Gone But Not Forgotten

Gone But Not Forgotten

Sabrina Jeffries

September 2014 $1.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-300

A Mossy Creek Short Story

 
Our PriceUS$1.99
Code978-1-61194-5-300
 
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

A mother’s work is never done.

Not while Sunny has a ghost of a chance.

Her sister and brother-in-law, Honey and Bert, are good people, no worries. Sunny’s twins will have a loving home with them in Mossy Creek, a warm-hearted small town in the mountains of Georgia. But Sunny, a San Francisco voiceover artist before the accident that killed her and her husband, has bad memories of Honey and Bert’s unpredictable, autistic son, Jeremy. Will he harm her babies? Sunny’s not leaving until she’s certain they’re safe.

 

Sabrina Jeffries is the NYT bestselling author of 36 novels and 9 works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). Whatever time not spent writing in a coffee-fueled haze of dreams and madness is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music. With over 7 million books in print in 18 different languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world. She always dreams big.

 


Reviews

Coming soon!


Excerpt

 

I SHOULD HAVE GONE back to Mossy Creek for a visit sooner. Like maybe before I died. Then my twin baby girls would have met their aunt and uncle, Bert and Honey Lyman, while Cam and I were still around to ease them into the relationship. And maybe now they wouldn’t be screaming at Honey while she laid them into car carriers in the back of her beat-up ‘98 Pontiac Lemans.

Shoot, my sister Honey hadn’t even met their daddy. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking—it wasn’t my husband who’d kept me from going back to see my sister. From the time I met Cameron Ross, an executive at the San Francisco movie studio where I did voice-over work, to the day we had the twins, he’d wanted to meet my family.

They would have liked him, too, if only because of how he’d taken to me. Just as an example, my specialty at the studio was a Southern accent. I know, I know, but hey, a woman born and raised in Mossy Creek whose accent was thicker than syrup had to start somewhere. I still always worried about it sounding too countrified, but Cam thought it was "sultry.” Go figure. He found everything I did "warm” or "cute” or "adorable.” You gotta love a man like that.

Anyway, it wasn’t Cam’s fault I didn’t go back. Or Honey’s either. Honey and I were close, even if we did live on opposite coasts. We weren’t the kind of sisters who called each other up once a year to exchange stilted "how are you’s” and excuses about why we had no time to write. We were the in-your-face kind, always intruding on each other’s lives.

She’d e-mail me articles about how to make a Thanksgiving centerpiece with just a burlap sack, some chickpea hulls, and pumpkin-orange ribbon, and I’d send her a cappuccino machine. Even though I knew she could be at the Naked Bean in five minutes to get her own cappuccino.

It was easier than sending myself.

But I was here now, and not exactly by choice. All because me and Cam hadn’t made a will. We kept putting it off until we had time. After that freaking bus hit us on the one night we hired a babysitter so we could go to the movies, the time factor became pretty much irrelevant.

After the accident, Cam had floated right on up the tunnel and into the light—he was sensible that way. You don’t get to be an executive, even in the movie business, by breaking the rules.

But me, Miss Ever-Loving Rule Breaker, I was still here. I couldn’t let go of Amy and Anna, especially when I knew where they were headed. To be raised by our only living kin, Honey and Bert, in the same house as the Demon Child: Jeremy Albert Lyman.

Where was Jeremy anyway on this surprisingly icy Georgia afternoon? Why hadn’t he gone with Bert to the airport to pick up Honey and the babies? Had she finally come to her senses and sent my severely autistic nephew to an institution? Or at least placed him in a group home?

"How was your flight?” Bert asked Honey from the driver’s seat.

She flashed him a crooked smile. "How do you think? I had two babies with me.”

"Couldn’t have been worse than flying with Jeremy.”

"Want to bet?” She smiled. "Actually, they weren’t too bad. At least they only screamed at takeoff.”

"So the other passengers weren’t cheering when you got off the plane?”

She laughed weakly. "No, thank heaven. I hope I never have to go through that again. Although with the way Jeremy has improved, these days I think he might actually behave well on a plane.”

I snorted. That was Honey’s latest tall tale—how much better Jeremy had gotten since my last visit. I didn’t believe it for one minute.

"You look tired,” Bert said.

Honey pulled down the car visor to examine her face in the makeup mirror. "I guess I do.”

She should have tromped on the fool’s foot. A man ought to know better than to say something like that to his wife. Especially a sweet guy like Bert, who bought Honey roses whenever she cooked him a roast because "roast is a lot of trouble to make.”

Maybe that’s why she didn’t deck him for his comment. Because one thing you knew about Honey—she loved Bert. I guess I understood why, even if he did tell corny jokes and run a radio and TV station out of the renovated barn next to their house.

Honey sat back. "It’s been a wild week, I tell you—dealing with the custody thing, talking to lawyers and pediatricians, arranging the funeral—” She crumpled in the seat. "Oh, Bert, I should have flown out there before. After Jeremy got better, I should have gone to see Sunny. Now it’s too late.”

With a scowl, Bert reached over to take her hand. "Don’t you dare feel bad about that. It was a lot easier for her to come here, and she wouldn’t.”

Just as the old familiar guilt grabbed me, Honey said, "Can you blame her? On her last visit, Jeremy put on a real show for her—that was all she remembered.”

Oh, yeah, definitely. Five years ago, I’d visited them for three days of hell. Jeremy had slapped Honey a couple of times for trying to keep him from racing down the path to Hank and Casey Blackshear’s homestead next door so he could jump in the pond on their property. Whenever he escaped the house, he made a beeline for that scummy pond. And since he drank the water when he took a swim, Honey wasn’t about to let him "fill his belly with germs.”

For all her maternal trouble, she practically got beat up. And that wasn’t the first time either. Nor did he limit his "challenging behaviors” (isn’t that a nice euphemism for "beating people up”?) to Honey. He knocked Bert in the back once, and even took a swing at me.

Not that I blamed Jeremy for being mad about his lot in life. He couldn’t talk or even sign. His weird obsessions compelled him to patrol the house closing doors and toilet lids and putting the caps on things. Every time you walked through, he had to come behind shutting everything. And if you moved the books or videos he kept in some bizarre order only he understood, he went ballistic.

Jeremy went ballistic a lot.

No, it wasn’t his fault he was autistic, and yes, I should have been more understanding, but it’s hard to be understanding after hearing your sister’s head crack against tile when your nephew pushed her into the tub because she’d tried to make him bathe—apparently, ponds were fun but bathing wasn’t. Only the grace of God—and a hard head—kept her from splitting her skull open on the ceramic soap dish that day.

The truth was, the boy terrified me. I made a resolution then and there. No visits to Mossy Creek as long as the Demon Child lived in that house.

Yet here I was heading to Mossy Creek again anyway. Funny how fate messes with your life. Or death, as the case may be.

Honey sighed. "Sunny never gave Jeremy a chance, no matter what I said.”

How could I? I knew my sister—she always put a good face on everything. Like those god-awful outfits she wore. She claimed it was because she liked it that way, but I knew better. In grade school, I used to bask in the reflected glow of my older sister Honey. As the high school homecoming queen, she was considered the prettiest and most fashionable girl in Mossy Creek.

Now look at her, dressed from head to toe in khaki. Jeremy always pitched a fit if her clothes weren’t the same color—he liked brown or a nice olive green. God forbid she should wear a purple skirt with a goldenrod blouse like the one she’d worn to my junior high graduation. Jeremy would howl for days.

With a sigh, Honey twisted around to look at Amy and Anna where they were dozing in the car seats. "I miss Sunny already.”

When she brushed away tears, a lump filled my throat. Well, a lump would have filled my throat if not for my being dead.

She settled back in her seat. "And what on earth are we going to do with these babies? It’s been fifteen years since I had to deal with bottles and diapers and all that crap.”

"No pun intended,” he quipped.

Honey rolled her eyes.

He glanced over into the back. "We made it through puberty with Jeremy, so we can sure make it through bottles with a couple of rugrats. He’s better about helping out now, too. Maybe we can teach him to change diapers.”

Over my dead body. Pun intended. So much for hoping that Bert and Honey had come to their senses. But now they were pulling into the long driveway that led to our old family farmhouse just outside Mossy Creek. Somewhere back there, the Demon Child still lurked, waiting to pounce on my babies.

By the time we pulled up in back by the barn/TV station, I was practically sitting in little Amy’s lap, trying to figure out what to do. I peered out at the rambling house where I was raised, the familiar rub of memory stirring up old feelings. Bert and Honey had inherited it from Mom when she died, and I had been more than happy to let them have it.

What if I hadn’t? How would my life have been different if I’d stayed right here? Where nothing changed. Where the same old red brick chimneys and same old white clap-board siding graced the family-worn place.

If I’d stayed, I would never have known Cam and never had my girls. And I wouldn’t be floating around in the ether, watching for some sign of the boy who would surely be the death of my babies.

"You want me to go over to Hank’s and get Jeremy?” Bert asked. "Casey said she’d keep him as long as we needed.”

Casey had to be nuts. How could she defend herself in a wheelchair with a boy like that running around? I don’t care if she had been an Olympic contender in softball—Jeremy was dangerous.

"I’ll call her and tell her to have Hank bring him over. We should get these girls inside.” Honey opened the door and shivered, pulling her flimsy coat tighter around her as she got out. "Geez, it’s cold out here. I go away for a week, and suddenly the Deep South becomes the Midwest?”

"Knock, knock,” Bert retorted.

I rolled my eyes. Bert and his stupid "knock, knock” jokes. Why Honey put up with them, I’ll never know.

She just shook her head. "Who’s there?” she asked as she opened the back door of the car.

"Oldman.”

"Oldman who?”

"Oldman Winter came down to Georgia.”

She groaned. "Very funny.” She bent into the car. "Now come on, Old Man Lyman, and take a baby, will you?”

They each took one, which was a lot easier than taking one in each arm like I always had to do when Cam wasn’t around. You get used to it after a while, but it’s hard juggling two babies, especially at feeding time.

Feeding time! I floated over to glance at Bert’s watch. Uh oh, almost time for their bottles. The girls knew it, too, because as soon as their bare little faces hit the frosty air, they woke up on a wail.

Amazing what a motivator those tiny lungs can be—Bert and Honey got up those stairs faster than you could say, "bottle.” At the top, Honey shifted Amy to one arm so she could open the door with the other. "The way these girls cry sometimes breaks my heart.”

Mine, too. In more ways than one. The crying was why I was still around.

You see, when you die, you feel this strong compulsion to go after that great light shining at the end of the tunnel. Especially when you’ve got a guy like Cam at the other end waiting for you to show up.

But the babies’ cries dragged at me worse than the undertow at San Francisco’s Baker Beach. I couldn’t leave my girls. I just couldn’t abandon them.

So here I was, tethered to them like a balloon. The minute I wandered off, they’d cry, and it would be like jerking the balloon close. I’d bob up next to them and want to wrap my arms around them so badly I could practically smell the talcum on their skin.

Practically. I couldn’t actually smell. It seems that ghosts can’t smell—I’d discovered that early on. Hearing and seeing seemed to be about it—kind of like watching television, only you’re in the picture.

Which can be pretty maddening. I could get right up close, but I could only watch as somebody else picked them up and cuddled them and fed them. Then after they fell asleep, the big light would beckon me and before I knew it, I’d be wandering off toward the tunnel. Until they cried again, and the tether jerked me back.

Today, the tether was shorter than a shoelace as we came into the farmhouse. I got sloppily sentimental when I saw our old kitchen table, complete with a half-gnawed leg from the one time we’d had a pet, a Jack Russell terrier with a hankering for cheap pine.

But it didn’t distract me for long. While they caterwauled away in stereo, Bert settled into a chair and let Honey put Amy in his arms, so she could get the girls’ bottles made. And I was right there, with one ghostly hand on Amy and the other on Anna.

Not that I could feel them, because ghosts can’t feel either. But it made me feel better to sort of hover my hand over them as close as I could.

Meanwhile, Honey made her call to Casey, then scurried about the kitchen, putting stuff together. "Thank goodness Sunny’s nanny had a brain. You should see the instructions she sent along for everything from feeding times to bathing. You just add babies and stir. Although I don’t imagine it’ll be that easy. Did you get the formula?”

"It’s in the first grocery bag on the counter.” Bert raised his voice to be heard over the babies. "Didn’t have a chance to unload anything but the perishables. Jeremy and I had just got back from the grocery when you called from the airport.”

"Who’s handling the station?”

"Win. Said he could handle it for today as long as Clifford the Clown stayed out of his way.” Bert jiggled the sobbing babies. "It’s coming, sweet peas, it’s coming. Auntie Honey is getting it for you right now.”

"Shoot,” Honey said, "the special bottle nipples for Amy are in the diaper bag, and I left it in the car. Be right back.” She hurried out the kitchen door.

That’s when the Demon Child chose to make his grand entrance. He strolled in through the front door big as you please and headed through the house to the kitchen. If I could have wrapped my ghostly body around my babies when he walked through the kitchen door, I would have. Because Jeremy was even bigger than I expected—five foot ten and two-hundred pounds at least. And he frowned as he lumbered up to tower over Bert.

"Hey there, sport,” Bert said. "Meet your new cousins, Amy and Anna.”

"Amy and Anna,” Jeremy echoed.

The boy was what they call "echolalic.” He couldn’t say "I’m hungry,” but he could repeat whatever you say, or at least the last part of it.

Right now, however, he was more interested in scowling at the wailing twins. Oh, right, the Demon Child didn’t like loud noises. Of any kind. Turning on the vacuum cleaner could send him screaming into the room to jerk the plug out of the socket. Well, he’d better not even think about pulling any plugs on my babies.

He walked closer to Anna and Amy, and I screamed, Stay away from them! For all the good it did. I might as well have been blowing kisses.

Luckily, just then Honey returned with the diaper bag. She saw Jeremy and broke into a grin. "Hi, sweetie.”

His gaze swung to his mama. "Hi, sweetie.”

"Jeremy, go out to the car and get the suitcase. I opened the trunk for you, okay?”

"Okay?” he echoed and stared at her.

Are you nuts? I thought. That boy can no more understand about getting a suitcase than—

"Outside, Jeremy,” she said. "Car. Suitcase. Bring to Mama.”

"Bring to Mama,” he repeated, then lumbered out the door.

I was sorely torn. Should I leave the twins? Or follow Jeremy? Curiosity got the better of me. I floated on out to the car. Shoot, Jeremy was actually lifting the suitcase out of the car. I could hardly believe it.

But then he didn’t do anything with it, just stood there like a porter at a hotel, protecting the luggage.

Honey poked her head out the door. "Bring the suitcase in, sweetie. Bring it to Mama.”

"Mama,” Jeremy echoed. He lifted the suitcase and carried it right up the stairs and inside.

I could hardly believe it. The last time I saw the boy, if you handed him a grocery bag full of potato chips to carry, he dropped it on the ground and looked at you like you’d asked him to eat rats.

Maybe Honey hadn’t been exaggerating when she’d said Jeremy had improved. But as far as I was concerned, lugging one suitcase did not erase Jeremy’s Demon Child status. Not yet. I’d seen him compliant before. It lasted about ten minutes. Maybe this was his ten minutes for today.

"Take it upstairs,” Honey ordered the boy as he entered the kitchen where she and Bert now sat holding one baby apiece. Casting the babies a wary glance, he trudged right to the stairs. At least he wasn’t frowning at them anymore, probably because they weren’t crying. They were happily sucking down formula in the arms of their aunt and uncle.

As he disappeared up the stairs, Honey turned to Bert. "Did you fix up the room for the twins?”

"Did it last night. I moved the rocking chair from Jeremy’s room into the babies’, and I brought his old baby bed down from the attic. Until we can get an extra crib, they’ll have to sleep in the same one.”

Honey stared down at Anna, who bore her usual Ah-the-joys-of-the-bottle expression. Honey’s eyes grew suspiciously moist. "I never thought we’d get to use that old baby bed again.”

"Me either.”

The wealth of emotion in those two words brought me up short. Honey had once told me that she and Bert had decided not to have more children after Jeremy was diagnosed, because Jeremy was all they could handle. Bert had even gotten himself fixed.

It had never occurred to me that the choice had been hard. Or that maybe they had even come to regret it. They sure did seem happy to have my darling girls in their home.

"Do you think they’ll be okay sleeping upstairs in the guest room?” Bert asked.

No way! I shouted. Jeremy’s room was upstairs, and Honey’s and Bert’s was downstairs. So who was going to protect my darlings from the Demon Child?

"They’ll be all right for one night,” Honey said.

"Sorry I didn’t have enough time to get that extra room down here cleared out,” Bert said. "With the weather turning so cold, the furnace started acting up again. I had to work on it half the morning.”

The scowl crossing Honey’s genial features looked surprisingly like her son’s. "I told you to hire someone to fix it.”

"I’ve got it figured out this time. It wasn’t that hard, really.”

"Now, Bert—"

"Knock, knock.”

Honey frowned, but still said, "Who’s there?”

"Don.”

"Don who?”

"Don’cha know I love you?”

A laugh sputtered out of Honey. "That has to be the worst one you ever told.”

He grinned. "It made you laugh.”

"I’m so tired right now, I’d laugh at a monkey picking its nose.”

"What a visual.”

"It’s all your fault—you’re the one who taught me that gross-out humor is better than none at all.”

"And knock-knock jokes.”

She snorted. "Did you get that baby monitor from Jayne?”

"Sure did.”

"Then the babies will be all right upstairs tonight. We’ll clean out the downstairs room tomorrow.”

Amy was fighting the bottle, and Bert stared at her in typical male confusion. "The girl hasn’t drunk very much for sounding so hungry.”

"She needs to be burped.” Honey arched one blond eyebrow. "Think you remember how to do that?”

Bert lifted the baby to his shoulder with a sigh. "This will take some getting used to, won’t it?”

"Oh, yeah,” Honey said as she hefted her own baby up to burp her.

Bert looked thoughtful as he patted the baby’s back. "Do you think we made a mistake, offering to take them? Do you think we can handle them?”

I tensed, not sure what answer I was hoping for. If Honey and Bert didn’t keep the babies, I wouldn’t have to worry about Jeremy. On the other hand, my husband had been an orphan, and whenever he talked about what that had been like, I knew I didn’t want that for my children.

Besides, how many people would be willing to adopt twins? An adoption agency might have to separate the babies—would I really want that over having them grow up with Honey and Bert?

"It’s like you said,” Honey replied after a moment, "if we could handle Jeremy, the twins will be a piece of cake.”

Yes, but could they handle both Jeremy and the twins? That’s what worried me.

I was just starting to relax and drift off, half-consciously, toward the white light, when I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. Jeremy was back. Oh, no. That jerked my tether tight.

The boy entered the kitchen and stood waiting until he got his mother’s attention. When she looked at him, he flicked his hand toward the refrigerator.

Honey glanced at the clock. "Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. It’s way past your dinner time, isn’t it?”

"Dinner time,” Jeremy said solemnly, and flicked his hand again, with more urgency.

"Sit down. I think Anna’s done eating anyway.” Honey looked over at Bert, but Amy, the slower eater, was still sucking on her bottle. So Honey took Anna and headed over to where Jeremy had dropped into one of the ancient kitchen chairs once belonging to our mother.

"Would you like to hold the baby?” she asked Jeremy.

No! I screamed, so loudly I nearly splattered my ethereal self on the ceiling.

Jeremy merely repeated, "hold the baby,” which was just as likely to mean, "Go fix my dinner, woman,” as "I’d love to hold my cousin, thank you.”

But Honey, who should have known better, still bent and pressed Anna up against Jeremy’s chest, then placed his arms in position around the baby. "Hold tight now, sweetie,” she ordered him, and he squeezed the baby hard enough to startle her into a cry.

"Not that hard,” Honey said hastily. "Gently. Gently.”

Meanwhile, I was doing the dance of the dead—hopping from one ghostly foot to the other while trying not to go insane over the prospect of my sweet darling being squeezed lifeless by the Demon Child.

He relaxed his grip, but leveled a severe frown on the crying Anna. For some reason, she found that humorous. Anna always did have fun with faces. She not only stopped crying, but started patting his cheek.

"Good job,” Honey told Jeremy as she went off to make dinner.

Jeremy looked skeptical, however. As Anna’s little fingers batted at his mouth, he inched his head back farther and farther until he was bending his neck at an unnatural angle to avoid the baby’s touch.

I laughed in spite of everything. Maybe Jeremy was just as wary of Anna as I was of him. The twins were a lot like him, after all. They couldn’t talk, they expressed their emotions at an obnoxious volume, and they flailed about and put their hands where they didn’t belong without rhyme or reason.

But they couldn’t hurt him. And he could sure hurt them. In fact, Anna now had her tiny grip on his lip and was yanking it like she yanked the arm of her Ernie doll. When Jeremy opened his mouth and I saw those teeth of his, I threw myself at him, screaming. Then flew right through him, which did no good whatsoever.

Before I could even come back around to try again, however, Honey had returned to whisk the baby from Jeremy, apparently not even noticing that her deadly son had been about to make a meal out of my poor child’s fingers.

"Okay, your pizza pockets are in the oven,” she told him cheerily. Jeremy’s diet consisted of two things—pizza pockets and burgers. And probably baby fingers. "I’ll be back to get them out in a minute. Your dad and I are taking the babies upstairs to bed.”

I went with them. Not that I had much choice. I could wander a little away from the babies, but not very far, not if I didn’t want to get sucked into the light. I’d figured that out pretty quickly. And going to the light just wasn’t an option right now, not until I’d hit upon a way to alert Honey to the dangers of Jeremy.

Yes, that’s what I needed to do—send her a message. My Baptist sister would never attend a séance, but maybe I could spell out a message in refrigerator magnets or something.

What I needed was advice from other ghosts about how to haunt the living. Too bad I hadn’t run into any other ghosts. I wish I had. We could have formed a support group—Dead People Anonymous. I wouldn’t even have minded being the first to stand up in the front and say, "My name is Sunny Ross, and I’m a dead person.”

But I was on my own.


 

Please review these other products:

 
A Day in Mossy Creek

Virginia Ellis, Debra Dixon, Sandra Chastain, Deborah Smith with Susan Goggins, Maureen Hardegree, Carmen Green, Dee Sterling, Carolyn McSparren, and Sabrina Jeffries

$14.95 February 2006
ISBN: 0-9768760-4-3

It's a cold, frisky day in January, and rebellion is in the air! At the same time, the unspoken romance between the police chief and mayor is slowly heating up.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
At Home in Mossy Creek

Sandra Chastain, Martha Crockett, Debra Leigh Smith, Sabrina Jeffries, Maureen Hardegree, Debra Dixon, Susan Goggins, Carmen Green

$14.95 July 2007
ISBN 0-976-87608-3

Cupid never had to deal with a stranded European circus. The townsfolk of Mossy Creek get some unexpected lessons in life and love on Valentine's Day.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more