Once You Were Gone

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If you love mystery and suspense with a heavy dose of romance, then you’re in for a page-turning thrill! This is a heart-wrenching book with more heart-stopping twists and turns than a roller coaster! Mary’s Mother reportedly dies in childbirth after suffering the shock of her husband’s involvement with the mob. Donald disappears after embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the family business. Theresa is sent to New York to have her baby in secret in order to save the family from the scandal of it all. Grace, her sister takes the baby to raise after Theresa’s death. Grace gives Mary everything, a fancy home, clothes, a Nany and tutor, everything except for love and kindness. Aunt Grace can’t stand the sight of the red-haired girl that looks like her father and reminds her of the sudden and tragic death of her beloved sister. James and Julia fall in love with Mary. There is something special about the young girl Julia wonders why she had never seen her in school before. Mary had been tutored at home and away from other children. Julia takes the child under her wing. It’s not long until Mary becomes part of their family and visits every day after school. When James finds bruises on the young girl things get heated. They go to the police and make a report against Grace, That's when Mary is kidnapped and all hell breaks loose.

Thriller / Romance
Annette Spenner
4.0 5 reviews
Age Rating:

Julia 1971

Julia sat on the old worn window seat overlooking the garden from her bedroom window. It was early evening, and she wished to be outside in the garden watching the sunset on a lovely day in Charleston, South Carolina. The dogwood trees and azaleas were in full bloom across the hills of her family’s plantation. The massive oak trees spread out across the acreage, heavily laden with thick moss, bringing long shadows across the land.

She could hear the fading squawks of Blue Jays ringing through the air and the buzzing of bees as they slowly made their way home after a long day of flitting from flower to flower. Julia gazed lazily over the colorful flower beds below, her head resting on her hands, elbows perched on the sill of the opened window.

The plantation had been in their family since the early 1700s. The Williams family had deep roots here. Julia’s Grandfather was born in the Master bedroom that her parents now occupied. Julia’s Paternal Grandfather lived here his entire life. He was born and died in the same bedroom. Julia was only three years old when Papa died. Tragically, he was struck down with cancer when he was only forty-seven years old.

Julia’s Grandmother continued to live there for the next twelve years. It crushed her when Nana Jules passed away. She was a sweet woman that doted on Julia. Nana Jules always made herself available to her. She felt sorry for the lonely child. She often thought It a shame that Maggie couldn’t have more children in this big house.

Julia’s ancestors grew cotton and tobacco. They owned slaves there. It was a fact that she hated to admit or even think about. She was glad that her Papa had the slave shacks removed. She hated the few sad pictures of the slaves that lived in those horrid shacks from the late 1700s. Julia had found her family’s plantation history in the world book encyclopedia. It was quite fascinating.

Julia’s Grandfather had some terrible memories from his childhood. He had witnessed the worst beatings and cruelty imaginable. Something Julia thought no person should ever endure. It was awful the way her Great Grandfather and others from the era treated black folks.

Her Papa felt that negative energy surrounded the cabins, and their eerie presence gave him the creeps. He knew tortured souls from the past haunted the shacks so as soon as he inherited the plantation he had the shacks bulldozed.

Julia’s Father, Benjamin Williams, continued farming and grew tobacco. He hired migrant workers and paid them well. He had bunkhouses built on the plantation to house them. The Migrant workers came every year at harvest time. Julia’s Father treated them well. They had running water, toilets, and kitchens, unlike the horrible slave shacks that used to be there.

The working families ate well, with endless amounts of fruits and vegetables from the gardens and orchards. Father would slaughter a pig and chickens for their meat. Julia loved the families that would stay through the harvest season. She looked forward to the children that came every year to help their families in the fields.

Julia longed for the company of other children. As an only child, it thrilled her when the visiting children came to play with her. She would invite them to swim with her in the swimming pool behind the house. She had such wonderful memories of them splashing around without a care in the world until their folks came around to usher them back to work for their supper.

Julia stirred from her thoughts. she could smell the sweet aroma of honeysuckle wafting in through the opened window. The sweetness of the fragrance lifted her spirits somewhat. She felt under the weather and had retired to her bedroom after school to rest. Julia hated the dreaded curse she had to endure every month. It always made her feel ill. The rest had done her good and she was feeling much better than earlier that day.

Her mother was concerned about her excessive menstrual pain. Maggie was afraid that she could have developed the endometriosis that plagued her and prevented her from having more children. Julia had seen the doctor and did, indeed have the ailment and there was growing concern that Julia may never have children.

“Miss Julia, what are you doing up here in your room? You should be out in the garden.” Said Tawny, a bit of concern in her voice.

It wasn’t like Julia to be indoors in the early evenings. She was usually sitting on the front porch at this time of day or out in the garden. Julia looked up, a bit startled from the sudden intrusion on her thoughts.

Julia smiled at Tawny, She had been her constant companion since childhood. Tawny’s Mama, Lucille was a housemaid for the Williams family. Lucille had been employed by her parents for six years now. Lucille became an unfortunate single mother after her husband died in a Tennessee mine collapse. Tawny was only nine years old when her father died. Lucille had family in Cottageville, South Carolina so she packed up Tawny and the few items she could bring on the train and headed for South Carolina.

After getting settled with her family in Cottageville, Lucille found employment with Julia’s Parents. Julia and Tawny were only a year apart. Tawny was ten when she first met and became fast friends with Julia. The children were inseparable. Because Julia was an only child she was a bit spoiled. She had everything she ever wanted except for a sister and Tawny filled Julia’s desire quite nicely.

“Tawny, I am not feeling well. I’m afraid I will not be good company for you today.” Julia answered softly.

“Oh, I see. Well, I only wanted to tell ya that James is down at the woodshed talkin’ to yo’ daddy. Since you not feelin’ good, I’ll go tell him you is up here whinin’ cuz you got yo period.” Tawny laughed.

“Oh, my God! I look like crap! Hurry, help me get ready!” Julia jumped up quickly from her perch and started for her closet to find a suitable dress.

“Girl, yo know you could go out there in a gunny sack and look good to that boy.” Tawny shook her head grinning and chuckling under her breath.

Julia laughed, she loved Tawny and her easy, carefree ways. She was a tall, lean girl with smooth caramel-colored skin. She had an Afro and was the epitome of the seventies flower child. She wore bell-bottom hip-huggers and bright colored crop tops that showed off her tiny waist and belly ring. She wore the biggest hoop earrings that Julia had ever seen. Julia found them utterly ridiculous, but that was Tawny. She was a hippie chick and very different from Julia. She was a free spirit and into Jimmie Hendricks and Janice Joplin. She had blacklight posters on the walls of her room and would hang out there for hours listening to music.

Julia knew she smoked pot. She could smell its pungent odor on her whenever Tawny got close to her. She found it repulsive. She had inadvertently walked in on Tawny in the woodshed one day. Tawny was only thirteen and Julia was fourteen. Tawny tried to get Julia to take a toke, but Julia had no desire. She was more the preppy type. She liked to wear sundresses and broad-brimmed hats. Julia had long straight blond hair parted down the middle. She had a golden bronze complexion from days spent outside in the gardens. Julia loved to lie by the pool in her backyard and read romance novels. She loved reading books and hoped to one day be a teacher.

Julia got dressed quickly and headed down the wide and winding marble staircase. She had changed into a pretty spring sundress. It was bright yellow with a white daisy trim. She hoped she wouldn’t be overdressed, but she wanted to look beautiful for James, even though she knew he was probably out of her league.

Why was he here? She wondered as she strolled through the large front door and onto the over-sized front porch, dripping in southern charm. It was a lovely here with massive ferns hanging along the whitewashed railings. Large rocking chairs lined the walls and tables were set with light blue cloths and white lace. Mother always made sure that it was a welcome retreat for anyone working or visiting the plantation.

She expected that her Father and James would be here, sipping on iced tea, but the chairs were empty. She scanned the front yard for any sign of them but didn’t see them there. She walked toward the back of the house, toward the woodshed where Tawny said she had spotted them earlier. As she rounded the house she saw them standing at the edge of the garden, Father smoking his pipe, James looking handsome in jeans and a grey pullover sweater. They seemed to be in pleasant conversation.

Julia sighed and slowed her pace, she didn’t want to seem too anxious as to express how excited she was to see James. He was the Quarterback for their high school football team. He was cute with his tanned skin and dark hair. His blue eyes were intense and his smile made her heart patter wildly. He was a God at school, and all the girls wanted him. Julia couldn’t believe he asked her out. She was the one girl that never pursued him. She never even thought she had a chance with him. Julia had no intention of standing in a long line of girls to be the next to go out with him or any other boy for that matter.

He and his jock friends just thought they were the cat’s meow. Julia found all of them revolting the way they took advantage of stupid, star-struck girls that swooned over them. It was just pathetic, and Julia refused to be a part of it, until James asked her out one day, out of the blue. She was so shocked that she nearly passed out. She was walking to gym class when she saw him approaching from the ball-field. He was running toward her, ball in hand and glistening from sweat. As he neared, he pulled off his helmet and smiled at her. She looked quickly behind her, making sure that his attention was indeed meant for her.

“Hey, Julie.”

“Hey, and it’s Julia.” She said rather impatiently.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know.” James flinched.

“Well, I was just wondering, if your not busy, I.I..thought maybe you might, I..I mean, if you're not busy, would you want to go to the movies with me this Saturday night?” James felt a lump in his throat, why did this chick make him so nervous?

“well, I guess so.”

Julia smiled at him. She was surprised by his demeanor. She always thought he was cocky and full of himself like the rest of the jocks. This was a pleasant surprise.

James took her to the movies to see Star Wars on their first date. Julia wasn’t really into sci-fi but found it entertaining none the less. He was a gentleman and treated Julia like a lady. She wondered if James was this shy with other girls he dated.

Julia knew for sure he had the reputation of being a Romeo. Clara Winston had bragged to the entire school they made it to third base. Julia had no plans of going to any bases at all. She had never even been to second base. Sure, Julia had kissed Henry Jenkins behind the woodshed before, but she had no intention of having sex until she knew for sure he was the one for her.

Julia was a romantic, and she dreamed of her wedding day. Her father had always treated her like a princess, and she expected any boy she would even consider for marriage would do the same.

“Did you like the movie?” James asked Julia as they exited the drive-in theater.

“I thought it was just fine.” Answered Julia curtly.

Julia thought it strange that James had not even attempted to put an arm around her. She worried that maybe he didn’t like her. Julia wasn’t like the other girls in school. She was shy and awkward with boys. The entire date felt uncomfortable.

“Well, I guess I better get you home then,” James mumbled, feeling a bit let down.

James pushed harder on the gas pedal and sent his Thunderbird flying down the dirt road that led to the plantation. James thought this date was a disaster.

Julia must not like me at all. James thought to himself.

He could have his choice of any girl in the school, but he had to be gaga over Julia Williams, the one girl that hated him.

Julia looked at James’s handsome, chiseled profile. She found him utterly dreamy. It was a mistake to go out with him. Julia was sure he must find her a total bore.

“Good night, James. Thank you for asking me out.”

James winked at her and smiled slightly.

“Good night, see ya later.” was James’s reply.

Julia opened the heavy door to the red Thunderbird and slid out of the car. She timidly waved at James as he sped away, gravel flying.

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