When We Believed from the Shadows Between Lies series
Book 1 – Readers Reviews
‘An emotional roller coaster which hooked me from the start. Secrets, love and betrayal with lots of suspense.’ Jayne Fraser.
‘The characters are real, as I turned the pages, I lived their lives. Can’t wait to read the next book.’ Alison McGarth
‘Suspicion, secrets and heartbreak between four friends with strong foreshadowing and suspense that kept me up half the night. Looking forward to Book 2.’ Jon Jeffries
‘These characters could live next door. Their emotional family saga really came alive.’ H L Walker
‘Betrayal, suspense and a love story among friends, at times heart-rending, so sad and at other times funny and intriguing. Good read.’ Michelle James
‘Had me hooked from the start! Excellent read.’ M. Herbert’
‘Best friends to lovers story I’ve read for a long time.’ Hayley Smyth
When We Believed. A Novella
It is one of those sharp, clear Los Angeles blue skies in the middle of summer when barely a seagull flies in the baking afternoon sunlight. Venice Beach, crowded with skaters, where hot young things gather in the blocks of shade skirting the edges of buildings and palm trees.
They are eating burgers, fries and ice-cream as the silky ocean waves roll in on the high tide. Tall buildings, hotels, apartment blocks and squat boutique shops cram the coastline as the heat forces most into cool air-con interiors.
Crisp lines of mid-afternoon light streak through the teak shutters, warming Ella’s naked body as she lies sprawled across the large double bed next to Noah. She inhales the chilled hotel air, frustrated with his conversation. She appears sad and detached.
‘I can tell by the look on your face,’ he concludes.
‘It’s just the endless circular talk. We never resolve the issues.’ She slides from the bed, grabs a fine cotton shirt, and pulls it over her torso. ‘I have to let go,’ she states in an ominous tone.
‘Don’t leave, not like this,’ Noah reaches out for her hand as she moves away from the dishevelled bed. Ella turns to face him, tying the wrap-over skirt around her waist.
‘We can’t carry on like this, it’s unfair to everyone.’
‘Not on me,’ he gives a wry grin, pulling her back towards the bed.
‘Noah, I must go.’ They are entering familiar territory, his wretched desire conflicting with her fragile resistance. Things must change.
Their involvement has extended, over the years, into a lifelong affair. They split up once or twice during the early stages of Ella’s marriage to Lucas, long before Noah’s wife, Emma, became ill. That part of their lives immersed in shared sadness feeds Ella’s merciless guilt. Glancing down at him, spread-eagled on the bedsheets, his deep blue eyes tracking her every move, Ella wonders if his persistence is the glue preventing them from ending their affair.
‘I need to get back to work.’ Ella won’t play his game anymore.
She leans forward and kisses him; he holds her face in one open palm, the electric warmth of his lips pressed against hers suffusing her entire body with desire. Ella pulls back and they hold one another’s eyes before she turns away and stalks from the room, closing the door behind her.
In the car, as she races across town, she is aware Noah knows she will never let him go. She must. She exhales a deep breath. The futility weighing on her mind. It has to end.
Her husband Lucas is oblivious, and in some ways, it’s a perfect arrangement, but it doesn’t assuage her guilt. What did he say the other morning when she was brushing her teeth before meeting his best friend for breakfast? Ella stops at the first intersection, lost in thought. Something about the clothes she wore. It was so out of character. Lucas never notices a new haircut or a new dress, yet he made some unsettling remark. She had her toothbrush jammed in a mouth full of foam and smiled, before rinsing her mouth out.
Ah, that’s right; ‘I haven’t seen you in those shoes before.’ Lucas never notices footwear!
What, these old things? I bought them last spring. She decides not to comment out loud in case, with his ex-Navy Seal, supersonic paranoia he is baiting her and would catch her out. Sometimes she imagines Lucas has always known about Noah.
Way back when they were eighteen, Lucas asked her if she had ever slept with Noah, his best friend when she and Lucas were first dating.
Now, decades later, he asks her again, his words muffled as she spits the toothpaste into the sink. She hesitates, rinsing her mouth, considering the best answer. Truth? Or dare to lie and complicate things further.
‘Yes, of course,’ she says. ‘We were together for over a year back then.’
‘I know,’ Lucas looks at her, trying to read her expression. ‘He’s a lying bastard.’
He catches Ella off-guard. ‘What? Isn’t Noah your closest friend? How can you say that about him?’
‘I believed him when he told me you two had never slept together. You were just good friends, or some bull, and I bought it.’
‘That’s life, darling,’ she smiles at her husband, ‘and it’s a long time ago.’ Ella dries her mouth and adds lipstick while watching her husband in the large bathroom mirror above the double porcelain sinks. He gives a noncommittal shrug and leaves the room.
Lucas and Noah are closer than brothers. They cycle together most weekends, talk constantly and yet they are opposite in almost every way. Maybe that’s why Ella’s addicted to them both. They are the Ying and Yang of one another. Ella thinks the relationship between both couples is like a complex thousand-piece puzzle with four blind individuals fumbling to fit the completed the picture together. Intellectually superior, her husband Lucas has a mind like the piercing glint bouncing from a honed blade, painfully slicing through layers of mathematical data, but shut-off to anything involving the heart.
The two wives, Emma and Ella, have spent hours discussing the prime points and shortcomings of their respective husbands. Their conversations affirm the likelihood of Lucas’s perspective matching an Asperger’s personality. Both a blessing and an excuse for Ella’s semi-detachment from her husband.
‘I listened to an audiobook a few days ago,’ Emma explains, sipping coffee with Ella at a local café over the weekend. She smiles, flashing her warm brown eyes at Ella. ‘I had this epiphany, you know, a kind of spark of understanding.’
‘Just a psychologist interviewing some clients about their relationships and he made some interesting observations.’
Ella nods, leaning closer to hear every word, above the clatter and chatter of several other customers enjoying the mid-morning break.
Emma stirred more sugar into her coffee. ‘He says people who are in relationships and spend much of their time fantasizing about other lovers from the past can become addicted to their secret fantasies.’
Ella’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. ‘I’m sure it’s harmless.’
‘Well, that’s what I thought, but that’s not what the research says.’
‘Why? How could imagination destroy anything?’ Ella had given up sugar but stirs half a teaspoon into her black coffee. ‘I mean thoughts, like dreams, can’t kill you.’
Emma smiles. ‘You think about it. If you imagine another lover and you build this imaginary person into the greatest listener, the best lover, the most thoughtful and interesting guy you’ve ever met, then he becomes preferable to your own husband.’
‘Sounds perfect,’ Ella chuckles. ‘Where can I get one?’
‘The psychologist says you forget you’re making it all up. Imagining becomes a real and addictive habit. It takes intimacy away from your real-life partner. You avoid any depth of emotion with the real man, preferring to share your thoughts with the imaginary one. When things are tense with your husband, you escape to the fantasy. It takes away your commitment to a genuine relationship.’
‘But any thinking person realizes the difference and can…’
The young server interrupts the pair. ‘More coffee?’ she asks about to pour from a metal jug.
‘No thanks,’ Ella says, placing her palm over her half-empty cup.
‘Not for me either,’ Emma smiles at the blonde girl.
‘No thanks,’ they both say together as the server turns on her heel and leaves the two friends alone.
Ella concentrates on Emma’s face but they both remain silent.
‘Really?’ Emma finally says. ‘I find the concept of fantasies wrecking a proper relationship fascinating.’
Ella tilts her head, trying to determine if her friend knows about her love for Noah. A ripple of guilt filters through her thoughts as Emma talks about a television series.
‘I’m watching it on demand,’ she explains. ‘Sister Wives, it ran about three years ago and I missed most of it so started downloading the series.’
Ella swallows the last gulp of her lukewarm coffee. ‘I heard something about it but never got to watch.’
‘It’s about a guy who has five wives,’ Emma grins.
‘Talk about living the fantasy,’ Ella laughs, ‘at least for him.’
‘It’s not anything sordid, they’re very religious.’
‘Utah religious?’ Ella questions.
‘Of course. It’s illegal, but you can see how it works well for them all.’
‘Is this reality television? Emma, you can’t believe everything on TV.’
‘It’s not what you’d think. The husband has his work cut out for him. Five wives and something like seventeen kids. All the wives have their own house too.’
‘You sound like an enthusiast for this polygamy-type arrangement,’ Ella states.
‘I dunno, but it is interesting, and it seems to work.’
‘Does the husband have a house?’
‘No,’ Emma says. ‘he moves between the five wives staying a night or two at each place.’
‘That could be a logistical nightmare. What if he likes one wife more than the others?’
‘He doesn’t. He’s very careful and fair, treating them all the same.’
Leaning back into the seat Ella runs her hand through her hair, pulling the fringe from her eyes. ‘Sounds amazing.’ Here is a chance to discuss tactfully if Emma will consider a merger of their families. Her heart beats a little faster. She is impulsive, and maybe this takes things too far. But as a hypothetical situation? ‘Would you ever consider having two or three husbands?’ She laughs to disguise her serious intent. ‘The down-side is putting up with washing double the socks and listening to triple the sports talk.’ She frowns and leans in closer across the small table. ‘I mean, can you see any benefits?’
‘A man with five wives has sexual advantages and strong female mothers to raise his children. It’s more prevalent this way around, even these days, than a woman with several men in a family living arrangement.’
‘Yeah, I guess the woman with several husbands gets the short straw.’
‘Well, triple the sexual demands for a start and the three husbands could share the lawn mowing, halve their chores, so they are in a win-win situation.’
The pair laugh raucously, drawing attention from a middle-aged couple at a nearby table.
‘We better go. I might ask Lucas, if he’s keen, to have a couple of brother-husbands in the fold. Can you imagine!’
Lucas toyed with working two jobs because there’s never enough money to meet household costs. They spend everything he earns as a computer programmer on domestic consumption. His existing job takes up every waking moment and sometimes stretches into on-call evenings when networks go down.
Occasionally he sees a job advertised online, and he applies with the most relevant of his four resumes concocted over the years, but he can’t even land an interview. Disheartening, but it’s reality.
He glares at himself in the mirror. Grimaces as he passes his hand under his forty-three-year-old chin. He already has middle-aged jowls: Where had the time gone?
His stomach rumbles as he drags the razor over his neck and cheeks, dipping it into the shallow bathroom sink, rinsing and returning to the other cheek. Why bother shaving on the weekends? Gone were those days too, where he would dress to impress and watch the wild young things on the dance floor. He grins to himself. He and Noah used to knock back tequila shots in one gulp back in those days.
In their cramped apartment, shared with three other guys during their last year at university, they all helped lift an old barber’s chair into the lounge on the second floor. What a mission. He couldn’t even lift the footrest now without breaking into a sweat. It was the wildest party night, music blaring, everyone queuing up for laybacks in the cracked leather chair. It’s still an in-house joke. Each of them clambered into the old, black heavy steel framed chair and Jerry pumped the foot pedal to swing the back and headrest of the chair almost horizontal.
‘Open wide,’ Clyde shouted as he poured tequila straight from the bottle into the barber chair recipient, mouth open wide, gasping for air as the alcohol overflowed the rim of the victim’s surrounding lips. The shrieking and the laughter out-played the music. But what fun. Where had it all gone?
The stuff he and Noah used to get up to. He shakes his head, looking at the older reflection of himself with a slight nick on his chin. Bending forward, he splashes warm water over his face and dries it off with a hand towel. Gazing into the mirror again, his face already drained by exhaustion. Tired of life. Too much of a battle. During the last few years Lucas has ghost-walked through a zombie life. When had he last enjoyed a good time?
On Saturday night he met Noah for a drink after work. They always sat on the same bar stools at the end of the deep curved polished bar counter. Lucas clutched a beer, amused by Noah doing a show and tell enactment of a client’s stupidity. Moments after they both guffawed, Lucas looked serious.
‘I need to rob a bank,’ Lucas jokes, taking another gulp of his ice-cold beer.
Noah nods. ‘You and me both. Or come up with some amazing new phone app.’
‘With code to measure your beer consumption?’
‘Yeah, I guess most great apps are already on sale. But a quirky, fun app could work. It could warn you when you’ve had too much to drink.’
‘That’s your problem. Why don’t you break out more, Lucas? You keep promising to take me fishing, but it never happens.’
Lucas exhales. ‘Yeah I’m useless.’
‘Only if we don’t catch any fish.’
Lucas grins. ‘OK, I get it.
‘Nah… Well, it’s Ella.’ Lucas sighs. ‘She’s off. You know how she gets. Bored with life like me, I guess.’
‘I hear you.’ Noah frowns, taking another sip, uneasy about Ella. A wave of guilt passes through him as he glances down at his cell phone.
‘Need to go?’ Lucas asks.
‘Yeah, I promised Emma I’d pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.’
Lucas snorts. ‘Well trained, Bud. Domesticity incarnate,’ he says. ‘Hey, I thought Emma is staying with her mom this weekend?’
Lucas frowns, watching his friend closely. What’s the expression on Noah’s face? Confusion or concern? Is he uneasy? Hard to tell.
‘Oh yeah, that’s right,’ Noah says. ‘I forgot. Still, Emma expects the clothes to be at the house when she gets home on Sunday. Don’t ask me why it’s a matter of life and death.’
Shaking his head, Lucas’s sense of unease has heightened over recent weeks. Something is out of step. He regards Noah closely as he swallows the last of his beer and stands up. ‘I’ll get these, he says, plunging his right hand into his wallet and withdrawing his credit card.
‘Sure. Thanks.’ Noah says. ‘On the ride tomorrow?’
‘Yeah. See you at the Oak Street rendezvous.’
Lucas disappears to the bar counter. There is something niggling at the back of Lucas’s mind. The angle of his friend’s shoulders are hunched. He can only see his back as he hands his credit card over to the barman and it’s scanned to pay their tab. Something’s out of kilter, off about the awkward way Noah is acting. Yeah, acting out a part instead of being himself. Lucas has known him since childhood. Surely he didn’t think he could get away with anything. They only swallowed two beers, but Lucas makes an instant decision to follow Noah home. Way out of character, but Lucas senses his friend isn’t being entirely transparent. It’s disturbing, something unusual disrupting their equilibrium. Noah may deliver some answers and if Noah never finds out, well, no harm done.
Noah stands and gives a brief wave to Lucas. ‘See you at seven a.m. sharp.’
‘Yeah right,’ Noah pulls his chin up, chuckling. ‘Seeing is believing!’
Within seconds Noah saunters out of the bar and into the street. Lucas marches towards the entryway. He waits a few moments before pushing through the swing door. The last thing he wants is to walk straight into his best friend. It would take some explaining. He counts to ten before pushing against the heavy wooden double doors and steps out into the street. At first, he can’t make out Noah in the darkness. He’s not on either side of the road. Has he taken a cab? Lucas swings around, peering into the night, along the sidewalk opposite. There he is, hurrying past the second block.
Strange, that’s the direction of his house while Noah’s own home is to the west. Lucas stays on the same side of the road and hangs back in the shadows yet follows his friend, now several hundred yards ahead. The streetlights shine their confirmation on Noah’s head as he strides forward, down the street, passing a few shops and apartment blocks. Noah stops and looks back, and Lucas immediately steps into a doorway of a bakery, pressing his back into the dark alcove. He holds his breath, fearing Noah may return to find him cowering in the shop’s entry. How would he explain his behaviour? What is he doing? Embarrassment threatens to overwhelm Lucas, but he controls it with his breathing, repressing the urge to squirm and give up. Feeling more determined, he presses his cheek against the door frame, with one eye squinting down the poorly-lit street. Moments later he observes Noah cut diagonally across the road and head towards the Hotel Bertrand.
Lucas smiles to himself. The cheater. He must have a girlfriend, a secret lover! Why not fess up and explain? Hell, with a fifty percent divorce rate, more than half of every adult is having an affair. Of course he is, the dirty dog. He snorts in amusement. He can’t wait to tell Ella, she will be astounded. She often takes Noah’s side and is more likely to justify his wayward activities. Maybe he won’t say anything, Ella’s so close to Emma, she’s likely to tell. Not a good look in the grand scheme, but he decides to confront Noah about his secrecy.
Lucas slowly moves out of the shadows, his shoulders stooped like a fox, licking his lower lip, heading for the henhouse. He quietly follows in Noah’s footsteps but comes to a halt for a moment outside the hotel. The four-story plastered building is only three-stars but looks clean and modern. Lucas walks up the few concrete steps to the revolving glass door. He squints into the brightly-lit reception area, immediately identifying the back of Noah Barach. What the hell is he doing? Noah bends forward, kissing a woman on the cheek who sits on a comfortable green armchair opposite a low coffee table. Lucas freezes as another hotel guest pushes past him and spins through the revolving door, obscuring his view.
The woman rises to her feet. It takes a few horrified seconds before Lucas realizes the woman with Noah is his wife, Ella. What is she doing here with Noah and his girlfriend? A porter carrying two suitcases and then a shuffling elderly woman move across his line of sight, momentarily blocking his vision. He watches as his wife and best friend walk together towards the elevator but veer to the carpeted stairwell, chatting happily, comfortable with one another. There is no secret lover! He rubs both of his open palms across his face and over his bald head before turning his back to the entryway, walking down the concrete steps, and slumps onto the edge of a raised planter box near the sidewalk.
It’s as if his friend has smashed him in the gut with a baseball bat. Winged, unable to fly, he feels grounded and defeated. He pushes himself up, stumbling towards the road before waving down a passing cab.