When Backstory Comes Forward

“WESTMONT HIGH SCHOOL” The words engraved in plaster above the door drew Lily’s eye as she walked up the front steps.

Her heartbeat sounded loud as bass drums in her ears. The voices of the other students were a slow motion wave of sound both garbled and hostile. Their bodies a blur as they rushed past. Their glances foreign and invasive.

This dream scene from Cry Baby Cry actually started out as a backstory I wrote at the beginning as I was getting to know Lily better. Go read the original post HERE if you want to see what it started out as.

A hand grabbed her, some boy’s arm encased in a red and yellow letter jacket. “Hey. Who are you? You don’t belong here.”

Lily squeaked, ducked, slammed into another body. Smaller hands gripped her arms, gentler hands.

“Whoa there.”

The girl’s eyes warmed her like blue flames. The hallway had emptied out.

“Slow down, new girl,” Jean said, and smiled.

Chaos swirled to a halt and Lily could breathe again.

“Jean,” Lily said. “Jean.”

Relief swept over her.

“No, silly, it’s Bella. Remember?”

They were standing by the side of a swimming pool. Bella’s breasts pushed against the Hawaiian print blossoms of her bikini top. The cleft between them, shadowed like a chasm between snowy mountains, drew her fingers toward them.

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The Sins of the Daughter

Lou ran a hand through his hair, causing the short strands to stand up even further. He had failed his Lord. That is what bothered him, more even than the threat of being reported to the police.

I was having a hard time writing one of Lily’s scenes and realized it was because I needed to know more about her father, so I decided to write a scene from his perspective.

Their cause was righteous, therefore God would protect them. The Lord had laid this mission upon his heart, to save these misled sinners and set them on the true path. But how could he be forgiven the sin of his failure to save his own daughter from the mouth of hell?

He dropped to his knees beside the couch, head bowed, clasped hands pressed tightly to his forehead. “Please, Jesus. Grant me the wisdom and courage and strength to do what must be done to save my grandchild. Forgive me for my failure with Lily. Thank you for bringing Martin to my aid. Without his support and guidance, I would be lost. A lamb caught in the brambles, Lord. But thou art my shepherd, I shall not …”

Since Lou Beckett is not one of my point of view characters, this will not appear in the book in this form, though the information contained within it will come out in one way or another.

The prayers continued long into the night, until Martin returned and found him there. Startled, Lou looked up when he approached.

“Is it done?” Lou asked.

“She has agreed to our terms.” Martin dropped down onto the couch and placed a reassuring hand over Lou’s clasped fingers. “She will come with us when we talk to the Bernabi’s.”

Lou, still on his knees, could smell on Martin traces of blood and sweat and semen, their weapons against the wages of sin. His joy nearly overwhelmed him. God always provided, as Martin had preached last Sunday.

He leaned forward eagerly, then hesitated. “How can we be sure she will say what we tell her to? What if it is a trick to try to escape again?”

“Zara Rose is important to her. She would not risk her life again. But—” Martin rose, began unbuttoning his shirt as he walked across the room. “If she tries to double-cross us, to tell them anything she shouldn’t, we shall be very disappointed, won’t we, Lou?”

He stopped and turned, his shirt unbuttoned, his belt pulled from its loops. He continued slowly. “We … shall be … so very … very sorry that her soul has been lost beyond redemption. And we will tell Gemma and Carl that the liar we brought to them is a warning, an example of what could happen to their own daughter if they do not permit me—us—to show her the error of her ways.”

Martin’s somber face, the intonation of his voice, the tall, erect posture, reminded Lou so much of his father. A man who had ruled his family with an iron fist and the holy cross of Christ. A man who would not have failed.

Lou stood up, his resolve strengthened, his faith restored. They would not fail, either, praise the Lord. If he could not save his daughter, he would, by God, see that the girl’s sickness was not passed down to her offspring. Lily would not spread the seeds of sin like her mother had.

“Now.” Martin turned away again. “Let me shower and wash that bitch’s smell off me and then we will sit down and talk about our next move.”

Maddy’s Place

There was a knock at the door, two taps, that was all, and the door opened.

Maddy’s Place is a fictional shelter, but there are real shelters serving as havens for single homeless parents. These minor characters are also fictional, but they reflect real kids I knew when volunteering at the Open Door in Chicago.

“Not allowed to have the door closed during the daytime.” A girl around Lily’s age with skin shining like brown satin stepped one foot into the room and looked around. “Don’t make no sense. Might’s well play with yourself during the day as at night. But them’s the rules irregardless. Come on, then. Supper time soon. How about bring the little one down to meet the crew? She look like she needs something to do anyways.”

Then the stranger turned and walked off down the hall, leaving Lily’s door wide open.

Sure enough, Rosie was awake, looking around the small crib like she, too, wondered where she was and what was going to happen from here.

When Lily and Rose went downstairs, however, the only thing that happened is she interrupted an argument over what TV show they should be watching.

“Lay off, you two,” said the girl who’d opened Lily’s door. “Let the new girl decide. You wanna watch?” She scooted over on the couch to make room for Lily. A toddler, about one maybe, scooted with her, watching Lily with wide, white eyes, two fingers plugged tight in his mouth.

“What’s your name?” The girl asked when Lily sat. “I’m Sugar and this here little ragamuffin—” She teased the little boy at her side by tickling his ribs until he pushed her away, giggling. “This is Ty-baby. My little Tyrone. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He be two years old soon, won’t you Ty Ty? Huh?”

The toddler nodded then hid his face against his mother’s boobs. He turned enough to peek one shy eye at Lily, then buried himself deeper.

“I’m Lily.” She glanced down at the squirming bundle of baby in her arms. “This here’s Rosie.”

I deliberately picked Heather as a name because most people would suspect that to be an unusual one for a homeless woman, but throwaway teens come in all colors and from a variety of backgrounds.

“Lord, she cute. Hey, Heather, this one’s even littler than Popo. Come see. How old she?”

“Her name’s Pauline, Sugar,” a girl sitting on the floor said just as Lily answered with “She was born Friday.”

“I told you don’t call her Popo,” Heather finished, then added as she got up to coo over Rosie. “Three days? This little one is only three days old? Man, I don’t think Po— Pauline was ever this small.”

“Pauline ain’t no kind of name for a baby,” Sugar said. “Who names their baby Pauline?”

“It’s my grandma’s name, I told you. Now leave off.” Heather gently touched Rosie’s soft hair and then let the baby grab the tip of her finger. “Pauline’s five months. Been eating rice cereal for a week now, greedy little thing.” She smiled when she said it, though.

Lily looked for Pauline, but the only other people in the room were a young girl in an arm chair staring at Judge Judy on the television, and a three-year-old playing with blocks in a corner.

“She’s with her Daddy right now,” Heather said when she saw Lily looking. “They’re supposed to be back by now, though.” She glanced at the clock above the doorway and straightened up, clasping her hands.

“It’s only five after, girl, stop worrying so much.” Sugar turned to Lily. “Her ex is one jumped-up bastard, you ask me. Hit her so hard she lost a tooth. That’s why she here. He got supervised visits, though, once a week with the little one.”

She turned her attention to Tyrone, who had wiggled down from the couch to walk stiff legged over to the toys in the corner. The little girl playing there swatted at him and said, “No.”

“She yours, too?” Lily pointed to the three-year-old, who was trying to keep Tyrone from knocking down her block tower.

“No, that one’s Jessie’s. Jessie, mind your little one, ’fore she— Oh no, you don’t, you little cannibal.” She jumped up to grab Tyrone just as the little girl tried to sink her teeth into his arm.

She slapped the girl, who started bawling, which brought Jessie, finally, into the conversation. An argument broke out between the two mothers.

“That’s Jessie’s little girl?” Lily whispered to Heather, who was pacing now and still watching the clock. Jessie didn’t look old enough to have a three-year-old.

“Yep,” Heather said, then leaned down to hiss in Lily’s ear. “She had Eva when she was only fourteen. She was raped, I heard, or molested. Something like that.”

The woman who had let Lily and Jo into the house stepped into the open doorway and looked over at the screaming match while she wiped her hands with a towel.

“If you think you can stop arguing long enough to eat,” she said, “supper’s ready. And, Heather, the social worker called. The Kennedy’s backed up by an accident. They should be here in a half hour, though. Nothing to worry about, okay? Come on now, y’all. Food’s getting cold.”

Heather followed the woman out into the hallway, trailed by Sugar and a protesting Tyrone. Jessie grabbed her daughter by the hand and practically dragged her across the room toward the door, muttering. As she passed, she gave Lily a dirty look, like the argument had all been her fault or something. Her words didn’t have anything to do with the fight, however.

“Whole place can go to hell. Go to hell like all you all’s. Only one bathroom upstairs for five girls and their babies. What’s up with that, huh?” She said bathroom like the “th” was an f.

Then she stopped in the doorway and looked back at Lily, her voice clearer, her dark pimpled face creased with hatred. “Don’t you think you’re safe now, hear? Ain’t nowhere safe in this fucked up world.”

And then she left Lily alone, alone and shaking as if the words had been uttered as a prophesy from God himself.

Baby Rosie

Lily gasped in the thick airless room, her face slick with sweat, tendrils of hair sticking to her cheeks. Her clothes, the same ones she’d worn for two days and nights, were damp and rank with BO.

Remembering how scared I was of doing the wrong thing when my first baby was born, I tried to imagine how much worse it would feel if I were homeless and in hiding.

“Shh, Rosie, shh.” She crawled over to the baby box and patted the writhing, wailing human inside. “Quiet, please. Quiet.”

The baby’s mewling threaded through Lily, pulled on a nerve in her gut somewhere that made her feel panicked and strange. The crying also made her nipples leak and tingle.

Lily picked Rosie up and rocked back and forth, jogging the weeping, wet, tight-fisted infant. Shut up, shut up, shut up, she wanted to shout. If anyone heard them, if Riley King got fed up with them, where would they go? What would happen to them on the streets alone, even with Franco doing his best? How could she take care of a baby anywhere?

She understood, sometimes, after endless hours in this small, windowless room—no fresh air, no furniture, nothing to do except sleep and cry and sleep—how someone could leave their babies on doorsteps. Wasn’t there a law about it now? Places you could leave your baby in a box without them arresting you, without thinking of yourself as a monster.

Except she was a monster, wasn’t she? A monstrosity anyway. Someone sinful and tainted. Twisted. Someone who couldn’t imagine why any woman would want a hairy, grunting man fucking her. That couldn’t be what love was. Love was how she’d felt with Bella last summer. Love was the way her heart used to squeeze tight any time Jean whispered in her ear.

Lily and Rosie

“Look, I’m telling you we’re fine.” Franco’s raised voice was a welcome distraction. He’d been arguing with a nurse just inside the door of Lily’s room all while the mother/daughter bonding ritual was attempted, and it sounded like he’d finally gotten fed up.

Between DCFS rules, hospital restrictions, and car seat laws, it was quite a trick figuring out a way to get Lily and her baby out of the hospital. Hopefully this works.

“I’m listed as the father on the birth certificate, right?” Franco continued.

“Yes, but—”

“You’ve seen my ID, mail showing a current address, and Lily told you I’m the father. I’m twenty one, and I’ve got a friend waiting outside right now to take us home. So what right you got to tell me what I can do with my woman and my kid?”

“Children and Family Services told us the mother is underage.”

“Bullshit. They don’t know nothing about me and Lily. They wanna bitch about anything, they can come find us at this here address I showed you.” He pointed at the envelope she still held in her hand. “’Cause me and my kid are leaving, hear?”

Franco was short and skinny with three pimples red and raw on his nose, but he sounded so tough even the snooty nurse in her starched white uniform looked intimidated.

“But—” She tried, but she was scrambling, that much was sure. “The doctor will be making his rounds in another hour. If you just wait till—”

“Didn’t I just say I got a friend waiting downstairs right now? How we supposed to get home if I wait for the damn Doc? Think I wanna take my kid home on the L with all the crackpots and germs floating around?”

“But we’re not, we’re not ready to release her. Do you even have diapers bought for this child? Do you have a car seat? A crib?”

“We’ve still got some of those baby boxes available,” the nurse’s aide suggested. She was still holding a loud and red-faced Rosie, bouncing the baby up and down trying to quiet her. “We could send one of them home with these two.”

The nurse looked pissed that the aide was taking Franco’s side, but Franco grasped the straw quick. “Baby box? What’s that?”

“It’s only cardboard, but big enough to use as a bed for the first few weeks anyway,” the aide answered. “Some company donated a bunch of them, hoping the hospital would agree to start buying them for young, first-time parents. It’s a thing that started in Finland, I guess.”

“You want me to take my baby home in a box?” Franco asked.

“It’s nicer than you think. Plus it’s filled with all kinds of stuff, clothes even, to get you started. That would work for them, Anita, don’t you think? And DCFS could follow up later to see if they need anything else.”

Maybe the nurse’s aide had been more sympathetic than Lily had given her credit for. She even looked back and gave Lily a small, encouraging smile as the nurse finally gave in with a, “Wait here, then. There’s paperwork and details need to be sorted out.”

“Well, hurry it up, woman.” Franco was cocky with victory. “My ride’s not gonna double park for long, now, is he?”

Their transportation wasn’t really double parked, Lily saw when they finally rolled her out the exit doors in a wheelchair. With one wave of his arm, Franco summoned a long, fin-tailed purple Chevy that chugged smoke as it circled the drive to meet up with them.

Lily had never seen the car before, just as she had no idea what Franco had been yammering on about with the nurse. What home was he talking about? Franco’s address, the one on his ID and where he got his mail from, actually belonged to the Unitarian church on Armitage Avenue. They let people pick up their mail there once a day during the week. And what friend did he have who actually owned a car?

Then she saw who stepped out of the driver’s seat.

I love bringing back Riley King from my first book, Painted Black. In so many ways, Cry Baby Cry is circling back to the very beginning of the series.

“Well, there she be,” Riley King called over the hood of his car. As usual, he was wearing a bright Hawaiian print shirt, and a thick gold chain winked from inside his collar. He grinned as he walked up to them. “Sweet baby Jesus, what a cute little thing you holding there, girl. Let me see.”

Lily actually pulled Rosie away from the man when he reached for her. She looked up at Franco with her mouth open, but he just shrugged.

“Now, don’t be shy, girl.” Was Lily imagining it, or was there a warning glint in Riley’s eye? “Let Uncle Riley get a peek at the pretty little thing. What her name now?”

It was the nurse’s aide who answered. Lily’s tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She did let Franco’s pimp pull the baby blanket back to get a look at Rosie’s face. The baby was sleeping, thankfully, having been fed a small bottle of formula by Carmen, the aide, before they’d checked out.

Carmen was now looking at Riley and the rumbling, antique car with a frown between her eyebrows. “I don’t see an infant seat in the back,” she said. “You need to strap the baby into a safety seat in order to take her home. If you don’t have one, then I’m afraid I’m not—”

For an instant, Lily had an impulse to say, “Here, take her back then,” before getting in the car and driving away without Rosie. Even as the thought dropped into her mind, however, some raw place in the pit of her stomach cried out in protest at the idea. Hormones, maybe? Kicking in despite her lack of maternal instincts?

“Car seat?” Riley asked. “Why, I just found out not one hour ago that sweet Lily here had her little one. No time for any shopping, now, was there? We planning on stopping at Target, though, straight away, I can promise you that. Even though we only going two blocks or so. Three maybe. And I promise to drive slow and careful as a man already picked up twice for DWI.”

He laughed and smiled, fingering the row of jeweled studs lining the cartilage of his right ear. “Just saying, of course. Never touch the stuff myself.”

Lily didn’t know Riley well, but she doubted the truth of that. Maybe he didn’t drink, but she found it hard to believe a man who dealt drugs and sold sex didn’t have some questionable recreational habit. Carmen, however, actually blushed at Riley’s “joke.” Could the woman actually find this lanky, dark eyed man with hair like a grease helmet attractive?

“I’m sorry, but it’s against the law …” Carmen stumbled to a stop, blushing even redder at Riley’s exaggerated cry of disappointment.

“What about if we put the baby in this box bed you gave us and strap that in real tight?” Franco asked. “We could take all the stuff out, and string the seat belts through these handles here.”

Fifteen minutes of sweating and swearing, and the Baby Box bed was strapped securely enough that Carmen seemed to approve. Either that, or she was so distracted by Riley’s flirting that she didn’t really care anymore. At any rate, Lily was finally able to settle into the back seat next to Rosie with a sigh as they drove off.

Lily Gives Birth

Mud, wet and stinking. Filthy hair clinging to her cheeks, to the tears and rain on her face. Roots drip from the earthen hole that surrounds her. She shudders, curled protectively around her belly, gasping for breath. Thunder. Lightening. Bolts from the sky stained with red and blue lights from the cop cars.

“I’m a bug,” she whispers. Just a doodle bug rolled into a small ball in the black dirt. Hard shell outward to ward off enemies. Soft underbelly sucked in close to her spine.
The creek rises outside of her hole in the earth, past the tree roots that curtain her refuge. Water reaches the opening, trickles in. If she stays, she will drown. If she leaves, she will die. If she dies, her baby dies.

“You have to,” Katja says. “You have to be brave for the baby. We’ll be fine. You’ll tell the police. They’ll get us out. Go, now, quickly. Go!”

Then gunshots echo in the basement, and red like a bloody mouth gaped beneath Katja’s breasts, and Lily was running, running, and no one would believe her. Not the police. Not Katja’s friend. No one. She’d tried. And it was all her fault. All of it. If she’d been a good girl, then …

“Be a good girl,” her father whispered, his voice reaching her through the pain. “Let Jesus into your heart again and he will cleanse you of this sin. He will forgive you. I will forgive you. But you must repent.”

Author’s Aside:
Flashbacks. Always tricky. How much to reveal? Which tense to use? Yet I love them.

Pain tore through her, ripped from her spine through her abdomen, spasmed through her legs to her toes. Lily screamed and sat up. But she wasn’t in the hole by the creek, nor still in the prison of the basement. She was in a crumbling ruin of a room, with Franco kneeling over her, his face gaunt and worried.

“What do I do?” he asked. “MayBe? What do we do now? Should I get her? You said not to, but I don’t know what else to do.”

And she nodded. Avril wouldn’t want to help her if she knew. Would hate her. But to save her baby, Lily would have to pretend. To lie. She was good at that, wasn’t she?

Lily tried to catch her breath as the pain retreated again. She felt lightheaded, with pain, fear, hunger. Franco left her, but she barely noticed. She laid back. Her ears were ringing. God, she was going to die here, wasn’t she? Die alone in a dark room with a dead baby spilled out between her legs in pool of blood and—

She sucked in a breath as another pain shot through her. Above her silent scream of agony, she heard a crash, then a shriek from somewhere in the house.

“You call this a stairway, boy?” The high voice had husky undertones. “This here’s a death trap, that’s what it is. Worse than plastic pieces snapped together like that Mousetrap game. You know what game I’m talking about, boy? Of course you don’t. You just a baby, you.”

Then the speaker was standing in the doorway of Lily’s room, the form outlined by the flickering light that spilled in from the alley lamppost. Short skirt, long hair, seven inch heels, and broad muscular shoulders.

“Lily May Beckett,” the creature said. “You making me risk life and limb to get up here just cause you scared of some hospital? What’s wrong with you, girl?”

Avril. The thought of the woman brought a fear even greater than knowing she might die. What would Avril do if she knew? Then another contraction ripped through Lily and all thought fled.

“Lil? You okay, Lil?” Franco dropped to his knees and took her hand in both of his. She squeezed his fingers so hard he yelped. She didn’t care, though. It wasn’t him had a knife tearing its way out of her body with slash after slash.

“Avril, damnit,” Franco yelled. “Do something. Do something.”

“Darlin’, I don’t know what makes you think I can help matters. You forget I ain’t got the same equipment as her? I know I look all Xena Warrior Princess on the outside—” She tossed her hair over one shoulder and batted her eyelashes. “But you do remember there’s a surprise curled up under my skirt here, now don’t you, hon?”

Lily screamed as she pulled her knees up and gave in to a need to push, to shit this baby out of her no matter the cost, no matter what happened before or after. The only thing that mattered was push, breath, push, breath, push!

“You can do it, hon. Good girl.” Katja? Avril?

“Mom?” Lily sobbed. “Mom, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

You have to be brave for the baby. But she wasn’t brave. She was a liar, and a murderer. A sinner. The only person who’d ever tried to help her was dead because of her. Blood dripping from her fingers, surprise on her face.

“Katja,” Lily breathed as blessed darkness washed over her.

Lily’s First Love

Lily’s heart hammered so hard when she stepped into the school that she was sure everyone could hear it. That everyone was looking at her. She’d been attending Westmont High for a week now and still her fear flared fierce each day. She still had not one single friend, or even a potential friend. She was afraid to look anyone in the eye and if someone spoke to her, especially any boy, her breath caught in her throat. If she made any response at all she sounded like a strangled cat. At least, that’s the way her father always described it.

Author’s Aside:
Today I spent time looking at Lily’s past story and writing scenes that show me who she is. Who knows whether any of this will end up in the final book.

“This yours?”

Lily jumped and turned around to find a pair of brilliant blue eyes looking at her. At her! The girl’s face was framed by golden curls and her nose turned up just a bit at the tip. Her beauty took Lily’s breath away.

“New girl,” the creature said. “I asked if you dropped this.” She held up Lily’s pink scarf that must have slipped out of her pocket, then waved it playfully. “’Cause, you know, if not, finders keepers.”

Then she grinned and Lily’s heart leapt into her mouth. The blood rushed so quickly to her face she thought she would faint.

Author’s Aside:
Yes, I know there’s cliches in here.
It’s just backstory, people, come on.

She mumbled something like, “Yeah, thanks,” though she couldn’t remember exactly what she said when she relived the scene later in her memory. Her ears were ringing so loud she almost didn’t hear the girl say, “I’m Jean, by the way. See you around,” before hurrying off to class.

For the rest of the day, every time she thought of that smile, Lily blushed pink with pleasure.

That’s the way it was then, at least. Now, years later, thinking of the face of her first love only filled Lily with fear.