Absinthe Of The Heart (Sins Of The Heart #1)

By: Monica James

For my sister.





1977



“Mommy, this sweater itches,” griped Delores Brooks as she tugged at the collar of her prickly pullover.

“I know, baby. Mommy is sorry, but it’s part of the uniform.” Elsa tightened the blue ribbons in her daughter’s pigtails one more time. She had to look perfect.

Delores chewed at the corner of her mouth as best she could because her missing two front teeth prohibited her habit, making it almost impossible to do. She was nervous, but she didn’t let it show. She knew how much this meant to her mother.

Crouching to level her daughter with her emerald gaze, she brushed away any imperfections that might reveal just who Delores really was. “Do you remember what I told you?”

Delores’s hooded eyes widened as she peered around, watching with interest as her fellow pupils were walked to the white gates by their parents. They looked so different from Delores’s mom. They wore designer suits and expensive furs, their gold jewelry and different color diamonds illustrating to the world just who they were. In their social circles, they ate people like Delores and Elsa for breakfast. They looked down their nose jobs at people like them, who didn’t have fifty dollars to their name.

They didn’t belong here, and the rich folk knew it. They only had to take one look at Elsa’s thrift store outfit to know where the Brooks stood in the greater scheme of things. But with Elsa’s mother passing and leaving her only daughter a small fortune, Delores now had the opportunity to attend one of the most elite, private elementary schools in California. This institute was a feeder to Harvard-Westlake, where Delores would be attending after she finished the sixth grade. God rest her soul, if it wasn’t for Alene’s passing, then Delores would be attending her first day of kindergarten at the public school close to home. Elsa had no problems with that reality. It was good enough for her.

However, it was Alene’s dying wish that her only granddaughter got the best education she couldn’t provide for her daughter. Alene and her husband, Bram, were Dutch immigrants who came to America to better their life. And they did, for the most part, until Bram ran off with a waitress and left his family to fend for themselves. Alene did the best she could. She worked three jobs to look after her daughter, but times were tough.

Elsa was that kid in school. No one wanted to play with her because she wore hand-me-down clothes and lived off food stamps, but she never cared. She got pregnant when she was nineteen and married her high school sweetheart six months later. Life wasn’t easy, but she and Tyler made it work. Life was good back then, but things…they change.

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

Elsa quickly wiped away her tears, not wanting her nostalgia to ruin her daughter’s first day at school. “I’m just so happy. Look at you in your uniform. You’re such a big girl.”

Delores smiled, peering down at her white shirt and navy pinafore dress. She’d never owned such shiny shoes before. She was certain she could see her reflection in the gleam. The sweater still itched, but she resisted the urge to scratch.

“Delores—” Elsa turned serious, lowering her voice “—what did Mommy tell you?”

They’d practiced this speech a thousand times before, so Delores knew it by heart. “My name is Delores Brooks, and I live in Bel Air.” Elsa nodded, relieved her daughter could recite the lie with ease.

The truth would eventually unravel, but all Elsa wanted was for Delores to be on equal ground with her peers as long as she could before they judged and ostracized her for being different—for being poor.

“Why do I have to lie?” Delores’s innocence broke Elsa’s heart. Her sweet, naïve daughter would soon figure out why.

“It’s to protect you, baby,” she replied, brushing the silken hair from Delores’s brow. “I love you so much. You’re my little angel. Never forget it.”

“I love you too, Mommy. Is Daddy coming to pick me up?”

Elsa’s heart didn’t just break; it shattered into a million unrepairable pieces. She barely held it together, knowing one mishap would taint her daughter’s future forever. “No, I told you…Daddy is with Grandma Alene.”

“In heaven?” Delores asked, not fully grasping the concept. Delores saw the casket, but how could Elsa explain to a five-year-old her father died of leukemia? He was the healthiest man Elsa knew. His life insurance would take care of them for a little while, but if Elsa had her way, she’d give back every penny if it meant he would still be alive.

“Yes, baby, in heaven. That’s right. It’s just you and me.”