Vivian Chastain is an adrenaline addicted veteran, transitioning to civilian life in Sacramento, California. She settles into a new routine while she finishes up college and works as a bartender, covering up her intense anxiety with fake bravado and swagger. All Vivian wants is peace and quiet, but her whole trajectory changes when she stumbles upon a heinous crime in progress and has to fight for her life to get away.
While recovering from the fight, she falls in love with someone who is tall in stature but short on emotional intelligence, and this toxic union provides Vivian the relationship that she thinks she needs. Given Vivian’s insecurities and traumatic past, she clings to the relationship even while it destroys her.
Vivian’s relationships are strained to their breaking points as she continues to seek balance. She turns to her best friend for support, only to be left empty handed and alone until she finds comradery and care from the last person she would have thought.
Liz Faraim © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Paso Robles, California
Elevation: 14,000 feet AGL
Scott shouted into my ear over the deafening roar of wild, whipping wind and prop engines.
“Okay, Vivian. On the count of three, I want you to take a big step forward and jump!”
Sucking in my breath, I held it as churning wind buffeted my body. Scott’s goatee tickled my ear as he leaned into me again and shouted, “One! Two! Three!”
Just as I began to step forward, Scott’s full body weight pushed against my back and together we teetered on the edge before tipping out of the side door of the tiny Cessna.
In the moment I stepped out of the plane, my vision and hearing stopped. And just as quickly, it all came rushing back. I took in the reality that I was plummeting toward Earth. My training kicking in, I briskly checked the altimeter strapped to my wrist before folding my arms across my chest.
Even in the shade of an enormous maple tree, I had a film of grimy sweat on my forehead, arms, and neck. I lay on my belly in the crunchy dead grass of Mom’s backyard. Sweat pooled on my lower back. I rolled over and peered up at the broad canopy of the tree. Branches crisscrossed; the leaves hanging perfectly still in the hot summer air, the blue sky visible though the gaps.
I concentrated on the speckled sunlight as it danced on the backs of my eyelids and then flopped my arm across my eyes, listening to trucks rumbling in the distance on Highway 113. Dishes clinked in a sink. The back door of the house opened and closed with a rattle, followed by my brother’s familiar tread.
I tensed and moved my forearm slightly down, so it covered the bridge of my nose. My other arm covered my abdomen. Otherwise I kept my eyes closed and stayed still.
His footsteps stopped near my head. I waited. Sweat dripped from my armpit and was wicked away by my well-worn T-shirt. The seconds drew out as he stood over me, likely considering his options. Another big rig rolled by on the freeway, its trailers rattling loudly. Grass tickled my ear.
“Vivi, where’s Mom?”
My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. The heat was too much, and I was incredibly thirsty.
“Just running errands. Should be back soon.” I turned my head toward him and opened my eyes. His brown hair was tousled, the bangs hanging past his eyebrows. He scuffed the toe of his shoe in the scrubby grass. Joey was bored, and Mom wasn’t home, which meant trouble wasn’t far behind.
Closing my eyes, I turned my face back toward the sky. Sweat gathered between the crease inside my elbow and the spot where it rested on my nose. Cautiously, I took my arm away from my face and let it flop into the grass.
“Hey, give me the comics,” Joey demanded. The newspaper I had been reading rustled as he snatched it up. His footsteps crunched away, and I heard wood creak as he climbed up the ladder that was leaning against the house.
Thirsty, I stood up. Stars dazzled in front of my eyes and my head and hands tingled. Once the dizziness had passed, I trotted across the small yard toward the back door. My worn-out sneaker slapped onto the concrete of the shady back porch when Joey called out. I froze, one foot on the porch, the other on the old brick walkway. Standing there in silence, I waited.
“Viv, come up here.” Joey’s voice was syrupy, traveling down to me from the roof.
“No, thanks. I got stuff to do,” I said, still not moving.
“Viiiiivv, up here. Now.” His voice took on a sharp edge.
I clenched my jaw as my temper started to rise.
“Joey! I got stuff to do. I’m goin’ inside.” I stepped up onto the porch and strode resolutely to the sliding glass door.
“Vivian,” Joey said, taunting. “Come up here now, or I’ll tell Mom it was you who broke the piano bench.”
Joey had hit the nail on the head. He knew I would do anything not to get into trouble with Mom. My hand slipped off the cool metal handle of the sliding glass door. I spun on my heel and marched to the ladder. It was huge and weathered, the white paint peeling to reveal graying wood below. I nimbly climbed up and made the scary transition from the ladder to the roof, swinging my leg over the top rung.
The sun was brighter up there, and I squinted as I walked to Joey.
“What!” I balled my hands up into little fists, my mouth set.
Joey pointed to the tops of some trees growing over the far side of the house.
“Go over there and pick me some loquats.” He fanned himself with the comics and fixed his muddy-brown eyes on mine.
I didn’t move and didn’t respond, glaring at him. Joey stood up, walked straight up to me, and punched my upper arm as hard as he could. I staggered, trying to keep my balance on the steeply pitched roof. Tears instantly welled up, and I bit back a yelp of pain. My arm throbbed deeply, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of making me cry.
The heat from the roof radiated through the soles of my sneakers as I willed the tears not to fall. Breaking eye contact with him, I walked carefully up and over the peak of the roof. The trees were planted close to the house, so the branches hung low over the gutters, heavy with ripe fruit. Holding the hem of my T-shirt out, I created a pouch and began picking loquats until I had gotten the closest ones. Inching closer to the edge, the toe of my shoe over the gutter, I stretched my short arms up to pick a few more.
When the pouch of my shirt was full, I squatted down in the shade of the tree and chose a fat, golden loquat. Biting into it, I was thrilled with how sweet and juicy it was. Carefully, I ate around the large seeds and then tossed them into the side yard. I wiped my sticky fingers on my shorts.
Standing up, ready to face Joey again, I heard a heavy wooden thunk. Walking back up and over the peak of the roof, I didn’t see Joey. I scurried over to where the ladder had been. Joey stood in the yard, looking up at me. He barked out a malicious laugh that instantly piqued my anger. With my sore right arm tucked into my side, still holding the hem of my shirt, I grabbed a ripe loquat and threw it at Joey as hard as I could. I missed. The loquat bounced across the dead grass. Joey’s laughter immediately stopped. I threw another, this time hitting him in the gut. The overripe fruit left a smear of juice on his raggedy, striped, hand-me-down polo shirt. I threw two more. Both fell short.
Recalibrating, I continued angrily throwing until all of the fruit was gone. I dropped my hands to my sides, the sun beating down. Joey gaped at me. A long pause followed while he decided what to do. He finally blinked and spoke.
“Look at you up there. Stuck like a stupid stray cat. With your stupid black hair and stupid blue eyes. You don’t even look like anybody in the family. You’re not a real Chastain.”
My bottom lip trembled, but I held in the tears. “Good! Maybe I don’t wanna be a Chastain. You’re all terrible people!”
His eyes narrowed as he turned and walked toward the back door. “Good luck getting off the roof, Vivi,” he said over his shoulder.
“Joey! Joey! Joey! Bring back the ladder!” I screamed as hard and loud as I could. “Joey! Joey! Come onnnn!”
Trying to stay calm, I looked around the backyard. The wooden ladder lay useless in the dirt, surrounded by smears of loquat. I peered over the edge, trying to judge how high up I was. It was a straight drop to hard packed dirt. I walked back over to the loquat trees.
“Joey! Come onnn!” I shouted again, as I tested the branches. I was too heavy to shimmy down the branches to the trunk. Dishes clinked at the neighbor’s house, and I looked across the side yard. Old Mrs. Hadler was standing at her sink looking out of the window at me. She shook her head with a disapproving glare and then went back to washing her dishes. Embarrassed, I stopped shouting and walked around to the front of the house. It was still high up, but there was nice green grass below. Mom always watered the front yard and made sure the planters on the porch had flowers in them; meanwhile, she let the backyard die.
Sweat dripped down my face and neck. It was the hottest point of the day, and the street hummed with the sound of air conditioners working hard. Nobody was out except for Gail, who lived half a block away. She pedaled by on her bicycle, dressed in her usual hospital scrubs, and looked at me with concern.
Anger coursed through me and frustrated tears started to well up again. I let a few silently roll down my grimy cheeks. The salty tears hung on my jaw before dripping down onto the roof, where they evaporated. I wiped my face with the front of my shirt, clenched my jaw, and stepped off the roof.
Meet the Author
Liz is a recovering workaholic who has mastered multi-tasking, including balancing a day job, solo parenting, writing, and finding some semblance of a social life. In past lives she has been a soldier, a bartender, a shoe salesperson, an assistant museum curator, and even a driving instructor.
Liz lives in the East Bay Area of California, and enjoys exploring nature with her son.