A Prisoner's Promise

an excerpt

Chapter 1

August 1976 - Washington D.C.

Anne Algani balanced precariously on an A-shaped ladder as she leaned in to sandpaper a plaster-filled nail hole. She wiped the side of her chalky palm on blue bib-coveralls and squinted at the wall. Bright pink paint, the color of a stomach medicine sold at the local drugstore, teased her brain.

Nah. Maybe purple with polka dots. She giggled.

The house belonged to Anne and was hers to paint any way she wanted. The home that used to be full of family, now housed only her.

It's all mine.

She glanced over at the ball of white fluff basking on a windowsill.

And Tilly's.

Anne raised her chin toward the ceiling. "I'll guess neither of you will complain about the changes."

The corners of her mouth curved as she imagined her parents watching her actions from above. Wild colors adorned the four upstairs rooms, including crazy-flowered wallpaper in two of the rooms and bright orange with graffiti designs in the other two. The upstairs hallway held zebra- striped walls and vertical strings, with clip-on zoo animals for her nephew and nieces to reattach anywhere they pleased. Below in the dining room and den, each wall held a different shade and doodles from the kids were welcome. Unpolished hardwood floors, a messy kitchen with dishes and pots stacked in the sink, unfolded clothes in the laundry basket. The ideal way nineteen-year-old Anne wanted to live her life.

She turned to scrutinize the living room walls. The paint cans and brushes rested on the floor below the ladder ready for the final mixing.

"Sea-colored turquoise for now."

No rules to follow. No one to order me around.

She started at the sound of the doorbell and almost slid off the ladder.

"Damn." She let out a whistle of relief and steadied herself.

Not the way I want to die.

After almost losing her balance on the ladder, a small breast peeked out from the elastic tube top she wore. As she padded barefoot across the floor to the door, she inched her breast back into the red piece of elasticized cotton. At the entranceway mirror, Anne tried rubbing off the white streaks on her face with spit and when that didn't work she stuck out her tongue in disgust. She readjusted the clip holding her long black locks at the nape of her neck.

The bell rang a second time. Her gaze honed in on the peek-hole.

A bearded man in pajamas? What the heck?

Another peer outside brought about a shudder. Her dad's living image rocked back and forth on her front porch clutching a bouquet of flowers. She turned her back to the door and leaned against it. The sound of dirt thudding on her dad's coffin, two years prior, flickered across her mind. That vivid picture never left, especially when Anne slept.

So who is standing at my door?

A hard knock on the door jarred her back to the present.

Anne jerked around and unlatched the bolt. The security chain allowed the door to open two inches. She put her nose to the opening and narrowed an eye to get a better look. Wavy black hair, handsome. Only one difference. This person had a long black beard compared to her clean-shaven dad.

"Ana, open the door, please. It is I, Yasir's brother."

Anne stood rigid. She could never forget her dad's voice. Her head screamed no, make this man go away but her heart said let him in.

"No one here by that name."

She tried to close the door but a sandaled toe forced its way into the two-inch opening.

The man sighed. "I am your father's brother. Please do not be alarmed. I come in peace."

Crap. My dad had a brother. She released the chain, opened the door.

The olive-skinned man pushed a bunch of daisies against her chest. She grabbed them before they fell. A fragrant mix of ginger and chamomile blew across her face.

"I am your father's brother," he repeated as if rehearsed. "I have come to take you home."