BY: JUDITH KAMMERAAD
HALF AND HALF ROSE is an edgy story about a quirky heroine and a sweet, hunky hero, married to each other and insatiably in lust, only to be torn apart by a tragedy neither one seems able to overcome.
After binge drinking, Michael rolls the car on a forest road, killing their unborn child. Neither he nor Rose can get past the tragedy. Unable to cope with Michal’s alcoholism and the guilt both feel, Rose flees to Ireland in order to save herself. Michael keeps his mysterious issues close to the vest and shadows the love of his life from across the ocean. When they change their minds, and Michael disappears, the stakes increase, and it’s up to Rose to reclaim him. If she can only find him…
Another Citrus County novel, set partially in Ireland.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Half and Half Rose by Judith Kammeraad, Rose Flanagan is about to have a baby when Michael O’Leary, her husband and the love of her life, wrecks the car while driving drunk. Rose loses the baby, and the grief and guilt that both she and Michael feel cause them to separate. Rose flees to Ireland and tells Michael she doesn’t want to see him ever again. But when Michael disappears, Rose realizes that she still loves him. But how can she tell him when she can’t find him?
The story is engaging and intriguing, heartwarming and heartbreaking, and will have you laughing, crying, and sighing all the way through. And the sex scenes are hot! A wonderful read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Half and Half Rose by Judith Kammeraad is the story of a man and woman in love, in lust, and married to each other. But when tragedy strikes, they suddenly discover that the bond they have isn’t strong enough to overcome the guilt and grief. Michael O’Leary, the husband, has a drinking problem. He crashes the car while drunk and causes his wife, Rose Flanagan, to lose the child she’s carrying. Michael blames himself, and so does Rose, but she also blames herself for letting Michael drive in the condition he was in. Neither can forgive him/herself, and they can’t seem to talk about it so they can’t work through the grief together. Eventually, they separate, and Rose goes to Ireland, tracing her roots and looking for her grandfather, who seems to have disappeared. As Rose travels the country, Michael tries to win her back by sending flowers and notes to the locations where she is staying in Ireland. But Rose isn’t ready to forgive and she tells Michael to stop stalking her. Michael responds with a firm “goodbye forever” message and then promptly disappears. Only after Rose discovers that he has vanished does she realize that she was wrong and that she still needs and loves Michael. But he is gone, and she doesn’t know where to find him. Unless she can pull off a miracle, Michael may be lost to her forever.
Half and Half Rose is a touching, poignant, and compassionate story of grief, courage, and the struggle to forgive. Filled with enchanting characters, intriguing mysteries, spicy sex scenes, and vivid descriptions, it is a book that will warm your heart and break it at the same time. All in all, a very compelling tale.
Flight from Paradise
Citrus County, Florida
Rose Flanagan’s world hung upside down. Blood rushed to her head, and as far as she could tell she was blind. And tied up.
“Michael—” She squirmed against her bonds and groped with her left hand—the only one that would function. She caught hold of his bare wrist. It hung limp, his pulse undercover. Her heart pounded into her throat. “Oh, God, oh no! What—what’s wrong?
She shook his inert arm. “Michael, what’s that horrible smell?”
Acrid. Something like smoke but more powdery. It forced her to hood her eyes. Fire? Her lungs reached for oxygen, but a piercing pain tore through her belly, ripping out a tortured shriek.
“Michael! Help me, Michael!”
The substance in the air made her retch. Why was she so woozy? Awareness and dread rolled through her guts, hunching her over as far as she could reach. She curled a protective arm over her abdomen—an instinctive gesture ever since the child took shape inside her.
A viscous wetness soaked her from crotch to navel, and she knew its name. She knew, but would not acknowledge. Her lungs grabbed for air, and let it all out in a piercing shriek, which spiraled down to a sob.
“Baby girl. Ohohoh, Rosebud. Oh, God. No!”
She rode just under the crest of panic. Struggling against her restraints, she gasped for a full breath before another wave claimed her.
“Michael!” In agony, she screamed his name.
Finally he groaned.
“Michael, thank God! What happened?”
He grasped her arm. “Rosie—I’m so sorry. Are you all right, baby?”
Before she could respond, a stronger pain rumbled through her, squeezing her low in her belly and confusingly jumbled. She heard herself scream, buffeted with horror and unwilling realization. She couldn’t bring the primal outbreak under control.
She didn’t see her husband in the darkness that wrapped around the oaks in the Withlacoochee Forest, but she heard his fear. God, she smelled it in his sweat.
“Rose, is it the baby? Try to loosen the seatbelt, honey.”
The fingers on her right hand refused to function. More liquid gushed out of her vagina. The intense muscular tensing and relaxing confirmed that this was all wrong. She touched the gooey liquid with her good left hand and brought it to her face. Her nose wrinkled as she recoiled. It smelled like a kettle of copper pennies.
The truth turned its death’s head on her.
The lump in her voice brought her down to a low moan. “Michael, there’s blood.” She sobbed and gritted her teeth against another spasm. “No, God, don’t let it be true.” She struggled to catch her breath and ride the next squeezing pain.
This was too bizarre, her common sense told her. Part of her Irish imagination? You couldn’t give birth upside down, could you? She laughed and shivered until the next pain, all the while struggling to turn herself upright.
Michael uttered an inarticulate murmur.
“Michael, help me—please—It’s too early. She can’t come now—here. You’ve got to stop it, Michael. Get help, please!”
He groaned when his restraints snapped free. Metal creaked as he kicked his door open.
“Oh, damn! My arm is broken. Coming around to your side, Rosie.”
At last her door swung free, and he fumbled with her seatbelt, cushioning her with his body as she slid down to the sedan’s headliner.
“Get out, Rosie, come on. Lean on me.”
But the waves had taken control. She fought to keep from going under with her precious cargo. She panted and puffed and rubbed her belly in circles with her good hand.
“No, Rosie, no. She’s shy of seven months. It’s not happening. Not so far from the hospital. Not on a dirt road, for Christ’s sake!”
“Get your cell phone, Michael. Please, get help.”
“I can’t, Rosie. I can’t. Can’t find the phone. Please hang on.”
She could only stare at the florescent sticker affixed to the dash, a photograph of an orange and pink shrub rose he’d planted to celebrate their pregnancy. “Look at that rose, Rosie. That’s you. And its little rosebud is just like our baby attached to you. Our little rosebud.” His voice had resonated with joy.
Now his voice quavered. “Focus, Rosie. Look at the rose. Look at the rosebud.”
She wasn’t listening anymore, not to him. He rested a palm on her belly. She shoved it away.
Instead, she spoke to the child inside her. “I’m sorry, baby. I know I can’t save you. Oh, God!” Her gut wrenched until she managed to grab control of her breathing again.
Rose recognized what had to happen.
She couldn’t stop the expulsion from her womb. Using the little self-control she possessed, she had to do something else for her daughter. She must let Rosebud experience a good death. The baby’s sense of the world came through her, the mother, didn’t it? Her heartbeat, her breathing, her emotions, her fear. Her grief. Her child would never live a single minute in the world outside. Rose knew that. So if this time together, right now, was to make up Rosebud’s total experience, part of that was up to Rose.
“Don’t let her die afraid, please, God. Don’t let her feel what I feel now.” Tears snaked down her cheeks. She struggled to stifle her wild gulps for air. “Let me give her one great, wonderful deception. God, forgive me for my lie.”
Then Rose let tranquility in. She breathed in and out, riding the waves, cresting the peaks and bobbing in the calm intervals. “Baby girl, listen to Mommy now. You don’t need to feel afraid. You will never know about loss, and you will never cry.” She swallowed the sound of her sobs and continued the effleurage on her belly. “Just know I love you, and stay peaceful, my love. Mommy will help you get to the end, and then you will be with God.”
She sang all the lullabies that came to mind. She thought of the quilt with colorful ponies on it. “Maybe you will see it from Heaven. I wanted to wrap you in it and walk you up and down to show you our pretty home and grandpa’s horses. Your little toes would peek out, and Puppy Joe would lick them, and your laugh would tinkle like his dog tags and make your daddy laugh too.” She chortled as if enjoying herself. It didn’t sound right, but she had to make do.
In the moments before dawn, distant sirens screamed toward them. Within minutes, headlights focused on them. Voices shouted. At first, Rose instinctively closed her eyes against the brightness, but soon she saw everything—the old Maverick upside down, the blood on Michael’s face, his arm hanging limp. She wished she were back in the dark with her child. Just the two of them in unwitting bliss.
Two emergency technicians approached the car and addressed Michael. One of them knelt next to her. “We’re going to put you on a stretcher, Ma’am.”
She kept rubbing and murmuring. “Mommy’s not afraid, baby. Stay calm. Think of Puppy Joe and the pony quilt.”
Michael’s voice was low and urgent, and then the EMT leaned in over her. “Ma’am, we’re going to remove your slacks.”
“Hush, little baby, don’t be afraid…” she crooned, part singing, part crying, part laughing.
“Get behind her, Sam, and let her lean against you.”
She moaned. “Don’t touch me, don’t move me.”
The EMT mumbled close to her personals. “I can see the head. Can you push the baby out, ma’am?”
She knew her baby’s first struggle for breath would mean its death.
“No—no—Michael, don’t let them take her. Tell them I want to keep her here with me.” She shuddered. “Oh, baby, I love you so much.”
No, she would not push her child out. Not when birth led to death.
“I’ve got her. It’s a girl, a tiny little girl with all her fingers and toes, ma’am.”
Her throat was swollen with agony. “Is she—is she—”
The tech turned to Michael. “Are you believers, sir? Hand me that bottle, Sam.” Then he swiped water over the little bald head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He handed the tiny form swaddled in Michael’s shirt over to Rose’s good arm, and Michael leaned in over the body, close to Rose’s face.
She smelled the sour odors of Irish whiskey and sweat.
Later, Rose recalled signing forms, though the details eluded her. What had happened to Rosebud’s little body? In her imagination a burly, masked man shoveled the baby girl into an incinerator. “No, no. I didn’t want that.”
She sobbed until the nurse hung a different bag on the IV pole above her and relieved her of the ability to think.
Dilatation and Curettage surgery removed the placenta and miscellaneous products of conception, as the nurses called them. “But that belonged to my baby,” she protested. An anesthesia haze kept her ribs and fingers from hurting.
A resident hovered above the gurney. “Wake up, Rose. Can you tell me what happened to you?”
She curled her arms around her abdomen as well as she could with one useless arm and tubes in the other. “My baby.” Her voice had shrunk to a hoarse whimper.
“That’s right, Rose. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I was always afraid of this. I’m barren, you know.” Did this make sense?
“No, Rose, you did fine. It was the trauma that forced your body to expel the fetus. She was a perfect baby girl, and you would have carried her to term if not for the crash.”
Rose was surprised she had any tears left to give.
The resident patted her shoulder. “You came through the D and C great. Now you rest. You’ve got hand surgery ahead.”
Rose floated. “My baby?”
Rosebud danced into the room wearing a yellow hair ribbon and panties with lace across her bottom. “Bye, Mommy.”
Rose reached out. “Wait, sweetie. Let me give you a kiss.”
Rosebud’s skin was the softest thing ever. Rose kissed each cheek and the fat little belly. The tot giggled and gave Rose a sweet, sloppy kiss from her rosebud mouth.
A nurse jolted Rose out of her dream, bringing on a spate of new tears.
“Don’t cry, honey. It’s just morphine and antibiotics. You’ve got quite a rampant infection. Your fever is high as the town drunk. Can’t you tell?”
“What happened? Why do I have a fever? What about my hand?”
“Infection happens sometimes.” The nurse shrugged. “You have to get that under control before the surgery. The doctor is concerned about protecting your future fertility more than your hand right now. You can give birth without a hand, but not without your female giblets.” She gave Rose a pat on the shoulder and turned up the drip.
“Where’s Michael? I want Michael.”
She remembered she was mad at him, but she wasn’t sure why. She just wanted him to hold her. She wanted to press her face against his heartbeat and take in his smell of rose petals and pure soap and testosterone.
“You’re in isolation, honey. Nobody can come in here but medical staff. Your parents were asking for you.”
“Please, can you find out about Michael? Is he all right?”
“Oh, yes, I have a note here on that.”
Surgeons had placed a titanium rod into Michael’s left arm to realign the disarticulated parts of his humerus. The note was in a stranger’s handwriting. A curving symbol at the bottom started her weeping again.
“He’s left-handed. He signed that with his right hand. It’s—it’s his—his Irish triple heart. He always signs his notes that way, ever since we decided to have a child. He never gave up on me when I couldn’t conceive.” His triple heart showed her he still hadn’t given up, even now.
“I should—be with him—take—care—take care of him.”
She’d always done her best to look out for Michael, though she let him think he was the dominant partner. Her white knight.
Halfway to oblivion, Rose rambled about the first time they’d played knight and damsel. That night Michael had thrown off whatever had numbed him in recent years. “Claiming me, ravishing me. It freed him somehow. It made it all right to roar in victory.”
She recounted how, later, the game-playing had become more real, more elaborate. “I sewed him a knight costume and he bought a metal helmet and sword.” Her lips curved up in a grin. “He used it on some of the trees out back. Then he besieged me.” She licked her lips. “He set me on fire.”
The unyielding infection kept her in the isolation room for a week after Michael went home. Before he left, he looked in through the glass panel in her door. He raised his right hand to the window, and she placed the fingers of her left hand against it. He bore a stoic expression, but the lines around his eyes were new.
Rose’s bruises and broken hand and ribs started to heal, but, with her forced isolation, she and Michael had no chance to mourn their loss together. When they skyped, she noticed Michael’s expression was flat, his eyes guarded, though, otherwise, his face had always appeared so animated, so full of adoration.
“Got to go. See you soon.” He raised his good hand to the screen, and it went dark.
Rose spoke to the mindless laptop. “Maybe you don’t want me to see how you feel. Please don’t treat me that way.”
At last Rose returned home, and she and Michael faced each other across the table, bereaved rather than hopeful, as they had been once.
He studied the table. “Rosie, you look pale—and thin.”
What had happened to the wonderful blue eyes that had held her spellbound? “You look…different.” Distant. She didn’t touch the steaming cup of tea he placed in front of her. Instead, she broke down in sobs each time she looked at the face she loved—and hated—for killing their child, though she would never admit the negative tinge of her feelings.
Michael’s jaw hardened. Had they lost their once effortless connection?
“Please, Michael, I need to talk about this with you.”
He waved the idea away, his voice rough. “Rose, I’ve been mourning for a week.”
She gulped down a sob. “But not with me. Please, we need to talk.”
He lifted dead eyes. “What can I say? It’s over. I can’t think about it anymore. I have to get past it, and so do you.”
Rose lay on their bed sobbing, while Puppy Joe cuddled against her empty belly. He wore his ears folded backward and poked her with his nose, showing how much he wanted to comfort her.
“Why isn’t Michael here, Joe? I can’t do this without him.”
From the bed, her glance caromed off the vanity mirror to a scene in the dim hallway where Michael brooded, his right arm hugging the cast on his left. So close to the bedroom, he made no attempt to approach her, as if this were the limit of his trust. His downcast eyes, slack posture, and lowered head told her all the shame and sorrow he could not put into words. But she needed him to say those things to her.
His hands covered his face, and he sank ever deeper against the wall. In the dark, she reached out to him with her misery. “Come to me, Michael.” Just a few steps closer. Just a few words of shared comfort.
He did not reach out. Instead, he left her with tattered hope—hope that the threads of feeling between them were still strong enough to bind them together.
Michael uttered an animal moan and wrenched himself away from the hallway. The door of the old refrigerator creaked open and shut with a rubbery slam. Bottles clanked in Michael’s hand. He stomped out of the house, slamming the screened door behind him. Once in a while she heard the bottles clank together or smash against a tree. Four Budweisers—all a one-handed man could clutch against his chest. His boots pounded down the steps and scrunched on the gravel path. The door to the shed creaked open.
Presently he stumbled back to the front yard. “Yabba Dabba Doo!” Blows smashed onto splintering wood. Puppy Joe cowered into her side with a whimper, joining her ragged sighs. Grunts of clumsy exertion joined the groans and cries floating through the night into her shriveled heart, wrung dry.
For weeks, Rose’s mother had looked in on her every day, and Puppy Joe had become like another appendage.
“Oh, Mommy, he actually chopped Rosebud’s bush into slivers. What can I do with a man like that—all suppressed passion and booze? I feel like I’m in a private hell.”
Maria smoothed her daughter’s hair. “Losing the baby was terrible, and you feel you can’t get past it, don’t you? I don’t know how to advise you, honey, but I do know you have to go on.”
Rose was glad her mother was a sensible mutt, with none of the Irish stubborn streak her father’s father claimed with pride. This made Rose a half breed, Grand-dad Sean had judged, and she had yet to decide which half was dominant.
Rose’s father Aidan came down from the main house every day too and forced her out for walks on his south Inverness spread. Getting you out of the house is like maneuvering a breached foal out of the mare.
She hugged him. “Oh, Daddy, you always make me smile.” The corners of her mouth turned down, and she buried her face in his chest.
She reached a hand into the corral to rub the equine faces extending quizzically back at her, while Aidan’s deep voice spoke soothing words to them. To her too. He handed her a wrapped peppermint, which always meant he didn’t know how else to make things better. Always before, her work on the ranch had lifted her mood. So had Aidan’s homespun advice. Even his voice.
But this time her whole spirit had suffered a compound break. Her brimming eyes sought his face. “Dad.”
Aiden took her hand. “Appreciate every moment when you feel a little bit okay, honey.”
She grinned, knowing what was coming.
“You know what I mean? Sometimes okay is good enough. There’s plenty of time to reclaim your joy. I’m telling you what I know from experience.”
It was more than okay to stroll under the live oaks in the company of the man who had made the most of his own sad situation.
Rose snuggled against his arm. “Daddy. I know you still love your mother.” Seeing the encouragement in his face, she posed the question that hurt. “Do you ever hate her as well for what she did to you—for the way she left you?”
He stopped amid a stand of longleaf pines, pulling her into a side hug, and his quasi-firm voice presaged his answer. “Have you—have you started to hate Michael, girl? Because hatred is always a step away when love is strong.”
She rested her head on his chest.
He made her look at him with a finger under her chin. “Could be Michael hates you too for what he did, and for what he cannot give you. You had so much together all these years, and now you’ve lost so much. You might say you both lost paradise.”
© 2017 Judith Kammeraad