It might not seem like so long to some people, but for me, it’s been a lifetime.
My life is broken up into two parts. Before my dad died and after.
Every bit of my writing and publishing has happened after.
That’s not entirely true. I wrote before he died. I actually created Brittany before he died.
But this series was born after and most of the fictional life which became “Family by Choice” also came after.
That’s why deciding whether or not to end the series is so hard for me.
It’s a part of that time in my life when I found a way to move forward. I found, through writing, that I could focus on something tangible. I could stop sitting in despair and begin to find a new normal.
I use that phrase a lot in the series.
A new normal.
At some point, I suppose the new normal simply becomes normal and I guess, in a way, that’s where I am now. I have a routine and a life that is good. I have a family I love and people who support me in all I do.
I also have this world that constantly moves forward in my head. I am always thinking of these characters and what is happening in their lives. I see them throughout the day and there are times I look forward to writing them in the evening the way I look forward to talking to an old friend.
They are comfortable and comforting to me.
They are my way to hold onto my sanity when things get too hard.
They are a part of everything I do and when they are in trouble, I feel it. When they are happy, I know it. When they are hurting, I try to fix it.
The one thing that I never could have imagined when I first put the series out for people to read was that others would care about these people, too.
They would care about them and they would come to love them like I do.
As I approach the release of the 26th book in the series, I think of the focus and how it’s full of a family much bigger than I initially envisioned. The extended family and friends have added a rich and vibrant level to the plot that keeps me energized and excited for what comes next.
So what does come next?
I have written up through book 28, so for now, there are at least three more in the works. I am also really excited to announce a series of novellas that will be released beginning in the spring.
Each character I choose will have a small book written about an important moment in their lives not covered directly in the series.
The first will be Julie’s Story.
I am not saying the series is ending, but it will slow down a bit in the spring to allow for these novellas to come out. The characters chosen will depend on your feedback. The few polls I’ve put up here recently have helped me to know what you might like to see. As always, comments here and through my email are always appreciated.
In the meantime, book 26 is ready to go. I have included a preview of a scene involving Sabrina and Elizabeth- two characters who are about to get a bit more of a focus.
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Thank you for reading…now and always.
Elizabeth pulled up to the restaurant and Sabrina came out. She got in and Liz smiled.
“Are you okay? I was surprised you called me.”
“I’m fine. I needed some advice and I was hoping you might be the one to help me”
“How about we go grab some coffee and we can talk, okay? Do your parents know where you are?”
“I’m supposed to be working for another hour, so I’ll text them before they worry.”
Liz smiled. She would text Stephanie just in case.
They drove a little way to the diner nearby and went in.
“Okay, so what’s on your mind?” Liz asked after they were in a booth and had coffee.
“Well, Drew’s mom is looking for me. She came at my mom at our house and tried to hurt her.”
“What? She did what? Why didn’t anyone tell us?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It just happened yesterday, and everyone was okay. Uncle Bill came and took her away and my mom is okay.”
“These people need to move on. This is ridiculous.”
Sabrina felt her eyes fill.
“I think this is because of me and I really need to fix it. I want to talk to his mom. I want to try and help her with her questions. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I was hoping maybe you could take me to see her.”
“Why me? Why don’t you ask your parents or Bill or Julie?”
“I can’t ask my parents because they will just freak out and I don’t want to bring Uncle Bill into this because then David will find out and it will be a huge deal. I was going to just go alone, but I didn’t want to be stupid. I know how kick ass you are and I thought maybe you would be a good person to help me.”
“Kick ass?” Liz smiled. “Hardly.”
“You flew a helicopter in a blizzard and saved my mom and sister. You also flew a plane into a war zone to rescue Uncle Mike. I know the stories and I know you. You’re an amazing woman.”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, but I like your version. Do we know where Drew’s mom is now? Is she able to have visitors?”
“My dad said they took her to get help, so I’m not sure what that means. I also have another worry, but it might be nothing.”
Liz raised her eyebrows.
“What is it?”
“I didn’t tell my parents about this, but Drew’s dad is a really mean man. He was abusive to Drew and I think a lot of his anger had to do with how much he hated his dad. They were away when I was with Drew and if his mom is here,” she stopped.
“Then his dad probably is, too,” Liz said.
“I worry he is. I don’t know him, but I know what Drew said. We talked a bit before everything happened. I know everyone thinks I was just a selfish bitch who hurt David, but Drew wasn’t always like that. When he asked me out, he was sweet and sensitive. He turned into a different person after I agreed to go to the dance with him and after I broke up with David. He wasn’t always such a jerk.”
“Did you like him?”
“It doesn’t matter. He was a part of Desi’s rape and that means more than any shred of decency he had before. I would never, ever support anyone like that and I feel sick that I didn’t see it before. If I had, so much could have been avoided.”
Liz felt something big was there behind the surface. She knew of Bee’s struggles and how much Jack and Stephanie tried to help her.
Maybe it was time to stop coddling her.
“What could have been avoided?” Liz asked.
“Just a lot of heartache.”
Bee looked at her and her beautiful brown eyes were swimming.
“For David. For Desi. For you and Uncle Evan. For Aunt Julie. For Naomi and Tess. Everyone was hurt because of my choice. That can never be taken back.”
“So you figure if you never agreed to go out with Drew, then nothing bad would have happened?”
“Well not to the people I love. He was angry with David and he saw me as a way to get to him. Then his friends went after Desi and I was the reason David was late to get her,” Bee looked at him and her tears spilled over her cheeks. “Did you know that David actually asked me if I stalled him on purpose?”
Liz felt her heart break for the young woman.
“He was upset. He knows you, Bee. He knows you would never have done that.”
“I don’t know that I agree with you. As angry as you have ever been at Uncle Evan, would you ever think he was capable of something so horrible?”
Liz smiled sadly.
“No, but he thought something pretty bad about me, and it was because of what I did. It cost me two years of our life together. I was much like you, Bee. I was trying to do the right thing for the wrong reason and it caused more damage than I can ever take back.”
Sabrina was surprised.
“What did you do?”
“It’s such a long story and it was so long ago, but in a nutshell, I staged it so Evan would walk in on me with another man in bed so he would dump me.”
Bee was speechless.
Liz looked at her hands.
“Yeah, it was bad. It crushed Evan and it crushed me. We went two years without speaking and I don’t know if we would have ever gotten back together if it hadn’t been for my brother and Amber.”
“Why would you do that? What made you hurt him like that?”
Liz played with her wedding ring.
“It was a lifetime ago. Evan had an opportunity to go to LA and become what he always wanted to be. I had an opportunity here to go to flight school. It was incredibly hard to get into the program and for a woman; it was even harder. His dad knew if I told him about my opportunity, Evan would give up his dreams for me.”
“So you made him think you were over,” Bee said. “So he would leave and not look back.”
Liz smiled through her own wet eyes. She was purposefully leaving out the pregnancy and how evil Evan’s dad had been.
“It was wrong for me to make that choice for him. He left thinking that I didn’t love him. I mean Evan and I had been thrown together since we were six. I had such a crush on him my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was 17 that he finally asked me out. We were inseparable after that and for me to hurt him like that was inexcusable.”
“But you thought you were doing the right thing,” Sabrina said and squeezed Liz’s hand.
“I did, but it didn’t matter. It was wrong and I was wrong.”
Bee was quiet.
“Didn’t your brother know you were lying?”
“Jason?” Liz smiled. “Have you met him? He’s a little focused on himself.”
Bee laughed and then her face changed.
“I bet he knew but he didn’t know how to help you guys.”
“You’re right. My brother is incredibly handsome, but he’s so much more than that. You are a lot like him. You both carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
“But you and Evan found each other again and you’re married and happy, so everything worked out, right?”
“Yeah, but I had a lot to make up for.”
“But you did. I wonder if one day David and I will find our way back to each other,” she said softly.
Liz knew this was a huge issue for Sabrina.
“Honey, I think he’s really happy now. He loves Desi and she loves him.”
Bee nodded and wiped her eyes.
“I know. I just miss him. I will never regret anything more than hurting him and ruining my life.”
Liz moved to the other side of the booth and hugged Bee as she cried.
This was the heart of the issue, and unfortunately, it was a hard lesson to learn.
“You did not ruin your life and I hate to tell you this, but life is full of regrets,” she smiled when Bee chuckled a little.
Liz handed her a tissue and Sabrina wiped her face.
“I don’t think you ever really dealt with your breakup.”
Bee looked at her.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you broke up and then everything happened with Drew and then Desi was assaulted and everything spun out of control. I don’t think you really dealt with the loss of David.”
“But it was my choice. I don’t think I have any right to be upset about it.”
Liz walked back to the opposite side of the booth and sat down.
“When we make hard choices in life, even if they are right for us, it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. David was a huge part of your life and to suddenly miss that is hard. It doesn’t matter why it happened, the loss is real and it hurts. I think you need to be able to grieve for that loss and take stock of who you are now and who you want to be moving forward.”
“It’s hard to be around David. Is that terrible of me? He is a part of our family and I keep finding excuses to not be around when he’s there. I don’t think that’s right, but it hurts to see him. Do you think that will ever change?” Bee asked.
“I wish I could tell you the answer to that. I think time makes everything better, but I also know that hearts don’t always work according to plan.”
“It’s been a year. The dance is coming up this weekend and I broke up with him a month before that. I’m scared I’m never going to get over him.”
“Then you need to find ways to get your mind off of things. How is work? Do you have any other hobbies you could pursue?”
“Work is fine,” she said. “I want to join the fashion club at school, but I don’t know if I should.”
“Why not? You love fashion and that sounds perfect,” Liz smiled.
“I like designing clothes, not really modeling them.”
“Is that what the fashion club does? Model?”
“I don’t know, really. I was just assuming I guess.”
“Well, why don’t you go to a meeting and see for yourself. You might be surprised.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll talk to Mike tomorrow and see if he has information on Drew’s mom. If it’s safe, I will take you to see her.”
“Thank you so much.”
“I also think we need to talk to Mike about Drew’s dad. If there is someone we should look out for, we all need to know.”
“Right. That’s a good idea.”
“One last thing.”
Bee looked at her.
“You are not to blame for any of this.”
“I’m serious. You are not responsible for what happened to Desi and you are certainly not responsible for me or for Evan. You are allowed to make choices in the world and those choices are not the catalysts for all the evil that exists. Please know that. Please understand that.”
“Tell me you aren’t responsible,” Liz smiled.
Sabrina took a deep breath.
“I’m not responsible.”
She started to cry again and Liz moved back to sit next to her, holding her while she cried.
Liz looked up as she saw Jack and Bill and Tommy and David walking into the diner.
Jack seemed to have a sense something was wrong and his eyes traveled to them.
“Bee? What happened?” he asked worriedly as he walked over. “Why aren’t you at work?”
Liz looked at Bill and shook his head to keep David away.
“Come on, let’s go sit down,” Bill said and he and Tommy led David the other way.
“What’s wrong with her?” David asked.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Bill smiled and they sat down.
Sabrina looked at her dad and was embarrassed.
“I got off early and Aunt Liz and I were just talking,” she said through her blotchy face.
”This looks like more than talking,” he said softly as Liz moved to the other side and Jack sat down. “Sweetheart, what happened?”
Bee didn’t say anything and Liz smiled.
“Girl stuff,” she said. “Bee had some stuff on her mind and I was eager to help. Anything to get away from all the train talk between Kevin and Evan. I’ll take her home now and you can enjoy time with the men, okay? I promise, everything is okay.”
Jack looked at Liz and then at Bee.
“She’s right, daddy. I’m okay.”
Jack sighed, but nodded.
“Okay. I love you,” he said and kissed her forehead.
“I love you, too.”
Jack walked to the men and Bee looked at Liz.
“We should go.”
Liz stood up and put her arm around Sabrina.
“I’m really proud of you. This was a hard conversation, and you did it.”
Bee put her arm around Liz’s waist and smiled.
“Yeah, I did it.”
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