This summer I've switched gears a little bit to dive into a novel I started writing in 2014.
Based on a true event, "The Girl Who Didn't Go" dives into the main character's survivor's guilt, along with one of my favorite tropes, second chance love.
It's been ten years since Lyla's friends died in a horrific crash. She's back in Pleasant Prairie for what she calls a "misguided memorial" and hopes to sidestep the swirl of town gossip that is about to unleash with her arrival. Not to mention her relationship with her mom has been less than perfect for some time now and she's staying in her old bedroom surrounded by memories she'd rather forget. Mostly, however, she dreads running into her ex-boyfriend, Tyler, who broke her heart soon after her friends were killed. She counts the minutes to when she can return to her life as a forensic pathologist in Richmond.
When a body turns up in Pepper Creek, Tyler, now the town's sheriff, enlists Lyla to help with investigating the death of a former classmate. Hopeful to seek forgiveness for a mistake he made a decade ago, Tyler finds himself intrigued by the woman Lyla has become.
The following is an excerpt from this rebooted novel that's got me excited to be writing again. Enjoy.
The morning air was sharp and cool; as crisp as the leaves that were changing colors.
Long were the days of team practice; now Lyla Parisi swam for the sheer cardio and the solace.
At home, in Virginia, she’d swim as early as five a.m. most days. The health club in her high-rise condominium had an Olympic-sized pool with eight lanes where Lyla would glide through her laps in the third lane from the left.
This morning, however, she wasn’t in her pool, and this wasn’t Virginia.
When Lyla stepped off the plane, instead of heading straight to her mom’s, she stopped by the Pleasant Prairie’s YMCA. She needed to clear her mind first.
The mousy, short-haired teenager working the counter had eyed Lyla’s carry-on suitcase for a moment as she checked in to pay the guest pass fee, but didn’t seem to recognize her. Just as well—it would take only that much longer for news of her return to hit the residents of her hometown.
As her arms sliced through the water, her mind was concentrated for those thirty precious minutes. Stroke after stroke, lap after lap. Her long, tanned legs created moderate waves behind her as her head turned to the side with alternating strokes, taking in air, then blowing it out in the water. The bubbles parted and traveled up the sides of her face.
When her hand hit the wall for the last time, instead of coming out of the water, Lyla sank deep.
At this time of day, the pool was empty; from experience, she knew the serious swimmers had come early and the “little shrimp” infant swimming lessons were scheduled after older kids were dropped off at school.
Lyla held her breath and counted the time off in her head. She’d done this enough times she knew exactly how long she could stay under before oxygen deprivation would result in a shallow water blackout.
Underwater, sound was muffled and she stilled herself so all that she could hear was the filtration system for the pool, and her own heart as it beat in her ears.
She didn’t want to be here—back in her hometown for this misguided memorial for her friends. She knew all eyes would be on her. There’d be inquiries about her life, how she was doing and all the trite questions people felt the need to ask someone who’d been through a tragedy that could’ve cut their life short had circumstance not intervened.
That was why she’d left it all behind a decade ago and moved to Virginia with her aunt. She’d finished high school out there, completed college and her forensics training, and now worked as one of the leading forensics experts in Richmond.
Everything turned out okay. She didn’t want their sympathy.
The pain of losing her friends, and the aftermath that strained all of her relationships—with her mom, especially—had practically destroyed her.
Wasn’t that enough?
Not for the residents of Pleasant Prairie, she imagined. Had her dad not asked her to come, she would’ve avoided the whole scene, but Jack Parisi had his ways of getting her to give in.
She adored her father, and she missed seeing him.
Opening her eyes, the chlorine stung but she focused on the muted sun rays that came in from the skylights. They started to fade as her lungs started to burn.
She’d prove to every last one of them, or at the very least herself, that she was just—fine.
Darkness closed in slowly like the fade out to a movie.
Just a few more seconds—
Lyla stood up, her head breaking through the waterline. She tried not to gasp that first breath of air, but sometimes she couldn’t help herself.
Especially when, a second before she’d pop out of the water, the faces of her three friends would appear as if they had arrived to take her with them.
Tyler Beckett could feel it in the air.
The whole town was buzzing with anticipation for Homecoming weekend. The same melancholy expressions appeared were everywhere. The only topic was the scheduled memorial and the tragedy it symbolized.
As usual, any genuine feelings were disrupted by some old fashioned gossip.
Are any of the girls’ parents attending?
I heard they didn’t want to have anything to do with it, at least that’s what the Richards’ neighbors said.
I just can’t believe it’s been ten years, I mean, think of where those girls might be now had they lived.
Joanie would’ve been in rehab like her mother, I’m sure, and Andrea would’ve been a model on the Paris runways.
I heard the Lesters will be there. Melanie was their only daughter. How hard must that have been.
No wonder he shied away from dating women in Pleasant Prairie. He had no interest in being the topic of conversation over their yoga classes, or boozy painting parties, or whatever the hell it was that women here did in their spare time.
There was one comment this morning, however, that had caused his stir stick to almost slip from his fingers when he’d grabbed coffee at the Sip N’ Go.
I heard Lyla Parisi just got back into town.
He pretended he hadn’t heard it but figured someone must’ve known it would hit a nerve.
If the coffee shop was buzzing about it, his mother ultimately knew by now. No doubt, it would’ve been the first thing out of her mouth had he stopped by to see her before his regular beat. Instead, he skipped the pleasantries with Juliet Beckett to go deal with a missing persons report.
Tyler parked his white Jeep Wrangler in the Pleasant Prairie police station’s side lot and waved at Glenn, one of the old timers who headed to his car after a long night behind the front desk.
Entering the station, Tyler was greeted by some of the third shift officers, along with the large portrait of his father that hung over the bullet-proof glassed in office were Glenn worked.
Before Thomas Beckett had been memorialized in acrylics and a fancy frame, he’d been a highly decorated public servant for almost thirty years. And when he died suddenly from a heart attack five years earlier, the entire town attended his funeral. Tyler, his mom and his younger sister Barbara were showered with pre-made meals and support for months after Sergeant Beckett’s death.
Suddenly, all eyes were on Tyler as the next in line to keep Pleasant Prairie safe and sound.
After roll call and a brief meeting with his supervisors, he headed out the back door of the station where the sun nearly blinded him. Donning the mirrored Ray Bans hanging from his shirt pocket, he slid into his squad.
The previous officer had left a flier on the dash about the homecoming game and dance scheduled the following weekend. Tyler folded it up and tucked it in the visor over his head.
He pushed out a breath and pulled onto the road toward the downtown shopping area.
He just wanted to get past the homecoming madness, the memorial, and the dance he’d been asked—more like conned—to chaperone.
He just wanted to get back to the normal grind.
As if the fates had alined, he was pulled from his thoughts by the roar of an engine.
Some idiot was speeding through the main intersection like a bat out of hell. Tyler tripped his lights and sirens, turning onto the road. He caught up with the speed demon in less than thirty seconds.
The brand new Dodge Challenger turned down the next side street and parked against the curb.
Tyler let his squad idle for a minute. He didn’t even bother running the plate. He knew exactly who he was pulling over.
Elliott Porter, former classmate and local business owner—if you called the chop shop he owned a legal business—grinned into his drivers’ side mirror.
Tyler exited his vehicle and heard the tell tale whistle that Elliott notoriously used as a greeting.
“Hey, Ty. What’s shakin’, man.”
“Nothin’, El. Just wondering why you’re flying through the busiest intersection in town. Got a drug deal to make?”
Porter slapped the steering wheel and let out a howl. “Come on, brother, you know I’m not into that shit. You been listening to those out of town tramps you like to bone again?”
Let Elliott Porter catch you on a date one time and you never live it down.
“Consider this a warning. I have bigger fish to fry today. Say, you seen Russ lately?”
“Nah, man. That dead beat only shows his face around me when he’s desperate to make a few bucks. Hey, you hear Lyla Parisi’s back in town, boss?” Porter sneered up at him, his grin portrayed just the right amount of sleaze and mockery.
Tyler refused to give Porter the benefit of an answer. “Slow down, El. Don’t want to have to peel you out of a ditch somewhere like they did your old man, okay?”
Porter’s smile extinguished and he started up his car, giving it an extra rev as Tyler walked back to his squad and got in.
He knew that comment would hit home. Elliott’s father, Bobby, was the reason why Joanie Hughes, Andrea Richards and Melanie Lester were dead. He’d been driving the pickup that hit the girls and had been thrown from the cab of the truck. His blood alcohol levels were more than double the legal limit, and it was no wonder he plowed into the minivan. He’d most likely lost consciousness.
Porter peeled away and Tyler shook his head.
It was these local run ins with people from his past that made him want to leave Pleasant Prairie and find a fresh start elsewhere. Even the good interactions with the nicest of townsfolk turned into some kind of subtle reminder of the memories he just wanted to forget.
Tyler sucked it up. He had more important things to worry about.
A local man, Russell Walsh—who just so happened to be another acquaintance from high school—was missing.
Maybe, in some way, this would be a good distraction.
After all, Lyla was here.
Yet somehow, as he started to pull from the curb, his car seemed to steer toward her house.
More to come...stay tuned.