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Chameleon Games

Chameleon Games

Book excerpt

Chapter One


        Chelsea Grey pushed her pounding head upwards, bending her neck back so her face caught the full force of the hot, steamy water. Still a little inebriated, her legs wobbled, knocking her off balance. Oops! She locked her knees and threw her hands forward to steady herself firmly against the shower stall wall. She would have giggled if the facial images of her mother and daughter weren’t still fresh in her mind.

            The night before, she’d gone to a night club and danced until closing. What’s wrong with that? It made me feel free. She’d left with some joker and his friends and partied all night at his house. She frowned. Okay, so things got a little out of hand. She couldn’t recall everything…too much booze and pills. Her stomach rolled over, and she took in deep breaths of moist steam until the nausea passed.

            Chelsea had returned home moments ago and immediately headed to the shower. Faces of people she didn’t know flashed through her mind. Chelsea winced. For the life of her, she couldn’t put names to them…mostly she envisioned bodies intertwined around a room. Shame overwhelmed her. She placed her face against the marble wall and let the water pound down her back. What was I thinking? The problem isn’t my lack of thinking, that’s just the cause and effect of the real problem—booze and pills.

            Chelsea stepped out of the shower stall. She wiped the mirror with a towel and stared at her image. The face that reflected back shocked her. Her blue eyes were red and glassy, her cheeks blotchy. Her long, blond hair hung wet and stringy down the sides of her face. Not a pretty sight. She watched water droplets find their way down her forehead and follow the length of her nose to the tip. Her eyes focused on the drip, drip, drip as they left her face and fell to the counter. In that moment, Chelsea saw the face of her future; all that it could mean and what it could cost her.

            You just turned forty years old. Keep up this lifestyle and the looks you still have won’t last long.

            She made her way to the bed, dropped the towel from her body and climbed under the covers. Her thoughts returned to her mother and daughter eating breakfast when she’d arrived home. Her heart felt heavy. It wasn’t that they said anything. Not a word from either one. It was their expressions. That said it all—the pain and worry on her mother’s face; the anger and disappointment in the eyes of her daughter. Chelsea felt pained. One thought came to mind just before she passed out.

            I’m so messed up.

            The motor sound got louder and louder. What the hell? Chelsea tried to ignore it and pulled the pillow next to her over her head to drown out the annoying noise. It didn’t work. She tossed the pillow off the bed in a fit of temper.

            “Aargh…trying to sleep here!” she shouted.

             Forcing her eyes open, she focused on the alarm clock on the side table. “Omigod…” The digital numbers read three in the afternoon. She’d slept through most of the day. Chelsea pushed the covers back and sat on the edge of the bed. The pounding in her head, worsened by the constant drone of the neighbour’s chainsaw, brought back the memory of her exploits the night before. A groan escaped her lips and she crossed the room to close the window and at least muffle the grating racket.

            Chelsea padded to the bathroom to relieve herself. She filled the sink with water and used her hands to splash it on her face and neck. The sting of the cold water jolted her back into the land of the living, however painful. She grabbed the bottle of mouthwash to gargle and rinse away the horrid taste and rancid breath exuding from her mouth. Only then did she look at herself in the mirror. Her face mirrored the pain she was feeling inside; physical effects of course, to be expected after her indulgences the night before—but there was something else looking back at her from the reflection. It was something that had been well hidden in the past but now stared back at her from deep in her eyes. An awareness of mental and emotional pain slapped her so hard across the face, like the sting of the cold water moments before, that she reeled backwards. The words she’d thought this morning before passing out came back to her: I’m so messed up.

            A brushing of her long, blonde hair, some blush and pink lip gloss helped to normalize her otherwise stressed face. She added some concealer under her eyes and eyeliner. Much better. Skinny jeans and an oversized sweatshirt suited her mood, and Chelsea dressed, adding a pair of rainbow-striped woolly socks. She went to the kitchen. Thank God, it seems no one’s home.

A thermos of hot coffee sat on the counter with a clean cup beside it. A daily gesture of her mother’s that evoked a feeling of guilt. Chelsea poured herself a cup. The neighbour had finished his wood cutting chore, and assured of peace and quiet, she slipped through an all-glass door to the enclosed sun room and curled up on the loveseat.

            The sun shone through the large panels of glass. It was a beautiful April day. Chelsea found it hard to believe she was living in her mother’s bungalow in Kelowna. Where did the time go?

            She’d been held captive by Arne Jensen for twenty years. He’d abducted her at the age of nineteen and locked her up on his farm, across the road from her parents’ place. Her daughter, Sydney, was a year old at the time. Four years later, Chelsea’s father died of a sudden heart attack and her mother, Elizabeth, had left the farm with Sydney and moved to Kelowna. They returned years later when Sydney was twenty-one. Sydney found her mother’s journals, and through a series of events, dream sequences, and visitations from spirits, and a set of lost keys, Sydney and Elizabeth discovered her existence at Arne’s and rescued her.

            She shuddered at the thought of Arne. He’d died that fateful day that Chelsea found her freedom. One swift blow to his skull with a cast-iron fry pan delivered by her mother, and all of their lives changed forever. Chelsea sighed and put her head back against the back of the loveseat. She closed her eyes and felt the hot rays of the sun reflecting off the glass panes onto her face. There had been times that she’d missed him. After all, he’d been her only companion and provider for all that time. And she’d learned how to be what he wanted and bend to his rules to avoid punishment. Not that it worked all the time. He could be unpredictable and unreadable. Sometimes his demons surfaced for no apparent reason, and Chelsea bore the brunt of it. But still, he was my only connection to the outside world and within the confines of my prison; the only one who could take care of my needs.

            Nine months of freedom. Why don’t I feel free?

            A broken ankle had brought Sydney’s grandmother back to the farm to recuperate, and Sydney had renovated the farmhouse and started a home-based business. When Chelsea was freed, the three of them lived at the farm for two months. Her mother, Elizabeth Grey, returned to her home in Kelowna once her ankle was on the mend to her hairdressing business. Chelsea came with her. Living across from Arne’s property wasn’t an option. She needed to find a life for herself and heal. For six months she’d attended counselling and tried to fit into a world she didn’t know or understand. Then at New Year’s she discovered night clubs and dancing, reconnected to music which she’d always loved…and found alcohol. The pills were a new addition. And Chelsea was forced to face the fact that she was on a reckless course that spelled disaster.

            The door to the sunroom opened. Chelsea turned her head and watched Sydney cross the room and pick up a sweater from a chair. A pretty girl, she had her mother’s blue eyes and blond hair, only she wore hers in a razor-cut shag that fell around her face. Chelsea watched her daughter hold the sweater against her chest and stare out the windows, oblivious of her presence. “Hey.”

            Sydney jumped. “Uhh…” She turned towards her. “Chelsea…I didn’t see you sitting there.”

            A pang of disappointment passed through her. Chelsea…not Mom. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

            “No problem.” Sydney started towards the door.

            “Please…sit with me for a minute. I haven’t seen much of you since we went out with Mom to celebrate our birthdays.”

            Sydney stiffened. “I’m packing. I have to be back in Stoney Creek for a yoga group session. The residence is full this weekend.”

            Chelsea felt awkward. She knew Sydney was angry with her. “Just for a few minutes. Talk to me.”

            Sydney sat rigidly in one of the wicker chairs facing her.

            “I know you’re upset with me.” Chelsea paused to gauge her daughter. “We need to discuss it.”

            The girl stared at the floor. “I don’t know if this is the right time.”

            “Somehow I think if I left it up to you, the time would never be right. You’re angry with me, I know.”

            Sydney raised her eyes and looked at her mother. “Yes…I’m angry. About a lot of things.”

            “Well then, let’s start with the first thing.”

            Sydney’s eye’s narrowed. “If you insist. I’m angry that you came on to Jax. What mother does that? Comes on to her daughter’s boyfriend?”

            Chelsea’s face reddened. “I did, and I’m sorry. But I was drunk at the time.”

            Her daughter leaned forward towards her. “Nuh-uh…you don’t get to write it off like being drunk is the excuse and that makes it okay.”

            “That wasn’t my intent, just an explanation. He had flattered me, and I needed that. As lame as it sounds, I forgot for the moment that he was with you. Of course, it was totally wrong, and I feel terrible about it. It won’t happen again.”

            The young woman sat back in her chair. “Until the next time you’re drunk. It hurts for me to say this, but how can I trust you? And I don’t mean just about Jax.”

            It was Chelsea’s turn to stare at the floor as she weighed her next words. “Today, I realized how messed up I am, and I…”

            Sydney interjected. “Yes, you are. It saddens me, disappoints me, and completely disgusts me.” She stood and paced the room. “I thought I’d found a mother…my mother. But you don’t act like a mother. You dress like me, you listen to the same music as me, and you act like we’re best friends or something. Chelsea, you’re forty years old; I’m twenty-two. I just don’t know how to absorb that.”

            Tears filled Chelsea’s eyes. “I was a good mother to you when you were a baby. Ask your Nan, she’ll tell you. But you’ve come back to me two years older than I was when I was abducted. I just…I just don’t know how to be a mother to an adult because I don’t even know how to be an adult myself.”

            Sydney sat back down. “And do you think you’ll find that out in the bottom of a bottle? Oh…and that’s number two on my angry list. Yes, you were victimized for twenty years. I can’t even begin to imagine how that affected you and what it cost you. God knows I’ve tried. I’ve been patient, tried to understand the stages, and I’ve gone to counselling. But you…you’ve given up.”

            Chelsea eyes flashed with anger. “I have not.”

            Her daughter leaned her arms across her knees and stared across at her mother. “Oh, really? You moved to Kelowna for a new start six months ago. You were going to go back to school. Instead you’ve become a drinker and partier and stopped going to therapy.” Sydney stood and grabbed her sweater. “And that brings me to the thing I’m angry about the most.”

            Staring up at her daughter, Chelsea said nothing. There was so much she wanted to say but knew it was best to let Sydney get out all the anger she’d been holding back. “Tell me.”

            “My Nan. She spent twenty years in silent pain, wondering if you were dead or alive.” Sydney paused. “It was easier for her to handle your disappearance by believing that maybe you ran off and were alive somewhere living a happy life, even if you didn’t want her in it. When we found you, do know how guilty she felt carrying that anger towards you for all those years, when you were right across the road the whole time locked up by her neighbour?”

            “There was no way she could know that,” Chelsea whispered.

            “No, there wasn’t. And then she got you back and instead of building on the time the two of you could spend together, you’re throwing it all away.” Sydney was worked up now, and her voice had risen to a fever pitch. “It’s one thing to deal with all of this, but watching Nan suffer—it sets my blood boiling. You lost twenty years of your life. There’s nothing you can do to change that. But you could have three times those years in your future to make up for them. But if you choose to remain a victim and follow the path you’re on, you’re going to self-destruct, and you’ll take Nan along with you. And if that happens, then I wish we’d never found you.”

            Sydney turned and ran out of the room.

            Chelsea was blinded by her tears. She wanted to chase after Sydney, but she couldn’t move. She stared ahead through the windows into the garden. Everything her daughter had said was true. This morning she’d faced her inner demons, seen herself as the person she’d become. She’d wanted to explain it to her daughter but knew in Sydney’s current emotional state she wouldn’t have believed her. It was better to say nothing.

The front door opened and closed. A few minutes later a car engine could be heard, and Chelsea knew her daughter had left. I wish we’d never found you. The words hurt. They cut deep into Chelsea’s psyche. She let the tears flow, buried her face in her hands and cried. She cried for the pain she was causing her mother and daughter; she cried for all that she’d lost; but most of all she cried for her own weakness.

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