Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Release: Broken Smiles

by Tara Mayoros

She felt exactly like her guitar. Lifeless.  Lonely. On the stage for the world to see, but feeling empty inside.  He changed everything.

One fateful night while performing at the Grammys, the pressure from the music industry becomes too much for Laidan. She is quickly carried off the stage, leaving the world audience stunned and amazed by her emotional performance.
Accompanying her are a trusted bodyguard and a close childhood friend. Together they make for the jungles of China where she meets Doctor Rafe Watkins, a humanitarian who has reasons of his own for why he has chosen to live deep within the bamboo forests. The handsome doctor is building an orphanage and runs a clinic that fixes children’s broken smiles or cleft palets.
Watching him perform his many acts of kind service, Laidan’s “broken smile” is also healing and she begins to fall deeply in love with him. She has finally found a place where she belongs. One problem – because of Rafe’s intentional seclusion from society for the past seven years, he does not know Laidan’s true identity. What will he do when he finds out? Can love conquer all, or is Laidan’s rock star fame too big for his quiet life?


About the Author:
As a child, Tara Mayoros moved to Asia with her family where her love of different cultures and travel began. In college she satisfied her wanderlust by moving to back to China, filling her head with countless stories, and occasionally writing them down. Years, marriage, children, and many adventures later, she picked up her dusty pen and paper and realized that writing took her to different worlds and gave her the experiences that she yearned for. As an artist, musician, and nature lover, she sees the beauty in the process, and the miracle, of creation. The mountains are her home and they call to her whenever she finds herself in need of inspiration.

Available for purchase at:
Amazon US     Amazon UK     Smashwords     Kobo     iTunes     Barnes & Noble


The hazy room started to spin. Blaring voices blended and became dull, while beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. The ceiling of the large room was lost beneath a layer of smoke. Strobe lights flashed mechanically to the beat of the drums, highlighting in brilliant bursts, a sea of people. The band continued, oblivious to the fact that she had stopped singing. She looked down at her phone that had vibrated insistently in her pocket. Her mom had never called eight times during a performance before. A man’s voice spoke on the other end.
Through a narrow tunnel in her mind, she heard the countdown to the New Year as she nearly dropped the phone. She felt every number. Felt it as panic shot through her bones. Ten — a phone call. Nine — from a cop. Eight — a car accident. Seven — mother hurt. Six She’s not responding. Five — might not make it. Four — Hurry, Laidan. Three — Denver Medical Center, now!
Two — she shook her head to clear it. “I’ll be right there.”
One — the crowd and room erupted into a deafening roar.
Happy New Year.
After stumbling off the stage, people from all directions flocked to kiss Laidan, following the celebratory tradition. The smell of alcohol saturated her nostrils. She had grown accustomed to the scent and rather liked it because she associated it with playing music in front of an audience — and she loved to perform for an audience. With fumbling fingers, she reached in her pocket for her friend’s keys, thankful it was her turn to be the designated driver.
Hugging her guitar and using it as a shield, she pushed through the sweaty crowd toward the door. She looked back at the local band on the stage throwing drum sticks, smashing guitars, and exploding beer bottles. Before she’d stopped singing, her powerful voice had permeated through the microphone, sending currents of energy and vibrations into the heart of the excited crowd. Like most other bands who hired her to sing, they had struggled to keep up with her talent.
As Laidan pushed through the door in a daze, she felt her oldest friend Andi hug her from behind.
“Happy New Year!” Andi yelled above the noise, which sent another whiff of alcohol. “Hey, where ya goin’?”
Laidan wriggled free as the bitter cold stung at her tears. “It’s my mom. She’s in the hospital.” Holding up the keys, she said, “Sorry to leave you guys without a ride, but I gotta go.” Her father’s trusty old guitar clung next to her heart. The metallic strings brushed against her sweater, catching on the woven threads like heartstrings.
“Oh no! I’m coming with you,” Andi insisted, slipping on a patch of ice.
“No, you stay here and have fun. I’ll be fine,” she, lied as she raced through the snow.
Normally, Laidan would have appreciated how beautiful the crisp night was. How the footsteps crunching in the snow resembled a drum beat. How the snowflakes fell around her face, soft like an angel’s harp. Her creative mind usually saw the beauty in small things, but not tonight.
The only thought in her mind was… not my mom too.


The condensation on the windowpane would appear and disappear with every rise and fall of Laidan’s breath. She must have passed this window a dozen times the last few days on her walk to and from the hospital. Now, as she stood there, her dreams of having what was displayed so beautifully inside that window, faded like her wafts of breath. Through the frosty glass her fingers itched to caress a guitar. Instinctively, she picked at the hardened calluses on the tips of her hand.
That instrument has a song to sing, and I ache to be the interpreter. She sighed and continued on her way through the snow-packed sidewalks toward the hospital.
Inside, her mother, Eileen, still lay in a coma. Laidan sat down on the bed and looked at her broken body. Blood boiled inside her veins as she thought about the drunk driver who had plowed into her mother. It didn’t seem fair that Mom, always so cautious and good, had ended up in this cold, sterile room while the drunk had simply walked away. She hated him for what he had done.
She could almost hear her mother’s voice. Now, Laidan, we must forgive. Hatred is poison. It will kill your very soul if you suck it in. So spit it out! Eileen was living proof that these words were true.
As the war inside Laidan’s head raged on, her shoulders shook and tears streamed down her face onto her mother’s bed. The words to a new song weaved like a satin ribbon into her mind as she slipped slowly into a dream state:

Comfort like a mother’s love
When it feels like it’s the end
Broken smiles on little faces
That only he can mend

Laidan woke to the nudges of the night nurse who told her it was very late. Slowly, Laidan pulled on her worn-out ski coat, kissed her mom on the forehead, and shuffled out the door. The bitter cold bit through her skin, making her feel vulnerable. Sheets of snow covered the ground like a deceptive blanket. Anger flared as she thought of the drunk driver and how he had also destroyed their only car that she shared with her mother. Her feet picked up pace as she ran home. She didn’t even look up at the guitar in the window as she blindly made her way home.


The next morning was supposed to be Laidan’s first day back for winter semester in college. She enjoyed school, but it always seemed that her thoughts were somewhere else. Often she felt like the nightingale in the story who couldn’t sing while trapped in a cage. She would catch herself gazing out the window, imagining herself on stage or living in a different country. School was just too confining for her wanderlust and big dreams. So, the decision not to go back to school until her mother improved was an easy one for her to make. Instead of grabbing her backpack, she grabbed her old guitar.
After opening the door to leave, her eyes rested on the only photo her mother allowed of her father. Warm hues of a Caribbean sunset brightened her face and those of her parents. The blue left-handed guitar that her father had just bought for her, sat proudly on her lap. It will be easier on your fingers, she could still hear him say. It had been a wonderful trip. So happy… so long ago.
While Laidan closed the door to her townhome, she jumped as her neighbor next door ascended the steps. Bringing her back to the present, back to reality.
“How ya’ll doin’, honey?” her neighbor asked in her thick, Southern accent. “How’s ya momma?”
Laidan brought her guitar case to the forefront. “Not much has improved. I’m bringing my guitar today to see if the music might help wake her.”
“Well, darlin’, if anything will, it’ll be that music of yours. It’d wake the flowers in the winter.” After blowing into her fingers her neighbor continued. “If ya ever feel like releasin' some soul, then come to church choir practice again. We all miss you since our Christmas program. I tell you, I’d never seen such a crowd as I did when you started comin’.”
Laidan smiled wearily. “Thanks. I love singing with you guys too. It really fits me more than some of the lame bands I’ve been with lately.”
“Really, girl, when you hit that high note in ‘Holy Night,’ I got chills. Chills, I tell ya! We all did.” Her neighbor’s eyes softened with the memory, and she reached for her hand. “All right, hon, just remember this too shall pass. Ya hear? I say, ya hear?”
In response, Laidan merely shrugged, and a tinge of anger escalated again. She plastered on a fake smile toward her neighbor to mask the pain.


Laidan’s mother, Eileen, looked the same. Gray hair fell in soft curls around her face. Laidan pulled a hairbrush out of her purse and gently brushed the hair away from her mother’s eyes.
“You need to be able to see me when you wake up,” she said hopefully.
The nurse came in, checked the monitor, and left without acknowledging either person.
Laidan followed her to the door and then looked down both sides of the hallway. Empty. Reverently, she took the blue guitar out of the case and caressed the strings, making sure it was tuned properly. The tone echoed around the stark walls, tapping like high heels against tile. It seemed too loud for such a quiet space. She was glad she’d brought the blue guitar and not her dad’s old steel string. Like an athlete warming up for a race, she strummed the strings, waiting to sing.
After humming a few tunes, she felt comfortable with the acoustics. Closing her eyes, she began to sing songs she knew her mother loved. She felt her heart lift. Music always raised her spirits. Her voice had a scratchy soulful sound to it. People were often surprised at the voice that exploded from her body.
As a child, being on stage hadn’t come naturally to Laidan. Some embarrassing crying fits finally convinced her parents that she only needed to approach the stage on her own. Once on the stage, a palpable, tangible spirit seemed to descend around her, giving her strength beyond her years. In those moments, Laidan had to shake her head to be brought back down to earth. Her eyes would clear and, once she realized where she was, the nerves would start all over again.
Over time, Laidan had gotten used to being on stage; she loved it, then she craved it. It was a rush few understood. Like a skier staring down a huge mountain or a skydiver looking out of the plane to the world below. A true unaltered rush. No drugs, no alcohol, just pure blood and adrenaline pounding through her veins. Her music kept her out of trouble. She’d seen how easy it had been for some to turn to drugs to find inspiration — and many of her friends had. She’d always thought of this as an irony, because she found inspiration everywhere. In flowers, trees, and especially from relationships filled with love.
Love like her mother’s.
Now, her fingers automatically picked out the melody to her new song inspired by her mother’s accident. She stopped and leaned back in the chair, staring blankly at her mother. A sniffle at the doorway made her jump. As she turned around, an audience smiled back at her from the hallway.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb anyone.”
“Please don’t stop,” said a man in a wheelchair. “I thought I heard an angel singing and asked my nurse to bring me to the music. It’s the first time I’ve been out of my bed.”
His nurse smiled as if that was a great accomplishment.
“Well, if it’s okay with the staff, I could sing some more for you.”
“Yes!” they cried in unison.
She sang and strummed, and for a moment the smell of disinfectant and the stark walls faded away. When it was close to lunchtime, she stopped for the day, but Laidan promised she would sing again the next morning. When the room and hallway finally cleared, she stood and closed the door. With more reverence, she sang her mother’s favorite song that she had written a few years earlier.

Release these feet from concrete and heat
Run barefoot in fields of golden wheat
Feel the forest floor sink between toes
Discover caves where nobody knows
So kick off the shoes that weigh you down
Find a place where no one’s around

Eileen lay still in her deep sleep, unmoved, unchanged. Laidan set down her guitar and went to the attached bathroom. Her hands gripped the sides of the vanity as she braced herself. It had been so hard when she’d lost her father — she couldn’t go through it again.
Fear overtook her as she looked up. Normally she didn’t wear much make-up; she didn’t need to. Her best friend, Andi, had finally told her she should start waxing her eyebrows. While looking at those furrowed brows she thought, what does it matter?
She twisted her long dark hair into a loose bun and quickly noticed that her green eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. Even with her olive coloring, the florescent lights and the dark circles made her look like a corpse.
In truth, it mirrored exactly how she felt.
Scenes of a different hospital bathroom on a different day came back to her. Laidan’s memories transported her back eight years earlier.


Her father had been in a motorcycle accident. She stood beside his bed; the unrecognizable face frightened her.
His skin stretched like plastic over bones, as she touched the exposed tips sticking out of his cast.
“When will these fingers play your guitar again?” she asked aloud to his limp body.
Through her tears, she started singing a lullaby. She felt a small movement in her father’s fingertips. “I love you, Dad,” she whispered.
His fingers went slack.
Laidan had watched curiously as her mother and nurse re-entered the room.
Eileen collapsed in the chair and buried her hands in her face. Peeking through her fingers, she looked at the nurse and said, “Tell her. Tell my daughter. I simply can’t form the words.”
The nurse sighed. “Your father wasn’t alone on the motorcycle. The woman in the other room — that was with him — just passed away.”
After hearing the news, Laidan locked herself in the bathroom and stared at her reflection until the blurred lines resembled melted wax. She leaned against the wall, slid down to the floor, and rocked as she hugged her knees. Songs began to hum in her head to silence the roaring chaos. That was when it began — the dawn of realization that music was her heart’s blood, her lifeline, and the only thing that kept her from shattering into pieces.
An hour later, she heard a faint knock and her mother’s soft voice. “Laidan, please come out. I need to see your beautiful face. Please.”
It was the please that pierced her heart. It would be the two of them against the world now. She opened the door and fell into her mother’s arms.
At the funeral, she heard whispers of her father’s unfaithfulness and how it hadn’t surprised anyone. He’d been a politician and learned how to wear many hats and masks. The girlfriend had been an intern and supposedly not the first.
With every passing day and every new bit of information, Laidan noticed her mother’s hair turning more and more gray. Eileen had not been able to stand the gossip any longer, so they moved out West for a fresh start. Her mother never spoke of her father, and Laidan started to notice photos of him disappearing from the home. Only the family photo of them in the Caribbean remained. When Laidan asked why, her mother responded, “For us to remember happier times.”


Laidan was jarred out of her reverie when someone knocked on the bathroom door.
“Laidan, are you in there?”
Her best friend, Andi, sounded concerned.
“Yeah,” Laidan squeaked, splashing cool water on her face. “Just a minute.” She pinched at her cheeks and watched as splotches of color returned. Opening the door, she squinted against the lights of the room.
“You okay?”
“Yeah, just tired.” She quickly changed the subject. “So, how did your climbing competition go?”
Andi unzipped her jacket and showed off her brand new T-shirt. Her smile was infectious, and she said with excitement, “I won first place again! They gave me a brand new nylon rope and this T-shirt.” She proudly pushed out her rather flat chest.
“Awesome. Didn’t you already win a free membership to that wall last month?” Laidan tried hard to sound enthusiastic.
“Yup, I kicked everyone’s trash — even all the guys.”
Laidan looked down at her petite friend and smiled. Andi was one of the only friends she had kept from high school. Her electric blue eyes were sometimes lost behind the colorful and unusual glasses she wore. Purple today. She accessorized herself like none other. It rubbed off on Laidan, and together they loved picking through consignment shops and thrift stores to put together unusual outfits.
“Hey, a bunch of us are going skiing at Loveland. Do you think you could get away for even a half-day?” Andi asked.
“Na, I should stay here.” Laidan motioned with her head toward her mother, lying on the bed.
Andi nodded solemnly then said, “You ready to get lunch now? How ‘bout I take you somewhere that serves something better than cafeteria food?”
As they entered the hospital lobby, Laidan came to a sudden halt.
“What is it?” Andi asked.
Laidan stood motionless in front of a poster. Her heart skipped a beat then grew what seemed to be two sizes larger. Slowly she lifted her hands to touch the poster. The glossy print exposed a photo of a young Chinese girl with two long, cascading black braids. She knew the young child was parentless, and the longing for love spoke to her past the oceans and different continents. The child’s small black eyes held the sadness of the world. Laidan knew her eyes mirrored the same melancholy.
She quickly read:

Join Dr. Watkins’ seminar:
12:00 in Conference Room #2
Escape with him as he discusses his great work and new discoveries regarding his clinic in China.

Laidan looked down at her watch. “Shoot.” She hustled across the lobby and motioned with her eyes for Andi to hurry.
“What’s with you? Where are you going?” Andi hollered as she strung her fingers through her wild, spiky blond hair in frustration.
“Shh,” the receptionist scolded.
Andi shot the lady a hard glare that made the lady look quickly back down at her computer.
Laidan grabbed Andi’s hand, and together they slipped inside the door of Conference Room #2. Unfortunately they were forty-five minutes late.
Taking her first look at the doctor, Laidan shrank in her seat.
Quickly assessing her appearance, she groaned, thinking about her reflection in the mirror earlier that morning.
Standing at the front of the room, he held the audience captive. He stood tall and fit like an unyielding tree. It grounded Laidan, and for some reason she thought of roots climbing up her legs, holding her captive. An air of confidence swam about him. His brown hair fell long enough to reveal a small wave. Her heart that had skipped a beat moments earlier was all but pounding now.
The doctor’s voice rang confidant and clear as he spoke. “And that is why I have visited a few hospitals here in the States. The fact of the matter is — I need funding. These kids need your support.” His hand came to his face and rubbed his cheek as if he wasn’t used to its smoothness. Looking up to the slideshow, Laidan noticed how his eyes softened at the sight of the children standing in front of the humble building made of concrete and rocks. The dense backdrop of banana trees and hanging vines seemed to warm the hospital chill around her. The children made funny faces at the camera, and she smiled, imagining the relationship the doctor had with his patients.
He turned to the audience, eyes scanning the room, as if he dared anyone to not help out. His brown eyes passed over her dismissively. Her heart dropped.
Then, very pointedly, his eyes shot back to hers. They held her gaze in a comfortable moment. A shot of butterflies injected straight to her stomach. Her eyes perused his face. His brow showed poise, his easy presence filled the entire room, and his returning smile disclosed a small tease. She didn’t think about how she looked or that she had bloodshot eyes — she knew in that moment he saw beyond her appearance. A blush rose to her face and tickled at her ears.
She felt her friend shaking her rather aggressively.
Andi whispered impatiently in her ear. “I said, are you cold? Do you want my jacket?”
“No, why?”
“Well, your arms are completely covered in goose bumps.”
Laidan was the first to break the gaze as she looked down and remained silent, still amazed by the sight of his chocolate eyes. She raised her eyelashes to find them still on her.
Laidan noticed Andi also look up toward the front of the room.
“Ah, well, he is rather handsome. That is, if you like that whole mysterious-rugged-doctor-who-loves-children look.” Even Andi showed that she was caught under his spell as she continued, “He is rather perfect, isn’t he? He’d never even look twice at me though.”
Laidan turned to look at her. “I just think it’s an amazing thing he’s doing, don’t you?” She pulled out the brochure she had grabbed by the poster in the lobby. “It’s something to be proud of.” Her voice trailed off.
They both inspected the photos, which housed a young child with a facial deformity — a cleft palate. The mouth of the little girl folded inside itself and exposed twisted and crooked teeth. The after-photo showed the same child smiling as if she was the happiest girl in the world. Laidan had to squint her eyes to make out the tiny line of a small scar on her upper lip.
Andi exclaimed rather loudly, “This is incredible!”
Embarrassed by Andi’s sudden outburst, Laidan looked up to the doctor again.
He was looking directly at her.
She smiled at him.
He grinned back, making the goose bumps flare again. It took a while before he began. Clearing his throat, he said, “I’m not asking for much, but for merely pennies a day, you could completely change the future and course of a child’s life.” He scanned the room again while tugging uncomfortably at his necktie. “Now for the statistics.” He took a deep breath and continued while he clicked on a series of graphs and pie charts. “Seventy-one percent of all children have at least one episode of otitis media, or in other words, ear infection, by the age of three. But in contrast, ninety-seven percent of children with cleft-palate problems have constant ear infections before they reach two years old.”
Laidan thought of the money she had been saving for the unusal left-handed twelve-string Martin. The guitar could wait, she concluded.
“We not only fix their appearance, but we fix a number of other health problems as well,” he said.
In that moment Laidan felt her life shift. It wasn’t necessarily due to the man standing at the front of the room, although that happened to be a large part of it, but without warning, her calling seemed larger. She didn’t have any money or means, but she knew she couldn’t sit idly by and not react.
After his final comments, Laidan wanted to jump out of her seat and shake his hand — or maybe even do something more.
The audience roared as they gave him a standing ovation. Laidan could see that it touched him. His smile was soft and inviting. Her feet moved on their own accord as they pushed through the crowd toward the front of the room. Her heart ached to be near him, but she suddenly stopped short. She watched jealously as an attractive woman shot up from the audience and embraced him — rather intimately. Then much to Laidan’s dismay, she kissed him squarely on the cheek.
Laidan’s heart sank down to her toes. Of course he’s taken. He’s too perfect to be single.
With shoulders slumped, she turned around. Discouragement sat heavy as a stone in her gut. “Let’s go,” she said.
Before turning to exit, she looked back and upward to the projector screen of smiling Chinese children. She felt a slight prick at her tear ducts as her gaze lowered to the doctor.
His eyes watched her from across the room.
She paused.
He lifted his dark eyebrows as if in a question. While his eyes held hers captive, the swarm of people faded into muted masses, and she felt her cheeks blush. The woman standing beside him threw him off-tilt, and his gaze broke.
Laidan regarded him for a few breaths before turning and exiting out the door.
Laidan thought to herself, Yes, I will help you. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I promise I will.
“I want to make a difference like the doctor. I want to do something great.” Laidan realized she had spoken out loud as she stared at the name of Dr. Watkins.
As if in response, a hand rubbed her shoulder for comfort. Currently, Andi was the only support she had in the whole world.

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