The Year She Fell

The Year She Fell

Alicia Rasley

$15.95 November 2010
ISBN 978-1-61194-000-8

Every family has secrets...

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

The tragic mystery at the heart of their family has finally surfaced . . .

When Presbyterian minister Ellen Wakefield O'Connor is confronted by a young man armed with a birth certificate that mistakenly names her as his mother, she quickly sorts out the truth: his birth mother listed Ellen on the certificate to cover up her own identity, but also because Ellen is, in a way, related to the child.

Because the birth father is Ellen's troubled husband, Tom.

The secrets of the past soon engulf Ellen, Tom, and everyone they love. This drama of love, loss, family and betrayal will capture readers with its unforgettable power.


Reviews

"It had me by the first and second sentences...Her story structure and plot builds to a maddening crescendo! Heart racing and pushing to that 'just one more chapter before my eyes close' state..." -- Deborah, A Bookish Libraria

"This is an engaging regional family drama in which keeping secrets cause more harm than revealing them would have done.....fans will enjoy Alicia Rasley's The Year She Fell as the Wakefield clan struggles with inconvenient truths." -- Harriet Klausner - THE WORLD OF ROMANCE


Excerpt

Ellen

June

I couldn't help but think of him as "the love child".

It was an old-fashioned term, more genteel than "bastard," more evocative than "biological son", with an origin not in genetics but in passion.

He walked into my life when he walked into the Second-Rushmore Presbyterian Church—my church, or at least the church I was currently serving as minister. Janitor, too, that June afternoon the boy came in.

I was just tidying up the pews after the Genesis Choir rehearsal, wandering down the aisle, grabbing up a paperback some child had left behind, a discarded baseball card. I'd gotten about halfway down before I saw the man half-hidden in the shadow near the big arched oak door. I slipped the book into my jacket pocket and called out, "Hello?"

He stepped out into the light filtering through the rose window. I felt a flicker of recognition, but with no name or context attached. Probably I'd seen him around town. A student from the university, maybe—he had the requisite camouflage jacket and ripped jeans and scraggly goatee, and that hard scared look young people have these days. At least he'd noticed he was in a church and pulled off the baseball cap. There was a quarter-inch of dark bristle left on his head.

He came forward, his sneakers making a sucking noise on the marble floor. His hands were jammed into his baggy cargo pockets, and for a moment I was frightened. There'd been a rash of church robberies and arsons during the winter, but the elders had agreed that a church just couldn't lock its doors until late in the evening. You will find Him among the murderers and thieves, I reminded myself, and walked down the aisle to meet him.

He stopped back at the last pew. "Mrs.—O'Connor?"

A serial murderer wouldn't know my name. I walked closer. "Yes—I'm the minister here."

"I know."

His voice was deep but it wavered, echoing in the stone sanctuary. He stood there irresolute, his shoulders bunched, his hands knotted into fists in his pockets.

I knew that stance from years of counseling church members and students. He was in trouble of some kind, and embarrassed about it. "Is there something you want to talk about?"

He yanked his hand out of his pocket. He was holding nothing lethal, just a folded piece of paper. He thrust it across the yard or so divide between us. The paper felt rough and official as I smoothed away the wrinkles. A notary's raised seal rubbed under my fingers.

It was a birth certificate, with the state seal in the middle of a field of marble green. The first line read Adam Paul Wakefield.

On the line labeled "mother" was my own maiden name. Ellen Elizabeth Wakefield.

Unknown was named as the father.

There were other words and numbers, but the paper was rattling in my hand and I couldn't read any more. "I don't understand."

"I'm Adam. Or I was. When I was adopted, my parents—my adoptive parents—named me Brian Warrick."

I kept staring at the birth certificate, but still it made no sense. "I don't know why my name is on this."

Suddenly he was curt, almost disrespectful. "Isn't it obvious? You're my birthmother."

As that echoed off the high ceiling of the sanctuary and through my disordered thoughts, I realized dimly that this wasn't a good place for such a conversation. At any moment the session moderator could come by to warn me about the great pew controversy at the meeting tonight. My position here as the church's first woman minister was precarious enough already without allegations of–of whatever this boy, this love child, signified.

"Come into my office. I don't know what this is, but—but let's talk there."

Silently he followed me out the side door and up the narrow steps to the third-floorwarren of offices. Taking the upholstered seat across from my desk, he watched as I scanned the birth certificate, looking for the clue that would make this all make sense. The birth was registered in a county in southern Pennsylvania, about a hundred-fifty miles northeast. I didn't recognize the name of the hospital or the attending doctor. I did, however, recognize the entry on the "mother's birthplace" line.

He was studying me closely enough that he knew what I was reading. "You were born in Wakefield, West Virginia. Just like it says."

I could hardly deny it. It was true, and besides, the town was named for our family. "How did you find that out?"

"I did a search on the Web." Bitterness crept into his voice. "I sent a letter to you there- there in Wakefield. And you didn't answer."

I felt defensive. "I never got any letters. I haven't lived there in twenty years." I set the birth certificate down on the open Bible on my desk and stared again at my name, my hometown. It made no sense.

Then I noticed the date.

I fumbled in my purse and came up with my leather wallet, solid and heavy with coins and credit cards. In a pocket I located the little plastic folder of photographs and took out one of Sarah. With relief I saw the date stamped on the back by the developer.

"Look." I shoved the picture towards him. My hand was trembling. So was his as he took the photo from the desk blotter.

We were both frightened of this.

He studied the picture some hospital photographer had taken when Sarah was six hours old. She had her eyes open and didn't look happy about it. Little Winston Churchill, Tom and I always called that pugnacious image of our only child.

"That's my daughter Sarah."

"So?" He said it rudely, but from the way he was staring at it I suddenly realized there must be no creased and cherished photo of his earliest hours.

"Turn it over."

He did as he was told. He read it slowly, already recognizing its meaning: "August 2, 1986."

"Your birth certificate says April 15, 1986. I couldn't have given birth to you and then Sarah four months later."

He looked up. There was something wild and sad in his eyes, and I knew he wanted me to be his mother. It was heartbreaking. At that moment, I wanted it to be true too, and damn the deacons and elders. To be wanted like that—

But it wasn't true. "I'm sorry."

"You could be lying—that could be... your niece."

"She's my daughter." I said that gently, but I also wanted to sound firm. I wanted to make it clear. I wasn't his mother, though I must admit it gave me a start to see my name there on the Mother line, just as on Sarah's birth certificate.

"Why—why would someone else put your name down?" He pushed the photo folder back at me and took out the birth certificate again. "It has your name right there."

"I don't understand it either. But when you were born in Pennsylvania, I was living in Washington and already pregnant."

He wouldn't let it go, this quest of his. And I guess I couldn't blame him. He would be searching for himself, not just his mother. He said stubbornly, "But it must have been someone you knew. To use your name like that. You must know her somehow."

"Well, I don't know who it could be." I looked up at him, saw the longing, and said, "I know this is important to you. But you have a family already."

"Adopted. Not really mine."

"My sister Theresa is adopted. And she's just as much my sister." This didn't convince him, and I tried to infuse more certainty into my voice. "Really. The family you're raised with counts too."

He nodded his head, but his eyes were still on the plastic sleeve that held Sarah's baby photo. "Yes. I understand. But I still want to know my origins. And you must know something about my mother, if she used your name."

He was right. But he was wrong. "I really can't think who would do that." I started to put the little folder away, but as I flipped open my wallet; I saw another photo and stopped. The young man saw it too. I didn't breathe for a moment or so, staring down at the old picture, taken at that first Pulitzer ceremony. Then I looked back at Brian—at Adam.

This young man was harsh and shorn and stubbled, deliberately ugly, all slack belligerence in form and face. But in the afternoon light streaming in from the tall window, there was a pure line to his cheekbones, and a straight blade of nose, and under the scraggle of beard his jaw was square. He couldbe beautiful, I knew.

I knew.

Slowly I slid my wallet back into my purse and rose. He rose too, with the involuntary good manners his mother—his adoptive mother—must have taught him.

"I don't know who your mother could be." The words cramped in the tightness of my throat. "But I think I can introduce you to your father."

I gathered up my things, found my keys, led the way out.

"Where are we going?"

"Home," I said.

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