Breathe (Sea Breeze #1) by Abbi Glines

Prologue

Life has always been a struggle for me. From what I could tell, it wasn't daisies for everyone else either. I never let go of the fantasy that one day I wouldn't feel so alone and isolated from the rest of the normal world. My dream is what kept me going many nights when I fought the desire to just disappear. It would be easier if I'd never been born.

I'm positive my mother sees things the same way. I know what you're thinking and, no, she never said those words, but my entrance into the world dramatically changed the course of her life. She'd been a beauty queen in the small Arkansas town where she'd grown up. Everyone said she would make it big someday, somehow, maybe her beauty and charm would have opened those doors, if she hadn't met the man who helped give me life. The fact is she ran off to become a star and fell in love with a very married man who didn't acknowledge me or help her for fear of tarnishing his social standing in the big city of Nashville, Tennessee.

A one-room shack in the hills of Tennessee is where we spent the first part of my life. Until the day my mother up and decided life would be easier in Alabama. On the southern coast, she could find work, and the sunshine would be good for us, or so she said. I knew she needed an escape, or maybe just a place to start over. If any one person could be a magnet for losers, my mom fit the profile, and, unfortunately, she was about to bring another child into the unstable life she managed to lead, where she greatly relied on a kid-me-to handle things. If only she had let me make her decisions for her in the dating world, like she did with the rest of her life. But, alas, we were headed to southern Alabama where the sun is supposed to shine bright and wash away all our worries...yeah, right.

Chapter One

"Mom, are you going to work today?" I rolled my eyes at my very pregnant mother who lay sprawled out on her bed in her panties and bra. Pregnancy made Jessica an even bigger drama queen than before having unsafe sex with another loser. She moaned and covered her head with a pillow. "I feel awful, Sadie. You just go on without me."

I'd seen this coming a mile away before school even let out. The last day of school landed yesterday, but instead of being able to go out and be a normal teenager, Jessica expected me to make the money. It was almost as if she'd planned on me working in her place all along.

"Mom, I can't just go to your work place and take your position. They won't be okay with your seventeen-year-old daughter doing your job." She pulled the pillow from her face and tossed me a sulk she'd perfected years ago. "Sadie I cannot continue cleaning house with my stomach the size of a beach ball. I'm so hot and tired. I need you to help me. You always figure stuff out." I walked over to the window unit and turned it off.

"If you would stop running the air at a continuous sixty-eight degrees, we might be able to get by on less money. Do you have any idea how much it costs to run a window unit all day long?" I knew she didn't know, nor did she care, but I still asked. She grimaced and sat up. "Do you have any idea how hot I am with all this extra weight?" she shot back at me.

It took all my restraint to keep from reminding her she hadn't used a condom. I bought them for her and made sure her purse always contained several. I and made sure her purse always contained several. I even reminded her before she went out on dates. Remembering who the adult was in our relationship could be difficult at times. Most of the time it seemed to me our roles were reversed, being the adult however did not mean she made smart decisions because Jessica simply did not know how to be responsible.

"I know you are hot, but we can't spend every dime we make on the air conditioner," I reminded her. She sighed and flopped back down on the bed.

"Whatever," she grumbled.

I walked over to her purse and opened it up. "Al right, I am going to go to your job today, by myself, and I hope they allow me inside the gate. If this doesn't work, don't say I didn't warn you. Al I am qualified for is minimum wage jobs, which won't pay our bills. If you would come with me, I would have a better chance of landing this position." I knew as I spoke the words, I'd already been tuned out. She'd worked for two months and managed to keep the job.

"Sadie, you and I both know you can handle it by yourself." I sighed in defeat and left her there. She would go back to sleep as soon as I left. I wanted to be mad at her, but seeing her so big made me pity her instead. She wasn't the best mom in the world, but she did belong to me. After I got my clothes on, I walked past her room and peeked through the door.

She softly snored with the window unit once again cranked to sixty-eight degrees. I thought about turning it off, but changed my mind. The apartment already felt warm, and the day would only get hotter.

I stepped outside and got on my bike. It took me thirty minutes to get to the bridge. The bridge would take me into the exclusive island connected to Sea Breeze, Alabama. The island wasn't where the locals lived, but where the wealthy came for the summer, which employed full staffs. Jessica managed to snag a job as a domestic servant at one of the houses making twelve dollars an hour. I prayed I would be able to take over her position without a hitch.

I found the address on her employee card I'd retrieved from her purse. My chances on getting this job were slim. The further I peddled onto the island, the larger and more extravagant the houses became. The address to my mother's place of employment landed three more houses down. She would, of course, have to work at the most extravagant house on the block, not to mention the very last one before the beach itself. I pulled up to a large ornate iron gate and handed Jessica's ID card to the guy working admittance. He frowned and gazed down at me. I handed him my driver's license. "I'm Jessica's daughter. She is sick, and I am supposed to work for her today." He continued to frown while he picked up a phone and called someone. That wasn't a good thing considering no one here knew I was coming in her place. Two large men appeared and walked up to me. Both sported dark sunglasses and reminded me of players who should be wearing football uniforms on NFL teams instead of being dressed in black suits.

"Miss White, can we see your bag please," one of them said rather than asked, while the other one took it off my shoulder. I swallowed and fought the urge to shudder.

They were intimidating, big, and didn't appear to trust me. I wondered if I seemed dangerous to them, al five feet six inches of me. I glanced down at my skimpy white shorts and purple tank top and wondered if they considered the fact it would be impossible to hide weapons in this outfit. I thought it somewhat strange the two big guys were reluctant to let me in. Even if I happened to be a threat, I do believe any one of them could have taken me blindfolded with their hands tied behind their back.

The image popped into my mind and made me want to laugh. I bit my bottom lip and waited to see if dangerous little me would be al owed entrance into the bigger than life iron gates.

"You're free to go, Miss White. Please take the servants entrance to the left of the stone wall and report to the kitchen where you will be instructed how to proceed."

Who were these people who needed two men the size of Goliath to guard their entrances? I got back on my bike and rode into the now open gates. Once I made it around the corner of lush palm trees and tropical gardens, I saw the house. It reminded me of houses on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I would've never guess houses like this even existed in Alabama. I'd been to Nashville once and seen houses similar in size, but nothing quite this spectacular.

I composed myself, pushed my bike around the corner trying to not stop, and stare at the massive size of everything. I leaned my bike against a wall out of sight. The doorway for the servants was designed to impress. At least twelve feet tall, a beautiful y engraved letter S adorned it. Not just tall, the door was real y heavy, causing me to use all my strength to pull it open. I peeked inside the large entry hall and stepped into a small area with three different arched doorways to choose from ahead of me.

Since I'd never been here before, I didn't know where the kitchen might be located. I walked up to the first door on the right and looked through the opening. It appeared to be a large gathering room but nothing fancy and no kitchen appliances, so I moved on to door number two, peeked inside, and found a large round table with people sitting around it. A large older lady stood in front of a stove unlike any I'd ever seen in a house. It was something you'd find in a restaurant. This had to be the place. I stepped inside the arched opening. The lady standing noticed me and frowned. "Can I help you?" she asked in a sharp authoritative tone even though she kind of reminded me of Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show.

I smiled, and the heat rose, threatening to spike out the top of my head as I watched all the people in the room turn to face me. I hated attention and did whatever I could to draw little to myself. Even though it seemed to be getting harder the older I got.

Anything which encouraged people to speak, I wanted to avoid the possibility if I could. It's not that I'm a recluse; it's just the fact I have a lot of responsibility. I figured out early in life friendships would never work for me. I'm too busy taking care of my mom. So, I perfected the art of being uninteresting.

"Um, uh, yes, I was told to report to the kitchen for further instructions." I quietly cleared my voice and waited. I didn't like the once over the lady shot me, but since I was here, I had no choice but to stay. "I know I sure didn't hire you. Who told you to come here?" I hated all those eyes on me and wished Jessica hadn't been so stubborn. I needed her here, at least for today. Why did she always do these things to me?

"I am Sadie White, Jessica White's daughter. She...uh...wasn't well today so I am here to work for her. I'm...uh...supposed to be working with her this summer." I wished I didn't sound so nervous, but the people stared. The lady up front frowned much like the way Aunt Bea looked when someone made her angry. It was tempting to turn and run. "Jessica didn't ask about you helping her this summer, and I don't hire kids. It is not a good idea with the family comin' down for the summer. Maybe during the fall when they leave, we can give you a try."

My nervousness from being the center of attention immediately disappeared, and I panicked at the thought of my mom losing this income we so desperately needed. If she found out I couldn't work for her, she would quit. I pulled my grown up voice out of the closet and decided I needed to show this lady I could do the job better than anyone else. "I can understand your concern. However, if you would give me a chance, I can and will show you I am an asset. I will never be late to work and will always complete the jobs assigned to me. Please, just a chance."

The lady glanced down at someone at the table as if to get an opinion. She moved her eyes back up at me, and I could see I broke through her resolve.

"Ok, Sadie White, your chance starts now. I'm going to team you up with Fran here who has been working at this home as long as I have. She'll instruct you and report back to me. I will have you an answer at the end of the day. Here is your trial, Miss White; I suggest you don't blow it." I nodded and smiled over at the now standing Fran. "Follow me," the tall, skinny redhead who appeared to be at least sixty-five years old said before she turned and left the room.

I did as instructed and didn't make eye contact with any of the others in the room. I had a job to save. Fran walked me down a hall way and past several doors. We stopped, opened one, and stepped inside. The room contained shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling. Large, dark brown leather chairs were scattered around the room. None faced each other or looked to be used for any type of visiting or socializing. The room was clearly set up to be a library. A place where someone could come, find a book, and lose themselves in one of the large cushy chairs. Fran swung her arm out in front of her gesturing to the room with a bit of flair. It surprised me coming from the older lady. "This is Mrs. Stone's favorite spot. It's been closed off all year. You will dust the books and shelves, clean the leather with the special cleaner, and Windex the windows. Vacuum the drapes, clean, and wax the hard woods. This room must shine. Mrs. Stone likes things perfect for her sanctuary. I will come get you at lunchtime, and we will dine in the kitchen." She walked to the door, and I heard her thank someone. She stepped back inside pulling a cart full of cleaning supplies. "This will have everything you need. Be careful with al framed artwork and pieces of art. I warn you everything in this house is very valuable and must be treated with utmost care. Now, I expect you to work hard and not waste any time with foolishness." The tight-faced Ms. Fran left the room. I circled around, taking in the extravagance of my surroundings. The room wasn't real y big; it just seemed full. I could clean this. I hadn't been asked to do anything impossible. I went for the dusting supplies and headed for the ladder connected to the bookshelves. I might as well start at the top, since dust falls.

I managed to get everything dusted and the windows cleaned before Fran returned to get me for lunch. I needed a break and some food. Her frowning face was a welcome sight. She moved her gaze around the room and nodded before leading me back down the same path I'd taken this morning in silence. The smell of fresh baked bread hit me as we rounded the corner and stepped into the large bright kitchen. Ms. Mary stood over the stove pointing to a younger lady who wore her hair in a bun covered with a hair net just like Ms. Mary.

"Smells good, Henrietta. I believe you've got it. We will test this batch out on the help today, and if everyone likes it, you can take over the bread baking for the family's meals." Ms. Mary turned, wiping her hands on her apron "Ah, here is our new employee now. How are things going?" Ms. Fran nodded and said, "Fine." Either this lady didn't smile much or she just didn't like me.

"Sit, sit, we have much to get done before the family arrives." I sat down after Fran did, and Ms. Mary sat trays of food in front of us. I must be doing something right since Fran directed her words in my direction. "Al the help eat at this table. We all come at different shifts for lunch. You may choose what you want to eat." I nodded and reached for the tray of sandwiches and took one. I took some fresh fruit from a platter.

"The drinks are over there on the bar. You may go choose what's there or fix something yourself." I went over and poured some lemonade. I ate in silence while I listened to Ms. Mary direct the lady she called Henrietta. They seemed to be making bread for tonight's meal. Neither Fran nor I made any attempt at conversation.

After we were done, I followed Fran to the sink where we rinsed our plates and loaded them into the large dishwasher ourselves. Just as silent, we returned to the library. I was a little less nervous now and more interested in my surroundings. I noticed the portraits as we walked down the hall way. There were portraits of two very cute little boys. The further I walked, the older they seemed to get. Toward the large opening we would cross going to the library, an oddly familiar face smiled down at me from a life size painting. A face I'd seen many times on television and in magazines. Just last night during dinner, he had been on television. Jessica watched Entertainment Daily during our meal. Teen rocker and heartthrob Jax Stone was one of their favorite topics. Last night he'd been on the arm of a girl rumored to be in his new music video. Fran stopped behind me. I turned to her, and she seemed focused on the portrait.