“Phase Two…The time you’ve always wanted.” The slogan from a magnetic Heron Company advertisement piques college student Avery Jenson’s interest. She innocently selects Heron and their mysterious Phase Two plans as a topic for her college paper but quickly learns that the company and plan holders are very tight-lipped regarding Heron’s services. She presses on and soon her world collides with Katie, a single mother, who sought a Phase Two plan for her daughter but was denied. Katie’s earth-shattering experience with the company left her charged up and posed to take action. The two unlikely partners believe that there is something more sinister at work than immediately apparent, and Avery quickly realizes that this is going to be far more than a simple research paper—they have a vital mission to carry out.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Phase Two by Sandra Sikonia, Avery Jensen is trying to decide on a topic for a college research paper when she sees an advertisement on television for a new company called the Heron Company, whose tag line is “Phase Two…The Time You’ve Always Wanted.” Intrigued, Avery tries to find out more about the company but quickly discovers that few people know anything more about it than what they see in the television advertisements, and those people who are customers of the company, do know more about it, and have a coveted Phase Two bracelet refuse to even talk about it. At first, all Avery cares about is finding enough information for her paper, but as she continues to dig, she learns that this rich and powerful Heron Company is a lot more sinister than she could have ever imagined.

The story has an interesting premise, charming characters, and a plot with plenty of twists and turns, making it an entertaining read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Phase Two by Sandra Sikonia is the story of how a college student, struggling to establish herself as an independent adult, and a single mother, struggling to save her nine-year-old daughter from cancer, come together in a unique quest against an enigmatic corporation, the Heron Company. Avery Jensen is seeking an uncommon topic for a college research paper when she happens across a company advertising “Phase Two Plans, for the time you’ve always wanted.” She attends a seminar put on by the company in hopes of getting enough information to finish her paper and ace her class, proving to her parents, and herself, that she is a responsible adult. While at the seminar, she witnesses an outburst by an angry woman who claims that the company refused her daughter, who was dying of cancer, a Phase Two plan, which would have guaranteed the child at least ten additional years of life. After the seminar, Avery and the woman, Katie Sullivan, both fearing there is something sinister about the company, join forces to bring it down, only to discover they had no idea who they were dealing with.

With endearing characters and an intriguing plot, Phase Two is an excellent effort for this first-time author. Combining mystery, fantasy, and suspense, this one is hard to put down.

Chapter 1

The TV flickered in the background as Avery sat at the table with books and papers scattered in front of her. She tried to organize her study schedule for her first year of college, but her mind was preoccupied with the semester-long research project she’d been assigned. She was supposed to write the longest paper of her life on the social ramifications of a new product or technology but had no idea where to start. She was thankful to be relieved from this dilemma temporarily when the doorbell rang.

“Ready to watch Beachside?” Sarah said the moment Avery answered the door.

“Ugh, I want to be able to just relax and enjoy it, but I am super stressed,” Avery admitted. “I feel like I’m barely going to be able to pay attention. I really think I made a big mistake.”

“What do you mean?”

“I signed up for this stupid five-credit class, Science and Society, but they assigned this mega-long research project.” Avery sighed. “I’m already stuck.”

Sarah laughed like only a best friend could do at a moment like this. “You’re just being dramatic. What’s the problem?”

“We have to ‘find a scientific company making an innovative breakthrough’ and research it,” Avery read from the syllabus. “Then we have to write a twenty-page paper about it and the ‘implications for society.’ I have to submit the name of my company by midnight.”

“Wow, that does sound kind of tough,” Sarah admitted. “But I bet once you stop stressing about the deadline, the rest will come to you. I feel like the brain can’t work properly when it’s so stressed out,” she said, half trying to help calm Avery down and half trying to get Avery as psyched about Beachside as she was. “Blow that off for now. I can help you brainstorm later.”

“I don’t know. I’m seriously freaking out about this project,” Avery said. “You know my mother expects me to do well here. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have agreed to let me get an off-campus apartment.” She was still a little shocked that her mother had permitted this kind of freedom, but they both knew Avery would gain control of her trust fund soon. “I have to show her I can be responsible for myself.”

“But you’re still not going to get the answer stressing over it,” Sarah said, in that reasonable tone that could convince Avery of anything.

“But I need to think of something really cool and new. Otherwise, this project is going to be torture.”

“How do you even find out about stuff like that?” Sarah asked.

“I have no idea. I think they were talking about that in class, but I wasn’t paying much attention. It was the day I got that card.”

“Oh right, the one from your dad?”

“He is not my dad!” Avery couldn’t believe Sarah would use that word to refer to the man.

“Come on, Avery. Reuben was just congratulating you for getting into this school. At least he’s trying to reconnect. And he set up that trust fund for you and all. That was nice.”

“You don’t get it. You know he walked out on us the week I started first grade. And what? Now he’s trying to come back into my life weeks after I start college? I already have a dad in Marshall, thank you. Marshall’s the one who raised me. I don’t need Reuben.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. It makes total sense. You were worked up about the card, so you weren’t paying much attention in class when they talked about how to find a company. But you took detailed notes, right?” Somehow Sarah even managed to sound serious.

It took a beat, but finally, Avery let out a breath, letting her anger fade. She let out a small laugh. “I don’t think I even had a pen that day. I was running late.”

“You’re doing a bang-up job of proving you can be responsible,” Sarah said. “So what kind of handouts did they give?”

“There’s all this stuff about how to use the library.”

“Why go through all that? Just type something in the search bar.”

“I tried that already.” Avery groaned. “You should see what kind of stuff comes up. I gave up on about the fifth page. There was nothing really good.”

“Well, you can’t go to the library right now anyway,” Sarah said.

“Why not?”

“Duh, Beachside is about to come on. We have, like, a minute, before it starts, and this is going to be a good one. Stuff was about to go down between Maria and Duke, I think.”

“Right, I forgot! It did end kind of crazy last week.” Avery recalled trying to rally herself for the show. She not only knew that Sarah was right, and it wouldn’t kill her to relax a little, but watching Beachside with Sarah had become somewhat of a tradition for the girls since their days in prep school where they had become friends.

“It is going to be a good one. Thanks for letting us watch here this week. My mom is having yet another one of her dinner parties, and it’s good to get out of there for a bit,” Sarah said.

“Totally. I hear you.” As Avery finished her words she glanced over at the TV and noticed one of the characters from Beachside on the screen and tapped Sarah, pointing and indicting it was time.

“Yessss, it’s starting.”

Avery grabbed her water and the remote from the table, and the girls hustled over to the couch and settled in to watch. The two were a little annoyed when they realized what was just being played was only a teaser, and now they would have to suffer through a whole series of stupid advertisements before the good stuff with Maria and Duke. Sarah took this as a cue to get in a quick bathroom break before the show actually started. She jumped up and hustled to the bathroom, trying to be quick to ensure she didn’t miss anything.

Avery wasn’t really paying much attention to the images flickering past while Sarah was away but something on the screen caught her attention and caused her to refocus.

It was a commercial she’d seen several times before. For some reason, it always pulled her in. The background was sky-colored. A slender woman in her late forties or early fifties dressed in a crisp business suit stood in the foreground. She had short brown hair fashioned into a professional-looking style with it slicked back securely in place behind the ears.

She spoke in a slow, soothing, almost captivating tone. “Are there a few more things you’d like to do in your life? More time you’d like to spend with your loved ones?”

The image changed to show people engaged in various activities. A man and woman hiking, grandparents playing with their grandchildren, several generations of a happy family gathered around the covered porch of a large house.

“With Phase Two technology, it’s now possible to ensure you’ll have a chance to enjoy the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of with no personal risk. Call us to schedule an initial consultation.”

The women gave a graceful wave of her hand and then eased out of the scene as the company name, logo, and contact information slid to the center from the opposite side.

“Phase Two is now available exclusively from the Heron Company,” an invisible male announcer said. “Phase Two…the time you always wanted.”

Sarah hurried back into the living room and onto the couch, “Did I miss anything? Has it started yet?”

“No,” Avery replied somewhat distracted as she grabbed her computer. Curious, she typed Heron Company into the search engine.

Sarah sighed and said, “I thought you were taking a break.”

“I am. I mean, I am going to. I just want to look at something really fast.”

“Okay, you better hurry though.”

When she found the page, Avery saw the same calming blue background with wistful clouds floating around and the company’s tagline, The time you always wanted. The page offered an embedded video, with that same woman from the commercial, explaining that the Heron Company was honored to offer their clients this amazing opportunity, thanks to significant breakthroughs in current technology. There was something about living the life of your dreams but not much information about how the company delivered.

A ping of energy zipped through her system as Avery realized whatever they were doing had to be scientifically based and, since not even their website outlined what it was, it had to be innovative. With relief, she logged into her Science and Society class webpage and filled out the form indicating the focus of her research project. She could hear the voices of Maria and Duke just as she shut her computer.

© 2018 by Sandra Sikonia