Excerpt: Prologue

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Samantha stood on the front porch of Miss Sophie’s house waiting for the new live-in caretaker to arrive. She’d fired the previous company because her client was only getting worse under its care. Besides, she didn’t like that they hadn’t fed and bathed her well during the company’s tenure. The house was never tidy, and the yard was overgrown. Admittedly, Samantha knew it wasn’t the caretakers’ responsibility to clean the house and take care of the lawn, but it only added to the perceived gross negligence of their services to Miss Sophie. And as Miss Sophie’s attorney and guardian, Samantha had to make some difficult decisions.

The new company provided full at-home services. One caretaker would be in charge of making sure the needs of the household were met. It was a hefty price to pay, but Miss Sophie could afford it.

Samantha watched a red minivan approach the house. Finally. She heard the engine turn off. As the cooling engine clicked, a very tall man dressed in black scrubs emerged from the car. Samantha waited for a woman to step out from the passenger side—preferably a matronly woman, thick around the middle, with well-worn nursing shoes tightly fitted on her feet. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the tall, pleasant-looking man approached her with an extended hand. He smiled. He had one of those commercial-ready toothy grins with gleaming white teeth. His hair was neatly groomed, long on the top and low on the sides.

He extended his hand toward Samantha long before he reached her. “You must be Samantha.”

“You can’t possibly be Joy.”

“No. I’m Jay. See, right here,” he said and pointed to the paperwork he brought for her signature. “That’s an a, not an o.” Jay stood so close Samantha had to ease back on her heels. “Jason, actually. Jason Michaels. Most people just call me Jay.”

“I was expecting a woman, Mr. Michaels, and I don’t know how this will work with you being male. My client needs full services, complete care. That means bathing her and helping her use the bathroom—” she began, but he put up his hand to stop her.

“Not to worry, Samantha. I’ve worked with both men and women. I know what needs to be done, and your client will be in good hands. Mine. Here’s all of my info. Call as often as you need to. I have no problem with it. Now, let’s go meet Miss Sophie.”

Leery, Samantha looked at him, scanning his lean body from head to toe. Her decision to invite him into the house had been a quick one because Miss Sophie desperately needed the help.

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A mixture of rancid odors wafted out as Samantha opened the door. They both winced. The musty funk, layered between urine and feces and wrapped up in decay, made Jay gag a bit. Samantha covered her nose and mouth with her hand.

Jay grimaced. “When was the last time anyone was here?”

“Only a day.”

“Then it’s a good thing you fired them and hired me. This is,” he stepped over food that had dried on the wood floor, “simply deplorable.”

Samantha pushed her hair behind her ear. “I’ll go get her. Stay right here.”

As she disappeared upstairs, Jay took a stroll around the immediate area, noticing piles of dirty clothes—stained with vomit and feces—stashed in a closet, nowhere near the laundry room. There was food on the floor and splatters on the wall, the toilet had rings of mold and waste, and dust was caked in a thick layer on all surfaces. He shook his head. This is deplorable, he thought.

Jay heard a faint ding and turned toward the noise. It was a small elevator. Samantha pushed her wheelchair-bound client from the elevator and locked her in position in front of Jay. He was alarmed by Miss Sophie’s frailty. There wasn’t much to her. Her hair had thinned into long, flat brown strings dangling from her head. Her cheeks were sunken in, her lips were chapped, her eyes solemn, and her skin blotchy. Her fingernails were like thin sheets on her fingertips. It was disquieting how near to death she appeared. And she was only thirty.

He squatted down to eye level with Miss Sophie and took her hand in his. He felt a bit of resistance from her, which was a promising sign—she had muscle control.

“Hi, Sophie. I’m Jason Michaels.” As he spoke slowly, something in Miss Sophie’s eyes seemed to light up, yet she couldn’t utter a word. “My friends call me Jay, so you can call me Jay, too. I’m going to be taking care of you and your beautiful home.”

He felt her grip tighten just a bit—not much, but just enough to demonstrate she was aware of him and possibly understood what he had said.

Samantha handed Jay the papers she’d just signed. “Here. I’ll check in with you tomorrow. Do you need anything?”

“The grocery list—the things she likes, as best as you know.”

Samantha nodded. “I’ll email it to you in the morning.”

She shook Jay’s hand and rapidly headed for the door, not wanting to look back. It was too painful seeing her client like that.

“It’s a shame what’s happened to her.” Jay sucked his teeth while shaking his head. “I followed her career, you know.”

Facing the door, her back to Jay, Samantha paused as she reached for the doorknob. “It is a shame.” She wanted to say more. She wanted to rant about how Miss Sophie’s family had embezzled her money while claiming to be working in her best interests. She wanted to talk about how they had controlled Miss Sophie’s life—even choosing whom she’d date and running off anybody who didn’t agree with them. But Samantha knew she couldn’t say a word. “Just let me know if you need anything. You have my number.” With that said, she walked out of the house, gently closing the door behind her.

Miss Sophie had been a child star on the scale of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus—a child prodigy who had become one of the world’s greatest young performers. Her family—parents and siblings, she had no other relatives—who later perished in a commuter plane crash, had used Miss Sophie’s wealth and fame to get whatever they could. Some had even stolen from her by embezzling money from her accounts. No one, except her attorney, looked out for her. Miss Sophie’s family even controlled her personal life—telling her who she could be in a relationship with, when she could marry, and so on. When she became pregnant at eighteen and secretly married her baby’s father, Miss Sophie’s family forced her to give up her baby and annul the marriage to protect her clean public image. That was the beginning of her fall from fame because she was never the same after that.

Jay rushed to the door and lost his grip when he tried to pull it open. It was heavier than he’d thought. He tried again, this time yanking hard. The door flung open, and he ran onto the porch, calling out to Samantha. “The keys!” Jay waited for Samantha to get out of her car and then asked, “Where’s my copy of the keys?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” She dug in her purse and pulled out a set of keys as she approached Jay. “This one is for the car. This one, to the front door. This is for the shed. This one’s for…” She noticed his annoyed glare. “I’m sure you can figure it out.”

He smiled at her. “Don’t worry, Samantha. Miss Sophie will be just fine. I promise I’ll take good care of her.”

“I’m sure you will, Mr. Michaels.” She nodded even though she wasn’t at all sure. She could only be hopeful.

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Najah's Quest Copyright © 2015 by Michele Kimbrough. All Rights Reserved.

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