This is a sneak peek to my upcoming novel, Rumors. Please excuse the block formatting. The novel has not been formatted yet. The story is told from four points of views that alternate in perfect order. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Gwen and the End of the Beginning
Gwen sat on a plastic and metal chair, waiting with a diverse group of people. The seats were set up in strict rows and columns. An elderly couple chatted quietly. A mother bounced her son on her knee, trying to keep him entertained. Several women tapped their feet, wishing they could tap their phones. Everyone’s cell phones had already been confiscated. Two young men wore long-sleeved shirts to cover their tattoos. One had a large bandage on his neck. Displaying gang tatts or wearing revealing clothing would likely result in a denial of visitation. Gwen glanced at one of the women. She was busty, her blouse low-cut. Despite the August heat, Gwen had worn a long sundress with a conservative neckline.
An officer entered the waiting area. The patch on his shoulder read, Philadelphia Department of Prisons. “Group seven,” he said.
Gwen and her unknown compatriots stood in unison, making their way to the officer. They’d be the seventh group of visitors that Saturday. The officer looked them over, narrowing his eyes at the busty woman.
“You got a sweatshirt?” he asked.
She frowned, putting one hand on her cocked hip. “It’s damn near a hundred outside. Whatch you think?”
He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “I think you’re not gettin’ in.”
“I done signed in. They ain’t said nothin’.”
“They don’t check dress at sign-in. Just your ID.”
The officer nodded. “You got thirty seconds to find a shirt, or you’re not gettin’ in.”
The woman looked around at the group, hoping someone would or could rescue her. One of the young men took off his long-sleeved T-shirt, revealing a white tank top and tattoos covering every inch of his caramel skin. He handed her his shirt.
“Thank you,” she said, barely audible.
“Sir, it’s against the dress code to display tattoos,” the corrections officer said.
The man nodded to the officer, his expression resigned. “I know.” Then he addressed his friend. “I’ll wait in the car.”
The other young man lifted his chin in acknowledgment.
The corrections officer checked IDs again and led them in a single-file line to the metal detectors. When no one set off any alarms, he led them through double doors, where inmates waited at stainless steel tables. The group separated, everyone finding their person and their table.
Gwen spotted Brian toward the back of the beige room. He stood from the table, his shoulders slumped. Despite his posture and baggy orange jumpsuit, he was handsome and well-built—naturally athletic and muscular from three years of pumping iron at the prison gym. They hugged for two seconds and sat across from each other. There was an envelope in front of him, turned facedown.
Brian forced a smile, his hazel eyes still. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
Gwen searched his face. He had a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and a long thin nose. Tears welled in her eyes.
He reached across the table. “I know.”
She wiped her eyes with the side of her index finger and placed her hands in his. “What do we do now?”
Brian took a deep breath. “It’s time to let go.”
Gwen shook her head. “I’ll save everything I make from my new job. I’ll rebuild our credit. I’ll hire another lawyer.”
He squeezed her hands. “Gwen, no. It’s over. I don’t want you throwing good money after bad.”
“Then what? I just sit around and hope for the best over the next twenty-two years? I won’t give up.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot. Especially now with the rejection of the appeal.” He exhaled heavily and paused. “We can’t go on like this.”
“We can’t go on like what? You’re not making any sense.”
“I’ll be fifty-seven years old when I have my first shot at parole. You’ll be fifty-four. We’ll never have kids.” His voice wavered. “We’ll miss our best years. You never know. I may not make it out of here alive.”
“Don’t talk like that. If it’s the last thing I do, I’m getting you out of here.”
“I want you to stop.”
She removed her hands from his. “Stop what?”
“Everything. No more appeals. No more letters. No more phone calls. No more visits.”
“What are you talking about?”
Brian clenched his jaw. A tear slipped down his face. He slid the envelope across the table. “I want a divorce.”
Gwen flipped over the envelope, her mouth hanging open. It was addressed to a Virginia law office and already stamped.
“Just sign where I highlighted,” he said.
She sniffled, her eyes glassy. “You don’t love me?”
He looked away for a moment. “You’re everything to me, … everything. But … I can’t be the reason you’re not living your life. This is my punishment, not yours.”
“Please don’t do this.”
A tear snaked along the side of his nose. “I’m sorry, Gwen. I’m sorry for everything.”
Chapter 2: Caleb and Worthless
Cleats click-clacked on the concrete floor. Metal lockers opened and slammed shut. The mood was jovial and raucous—everyone happy for the last practice of football camp. Two-a-days had been grueling, the temperature unusually hot for West Lake, Pennsylvania. Teenage boys were in different stages of dress. Caleb Miles worked the combination lock and opened his locker. He removed his shoes and placed them on the bottom of his locker. He stripped off his T-shirt, exposing his slight upper body. He glanced to his right, then to his left. The starting quarterback, Shane Wilcox, stood in front of his locker, wearing only a diamond stud in each earlobe. Caleb’s eyes swept over his tall, athletic frame. For a moment, he settled on Shane’s flaccid penis.
“You lookin’ at my dick?” Shane said.
Caleb looked forward. He rummaged in his locker, pretending not to hear Shane.
Shane stepped closer, still naked, and now within striking distance. “I asked you a fuckin’ question.”
Caleb turned toward the tall boy. Shane had ice-blue eyes, dark hair, and a pencil-thin beard.
“I’m sorry. … I, uh, didn’t hear you,” Caleb said.
“You were lookin’ at my dick, weren’t you?”
A group of football players in various stages of dress surrounded the scene.
“I, I wasn’t,” Caleb said.
“Faggot-ass faggot.” Shane looked around at his audience with a crooked grin, then zeroed in on Caleb again. “Don’t fuckin’ lie. I saw your bitch-ass lookin’.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” Caleb dipped his head in deference, accidentally catching another glimpse of Shane’s penis.
“Dude, he did it again,” Lance said, pointing and laughing at Caleb.
The rest of the crowd laughed in unison, and someone said, “What a fag.”
Lance moved closer, standing next to Shane. Lance wore his football pants and no shirt. He was the star receiver and Shane’s favorite passing target. “You’re outta the closet now. You might as well look at his junk. You know you want to.”
The crowd laughed. “You know you want to,” they echoed.
Caleb turned back to his locker, rummaging through his things again.
“You ain’t gettin’ off that easy,” Shane said.
Lance sidled up to Caleb and put his arm around him, turning him toward Shane. “Go on, Caleb. Check it out.”
Shane widened his legs and put one bare foot on the bench, his penis and scrotum on full display for Caleb.
Caleb held his gaze upward.
Lance grabbed Caleb’s head and forced his gaze toward Shane’s crotch. “Go on, faggot. You know you want to.”
Caleb’s gaze followed the trail of hair leading from Shane’s belly button to the nest of dark hair and Shane’s circumcised penis.
The crowd hooted and hollered, providing a running commentary.
“Look at him.”
“He wants your junk.”
A dark-skinned boy pushed through the crowd. “Let him go,” Jamar said.
Lance smiled at Jamar. “Or what?”
“I said, let him go.”
“Who are you, his black boyfriend?” Shane said, laughing.
“Ten minutes,” Coach Bob Schneider said, entering the locker room. “Move your asses.”
As the burly, bearded coach walked past, Lance let Caleb go. Shane hurried back to his locker to get dressed. Caleb spent the next ten minutes arranging and rearranging his locker, afraid to face anyone. With the last player gone to the practice field, Caleb sat on the bench, put his chin to his chest, and cried. After a few minutes, he sniffled and wiped his face with his T-shirt. He put on his football gear, exited the locker room, and jogged to the practice field.
Head Coach Rick Barnett stood at the edge of the practice field next to his Offensive Coordinator Bob Schneider, while the team warmed up on the fifty-yard line. The summer sun beat down on the coaches. They wore hats with intertwined initials WL, which stood for West Lake. Coach Schneider had sweat rings under the arms of his WL Wolf Pack T-shirt.
Coach Barnett frowned and glanced at his watch as Caleb jogged closer. Coach Barnett was tall and well-built, with a stubbly beard. “You’re eight minutes late. That’s eight laps. Get moving.”
As Caleb started to jog, he heard Coach Schneider say, “If it wasn’t for his hot mom, he’d be worthless.”
Chapter 3: Rick and Controversy Brewing
Coach Rick Barnett frowned at Coach Schneider.
Bob Schneider chuckled, his hands on his gut, as if he were trying to hold it in place. “Come on. You know it’s true. What I wouldn’t give for one night with her.”
“What I wouldn’t give for a family like yours.”
“I can look. I just can’t touch. You can though. Then you can gimme the details.”
“That’s not happening.”
“Why not? Shit, I saw her checkin’ you out at the parents meetin’.”
Rick shook his head and walked away from Bob, toward the team. As soon as the team finished warm-ups, Coach Rick Barnett said, “First O, on the ball. Second D.”
Shane lined up in the shotgun. On “Go,” the center snapped the ball. Shane caught the snap, faked the handoff to the running back, reared back, and threw a bomb to Lance. Shane’s favorite target caught the pass for a touchdown. It went on like this for half an hour. The first-string offense scored at will, asserting their dominance over the smaller and slower second-string defense.
After the drubbing, Rick said, “First D. Second O, on the ball.”
The cycle began in reverse. This time the defense was bigger, faster, and stronger, leading to defensive linemen tackling the running back in the backfield several times. The second-string quarterback, Jamar Burris, dropped back to pass, but, before he could throw, three defenders planted him to the turf.
The next play, Jamar dropped back to pass again, this time sprinting out of the pocket to avoid the pass rush. Caleb Miles was wide open fifty yards downfield. Jamar threw a rocket right on the money. The football hit Caleb in the hands, but he dropped it.
The defensive back that Caleb had gotten behind laughed. “Butterfingers.”
Coach Rick Barnett approached the defensive end that Jamar had run around. “Do not let the quarterback get outside of you. You do that next Friday, and we’re gonna get killed. You understand me?”
The boy nodded.
The next play, Jamar had the pass rush in his face again. He scrambled to his left to find a wall of defenders. Jamar reversed course, giving ground, and sprinted to his right. Another wall of defenders but with a small seam up the middle. Jamar stuck his cleat in the turf and streaked through the opening, leaving the entire defense in the dust. Touchdown.
Rick shook his head, a crooked grin on his face.
After practice, the players carried their helmets and walked to the locker room, joking and laughing as they went. Head Coach Rick Barnett stood on the practice field with his Offensive Coordinator, Bob Schneider.
“Jamar’s pretty good, huh?” Rick said.
“He’ll be good next year,” Bob replied.
“He might be better than Shane now. And he has a much bigger upside.”
“He doesn’t know the offense.”
“He’s a smart kid. If he was getting the reps, I’m sure he’d pick it up.”
“What are you sayin’?”
“If Shane falters, we shouldn’t be afraid to go with Jamar.”
“It’d be a mistake. He’s only a sophomore. We have a proven commodity with Shane. It’ll split the team. The seniors’ll be pissed. Shit, Shane’s mother’ll be pissed. You know how she is.”
Rick blew out a breath. “I don’t give a shit about who’s gonna be butthurt. The best kid plays, period.”
“And you think that’s Jamar?”
“Maybe. We’ll see how they do in the scrimmage tomorrow.”
Chapter 4: Janet and the Connection
Janet paced in the kitchen, her bare feet on the tile floor, her cell phone to her ear. She wore yoga pants and a tank top, her sports bra stretching to contain her ample bust.
“It’s an old boys’ club,” Janet said into her phone. “I’m tired of it. The district deserves better.”
“It’s been that way for as long as I can remember,” Cliff replied.
“Your apathy is part of the problem.”
“Come on, Janet. I’m one of the good guys. Things’ll get better. You just need to wait your turn.”
“Pruitt needs to go now. He does nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’ve been doing his job for years.”
“And you think you should be his replacement?”
“Damn right I should. I’ve been vice principal for ten years, and I’ve done an excellent job under difficult circumstances. Plus I live in the district. I care about this community. Pruitt doesn’t even live here. He lives in Palmyra.”
“I heard he’s planning to retire in five years,” Cliff replied through the phone. “You’ll be a shoo-in then.”
“Matthews is retiring in three years. If Pruitt’s still the high school principal when Matthews retires, and the school board members don’t change, they’ll hire another one of their cronies to be superintendent, and we’ll be stuck with this same shit. Now’s the time to make a change. The school board doesn’t even have to fire Pruitt. Just force him to retire early.”
Cliff sighed. “It’s happy hour, honey. How about you and I go out for a few drinks?”
“Don’t you honey me.”
“This is serious, Cliff. We’re one board member away from a majority. If we can break the old boys’ club, we can get rid of Pruitt, and we can turn this district around. Don’t you care that we have the third-lowest test scores in the county?”
“The five have a strong base in the community. They’ve been on the school board for damn near twenty years. Who’s up for reelection in November?”
“Daub and Pastor Goode.”
Cliff paused. “They’ll be tough to beat.”
Janet stopped in her tracks. “You hesitated. You know something about them, don’t you?”
Cliff chuckled again. “I’ve known these men my whole life.”
“Then you must know how to beat them.”
“I’m not that easy. I could be persuaded to talk about it in person. It is sensitive information. What do you think, beautiful?”
Janet pursed her lips. “Where?”
“Days Inn in Hershey.”
Janet giggled, but her laughter faded with Cliff’s silence. “Are you serious?”
“As a heart attack.”
“Would this be a friendly meeting … or a more-than-friendly meeting?”
“What do you think?”
Janet sat at the kitchen table, her forehead creased. “Seriously, Cliff?”
“I have friends and good friends. My good friends do things for me, and I do things for them. That’s the way of the world.”
Janet cringed, imagining Cliff’s hands all over her. “I don’t know.”
“You let me know when you do.” Cliff’s tone became much more upbeat. “So, what do you think of the team this year? Think they’ll win the district title?”
“I think they’ll win state. Shane’s excited,” Janet said.
“So’s Lance. They make one helluva connection.”