- READ AN EXCERPT
Book 3 in the Treading Water Series
“Hat’s off to you Ms. Force for creating a stunning masterful trilogy (now a series with the fourth book,Coming Home) that I will be recommending to everyone!”—Recommended read from Joyfully Reviewed
In a drunken stupor, Brandon O’Malley frightens his brother Aidan’s girlfriend, enraging his brother and the rest of his family. Aidan offers Brandon the choice of rehab or jail, and Brandon reluctantly enters treatment. While in rehab, he confronts the lifetime of secrets and resentments that fueled his spiral into alcoholism, and these revelations have a major effect on his entire family. When he returns home expecting to resume his supervisory role in the family’s construction business, Brandon learns his father has retired and put his younger brother, Colin, in charge. Brandon is unhappy to be given the job of renovating an apartment building where he loses his heart to an adorable five-year-old tenant named “Mike.” After he falls hard for Michaela, Brandon becomes involved with her mother Daphne, who is running from a past that will later test his sobriety and his mettle as a man.
“The finale to the Treading Water trilogy was an enchanting lesson in ensuring a low point in your life doesn’t define the person you become. It is wonderfully written with characters that envelope you in their world. This book is an excellent ending to a series of books that truly pulled at my heartstrings.” – A Reviewer Top Pick, Night Owl Reviews. Read the full review.
Even as I sit here a day after finishing Starting Over I have happy tears in my eyes thinking about how this trilogy ended. Hats off to you Ms. Force for creating a stunning masterful trilogy that I will be recommending to everyone! – Joyfully Reviewed, A Recommended Read. Read the full review.
Chapter 1, Day 1
Brandon O’Malley lay on the narrow bed, counting the cinderblocks that made up the sterile room. Ten up and twenty across, painted a boring, flat shade of tan. In addition to the bed, he had a beat-up dresser and a tiny bathroom adjoining the room. A small window overlooked the parking lot of the Laurel Lake Treatment Center, home sweet home for the next thirty days.
When his brother Colin brought him here two hours earlier, Brandon commented that the place looked more like a country club than a dry-out facility.
“It’s not a country club,” Colin had snapped. “The place costs a fortune, so don’t forget why you’re here.”
Leave it to oh-so-perfect Colin to cut him down to size. He was sick to death of all three of his brothers and the way they talked down to him just because he liked to get loaded every now and then. Brandon touched the bridge of his nose, tender since his older brother Aidan’s fist connected with it the night before.
To hell with them, he thought as a vicious burst of pain from his battered face stole the breath from his lungs. They don’t understand me. None of them ever has.
Brandon checked his watch. After the most thorough physical of his life, he’d been brought to this boring room and told someone would come to see him in half an hour. That was forty-five minutes ago.
What I really want is a beer and a shot of whiskey. Brandon broke out in a cold sweat when he realized that wasn’t going to happen. Suddenly, the ten-by-twenty room felt like a cell, and he wanted out of there. He sat up too quickly. The room spun, and the meager contents of his stomach churned. Bolting for the bathroom, he vomited and was splashing cold water on his face when he heard a knock at the door.
Still holding a towel, he opened the door to a balding man of average height and build.
“Yeah?” Brandon grunted.
“Hi, I’m Alan. May I come in?”
Brandon shrugged and stepped aside.
“Do you have everything you need?” Alan asked with a smile on his round, friendly face. He wore a starched light blue dress shirt and pressed khakis.
Brandon gave him a withering look.
“Towels, sheets, that stuff,” Alan clarified.
“Well, just let us know if you need anything.”
“Do you work here?”
“I volunteer on Fridays.”
“My lucky day.”
“It sure is.” Alan sat on Brandon’s bed. “In fact, one day you may look back and realize this was the luckiest day of your life.”
“Yeah, right,” Brandon snorted, pressing a hand to his throbbing face in a desperate attempt to find some relief from the pain.
“What happened to your face?”
“My brother punched me.”
“He says I hassled his girlfriend.”
“You don’t remember?” When Brandon didn’t answer, Alan pressed on. “Why are you here?”
“My brother said it was either this or his girlfriend would press charges against me. Nice, huh?”
“It was nice of him to give you a choice.”
“I can see whose side you’re on.”
“Actually, I’m on your side, Brandon. I was once right where you are today. I’m an alcoholic.”
“Whoa, man! I’m not an alcoholic. I just like to have a few beers after work. I don’t know why everyone thinks that’s such a big deal.”
“Have you had blackouts before last night?”
Brandon looked away from him.
“How old are you, Brandon?”
“Ever been married?”
“You mentioned a brother. Do you have other siblings?”
“Three brothers and a sister.”
“You’re lucky to have such a nice big family.”
“Yeah, well, they’ve kind of let me down today.”
“Do you really think so?”
“What do you do for work?”
“I’m an engineer. My family owns a construction business.”
“That’s impressive. Has your drinking caused you problems at work?”
“No,” Brandon said as his patience ran out. “What’s with the twenty questions?”
“I’m just trying to get to know you. I’d like to help you.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“Perhaps not, but I need yours.”
“What could I possibly do for you?”
“Part of my recovery involves helping others who’re struggling with alcohol. Would you help me by listening to my story?”
Brandon sat on the floor. “Do I have a choice?”
“Fine.” Brandon’s stomach lurched again. “Have at it.”
“I started drinking when I was thirteen,” Alan said. “I fell into a group of rich kids who had easy access to booze. We always had the good stuff—vodka, gin, rum. I couldn’t say no to any of it, but I had a particular fondness for vodka. I drank every day of high school, college, and law school. No one ever called me on it, so I thought I was getting away with it. I got married a month after I graduated from law school, and it didn’t take my new wife long to realize I was drinking all the time. If I wasn’t at work, I was drunk. She hadn’t signed on for that, so she left me two months after the wedding. I found out much later that she was pregnant when she left. I have a fifteen-year-old son I’ve never met. You see, by the time I finally hit rock bottom and admitted I was an alcoholic, I’d lost my job, I was broke, my ex-wife was remarried, and another man was raising my son.”
Despite his best intentions to stay detached, Brandon was moved by Alan’s story. “I’m sorry.”
“Me, too. I go to my son’s football games just so I can watch him for a few hours. Lucky for him, he looks like his mother, and I can tell just by watching him that he’s popular with his friends. He thinks his stepfather is his real father, and since I’d never do anything to mess up his life, I have to be satisfied with a few glimpses every now and then.”
“That must be really hard.”
“It is, but I’ve managed to find a good life for myself. I’m married again, and I have two little girls who are the joy of my life. I’ve been sober for twelve years, five months, and thirteen days.”
“You count the days?” Brandon asked, incredulous.
“Every sober day is a victory to be celebrated.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about everything that happened to you, but I don’t see how it applies to me.”
Alan stood to leave. “You will, Brandon. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day soon you will.” He took a card out of his wallet and put it on the bed. “If you ever want to talk, feel free to call me any time. You’re going to discover an enormous network of people who want to help. If you don’t want to talk to me, talk to one of them. All you have to do to gain access to all this help is take the most important first step you’ll ever take in your life.”
“Admit you need it.” He turned back when he reached the door. “Oh, and you’ll want to remember today’s date.”
“Because your new life begins today. Good luck to you, Brandon.”
After Alan left, Brandon got up from the floor and reached for the card he’d left on the bed. Printed on the card was only the name Alan and a phone number. Brandon studied the card for a moment and then tossed it into the trash.
Brandon stood in the circle holding hands with the people on either side of him. He fixated on a spider web in the corner of the room while the others recited the Serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When the twenty or so people took their seats, the group leader, a young guy named Steve, looked around for a volunteer to go first. Brandon kept his eyes down so Steve wouldn’t connect with him.
The room reeked of burnt coffee, and the walls were papered with slogans like “Live and Let Live,” “Easy Does It,” and one Brandon had heard often in the last five days: “One Day at a Time.”
“Danielle?” Steve said. “Would you like to share with the group?”
Danielle blushed to her blonde roots and cast her blue eyes downward. Brandon wondered if she’d been a cheerleader thirty or forty pounds ago.
“Um, my name is Danielle, and I’m an alcoholic and an addict.” She twisted her hands on her lap.
“Hi, Danielle.” The group replied so loudly that they startled Brandon. After five days in bed suffering through detoxification—or the DTs, as it was known here—this was his first time in group, and he had no idea what to expect.
“I, um, I’ve been clean and sober for twenty-two days now,” Danielle said to congratulations from the others. “I know that’s not very long, but it’s a lifetime to me. I never thought I could go a day without drinking or getting high, so twenty-two days is a big deal. I’m just hoping I can keep it up when I get out of here. It took me the first two weeks I was here to admit my life had become unmanageable. I’m very much afraid of what’s ahead for me when I get out of here. I’ve hurt so many people.” One of the other women passed a pack of tissues to Danielle. “I’m so ashamed of the things I’ve done…”
“You’ll have the opportunity to make amends,” Steve reminded her, referring to the all-important eighth and ninth steps in the twelve-step program.
“Yes,” Danielle said. “I’ve made my lists. I’m quite certain, though, that my husband won’t want to hear my apologies. I had… I’d turned to prostitution to feed my addiction, and I know he’ll never forgive me for that. I can’t say I blame him.”
Brandon held back a gasp. This pretty, ex-cheerleader type was a hooker?Come on! No way.
“I’m going to do everything I can to stick to the program, to stay sober one day at a time, and to try to get visitation with my kids. That’s my goal, and every day I ask God to help me get there.”
While the others nodded in agreement, Brandon resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Yeah, count on God. That’ll get you far.
The group turned next to a middle-aged man with a potbelly and a red face full of broken blood vessels. “I’m Jeff, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Today’s my last day at group. I’m getting out of here tomorrow. It’s time to face the music, as they say. I’ll be going to court next week to be sentenced on the embezzlement charges. Fortunately, the bank where I worked asked the court for leniency, but I could still be facing two years in prison.”
Dismay rippled through the group.
“The upside is that at least I won’t be able to drink while I’m in jail,” Jeff said with a grim smile. “I’m ready to face whatever’s ahead. This time I’m committed to staying sober, and I’ve given God the keys to my car. Whatever He has in store for me, I’ll willingly take. Anything is better than where I’ve been, even prison. I just want to thank you all for listening to me all these weeks.” His voice caught with emotion. “You’ve saved my life, and I won’t forget you.”
“Just keep going to meetings, Jeff,” Steve said. “Even if you end up in prison. There’re groups everywhere.”
Jeff nodded. “I will.”
Steve checked his watch before he called on two other people to share their stories. There were similar threads to each of them—they were powerless over alcohol and drugs, their lives were out of control, and once they accepted the presence of a higher power, they found a peace they’d never known before.
All this God talk was a major turnoff to Brandon. Leave it to Colin the Pope to find the one program on the Cape that was all about God.
“I want to thank everyone who shared today,” Steve said. “We have a few new members with us. Let’s welcome Phyllis, Frank, and Brandon.”
“Welcome,” the group said in unison.
“I’d like to invite any of you new folks to speak, if you wish to,” Steve said, scanning the circle to include each of them.
Brandon again looked away. There’s no way I’m talking to these people. They’re all drunks and druggies. What the hell do they know about me?
Phyllis broke under Steve’s gaze and began to sob uncontrollably.
Brandon bit back a groan.
“I need a couple of volunteers to stay and talk with Phyllis when she’s ready,” Steve said, standing to lead the Lord’s Prayer. When they were done, they said together, “Keep coming back.”
Brandon couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He walked through the double doors that led to a patio off the cafeteria. Breathing in the cold winter air, he tried to get his hands to quit shaking by jamming them into the pockets of his worn jeans. They said the shaking was part of the detox process.
“Hey,” the other new guy, Frank, said as he stood next to Brandon and lit a cigarette.
Frank offered him one, and Brandon shook his head.
“Some crazy shit in there, huh?” Frank said.
Brandon watched Frank’s hand tremble when he brought the cigarette up for a drag. “Yeah,” Brandon said. “I couldn’t believe it when that chick Danielle said she was a hooker.”
“Believe it. I’ve seen people do everything—and I mean everything—for the next fix. This is my third time through this place. I’m hoping the third time’s the charm.”
Great, Brandon thought. All this and it doesn’t even work. “What happened before?”
“I failed to commit fully to the program and to my sobriety. This time I’m going to do it, though. My wife said she’d leave me and take my kids if I don’t. I can’t let that happen.”
“Well, good luck. I hope it works.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Still in denial? Most people usually are the first week or two.”
Brandon shrugged. “I was never as bad off as those people in there. I get loaded every now and then, but I wasn’t like them.”
“You’re sure of that?”
Brandon watched a group of patients walk along a trail on the back end of the property.
“Let me give you a little piece of advice I wish someone had given me when I was first here,” Frank said. “Give in to it, man. Let these people help you. It’ll save you a lot of time and your loved ones a lot of suffering. Both times I fell off the wagon harder than the time before. I left some serious carnage in my wake.”
“I appreciate the advice, but I’m doing my thirty days and getting the hell out of here. And I won’t be back. You can be sure of that.”
Frank shook his head. “Keep thinking you don’t belong here, and you’ll be back. Mark my words.” He ground out the cigarette and tossed it into the butt bucket. “See ya around.”
“Yeah. See ya.”