As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I

During the 4Wills Publishing blog tour, I offered an alpha read of Chapter ONE of “As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence”.

Today, as I wrap up the first half of the book, I am releasing the full first chapter as an excerpt, which you can find at the end of this post.

As Life Goes: Elementary is already available to purchase at Amazon and I am expecting to have As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence completed and released inside of the next four weeks.

Sales are finally picking up on book one of the series and the reviews are coming in now finally; I had a huge spike on sales from a marketing effort and no reviews. Then a bunch came in at once and I now have eleven.

as-life-goes FINAL cover large

As Life Goes: Elementary – Links to Excerpts

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt I
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-i/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt II
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-ii/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt III
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-iii-author-jason-zandri/

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – (expected November 2015)

End of the Innocence


As Life Goes: The Reunion – (expected April 2016)
As Life Goes: The Wedding (expected July 2016)
As Life Goes: The Funeral (expected October 2016)

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I

Matthew Sanford pulled his red Chevrolet conversion van along the curb in front of the three-family house where Melissa lived with her mother. He looked at the time on the dash; it read 6:15 a.m. He glanced back over at her sister’s apartment next door when Diane stepped out.

Matthew got out of the van and walked around behind it.

“Good morning, Matthew,” Diane Wakeford said to him while she pulled the door closed and locked the deadbolt with her key. “Are you taking Melissa and the gang to the beach again?”

“Hi Di; yes, we decided to go since none of us had to work today,” Matthew said dragging his fingers through his slightly long brown hair. “Well, Tim had to work, but then he got someone to cover for him.”

“I hope Missy is chipping in for gas,” Diane said stepping out to the sidewalk. “Having a car is expensive with the service, fuel, and the insurance. She works too; she can pitch in.”

Matthew looked into Diane’s striking blue eyes. Every time he did, he could see Melissa and he always graced the feeling with a warm smile. This conversation was no different. “She offers. Almost every time. I always tell her no. I get a few bucks from the guys. I just feel better about it like that.”

Diane smiled at the consideration the young man paid to her little sister, who was no longer as little as when they all first met seven years ago. “You know Matthew,” she said smiling at him and turning a little to keep the sun out of her eyes, “you’ve turned into quite an impressive young man in so many different ways, but least of all how you treat people.” Diane’s tone turned somewhat somber for a moment. “Don’t ever let the travails of life take any of that wind out of your sails.”

Matthew just looked at her for a moment. He wasn’t sure how to take the comment. “Is everything okay, Diane?”

“Oh sorry,” she said recovering her normal, happy tone, “I didn’t mean to be a wet blanket on your beach day. Just some things on my mind. So who are you picking up today?”

Matthew didn’t dismiss Diane’s demeanor but he let it go for the time being. “After I get your sister here, I’m going to swing around to get Tim and his girlfriend Patti. Then I am going to get Mike and Lesley,” he said dragging his foot a bit on the sidewalk. “I think Missy said Alecia and Carrie wanted to go, so I’ll get them too. It’s why I start so early. By the time we fetch everyone and get out of town it’s after eight.”

“And you go all the way to Misquamicut?” Diane asked.

“Yep,” Matthew said. “It’s a nicer beach. It’s a fun ride in the van. We listen to the music and then we spend the day there.”

“Are you still stopping on the way home in Old Saybrook for Pizza?” Diane asked taking a slight step backwards and glancing down at her watch.

“It’s the ritual,” Matthew replied with a grin. “I figure we have a couple more weeks or so of opportunity then it’s back to Sheehan for senior year. We might not get the chance next summer depending on who’s going where and doing what for college, work, and other things.”

The popping sound of the neighboring door pulled Matthew’s attention and he turned to see Melissa coming out in her yellow two-piece, covered only by a flimsy pullover. She smiled to the two of them and came down the stairs. “I was waiting for you to come inside and get me,” she said smiling with the early morning summer breeze blowing her long black hair behind her. “But I see I am no competition for the engaging conversation of the illustrious Miss Wakeford,” Melissa said playfully as she bounded over to Matthew’s side.

“Well good morning, Miss Bancroft,” Diane responded spiritedly. “I see you’re wearing the minimum amount of bathing suit as required by law.”

“Oh geez,” Melissa said tugging on her pullover and adjusting her top, “you sound like Mom now.”

“The only reason you get away with that outfit with Mom is because she knows you’re going with Tim and Matthew,” Diane said in a motherly tone. “Otherwise she’d never let you out of the back yard with it on.”

“Really?” Melissa said turning her comments away from the original playful tone. She looked herself over. “Matthew,” she said, “is this suit ‘too much’”?

“I think it’s fine,” he said looking her up and down once. “You could almost pass for a girl,” he said lightly teasing and quickly backing up.

“You jerk,” she responded back, playfully taking a swing at him. “Paul likes it.”

“Ah, the new guy,” Matthew said coolly. “What happened with Chris?”

“Well,” Melissa said switching her beach bag between her hands and stepping towards the van, “come to find out we wanted different things,” she said.

“Such as?” Matthew said moving over to open the passenger slider for her to get into the van.

“I wanted him to be… I don’t know, decent, I guess,” she said climbing in the van.

“And what did he want?” Matthew said closing the door part of the way.

“Dumb whore, Jenny.”

Matthew whistled lightly and closed the door. “Guess I won’t ask what that’s all about,” Matthew said looking at Diane.

“Good idea,” Diane said. Matthew came around to the back of the van to cross over to the driver’s side. “Matthew?” Diane said before he stepped all the way around.

Matthew turned back and looked at her. Diane hesitated for a moment with her mouth open. “Have fun today,” she said with hesitation in her voice.

Matthew stared for a moment and looked at her. “Okay,” he said with a small smile. “Was there something else?” he asked taking a small step forward towards her.

Again, Diane hesitated. “No,” she quietly responded. “Just have fun. And be careful.”

“Yes, Mom,” Matthew said jokingly.

Diane curled her hand up into a fist, shook it, and puckered her face tight. Matthew laughed aloud. “Did you want a ride to the store?” he said wiping his eyes, which teared up from laughing.

“No thank you,” she said politely, “I like the short walk and it’s nice out.”

Matthew waved and turned to get into the van.

***

Diane was at the main counter at Colony Convenience when Elizabeth Wellsworth walked through the door. “Fifteen on pump four, please,” she said handing a twenty to Diane.

Diane turned the pump on and made the change for her. “You’re Elizabeth, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Liz replied with a slight smile. “You’re Missy’s sister right? Diane?”

“I am,” Diane said glancing out the window and over to her car. She noticed the girls in the car and all the beach attire. “I guess everyone is going to the beach today except me.”

“Really?” Liz said looking around the store. “Is Matthew going?”

“Oh,” Diane said surprised. “I assumed you were tagging along with them. Once in a while there’s a second car full when his van is loaded.”

“He’s going to be at Rocky Neck today?” Liz asked inquisitively.

Diane paused for a moment. She realized that Liz wasn’t going with them and then remembered that Liz and Melissa didn’t get along very well with one another. “Um… I’m not sure where they are going.”

Liz looked out the window of the store as Matthew’s van pulled into the lot. “I guess I can ask him now,” she said with a smile and turned to walk out of the store. She quickly shook out her long red hair.

Mark exited the back room and looked out the window to see his son’s van come to park in the open space. “I see everyone is going to the beach except us,” he said to Diane.

She laughed. “I just said that to Elizabeth,” she said pointing to her outside.

Mark nodded and scratched an itch on the side of his head. Diane looked at his graying hair and then reached up touched her own shoulder length black hair. She was staring at him.

“Do I have something in my hair?” Mark asked playing with it some more.

“Oh, no,” Diane said surprised, realizing she was staring at him. “Sorry.”

Mark walked around the counter to see his reflection in the small two-way mirror on the wall. He sighed. “Just like my Dad,” he said sounding somewhat resigned.

“How so?” Diane asked.

“Well,” Mark said turning around to look at her. “My Dad started getting gray hair in his forties as well. I’ll be forty three soon; I was hoping it would take a little longer.”

Diane turned her right eyebrow up and grinned. “I think it makes you look even sexier than you already are.”

Mark smiled at her. “Easy for you to say; your hair is jet black as the day I met you.”

“And if it wasn’t?” she asked.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Mark said turning to walk away into the larger area of the store, “I’d still want you more than I did yesterday, but less than I will tomorrow.”

Diane smiled at the comment as a warm feeling rushed over her entire body.

***

Matthew hopped out of the driver’s door and Tim pulled the slider open to grab the cooler. Michael Anderson popped his head out of the back seat area. “You guys need any help?”

“Nah,” Tim said, “you can stay with the girls.” He grinned and looked back. Michael shook his fist playfully. “I’ll keep them all warm.” Lesley Patterson, his girlfriend, lightly shoved him at the remark.

Tim smiled and looked over at his girlfriend Patti and then he turned to Matthew who came around the van.

“Hi Liz,” Matthew said to her as she approached the van.

Tim looked into the van to see Melissa scowl while she looked past Carrie and Alecia.

“So I see you’re all headed to the beach as well,” she said with a smile, overtly adjusting her top. Matthew followed her hands with his eyes.

Carrie gave Melissa a slight shove and pointed. Melissa turned back, looked at her, and whispered in a harsh tone. “What?”

Tim stuck his head back into the van slightly to listen inconspicuously.

“She’s going to bait him,” Carrie said quietly. “She’ll find out where we’re going; do you really want her there?”

“Not really my business,” Melissa said quietly. Alecia leaned in. “I have a new boyfriend now and…”

“And nothing,” Alecia said. “Paul was conveniently around and asked you to the movies when Chris pulled that bullshit stunt. I’ve never understood why you and Matthew never got together.”

“I know why,” Carrie said confidently in a hushed tone. Patti listened in as well. “It’s like Alecia said, you never really give him the chance. You end one boyfriend and end up with another one asking you to a movie or skating or something.”

“So it’s my fault that I like to go out and do things with boys?” Melissa asked defensively.

“It’s not that. You just never give him the chance.” Patti interjected.

“We’ve been friends for years,” Melissa responded, looking over fondly at him. “I never considered it much and always figured if he liked me more than friends he’d say something.” Her tone changed just slightly. “He never has.”

“That’s what we’re saying,” Carrie replied. “You’re never really giving him the chance. You are good friends; he knows that too. He doesn’t want to ruin that so when a chance opens, he treads lightly, but before he takes a chance you’re out to pizza with the next boy.”

Melissa didn’t respond immediately. She continued for focus on Matthew and Liz. She watched him look at her and then looked up and down her figure herself. “If I stepped out of the van now he wouldn’t even see me.”

Alecia looked over at Matthew. “You have a boyfriend now; he knows that. He’s not going to challenge.”

“Liz has a boyfriend too. More than one for that matter,” Melissa glared. “Not stopping him from looking at her like that.” Self-consciously, she pulled at her bathing suit top. “Maybe if I looked that… healthy…”

“Pay better attention, girl,” Patti said with a snap in her voice, undoing her sandy blond hair and pulling it back into a ponytail. “He looks at Liz like that when he sees her; when she’s front and present. Take a better look at him at other times. That look in his eyes; it’s always there for you, whenever someone mentions your name, even when you’re nowhere around.”

Tim took a couple of steps back. Liz reached up and hugged Matthew quickly.

“I’m sure we’ll run into you,” she said, letting go and turning to look into the van through the windshield. She smiled directly at Melissa and turned to walk away.

Tim looked over, saw Mark exit the store from the main door, and walked over towards the boys. “Live it up,” he called out warmly, “summer is almost over and then it’s back to the grind.”

“Hi Dad,” Matthew said turning to walk up. He glanced over to watch Liz head back to her car. “Can we pay for some ice to keep the sodas cold?” he asked while Tim followed.

“No,” he said simply. Tim and Matthew stopped dead in their tracks and turned to look at one another. “When have I ever charged you for the ice?”

“Man,” Tim said, “I never get used to your dry humor, sir.”

Mark smiled at him. “I like that you boys always ask to pay. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Is my Dad here yet?” Tim asked while they all continued over to the ice machine.

“Not yet,” he said. “He’s been working a lot; we’ve had a full schedule for weeks now but his back was bothering him. I told him to rest up a little this morning and that I would tackle the first couple of cars in myself.”

Tim nodded, “Thank you for that, Mr. Sanford; I know he appreciates it.” Tim looked over at the cars in the side lot. “I see you’re selling some used cars now,” he said, setting the cooler down.

“Yes,” Mark replied diverging slowly away from the boys and heading to the garage bay. “We finally got that dealer license we needed and I picked those up at auction last weekend. Your father has a keen eye; saved me from some potential lemons.”

“Didn’t you sell some cars before, Dad?” Matthew asked, shoveling ice into the cooler.

“We have been for a couple of years now but it’s been under the maximum since we didn’t have the license to do more. Diane got everything together for me at the state, forms and such, which allows us to sell more of them legally.”

Another car pulled into the pump area at the north side of the store. Matthew looked over to Liz who finished pumping her fuel. He then looked back at the fuel pumps on the north side of the property and closed the lid to the cooler. “How are the new pumps on that side working out?” he asked flipping his thumb backwards over his shoulder.

“Good,” Mark said stopping at the door to the garage. “People heading up and down Ward Street favor them and it keeps some of the congestion down at the front of the store.” Mark looked over quickly at the girls stepping out of the van to stretch their legs. “Not for anything guys,” he said with a smile, “I’m amazed that the girls’ fathers let you three boys take off with their daughters in a van to the beach.”

“Dad!” Matthew said while Tim chuckled.

“Kidding!” Mark said. “But you do have five of them in there; safety in numbers I suppose,” he said lightly.

“We’re eighteen,” Matthew said pointing at himself and then Tim. “Heck, Tim will be nineteen soon.”

“And aren’t the girls seventeen?” Mark asked.

“Well… yeah. They all will be eighteen over the next few months,” Matthew defended.

Mark waved both of his hands lightly. “I’m joshing with you guys; you’re good boys…” Mark paused for a moment. “Well, I guess, “men” now really. You’re good men; you do the right things and you treat people well. You work hard. I shouldn’t make light of that.” Mark smiled some more. “Have a good day at the beach today.”

Matthew and Tim nodded and picked the full cooler up together. Mark headed inside as the two of them head over to the van slowly.

“So I guess Liz is headed to the beach as well?” Tim asked cautiously.

“Yeah,” Matthew said. “Donna and Marie were in her car. They were going to Rocky Neck.”

“Were?” Tim asked.

“Well, when I told them we were heading to Misquamicut, Liz said she’d head there as well,” Matthew responded innocently.

Tim slowed his pace, tugging backwards on the ice chest.

“What?” Matthew asked.

“That’s going to go over like rocks in a boat with Melissa.” Tim said, setting the chest down.

Matthew looked over at the van. Melissa was looking at him past Carrie and Alecia who had stepped outside. “Look, we’ve all known each other since we were little; you guys more than me. Melissa has a boyfriend anyway. And Liz… well… Liz is Liz. She’s not going out with a guy like me when she has the pick of the litter. Heck, she never sticks to one anyway; she has more than one. I’m not interested in being one of many.”

“Even if it means being with Liz?” Tim asked.

“Well…” Matthew said with a pause, tugging slightly forward with the cooler full of ice and soda cans. “I wouldn’t say “no”; you’re right about that. If I could get her out on a date, I might ask. I will tell you there’s no way I am competing over a girl. I feel like I am a nice person and fun to be around. They should be able to see that; I see those same good qualities in them.”

Tim just nodded at his friend.

“Donna is nice,” Matthew continued. “I thought it might be nice, with a bigger gang at the beach, that it might give me a chance to talk to Donna… you know, maybe sit with her a while and such.”

Tim nodded again as they reached the van and dropped the cooler inside the side slider door.

“We all set?” Michael asked.

“Yep,” Matthew said looking about the vehicle. “Anyone need to use the bathroom in the store before we get going?”

Michael groaned. Upon Matthew’s comment, all the girls hopped out of the van.

***

The girls made their way back out of the bathroom in the store and Melissa hung back near the counter. Carrie looked at her. “I’ll be right out,” she said waving at her lightly and heading over to her sister.

Mark instinctively walked into the office, assuming that she wanted a quick, private conversation with Diane.

Melissa tugged at her pull over a little and looked at Diane who stood with a slightly smug look on her face.

“What?” Melissa asked sounding slightly annoyed.

“I find it somewhat ironic how many times I stand at this counter to find you coming to me for advice.” Diane said in a soft tone.

“Why is it ironic?” Melissa asked.

“Because it’s always about boys and you’ve dated more than I ever did.”

“Well maybe… yes,” Melissa said, quickly looking out at Matthew and flashing the “one minute” signal to him. “The numeric value hasn’t granted me any additional wisdom. Besides, it’s not as if I can ask Mom. She certainly can’t help.”

Diane’s look toned down a little at her younger sister’s comment regarding their mother. She then glanced out the window at Matthew. She then turned back to Melissa. “I have to scratch that,” she said definitively. “While you tend to ask some advice about boys, it’s not so much about them in general. It always seems to be about Matthew.”

Melissa looked over at him and bit her lip a little. Her expression turned very soft and timid. “He’s so nice to me; he always has been. I don’t even function well around him. He’s so calm and cool around everyone. I don’t know what to say to him half the time anymore. I want to say everything and I never can. I am so worried I am going to ruin everything if I pursue anything that I never do. I never let him. I make sure I stay away from him when I’m not with another boy…”

“But why Missy?” Diane asked. “If he makes your heart so light that it floats away on its own… don’t you want to try to capture that?”

“I do,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes. “Almost since the day I met him in fifth grade, you know, once I really started to like boys and all.” She turned and looked out the window to see him again. When he turned to look back in she quickly looked away and back at Diane. “What if I did and things didn’t work out? What if the friendship was ruined going forward from the end of that?”

“Loving anyone that much is a huge risk,” Diane said plainly.

“I don’t know if I would live. I would die if I couldn’t have him in my life at all.” Melissa said wiping a stray tear away.

“You won’t die from heartbreak,” Diane said trying to sound reassuring. “But it will likely hurt.”

“The way I feel when he’s around… I’d rather have that at a distance than to have it end somehow.”

Diane sighed. “You’re a smart girl Missy. I guess technically after your birthday I’ll have to call you a woman. Regardless, you know there is no right thing to do. You’re not leading him on so there’s nothing to fix or correct. You simply need to ask yourself “what do you want” and then make a choice. I wish I could offer you more advice than that.”

Melissa walked a little closer to the door so that none of the boys would come in looking for her. A car pulled in so she rushed out her thoughts. “Is that what you did? With Mark?”

“Yes,” she said softly, looking back at the hallway leading down to the office. “The jury is still partly out on that I suppose. He’s only come along so far.”

“But you risked more than just the friendship that started with him; you risked your job as well.”

“Yes,” Diane said smiling slightly.

“And if it all blew up? Would you change what you did and how you did it?” Melissa asked, putting her hand on the door.

“No,” Diane answered confidently. “I might have risked and lost it all but now at thirty years old I don’t have to sit here and ask myself “what if?” I am here now and I know that answer.”

Melissa nodded and started to go out the door.

“Hey,” Diane called back to her. Melissa stopped short. “Matthew is special. It’s a safer risk.”

“How so?” Melissa asked.

“Regardless of how it might go, unless one of you was completely horrible to the other, like a full break in trust or something, you will always be in each other’s life.”

“How are you so sure?” Melissa asked.

“Because of all the things that have happened over the years, with all of us,” Diane said waving her finger around in a circle. “Because of the kind of boy he’s been and the man he’s become. Because of how you are and how you feel… even if the two of you somehow don’t stay in love with one another, assuming it goes there; you will always love each other.”

Melissa wiped another loose tear away, nodded, and headed out the door to rejoin her friends.

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