New York Times Best Sellers list in the eBook and paperback category—Black Day Dawning.
I rested my head on my hand and stared at the screen where my book cover was displayed next to the number two spot. Autumn Moone glared back at me. She had taken over my life. Sometimes it seemed like a battle raged within me and I wasn’t sure who was calling the shots anymore. Now, more than ever, I was glad Peter and I had made the decision to keep Autumn Moone’s real identity a secret when I was approached by my publishing house. Even so, I felt that I was slowly losing Delanie because of her.
Autumn even had me living in Barbie’s dream house in a gated community. If the secret ever got out, we would need the security and privacy it would provide. The house was ironic, considering I wasn’t allowed to have a Barbie growing up. My parental figures, Cat and Ron, believed they objectified women and gave girls eating disorders. To complete the ensemble, I now had a Ken doll to go with the perfect house. Though there was nothing plastic about Peter; he was as genuine as they came. My grounding force, lover, best friend, and the reason I was in this mess, though I could hardly blame him.
It wasn’t his fault a foul-mouthed, opinionated redhead fell deeply in love with him. Did I mention he had been a priest at the time? If there was a hell, I was probably going there. In my defense, I tried desperately to despise him for at least a few seconds. I had been taught growing up to always question people who looked to a higher power. Then Peter crashed my world.
I was volunteering at an impoverished school supported by his parish in Phoenix where many of the children spoke English as a second language, if at all. Being bilingual, I taught them English and helped with homework. The children spoke often of el dulce padre, the sweet father. Never once did they say, sacerdote, priest. Though I should have guessed, considering the type of school it was. That would have better prepared me. Those children were spot on, though. There was no one as sweet as him.
On the other hand, the first time we met, I was not sweet at all. I was emphatically expressing myself while assaulting one of the few paid teachers at the school, using all the swear words I knew in English and Spanish. She had embarrassed one of the teen girls in front of her peers by drawing attention to her mismatched shoes. Like the young woman had any choice in the matter. Poor thing spent the day crying in the bathroom. Once it came to my attention, I couldn’t let it go. I found the teacher alone in her classroom and lectured her. My voice could carry if I needed it to, and carry it did. Peter, or Father Peter, walked in to see what the commotion was all about.
From the moment our eyes locked, he rendered me speechless. His green-as-a-painted-landscape eyes drew me in, making me want to color myself right into the portrait staring back at me. He couldn’t speak either, but I think it was more out of fear. Think Anne of Green Gables letting Gilbert Blythe have it after slighting her.
“Can I be of some help?” Peter had asked.
My first thought was that I doubted a priest could be of much help; my second thought was how I wanted to help myself to the achingly beautiful man. Everything about him was perfect, from his angular cheeks to his golden-brown hair. But the clerical collar around his neck said he was already taken by his god. Peter was still hoping someday I’d become acquainted with his first love, but he had yet to introduce himself to me. Sometimes I worried that Peter would leave me for him, but I tried to push those thoughts out of my mind.
I had answered Peter’s question that day with a profanity-laced tirade about hypocrites before I marched out of the room and straight to the shoe store to buy the humiliated teen girl matching shoes. When Peter found out what I had done for the girl, he came to find me. It was then that my love affair with him began. He never mentioned my vulgarity from the previous day, or the vine tattoo that ran the length of my arm, or even the shiny nose ring that seemed to distract him by how he stared at it. No, it was much worse, he asked my name and thanked me for my kindness. From that moment on, he and I began working together to provide all the children there with new shoes. We must have talked to every shoe manufacturer in the U.S. and every shoe store in the Phoenix area.
I began to crave our time together talking about Shakespeare and world affairs while acquiring one pair of shoes at a time. I was happy to have finally found someone who agreed with me that there was nothing romantic about the story of Romeo and Juliet. At the time, I was against most fictionalized romance stories. I found them cliché and nothing like the hard-hitting pieces I wrote for the different online news outlets I worked for, trying to scrape out a living. I used to ask myself why people cared When Harry Met Sally? They should have been worried that an enormous part of the world’s population didn’t have clean drinking water and that there were children with no shoes.
But then . . . then . . . Peter got to me in a way I never knew existed. He made me question everything Cat and Ron, even my professors, had taught me about people of faith. Peter not only lived what he taught, he embodied it. El dulce padre spread goodness wherever he went. In the months we spent there together, I watched the children at the school follow him around everywhere, and it wasn’t only because of the candy he kept in his pockets. He dried eyes full of tears, helped solve math problems, played football with them in the field of dirt behind the school, sang songs, and pushed swings. Mostly, he gave those children hope that they could change their circumstances and that someone cared for them.
I was in awe of him. I wanted to be like him.
Teachers at the school began to talk, saying we spent too much time together and perhaps I was a bad influence on the good father. They thought his eyes lingered too long, or he stood too close. He began to distance himself from me. And I let him. I may have been a lot of things, but I never wanted to rob Peter of his innocence, or what—or should I say who—he loved the most. That was when Hunter Black came to life.
I stared at the end of my newly finished desk where my old red typewriter sat. I had poured my soul into it trying to purge myself of the priest, the man in black. Cat and Ron bought me the old red relic on my tenth birthday. I’d asked for a computer, but that was too commercial and normal. I was one big social experiment for them, and the gift of the ancient typewriter played right into another chapter of the book they were writing about parenting at the time. They patted themselves on the back when I was twelve and handed them my first manuscript titled, My Life on the Moon. I was always fascinated with the celestial orb. At times I wanted to live on the moon because I felt like I didn’t belong where I was. Just like in my story, I thought for sure I had been misplaced and my real family lived on the moon.
Cat and Ron were decent people. I was always sheltered, fed, and clothed. But they never gave much affection. I once asked Cat if she loved me and she said she had every wish that I would grow up happy and well adjusted. Occasionally I got a side-hug from Ron. They were more worried about how many PhDs they could accumulate than paying attention to me. They believed in free-range parenting, and that it was better for me to learn from my mistakes and experiences than to be given guidance or to be spoiled by any of the wealth they had accumulated. While they took trips around the world, I took trips all over Portland, where I grew up. Cat and Ron generously, or so they thought, provided me with a bus pass and memberships to several museums. When I was older, I started finding myself more at the homeless shelters helping out. The people I served food to there were warmer to me than my own parents.
Was it any wonder Peter captured my heart?
I wanted the love I felt when I was near him. I wanted the love of the family he spoke of so much. To have a real mom and dad. Since then I’ve had to rethink that, well, at least with his mother, Sarah. I’ve been pretty sure Joseph, his father, was fond of me, but was too afraid to show it in front of the b—, I mean, my mother-in-law. I was trying to stop using the words that made my husband do his best not to cringe when they came flying out of my mouth on a semi-regular basis. He’d never once asked me not to, but he always smiled when I substituted something else mid-profanity. I loved his smile.
I’d enjoyed the occasions when only Joseph had come to visit us. Once he held my hand while we watched the mind-numbing sports all the Deckers seemed to love. My relationship with Joseph was another secret I’d had to keep. I was good at keeping them. Just ask the Barbie under my bed I had growing up that was never discovered.
My husband even began as a secret, one-sided love affair, or so I thought. A Black Heart, my first published novel, was pounded out key by key as I tried to get over him. The sound of the typebars hitting the ribbon and paper soothed my heart while it bled out on the paper. Hunter Black embodied every good quality Peter had, except his physical appearance. Not that I expected the book to go anywhere, but how he looked I kept to myself. Instead, I gave him Peter’s best friend Reed’s physical attributes. Peter had spoken of him so often, I looked him up on social media. It was awkward now that he would soon be marrying my sister-in-law, Sam. How was I supposed to know that Sam would get divorced and marry the younger man? Not even she saw that coming. And I never thought I would know any of them. Peter loved to tease me about it now. One of our inside jokes.
Hunter Black’s best friend, Laine, represented me. Hunter and Laine were meant to be together, but the timing never worked out for them, except for once, briefly. Even now, six books later, their timing hadn’t quite gotten there. Family issues and secrets were now keeping them apart. Laine, like me, was a good secret keeper and, like me, she had her reasons. In the end, though, I knew when Hunter discovered all the reasons why Laine kept her secrets, he’d be understanding. It would all work out. After all, Peter was the most understanding of men.
But like I said, I could blame Peter for this secret life I led in our attic. The attic he had finished especially for me in our new home. I had no idea publishing A Black Heart under my pen name, Autumn Moone, would lead to this. I stared back at my screen again and the accolade that shouted back at me. I had only hoped for some extra income, being a starving writer who had frequently given every extra bit of money I had to the children both Peter and I loved. I got more than I ever bargained or hoped for out of the deal. More money than I ever imagined, and now a foundation called Sweet Feet that bought children’s shoes for those in need all over the country. Most importantly, I got my man in black.
Apparently, the distance we had placed between us wasn’t enough. Peter asked to be reassigned to another diocese months earlier, unbeknownst to me. In what we both thought was the last time we would ever see each other, he admitted why he was leaving. He had come to have feelings for me. He apologized for his transgression. I begged him to never be sorry for it and confessed to being in love with him. I’ll never forget the shock in his green eyes, like he never fathomed the possibility. That was before he fled, sprinting down the hall. I thought it was the last time I would ever see him. I went home to my apartment and mourned like I had only one other time. There was no pain that compared to losing someone you loved, no matter the relation.
My first loss, years earlier, would be lasting. Losing Peter, though painful, was short-lived, even though at the time it seemed like forever. From the way he tells it, once he left me for what we both thought was the final time, he talked to God all night, first asking Him for forgiveness for allowing himself to fall in love with me. Yes, he had fallen in love with me too. Then he asked for guidance. He wanted a sign to know whether he had chosen the right path for himself. When he arose in the morning he had not received any answer until he walked by the office in the church. The women who worked there were discussing a shoe sale. One of the women was particularly excited about a red pair for her daughter. He said, for him, it was like divine inspiration. His calling was to be with me, the redhead who was passionate about children having shoes.
According to my husband, he had never received such a clear answer. It was then he sought permission from his superiors to be officially laicized. Meanwhile, I quit volunteering at the school. I couldn’t bear being there knowing he left because of me. Instead, I poured all my energy into finishing my novel and doing my best to forget about him, trying to tell myself it was for the best. Even if Peter hadn’t vowed to live a celibate life, he wouldn’t have wanted a woman like me, who broke almost all the rules he lived his life by.
But amazingly, he did.
Three months later he found me at the college I attended at night working on my master’s degree. I almost dropped my green tea when I saw him walk into the student union building in jeans and a T-shirt. His nervous smiled beamed at me from across the room. I stood frozen, unable to breathe, thinking it couldn’t be him. It wasn’t until he was inches from me that I let myself believe it was truly him and not my imagination.
“What are you doing here?” I stared into his beautiful eyes, amazed.
When his shaky hand reached up and rested briefly on my cheek I knew then something had changed. “I have a story to tell you,” he said.
I took him back to my place, since he had no place of his own, for probably the most awkward first date ever, if you could call it that. I still smiled thinking of how uncomfortable he was and how he sat far away from me on the opposite side of the couch. He kept rubbing his neck where the clerical collar no longer rested as he told me what had transpired during our time apart. I could tell he missed it. Sometimes I wondered if he still did.
“Are you sure about all this?” I had asked.
He gazed at me for the longest time before answering, “You are my choice.”
It was then I decided I should probably tell him about my story, the one I had written about him, which was just starting to take off at the time. I spent most of the first night reading it out loud to him. I loved watching Peter blush during the more intimate moments. I didn’t know men could blush. Finally, right before we said goodbye for the night, he asked if he could kiss my cheek. It was an easy yes. No man had ever asked that or ever wanted so little of me physically. But the little he asked of me made me realize that he wanted so much more.
It took him several attempts before his lips landed on my cheek, but once they made contact, I knew my life would never be the same. Every tender feeling imaginable was felt in that simple kiss on the cheek. His lips only lingered for seconds, but he left a life-changing impression.
We eloped two short months later. Our honeymoon was spent driving to Chicago in my old compact car. We only had enough money between us to cover our living expenses for a few weeks and the first month’s rent and deposit on an apartment. We had tossed aside reason for the dream of being together and being part of a family, like I’d always wanted. The one I thought so long ago waited for me on the moon. It was the best road trip ever, stopping at every point of interest during the day, and at night getting to know each other in every way on our old air mattress that served as our first bed.
I looked around my office now, my secret hiding place Peter had built me. Times had certainly changed for us in the four years since that long drive. We were unsure of what the future held, other than the promise of being together. Four years ago, I couldn’t have imagined this office with the counter desk piled high with my current research running alongside one wall, and the built-in bookshelves lining the opposite one. This space was as big as the first apartment we lived in. A lot nicer too. Peter took such care handcrafting each piece of furniture when he finished the room. He took such great care of me. No one worked harder than him, even though he didn’t have to anymore. Yet five to six days a week he was working for his dad’s landscaping business, coming home tired and dirty. He did it for more than just keeping our secret safe. He did it because he wanted to be a contributor, a provider. That, and I don’t think he enjoyed the profanity-laced rap music that at times blared from my office while I worked. Rap was my preferred inspirational music. On occasion the Beatles or Elton John made it on my playlist. They were Peter’s preference.
I gave the screen one more glance before looking above my computer at the framed posters of each one of my books to hit number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Peter would get an actual copy of The New York Times Book Review, blow it up, and frame it. Until our recent move, they had been hidden under our bed. Now all five were proudly displayed on the wall. Soon, I knew there would be six, if my latest climbed one more spot as my publisher, LH Ink, predicted it would.
For now, I had to protect the life Peter and I had made. I didn’t want the fame or baggage that came with it. But sometimes the secrets that we kept felt heavier than the consequences we might reap if they were ever discovered. The frightening part was never knowing what those consequences might be. Which was a good incentive to stay quiet.