Chapter Eight was written by my friend, the esteemed young adult novelist L.A. Kuehlke, who doubles as one of the most genuinely optimistic people on the planet. She is the author of the Pursuit series, a spiritual romance thriller, consisting of Pursuit, Redemption, and the forthcoming Ransomed. She also teaches English at a private middle school in New Jersey. Kuehlke is comprised of at least 35% chai latte.
She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some... of the past almost-twenty-four hours. She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water. The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment. Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her. She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur....
Was any of this real? Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?
Kitty stood on shaky legs. She wasn’t sure what to do next, but her mind screamed that she had to get out, run, disappear. Being in this house was too painful. Everywhere she looked she saw reminders of all she’d lost.
“Have to leave,” she mumbled.
Tuna put a hand out to stop her. “You gotta rest, Girl,” she said. “Come with me.”
“No,” Kitty protested. “I can’t -” Her words caught in her throat. An emptiness the likes of which she’d never experienced filled her. What was the point anymore? She had nothing, and there was no way to ever get beyond it.
She looked to Tuna for help, but before she could say another word, she crumpled to the floor and her eyes rolled back in her head. The world around her went dark, and the last thing she heard was Tuna’s voice calling to her from the abyss. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, she felt herself being pulled to some other place.
Anything is better than this, she thought. Anything.
“Mom, wake up! You overslept again!” David was shaking her.
Kitty jumped and cried out. David. Her mind, her grief was playing tricks on her. He was gone. David.
She backed against the wall, away from him. “What?” she asked, dazed. Kitty looked around. Where was Tuna?
She squeezed her eyes shut tight. “Wake up, Kitty. Snap out of it.”
The memory came rushing back. She passed out in David’s room, and Tuna must have given her something to sleep. She wondered if she was still dreaming. It was also possible that this was the after-effects of the sleeping pills or some hallucination from the poison injected into her veins.
She opened her eyes to see him standing over her. “How are you here?” she asked, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.
“The stairs?” David shook his head. “Quit joking, Mom. Raphael will be waiting, and like always, I’ll be late.” He pulled the covers back. “Time to get up. You’re lucky you own your own business!” He laughed and turned from the room.
“My own what?” she called out, but David was already gone. Kitty sat up in bed, running her hands over the 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. She glanced down at the tank top and matching pajama bottoms she wore. What the hell? Whose clothes was she wearing?
She slowly rose from the bed, expecting the haze, expecting her head to hurt, expecting something. But her head was clear, and she’d never felt better.
When she entered the kitchen, she saw David seated at the kitchen table, a bowl of cereal in front of him. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. The paper was open, and he was so focused on reading the news that he didn’t notice Kitty enter the room. She watched him for a moment, taking advantage of his distraction. He wore dark jeans and a button-down. The expression on his face was...happy, carefree. When was the last time she’d seen him look so at peace?
The house was too quiet. No TBN blaring on the television, no harping from her mother, no yelling. No sound of any kind. Just silence.
“David, where’s your grandmother?” Kitty asked. That must be was why he was so happy; the bitch was nowhere to be seen.
He looked at her quizzically. “Uh, Mom, Grandma is at the nursing home. Same place she’s been for the past year after her fall.” His eyes narrowed, and he studied her. “You feeling okay today? Did you have one too many glasses of wine with Tina last night?” He smiled.
Tina? Who the hell is Tina? “That must be it,” Kitty agreed slowly.
She still had no idea what was going on, but she figured she’d let this hallucination play itself out. At least it got her time with her son. A tear fell as she remembered the accident, saw the van, heard the screeching, the crunching of bones against metal.
Oh, my God, the blood. Kitty gasped and put a hand to her mouth.
“Drink this, you’ll feel better.” David smirked and pushed a steaming mug of coffee across the table. He laughed, and she jumped.
Kitty lowered herself into one of the chairs and raised the mug, hands shaking, to her lips. For the first time, she noticed the house. Something wasn’t right; this wasn’t where she lived. A plush couch, matching chair, and coffee table in the living room. A wall-mounted flat screen t.v. The walls painted in rich, deep earth tones. The kitchen complete with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances and one of those French door refrigerators. The entire place looked like the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog she’d seen once. She blinked a few times. Where was she?
“You’re acting stranger than normal today, you know,” David said, his head cocked to the side. “You feeling okay? Maybe I should see if Raphael can just pick me up instead. I’m sure his parents wouldn’t mind.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Just a little groggy,” Kitty protested and smiled. “I think I’ll take a quick shower. Don’t want you to be late for -” she paused, her eyebrows pinched together.
“School, Mom.” He set aside the paper and raised his eyebrows.
Kitty made her way to the second floor of the house, her feet sinking in the plush carpeting. Waiting for her at the top of the stairs was a small tabby cat. He seemed to be watching her, almost as if assessing her reactions. His eyes were focused so intently on her that for a minute Kitty wondered if he was trying to tell her something.
Have you found the answers yet, Kitty?
She bent down to scratch between the cat’s ears. “Hey, little guy. Are you mine, too?”
In response, the cat purred and rubbed against her leg. He remained near her as she walked down the hall toward the bathroom. Kitty reached for a towel.
“You stay here,” she said to the cat. Obediently, he sat outside the door. She shook her head. “Odd little guy.”
She stepped under the warm water and sighed; it felt like a hundred hands massaging her body. What kind of business did she own? She must be doing well, judging by the improvements to her home and the life it seemed she lived. Kitty rinsed the shampoo - organic - from her hair and lathered herself with some expensive-sounding body wash. The name on the label caught her eye.
Organic Soaps, Lotions, and Body Wash
There were products from the store all over the shower. Her shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. All from the same place. Kitty turned off the water and stepped from the shower. A lotion on the counter was from the same store. She seemed slightly obsessed. And since when would she spend that kind of money on organic body products?
The cat was still waiting for her when she opened the bathroom door. He meowed loudly and followed her to the bedroom. He didn’t enter, just sat by the doorway waiting. He acted more like a dog than a cat. He was cute, but she found him to be really strange.
Kitty opened the closet and another gasp escaped her lips. Row after row of sweaters, shirts, camis, jeans, dress pants, dresses, skirts, shoes, boots, sneakers...more clothing and footwear than she’d ever owned in her lifetime...lined the walls and filled the cubbies of her walk-in closet. She chose a pair of black jeans, a gray cami, a sweater, and black riding boots. She quickly pulled her hair up in a ponytail and did her make-up. All organic, all from the same store. She wondered if she was getting a bit eccentric, all of these products from a place with a cat-like name, owner of a cat, her own name being Kitty. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she smiled. The woman smiling back at her looked polished, professional, and gorgeous. She hadn’t felt this good about herself since...ever.
“Mom, are you ready? We should go,” David called up the stairs.
“On my way!” Kitty answered. She looked for her purse, grabbed the Coach bag that hung on the back of a chair in the corner of the room, and almost skipped down the stairs, buoyed by a feeling of elation and a sense that life was finally working out for her.
She found her keys hanging on a rack in the kitchen. David waited, laptop case slung over his shoulder, texting.
“Tell Raphael that we’re on our way,” she said, smiling. The cat had followed her downstairs, and she shooed him with her foot. “This crazy cat keeps following me.”
“Tequila is all yours, Mom. He doesn’t like anyone but you.” He looked up from his phone. “Wow, you look great. Jeans, huh? I guess you’re working in back today?”
I named the cat Tequila. Tequila Kitty. She cringed.
“I...am,” she said, hesitantly. “Busy day ahead.”
David opened the door to the garage and stepped inside. “So, what’s it going to be today? Candles, soap, lotion?”
“I haven’t really decided yet,” Kitty replied, hoping that more conversation would give her an answer to what he was talking about and why seeing her jeans would make him think of candles, soap, or lotion.
“Well, whatever you make, customers will love it. I’m really proud of you, know that? I mean, you put yourself through school and started Ga’Ta with Tina. You guys built it from nothing, and the store is a huge success. I know it was hard for you, raising me on your own, and I don’t say thank you enough,” he paused. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”
More tears slid down Kitty’s cheek. “I love you, too. Now, quit it before you make me wreck my make-up.” She nudged him with one elbow.
He grinned, looking young and beautiful and invincible. “Can’t have that, now can we? What would the customers think?”
She owned the store. No wonder she had the products all over the house. And at least now she knew who Tina was - her business partner, and, apparently, a friend with whom she drank wine.
Realizing she had no idea where Raphael lived, in this life or her prior one, Kitty handed the keys to David. “You know what? You need the practice driving more than I do. How about you drive to Raphael’s?”
David’s eyes sparkled. “Really? You’re letting me drive the Benz?” he asked. “You must not be feeling right today!”
The Benz? Her world was getting weirder by the second. A black GLK350 sat in her garage. Her black GLK350. Kitty grinned. She could definitely get used to this life. David cautiously backed out of the garage and proceeded towards Raphael’s house.
“So, how are things with Raphael?” Kitty asked once they were on their way.
“Good. Only one or two people know about us; a lot of people are still pretty closed-minded. But, we’re good,” he answered, shrugging.
“He treats you right?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s great,” David smiled.
“I’m so happy for you, Honey,” she said. “You deserve nothing but the best.”
We’re going to make you better. David’s voice, but sadder and sounding so much older than his seventeen years.
“Thanks, Mom,” he said, blushing.
“Just keep your eyes on the road. No accidents.” A chill swept through Kitty’s body. No accidents.
David turned onto a quiet, tree-lined side street with one enormous house after another. The lawns were perfectly manicured, and he pulled into the driveway of a large stone-front mansion and hopped out.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
Kitty watched him jog to the front door and ring the bell. She scanned the property from the passenger seat. Raphael came from a very affluent family, and she wondered who he was in the other life, the one she was trying to forget. Had he been the same then, too, or was this another by-product of whatever she was experiencing? The door opened and a blonde woman of around forty-five step out, give David a hug, and raise a hand, waving to Kitty. No one like her ever would have given Kitty the time of day before. She waved in return.
A blonde-haired boy walked beside David to the car. Just by looking at him, Kitty could tell that he was fantastic. A genuine, compassionate energy seemed to surround him and shine through his eyes. Tears welled up in hers; finally, her son had the life she’d wanted for him.
She’d done it right this time around.
“Morning,” Raphael said, sliding into the backseat of the SUV. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Morning, Raphael,” Kitty replied, unable to stop herself from grinning. “Anytime.”
David caught her goofy grin and shook his head. “You’re just being so weird today.”
Kitty listened as the boys talked about a test they had in third period, a movie they wanted to see...plans. She was sitting beside her son listening to him make plans. Her mind drifted to another life, one in which he was no longer able to make plans. Their voices faded into the distance, as she stared out the window.
“Uh, Mom?” They were parked on the circle at the high school.
She blinked and turned to look at him. “Daydreaming,” she said. “See you after school.”
“Have fun playing mad scientist today; try not to blow anything up,” David said, reaching for his laptop.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Kitty remarked.
He laughed and they all climbed out of the vehicle. Kitty leaned forward on both arms, resting against the roof of the SUV. She watched the boys walk toward the building, already caught up in another conversation. As he opened the door to go inside, David turned back and waved. Kitty raised her hand in response and smiled.
She got back in and once again realized that she had no idea where she was supposed to go. She pulled out her cell phone and Googled the address to her shop. Once she had it in the GPS, she pulled away from the curb and headed in the direction of Ga’Ta. Kitty had no idea how to do any of the things she supposedly did at work, but she figured she could spend the day wandering through the store, smelling things, selling products to customers. It beat the way she used to spend her days.
Ga’Ta was beautiful. Correction - exquisite. And she’d done all this? Really. Glass shelving held bottles, tubes, candles, boxes tied with natural raffia ribbon, and various earth-friendly displays. Kitty shook her head in wonder. She’d never thought of herself as having the potential to create something so amazing.
“I should have tried harder,” she said out loud. She’d allowed her past dictate her present and steal her future.
She walked behind the counter, running her hand along its length. Her world had become filled with beauty, success, and joy. Kitty wondered how long she’d be allowed to stay here; she never wanted to leave.
The bell on the door rang, and a slender woman with long, brown hair came in bearing two cups from Allegro. Her smile was radiant, and Kitty guessed that she must be Tina.
“Caffeine,” she proclaimed. She set a large cup on the counter in front of Kitty. “You’re welcome.”
“Thanks, Tina. Just what I needed.” Kitty began. She took a sip of what turned out to be some kind of pumpkin latte. “You ever have one of those days when it feels like you’re living someone else’s life?”
Tina waved a hand through the air. “Your life is incredible. The only thing we need to get you is a decent man.”
“Have to agree with you, and don’t get me wrong. I love the life I woke up to. Today has just been strange, I guess.” Kitty sipped her latte. Strange was a bit of an understatement.
“Is everything okay? It’s not something with David, is it? He’s a good kid, Kitty. You’re an awesome mom, and you’ve done a great job with him.” Tina leaned on the counter.
“It’s not David. I’m just in a weird place, I guess.” Kitty tapped the counter. “I’ll figure it out.” She smiled to confirm this to her friend.
Tina eyed her suspiciously. “Okay, Hun, but if you want to talk, I’m here for you.”
“Thanks,” Kitty said.
Customers began coming through the door, and the day got busy fast. David was right; she had made a success of her career, of herself. Kitty felt pride surge within her spirit along with something else, something she hadn’t ever let herself feel before...hope.
After picking up the boys and dropping them off, Kitty decided to go for a walk. She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some of the oddness of the past almost-twenty-four hours. She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water. The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment. Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her. She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur.
“What do you think, Tequila? Has today been nothing but me going insane?” she asked. The cat didn’t answer, just remained on her lap, purring contentedly. “I mean, yesterday my life was one train wreck after another. I lost everything that meant anything to me. I couldn’t see a way out of the corner I’d backed myself into. And today? Everything is perfect. Can I trust it?”
She pulled her legs up onto the bench. Kitty sighed.
Was any of this real? Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?
Tequila looked into her eyes. He stared at her for a long time then meowed.
Still looking for answers, I see. What is reality, Kitty?