December 25, 2016

Flawed: Unedited Chapter One

Merry Christmas to my family and friends, and especially those who are deployed. This time two years ago I was in Africa helping fight Ebola so I know how hard it is to be away for the holidays. I'm sending you big hugs and kisses. 

I wanted to give you something for the holidays, and the best way I know how is to give you some of my writing. Writing is so much more than a job for me, it's my passion and it keeps me sane in this crazy world. So thank you for supporting me and buying my books! 

Happy holidays! I hope this year brings you everything you deserve and more!


NIKO: A buzzing noise echoes through the cell block; this noise has taunted me all day. Every time I hear it I spring from my paper-thin mattress and wait for a guard to call my name, and each time I’m met with disappointment.

Six years is a long time to wait for freedom.

I stay where I’m seated, my back against the cold cement wall and my gaze on the small window I’ve looked up at every single day since they threw me in here. Through the bars I can still see the cloudy sky. My bunk bates sit across from me, playing cards, yelling at each other over the rules of some stupid game I’ve never heard of before.

“Nikolai Kosh!” The CO’s low voice booms through the block.

My bunk mates stop, cards in tight against their chest, and grin at me. A stupid smile claims my face. I’m a fucking sixteen-year old girl invited to prom. Not having someone dictate every detail of my life will be a welcome adjustment. I can sleep when I want, keep my light on as late as I want—if I want it on at all, wear whatever I want or nothing at all, and I can finally taste alcohol that’s not brewed in a dirty bucket. And I can see the few people in my life that mean the most to me—if they’re willing to see me too.

I stand and lean my elbows onto either side of the door frame of my cell. MacDonald, a burly correctional with a thick mustache, saunters into the open common area, all the control in the ring of keys hanging from his fat finger. He sets his eyes on me. “Bed and baggage.”

Bed and baggage, the call sign for ‘pack up your shit, you’re sprung.’ I toss my things in a laundry bag. Each of my roommates stand and slap my hand on the side before gripping it and bumping their shoulder to mine. As far as roommates go, I could have done worse. At least I didn’t have to keep one eye open at night with them. Both are light with their fingers but neither of them are violent.

I hike my bag over my shoulder and wave to the few things I leave behind: some chips, a brush, candy, and toiletries. “Take what you want.”

They forget about me while they fight over a box of mints. I shake my head and say good-bye, touching my hand to the wall by my bed with the lines carved into the wall for each year I spent in here.

I wave good-bye to the other guys in the common area and MacDonald and I walk to the doors. He looks up at the camera and within seconds the door opens and he escorts me out. This time I’m not in cuffs and it feels good. Without thinking, I wrap one hand around the opposite wrist and can almost feel the cool steel still biting into my flesh. Once we’re through I look back through the glass at my dysfunctional home and quietly say, “Never again.” I don’t mean for the CO to hear. Honestly, I didn’t even mean to say it aloud.

“You know how many times I hear that?” he says.

“You’ve never heard it from me.” I bite the inside of my cheek and resist the urge to say something smart. I don’t need him reminding me how many people fall through on those plans. The guys leaving before me weren’t me. And I mean what I say. Always.

“I give you a month,” he says with a sneer. “Maybe six weeks if you’re smart enough not to get caught.”

The CO dumps me in a holding cell, the same room I sat in when I first arrived for processing. Here, instead of changing out of my clothes, I slip back into them: jeans frayed at the bottom, and a black long sleeved shirt. Neither fit me so well anymore. It’s an effort to push the button on the waist through the hole and the legs are sitting high above my ankles. The sleeves of my shirt strain from the added muscle in my arms. A rip starts near the shoulder. I just shake my head.

I was still a kid when I was put in here. Long and lean. I’m harder now, with sharp angles and muscles. And I’m sure I’ve grown half a foot. Other than working in the kitchen, I’ve spent a lot of my time working out: lifting weights, pushups, sit-ups, running in place, running around the yard. I tried my hardest to keep myself busy in here so I didn’t rack up more time. It’s hard to be on the straight and narrow behind bars when there are so many rules to be broken. And the drugs? They’re everywhere. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to shoot up or snort medication or cocaine in the beginning. The promise of an escape from this cold, hard place and the monotony of it all is hard to resist. Riding a hallucinatory wave where I can feel, touch and see the things that matter the most is awfully tempting.

It was so tempting I almost broke.

The CO walks me to the main doors. While we wait, his eyes scan the length of me and a small smile covers his lips. He’s laughing at my clothes. Fucker. I can’t even be irritated right now when I’m practically bouncing on my feet. How many more doors are there?

“Cute,” he says.

I roll my eyes and sigh. “I must remind you of your boyfriend.” I only have so much willpower.

He glowers at me.

A buzzing noise rings out and the door slides open. We walk through two more doors and two fences topped with barbed wire. And then I’m on the outside, turning my back to the final one as it closes behind me. I take a deep breath. The air smells different out here. Fresher. The cells smelled of dirty socks and sweaty men or mold or backed up toilets. Out here I smell pine and smoke from nearby burning wood stoves. The trees are full of leaves in every color. It’s the beginning of November and the wind is a little chilly, but not enough to make me shiver.

This is it. It’s over. It’s what I’ve been waiting for, and yet, now I’m on the outside my grin starts to fade. Why aren’t I happier? I should be. This is what I wanted up until thirty seconds ago. Now my excitement is replaced with a needling in my chest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be rid of this place and the people in it, it’s just that while I stayed here, stagnant, the world moved on without me and I don’t know if I’m going to like the life I’m going back to. I’ve made a mess of things. Royally. And my mistakes have cost me my mother and the only girl I ever gave a shit about. And it also cost me a chance to say good-bye to my sister. Ain’t no way to get right about that, that’s for damn sure.

My brother Vik pulls out from the parking spot near the end of the lot and pulls up to the curb where I stand. He drives an old white muscle car with a black racing stripe down it. It’s as perfect as I remember it. When I was sixteen, I built this beauty from a rusty frame, and she still runs like a dream. The roar of her engine is like music to my ears. I gave her to my brother for safekeeping when I got locked up. He’s totaled three cars in his life so I’m impressed he’s taken such good care of her.

He climbs out, rounding the car and heading straight for me. Looking at Vik used to be like looking in a mirror. Though we were always different on the inside—Vik is a borderline sociopath—we always looked the similar outside, even though he’s a few years older than me. Vik is still neat and clean with a short haircut and a clean-shaven face, and I’m looking a bit rough with hair long on top and an impressive beard that I might be able to braid in a month. My face and neck is scarred, the biggest mark by my Adam’s apple from where a man tried to slit my throat a few years back. Vik is pretty as ever. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yet I love him all the same.

He opens his arms wide and I wrap my arms around his middle and squeeze, picking him up off his feet. We were never affectionate as kids, unless you count fist bumps and brotherly punches. Dad was cold and mean and showing affection was discouraged. The only person I ever got affection from was Ivy and my sweet sister Claire before she died. I never thought I would miss something as simple as touch. Turns out I did. I squeeze him a little tighter and he starts to wheeze. I chuckle and set the pussy down.

“Shit man, you’re like the fucking Terminator?” he says. He wraps his hands around my bicep, and I swat his hand away. “You spend all your time lifting, or what?”

“It’s good to see you too, brother.”

“Man, you don’t even know,” he shakes his head smiling as he looks me up and down. “Nothing’s been the same since you left.”

“For me either.”

He scratches his face. “I bet.” He eyes my clothes and lets out a low whistle. “Wow. If I’d know you were into tight, I would have brought spandex.” He strolls to the trunk and opens it, tossing me a backpack.

“Laugh it up, fucknuts.” I catch the backpack and unzip it, letting out a relieved sigh at the clothes inside. I never asked for them, but he still thought to bring them.

He slams the trunk shut and I put the bag on top of it, pulling out a shirt. I remove mine and put on the new one, grateful for sleeves that actually reach my wrists.

“I couldn’t remember what you went in with, but I figured you might want something new.”

“Perfect fit, brother. Thank you.”

He shrugs. “I’ll send you a bill.”

“I bet you will, you little shit.”

With an ounce of modesty, I drop my pants and slip the jeans on over my boxers. The length is right, but the waist could be smaller. Thankfully, they’re not loose enough to fall down over my hips.

I shove the old clothes in the bag and shoulder it. Vik tosses me the keys and I catch them easily. Driving a car. Something I missed but didn’t realize until this very minute.

Inside the car, I take her all in while I breathe in the musky scent of the leather upholstery, tempered by the sweet vanilla air freshener. I slide my hand over the smooth leather covering the edge of the chrome steering wheel. I did something right when I built her. Betty—that’s what I used to call her. I rev the engine and listen to her purr. I’m smiling wide as I peel away from the jail, squealing my tires as I wave good-bye to this shithole.

I want to speed, feel the wind on my face and brace for the rush of adrenaline as I careen down the highway. But when I reach the limit I back off. Nerves, and the angel on my shoulder, winning out.

“Give ‘er,” Vik says, tapping the dash. “Come on!”

I curse under my breath and relax my foot, settling in comfortably at five miles above the speed limit.

“You go soft in there or what?”

I shake my head and keep to the limit.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he teases.

“Got no desire to go back. I get so much as a speeding ticket and I might be visiting some old friends.”

“That’s the way it’s going to be?” he quirks an eyebrow. But he’s smirking. He doesn’t believe me.

“I don’t know. Yes. No. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.” But I have.

“Be a better criminal,” he jokes. “Don’t get caught this time.”

I laugh without humor. “Don’t get caught?” I wasn’t exactly thinking about getting caught when I put Darren Black in a coma just after my eighteenth birthday. Horrific, that’s what the judge said about my crime. No matter that the guy deserved it, as I’m sure everyone in that court room would have agreed. The only thing horrific about that whole situation was what my ‘victim’ did to my sister, Claire. He’s lucky the cops came before I had a chance to end his life. And I would have killed him. Wouldn’t have debated any other resolution for his crime. It rots me that the court didn’t think I was justified. But then, in my experience, the law is pretty fucked up anyway. My only regret is that it kept me from Claire in her last minutes. That bastard’s fate could have waited.

“I think I’m done with all that,” I say, keeping my eyes on the road ahead. I don’t need to look at my brother to know he’s looking at me right now with perhaps the sourest expression he can manage.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” He runs his palms down his face and groans. “We’ll see about that. An ex con can’t bank the same money Yuri can offer,” he says. “You know that.”

“I can’t do it, man.”

“Yuri ain’t going to be happy about that. He’s got plans for you.”

Yuri is the head of the family, and my uncle by relation. In our town, he has his fingers in everything. My family does construction as a front, but in the underground we deal in trafficking—mostly drugs. Every man in my family has a role in the business, both criminal and legal. I was only sixteen when I started contributing. That was back when I all I wanted was to earn money and respect, back before Ivy Parker fell into my lap. Literally.

“I’m not the same person I was back then,” I say.

“Because of Claire?”

Hearing her name out loud tears the scab off the empty hole she left in my chest. I try not to think about her much, and I don’t like the reminder. Sweet Claire. She was the antithesis of my dad. A girl with a golden heart who happily gave more than she received. A girl who practically raised me and Vik because our dad was in jail and our mom worked more than any person should have been allowed. She never deserved what she got—unlike the guy who hurt her. He cost me my sister, and after her death, he cost me my mother and my girl too. I blame him for all of that.

“Ivy, Claire, Mom, take your pick.”

“I’m your brother, and I know you. Going straight won’t take, no matter how hard you try. We’re not cut from that cloth, brother. We were born for this life and we’ll die living it.”

I give him a half-hearted shrug. “I can’t believe that, man. Otherwise what’s the point in trying?”

“People don’t change,” Vik says. “It’s great in theory, but people always go back to their roots. Sorry, brother. That anger deep inside of you that screams to be let out when you want something you can’t have…or when someone wrongs you or someone you care about…or breaks your trust…rats on you… You can’t lock that up. It comes out. Trust me.”

“You say that like you tried and failed.”

He shrugs.

“The fuck? You tried to go straight? When?”

He lights up a cigarette and rolls his window down all the way to hang his hand out the window so I don’t lose my mind. I smoke myself but I don’t want my car smelling like it. Or my clothes or my hair. I love the taste and the release a smoke gives me, but I can’t stand the stench. But fuck, if I’m going to sit here and watch him smoke without having one myself.

“Give me one of those,” I say, reaching out for one.

He taps one out of the pack and hands it to me. After I put it between my dry lips he lights it, his hand protectively covering the flame of his lighter so the wind blowing in doesn’t put it out. I take a long drag and it burns all the way down my throat until it hits my lungs. The taste lingers on my tongue after I hang my arm out the window to keep the smoke outside.

“I tried a few years back,” Vik says. “And not going straight, exactly. I tried to work a job separate from the family.”

“Yeah, you mentioned you got another job. I thought you were fucking with me.”

He sighs. “Yuri laughed at me when I told him I found another job. He said I’d be back and he’d welcome me. Of course, I wanted to prove him wrong. But I wasn’t there a week before my boss tried to yell at me for taking a break during my shift when I wasn’t supposed to. Did it in front of the whole factory.” He smiles a wicked smile. “Fuck that. Disrespect me, the prick. My anger came out hard; if you’d seen me, you would have mistaken me for Dad. I was smart about it, though. I did him after hours when no one was around. Tied a rope around his neck and tied the other end to a rafter in this old barn out back of his house. Kicked his ass out the hay bay door. They ruled it a suicide. Decided after that I’m probably not suited for honest work.”

“Nope. Probably not.” And the smile on his face confirms it. I can’t judge him, though. I’m no innocent, and I have the criminal record to prove it. Then there’s the other crimes I’ve committed but haven’t been caught for. Do I regret my crimes? I don’t know. Before jail I would have said no. And now? Maybe. Some of them, at least. I have Ivy Parker to thank for that. After falling for her I questioned everything I did. Wondered what she’d say if she saw me. Would she look at me the same? Before her, I had a temper like my father, too. He’s in a super max jail in Sterling City now, and he ain’t ever getting out.

Dad killed a cop when I was eleven. Vik and I saw it all. He was in a fight with some guy that owed him money and cops came to break it up. They tried to get him to the ground but Dad pulled out his knife and sliced the throat of one. The other tasered him then, but he was on drugs and it only seemed to fuel his fire. He beat the one with the taser until they lay bloody on the ground next to the one holding his neck as he bled out. Vik and I watched from the other side of the road. I remember reaching for Vik’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it. He put his arm around me instead and led me away from the fight. We were back at our house when more cops came and questioned us.

“Out of curiosity, why’d you try going straight?” I ask. “I didn’t realize you were interested in a normal life.”

He scoffs at me before blowing out a circular puff of smoke. “So little faith in me. I found Jesus.”

“Serious?” I say, flabbergasted at his response.

“Fuck no. It was a girl.”

A girl. I laugh, shaking my head. Then my laughter fades and we both sit in silence. It’s always a girl, isn’t it?

I turn off the highway onto Cortland Street and Vik quirks an eyebrow “Where ya going?”


He eyes me, and I hate that he can see through me so easily.

“She don’t live there anymore, man,” Vik says.

I make a face. I want to deny I’m going to see Ivy but Vik would see right through the lie and I don’t want to argue with him about it. I don’t need him to remind me that I broke it off with her and that she probably hates my guts. Because none of that matters. All I know is I thought about her every day in prison. Her face in my head was the only thing that made that place bearable. She’s the reason why I want to be better, and she’s the reason why I managed to rein myself in and stay out of trouble—mostly. If I have any chance at all at overcoming who I am, I need her help. The only problem is I’m pretty sure she hates my guts.


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