once had she mentioned it.
“I was approached two weeks ago. I’ve taken a job with a security firm over there.” Somewhere they didn’t care about the mess he’d dragged her into, she didn’t need to say.
He followed the path her gaze took, turning around to see a black stretch limo parked behind his sedan, its windows tinted so dark he couldn’t see if anyone was waiting inside. But the man standing by the back door, scanning the cemetery, his jacket unbuttoned as if he were ready to draw a holstered weapon screamed bodyguard.
“I’m going to be doing security assessments for companies and high profile executives. That type of thing.”
The very type of job he’d have to settle for. If anyone would have him considering his fuck up. Ah, hell without her in his life, and Emily, what did it matter if he ended up as mall cop? “So that’s it between us? You’re just going to walk away? Give up on our marriage?”
Instead of meeting his gaze, she paid more attention to removing the half dozen blades of grass that clung to the hem of her dress from when she’d knelt at Emily’s grave. “It’s better this way.”
Better? For who? He looked away, focused on a robin as it hopped from branch to branch of the maple, oblivious to the drama unfolding in front of him. Somewhere close by another bird trilled a long note. How could the things sound so fucking happy? Didn’t they know his world was ending?
Instead of letting out the roar building within, letting free the rage against everything going to shit, he forced himself to breathe. In. Out. Forced his shoulders down. His hands to unfurl. His knees to unlock. “You said you’d give me—our marriage—a chance. That if we went to counseling—”
“I know.” She touched her fingers to his arm, a glancing caress that should have comforted him. Instead it felt more like a switchblade slicing him open. “I’m sorry.”
He stepped out of her reach. Her hand hovered in the air for a second before dropping to her side. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me, Lauren. I’ve even talked to your goddamned shrink and answered her questions about things no one had any right to ask. And for what? You’re leaving me anyway?”
“I’d hoped you’d understand.”
“I don’t.” He stared at their daughter’s grave. Don’t let this place be where their marriage died, please. “Look, I know you’re angry that I didn’t consult you about putting my agents into the club. About protecting Thalia—”
“It’s not about that.”
“Then about that video?” He still hadn’t figured out how they’d managed to sneak a camera into the house, though he had an idea. “It’ll die down. Just give it time. Some other scandal will draw those bloodsuckers away.”
She shook her head, still not looking at him. “It’s not about that either.”
The hell it wasn’t.
Fuck it all. His career with the FBI was over, that was a given. If she wasn’t in DC, there was nothing for him either. There was no reason to stick around. “I’ll move to London with you if that’s what it takes”
Hell, considering the way the press had been hounding him, maybe moving out of the country was a damned good idea.
Lauren shook her head. “You—” She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “You can’t. Not with the inquiry still going on, you know that.”
“Fuck the inquiry. We both know I’ve been fired, the paperwork’s just not been filed yet. I don’t have to stand around while they pick apart my bones.”
“I’m sorry. It has to be this way, Chad.”
Though someone else who didn’t know her might have been fooled, might have believed she didn’t want him there, there was something about the way she was controlling herself, controlling her voice that told him she didn’t want to end their marriage either. So why wouldn’t she bend? Why wouldn’t she give them another chance? “Bullshit. You can find another job. One in the same country.”
“No. I can’t.” Her eyes were dry, but from the white knuckled death-grip on her purse she was just barely hanging on. “I’m sorry, Chad. I have to go.”
Before he could say anything more, she ran down the path to the limo where the bodyguard opened the rear door. The bodyguard’s gaze locked on Chad, assessing him as a threat. Just who the fuck was she working for?
Lauren hesitated before she got in, looking back at him. Her lips moved, mouthing what looked like I’m sorry or maybe it was good-bye; it sure as hell wasn’t I love you. Then she ducked into the car.
His hands curled into fists, he watched the limo disappear from view. He’d felt worse only one other day. Watching as they’d buried Emily’s coffin. But from the way his chest felt like she’d ripped out his heart as he watched the car drive away, this was a close second. Lauren might not be dead, but she’d sure enough killed their marriage.