Here is Chapter 1 of my new novel. If it whets your appetite, you can pre-order it at Amazon. Those who pre-order The Upside of Down by November 18, 2010 can be entered into a drawing for a $50.00 gift certificate from Amazon. Details for the contest are here.
Natalie grabbed the hands of her two youngest children, five-year-old Mariah and three-year-old Bradley, and walked across the parking lot into the fast food restaurant. After a long morning at the doctor’s office for immunizations, she was eager to eat lunch quickly and return home so she could prepare her Primary lesson. She wanted to get through the line without incident.
A young family stood in line ahead of Natalie. “I told you to stay next to your mother,” demanded a man who looked only a few years older than Natalie’s oldest child, Andrea. His gray eyes almost seared a hole into a little red-haired girl who stepped behind her young mother. Natalie noticed the young girl’s physical features—slightly upward slanting eyes and a tongue that seemed too large for her small mouth— and concluded she had Down syndrome.
“Take your mother’s hand, right now. I mean it,” the man commanded again.
The girl reached up and slipped her hand into her mother’s.
Natalie positioned herself between the family and her own children, hoping to shield them from the young man’s harsh demeanor. In an attempt to divert her kids’ attention, she turned back to Mariah and Bradley and said, “Look outside the window. Do you see that big truck across the street? Isn’t it huge?”
“Where?” Mariah stood on her tiptoes to see out the window.
“Make sure she behaves and doesn’t embarrass me,” the man in front of Natalie said.
His wife cast a glance to the floor, and she brushed at her flushed cheeks. A loose ponytail held her mousy brown hair back from her plain face.
“Over there in that parking lot. It’s orange,” Natalie said to Mariah.
The raw anger of the young man clamped around Natalie’s throat. She bit at the nail on her right index finger and avoided looking in the family’s direction.
While they waited to order their food, Bradley wrapped himself around Natalie’s left leg and Mariah eyed the toys included with each meal. “I want that one,” Mariah said, flipping her long dark braid and pointing to a small figure in the display case.
The sizzle of the french fries laced through the heavy air while the scent of cooking hamburger patties stung Natalie’s nose. The soda machine hissed as an employee filled paper cups with soda pop. Natalie squinted her eyes to read the small print on the menu above the counter so she could order as soon as she stepped up to the register.
“Stop moving, right now. Do you hear me, or are you too stupid to understand a simple thing like that?” the man in line said to his daugh¬ter. Without meaning to, Natalie glanced at him and saw his bright red face.
The little girl froze in place. The mother whispered something to her husband. He countered, “Don’t give me any lip. I know what I’m doing. You’re as stupid as she is, anyway.”
Natalie’s heart beat furiously at hearing his cruel words. She pulled at her shoulder-length hair. The man didn’t seem to care that he was verbally abusing his daughter. He stepped up to the counter to place his order. Natalie seized the opportunity to soften his callous words. She bent down and said, “You sure are pretty.”
“Don’t talk to my kid,” he barked from the register.
Startled, Natalie stood quickly, fear strangling her voice.
“Leave her alone,” he said, his eyes blazing.
“I’m sorry. She looks so frightened.”
“Mind your own business. You don’t know nothin’.”
He stepped toward her. “She’s retarded. You got a retarded kid?”
Natalie wanted to put this bully in his place, but instead she pulled Mariah and Bradley closer to her, attempting to shelter them with her hands. Other customers in the dining room stopped talking, and she felt their gaze on her. The cashier took a few steps back, her eyes wide.
“Well, you got a retarded kid or not?”
In a barely audible voice, Natalie said, “No.”
“Then shut up.”
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment . . .