About Grief club
Jessica Mulraney and Damian Ford are two strangers whose lives have been torn apart by loss. Grief Club was meant to be their sanctuary, a place to help them heal and recover from their grief. But strange things begin to happen at the meetings, and as they learn more about each other and the other members, they come to a shocking realization.
What ties the members of Grief Club together is more than grief. And the support group that was meant to be their refuge, might turn out to be their ruin.
Grief club is a stand alone novel published Jan 2022. It is the second novel by JL Bowers.
The text had come in the middle of the night.
It ignited the screen and rattled the phone with an urgent fury, but alerted no one except for the carpet the phone lay on while it charged. The screen glowed defiantly after the rattling ceased, but still the text failed to rouse any human attention. Eventually, the screen winked to black, shrouding the message, a message that had it been timely fetched, might’ve altered everything.
Jessica Mulraney—or Jess, as she was known to her friends and family—burst from her bathroom amid a steamy haze, singing along to “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, her hips jutting out at every “ah.” She twirled around and whipped the towel off her neck, throwing it onto a growing pile of laundry, and then bent to scoop up her phone. It lit up when yanked from the charger, revealing a text notification from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Kevin Mulraney. The “ahs” died on her lips. Her hips stopped shaking.
Going off the grid again. Will miss the party. Sorry.
Her fingers tightened, her jaw too, and she squeezed the phone, throttling it as she pictured doing the same to Kevin’s head. How could he do this to her? To their son?
The keyboard clicked with a telegraph tune as she shot off a nasty, threat-filled response. Then, with her thumbs poised over the digital keyboard, she waited to pounce on his sheepish reply.
It never came.
Jess let out a long, aggrieved sigh. Braydon adored his father with the blind worship only a four-year-old could bestow. His fifth birthday party was on Sunday. Kevin had to show up for it. Had to.
She stared at the text a moment longer, then thumbed the app away, revealing her phone’s wallpaper. A photo of her, Braydon, and Kevin—the selfie taken in happier times. Kevin’s black hair was scrunched against her cheek, her blonde locks draped over Braydon’s reddish hair. Strawberry, vanilla, and dark chocolate they’d dubbed themselves, and Jess wondered again how a blonde and a brunette produced a red.
She was the only one who wondered. Most just presumed it was Kevin’s ancestry. He was black Irish, or as they were known outside the United States, Irish. But Jess knew better. Americans had typecast Ireland as a nation of gingers like her son, but most Irish looked like Colin Farrell not Conan O’Brien. The red had likely come from her Scandinavian genes.
She fixed on Kevin’s tilted, dimpled face. He was smiling, his eyes twinkling, as if he’d just heard the best joke. There was one Irish stereotype that fit her husband—charmer. He could lure the most curmudgeonly of leprechauns out of their pot of gold, just as he’d lured Jess out of hers back in high school. And if she’d been unable to resist his charms, their doe-eyed son had no chance.
She clicked off her phone and sank onto the bed. Braydon’s angelic face surfed across her mind, landing with a thud at a vision of that face looking forlornly out the window, awaiting a father who would never arrive.
Go make him snowman pancakes. That’ll soften the blow.
Mickey Mouse had been the pancake fad when Jess was growing up. She’d tried to make them for Braydon once, but he wasn’t impressed.
“The mouse isn’t cool, mom,” he’d told her.
So Jess—a former cheerleader who could not afford to be thought uncool—lopped the ears off Mickey and rearranged them into a snowman, informing her son, “it doesn’t get much cooler than cold.”
He’d giggled, she’d smiled, and the thought of that moment almost wiped the anger at Kevin from her brain.
She threw on her bathrobe and trudged into the hall, the cell phone heavy in her hand.
The hallway was dim and silent, and she felt a slight tug of angst as she neared Braydon’s door. Her son usually woke her up, not the other way around.
Jess touched the door, her other hand finding the doorknob. Was he sick? That was the last thing she needed today—having to break bad news to a sick child. Anxiety surged within her, her mommy-sense tingling, but then she heard it.
Beep, beep, beep.
From his electronic keyboard. She smiled, relief bubbling inside her like melted butter.
The song was Jingle Bells, and Kevin had programmed it into the keyboard after teaching Braydon the infamous, demented version—Batman smells, Robin laid an egg—a few weeks ago on one of his visits. Their son had been practicing ever since so he could impress his father with it at his birthday party.
Jess’s smile fell off.
In no hurry to ruin her son’s day, she decided to make his pancakes first before disturbing his play. Maybe she’d even relax their rules and let him eat in his room.
The beeping followed her down the hall. Her head bobbed to the “oh, what fun” part as she rounded the corner and fell out of its range.
The kitchen was a gloomy maw, its one tiny window allowing only a pale square of morning light. She flicked the wall switch and tossed another glance at her phone. Still no text. Realizing her phone was muted, she toggled the side-button, putting back the sound, and shot off another message—angry, but with a touch of pleading this time—then waited for the three dots that would show Kevin was responding.
She frowned and thumbed the screen to the left. Her texts read as delivered and showed the time, but that was all they could tell her. Kevin refused to send read messages.
She propped the phone against the toaster and gathered ingredients for her special pancakes: milk, eggs, baking mix, raisins for decorating. Usually she did a bacon scarf, but since the split into two households, bacon was a luxury they rarely indulged in—in this household anyway.
Kevin’s boom box sat on the counter. Jess punched it on, hoping for music to soothe her, but a traffic report blared out instead. It was Friday morning, and Tacoma was bottlenecked with an unusual number of accidents, including a road closure in the South End caused by a fatality.
“Looks like someone’s having a tragic day,” the perky newscaster reported. “Stay safe out there.”
Jess’s adrenaline surged at the report. They needed to be cross-town, near Fircrest, in an hour.
She quickly dropped batter onto a hot pan in three connected piles, each pile getting smaller as she created the base, the torso, the head. How long would it take to pry Braydon out of his Halloween costume and into his soccer shorts? Halloween was almost a week past, but her son still slept in his treasured costume every night. It took time to coax him out of it.
Her phone chimed. She jumped for it, but it was only Danielle, texting to see that she was awake and on schedule to meet them at the park. Danielle was a go-getter. Her kids’ schedule rivaled that of a corporate CEO. Their ten o’clock soccer practice nestled perfectly between a tumbling class and a playdate. Braydon didn’t have a schedule, and Jess preferred afternoon practices, but Danielle’s son Toby was Braydon’s best bud, and she would not deny her son that inalienable right of boyhood: playing on the same team as his best friend.
The second side of the pancake was barely golden, but Jess slapped the pancake on a plate anyway, dotting it with raisins in most of the right places. She glanced at her phone. Her pulse raced when she saw the time, but still, she couldn’t resist shooting one more text at Kevin before delivering Braydon’s breakfast.
Only this time, the text didn’t show as delivered. It just hung there, empty white space beneath it. Jess frowned. Was service down? She pushed her screen over to the left a few times as if her impatience could jog the message into action, but the status remained unchanged.
Had Kevin shut his phone off?
That made no sense.
Kevin had gone “off the grid” before, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, but he always left his phone on in case Braydon needed him.
Is he actually ghosting me? Ashamed for missing the party?
Jess’s lips smashed together as she squeezed her phone.
I don’t have time for this!
But under the anger was a tangle of fear. Kevin was a lazy, sometimes flaky father, but not an irresponsible one.
Come on, Kev. Answer me, dammit!
Jess tore her eyes from the screen and back to Braydon’s rapidly cooling breakfast. They needed to get moving. She snatched up the plate, which sent the raisins skittering together. The snowman’s nose and mouth were now rammed into its eyes. A pop song blared. She hummed along forcefully as she reset the raisins, trying to brighten her mood so Braydon wouldn’t see her upset.
Jingle Bells seeped from her son’s room as she rounded into the hall. Usually, he sang along using the Batman lyrics. He must be concentrating really hard. Her stomach flip-flopped.
Please don’t let Kevin flake on Christmas too!
Jess plastered on her best smile and swung Braydon’s door open, extending the plate upward and out like the Aristocrat’s butler. “Hey Batman, breakfast is ready!”
The smile dropped off her face. The plate sagged.
“Braydon?” she said, her voice high and tight.
Her son was lying on the floor, his little body arched, his head smashed onto his keyboard like he’d fallen asleep during play. And she almost convinced herself that’s what happened, but then her eyes crawled across his murky blue-tinged skin.
“Braydon!” she gasped out.
Just then, Jingle Bells began another loop.
Beep, beep, beep!
The plate teetered from her hand, clanking as it hit the floor. Raisins skidded into syrup as the snowman bounced off.
"No, no, no, no, no…"
She dove for her son, scooping him up with arms that didn’t feel like hers, and cradled him against her, rocking all the love she had into him as if that might save him.
It’s okay, mommy’s here.
But it was too late. He was cold. He was stiff.
Her world would never be the same.