The original 80,000 words of this novel were written alternately between Derrick, the brother of the main character, Astrid, and Astrid’s story told in third person. At the time, I didn’t think Astrid, who is grieving so many losses, would be reliable as a first-person narrator whilst her life was in turmoil. The fun of sharing the early drafts here is that if this does one day become a manuscript, you can say you were there from the beginning!
Will Monroe has been my best friend since grade school. He’s an officer in the Wheaton Police Department. He faces difficult situations on the job every day. I’ve seen him in action over the years, and am always impressed by how this childhood friend transforms into a cool-headed, authoritative figure under pressure. I’ve never seen anything like the day my private life and his professional life collided.
As we walked up the front steps of Wheaton High School—our alma mater and where my sister Astrid taught, I watched for a crack in his professional veneer. I doubted I would see one, but if there was a day when I would, surely this would be it. The call to the high school was personal for both of us. I watched him to distract myself from what we were about to do.
We walked through the heavy metal doors and into the school office. Neither of us had been class president or valedictorian, not by a long shot, but we’d kept our noses clean. It was strange to now be headed to the principal’s office as adult men.
Will took the lead since he was on official business. I followed him. The secretaries looked up from their computers when we walked through the door. They smiled, and Will nodded.
“Hello, ladies. I’m sorry to interrupt. Is Mr. Morgan in his office? I need to speak with him immediately.”
The executive assistant, Mrs. Coleman, looked at her phone. “He’s on a call. I’ll send him an e-mail and tell him it’s urgent. You’re welcome to have a seat.”
She typed her message and we waited, silent and still standing. I noted for the first time in a long time how I towered over my friend. His authority as a police officer made Will seem taller than he was. Minutes passed and she spoke again. “He’s off the phone. You’re welcome to go in.”
Will thanked her and we walked toward the door.
Principal Xaviar Morgan stood to greet us.
“Hello, Will, Derrick. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I can see this is serious. What’s going on?”
I looked at Will waiting for him to answer. God, I hated thinking about how many times he’d had to make such a speech. It was awful for him every time, but this time was the worst.
“There’s been an accident. Astrid Cole’s husband, Reid, was struck by a car while riding his bike.”
Our principal put his hand to his brow like a visor—trying to shield himself from what came next. “My god, I’m so sorry. Is he all right?” Mr. Morgan looked at me and then back at Will.
“I’m afraid not. He was killed instantly. Derrick and I have come to break the news to Astrid.”
Xaviar Morgan walked around his desk. “We’ve got to call Helen Hobart first. We need her with us when we tell Astrid.” Mr. Morgan picked up the phone.
“Mrs. Coleman, please call Helen Hobart down to the office immediately. Send someone up to monitor her classroom. It’s an emergency.”
He set the phone down. “I really do not know what to say. I am so sorry for your family, Derrick. So very sorry.” We stood in silence as we waited for Helen Hobart. Mr. Morgan swiped his hand over his glistening forehead. She came to the door. Mr. Morgan motioned for her to come in. When he told her the news, she began to weep. “Oh Astrid,” was all she could say.
“Helen, this is asking an awful lot of you, but I know how close you and Astrid are. I’d like you to accompany us to her classroom. We will go up there together. I’ll ask her to come into the hallway where the three of you can take her into the staff lounge for privacy. I will stay with her class and explain the situation to them.”
Helen nodded and her loose, silver hair shimmied at her chin. She reached for a tissue on the credenza next to her. She moved her glasses off her nose and blotted at the tears in the corners of her eyes. She looked at me, and mouthed, “I’m so sorry.” She blew her nose, dropped the tissue in the waste basket, and rolled her shoulders back. “All right men, let’s do this horrid thing.”
Helen led us up a set of stairs and to Astrid’s classroom. I took the stairs two at a time to slow my pace behind Helen. I could hear Astrid’s voice project through the closed door. To look at her petite frame, you wouldn’t believe she could create such volume.
“Let’s wait just a minute,” Helen instructed. “Her life will never be the same the instant we open the door. Let’s let her have one last moment free of this awful news.” I nodded. We stood silent, heads nearly bowed, listening as my sister taught.
Astrid sat on her desk. Her legs dangled and crossed at the ankles, not touching the floor. She was talking with her class about some book, and unlike me when I was their age, her students looked really interested in the material. Astrid smiled, pointed to one of her students, and reached her hand up and over her head fingers spread wide. Sharing in her half of a high five. Astrid’s brand of encouragement. This was why the students and teachers alike love my sister.
Then Helen gave a nod to Mr. Morgan and he opened the door…