The first chapter of Soul Tie reveals that the protagonist, Tamara Castellan, is unhappily newly married. Only wedded a little over a year, she already finds herself secretly attracted to someone else—a kind and generous older man with whom she works.
But what could be wrong with her wealthy, handsome, successful husband, federal judge Blaine Castellan? Following is chapter two, when Tamara returns home to spend the remainder of her day with her esteemed husband.
Chapter Two (unedited):
After pulling out of the darkening lot, I followed Gil’s old sedan for a mile until he turned toward the town center where he lived in the historic district. The pounding rain drenched the windshield, and I adjusted the wipers to maximum speed as I continued down the old highway toward Stardust Park. It was a sixteen-minute commute, and while initially delighted to become a member of the elite bedroom community, I now regarded my life there to be as flat and tasteless as generic soup from a can.
A long passage of empty fields and mature trees still separated the suburb from Wood’s Crossing, but patches of gouged-up terrain were visible through the rivulets of water as I sped along, further increasing my gloom. I hated to see the natural landscape devoured by gas stations and strip malls but reasoned that Stardust Park, for all its elegance and beauty, could be accused of the same.
When I finally arrived at the turnoff, a torrent of water swirling in every direction over the road greeted me. I hesitated, growing unsure. For a moment, I recalled the adage: Turn around, don’t drown.
I waited to see if another car might appear and attempt to cross. But as luck would have it, none materialized. If my car stalled in the water, Blaine would be furious. However, I was already late, which also would exasperate him.
Maneuvering carefully, I chose the least flooded portion across and arrived safely on the other side of the road that climbed up toward Stardust Park.
When I arrived home minutes later, the dripping shrubbery that overhung the arched trellises chilled me to the bone as I weaved through the elaborately planted, curving walkway leading to the front door. The lights were on. Blaine was home.
I turned the front door handle but discovered it locked. The contrariety of that did not escape me after the last year’s passage. After unlocking it, I proceeded inside. Strains of Mozart’s Requiem drifted from behind the hand-carved double doors of his study, where I was sure to find him immersed in a book.
Peering through them a moment later, I offered him a disingenuous smile. “I’m back.”
Milton Blaine Castellan glanced up from his reading and checked his watch. “I dined at the club,” was his response to my not returning home in time to prepare dinner.
“I’m a little late,” I explained. “We had a meeting that went over.”
He gave a handsome frown of protest, though I no longer found his appearance attractive. Then he shook his head. “A meeting? Was it even necessary to attend? You’re an unpaid volunteer,” was his sardonic response.
I shifted uneasily on my feet and shrugged. “Well, I’m home now, thank goodness. The rain is really coming down. It’s nearly flooded at the turnoff for Rose Garden Lane.” The weather was still a topic I felt confident enough to discuss with him.
He did not reply to my chitchat or dismay over possibly being washed away to an untimely end and resumed reading.
I prepared a simple meal in the kitchen that I didn’t feel like eating. Eying the liquor cabinet wistfully, I recalled my earlier resolve to forgo the nightly glass of wine. A deep grimness surrounded me as I poured myself a glass of water instead. I didn’t realize it then, but declining the drink was perhaps a first feeble step out of the maelstrom I had landed myself in.
After my food heated sufficiently, I sat stiffly at the kitchen table instead of sprawling in front of the television like I had grown accustomed to while living in graduate student housing with Alicia.
“It sets a bad example for the children,” he’d admonished at the first opportunity shortly after we were married. The children were not home at the time. Justin had been spending the weekend with a friend, and Kateryna—his adopted daughter from Ukraine—was visiting her aunt, who lived down the street.
But I’d sprung up from my position of comfort with a good-natured laugh and headed to the dining room table instead. Blaine had remained staring, and I wondered if he wanted me to eat in the kitchen like a servant.
Moments later, while rinsing my empty plate in the sink, I heard the doors of his study swing open and stiffened upon his approach, wondering what he would find to complain about this time.
He stood next to me with a somber expression, still dressed in his suit trousers and button-down white dress shirt, smelling of soap. I’d once found that clean smell wonderfully reassuring, but now everything was back to front.
“Tamara, could you cut back on your schedule? The children need you at home. Have you thought more about postponing your degree for a year or two, as we talked about?”
I began drying my hands on a towel, his presence next to me feeling like an impenetrable wall.
“That’s a dish towel,” he remarked quietly.
Setting it aside, I tore off a paper towel and turned to face him. “I haven’t had time to think about it,” was my dishonest response.
He leaned on the counter and stared out the window into the lashing rain with an expression of deep disappointment. “Well, what about abdicating your position at the shelter? Surely you’ve earned enough credit by now.”
“It’s not quite that simple,” I attempted to explain for the third time in two weeks. Graduate school could not accurately be juxtaposed with law school. A long interval of experience in the field was required to complete my particular degree and a subsequent dissertation.
However, I was not being entirely truthful. I may have been able to withdraw without adversely affecting my degree, but there was another reason I felt disinclined. If I no longer worked at the health center, I wouldn’t be able to see Gil.
“You are part of a family now,” he told me, “And that comes with certain responsibilities.”
The irony of today’s oration was that surly seventeen-year-old Justin was seldom home. He needed neither my influence nor personal care. For eight-year-old Kateryna, I’d already rearranged classes, my schedule at the health center, and every other aspect of my personal life multiple times to accommodate Blaine’s criticisms regarding her care. At the same time, he, himself, all but ignored her presence. Before my arrival on the scene, a housekeeper had attended to her needs. But nothing I said or did ever sufficed, perhaps because his first wife, Betty, had been the consummate homemaker.
“I realize that,” I hastened to explain, growing thickheaded. Whenever I spoke at length to Blaine, I descended into a dull heaviness where I could not coherently assemble my thoughts. I felt choked in a strange futility.
“There are only two days right now when I just can’t manage to pick up Kat from school,” I continued. “Your sister told me she’s more than happy to help out, and—"
“Tamara, I wish you would refrain from calling her that. Her name is Kateryna.”
I gripped the edge of the sink and repressed a desire to scream. “She likes it when I call her Kat.”
“That’s beside the point. Her mother chose Kateryna because it was such a beautiful name.”
I wanted to remind him that I was Kateryna’s mother now but held my frustration in check. “Children are often given nicknames by their parents. It’s a gesture of affection.”
He donned his impassive judge stare that generally shut people down, but I refused to acquiesce. Finally, he sighed. “All right, but call her Kata if you must. As I recall, Betty did on occasion.”
The great late wife had spoken posthumously again, but I refused to reply.
“And Jansey has her own children to look after,” he continued, returning to his earlier grievance.
“I watched her boys last weekend while she attended a church retreat,” I countered after recovering from the nickname rebuff.
“That was very generous of you.” He smiled magnanimously. “But again, that would fall under the umbrella of extended family responsibility. Unfortunately, her helping us out every week can hardly be compared to an occasional favor,” Blaine finished with a flourish.
I began to feel an intense weariness overtake me. Having arisen before dawn to finish a paper and grade undergraduate exams, I'd helped Kateryna pack a bag to leave at Jansey’s house so she could later spend the night, prepared breakfast, and then dropped her at her private school across town. Afterward, I attended morning classes and worked at the health center until after dark.
“Try not to take offense at an occasional suggestion,” he continued while still smiling. His mood was lifting, but my spirit no longer rallied like it once had. “Perhaps I can find the time to pick her up, and Justin can look after her until you return home.”
“All right, thanks.”
He placed his arm around my shoulders and leaned down to kiss me.
But I knew I hadn’t heard the last of it. Blaine would continue to brood until I postponed my degree. I’d been married long enough to realize I could never please him.
Later in the bedroom, he changed into his pajamas and slipped into bed beside me. I was studying for an exam, but he suddenly remembered something else he’d meant to discuss.
“Has Michael come to a decision regarding the recurrence of his illness?” Blaine asked with his staid expression.
I glanced over at him. “He’s decided to resume treatment.” I let it go at that but sensed another confrontation coming.
“Well, I realize that. But what sort of treatment?”
“Therapy to help him recover,” I doggedly replied.
“Tamara, you know to what I’m referring. Is he going to follow the protocol recommended by Dr. Westmoreland?” His good mood had vanished.
I stared at the unread pages of my textbook. “No, Michael has decided to go to Germany instead for alternative therapy.”
Blaine sat immobile, but his disapproval was palpable. Finally, he grimaced and shook his head. “That is preposterous. He may as well sign his death certificate.”
“It’s his decision.” I also wanted my brother to resume treatment at the clinic in nearby Gainesville with Dr. Westmoreland. Still, Michael, against the wishes of our mother and seemingly everyone else, including concerned colleagues, had adamantly refused.
“I can’t believe a physician of his caliber would make such an imprudent choice.”
“He said he doesn’t want more delaying tactics—he wants a cure.”
Blaine guffawed. “His prospects are abysmal. Even you must realize that. The most he can hope for is a few more years. Five, at most.”
The callousness of his words struck me like the back of a hand. I wondered what I detested more about the subject of my brother’s illness—Blaine’s glacial pragmatism or my mother’s naive optimism.
“The doctor in Germany told him that there are no incurable illnesses.”
Blaine crossed his arms across his chest. “Don’t tell me you believe that?”
“I don’t know what I believe, but I don’t want him to die,” I responded childishly. “He’s only thirty-six years old. And I hardly saw him for five years while he went through medical school.”
“You’ve spent a great deal of time with him since,” Blaine said as if that made up for a life that would soon be cut short. He regarded any time I spent with Michael as another impediment to my domestic responsibilities.
“And it hardly matters what we want,” he continued dryly. “People die anyway.” His words carried a trace of bitterness, and I knew from the look of pain on his face that he was thinking of Betty. Tiring of the morose subject, he reached for the paper lying on his nightstand and slipped on his glasses.
I returned to my reading but had lost my resolve to study. Instead, I stared unseeing at the pages while thinking of Michael. My thoughts eventually strayed to a memory of Betty as well. After being married only a month and while still in a blissful honeymoon stage, I’d dropped by the justice center to surprise Blaine, but the surprise ended up being on me.
He was finishing a meeting, and his administrative assistant permitted me to wait in his office. I seated myself in his comfortable swivel desk chair. Perched before me on his desk, a framed photo of Betty beamed back at me, jolting me to the core. She appeared to have just stepped out of a salon with her perfect crown of dark curls, dressed in an exquisite floral beaded gown adorned with a single strand of pearls.
I’d seen pictures of her before—group portraits with Blaine and the children. Blaine did not have a photograph of me, and I’d reasoned at the time that he’d eventually replace her photo with one of my own.
Later, I had a photograph of myself enlarged. Michael snapped the picture a year earlier at the beach. Perched atop a pile of rocks, I considered it rather flattering, with my windblown hair and carefree expression. After presenting it to him, he’d set it aside in some unknown place. A year later, it had yet to appear on his desk at the justice center, and Betty still held precedence.
“Where are you going?” he asked as I tumbled out of bed.
“Will you also bring me a glass of water while you’re downstairs?”
Nodding, I pulled on my robe and traipsed back to the kitchen. Blaine never offered to bring me anything. It was my role to fetch and carry. According to Jansey, Betty had cherished her
vocation as Mrs. Milton Blaine Castellan and waited on him hand and foot.
I poured myself a glass of water from the refrigerator and stepped out the back door to recline in the porch swing for a moment to clear my head. The storm was receding, and a bright moon appeared through the outline of dark clouds. I stared up at the beautiful sky, and my mood lightened.
Something about the charming Craftsman home cast a shadow over me. As soon as I stepped outside, I’d feel it—an elusive lifting of my mood. It always caught me off guard because, while in the house, I was not consciously privy to any heaviness of spirit.
Initially, I’d attributed the phenomenon to the predominately featured rich wood paneling throughout the house. I preferred a lighter space, but the beautiful décor was a veritable showplace. Wood’s Crossing’s Exhibition of Homes showcased the Craftsman in their magazine annually.
I began to wonder, with the usual trace of accompanying guilt, if Gil were still awake. Did he ever think of me beyond our interactions at the health center? He may have also just stepped out in the open air to admire the enchanting sky before retiring for the evening.
If only he were waiting for me upstairs in the bedroom instead of Blaine. He’d bring me a glass of water like he often did a cup of coffee. We would sit together on the swing, enjoying the emerging stars.
But Blaine preferred the dismal daily news to my company. Heaven forbid if Kateryna ever clipped anything from the paper for a project in school before he’d had a chance to read it three times. If not buried in the newspaper or a weekly news magazine, he was planted in front of the television with a stern expression while watching the talking heads dissect the latest headlines.
I sighed and arose from my position of comfort. Blaine was expecting that glass of water, and I didn’t want a chastisement for lingering in the darkness. After locking the kitchen door behind me, I heard him call out in that intense, measured voice.
“Are you coming with the water?”
“I’ll be right there,” I replied.
As I poured his glass, the subtle gravity returned. I suddenly longed to run away. It was a childish impulse that had marked my life, seemingly from the beginning.
My mother loved to recount the strange story of when I’d made my way through the partially ajar front door at three years of age and run away as fast as my chubby little legs could carry me. An astonished policeman had captured me three blocks away and brought me home. After the initial shock, the family laughed over my attempt to escape.
While a pre-teen, when Michael was away at medical school, I’d secretly packed a bag numerous times in preparation to run after him. Once, I’d even made it as far as the train station before turning back. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t burden my harried older brother with the overriding sense of innate unhappiness that never went away.
While an undergraduate, I’d called off my engagement to Matt, despite the objections of my entire family. After dating him for a year, charismatic Matt had managed to disarm everyone, including Michael, and I suspected my mother preferred him to me. Years later, they still visited each other every week.
When I’d announced my engagement to Blaine a year later, she’d called him a stuffed shirt and refused to warm up to him or the rest of my ready-made family. Michael, finally practicing medicine again after his protracted illness, gave me his blessing and told me to trust my instincts.
But now I desperately wanted to run away from Blaine.