Resilience After Dark (Gansett Island #23) - Marie Force

Chapter 1

Gansett Island residents counted down to Labor Day for weeks, during the frenetic last rush of tourists before the island shut down for the long winter. Jace Carson had loved being there during the season, had enjoyed his bartending job at the Beachcomber and was concerned about making enough money to survive the off-season.

His first order of business, after his daily AA meeting, would be to start looking for a place to live, since the Beachcomber housing was available only to summer employees. He was more than ready to get out of there, after enduring weeks of the crazy partying that went on with the summer employees, many of whom had already headed back to college. The only good thing about the housing was that it had been free.

He’d been counting down to today for another reason. A few weeks ago, he’d told Nina, the AA facilitator, that he’d have something to say by Labor Day. As she glanced his way now, he knew it was time for him to step up for the group the way they had for him since he first joined them in July.

Jace had gotten to know several of the regulars, including Dr. Quinn James and his new wife Mallory James, as well as the fire chief, Mason Johns, and Jeff Lawry, through the stories they’d told about their addiction struggles and how they’d overcome them to lead a sober life. He appreciated everyone in the group who’d talked through challenges and supported one another throughout the busy season.

Now it was his turn. Telling his story would never come easily to him, but he’d been in the program long enough now to know that sharing the tough stuff was critical to maintaining his recovery and supporting the others.

“I, ah, want to thank you all for welcoming me into your group this summer and for all the wisdom you’ve shared,” Jace said. “It’s made a difference for me as I became part of a new community.”

“We’ve enjoyed having you, Jace,” Nina said with the same warm smile she’d extended to him since his first meeting.

“Well, thank you again. I came here to Gansett because my boys live here. Some of you may know them, Jackson and Kyle. They’re being raised by Seamus and Carolina O’Grady.”

Mallory gasped.

“Don’t worry,” Jace said. “Seamus and Carolina know I’m here and have been generous about allowing me to spend time with the boys, although the boys don’t know I’m their biological father. Not yet anyway. We thought it best to hold that back for now, until they’re a little older and able to understand things that are too big for them after losing their mom so recently.”

“She was a lovely person,” Mallory said.

“Yes, she was, and she deserved way better than what she got from me.” Overwhelmed by memories of the only woman he’d ever loved, Jace took a moment to get his thoughts together. “I can’t remember when exactly it was that I started messing around with heroin and meth. I think it was probably middle school. My older brother ran with a crowd that was into everything we were told to avoid, and I thought I was so lucky that he would take me with him. Our parents encouraged it. They thought it was great that we were growing up as close brothers, but we were drug addicts and criminals.

“You couldn’t tell us that, though. In our minds, we were just having fun, doing what kids do. Except, over time, we needed much more than we could afford. That’s when we started stealing from our parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. We did whatever we had to do to support our habit.

“I met Lisa when I was eighteen and already a full-blown junkie. But she didn’t know that. I’d gotten very good at hiding it from everyone. Even our parents had no clue what we were really doing. We got married young, had the boys one right after the other, and my struggle intensified when I had three people depending on me.”

Jace’s heart beat so fast he worried it might burst. The anxiety was familiar to him, though, as it happened whenever he revisited things he’d much rather forget. “My brother got the big idea to rob a convenience store. He promised me it would be just once, and then we’d have what we needed to get by for a year. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. ‘One big score,’ he said, ‘and then we’ll