Violette Between

About the Book

"A beautifully wrought tale full of characters that live and breathe. This surprising story from Strobel, a bold and engaging storyteller, left me sighing with pleasure and wanting more. She's not to be missed."
—CLAUDIA MAIR BURNEY, author of Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man

Between here and the past, there lies a place—a place of longing for what has been rather than hoping for what could be.

A true artist, Violette is passionate and emotional. Climbing back into life after suffering a loss, she teeters on the precipice of a new relationship with Christian, a psychologist who not only understands her struggles but offers safety and his heart.

As Violette and Christian begin to feel something they both thought impossible, tragedy strikes again. Violette becomes trapped in a place of past memories—and she finds that she may not want to come back. What would it be like to choose a place between the past and the present?
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Violette Between

August 4, 2005

Somewhere between the car and the gymnasium, Violette lost her burnt umber. She’d seen it while packing her supplies that morning, and after going back and forth to the house three times to retrieve other items she’d forgotten, she would have spotted it if it had fallen out there. She wondered if she’d ever be organized enough to keep track of her possessions on a consistent basis. She doubted it.
“Back in a sec,” she called to the art student who was her assistant.
The petite girl nodded and waved, then went back to mixing
tints in paint trays. Violette retraced her steps to the car, making
her way from the back gym door through the parking lot, her eyes
glued to the concrete all the way. A few feet from the passenger door
of her hatchback she found the tube–crushed flat and oozing its
hue onto the blacktop. Only part of her groaned in frustration; the
rest of her had to admit that the swirl of paint looked rather artistic.
With one last look at the abstract mess squished into the pavement,
she turned back to the gym. “Oh well,” she sighed. “A new
task for Callie then.”
“Your cell rang,” Callie called when Violette walked back into
the gym. With a sudden bounce in her step, she made her way to
her backpack and pulled the phone from its pocket. She hadn’t had
it long, and still thought it a bit silly; only three people had the
number, and she was hardly the type who needed to be easily accessible.
But knowing that Christian could call her any time he had a
break in his schedule made it worth it. Sure enough, his number
was listed in the call log, and she hit the speed dial as she rummaged
through her supplies for her roller brush.
“Screening your calls?” he answered, voice teasing.
Violette laughed. “Yeah, this thing just never stops ringing!”
“How’s it going?”
“Not as good as I’d hoped. Haven’t gotten that far, and my
burnt umber took one for the team out in the parking lot.”
“Yeah, but oh well; could be worse. How’s your day been?”
“Depressing. Two couples bent on divorce and a third where
the husband refuses to attend the sessions.”
“Doesn’t sound good.”
“It isn’t. Forget it, though. I’m bringing you guys lunch; what
do you want?”
“You have to ask?”
She could sense his grin through the phone. “I assumed the
usual, but with you I can never be sure. Burger Hut it is. Callie
want cheese on hers?”
“Callie’s leaving at eleven thirty. She has a class.”
“Oh, all right then. Lunch for two. Even better–I’ll have you
all to myself.”
Violette’s stomach tingled, and she felt the smile spread on her
face. “See you in an hour then.”
Phone closed, Violette hummed as she pushed a new cover
onto the paint roller and inspected Callie’s mixing. “Looks good,
girl. Do me a favor and pick up a tube of burnt umber when you
come back this afternoon?”
“No problem. What do we do now?”
Violette shuffled back a few steps and eyed the wall. “Now we
paint a mural.”

Christian was still a new habit to Violette. It hadn’t been that long
since they’d simply been friends, and here they were at the beginning
of a full-fledged relationship. She hadn’t been looking for it–
quite the opposite, in fact. But love did seem to be evolving.
Sometimes she wasn’t sure she even wanted it, but how could she
possibly tell that to Christian?
No, if she was honest, she’d admit she was happy about it. Not
so long ago she had been convinced she’d be alone for the rest of
her life, and here she was a girlfriend again. No more meals for one,
no more holidays alone–how could that be bad? Christian was
good for her: steady but not inflexible, rational but not boring,
mature but not stodgy. He appreciated her and her art, and the
latter was almost more important to her than the former. She’d
changed a lot in the last few years, but her deep connection to her
craft still remained, and finding someone who understood that
instead of merely tolerating it was easier said than done.
Violette was, at her heart of hearts, at her very core, an artist.
Her love of beauty affected the way she viewed the world, the way
she interacted with people, the way she lived her faith. The way she
manifested her artistic nature had shifted as she’d matured, but
remained integral to her essence. She was no longer the quirky
nonconformist who abandoned herself to every whim that crossed
her mind or who deliberately adopted outrageous habits purely for
the bafflement it caused others, but she hadn’t lost all her sense of
adventure and love of the unusual. It was sewn into the fabric of
her soul. When God had knit her together, he’d used some pretty
funky yarn, the kind that changed colors every few inches and had
little wisps hanging off it.
Even though art was so integral to who she was, Violette
almost hadn’t allowed herself to attempt it. Her mother had been
a celebrated artist in her hippie days, and for years Violette didn’t
even try to create in case she couldn’t live up to her mother’s expectations.
Not that Sara DuMonde had been a pushy mom; she’d
simply assumed Violette had inherited her gift for composition
and saw no reason to leave room for the possibility that she hadn’t.
When Violette finally allowed herself to experiment by taking an
art appreciation class in high school, she felt as if a volcano had
erupted inside her: the images and ideas just kept flowing hot and
liquid from her brain through her hand into the brush, the charcoal,
the pencil. It had been such a relief to discover she could
draw. She’d never forget her mother’s face the day she brought
home her first charcoal rendering: it was the look of happy shock
that comes with finding a possession one thought was gone for
good. Her mother was buried with that picture four years later
when cancer got the best of her.
Being who she was made finding friends who would go with her
flow somewhat difficult. When Violette met Alexine in college, she
likened it to finding a soul mate. She was surrounded by artists–
one expected it at an art school–but few lived and breathed it the
way Violette did. Alexine had the same multicolored, wispy soul
she did, and Violette was sure she saw traces of the sassy spirit she
had so loved in her mother. Alexine became Violette’s roommate,
surrogate sister, confidante, and business partner. Between the two
of them they managed to get the rent covered and the utilities
paid–although noodle cups and grilled cheese sandwiches tended
to be the standard meal fare. They threw themselves into the
starving artist role with abandon, content to skimp on what the
world called necessities in order to fuel their obsession with beauty
and art. Who said you needed new clothes every season? Who said
three place settings weren’t enough for two people? Who said towels
were useless once they were threadbare? As long as they didn’t
freeze (not likely in Southern California) or starve, they could
spend the majority of their money on paint and canvas. Both
agreed it was the best investment.
College was eight years behind them, and still they both lived
the life of the starving artist–although, by this time, the starving
part was by choice. The opening of a gallery, Galleria Bleu, seven
years ago by another of their college friends, Xavier Thomas, proved
to be the defining point in their careers, and for the first time they
could truly claim to make their living off their art. They were no
longer roommates, but their friendship was as strong as ever, tempered
by the trials life randomly throws at people. One best friend
was good enough for Violette.
Of course, now Christian had entered the picture. Significant
others had walked in and out of their lives before, and each time
Violette had to relearn how to share her time. Sometimes the intruder
eased right into their little world with minimal upset; other
times he barged in with all the grace and gentleness of a hippo in
heat. Christian, thankfully, had been one of the easy ones. For one
thing, Alexine adored him, taking pride in the fact that she had
been the one to introduce him to Violette. The feeling was mutual,
although Violette doubted Christian would claim to adore Alexine;
adore wasn’t the kind of word he threw around the way Alexine
did. Also, by the time Christian appeared, the women were in separate
houses and on separate schedules; their lives didn’t intersect
as much as they once had. Sharing came a little more easily. But
still, just knowing someone else wanted first dibs on her time made
her balk just a little in defense of the other who wanted some of
her too. It was the same part of her that wondered whether she
should be in a committed relationship at all; life was much simpler
when she was a loner.
She was doing her best, though, to open herself up to Christian.
Most of her was on board with the relationship now; having
eased into it with a friendship first made it easier to navigate. But
still one corner of her heart remained guarded, refusing to fall for
Christian entirely. Christian didn’t know–she couldn’t bring herself
to tell him–but if things got any more serious she’d have to
say something. It wasn’t fair to him that he wasn’t getting as much
as he was giving. She still held out hope that something would
change for her, that she’d be able to wrench that last bit of her heart
out of the past and into a new future with someone who loved her.

“I finished the edging down here.”
Violette looked down from her perch on the top rung of a
ladder. “Awesome. Thanks, Callie. Check for another roller and
cover in the bag; you can start filling in the big spaces if you want.”
“Actually, I’m gonna have to run. It’s almost eleven thirty.”
Violette laughed. That’s what she got for not wearing a watch.
“Well, that went fast. Have a good class. I’ll call you if I’m out of
here before two.”
“All right. Laters.” Callie tossed a backpack over her shoulder
and went to the door. Violette watched her go, and then cursed
herself for forgetting her Walkman. She hated working in silence;
it was so unmotivating. She started humming to herself, and then
singing out loud, taking advantage of the echo of the auditorium
that made her sound much better than she actually was.
This would be the sixth mural she’d done. The first mural had
been an Italian pastoral scene on her own bedroom wall; she hadn’t
wanted to experiment with a new skill on a paying customer’s
space. She had great fun with the Italian street scene in her favorite
restaurant and a pack of stampeding mustangs on a high school’s
front wall. She’d painted a relatively simple mural in a local children’s
hospital hallway: a clear blue sky stretched above a field of
sunflowers with children playing in it. And, of course, she had created
the four-wall rooftop bistro scene in Christian’s waiting room.
That had been the most difficult project she’d ever done, and over
the month that it took to complete, she and Christian formed the
friendship that became the foundation of their relationship. She
figured it was a good sign that he’d seen her at the height of her creative
frustration–at one point she’d been forced to paint over an
entire wall and start it from scratch–yet he still wanted to be with
her. She knew she was not pretty when she got upset like that.
The first step in creating a mural is sketching out the big
parts–this time, a row of knights on horseback whose shields
spelled out the name of the school. It was easy in the sense that all
the figures were the same; she’d just projected the tracing image on
the wall eight times in a row. It was a difficult project in that each
of the figures was nearly eight feet tall and three feet wide, so she
would be spending most of her time on a ladder, something she
did not enjoy. She didn’t feel it would be right to make Callie climb
up there–this was Violette’s project, after all–so she let the assistant
keep her feet on the ground and paint a three-inch edge
around the inside of the sketch lines that could be reached from
the floor. Violette did the same thing from the top, working down
to Callie’s space, then painted inside the giant figures with one
color. She would paint the details over the single flat color, one
shade at a time, until all the details were complete.
She had half an hour before Christian would come with lunch,
but her stomach was already growling at the thought of the Burger
Hut meal she’d been obsessing on. Her mind, though, went
quickly from the burger to the person delivering it. Again, her
stomach tingled, then dipped uncertainly, but in the end a smile
spread over her face. She began to belt “Fever” at the top of her
lungs as she pushed the roller over the wall. If she could get this
first figure filled in by the time he arrived with lunch, she’d consider
the morning a success.
“Fever in the morning, fever all through the night.” Drag the
roller through the tray, ease it back onto the wall to minimize splatter.
“The sun lights up the daytime, the moon lights up the night.”
Catch a stray drip with the rag in her other hand, smooth the blotted
space with the roller to even the paint. “I can’t remember the
next line,” she improvised, then leaned to reach the edge of the figure
and felt the ladder list slightly. She grabbed the top, trying to
steady herself, and saw the tray slip from its place on the ladder’s
shelf. Dropping the roller, she lunged for the tray, then felt her foot
slip from the rung. She screamed, groping the air for something to
hold onto, but found nothing.

“Lunch has arrived!” Christian burst into the gym, paper bag in
one hand and a cardboard drink tray in the other. The wall opposite
the door had oddly-shaped spaces edged with paint; he knew
they were eventually to be knights on horses only because Violette
had told him. He felt badly, sometimes, that he was so clueless
when it came to art. He wasn’t good at visualizing things that didn’t
yet exist. When Violette tried to explain to him a project she was
working on, he’d nod and do his best to ask intelligent questions,
but in reality he couldn’t for the life of him see in his mind the finished
product that Violette saw.

It awed him, though, to watch her work–to see indistinct
shapes of color slowly become recognizable figures. He loved
standing back and observing her; but he knew it made her selfconscious,
so he didn’t do it often. Or, at least, didn’t let her see
him do it. More than once he’d peeked in the door while she was
transforming his dull waiting room to a New York rooftop restaurant.
Before they’d begun dating, before they’d even really become
friends, he had taken every opportunity he could to watch her as
she sketched or painted. He had such a respect for her abilities–
perhaps because they were so foreign to him. Stick figures and geometric
shapes formed the whole of his artistic portfolio.
The ladder was on its side on the floor, and it took a couple of
seconds for reality to register when he saw Violette’s motionless
body beside it.
A foreign sensation like liquid ice ran through Christian’s
veins. He started to shiver. The paper bag dropped from his hand
and the drink tray with the sodas splashed down beside it as he
slowly knelt next to her. “Violette?” His voice was suddenly
hoarse. “Honey?” His shaking fingers reached out for her neck,
and when he felt the gentle throb of her pulse the liquid ice
warmed and he grabbed his cell phone from his pocket to call 911.
The dispatcher assured him help was on its way, but the rest of her
words were lost on him as he stared at Violette and carefully took
her hand.
“Not again, God. Please not again.” The words slipped out of
him unexpectedly; his voice sounded unfamiliar. “Come on, Violette,
open your eyes, honey. Be okay.” Christian was hardly aware
of what he was saying after a while; the fear that her light pulse
would stop altogether if he went silent kept him babbling.
Time inched on as he waited for the sound of the ambulance
out in the parking lot. He didn’t know what to do; he felt lame just
sitting there holding her hand, but he was afraid to move her anymore
in case he aggravated an injury. He felt helpless, stupid. He
continued to pray, chanting the same plea over and over: “No, God,
don’t let her die.”
After an eternity, the wail of sirens could be heard, and he
bolted from his place beside Violette to open the door so they’d
know where to go. An ambulance, squad car, and fire truck were
parking at random angles in the nearly empty parking lot. Two
navy-clad EMTs jumped out of the rig and ran a stretcher toward
Christian, firing questions at him as they approached Violette.
Once they reached her, he was commanded to stand back, and he
watched unblinkingly while they worked, dying to ask questions
but afraid to interrupt them. The rest of the rescue crew came in–
some inspecting the scene, others asking questions of the medics or
him, some standing back with crossed arms and watching what
was unfolding. Christian thought of how Violette hated to be the
focus of such concentrated attention–just hearing him recount
her accident later would make her blush. Sooner rather than later,
he begged.

The two medics carefully eased Violette onto a backboard,
wrapped a collar around her neck, and pulled plastic straps over her
body to keep her still on the board. One medic began to poke and
prod her neck while the other cut her T-shirt up the center and
attached leads to her chest. A machine began to beep in time with
her heartbeat, and Christian felt himself relax just a little when he
heard the steady pulse. “Airway clear. Give me the mask,” the poking
medic said to the other, and an oxygen mask was strapped over
her face.
“She’s not breathing?” Christian asked. He felt like he was the
one who needed the oxygen.
“No, she’s breathing fine; this is just to be safe.”
“What’s that for?” The other medic had begun stringing up
an IV.
One of the other rescue workers standing next to him provided
the answer. “Just prepping in case they need to start meds quickly.”
As the medic finished setting up the IV, the other began to cut
off her jeans and inspect her legs and then arms with the help of
one of the officers. “Just checking for any other injuries,” they
assured Christian. “Don’t see any; let’s get her loaded.”
One of the firemen came up beside Christian. “Do you have a
car, sir? If you do, we ask that you follow the ambulance to the hospital.
Can you do that?”
“Uh, yeah, sure, sure.” The circus began moving toward the
door, and Christian waffled–stuck between gathering Violette’s
possessions and following the medics out the door. He finally
grabbed her backpack and jacket and ran outside to catch up with
the medics, who gently loaded the stretcher into the back of the
“Beachside Medical,” one of them shouted to him before closing
the doors. The lights and siren were activated, and Christian
was almost paralyzed by the sound. When the rig began to move
away, he jumped into his car and left skid marks pulling out after

“Mr. Roch?”
“Doctor, actually.”
The ER attendant smiled. “Ah, what’s your specialty?”
Christian tried not to scowl with impatience. “Psychology.”
The interest faded from the attendant’s eyes. “Oh. Well, anyway,
did you witness the accident?”
Christian huffed out a breath, sick of being asked the same
questions over and over. He wanted answers. Tearing his eyes away
from Violette’s still form on the hospital bed, he turned to the doctor
and told him what little he knew. “She had fallen before I got
there. I don’t know how long it was; could have been as much as
half an hour, because her assistant was scheduled to leave at eleven
thirty, and I arrived just before noon.”
“Can you describe for me the position you found her in?”
Christian closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was the
scene he most wanted to forget. “On her back, head rolled to the
right. Most of her was on the pile of drop cloths, but her head was
just beyond them. Her arms were…” He pantomimed the angles,
then dropped his arms heavily to his sides. “Please tell me what’s
going on. No one has told me anything.”
The attendant motioned to a pair of plastic chairs and led
Christian to one of them. Sitting in the other, he folded his hands
in his lap and crossed his legs, as though settling in for a long conversation.
No simple answers then. Christian braced himself for
the worst.
“I have to say that her injuries–or lack thereof–are nothing
short of miraculous. Typically with a fall from the height we’re
hypothesizing would have caused a broken neck or broken back–
at least a broken arm or leg or ribs–but all we’re seeing here is
some bruising. Of course,” he added quickly, seeing the light spark
in Christian’s eyes, “she has sustained a very serious head injury,
and despite her well-being in all other areas, we cannot guarantee
her recovery.”
The colors of the room seem to fade, a film settling over everything.
“She won’t recover?”
The doctor shrugged. “Most coma patients, especially those
with as little trauma to the head as Violette, will come out of the
coma in two to four weeks. But then she could have temporary or
permanent damage to various fine motor skills, memory, or even
personality. At this point it’s a waiting game. We just don’t know
when or if she may come out or what her issues might be postcoma.”
Machine beeps were the only sound in the room. Christian’s
eyes drifted back to the bed, to the form under the white hospital
blankets. “So now what?”
“Now we wait.”

Alexine was standing at the front desk when Christian and the doctor
emerged from Violette’s room. Christian had called her on the
way over, barking out only “Violette’s hurt” and the name of the
hospital. Seeing a familiar face brought Christian some relief; at
least he wasn’t in here alone anymore. “Alexine! Over here,” he
called down the hall. She smiled at his voice, jogging down the hall
to meet him, but her hope faded the minute his expression registered.
“What’s going on?”
“Is that all?”
He almost laughed. “All? Yeah, it is, so far; but trust me, we’d
rather be dealing with shattered bones than this.” He raked a hand
through his hair, trying to hold onto his sanity. “They can’t give me
a straight answer on anything. No promise she’ll come out of it, no
promise of what she’ll be like if she does.” The crumbling look on
Alexine’s face wasn’t helping him any. The shock of the news was
seeping into his brain, displacing every other thought. Reality had
completely changed.
Alexine took his hand, pulled him back into Violette’s room,
and ushered him into the chair he’d just left. Then she walked to
the side of the bed and smoothed the sheets over Violette’s legs.
Alexine bit her lip as she glanced over to the machines beside the
bed. “Oh, girlfriend,” she sighed. “What did you do?” Turning to
Christian, she asked, “So now what?”
He stared past her. “We just sit and wait.” His voice grew
shakier with each pronouncement.
“Did they say anything about how to stimulate her brain? Can
we encourage her to wake up?”
“The doctor I talked to didn’t tell me a whole lot. I don’t know
what to do.”
“Not the type of work you psychologists usually deal with,
huh?” She tried to grin.
A corner of his mouth lifted. “Not exactly.”
“All right then.” She pulled her car keys from her pocket and
headed for the door. “I’m going to get some information. But first
some basic needs. What do you want: lunch, coffee, candy bar?”
The word “lunch” conjured the plans he’d had for the day, and
he groaned. “My clients.”
Alexine rolled her eyes. “That’s the last thing you need. I’ll
swing by your office and post a note on the door that you’re out
for the rest of the day.”
“All right then, week. But you haven’t eaten, right? I’ll bring
you something.”
He mustered up a halfhearted thank you. She nodded and let
herself out of the room, leaving Christian alone with Violette.
After a moment, he stood and moved the chair to the side of her
bed. Snaking his hand between the bars of the bed rail, he grasped
her hand and tried not to cry.

About the Author

Alison Strobel
Alison Strobel is a novelist and former elementary educator. Her father, bestselling and award-winning author Lee Strobel, instilled her with a love of stories at a young age. Alison and her husband live in California. More by Alison Strobel
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