Home > Resilience After Dark (Gansett Island #23)

Resilience After Dark (Gansett Island #23)
Author: Marie Force

 


Chapter 1

 

 

Gansett Island residents counted down to Labor Day for weeks, during the frenetic last rush of tourists before the island shut down for the long winter. Jace Carson had loved being there during the season, had enjoyed his bartending job at the Beachcomber and was concerned about making enough money to survive the off-season.

His first order of business, after his daily AA meeting, would be to start looking for a place to live, since the Beachcomber housing was available only to summer employees. He was more than ready to get out of there, after enduring weeks of the crazy partying that went on with the summer employees, many of whom had already headed back to college. The only good thing about the housing was that it had been free.

He’d been counting down to today for another reason. A few weeks ago, he’d told Nina, the AA facilitator, that he’d have something to say by Labor Day. As she glanced his way now, he knew it was time for him to step up for the group the way they had for him since he first joined them in July.

Jace had gotten to know several of the regulars, including Dr. Quinn James and his new wife Mallory James, as well as the fire chief, Mason Johns, and Jeff Lawry, through the stories they’d told about their addiction struggles and how they’d overcome them to lead a sober life. He appreciated everyone in the group who’d talked through challenges and supported one another throughout the busy season.

Now it was his turn. Telling his story would never come easily to him, but he’d been in the program long enough now to know that sharing the tough stuff was critical to maintaining his recovery and supporting the others.

“I, ah, want to thank you all for welcoming me into your group this summer and for all the wisdom you’ve shared,” Jace said. “It’s made a difference for me as I became part of a new community.”

“We’ve enjoyed having you, Jace,” Nina said with the same warm smile she’d extended to him since his first meeting.

“Well, thank you again. I came here to Gansett because my boys live here. Some of you may know them, Jackson and Kyle. They’re being raised by Seamus and Carolina O’Grady.”

Mallory gasped.

“Don’t worry,” Jace said. “Seamus and Carolina know I’m here and have been generous about allowing me to spend time with the boys, although the boys don’t know I’m their biological father. Not yet anyway. We thought it best to hold that back for now, until they’re a little older and able to understand things that are too big for them after losing their mom so recently.”

“She was a lovely person,” Mallory said.

“Yes, she was, and she deserved way better than what she got from me.” Overwhelmed by memories of the only woman he’d ever loved, Jace took a moment to get his thoughts together. “I can’t remember when exactly it was that I started messing around with heroin and meth. I think it was probably middle school. My older brother ran with a crowd that was into everything we were told to avoid, and I thought I was so lucky that he would take me with him. Our parents encouraged it. They thought it was great that we were growing up as close brothers, but we were drug addicts and criminals.

“You couldn’t tell us that, though. In our minds, we were just having fun, doing what kids do. Except, over time, we needed much more than we could afford. That’s when we started stealing from our parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. We did whatever we had to do to support our habit.

“I met Lisa when I was eighteen and already a full-blown junkie. But she didn’t know that. I’d gotten very good at hiding it from everyone. Even our parents had no clue what we were really doing. We got married young, had the boys one right after the other, and my struggle intensified when I had three people depending on me.”

Jace’s heart beat so fast he worried it might burst. The anxiety was familiar to him, though, as it happened whenever he revisited things he’d much rather forget. “My brother got the big idea to rob a convenience store. He promised me it would be just once, and then we’d have what we needed to get by for a year. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. ‘One big score,’ he said, ‘and then we’ll be golden.’ He was going to do it with or without me, so I decided to go with him to try to keep him out of trouble.”

Jace ran his hand through his hair repeatedly, until he realized he was doing it and stopped, folding his shaky hands between his knees. “The owner of the store figured us out before Jess had the chance to use the gun that I didn’t even know he had. The owner pulled one on us. Told us to get the fuck out of there before someone got hurt. But Jess… He was desperate for the money and the score. When I saw he had a gun, I was stunned, but I still tried to stop him. He tossed me aside and aimed the gun at the guy. The store owner shot him in the chest.”

Jace took a shaky deep breath and released it slowly, clinging to his composure. “I’ll never forget the sound he made when the bullet hit him or how hard he landed on the floor. I think he probably died instantly, but I was so shocked that I stayed with him, screaming at him not to die, not to leave me. I was still there when the cops came. They called the coroner for him and took me to jail. I was convicted of armed robbery, sentenced to ten years and released on probation after six. By then, my wife and kids were long gone, and no one knew where they were. I heard from Lisa once—when I was served with divorce and custody papers. I worked hard on myself in prison. I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings, took college classes, learned a trade. If you ever need a plumber, give me a call.”

A ripple of laughter went through the group.

“When I got out six months ago and finally found my family, it was too late. Lisa had died of lung cancer, and the boys were happily settled with people who truly love them. I lost everything to my addiction—the woman I loved, the sons I adored, my reputation. I’ll always be a convicted felon and have to live with the memories of the day my brother was killed right in front of me. I’m focused now on rebuilding my life. I wanted so badly to see my kids, but it was important to me not to disrupt their lives any more than I already had, even if they don’t remember the really bad stuff.”

The emotional wallop that came with recalling everything he’d lost was familiar by now. His throat tightened around a lump that brought tears to his eyes. “They’re such great little guys, so cute and funny and smart. Lisa did an amazing job with them. Seamus and Carolina have been so good to them, and I’m grateful that they have a nice, normal life. They deserve that. I hate that Lisa died before I could tell her… Before I could say how sorry I was for putting her through hell and forcing her to make a new life for herself and the boys without me. I hate that she suffered with her illness and that I wasn’t there to take care of her and our kids. I should’ve been there.”

He wiped tears from his face. “I’ll never forgive myself for what I put her through. And that she died without knowing how much I loved her…” Jace shook his head. “I’ll never forgive myself for that either.” After a pause, he said, “I’ve learned in the program that we can’t change the past. We can only focus on today and tomorrow and trying to do the best we can with the time we have left, to make amends to the people we hurt. I hope that wherever Lisa is now, she knows how sorry I am for what I did.

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