Monday, May 14, 2018

Breathe In by Michelle Bellon


BREATHE IN by Michelle Bellon, Thriller/Suspense, 272 pp., $13.99 (Paperback) $3.99 (Kindle)




Title: BREATHE IN

Author: Michelle Bellon

Publisher: Limitless Publishing

Pages: 272

Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Breathe in. Breathe out. This mantra gets Tessa Benson through the day.
The man she loves walks all over her, and she just wants to get by
without her heart shattering to pieces. If she could find her voice,
she’d scream. Everything changes in one night, when she’s snatched from
the streets and tied to a bed, a camera set up to capture her dying
moment. And the person who paid to watch her die…is still out there
somewhere. Tessa prowls dark neighborhoods in a quest for justice, but
she doesn’t find the killer. Not until they strike again…in the place
Tessa is least expecting, and where it hurts worst.







CHAPTER ONE

I grip the steering wheel and focus
on my breath in an effort to steady my shaky hands. Breathe in. Breathe out. I can do this. I gaze up the long driveway
toward the house through my car window. It sits tucked away from the road in a
cove of evergreens. An immaculately decorative landscape sprawls before the
stone home. Amber lights filter out of the windows, adding warmth to the
otherwise cold exterior. It’s impressive. Bold. Like Tom, it quietly exudes
money and power. I’ve never been to his home before. He never invited me.
Though it stung a bit, I figured he was waiting until our relationship
progressed.
Even with a thin gray mist
blanketing the scene, I feel oddly conspicuous. Am I the crazy stalker
girlfriend? Have I overstepped my boundaries by looking up where he lived and
showing up unannounced?
Groping through the contents of my
purse, a sense of relief rises to the surface when I feel my phone. I hold my
breath. Please, please, please.
As I press my thumb to the sensor,
the phone recognizes my print and the screen comes alive. Scan notifications.
One missed call. Click. Shit, it was my
mom
. Another kind of dread fills me. I’m not up for a conversation with her
tonight. Click over to text messages. Two from Gerald. Scroll right past it.
I’m not in the mood for him and his needy bullshit right now. Terin. I’ll read
it later. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Click back and forth, checking again.
Nothing from Tom. Disappointment
swallows my entire being. My body grows heavy. Sour resentment rises in my
throat.
Why is the wrong guy so relentless
in his pursuit while the other blows me off? It’s completely backward. How am I
so thoroughly messing this up? Tom hasn’t called or texted back in almost a
week. He’s clearly avoiding me. Maybe I had been too clingy before. Maybe I’d—
Stop.
Just stop.
Those are negative thought patterns. There’s probably a good
reason I haven’t heard from him. He could be very busy with work. He could be
out of town. Maybe he’s not feeling well. That thought worries me. Maybe he
needs help, someone to care for him?
My heart races, my movements are
quick and jerky as I slide out of the Subaru Outback, pretending I’m not
anxious to see him as I face his home. Why do I do that? Try to fool myself? I
mean, how can one even accomplish such a task? You can’t really, because
it’s…well, it’s impossible. You’re the one thinking the thoughts, so you cannot
hide them from yourself. Yet, I try. Why is this?
The banter in my brain is
ridiculous. Two dichotomous personalities consistently bickering. Both of them
annoying. Always. Stop. Just stop.
I shut the driver side door and
take in a deep, cleansing breath, closing my eyes and letting the day go with
my exhale. I’ve been practicing this a lot lately. Breathing. Letting go.
Sounds easy, but it’s actually quite difficult for me. Every night for the last
few weeks, my nightly ritual before bed has been listening to fifteen-minute
guided meditations. I put my earbuds in, close my eyes, and listen to the
gentleman’s calm, hypnotic voice, telling me that regret is living in the past,
anxiety is living in the future. Hyper-focusing on either is a waste of time
and harmful. It causes stress, which can poison the mind and body.
Yeah,
tell me about it.
So I breathe in and I breathe out.
Letting it go. Except it doesn’t work. A mixture of panic and anticipation
breaks through as I walk toward his home, my heels clicking on the sidewalk. I
stare at the French doors for what feels like an eternity before I finally
knock on the door.
Moments later, the door swings open
and Tom’s confident presence fills the entryway. I both love and fear this
about him.
“Tessa, what are you doing here?”
He steps out of the front door and closes it behind him, as if he doesn’t want
anyone who may be inside to hear us. I shuffle backward and bring my arms in
tight to my side to make room on the porch, feeling it necessary to make myself
smaller than I already feel.
His reaction is a mix of surprise
and disappointment and, maybe, a little anger? I’m suddenly acutely aware that
I’ve made a huge mistake. I cringe and wish I’d never been such a stupid girl.
“Tom! Hi.” I clear my voice, hoping to bring it down an octave so I don’t sound
like a school girl. “I…uh…well, you hadn’t answered my texts and I was
beginning to worry. I thought maybe you were sick…or…I don’t know. I shouldn’t
have dropped by like this.”
“No. You shouldn’t have.”
His sharp tone has me taking a
clumsy step backward. “I’m sorry. I…” Unable to finish my sentence, I wait for
him to jump in and explain what is going on.
“How did you find out where I
live?”
An uncomfortable silence lingers
between us as I strain to find the right words, any words, to answer the
question.
He shakes his head. “Never mind.
This is my fault. I should have responded to your texts and just told you I
can’t see you anymore.”
My head spins. The world tilts. A
daunting thought washes over me. “Oh, my god, you’re married.” I want to die.
“Look, Tessa.” He takes a step
toward me, his six-foot-two frame reminding me how meager my own is at
five-four. “I’m not married. I’m just a very private person. I always have been
and I want to keep it that way.”
“So that’s it? You’re ending what
we have, just like that?” The pitch of my voice is embarrassingly high, but I
can’t seem to control the way I’m escalating.
“What we have? Tessa, we’ve only
been seeing each other for a couple of weeks.” Tom stares down at me, his brows
pinched in mixed emotions. I can’t tell if he’s sad, frustrated, amused, or
just feels sorry for me.
A wave of embarrassment floods over
me. My heartbeat pulses throughout my body, echoing the impending sense of doom
that quickens my breath. “Yeah, but it was a great couple of weeks. Almost two
months, actually. And we’ve been together almost every day since we met. I
thought things were going really well. This is just a shock. I don’t understand
what’s going on. If you’re not married, then what? Did I do something wrong?”
He closes his eyes and sighs before
answering. “It’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s just that I don’t really
see it going anywhere. Besides, what about that Gerald guy you were seeing
before?”
“Gerald? I told you. I stopped
seeing him after that first day you and I spent time together. He…he’s contacted
me but, I’m…Gerald isn’t what I want.”
“Look, don’t make this harder than
it needs to be. I like you. You’re…sweet. But I don’t have time for a fling.
And you can’t be here, so just leave.”
I flinch at the bark of his tone. I’m sweet? A fling? Just leave?
Grasping for dignity, I take three
shaky steps backward. My ankle rolls but I stumble and catch myself before I
fall on my ass. Searing pain shoots hot through the tendons of my lower leg. My
lips pinch to hold in the gasp of pain. Without saying another word, I turn and
bolt down the driveway. The slap of my shoes against the pavement reverberates
into the cool air, echoing my shame. My ankle throbs with each motion. Confused
and frightened, I slide into my car, start the engine, and pull away from the
curb. My hands shake so hard I can hardly grasp the steering wheel.
What
in the hell just happened?
Breathe
in. Breathe out. Let it go.
Tears roll down my cheeks in a steady stream as
I drive away.

***

Parking across the street from my
brownstone, I scan the dark streets before turning off my vehicle. Tom made fun
of my fear of the dark. “You’re too skittish,” he said, “like a beaten dog, and
you need to find your backbone. No one likes a wimp.” Tom can be a bit harsh
like that. Or as he’d say, “direct and to the point.” Well, he was certainly to
the point today. No holds barred. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s right. I do
need to stand up for myself. I wish I had stood up for myself in front of his
home earlier. Told him he couldn’t treat me so terribly, at the very least.
Like that would have done any good.
It also doesn’t change the fact
that these streets are a bit frightening, even during the day. I’d have never
chosen to live in this part of town of my own accord. But when my grandmother
passed and left the small unit to me, I had no other choice. As a student,
still struggling to finish my doctorate of philosophy, I felt only gratitude
for the sudden change in my living situation.
I’d just finished my master’s in
English literature and resigned myself to the idea that I’d have to wait to
move on to the doctorate program when I received the news that I’d inherited
the home. I’d no idea I was even in the will. Free accommodations are a godsend
to a stressed and struggling student.
Grabbing my keys and purse, I wait
until the street is clear of traffic. I note the glisten of the wet pavement
from the earlier rainfall and my shoes don’t have the best traction. I want to
slide out of the car, cross the street, and retreat to the sanctuary of my home
as quickly as possible, without slipping and breaking an ankle.
Ready,
go.
Open the car door. Step out, look right and left. Close door. Scurry
across the street, making sure to keep my feet low to the ground for solid
placement amongst the fallen golden leaves smushed against the pavement. Quick
leap to the curb. Almost there. My keys slip from my fingers as my feet hit the
sidewalk. Shit. I stop to pick them up. Out of the corner of my eye, movement
catches my attention. My heart rate flutters nervously under my thin skin.
Stooped over, I turn to see a woman standing at the curb about fifteen feet
away. Nothing to worry about. My heart slows down.
I’ve seen her before. Thigh-high
boots. No stockings or jacket, though it’s cold out. Hair cropped short, in
purposeful disarray. Clearly a hooker, she’s decided this part of town is more
profitable as of the last month or so, and frequents this area often. As I
stand up and put my keys into my peacoat pocket, she turns and locks eyes with
mine. She squints ever so slightly, measuring me up. I wonder if she thinks I’m
judging her. Am I? What must her life be like? What events have pushed her to a
life of prostitution? How does she swallow the fear? Are we really so
different, she and I? After the way I just let Tom humiliate me, like so many
of my other boyfriends have, I’m not sure I like the obvious answer to that
question.
Her lips purse together tightly as
she shakes her head and turns away, as if disgusted.
I take in a short gasp. I’m the one
who has been judged. She recognized my fear and it sickened her. Heat rises to
my face and I hike my purse onto my shoulder before scurrying up the stairs,
anxious to hide from this hideous day. Could it get any worse?
“Tessa.”
Two stairs up, I stop mid-step and
glance upward toward the male voice. My heart sinks. Things just got worse.
“Gerald.” My voice cracks. “What are you doing here?”
Gerald stands on the top stoop,
staring down at me with a pathetic look of desperate hope dripping from his
gaunt features. What did I ever see in him? Was I really that lonely?
He steps forward and offers me a
hand. “Come on out of the cold and we’ll talk.” His voice has always struck me
as oddly deep compared to his looks. Like James Earl Jones bred with Popeye’s
girlfriend, Olive Oil, and Gerald was the result. I ignore his offer for
assistance and remain rooted on the spot, staring up at him incredulously.
“Gerald, it’s been a long day. I’m
not up for company right now. I just want to go home and crawl into bed.”
His lips press together so tight
that they blanch white and the upper right side twitches. He gives an almost
unperceivable nod of the head, as if clearing his thoughts, brushing away the
rush of agitation. The previous look of calm concern returns as he offers a
forced smile. The wave of anger that flashed over his features was so quick I
almost didn’t catch it. Almost.
He takes a step back and clasps his
hands together, as if showing he’s retreating and harmless. “I’m sorry you had
a long day. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped by unannounced, but I began to worry
when you didn’t respond to my texts. It’s been nearly a week since we spoke
last.”
I finally trod up the last few
steps. “Gerald, I told you, I just don’t see a future between us. I’m not
really interested in a relationship right now.” It’s hard not to grimace as my
words essentially echo what Tom just said to me only moments ago.
“You mean you’re not interested in
a relationship with me. But I know you’ve been hanging out with that new Tom
fellow, the suit. I bet you want a relationship with him. Is that where you
were just now?”
“First of all, I’m not in a
relationship with anyone. And second of all, it’s none of your business.”
He blinks three times, as if
suppressing another fleeting emotion. “So you’re not seeing him?”
Closing my eyes, I rub my right
temple and wish to God this day was over. “No, Gerald. I’m not seeing him. I’m
not seeing you. I’m not seeing anyone.” I look up. “I just want to go to bed. I
don’t feel good.”
His expression softens. “You poor
thing. I’m sorry I came over like this. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just
concerned. Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you?”
“No, not really.” A small part of
me softens to his kindness. I wish I could muster feelings for this guy. He
really is sweet to me when he’s not being so overly persistent, so clingy. I
just can’t force what isn’t there.
He hesitates. Looks down the street
as if searching for what to say two buildings down. Looks back. “All right,
well, I’d better be going then. If there’s anything you need, just call.”
I nod. “Okay.” I just want to be
left alone.
He traipses down the steps, pauses
on the stair below me, turns, and places a wet kiss on my cheek. “I’ll text you
tomorrow.”
I suppress a shiver. Please don’t.
“Fine.”
I hold my breath while I watch him
get into his car and drive away. Anxiety and relief flood my system as I turn
and bolt up the stairs. The building is locked for the evening, so I scramble
for the keys in my pocket and quickly open the door.
I love that wonderful, safe sound
of the click as it locks into place. Push thoughts aside. Turn and walk down
the hall to my door. Unlock and step inside. Yet another layer of safety as I
lock both the handle and the bolt. I’m home.
In the sanctuary of my building,
socks keep my feet warm as I pace around the kitchen, trying to make sense of
today’s unexpected turn of events. My cell phone sits on the counter silently
next to a plate of untouched cheese and crackers. I keep it close, just in case
Tom calls to apologize or at least explain. He will, won’t he? A siren screams
in the distance and I pretend it’s not there. Someone hasn’t committed a crime
or suffered a terrible injury. Too gruesome of an idea for the evening. I’m
tired and a bit frazzled, but trying my best to find a calm end to the day.
A text comes in and I scramble to
retrieve my phone from the counter top, knocking over an empty glass in my
haste. Mother blinks on the screen. I
close my eyes tight against ugly emotions: angst toward my mother’s relentless
nagging about my cheating father, and shame because I had hoped it was Tom.
What is wrong with me? Sometimes I wonder if my consistently poor choice of men
is due to watching my mom and dad’s toxic relationship all through my
childhood. The ups and downs, the ebb and flow of when things were good and
then suddenly bad again, the constant feeling of walking on eggshells, of
pretending it was all okay. even though it never was. It certainly couldn’t
have helped.
My appetite has waned, so I clean
the kitchen and retreat to my bedroom for the night. Peeling out of my slacks
and blouse, I slip into a t-shirt and forgo the shower. I don’t have the energy
for it. The sheets are cool against my thighs as I slip under the covers.
Before I put my phone on the nightstand,
I do the one thing that I know I shouldn’t, but keeps nagging at my conscience.
I pull up Tom’s number and send a quick text.
Me: I just want to say I’m sorry.
I shouldn’t have dropped by like that. Good night.
Refusing to allow guilt or regret to
slink into my thoughts, I toss the phone aside and sink down into my soft
pillow. I remember the last time Tom and I spent the night together. Lying in
the dark with only the light from the hotel bathroom filtering in. The cool
night air drifting in under the wispy curtain of our hotel room. Tom always
insisted that a window be open. If a hotel didn’t have windows that opened, he
wouldn’t stay there. It always struck me as odd. Only half awake, I ran my
index finger over the tattoo that adorns his left bicep. “What is this?”
Sleepily, he glanced down. “It’s a
phoenix. Don’t you know what that is?”
“It represents death and rebirth.
Burning to ashes and then rising again into a new life. Right?”
He closed his eyes, drifting to
sleep in a post-sex reverie. “Something like that.”
I continued to run my fingers over
the tattoo and imagined myself burning from the inside out into a heap of
wasted ash and then suddenly bursting to life again into a stronger, more
beautiful self. A self that speaks my mind and lives a braver existence. “I
wish I had a tattoo like that,” I whispered into the dark, more to myself than
to Tom.
To my surprise, he answered without
opening his eyes. “You have to earn it first.”
Tilting my chin up, I watched his
strong jawline against the pillow. “How did you earn yours?”
A pause lingered in the air between
us.
“I don’t like to talk about it, but
my dad died when I was only three. After that, my mom went through a slew of
men. I guess she couldn’t handle the idea of being alone. Some were cool. Some
weren’t. One was a sick bastard that had a thing for young boys.”
Another pause filled the air as I
processed what he’d just shared with me. I gasped and my stomach rolled as I
realized the underlying meaning of what he said. I placed a hand on his chest.
“Tom, I’m sorry that happened to you. Did you ever tell your mother? How did
you cope?”
His body stiffened in the bed next
to me. His breathing was shallow and slow. “My mom knew. For four years, she
knew and did nothing. As for how I coped, when I was old enough, I made sure to
be there as a witness to their karma.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked down at me, but his eyes
had glossed over, his brow furrowed as if seeing something from his past rather
than my face. He shook it off. “Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it
anymore.” He rolled away, turning his back to me. His voice was gruff. “I
earned the tattoo. That’s all you need to know. Now go to sleep. I’m tired.”
Now his words echo in my mind as I
lie here in bed, feeling like a broken fool, wishing he’d respond to my text.
This is my pathetic pattern. There is no possible way I could ever earn a
symbol like that. I cannot be someone that I’m not, no matter how hard I wish
it.
Shoving aside old conversations and
images of a burning phoenix, I roll to my side. Click. The light goes out. Ear
buds in. A calm, soothing, masculine voice tells me to breathe in and breathe
out.
I
am calm. I am calm. I am calm.

***

An obnoxious sound taunts me out of
dreamland. I’m conscious enough to know I’m rising out of the depths of REM
sleep, but out of it enough to resist. Limbs are heavy. Lids won’t lift. Mouth
is hanging open and dry. The sound is incessant, so I drag myself to the
surface. Eyes open and close. Open and close. Open. Brain processes sound. My cell-phone
ringer.
Rolling over to the other side of
the bed, I reach for my phone, hoping it’s Tom. What time is it? A quick glance
at the red digits of my alarm clock tells me it’s only five after ten. I haven’t been asleep all that long.
Still, it’s kind of late for phone calls. At least for me it is. Eyes focus.
It’s Terin. Oh, yeah, I forgot to read her text earlier.
“Hey, Terin, what’s up?”
“Girl, you sound tired. Were you
sleeping already?”
I lie back on the pillow and close
my eyes again. “No. I mean, yes, I guess I fell asleep. But I’m awake now.
What’s up? I saw the text from you earlier and meant to read it, but I didn’t
get to it. Then I fell asleep and…it was just a long day, that’s all. I’m
sorry.”
“Whatever, it’s cool. You’re super
busy these days. I get it. I was just texting to see if you were still pining
over that Tom asshole, waiting for him to text you back.”
This girl. She’s the one person I
can be myself with. The one person who has my best interest at heart. She’s
brutally honest, and sometimes that sucks, but it’s always something I need to
hear anyway, so I take my lumps as she serves them. “I’m not pining over him.
Not really. I had hoped to maybe…I don’t know, see him again. Have some
closure?”
“Closure? I’m sorry, is him ignoring
your texts and phone calls for over a week not enough closure for you?”
I cringe. There’s no way in hell
I’m going to tell her about tonight’s incident. “Jeez, Terin, go easy on me.
It’s not that simple. I think I just got caught up in our little…fling.” The words taste bitter on my
tongue. “He and I had a good time and I got ahead of myself. No big surprise.
I’ve done it before.”
“So I take it you still haven’t
heard from him then?”
I sigh, contemplating how much to
disclose. “Look, he’s much older than me and I think that’s always bothered
him. Plus he’s a very wealthy and successful businessman. He travels a lot and
work takes almost all of his time. He said he likes his privacy and wants to
keep it that way…”
“So you have heard from him?”
Her critical discernment is the
thing I both love and hate about her. It births doubt within me. It reveals my
stupidity. I pause and think carefully before I answer the question. “Yes.
Today. He said that he couldn’t see me anymore. That he was a private person
and too busy for…complications. That vague explanation is all he gave. I’m
confused and a little heartbroken, to be honest.”
She sighed loudly. “Shit, I’m
sorry, Tess. I know I’m busting your balls here, but I love you and hate seeing
you hurt. And if you ask me, he’s hiding something. I have a hard time
believing he was all hot and heavy after you these last few weeks and then he
suddenly drops you like a hotcake and gives you a lame excuse about being too
busy or too private, or whatever. It just doesn’t set right with me. You know?”
I shrug. “I guess.”
“Come on, think about it. His
behavior has been off from the very start. I suspect he’s got something to
hide, but I never wanted to mention it before and kill your hopeful joy. It’s
been a while since I saw you that lighthearted and happy. I couldn’t bear to
rain on your parade. Maybe I’m wrong and he’s just an asshole.”
“I know you don’t like to upset me.
Plus, I wouldn’t have listened anyway. You know how I am.”
She gave a light chuckle. “Yeah, I
know. You ostrich everything. Something crops up that you don’t like and you
stick your head in the sand to avoid conflict. Seen it a hundred bazillion
times.” She pauses a heartbeat. “Listen, I just worry about you. You know? I
mean, you’ve always been so…”
I close my eyes, bracing for what
she’s about to say. “So what? Such a pushover?”
“Well, that’s not what I was going
to say, but now that you mention it, yeah.” Her speech picks up as she tries to
recover. “I don’t mean that as an insult, Tess. You know that. I love you.
You’re my best friend. But as your best friend, there are times when I just
want to scream and pull my hair out when I watch you be so dang nice all the
time. I mean, don’t you ever feel like not being nice? Don’t you ever feel like
telling someone to shove it where the sun don’t shine?”
I shrug into the dark room. “Not
really. I don’t think so. I don’t want to be mean to anyone or hurt someone’s
feelings.”
“But see, that’s exactly what I’m
talking about. Sometimes in life, you have to step on other people’s toes just
so they stop stepping all over yours. It’s not always fun, although, it can be.
But it is often absolutely necessary. You hear what I’m saying? Sometimes it’s
not an option. You gotta stand up for yourself simply because it needs to be done.
Does that make sense? You feel me?”
I nod. “I understand what you’re
saying. I do. I just can’t fathom finding that kind of bravado anywhere inside
of me. Have I thought of speaking my mind? Yeah, sure. Can I act on it? Heck
no! I’m not like you. I wish I was but, then again, let’s face it. If I acted
anything like you, I would have probably already bitch-slapped my uptight boss
and been fired long ago.”
The offhand comment has the exact
effect I had intended. Terin sputters and spurts as she laughs into the phone.
“Isn’t that the truth? Oh, what I wouldn’t give to watch you do something like
that. I know it’s in you, girl. Way down deep. You just don’t know it yet. And
don’t worry about that bitter woman, Tess. She just needs to get laid. Is she
still giving you a hard time?”
“Nothing more than usual. She’s a
bitter, angry old woman and I’m the one she likes to take it out on. Story of
my life. Reminds me of high school and the way Cindy Lorde used to make my life
a living hell.”
“Oh, jeez, Tessa, when are you
gonna get over all that? It was a long time ago. And she’s probably a washed up
has-been by now with twenty kids and a big butt.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, well, she
was the cool girl back then and
that’s a perfect example of a time when I should have stood up for myself.”
“That’s true and further proves my
point. It’s time you started sticking up for yourself. So, back to the Tom
thing…you’re over him then? You’re doing okay?”
I bite my lip and stare at the
ceiling fan overhead. Mostly shadows in the dark room, its blades are still and
my clock light reflects off it oddly in the center so that it almost appears to
have eyes. It looks like a starfish clinging to my roof.
Should I lie or tell her that I’m
miserable and praying he’ll call me? I don’t even know why. Like she said, he’d
told me he couldn’t see me anymore.
Not that he didn’t want to see me. Just that he couldn’t. That thought makes me
sick to my stomach. How could I want a man who no longer wants me? I bet Gerald
would be more than happy if I called him tonight. Ugh, I’m such a stupid girl
sometimes.
“Yeah, yeah, Terin, don’t worry
about me. I’ll be fine. I, uh…”
My phone buzzes as a text comes in.
Without thinking, I pull the phone from my ear to take a peek. It’s Tom. My
heart thuds against my ribcage. Hit the text. Read it silently, holding my
breath while my friend rambles on.
Tom: Stop. Texting. Me.
That’s it. That’s all he has to say
to me. Tears well up and I feel like I might choke on them. Swallow down the
shame. Terin was right about him. I never meant anything to him. I’m probably
one of many. Insignificant. I place the phone to my ear and listen to the last
bit of whatever Terin prattles on about. I can’t focus. When she pauses, I take
the chance to escape. “Hey, I hate to cut it short, but my stomach is killing
me. I think I might have eaten something bad. Do you mind if we hang up for the
night?”
“No, no, sure. Sorry you’re not
feeling so good. Hope you’re not on the toilet all night long. Remember that
time I ate the bad clam chowder and nearly died from projectile diarrhea?”
No answer.
“Okay, I’ll let you go then, Tess.
Just call me in the morning to let me know you’re alive.”
Hoping I still sound cheerful, I
say goodnight, hang up, and toss the phone to the foot of the bed.
I’m not even going to try to
breathe through this. I stare up at the ceiling and let the tears run down my
cheeks, into my hair, and onto my pillow. The starfish on the ceiling stares
back at the sad, pathetic girl and laughs.







Michelle Bellon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her four quirky
and beautiful children. She loves coffee, Superman, rollercoasters, and
has an addiction to chapstick.




She works as a registered nurse and in her spare time writes novels.
As a multi-genre author, she has written in the categories of romance
suspense, young adult, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. She has
won four literary awards.


WEBSITE &SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK


Interview with Michelle Bellon:

How did you come up with name of this book?

Well, first of all, let me just say that finding the right title of a book is sometimes the most challenging part of writing for me. I’m just not good at naming things. I’m surprised I managed to name all four of my children.
This book was first titled From Ashes because of the symbolism of the Phoenix reborn from ashes throughout Tessa’s journey. However, after the publisher and editor got a hold of the story they prompted me to consider changing it to Breathe In because it’s the mantra Tessa quietly says to herself throughout each challenging ordeal she faces. She starts out fragile and meek and tends to berate herself under her breath. “Breathe in, breathe out,” is how she finds little bits of courage along the way.

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?

The answer to this is bittersweet. I used to be a voracious reader. I absolutely love to escape into a good novel. When I started writing my reading time declined in equal ratio. I was raising four children and writing, then when I went back to work as an RN, I found even less time to fit both writing and reading in. When I actually have the time and energy for either, I usually choose writing. That said, part of perfecting the craft of writing, is to be an avid reader. So I miss it terribly. Reading a good book is one of the best ways to find the inspiration and drive to write.
My favorite genre...hmmm…it’s a tie between a good love story or literary fiction. Then again, my favorite book of all time is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon which is a historical fiction.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

Definitely silence. Though I love music, it’s much too distracting for me because I end up singing along. I don’t watch television but if I did it would be too distracting, too. I don’t mind the sounds of my children in the background though. Unless of course they are demanding something of me. “Mom. Mom. Momma. Mother. Mom.” Yeah, that’ll drive ya batty.

What do you feel you can accomplish with this book?

I believe so many women are out of touch with their own inner warrior. I see women as strong yet soft, beautiful yet powerful, kind yet fierce, intelligent yet empathetic, powerful, complex beings. Yet so many of us forget all of those pieces inside of ourselves along the way. We get caught up in nurturing, raising, teaching, cajoling, encouraging, sacrificing, that we lose bits of ourselves along the way.
I was one of those women. I was lost to an abusive marriage for sixteen years. Was I perfect? Nope. But I kept trying so hard to make something work that was impossible to fix. Along the way, I kept sacrificing my own needs and desires and eventually didn’t recognize myself anymore. The worst and most terrifying part, is I had no idea what I was capable of. When I finally left the relationship, I faced single motherhood, financial duress, struggles with children as I helped them cope and heal, a new job, loneliness and doubt, and every imaginable fear possible. It was four years of struggle and absolute hell. But through it all, I knew I was supposed to be experiencing every bit of it. This is what I’d asked for. These were my lessons. And now I know exactly what I’m made of. I know how strong I am and what I can accomplish. I’m in touch with my inner warrior.
This is exactly the journey Tessa will learn. Not in the same way of course. Her story is much more severe. But nevertheless, she finds her own inner warrior, too.
This is what I want anyone who has ever felt victimized to take away from this story. I want them to at least begin to search for theirs.

What is your next project?

Well, I’m toying with the idea of writing a second book to Tessa’s story. I honestly thought her story was finished, but readers have asked me a few intriguing questions after they read it that made me take a step back and think that maybe there a few loose ends…



http://www.pumpupyourbook.com










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