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Mondays are for Excerpts

20 Oct


“Last night,” Tessa began, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat, “Last night, you said . . . you said you wish you could stop loving me.” She glanced again at him, holding her breath.

Alessandro shook his head, and rubbed his chin, “I’ve never had so much to drink.” He paused, sighed and shook his head again. “Again, I regret coming last night.”

She saw him walking away and said quickly, “I didn’t get rid of you because I wanted to be with another man.”

He waved a hand and glanced over his shoulder. “You don’t have to explain yourself, Tessa. It’s your life to live free and do whatever you want.”

Alessandro’s glacial tone made her shiver.

Tessa walked to him and when she was only a step away, she grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop and whispered, “And what if what I want is to be with you? Is that still an option?”

Alessandro turned around to face her. “Why, so you can break my heart again, throwing me away like a bad shoe?” His stern gaze froze her, his words jabbing her heart like boxing gloves.

Tessa let go of his arm. “I’m not seeing anyone,” she mumbled.

“What about the man you were with last night?”

“That man is my . . . my brother.”

Alessandro burst into a fake laughter and began applauding, “Bravo, Tessa, you’re quite a remarkable actress. My sister—your brother. How convenient. You forget I know your family? You forget I know both your sisters, or did you just forget to mention him while we were dating?”

She slapped him over his arm. “Stop it. He is my half-brother. His name is Cristian Mincu and I found him by finding my biological father. As is turns out, my mama had an affair and I’m the result of it.” Tears stung her eyes, but she’d be damned if she’d let him see her embarrassment. She turned on her heels and marched to the sink once more to finish cleaning up. She turned on the faucet, picked up a sponge and scrubbed a plate vigorously, as if she could scrub away the suffering disgrace since she read her mama’s letter for the first time.

“Is this true?” Alessandro’s voice sounded shaken.

“No, I made that up so I can try out my acting skills,” she snapped at him.

“I’m sorry,” she heard Alessandro’s soft tone behind her back.

She straightened her backbone, “Don’t be. I don’t need your pity.”

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Mondays are for Excerpts

20 Oct


“Abuse resides next door. A countless number of women among us are physically, verbally, and emotionally abused. I was one of them. A year ago to the day, I almost died at the hands of the man I planned to spend my life with. I thought I knew him inside and out. I was wrong.

“One day he came to my apartment, hit me, and raped me. My body healed, in time, but my soul and heart bled for months. I lost my identity. I wanted to die and stop the pain, stop the nightmares, stop the voices in my head, the voices that told me I deserved it, that I looked for it, because I’d done nothing to stop him.” Tessa took a few short breaths, forcing herself not to cry. She saw shocked faces and heard murmurs around the room, but she needed to say it out loud for everyone to hear.

She sniffled and, looking at her audience, she continued, “For months I’ve been an empty body, with nothing to give, nothing to hold onto. My life wasn’t mine anymore. And then, one day, my dear friend Dina told me about this shelter for women in need and I have this desperate desire to do something for them. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help. There are so many ways you can help. Don’t be a bystander. Thank you for coming, thank you for your generous donations. Let’s make this a memorable event. Hopefully many more will follow.”

From the corner of her eyes, Tessa saw someone standing and applauding. It was her favorite actor, who surprised her by accepting her invitation. Others followed his example and the room exploded with applause. Out of nowhere, Victor appeared next to her, handing her a bouquet of white roses. He gave her a heartfelt hug, and helped her walk down the few steps off the stage.

“I can’t believe you never told me,” Cristian whispered in her hair, holding her tight. “We need to talk about it.”

Tessa laughed and cried at the same time. “I have no idea how I got the courage to walk out there and tell my story in front of those strangers, but my therapist was right. It feels darn good! And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s over,” she said, between sobs mixed with laughter. “I have my life back, I have my life back,” she kept saying against her brother’s shoulder. She felt safe in his arms, an embrace she’d become accustomed to and looked forward to in the years to come.

She felt a light tap on her shoulder. Cristian let go of her and when she turned around, she saw Adrian. He pinched the tip of his nose and shuffled on his feet.

“Father,” she exclaimed, hugged him briefly and then realized what she just called him. Embarrassed, she said, “Sorry, Adrian, my emotions are running wild tonight.”

Adrian kissed her hand, patted her cheek and said, “No need to apologize. I don’t hear it enough.” He looked at Cristian, who scratched the back of his head, then pulled at his hair, spiking it.

Tessa knew her brother enough by now to recognize the signs of nervousness. She elbowed him, “This son of yours and brother of mine has done an incredible job helping me put this event together. I’d like to thank him by having dinner at my place and I’d like to invite you as well.”

Adrian pretended not to see Cristian’s frown and said, “Pepin would make a fuss over my eating anything but his food, but I’d be more than happy to join you.”

“Great, I’ll call with details. If you’ll excuse me, I have to say hi to someone.” She kissed Adrian’s cheek, then Cristian’s and left them. She’d get hell from her brother later, no doubt about it.

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Mondays are for Excerpts

13 Oct


“I guess we have something else in common other than the same father,” Tessa said when she couldn’t take the silence any longer.

Cristian glanced at her, “What’s that?”

“Stubbornness.” She pulled her legs underneath her and rested an elbow on the back of the black sofa, staring at him. “As children, my sisters and I played this game called mum and we’d mimic and grimace until whoever made the slightest noise would be disqualified. You wanna try it?”

He turned off the TV and turned to face her, copying her body position. “You came all the way here to play mum with me?”

“I came because I was worried about you. Besides, that’s what siblings do, right?”

“Tessa, you have to stop this sibling this, sibling that, brother here, sister there. I still have a huge issue with this and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why does it bother you so much? Is it because it’s me or do you struggle with the notion of a half-sister?” she asked.

He didn’t say anything. Instead he picked up the remote and held it as if he wanted to turn the TV back on, but he didn’t.

“It’s because . . . because of you,” he said, not looking straight at her. He stood and walked away, looking out the window. “I feel like such an idiot for putting my heart out there and finding out afterward that you’re my sister. When I saw you at my father’s house it was like the rug had been pulled from under my feet. I just can’t look at you without feeling ashamed for wanting you. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like if that night we would’ve had sex?” He shook his head and turned to look at her, his eyes sparkling with apprehension.

Tessa stood and came to face him. Shrugging a shoulder, she said, “I’ve been asking myself the same question, freaking out over it. But I can’t and won’t do it anymore. We haven’t slept together and that’s what matters. I want you and Adrian in my life and I’ll be damned if I can’t have you both. We belong together. True, not in the way you wanted, but hopefully in time you’ll forgive him. I want to grow old together, share holidays together, have our children play together. You can’t deny our bond, no matter how pissed off you are at Adrian right now.”

Cristian shook his head and walked away, returning to the sofa. The boxing match was back on.

“He is pretty worried about you,” Tessa said.

“And you drive me nuts, you know that?”

“Get used to it.” She came next to him, ruffled his hair, then placed a kiss on top of his head and walked away. “See you tomorrow night. Dinner’s at six. I have Eva, a friend coming over, and she’s amazing. The fundraiser is around the corner and I asked her to help us. And if you have any leftover pie from your neighbor, bring it. I love cherry pie.”

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Mondays are for Excerpts

6 Oct


“Why?” Tessa asked moments later, the most important question of all, the question that should put her worries to rest, her past behind her and free her up to live her future—a future free of deception, fear and betrayal.

Adrian stood, walked to the window, holding both his hands behind his back. He seemed lost in his thoughts for a while. When he spoke, his voice sounded as if he were returning from a different universe.

“Why? Why do people cheat? Why do people fall in love? Why do they hurt their loved ones? Why did I get involved with your mother even though we both were married?”

Adrian returned to the sofa and sat next to Tessa, slightly facing her. “I can tell you that I was trapped in a marriage that didn’t give me the things I wanted, needed, craved. I can tell you that I wanted a divorce even before I met your mother or after we became involved. I can tell you that I lived thinking of Ana night and day, a living hell for so many years, I lost track of them. I can tell you so many things now, but honestly, none of them would change what we’ve done.

“They’d be nothing but excuses, and I doubt that’s what you want to hear. I made a few mistakes in my life, mistakes I am not proud of, but if there’s one thing I’ve done right it’s getting to know Ana, loving her and being so lucky to be loved by her. She had been my world, my everything. I still love her with the same intensity, the same passion I did thirty years ago.” He didn’t bother to wipe his tears away, his face contorted with pain.

“How long had you been together?”

“I returned to Bucharest after several years and I didn’t look for her, trying to go on with my life. But we met again and we tried to resist . . . to stay away. I asked her if we could maybe just have a cup of coffee now and then. For about a year we did that. One day, she worked the nightshift and I waited for her in the morning. It was pouring rain outside and I offered to give her a ride home. We were together after that, until she got the news about the cancer.

“She called me and told me to come to our apartment, she had news for me. I got there thinking she finally decided to accept my marriage proposal. Instead she told me that day would be our last day together,” Adrian said and a new wave of tears filled up his eyes, his voice choked. He struggled to speak again, swallowing hard a few times.

He cleared his throat and continued, “She told me that she wanted me to always remember her as the woman I fell in love with, whole, healthy, alive, and not some butchered, empty body she’d turn into after the mastectomy and the chemo. I told her all I wanted was to grow old with her, no matter how little time we had left, but she was adamant about it. She made me promise not to ever try to contact her and not to come to her funeral.

“I was weak and visited her once in the hospital after the surgery, but she didn’t see me, still under anesthesia. I never really said goodbye to her. And here I am, a year after she has passed away, still waiting for her to come back to me.”

Tessa had been brave since she got there, keeping her emotions in control. She knew her mama loved this man. She knew they’d fallen prey to a passion that consumed them even after they stopped seeing each other. She knew they’d been too weak to resist each other.

She came wanting to be mad at Adrian, mad at her mama, and judge them for being unfaithful. Judge them, point her fingers at them and scream for making her feel shameful for something she hadn’t done. But she couldn’t. The anger inside her heart mysteriously disappeared, replaced by acceptance. And forgiveness. And hope.

Tessa put her hands on top of his and when Adrian raised his eyes to hers, she smiled and said, “I’m tired of being mad, I’m tired of hurting. I want to live in the present, free of the past’s burdens. You loved Mama and she loved you back. I can’t promise much, but if you let me, if you allow me in your life, I’d be willing to try . . . try to accept you. Don’t get me wrong, I had a father, a father that loved and raised me. But knowing what you and Mama had, the love you gave her and how happy you made her . . . I’m at peace with that.”

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Mondays are for Excerpts

29 Sep


“Kiddo, so good to see you,” Victor said, kissing her cheeks and hugging her tight. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” he said, releasing her.

“Glad to be here,” Tessa said and when Dina hugged her she whispered, “I’m seeing Adrian this afternoon.” By the look on Dina’s face she knew she shocked her. “I’ll tell you more tomorrow,” she said, giving Dina a thumbs up.

“Tessa, oh my, I haven’t seen you in ages,” Elena, Victor’s daughter, said.

When Tessa turned around, she saw Elena approaching with her husband Marcel holding the baby. They hugged and Tessa asked to hold the baby.

“Wow, what a big boy you are,” she said and the baby smiled happily, trying to grab her necklace. Tessa looked at Victor who stood across from her, his pride bulging his chest, then at the baby and said, “I’m glad you don’t look like your grandpa,” then burst into laughter.

“Oh dear, only you could’ve said something like this and still be alive,” Dina leaned toward her, pretending to look the other way.

Victor’s face reddened and his pointed finger threatened to poke at her. “You better take those words back. Either you’re blind or you just want to annoy me, but I’ll—”

“Good afternoon everyone.”

Tessa looked over her shoulder and saw Alessandro standing right behind her. She turned to face him and smiled, still holding and rocking the baby. To her relief, he was alone.

“Hi,” everyone said and Alessandro did the round of hugging and shaking hands, leaving Tessa for last. When her turn came, he just stood in front of her, looking grave and struggling to swallow. His jaw clenched, his eyebrows drawn together. Dressed in a pale blue shirt and jeans he looked dazzling. He brushed a hand through his hair, bowed and Tessa thought for a second that he’d kiss her over the baby’s head.

She tilted her chin upward, stopped rocking the baby and waited. But the kiss never came. Alessandro caressed the baby’s head, then took his chubby hand and shook it gently. “Hello, little man,” he said, smiled at the baby and walked away.

Tessa felt her face on fire, her heart melting. How humiliating! She was mortified by her own expectation—why would he kiss her, when she had sent him away? She looked around their group, but no one seemed to observe what just happened.

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Mondays are for Excerpts

22 Sep


“Sir, I believe I know who killed your daughter,” Tessa said, emotions shaking her voice. Words raked the back of her throat. “But before I can tell you who did it, I need you to promise me, you’ll allow the bank to return the money back to the farmers.”

The mayor shot to his feet, fists clenched to his side. “How dare you come into my house, dangling a carrot in front of me and ask such nonsense! My daughter didn’t steal anything from anyone! Prove it, if you can.” He pointed a finger at Mr. Popescu and said, “You, and the rest of you farmers, make my life miserable with this accusation. I’m sick of all of you!”

Tessa reached into her purse and pulled out two pieces of paper and handed them to the mayor. He hesitated to take them.

“You ask for proof of her illegal activity. These are copies of contracts for the same person, only different amounts. Mr. Popescu here can confirm for you receiving a certain amount from me and handing part of it to your daughter while she notarized the contract.”

The farmer nodded.

The mayor took the documents, looked them over then said, “How do I know this is not fabricated by you, a denigrating conspiracy against my daughter?”

Tessa sat composed, her shoulders straight, her hands steady. A peaceful feeling came over her when she spoke with a candid voice, “What would I gain lying to you, Sir? You have here two people telling you the truth. If you’ll listen to the other farmers you’ll hear the same story. There’s a lot of money in your daughter’s account that belongs to others and not to her.”

The mayor seemed to ponder her words, then slumped on the sofa, next to his wife. He rested his elbows on his knees and looked sideways at his wife, then back at Tessa. He pushed a hand through his completely white hair, a pained look on his face.

“Suppose I agree to this. How do I know how much money goes to whom?”

“We’ll work together, calling in each farmer and ask how much money they gave away. You’ll have to trust them,” Tessa said.

“And how do I know you’re telling me the truth about my daughter’s killer?”

Tessa pulled out of her purse a brown envelope and placed its content on the coffee table in front of the mayor.

“Because the same person who did this to me told me he gave your daughter the same lesson. Only I was lucky and survived. This is me in the intensive care unit hours after the attack. A friend found me, otherwise I’d probably not be here.”

The mayor’s mouth fell agape. He lifted each photo with shaky hands, then placed them back down. He looked at Tessa, then back at the photos. His wife stopped rocking and covered her mouth with both hands, her head shaking in denial.

“My baby, my poor baby, what she had to go through,” she said against her palms. Her husband embraced her, caressing her wrinkled cheek.

“Did he get caught?” the mayor asked, his face flushed with fury.

“He had an accident. Unfortunately he didn’t survive to face his trial.” Tessa gathered the photos, then stood. “I’m sorry I put you through this, Sir. I wish I didn’t have to show you the photos. Nor did I intend to add more suffering to your family. But I owed this to myself and to your daughter, who became the victim of the same person. It’s time to do the right thing.” 

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Mondays are for Excerpts

15 Sep


Cristian stopped laughing then put a hand on top of hers, squeezing it. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. What’s done is done. I’m assuming you had a good reason for getting drunk and I’m actually glad you called me—even though it wasn’t for the right reason.”

Tessa sighed, feeling remorse and sadness. “I need to know: did I . . . did we?”

“Have sex?” Cristian finished her sentence when she couldn’t. “No, we didn’t.” He looked at her with sad eyes and pressed his lips tight.

“Thank goodness!” she exclaimed. A sigh of relief escaped Tessa, then she saw his face go pale, and hurried to say, “Cristian, please don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean it that way.”

He tried to walk away, but she grabbed his wrist, forcing him to stop, and looking deep into his blue eyes she said, “You’re one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. You’ve been my friend now during a period of my life when I couldn’t trust anyone. With your candor, your patience, your sense of humor, your passion, you helped me learn how to let people back into my life. I wish I could give you what you want, but I can’t.”

Tessa sighed and swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “Yesterday was one of those days I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. I was driving to see my therapist and this young man jumped out of nowhere in front of my car and I got out and saw him on the ground. Then another driver came and when I asked for help he said the kid was pretending and I should kick him aside, get in my car and drive away because I was blocking the traffic.

“Then he kicked my car and began insulting me. I was taking all that abuse while people crowded around us to see the scene and . . . something I don’t know what, made me stand up and follow the man back to his car and I . . . I hit him in his crotch.”

“He insulted you and hit your car? You hit him?” Cristian stared at her with incredulous eyes.

“Yeah. I hit him. I hit him for the teenager hurting on the ground, for all the women that are out there taking the kind of abuse we take when men think that we can’t drive, or all we know how to do is whore around. I’m so sick of this mentality. Maybe that’s why I want so desperately to have this event we’re working on so we can change something. Why do people have to be so hateful? Why is there a need for so much abuse?”

Cristian pulled her up and wiped off her tears with his thumbs. His face came down to her, as if he wanted to kiss her, then abruptly he hugged her and rocked her side to side.

The embrace felt warm. Tessa closed her eyes and let Cristian rock her—it felt good. He held her for a while, resting his chin atop her head.

“You don’t stop amazing me. I wonder if there are stores around that sell armor, or something,” Cristian said after a while, and when she didn’t say anything, he looked down at her and said, “You know, for protection?”

Tessa pinched his arm then said, “Keep teasing, then no armor will protect you from me.”

“So.” Cristian titled his head. “Are you going to tell me why you need a therapist?”

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