Tommy and Jack walked into the room and looked at Julie. She lay on the bed, her body covered and the sheet over her head. Brittany stood behind and simply stared at them, too numb to move.
“How is she supposed to breathe when her face is covered,” Tommy said and uncovered the top of the sheet. He sat down on the side of the bed and smoothed her hair back.
“That’s better,” he said softly. “Now you need to wake up so we can go home.”
Jack went to the other side of the bed and sat down.
“It’s like when she didn’t want to go to school. She would pretend to be sleeping,” Tommy said and smiled. “I need you to wake up now.”
One of my most favorite and heartbreaking scenes from Heartbroken was the moment above. I had such a hard time figuring out how to write Tommy because I couldn’t imagine how he would handle losing Julie. Jack was already a mess because of Stephanie and Tessa, and his reaction was one of utter heartbreak.
But Tommy couldn’t process it. He acted like we would all act- it simply wasn’t true. His heart and mind couldn’t comprehend what Brittany was telling him, and when he uncovered Julie’s face so she could breathe, I had to take a break from writing. It just made me so sad.
Now I knew, from the beginning, that Julie wasn’t going to die. I used to joke that if anyone ever looked at my search history on the computer, I would be in trouble. It was all about how to make someone appear to be dead who wasn’t. I had enough trouble when I researched Arsenic poisoning for Jade, but this was different. I had to concoct a reasonable explanation (albeit far fetched) that Janet could have carried out with limited resources.
So why do it?
I was asked this question a lot.
The answer is complicated, but as a writer, I had to do what I knew would shake up the story the most, and that has always been Julie. She is the glue, as we know, but she’s also Bill’s lifeline and David and Josie’s mom. She’s the ‘normal’ one amid the doctors and soldiers and she is the grounding force for all of them as well as for me when writing.
I took a similar approach to Heartbroken as I did with Love Endures. I began to tell more of Bill and Julie’s story- scenes I had never shown before and moments that were profound for them as a couple. The first being the time Julie learned Bill was a virgin. I loved writing that scene because she had all of these ideas about how he might react hearing she was a virgin and when he confessed, she said all of the things she was afraid of to him.
She also said the things we all thought- he was handsome and strong and in the Army. He was in his early 20’s and he had never had sex? How? Why?
The issues Bill talked about were heartbreaking. He never saw a healthy relationship growing up. His parents were never loving and he knew his mother had to do whatever his dad wanted, whenever he wanted it. Bill fought with that idea. He never wanted a woman to fear him in any way, and he held back on that kind of commitment because it needed to be completely done out of love.
It was just the opposite for Julie. Growing up with Jack and Tommy, Julie saw sex as something they did all the time (not in front of her). It didn’t necessarily mean love, but it was fun and something most men did.
Or so she thought.
Julie hurt his feelings and she knew it. The way they talked it out was a beautiful and profound moment from them, and showed just how much they really were soul mates.
“Bill, no, I’m sorry, I just didn’t expect that.”
“Why? Because I’m a man and all men want one thing?”
“Well, no and yes. I mean look at you,” she walked over to him. “You are incredibly handsome and smart and sensitive. You treat me like I’m this gift and I guess I just assumed it was,” she stopped.
“It was because I was trying to get into your pants? I was only after one thing? It was all an act?” he said and felt his own eyes fill, furious with himself for getting so upset. He started pacing. “I’m such an idiot.”
The second flashback was another normal day. Julie broke up a fight in school and was a little banged up, but she didn’t call Bill. He had just returned from his year tour in Iraq and he was struggling with fitting back into the day to day. He was upset she didn’t call him and they ended up having a great talk about how grateful they both were to be together and that now was the time to believe it would last.
I also had Jack recall a special moment from the past as he let the news sink in.
He remembered picking Julie up from school once when she was sick. It was sweet and sincere and showed again, their incredible bond.
I chose these moments to show the family because when someone is gone, we don’t tend to focus on the huge memories- it’s the simple moments- the day to day dealings that we miss so much.
I needed a way to bring Julie back and I needed it to somehow explain what happened.
Bringing Bill to the edge the way I did was a calculated risk. Bill values life and he knows that his children needed him. He didn’t really want to die, but he was so completely lost at the idea of living without his wife.
It was also the circumstances. She had been taken because, in his mind, he failed. That was something he couldn’t live with. He didn’t know how to be in the world without her.
So he chose to kill himself.
I knew who would be the one to stop him.
I knew how it would happen.
So I went back. I began to show the moments from Julie’s point of view. I wanted to show her crying out for help and the scenes we had read from the other characters’ perspectives were now shown from hers. The moment Bill put his shirt on her to the moment Tommy uncovered her- she was aware of it all.
Such a simple word.
Bill heard her and everything changed. At the same time, Stephanie was able to tell Jack about what she remembered the carjackers saying and the fight was on to save Julie.
That’s when the real heart of the book began.
What Julie and Stephanie went through had a ripple effect for all of the characters. We had to deal with the immediate aftermath of the health of both women, but also with the trauma they suffered.
Julie had a huge hill to climb, but she was so worried about Bill. She also began to suffer anxiety issues with being alone and being out of control. It was a new thing for her- having always been someone who was in control of her emotions. She was scared and worried and so much of what happened to her was still unknown. That would come in to play little later.
I also had Mike and Jade, dealing with her past and the sudden resurgence of the letters.
To add some lightness to the story, I had Evan and Elizabeth going through the procedure to try and get pregnant. I loved seeing the experience through their eyes and how profoundly excited they were to become parents. I’ve always wanted to see Evan with a child. I couldn’t wait for that to happen.
One of the major points I needed to address was Bill’s shame at almost throwing his life away. I didn’t want it to be a secret, so I had him tell Brittany right away and I needed his support system to be on top of all of it. It also helped Julie to know he wasn’t alone when she couldn’t be there. Another favorite moment for me was the following.
“Brittany is going to set up an appointment with a doctor. Probably Dr. Cruze, the one I saw briefly before. I probably shouldn’t have stopped.”
She was so relieved and thankful for their family.
“Can you get in here with me?”
He stood up and pulled his shoes off before he laid on top of the covers.
“We will find a way to help you,” she said as her own tears fell. “I love you and I am with you, no matter what. Never doubt that,” she tried to hold him, but her arms didn’t move so well yet.
He pulled her to him and she cupped his face in her hand.
“You are my hero.”
“How can you say that? How can you even think that anymore?”
She kissed his chest and shrugged.
“Because you’re here with me. You’ve survived, and that’s what a hero does.”
“Then you are the most heroic of all,” he said softly.
The healing process for both of them would be ongoing, and I never wanted to rush it or make it seem like suddenly everything was okay.
I loved Bill’s scene with his children when he apologized to them. So profound and simple, but necessary.
I also had a minor point I struggled with, and that was Bill punching Mike. It was completely understood and I don’t know of anyone who would blame him-Mike certainly didn’t-, but I have always loved writing the admiration Mike has for Bill. When they were able to finally talk, I felt they came out stronger as a team.
When I look back at writing this book, I realize just how many stories were happening at once.
I had to deal with Stephanie’s recovery on top of everything else and I wanted to really focus on the real issue of PTSD that she may deal with. One of the most heartbreaking scenes was the following:
Julie had gone home with Bill and Stephanie was sitting in the family room with Tessa while Jack finished up some research. He had spoken to her doctor and wanted to try soaking with her in the tub. He put everything away and stood up when he heard a blood curdling scream and then Tessa crying.
“Stephanie? Stephanie?” he yelled as he barreled into the family room. He saw Stephanie struggling to breathe and Tessa on the blanket next to her, sobbing.
He didn’t know what to do first. He looked at Stephanie and she pointed to Tessa for him to help her.
Jack scooped his baby girl into his arms and she was bright red from crying. He held her and soothed her and she quieted down quickly. He kissed her little head and wiped her tears and she smiled at him as her green eyes were wet.
“It’s okay little Tessie. You’re safe,” he said and she fell asleep again. He walked over and placed her in the little portable crib they kept in the room and turned to Stephanie.
“Oh, God,” she said and got up, running outside and collapsing in the snow.
Jack flew after her and quickly picked her up, carrying her back inside. He didn’t know what had happened, but it was obvious to him she was having some sort of PTSD reaction. He sat down on the couch and held her to him, trying to help her calm down.
“You’re safe and Tessa is safe,” he repeated. “I’m here and I love you so much.”
“I’m going to be sick,” she got up and made it to the basket in the room before throwing up. Jack felt his tears fall as he watched her and he wondered what he should do. He ran and got a washcloth.
“Stephanie? I need you to look at me and focus on me,” he said after she sat back. She did and he smiled as he gently wiped her face.
“That’s good,” he spoke softly. “You’re doing amazing.”
She didn’t say anything, she just reached out and held his hand, still struggling to catch her breath.
“You’re doing it,” he said and let his own tears fall. “Try to stay grounded in my eyes.”
“Jack,” she said and he was so relieved. “I’m so sorry. Is she okay? I need to see Tessa.”
He helped her up and showed her their little daughter sleeping sweetly in the crib.
“She’s fine,” he said. “I’m a tad more worried about her mom at the moment.” She felt her legs shake and he helped her to the couch.
“I fell asleep with her on my chest. I woke up and I was back in the cabin and I could feel the cold. I thought she was stuck to me again and I panicked. I put her down and I thought she was dead. I thought I killed her,” she felt her tears flow again and put her head in her hands. “I was so scared, Jack. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
He pulled her into his arms again and they held each other for a long time.
“Okay,” he sat back and smiled at her. “Let’s look at what we know.” She followed his every word and stayed grounded in his eyes. “You had a flashback when you woke up. It’s to be expected and I’m surprised you haven’t more of them.”
She shook her head and wiped her eyes. “It was so real,” she said brokenly. “I felt the cold and the fear,” she said as her whole body shook. “She was so still. I don’t know what happened. I could have given her a heart attack. I scared her so badly, Jack. She was sound asleep and I screamed at her.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” he said softly. “Tessa is fine and you’re going to be okay. As the best heart surgeon there is, I can tell you she will be just fine. She is sleeping and will not remember waking up.”
She stood up and took a deep breath. “I’m going to clean up real quick, okay?”
He nodded and watched her walk into the bedroom. He felt the air go out of his lungs as he sat down. He just wanted to help her. He just needed her.
“Jack?” He looked over and saw she came back.
“What is it?” he walked over to her.
“Can you help me? Can you hold me? I just need you,” she said brokenly.
“My love,” he said as he gathered her in his arms. “I will hold you forever.”
I love writing Jack and Stephanie, and I needed Jack to be able to help Steph with this. He felt so helpless with everything that happened to her and Tessa and he just needed to help her. She needed him as much and it truly helped heal them both.
I also touched on her fears having to use any type of assistance to get around. As someone with MS, I understand the implications of using an assistive device. It’s hard to separate the reasons in your mind. Stephanie struggled with that. I have, too.
Another story that continued at this time was Mike and Rebecca- or at least the house issue. Mike was engaged to Jade and planning a wedding and he was faced with the idea that he lost everything because of the divorce. Rebecca was tying up all of his savings and he was at a low point after listening to her spew her garbage at him.
A little behind the scenes info for the next scene:
Mike walked through his house. He stood in the darkness and crossed his arms.
Pregnant? I don’t know how you were able to have sex with her. I didn’t think you could even do that anymore, what with your injuries. Maybe that’s why you’re with her? She couldn’t do any better than half a man.
He made his way to the master bedroom and stood in the doorway, looking in at the bed. He hadn’t ever slept in it. She bought it and furnished the house while he was away. When he came back, he moved into the guest room.
He walked to the dresser and looked at her things, which still sat on the top. His anger grew as he took his arm and cleared everything to the floor. He turned and walked to the bed, sitting down. What the hell had he done? How was this his history?
It wasn’t like he was forced to marry her. He went along with all of this, and that meant he was okay with it.
The truth hurts, Michael. You have never been good enough. I just believe in telling you what I know. I’ve lived with you. I think it’s time you understood why I did the things I did. All of this was because of you.
She was right. He was and is a failure and he has no one to blame but himself. With Rebecca holding up the house, he has nothing to offer Jade. He can’t afford a wedding or a house. How could he expect her to marry him? He was a loser and a fraud. Jade deserved so much more.
Mike got up and looked around again. He made a decision and walked out.
I was going to have the house burn down. I actually wrote an arc where he was a suspect and nobody knew if he did it. I decided, ultimately, not to do it, but I always wondered about it.
I know this is getting long, but there are so many things I was able to cover in Heartbroken. I had Jade bonding with Elaine and picking out a wedding dress. I had Brittany and Tommy more in love and finally taking some pictures. I had the introduction of a dog into Bill and Julie’s life.
I also had the ongoing struggle of learning to cope with Naomi’s diabetes. The insulin pump helped so much, but anyone can make a mistake. Tommy broke my heart with this one.
“The receiver? Do you have it?”
“It’s in the car. Shit,” he ran out and came back a second later. As soon as he got close to Naomi, the alarms went off.
“It’s at 65,” he said. “I’ll get the gel,” he reached for the tube, measuring the amount and quickly wiping it inside Naomi’s cheek. They waited a minute and watched her.
Josie and David sat perfectly and watched while Naomi was attended to and Tramp sat with them.
“Okay, we are doing better,” Brittany said and held her daughter, grateful she was becoming more alert.
“Mama?” she said softly.
“I’m here, mini red,” she said and rubbed her daughter’s back. “How do you feel?”
Tommy grabbed the materials to check her sugar and Naomi started to cry.
“No owie,” she said softly.
“I’m sorry baby,” she said. “Let’s sing a song.”
Brittany sang and David and Josie sang with her, mesmerizing Naomi as Tommy quickly pricked her, not drawing her attention at all.
“All done,” Tommy said to Brittany as he looked at the reading. “Back at 90.”
Brittany smiled and kissed her daughter’s cheek.
“Let’s continue our book, okay?”
“Okay,” the kids said and Brittany sat Naomi in her lap as they all went back to reading while Tommy cleaned up.
Tommy decided the receiver needed to be attached to them at all times. He shook his head at his anger over his own mistake.
It was an easy mistake, but he was so hard on himself. Both of them were. Naomi is a little champ, and she is always proving her strength.
I had an idea with the dog for Bill and I knew it wouldn’t be the one they expected, but rather the dog that needed them as much as they needed her. Poor little Hope was in rough shape and she didn’t trust anyone. The way she came to the children was so sweet and there was no doubt about what dog they would get. Hope was made for them.
There were so many things I loved about Heartbroken.
-Elaine and Evan tricking Nick into telling them what he did to Julie.
-Jade and Evan bonding over their twins.
-Every single Bee and David interaction.
-Jade and Mike’s bachelor/ bachelorette party.
-Bringing Jason back into the story.
-Even though it was scary, I loved Brittany’s issues with the clot because it brought Jack as a surgeon back into the forefront.
-I also loved exploring Jade’s body issues and how she was continually dealing with them.
-Bill’s sessions with Dr. Cruze.
-Potty training both Bee and David.
So many things happened in Heartbroken and it is one of my favorite books of the series. It was controversial and surprising, but also full of love and hope.
Thank you all so much for reading and letting me know what you love about the series.
Enjoy Red! Available tomorrow.