Southern Born
Moonshine, Book 1
Release Date:

Aug 27, 2024



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Her Missing Pieces


Susan Sands

Showing up from the dead is best done in person…

Thirteen years ago, teenager Sadie Brubaker disappeared from her small Georgia town without a trace. Sheriff Chase Blackburn was a young deputy who worked the case diligently, refusing to give up even when others did. Her disappearance haunts him still, making him question the town and his law enforcement skills. Then one afternoon, astonishingly, Sadie, still heart-breakingly beautiful, arrives with no memory and a suitcase full of questions.

When her mother dies, Sadie discovers her entire life is a lie. Her “mother” found her traumatized and injured at a bus stop—a teen with no memory and created an instant family. Sadie knew she had amnesia but never why, so she sets out for the town she doesn’t remember, determined to dig up the answers.

Sadie and the sheriff work together to solve the puzzle pieces of her life so she can understand who she was, decide who she wants to be, and if they can have a future together.

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Chapter One

My best friend Jenny arrived just as the paramedics were rolling my precious mom, or Thelma, as I called her, out in a body bag on a gurney. Its wheels squeaked repetitively as it trundled by, headed out the door. I couldn’t look. My horror over finding her like that this morning would never cease—I was sure of it.

I was currently sitting on the floor of the living room of our home, where Thelma and I had watched TV for the final time together last night. I held the remote in my hand. Early this morning, my beagle mix, Daisy Mae, had alerted me that something was wrong. I shivered. I still couldn’t believe this was happening.

Now, only a few hours later, there were strangers in our house—our sanctuary. Completing paperwork, making calls, and taking photos. We didn’t do strangers, but here they were, invading our precious privacy. It was only me now. I was thankful for Jenny or I would be completely alone in this.

“Oh my God, Randi. I’m so sorry.” Jenny nearly sprinted to cover the space between us. She wrapped me in a tight hug. Her embrace was welcome but didn’t change anything.

“She’s gone, Jenny,” I whispered, sounding as broken as I felt.

“I can’t believe it.” Jenny was obviously trying not to cry as she sniffled and dashed tears from her eyes. “And I’m sorry you had to find her like that.” Jenny pulled a tissue from the box beside the sofa. Jenny had known Thelma since we had attended the local college together. Jenny was like family to both of us.

“Thanks for being here.”

“Excuse me, ma’am.” One of the paramedics handed me a paper to sign to release the body. Thelma was a body now. I cycled from crying to being numb and back to crying. This overwhelming flood of emotion surprised me. I wasn’t an overly emotional person—or hadn’t been that I could remember, but that was the thing: I didn’t remember anything from before my sixteenth birthday. Retrograde amnesia. Dissociative amnesia. Those were the terms that doctors had used to describe my very strange condition. I didn’t even remember why I called my mother by her given name. Or why, until now, that I hadn’t tapped into my emotions like a normal person. I didn’t cry or even laugh out loud, despite the fact that I found things sad and amusing.

“Of course.” Jenny happened to be a clinical therapist. Ours wasn’t a doctor-patient relationship, but she still gave great advice and had seen firsthand what I’d gone through, not knowing anything from my childhood. “I’m so glad you called.”

I burst into sobs, my shoulders racking as I wept. “Jenny, what will I do?” I meant now. And forever. But mostly right now. I had no idea how to live a day without my Thelma in my life.

“You’ll breathe. And I’ll help you get through this.”

An hour later, they were all gone except Jenny. I’d closed Thelma’s bedroom door, leaving everything as it was. Always neat and tidy, but I couldn’t find the courage or strength to even glance inside today. My head ached and nausea sat in the pit of my stomach.

My disbelief warred with the sobbing realization of today’s dreadful nightmare. How could this be happening?

“Do you want me to spend the night?” Jenny asked, clearly worried about me.

I shook my head. “I know you have to work tomorrow. I-I’ll be okay. Daisy Mae is here with me.” I didn’t want to burden Jenny. I honestly didn’t know if I would ever be okay.

Jenny frowned. “I’m not convinced but call me anytime during the night if you need me. I’ll come.”

“Thanks for everything, Jenny. I don’t understand any of this. Mom was so healthy and fit, especially for her age. How does somebody like that die without any warning?”

Jenny shook her head, her eyes sad. “Sometimes people do.”

Once I shut the door, I remembered Daisy Mae in the backyard. When I let her in, her tail wagged and she seemed just as happy to see me as always, like every other time I’d opened the door to let her in. But she’d found Mom just hours ago and had alerted me. Dogs were so simple but complex at the same time.

Daisy Mae set to sniffing around the house, smelling the scents of everyone who’d been in and out in the past couple of hours. Then, she searched the entire place, every room. For Mom, I was sure. Which set forth a new torrent of tears and sobs. “She’s gone, girl.”

Chapter Two

It had been just over a week now since I’d discovered my mom, Thelma, deceased in her bed. She’d simply stopped breathing at some point during the night. I’d never lost anyone, and I wasn’t handling it well. I shook my head at the memory of how Thelma had looked when I’d found her. She’d been so cold. I didn’t think I would ever get that day out of my head.

I missed Thelma sitting beside me eating popcorn while we watched our shows and laughing at the funny parts, which made me cry again. How did people do this? This heavy emotion? It was exhausting. Now, the thought of watching any of our favorite streaming shows filled me with sadness.

Mom and Daisy Mae had taken up my whole heart, and now half of it was gone. There was an empty space where Thelma used to be. All I had left were the past thirteen years filled with memories. Not a lifetime together, though. Since the car accident as a teen where I’d suffered a severe head injury. The only lasting effect was that I couldn’t remember my childhood—that, and my flat affect. I wondered what I’d been like before the accident.

Thelma was always super-weird about protecting me and I’d been living here with her still, at the age of twenty-nine. Jenny, Thelma, and Daisy Mae made up my circle. I had a few casual acquaintances, but I’d lived a sheltered life with Thelma.

Jenny and I were going to spread Thelma’s ashes in her garden today. I’d been dreading this all week so I didn’t want to delay it any longer.

I’d called the attorney’s office number on the card under the magnet from the refrigerator the night after Thelma had passed. A few days before, she’d mentioned the card and said, “The attorney’s card is on the refrigerator, darlin’. If anything were to happen to me, he’s the one you should call immediately.” She’d said this out of the clear blue as we sat together in the garden, sharing a glass of iced tea, and enjoying the nice weather. I’d blown it off as one does when one thinks nothing bad would ever happen. When I’d called him, the attorney was equally stunned at learning of Thelma’s passing.

Arnold P Whitaker, Esq. had kindly provided me with details to have Thelma cremated per her wishes and send the bill to his office. I’d had no idea she’d already planned for her untimely death.

Mr. Whitaker insisted we meet as soon as I’d spread the ashes in the garden out back. He’d been helpful and expressed his condolences. I wondered when he’d met and done business with Thelma. She hadn’t gotten out much besides going to the bank, the garden center, and the grocery as far as I knew. Maybe when I’d been working on a design project? Somehow she’d set up her estate and final wishes without my knowing anything about it.

Jenny touched my shoulder and nodded toward the urn. “Are you ready? Do you want to say anything?”

Should I say something? I shook my head. My mother knew how much I loved her. I hadn’t even thought to bring in a minister. Thelma hadn’t been a churchgoer, though she kept a Holy Bible beside her bed and a rosary hanging on her bedpost. She’d never taken me to church, and I wondered if she’d attended Catholic mass when she was younger—before I lost my memory. Something else I’d never asked her about when she was alive.

“Do you want to say something?” I asked Jenny. I didn’t want to prevent her from expressing any sentiments if she felt the need.

Jenny seemed to think about it for a minute. “No. There’s no need to be formal. I can’t imagine her wanting formality.”

Thelma had surely been the most unpretentious, plain-spoken woman on earth. I meant that in a good way. She wasn’t coarse, but direct. She said what she’d intended and didn’t waste words or stand on ceremony. As I spread the ashes in her beloved garden, I couldn’t help but think that my canine might roll in them the first chance she got. Considering the love between the two of them, I guess that wouldn’t be the worst thing, although the idea of bathing human bits off the dog made this whole experience even more dreadful than it had been thus far.

“Are you all right, Randi?” I figured Jenny knew I wasn’t, but it was sweet of her to ask.

“Just trying to get the rest of this out.” I tilted the container and shook it a little, careful not to inhale. Fortunately, there wasn’t a strong breeze today. Ashes didn’t spread nearly as well in real life as they did in the movies.

“Here, let me help.” Jenny tilted the heavy container more and shook it a little, causing several clumps to tumble out onto my open-toed shoe. I made a face and shook my foot.

“Sorry.” I noticed Jenny suppress a small grin.

It was a weird and morbid situation. Thelma would have appreciated the strange humor here. I replaced the lid once the container was empty and set it on the edge of the porch. “There. It’s done. So glad it’s done.”

It had taken this whole week to get the ashes back from the crematorium. I’d been living in limbo waiting for them. The entire time, I’d moped, cried, and revisited the night before Thelma had passed, trying to figure out if she’d shown any signs of illness or changes in behavior.

I hadn’t gone for a run once this past week as I’d done most days of my adult life. I knew I would likely feel better, at least physically, if I did. Maybe later.

Tomorrow, finally, would be my appointment with my mother’s lawyer.

“The garden is gorgeous.” Jenny pulled me out of my thoughts, causing me to look around the yard.

The grass was nearly green now that the springtime weather had finally arrived, and there were daffodils and tulips pushing their way in the raised beds all around. I nodded at Jenny’s comment. Thelma had known the name of every plant and shrub she’d ever encountered. We’d ordered seeds online and patronized garden centers and nurseries outside of town. Thelma had dedicated years to curating our outdoor space into this amazing showplace. Sadly, no one ever saw it. It was our private wonderland.

I would never see a plant, tree, or flower again without reliving our many memories together, side by side, planting and digging. That made me sniffle—again.

Jenny hovered, likely uncertain whether to mother me or let me be. I was a little funny about physical contact. “When will I stop crying?” I asked, hoping for a good, solid answer.

Jenny sighed. She was trying to therapy me because she knew I’d not had any experience with death. “Things are super raw right now. You’ll work into managing the strong reactions as they hit you.”

“I’m going to take your word for that.” I was sure she might be right eventually. But not yet. It was taking a new form of self-control that I hadn’t yet developed to keep it all in check right now.

We sat on the porch together in the Adirondack chairs Thelma and I had refinished last year, the same ones where Thelma and I had sat almost every non-rainy evening since then. I remembered her teasing me that I should stick to art rather than refinishing furniture. That gave me another hard punch in the gut.

“Do you want me to go with you to the appointment with the lawyer? I can make it work.”

I dreaded the meeting. I had a strange feeling that after it, my life would never be so simple as it had living here with Thelma, and as much as I hated to inconvenience Jenny, I conceded it would probably be a tough day. “I would appreciate it, Jenny.”

“Sure thing. I’ll pick you up at nine thirty.”

I inhaled deeply, almost breathing my mother in the air. Her presence here was strong. There were so many questions left unanswered between us.

“Do you think I’ll find out anything new tomorrow?” I stared at the beauty around me and wondered how things might change.

Jenny knew about me and what I knew of my history, so I didn’t need to explain what I meant by that. “It’s about time to learn something new, don’t you think?”

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping August 27, 2024

Her Missing Pieces is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-964418-97-1

August 27, 2024

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