My Upcoming Book . . .
Updated: Aug 22
I’m currently writing my sixth book—Soul Tie.
The novel, written in the first person, features protagonist Tamara Castellan, who foolishly married in haste to an older man bound by a soul tie to his deceased first wife.
In the case of my novel, the “soul tie” is an unhealthy bond bordering on pathological between Tamara’s husband, Blaine, and his dead wife, Betty. It isn’t until after their wedding that Tamara uncovers the strange phenomenon. As the story begins, she wants to escape the marriage that has brought her only loneliness and misery while existing in Betty’s preternatural, perfect shadow
Following is the first chapter of Soul Tie (unedited):
Gilbert William Payne was, without a doubt, extraordinary.
I watched as he leaned over the distraught, middle-aged homeless woman in an attempt to counsel her. He was taller than most and towered over the diminutive woman who so badly needed his help. Gilbert, a doctor of psychology, was co-founder of Woods Crossing’s Behavioral Health Center, where I currently volunteered to earn credits toward my graduate degree.
The old, tumbledown three-story building provided mental health services for the indigent and housed, clothed, and fed a multitude weekly. Gil specialized in behavioral therapy and connecting people to services in the community, enabling them to regain some semblance of independent life.
He placed one hand on his hip and listened to her diatribe. His hair was parted conservatively on the side, and a dark shock that glistened with a few premature stands of gray fell across his forehead as he leaned closer to catch her words. He brushed it away as if the minor annoyance somehow interfered with his rapt attention to her.
Gil’s kindness and gentle manner appeared to work on the distressed woman, as it did with so many of the despairing souls drifting in and out of the shelter. He was genuine and unassuming, open to learning from the most bereft of them all. People detected it in his warm brown eyes and the candor of his articulate, carefully chosen words.
I sighed and focused my gaze out the long row of sash windows to conceal my notice of him. Today he wore a favorite shirt of mine—the dark-blue, long-sleeved pullover—with a light muffler tucked gallantly under the collar. It was a cold day in late November, and the shelter could be a drafty place. His attire was understated and modest, yet not without an expression of refinement.
When I’d first begun my stint at the health center, Gil’s admirableness had barely captured my attention. Older and with a decidedly unobtrusive personality, he’d faded into the many higher-ups who filled my days, both here and at the university. For the most part, I was consigned to the women and children who occupied the second floor, while he focused primarily on the men on the ground level who suffered from addiction issues.
Initially, I’d been dazzled by several other senior staff members, notably director Desi Wiseman and his assistant, Margo Fowler. Their wise-cracking humor and upbeat enthusiasm resonated with me and lifted my spirits. But later, I noticed their dedication tended to wax and wane, rendering them somewhat inconsistent in their obligations. Gil emerged as an invaluable source of knowledge and support.
“You need to consider your own welfare,” he cautioned me one afternoon when I’d agreed to stay too long after Desi and Margo bailed early, rendering me anxious and exhausted. “Go home to your family.” His smile had warmed my heart.
The woman reached for her tattered bags and trudged wearily into the next room, and Gil turned in my direction. I pretended to be absorbed in a clipboard of assignments as he approached.
“Tamara, can I speak to you for a minute?” he asked.
His pronouncement of my name cast a momentary spell over me.
“Yes, Gil?” I turned to him with a carefully composed expression.
“Would you like to fill in for another volunteer and work with me this afternoon? Margo told me she’s well-staffed upstairs today.”
Would I? My heart skipped a beat, and I had to turn away to conceal my emotions.
“All right,” I finally replied, “As long as Margo’s agreed.”
“Wonderful,” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “And Margo told me to thank you for all your help yesterday. We both appreciate it.”
He stepped away into the intake room, and I breathed more easily again. I was to spend an entire afternoon with Gil instead of the usual five-or-ten-minute snatches. The prospect was a delightful one but also one that filled me with angst. I could still feel the warmth of his touch on my shoulder.
I had begun to believe there were no men like him out there. He never swore or lost his temper, although, at times, I could sense his deep distress. And he didn’t always like everyone, either, I could tell. But despite personal feelings, he never lost touch with whatever assistance he could offer an individual—whether they were cooperative or not.
“Ready, Tamara?” Gil stood in the doorway again with his slightly crooked smile.
“I’m coming.” I arose and attempted to follow, but he naturally stepped back to enable me to walk alongside him. It was one of the many small gestures he unthinkingly made.
As his long legs strode for the group room, I matched his pace, relaxing for a moment in the presence of his easy-going disposition. His tall, well-proportioned body, while attractive in its own right, seemed designed primarily to harbor a generous spirit and scholarly mind.
“We’ll begin with relapse prevention therapy today,” Gil explained as he reached for a stack of chairs. “This is a psychoeducational group, and we’re focusing primarily on client motivation. Everyone in the group has experienced recurrence, but I anticipate things moving along quickly as they’ve gained valuable insights into their problem.” He smiled at me. “Sometimes even failure requires great courage.”
I nodded. My own failures had landed me in the battle of my life, and I suspected it would require great bravery to extricate myself. Whether or not I possessed the fortitude remained to be seen. At the moment, I was too tired and shell-shocked to do anything more than stumble through another day.
“How is Michael doing?” he suddenly asked, as if the subject of failure had evoked his name. After two years of remission, my older brother’s illness recurred.
“The doctors think he’ll recover with additional treatment.”
Gil grimaced and pushed up his glasses, his habit when feeling upset. “Tell him he’s in my prayers.”
“Would you like me to document the meeting?” I asked anxiously. The thought of my brother’s suffering seemed too much to bear today when piled on my own.
“That would be fine.”
I assisted in setting up the circle as Gil, sensing my discomfort, carefully switched topics and chatted amicably with me about my classes. He never overspoke or intruded too deeply yet conveyed a steady sense of friendliness and interest. For a moment, I reluctantly allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to be married to Gil.
It would be a foretaste of heaven, I decided, somberly, to meet those kind eyes behind a cup of coffee every morning. He had been married at one time. His wife had perished years earlier in a car accident. I envied her, even in death. Her quality of life must have greatly surpassed the lack of quantity.
The attendees began filing in, and I gathered my paperwork to record the meeting. Gil seated himself next to me and placed one leg across his knee, resting his beautifully shaped masculine hands on his lap. I immediately felt comforted and secure in our close proximity.
“Let’s begin with Randy today,” Gil opened. “How has everything been with you since we last met?”
Randy, a scruffy-looking man in his mid-thirties, slouched in his chair. “I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t a total waste of time.”
Gil leaned forward slightly. “What do you mean, Randy?”
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I don’t think I drink more than anyone else I know.”
“I see,” Gil responded. “Maybe we can, just for a moment, envision your life without ever having touched a drop of alcohol.”
Randy sniffed in response, knowing he’d been caught in a snare.
I had begun to enjoy a glass of wine myself as of late. At first, I’d kept it to four ounces, but soon enough, I began to let it creep over that amount. It took the edge off of my ever-deepening uneasiness. Still, as I carefully recorded Randy’s thoughts, I realized they mirrored my own too closely and decided then and there to stop using even a small amount of alcohol to mitigate my problems.
I imagined myself in the group. Identifying the factors that drove me to that glass at the end of the day would be crystal clear to articulate. The group and I had a great deal in common. We yearned for a life never realized and found the disappointing aftermath too much to tolerate.
As the group moved deeper into the discussion, I switched tracts in my mind and began to wonder what it was about Gil I found myself so drawn to day after day. I’d scrutinized it a hundred times without satisfaction.
He was fourteen years older than I was. Did his attention mitigate the lack of my estranged father? I had not grown up exactly starved for fatherly influence. My maternal grandfather had played a significant role in my life, as had two close uncles. My brother, Michael, had doted on me as a child, and we remained close.
But my own father, despite occasional attempts through the years to kindle a bond, always drifted away into a sea of ambivalence. Gil was anything but indifferent. Even on his worst days, when sick with a virus or exhausted from lack of sleep, he maintained a sharp sense of awareness and decorum as a friend.
Perhaps it was his patience. When he grew angry, he handled it well. You knew he had reached breaking point, but you never felt unsafe. It had gradually occurred to me that I felt safer with him than I ever had with anyone, even Michael—whom I trusted implicitly. The mask I wore around friends and family dissolved while with Gil. Before meeting him, I hadn’t realized I even wore a mask. I had lived at least partly hidden behind it since childhood.
“Let’s take a short breather,” Gil declared, interrupting my secret analysis of him. “There’s coffee and snacks in the kitchen.” He checked his watch. “Back in . . . say . . . fifteen minutes?” he requested of the gathering.
People arose and stretched lazily, eventually moving over toward the kitchen.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” Gil kidded, leaning closer.
I nodded and smiled. “Sure.”
He headed for the kitchen with his slightly stooped gait. The posture was customary, most likely to prevent towering over everyone. He often folded his arms across his chest and leaned forward during a conversation to better catch the person’s words and expression.
I stared out the window at the slate-gray sky. The faint patter of rain began to drum against the panes, increasing my melancholic introspection. Around Gil, I felt like myself again, I decided; it was as simple as that.
Years ago, there had been one disruption after another in my sense of identity. While growing up, I often felt like I was not myself but had been unable to identify the rationale behind the elusive perception. For a semester while an undergraduate, I’d become addicted to a soap opera in the late afternoon when I returned from classes. It had proved a great diversion from all the stress.
However, one character in particular—a young, insincere, conniving antihero, began to trouble me. Initially, I loathed her character. But as the months progressed, while I played the pleasing game on the road to success, I began to feel like her every time I spoke. Despite every attempt to be honest, I detected a tell-tall ring of insincerity in my words. I felt her phony facial expressions become my own.
When I broke off my engagement in my senior year to Matt Stern—a marine biology graduate student whose freewheeling, ambiguous outlook on life had disastrously collided with my own—I’d hoped the haunting sense of insincerity might leave me.
But it remained.
I’d tried to explain it once to my roommate, Alicia, who occasionally enjoyed the show with me.
“Are you kidding?” she’d exclaimed. “You’re nothing like her. You’re the complete opposite!”
Gil returned, handed me my cup of coffee, and sat beside me again.
“Fortunately, I thought to bring my raincoat this morning,” he remarked as the drops drummed harder against the windows. “It looks as though it may rain all day.”
I sipped my coffee. “Yes, I’m glad I drove today.” I often rode my bike to the shelter. I loved the old bike and preferred it to my car—it felt free—the closest I could come to that elusive state, except, of course, when around Gil.
He squinted and glanced away, deep in thought. “I’ve always considered November the most quixotic of months,” he confided, “despite all the overcast, rainy days.”
I turned to him in curiosity. “How so?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders with a pensive smile. “Oh, you know, the way the sun, low on the horizon, emerges from behind the dark clouds and casts an almost ethereal light across the bare branches and fallen leaves, and you feel the year’s passage with such acuity.” He turned to study me. “The poignancy always makes me wonder what awaits us ahead.”
“Uh-huh.” I knew more misery awaited me, but Gil couldn’t know. I’d never revealed that truth to him or anyone else, even Michael. My life had become a dark secret.
“Do you have a favorite time of the year?” he asked offhand, his expression attentive.
I thought for a moment. The past year’s slow retreat behind a wall of pleasantries had taken its toll on me—the ever-increasing, massive load of denied pain had left me as blank as an empty room. I sat in frozen silence.
He sensed something amiss and grew visibly concerned. “Are you all right?”
The question, extended with genuine interest, threatened to collapse me entirely. My banished tears rose from some secret place as I struggled with every ounce of strength I could muster not to lose my composure. A memory of a beautiful early spring day from childhood emerged to save me.
“I love the time of year when winter and spring exist, just for a moment, side by side,” I managed, desperately hoping my tears would stay put.
He was silent a moment, studying my expression. “I know what you mean,” he replied. “It’s a wonderful interval. I suppose that’s why I enjoy November—the contiguity of abundance, the beginning of silence, and eventual rebirth.”
I sipped my coffee again and breathed a prayer of thanks that I had not broken down like a child. Over a single year, Gil had enough people to care for and direct to last a lifetime. My role at the shelter was to make his job easier.
“Welcome back,” he greeted as the group began filing in.
I reached for my clipboard and pen, burying my tears still deeper under their accompanying grief.
We finished up the afternoon with an impromptu staff meeting. Margo reviewed the minutes from last month, and Desi caught everyone up with the progress on building renovations. As volunteers and personnel aired their suggestions and grievances, I noted how deftly Gil picked a worker’s thoughts up after being inadvertently interrupted. He was acutely tuned in to the animated conversation and ensured everyone was heard.
Mostly, I remained silent, pretending to be interested in what everyone else said. I’d always disliked meetings, and the ones at the shelter were particularly bothersome. They seemed to drag on forever and often got off-topic into subjects that bordered on gossip. Gil rarely joined in at these times, and if he did, it was to steer the group back on track.
Throughout the meeting, it continued to rain, increasing my gloom. Soon it would be time to leave, and the thought of returning home filled me with dread. I loved a good thunderstorm that arrived with wild abandon and poured out a torrent of rain in its clamorous wake. But there was something about the endless, dreary drizzle beyond the windows that hit too close to home.
After the meeting came to a merciful end, I said the customary goodbyes and reached for my coat in the dingy entry room. Gil was leaving too, and he pulled on his raincoat and turned to face me.
“You were very quiet during the meeting.”
I was relieved when he didn’t ask why. Gil walked me to my car through the dark parking lot and paused while searching his pocket for his keys. He studied me with his lopsided smile. The rain continued to hammer steadily on the parking garage roof.
“All right, Tamara. I’ll say goodbye here. I’m down on the other end. Drive carefully.”
I watched him depart in his faded raincoat. He turned to glance back at me momentarily, and I waved. I suddenly experienced an overwhelming desire to run after him and beg him to take me home with him forever.
It was a preposterous impulse. After dodging a bullet after breaking my engagement to Matt over a year ago, I’d been swept off my feet and married a federal judge, Blaine Castellan. Ironically, he happened to be the same age as Gil.
As I watched his car pull away into the darkness, I felt the futility of returning home overwhelm me. The rain fell in a dizzying cadence on every side of me, and for a moment, I absurdly imagined being abducted by aliens on the lonely road out to Stardust Park, the wealthy suburb where I now lived. The irony that it would be preferable to ever walk through my front door again hit me hard.
I felt frightened and alone.