Jack and Sarah are essentially opposites: Jack wears his heart on his sleeve, and Sarah is a person who never reveals her secrets; Jack is dependable and predictable, while Sarah's waters run deep and murky. Everyone around them is convinced they are wrong for one another, but Sarah and Jack defy the world and embark on marriage. To the surprise of everyone, it seems to be working fine. But life is filled with unexpected trauma, and the periodic discovery of terrible flaws in those we care so deeply about. It isn't long before Jack finds out that there is more to Sarah than anyone knows. One secret in particular turns their relationship upside down, and propels Jack on a journey that threatens the destruction of his marriage, the loss of a coming baby, and possibly even the end of his own life. Jack isn't ready for Sarah's Last Secret.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Jack Trammell has published nine books, ranging from murder mysteries ("Gray") to math and history text books for middle school students ("Math in History"). His three collections of poetry each sold out within several months of publication, and he has published poetry and fiction in several dozen journals including: Virginia Adversaria, Snowapple Journal, and Exquisite Corpse. A prize-winning Virginia Writer's Club author, Jack works at Randolph-Macon College where he researches and writes historical articles for magazines like "America's Civil War" and is known for his regular Civil War column in the Washington Times. He is also an active researcher and publisher in the field of disability studies. Jack can be reached email@example.com or you can visit his website atwww.geocities.com/jacktrammell. Jack lives on a farm in central Virginia with his wife, Audrie, and seven children.
Chapter 1 Virginia Tech
I'LL NEVER forget the day I met Sarah. It was one of those rare, soul-defining events that are never fully appreciated at the time, and usually pass into the covered shadows of scrapbooks, or the faded memory of a photograph.
That day was the beginning of many things that would change the world permanently. I realize that I'm trying to pass off a terrible cliché, but that day really was profound. Nothing in my life would be remotely the same if I hadn't met her the way I did, and that may not necessarily be a good thing. I haven't decided that yet.
Of one thing I am certain, though, and it is that I remember that day in every tiny detail and feeling, and I always will until the day I die. That day may be today. I haven't decided that yet for certain, either.
* * *
THE FALL OF that year was a busy time for me, as my senior attempt at graduation from Virginia Tech in the pre-law program floundered along, and my parents stressed, overly-concerned about job prospects and my lackadaisical attitude. To get into a graduate law program, I would have to maintain a straight A average for the entire year, and what I perceived as a minor annoyance was an earth-shattering anxiety for them.
I had endured, enjoyed, and survived three years of relative recreation, at the expense of numerous student loans and hard-earned family funds, and was only slightly concerned about the eventual outcome. My family was determined that I become the first lawyer in the clan, while I was more intent on writing (and finishing) my first novel, a monumental flop as I glance through it now. I read Shakespeare and George Eliot on my own, then blew off Harold Nicholson and Carl Marx that were required for a class. I went to see "Gone with the Wind," then blew off "1984" which was required for another class.
My self-justification was that college was what you made of it, and I was making it what I wanted it to be.
My roommate, whom I frequently tagged along with, was no more concerned about his future than I, although he had already been offered several jobs in his chosen field of mechanical engineering. His grades were worse, if anything, than mine, but his chosen profession by mere chance was much more in demand. His grades wouldn't matter.
Al partied to all hours of the night, then drank himself silly on coffee and studied into the morning hours. I partied with him, then slept through classes the next day, and never studied anything.
It was through Al's influence that I happened to be at one of the female dorms the second night of the fall semester. He was visiting his erstwhile girlfriend, whom he had slept with all year, then ignored completely over the ensuing summer months. The arrangement didn't seem to bother either one of them. They would probably end up married. There was some kind of twisted logic to it that defied common sense.
While they pretended to be amazed at how good they both looked, tanned, a little heavier, and just as horny as ever, I sat down on a couch and absently flipped open the book on International Relations I had drug along for amusement. I really did try to read it for a few minutes. Then the inevitable happened and I slipped out the worn copy of "The Old Man and the Boy," that my grandfather had loaned me, and started reading it instead.
Something made me look up when Sarah came down the stairs. She was deep in conversation with a friend, both taking the steps slowly, as if they didn't want to interrupt their talk with the distraction of stairs. The pages of the textbook on my lap slowly flipped over until the book was shut.
Sarah has always been beautiful, but probably never more so than on that night. She was wearing ordinary blue jeans and a T-shirt from some spring break locale, but she radiated with something extraordinary. My doctor even once suggested that there was something more than ordinary attraction involved; something chemical; something biological, linked with this one specific person. I believe it.
She was about five foot six, with a flawless creme complexion, and nut brown, shoulder-length straight hair, that curled underneath itself at the very bottom. Her nose was small, button-like, and just as perfect, (causing me to laugh since my mother had always told me that beauty started with the nose.)
Her brown eyes -- which perfectly matched the color of her hair -- met mine at that instant, and for some absurd reason I stood up, silent and transfixed. She smiled at my idiocy, and I immediately blushed at my own foolishness. Her expression was a combination of amusement and satisfaction -- as if she expected men to react that way.
"Hello," I called, all the way across the room, tossing my book down with ridiculous bravado. She paused on the third stair from the bottom, smiling, her friend glaring at me as if I had just made a complete breach with accepted etiquette.
"Are you new around here?" I said, walking over as swiftly as I could without tripping.
"No," she said, refusing to give up the high ground on the curved staircase. "Do I know you?"
In a completely unprovoked action, I thrust my hand out to shake hers. "I'm J. K. Baird. My friends just call me Jack." Her hand was soft and warm; not limp, but very relaxed and sophisticated.
Her Barbie-like friend brushed by me, tugging at Sarah's sleeve. "I'm sure we're very honored, Jack, but we were just on our way out."
Sarah smiled again and followed her, glancing over her shoulder with a bounce. "Nice to meet you, Jack."
"Can I see you sometime?" I blurted out, stepping away with them.
"I'm around all the time," she replied, waving, then disappearing around the corner.
Behind me, Al and his girlfriend were making a funny face at me.
"What's got into you Jack? Don't you know who that is?"
I slowly walked over to Al, still staring at the empty space where Sarah Collins had stood. I was in shock, like that King in the Old Testament was when he saw Esther for the first time.
"Come on, J. K., you don't want to get mixed up with her. She's nothing but a big tease. Mickey went out with her a couple of times."
I wasn't sure how that information was supposed to enlighten me. Mickey was no intellectual giant.
"What do you mean, a tease? She seemed pretty nice to me."
Al's girlfriend tried to explain. "Jack, she's not serious about any guy. She just makes a big show of being interested, but never does anything."
I felt myself growing offended, and I was proud of it, because it was a strange feeling. "Are you talking about sex, or something?"
"I'm talking about everything, Jack. You're too nice for her. She's not that pretty, anyway."
As if to confirm that, Al received a warm kiss on the cheek.
By providence, though, or powers on earth greater than me, I knew from that very moment on that Sarah was meant only for me. I had never felt a desire so strong, or a commitment so deep as the one I felt that night. Granted, I had fallen in love with a dozen different girls in high school, and each one had been more intense (and short-lived) than the last. Sarah was different, though, and I heard it right away in the tone of voice of those around me. They knew Sarah was for me, and they didn't like it, or approve.
There had been other girls in college, too. Every relationship had been predicated on some whimsical callousness, or indefinite vision of the murky future. None of them had really touched that spot that Sarah pricked from the first moment on the stairs. None of them had been people who wanted to twist fate -- they were more inclined to let fate shape them.
Sarah was suddenly very clear to me. I could see everything about her as I walked back to my dorm room. Sarah was the one for me.