About The Book
"I am hurting. Fractured in places stitches can't heal." Autumn’s Child tells the desperate story of Layla, as a young and naive twelve year-old girl. Over ten critical years, her life quickly changes like the colors of the trees in autumn. The accidental death of her parents forces her to abandon her religious, middle-class lifestyle. She moves to the inner city of Chicago with her grandmother and aunt, her only living relatives. Layla tries to approach her new life with optimism, but the perfections of her past life haunt her tormented journey. After coming to grips with the reality over the years that her only aunt despises her, Layla soon discovers that she may secretly hold the keys to helping her aunt’s diminishing health in her hands. Layla’s faith and sanity are continuously tested as she matures throughout each season of her life. She stumbles through her new found reality while learning how to play the distinct set of cards she’s been dealt. Layla’s neighbor and best friend, Shay, helps guide her from adolescence into adulthood. Autumn’s Child chronicles a life on the opposite side of the coin; where friendships grow out of tragedy, and the pressure of a marginalized life weighs heavily on pure souls. Layla must make many compromising decisions, all while perpetually asking the reader, What would you do?
About The Author
L. Nicole Murray is a creative writer by passion, training, and profession. She is a Columbia College graduate with a degree in Fiction Writing and Marketing. Nicole’s dual Gemini personality helps her pursue creative writing as a personal profession. Nicole explores the creative landscape of the mind to craft fiction out of real emotion. She currently writes short stories, novels, poems, and screen plays. Autumn’s Child is her first novel.
Book Excerpt-Chapter One
The walls are not white to give off the feeling of security so needed in a place such as this. Instead, they are yellow, the faded color of perfection. But Dr. Patel is my savior now, the one that will fish me out of this sea, the lifeguard that jumps in when you’re already half dead, my shrink, or, as some would say, my therapist. It’s interesting how truthful you can be with a total stranger, but it is so easy to lie to yourself for years.
“Have you ever had something that you gave away so easily stolen from you?” I ask, as hidden truths regurgitate from my mouth like a sinner ready to give his life to the Lord.
“Slow down Layla. What are you referring to?” she asks in a yoga instructor’s tone.
“Okay, not that. Let’s start with my shitty failures or maybe my abandonment.” I take a deep breath in as the ticking of the clock calculates my lifeline.
“Would you like for me to call you Layla or LaLa?”
“Okay, Layla. We are not going to start with your abandonment. We are going to start from the beginning. Think back.”
So I drift back to eleven years ago, to my truth as I remember it. My mom woke me up. She was happy as usual, singing her morning song, which was uplifting, and annoying, but routine. “Rise and shine and give God the Glory, Glory. Rise and shine and give God the Glory, Glory.” Her tune replayed, louder and louder, over and over until I realized it was not a dream and, yes, my mother was really that happy every morning at I woke up to the smell of pancakes, peaches, and lavender Lysol disinfectant spray. Those scents were my only true inspirations to wake up with a smile on my face. I remember her as some kind of Betty Crocker mom, one of those perfect mothers that just happened to be in a great mood all the time. She would wake up every morning at , read whatever portion of the Bible she had assigned me that day, cook breakfast, wake my father up, and then nudge me out of bed. Our home was a large framed house with a big enough back yard, since I was an only child. But most things seemed big then considering that the Lord of Host probably came by to pay my parents a personal visit from time to time. You know, with him being the topic of every conversation. Let me put it like this: I knew the names of every book of the Bible in order, New Testament and Old, before I knew how to spell my own name. But that didn’t bother me. I grew accustomed to it. It was the only life I knew at the time and the only life I still crave now, but that was years ago when the weather was never that bad in Pleasanton, California, always 75 degrees with a 40 percent chance of rain.
On this particular day there were no Bible scriptures to memorize, no church picnic. It was my day, the day my parents finally agreed to allow me to go to my best friend from school’s birthday party by myself, unattended by her, or him, or Jesus. Just me, my friends and cake. I hurried to the kitchen table to see my daddy’s wide smile, “There’s my pretty song. Good morning butterscotch. How you feelin’ this morning?”
“Well. How are you?”
“Blessed and highly favored,” he replied, as usual, in scripture form. In the mornings, my mom was always busy getting ready for the day, so breakfast was typically one-on-one time for my daddy and me. We both dug into our pancakes and my mom’s heaven eggs when he asked as expected, “You’re going to be my little good girl today, right?”
“But of course,” I looked up and gave him my most convincing smile.
“I know you will.”
We both finished our food and I excused myself from the table to get ready. I put on my long blue jean shorts and ‘love is’ embroidered T-shirt. We both dashed out the house and drove down Driftwood Boulevard until we reached my best friend Sara MacNair’s house.
I remember singing my heart out the entire way. Choir rehearsal was immediately after the party and I was planning to audition for a lead in the junior’s. I practiced, imitating my mom’s beautiful voice. I wanted to show everyone that I could not only have the lead in the kid’s choir, but I might also be ready to join the teen choir even though I was slightly shy of thirteen.”
“If anybody ask you,” I sang and my mother followed with perfect back harmony, “Anybody ask you.”
“Where I’m going.”
“Where I’m going.”
“Sooooon, I’m going up e yonder to be with my Lord ord ord.” I just sang and sang until I opened my eyes and I saw her watching me through the rearview mirror at a stoplight.
“That’s some voice you got girl. Where did you get that voice from?” she giggled proudly.
“Naw, baby girl, you got that voice from the Lord. Keep singing like that, they’re going to put you in the adult choir. You’ll be singing with your mama. I can’t wait to see you on stage at auditions tonight. I want you to do it just like that. Sing from your diaphragm, you remember, the bottom of your soul where Jesus lives and let it all come out.”
We were nearing the corner of Sara’s house when she turned around to say,
“Now I talked to Ms. MacNair and she promised me she was going to keep a special eye on you. I’ll be back to pick you up later. I can’t be with you today. Got a lot of errands to run before the church picnic next week.”
“I know you’re a good girl, but you know not everyone’s like us. Not everyone has found Jesus yet, but it’s our job to help them. You understand? So if they’re playing that worldly music you just sit back in the corner and pray for their souls. But for no reason are you allowed to dance to those devil songs, you hear me?”
“Yes, Mama,” I said. I knew this speech in my sleep. It had been inculcated in my brain since conception.
“Now what’s our scripture of the day?” she asked looking back into the rear view mirror, “Stop biting your nails.”
“You didn’t give me one today.”
“Well, what’s the one from yesterday?”
“John . ‘God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved,’” I rambled off as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance.
“That’s my girl. You remember that. You’re a child of God, too, you know.”
My mom walked to the door of the sinful house and before entering she turned around and asked, “You nervous?” But it was she who was nervous about not being there to bodyguard me from any demonic force that could possibly cause a distraction from her will. To oblige her I said, “Yeah, I’m kind of nervous, but it’s okay. I have the shield of righteousness.” I knew she would like that. She always loved it when I spoke her language. Her smile shined down on me on their doorstep and I looked up to her in more than one way. Looking back, she was beautiful that June day. God’s third eye, the sun, articulated her skin making it manifest into the color of Shea butter intertwined with honey. Smooth, sweet, and beautiful she was and that face is what’s tattooed on my inner eyelids as we speak.
We walked into their finely decorated townhouse as my mother scanned the rooms quietly as if searching for Satan lurking in a corner. Everyone had been out back in the yard grilling hot dogs and burgers, all the foods that a sixth grade birthday party should have. My mother walked over to Ms. MacNair by the grill who smiled at my mother the way the Gentiles would have smiled at Jesus: cocky, but fearful. Sara waved me over towards her and my mother tapped my arm, “Not without my hug,” she said.
I remember feeling embarrassed to hug her, timid with all eyes on me, so I reached up, patted twice on her back, and attempt to let go, but she was glued to me, held me tightly like it was the first time. Finally her grip loosened and she whispered in my ear before fully letting go, “You sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“You can go now, Mama.”
“Remember what we talked about. I’m going on a few errand runs and to pick your father up. We’ll be back a little later.” She then leaned in closer and whispered, “If you want me to pick you up earlier just leave a message on the house phone, K?”
I shook my head and finally headed towards my friends playing Twister as the food cooked. My mother loitered around making idle conversation with Ms. MacNair.
I was on the mat, two legs on red and one hand on yellow, when Tiffany pointed toward the back door and asked confusedly, “Your mom’s leaving?” I bent my head down and looked between my legs. There she was, upside-down and walking out the door. The girls glared over at me as if my Siamese twin detached herself miraculously right before their eyes, like we were playing some kind of stunt that we had practiced the day before. I looked at all of them. Amber was picking her nose, searching for her next appetizer. Tiffany’s cheeks scrunched as she watched, making her glasses wobble slightly on her thin nose. Rebecca just stood there waiting for Tiffany to say something of value that she could co-sign with a laugh. Then I looked over to Sara and took off running through the backyard and up the stairs with Ms. MacNair yelling after me.
“What did you girls do to her?” she screeched over her shoulders to my friends. I was out the door by then and luckily my mom was still in the driveway when I knocked on the car window. She looked up and opened the door quickly as if a mugger was chasing me.
Her dark eyes brightened as I crawled into the sweaty leather backseat of her pearly white BMW. I grabbed the Little Mermaid wrapped box and ran out the car. “Thanks, Mom,” I yelled behind me with a self-assured arrogance.
“Alright princess. You be good.”
Almost back at the front door, I heard her voice again, “LaLa come here for a second.” I kept walking. “LaLa.”
I turned around. What could she want now? “We forgot to put a bow on the box.” Sitting sideways in the driver’s seat, her long gold summer dress still accenting her curvy mom’s figure, she twisted around and got a plastic grocery bag off of the floor on the passenger’s side. She told me to turn around and took something out of the bag, placed both her hands behind her back, and said, “If you sing our song, I’ll let you pick a hand.” I started singing. I already knew what it was; I was at the store when she bought it.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” And I held the last note a second longer because I knew she liked that.
I pointed to her right hand as she bit her bottom lip and smiled that sunshine smile again. She handed over a big bag of purple Skittles. I could not believe she gave me the whole bag. “Share with your friends.”
I grinned the entire way back to the house and this time I saw her drive away. But, you know, what I remember most about the walk back was her pearls. Those beautiful pearls with a cluster of diamonds, in the middle, centered above her heart. I hardly ever saw her without them. My daddy use to call her his ‘little pearl girl.’ My mother always said, “Only a real lady can wear pearls.” I just guessed I wasn’t a real lady yet because I could only wear plastic or fake jewelry. But those damn pearls, you know, they made her skin look new, pure like she was my age. When I think about her in those pearls they make me think that there is something perfect in the world, outside of the oysters and blood diamonds, that somewhere, maybe here or there, something or someone is perfect.