Sweet Dreams will be released on June 23rd as an e-book.
This is the first chapter:
Rain pounded on the roof of the stretch limousine. Thin streams of water slid down the closed window. The rain reminded him of his unending tears. He’d never cried so much in his life. Tired of staring out into the gloomy day, Sterling focused on his two brothers. His bottom lip quivered as salty wetness spilled down his cheek. He swiped the moisture away. Toughen up, that’s what he needed to do. He needed to be strong. Burying Dad had been awful and now he had to hold himself together before they had the meal at his home for the funeral guests.
The car swerved. His brother, Leon’s neck-length dreadlocks bounced as he jerked forward. “Watch it!” Leon’s voice boomed at the limo driver.
“Sorry about that.” The driver peeked at the threesome in the rearview mirror. “High winds out there, just hit a rough patch.”
He couldn’t take his brother anywhere without acting a fool. “Don’t pay my brother any attention.”
Leon pulled a small flask from his backpack, poured amber liquid into one of the glasses provided in the back of the limo.
Louis, Leon’s twin, wiped his wet eyes, his mouth mashed down. “Man, don’t get wasted.”
Leon gritted his teeth, clutched his booze. “Don’t tell me what to do.” He gulped the liquid during the hour-long drive from the gravesite. It was mighty tempting to grab that flask and toss it out the window. No, he couldn’t do that. His brother would act even worse if confronted. Ignoring his brother, he focused on the raging Florida storm. The leaves from the palm trees lifted in the wet summer breeze as they passed stretches of deserted beaches.
The threesome remained silent during the rest of the journey. When skyscrapers, hotels and city streets zoomed by, signaling their arrival into Miami, Sterling sat up straighter in his seat. He squeezed his hands into fists, his eyes watering. Again, he blinked his tears away. He focused on Leon. The empty flask tumbled from his fingers, his eyes partially closed. Drool dripped from his mouth. How disgusting.
He grabbed tissues from the box on the floor, shoved them into Leon’s hand. “Wipe your mouth.”
Leon pressed the tissue over his full lips, his hooded eyes appeared glassy and unfocused. Leon dropped the tissues on the floor, his thin body swaying. They’d be home soon. He’d barely have enough time to get everything ready for the guests. He didn’t know what he’d do about his crazy brother.
He closed his eyes, leaned back on the leather seat. Fatigue settled into his bones like hot glue. He’d been awake all night, baking sweet treats in the bakery he ran with his father. He wanted to serve the baked goods during the after-funeral meal as a final memory to his dad.
He closed his eyes. Maybe if he could just rest for a few minutes, he’d find the energy to make it through this day. The limo stopped. Sterling opened his eyes, smiled. Home, finally. He was just one step closer to getting through this awful day. He said a few words to the limo driver before he rushed to his front door. Fat drops of cool rain slithered down his face. He glanced back, spotted Leon shuffling behind him. Louis’s deep angry voice sliced through the humid air while he fussed at his twin.
Sterling unlocked the door, but before he could open it, Leon kicked it, crashing it open. The door swung into the wall, the loud racket filled the otherwise silent house. Leon shoved Sterling aside, stumbled into the house, water dripping from his hair. Sterling grabbed Leon’s shoulder, pushing him into a chair. “Man, would you sober up?” Leon’s hooded eyes remained glassy.
Sterling sighed, rushed into the kitchen to get the boxes of desserts he’d baked. He kept his eye on Leon. His brother continued sulking in the chair like a wounded cow. Gritting his teeth, he placed the cookies on the tray as thoughts of his father filled his tired brain. He recalled how often he and his dad had made these vanilla cookies in their bakery. He hurried with his task, wanting to finish before the guests arrived.
Louis approached the table, clamped his hand on Sterling’s shoulder. “You need some help?”
“No, I’ve got this.” This was his tribute to his dad. He needed to be the one to arrange the treats on the serving table. He’d always been closest to their father.
“Why did Daddy do that?” Leon’s slurred, drunken voice grated on his nerves. Sterling winced, dropped one of the vanilla cookies. It landed on the floor in a sugary heap. Why did Leon have to refer to Dad’s unfavorable terms on his life insurance policy now? He’d been complaining about it while they drove to the burial site. He figured his brother would at least wait until another day to bring this up again.
He lifted the ruined cookie, tossed it into the trash. He closed his eyes. Jesus, help me to mend the rift between me and my brother.
He finally pushed the box of cookies aside, rushing to Leon, grabbing his arm. “Man, would you calm down?”
Louis followed behind him obviously wanting to help. “You know how stupid he acts when he’s wasted.”
Leon jerked his arm away, narrowed his eyes. He pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket. His partially unknotted tie hung loosely around his neck and brown spots of booze tainted his shirt. Leon stood and stormed to the table, grabbing a cookie and throwing it on the floor. He crushed the confection with his foot. Sterling grabbed Leon’s shoulder, turning him around. “Stop it! Now!”
Leon jerked away, pushing a cigarette into his mouth. He flicked his lighter, attempting to light his cigarette.
“Ugh!” Sterling grabbed Leon’s arm. “Cut it out! You know you can’t smoke in my house!” He hated the acrid scent of cigarette smoke.
Leon jerked away, still trying to light his cigarette. Would this day ever end? Sterling grabbed Leon again. Louis attempted to take the lighter away and Leon dropped it, the flame catching onto the carpet.
Louis stomped the flame, creating a black smear. He grabbed Leon’s other arm and they pushed Leon against the wall. Louis spoke through clenched teeth. “You idiot!”
Leon glared at his brothers. When they finally released him, he calmly picked up his lighter and lit another cigarette. He then cursed, his mouth set in a hard, tense line. “You guys can’t tell me what to do. I’m smoking.” Leon puffed on his cigarette, as if daring his brothers to stop him.
Sterling eyed the cookies he’d been setting out before dropping onto the couch, weary, tired, suffering from enough drama over the past week to last a lifetime. Louis plopped down beside him, running his hand over his forehead. “My head’s killing me. You got any aspirin?”
Sterling made a trip to the bathroom and got the bottle of pills for this brother. He then refocused on the cookies and cakes. He wiped his moist eyes as visions of his dad danced through his head like a non-stop movie. Leon shuffled around the living room, smoking his cigarette, mumbling as if in a trance.
He eyed the desserts he’d prepared in loving memory of their father: Bright red velvet cake smothered in white cream cheese frosting, vanilla sugar cookies, lemon pound cake and a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with nuts. The delicious sugary scents of the sweets were now tainted with the nicotine smell from Leon’s cigarette.
He sniffed, turned away, wiped his eyes with a tissue. Louis glared at his twin. “I hope Leon doesn’t act a fool when everybody gets here.”
Sterling rubbed his tired eyes, downing two of the aspirins with a cup of water. “You tried to stop him from drinking. He never listens to us.” Although Louis and Leon were identical twins, their personalities were as different as night and day. Louis was always apologizing for Leon, as if he felt responsible for Leon’s crude behavior.
Leon’s voice boomed from across the room while he dropped into a chair. “Why would he do this?” He glared, his cigarette dangled from his mouth. “Why?”
Sterling forced himself to stare into his brother’s eyes. “I told you, I don’t know! You’d better get yourself sobered up before the people come here to eat.” The thought of his drunken brother acting foolish around his father’s friends was almost enough to make him puke.
Leon took another drag from his cigarette. “You make me sick. Dad always favored you and treated me and Louis like crap!”
“Would you stop?” Sterling turned away, ignoring the ugly truth that tumbled from his brother’s mouth. He’d always been so close to his dad. He recalled that a lot of his school mates didn’t get along with their fathers.
That wasn’t the case with Sterling. He supposed that their shared love of baking had helped them to create a bond as thick as a corded rope. He took deep breaths, the ugly truth from his brother’s mouth haunting his mind. The twins had always been on the fringes of the close relationship he’d shared with their father – almost as if they were on the outside, looking in.
“Why would Dad make you the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy? Why?” Leon’s deep angry voice cracked throughout the living room like thunder.
Sterling shot out of the chair, stormed toward his brother. The good Lord knew he wanted to make everything better. But, he couldn’t do that until Leon stopped drinking. “I don’t know.” He took a deep breath. Jesus, help me. “I don’t know why Dad did this. We can talk about it later.”
Louis approached his twin. “Come on, Leon. I’ll drive you home so that you can go to sleep.”
Leon shook his head. “No, don’t want to.”
Sterling checked his watch. The guests would be arriving soon and he didn’t want Leon around. Leon glared at them. It looked like he needed to repeat Louis’s suggestion. “Let Louis drive you home. This is hard on all of us and we need to deal with it.”
Leon cursed again, dousing his cigarette in the paper cup he’d used as an ashtray. “Easy for you to say.” He stood, and jammed his index finger into Sterling’s chest, speaking in a low voice. “Dad made you the sole beneficiary. Is he trying to tell me and Louis that we’re not good enough, that we’re not really his sons?”
Sterling squeezed his eyes shut. “Leon, I don’t know.” He glanced at the wall, sniffed, his eyes again becoming wet. “You and Louis– ”
The fist that slammed into his jaw took him by surprise. White hot pain seared his face as he stumbled against the wall, knocking a picture onto the floor. “Ugh.” He held his jaw as Leon attempted another blow. He pushed his brother away, resisting the urge to pummel Leon’s face.
Louis grabbed his twin. “Cut it out!”
Tears streamed from Leon’s eyes as he glared at Sterling, balling his hands into fists, as if resisting the urge for another blow. “I. Can’t. Stand. You.”
Sterling swallowed, stunned. This was the first time he’d seen his brother so tormented and out of control. “Calm down.”
When Leon stormed toward Sterling, his fisted hand swerved toward Sterling’s face. Sterling blocked the clumsy punch. “Ugh!” Lord, I want to knock the daylights out of my brother. But, I’m so angry now, if I start hitting him, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.