Carter is a novel about a family living through the struggles of life, including teen pregnancy, generational poverty and abuse, and addiction. Is it possible for an addict and their families to ever experience peace? Based on real events, the story of Carter is fiction, but the complexities of an individual suffering from addiction are true.

A man gave me this knife for protection. The government is watching me. My every move is being watched. The CIA is watching me through my truck, my phone, my stove, my microwave, and probably this knife. I trust no one. Don’t be surprised if a government sniper shoots me dead—right through the head. No one believes me, but I’m in danger and the government—well, the government is hiding something big and they don’t want me to expose them. Expose their corruption. What’s that noise? Who’s there? I will fight you, you motherfucker. I ain’t scared to die to expose you motherfuckers.

May 9, 2020

As usual, Patricia Leerink was eating her oatmeal with a sprinkle of stevia. It took two minutes to cook in the microwave. She stared as the microwave moved her bowl like an amusement park’s teacup ride. She worked from home, as an accountant, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she continued to put on makeup and dressed professionally with her thick, dark, blonde hair twisted into a bun and secured with bobby pins at the base of her neck.

She had followed the government’s stay-at-home order now for six weeks. She’d believed that continuing to dress professionally and putting on her makeup, she wouldn’t feel so isolated. She fought herself in the mornings—should she stay in her pjs or get dressed? Did it matter if she even got dressed and put on makeup? Her company wouldn’t notice, but it mattered to her.

The smell of oatmeal mixed with freshly brewed coffee lured her youngest daughter to the kitchen. Though she was beautiful at twenty-years-old, Ava looked exhausted—her emerald green eyes bloodshot behind her glasses, her blonde hair resting in a loose bun. “Are you ready for your last college final?” Patricia asked.

Ava didn’t respond. Mornings weren’t her friend on a good day, but at the end of her senior year of college, they were mortal enemies. She grabbed a coffee mug and poured coffee before finding herself sitting at the kitchen table turning on her laptop. She took a sip, waking up a bit and said, “I hope so, but you know I’m going to medical school in the fall, right? I doubt these late nights are going to end soon.”

The microwaved beeped and Patricia grabbed her bowl and stirred the oatmeal before blowing on her spoon and taking a bite. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself,” she warned, “you don’t want to burn out as a doctor before you start.”

“Noted, Patty,” Ava said with a sarcastic smirk.

Patricia frowned. “You know I hate being called Patty. Reminds me of my older brothers tormenting me as a child.”

“Mom,” Ava sighed, “I know, and it feels like you’re tormenting me.” She glanced up demanding her mother to drop the subject.

Ava worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get admitted into her top choice medical school—McClary University School of Medicine. Ava was always a homebody and refused to accept any other offer but McClary University to remain close to home. Patricia feared Ava would never leave home. Nonetheless, she saw what the rest of the community saw—an ambitious young woman with a kind soul like her older sister, Spencer.

“Why do you bother to put on makeup and dress professionally when you’re working from home?” Ava asked.

“Why does it bother you that I do?”

“No one knows what you have on or what you look like. So, why bother?”

“Because I feel better about myself. I would like to maintain some form of normalcy in this madness.”

Patricia glanced down at her phone and a dark cloud passed over her face; her son Carter was calling.

“Hey, Ma! Are ya home?” Carter asked.

“Yes, I’m home. What’s up?”

“I’m five minutes away, and I’m headin’ your way.”

Patricia weighed the costs of Carter visiting, “Okay. Just be mindful. Ava’s taking her last final today.”

“I won’t be long. Love ya, bye.” The phone disconnected.

Patricia stared at her youngest daughter, nervously.

“How is he?” Ava asked.

Patricia paused before answering, “He sounds normal. I better warn your sister.’

Patricia placed her now cold, half-eaten bowl of oatmeal on the counter before walking downstairs to warn Spencer of her brother’s pending arrival. By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, her head was already beginning to hurt. She could feel her blood pressure rising. Carter’s visits were always unpredictable. She heard her son’s truck enter the driveway.


Ava didn’t want Carter to visit. Even after all the trouble he had caused through the years, she wished and prayed he would get better. His peace didn’t seem meant to be. She, along with her sister, witnessed his torment and the torment he brought on their mother. When they discussed Carter, their mother always mentioned planning his funeral. Patricia had always been worried Carter was going to overdose or get himself murdered.

Ava thought about the final she was about to take. She knew she would pass her class with an A, even if she failed the final, but the thought of her brother visiting raised her anxiety more.

It was raining outside. Not the hard, angry rain common with most spring storms, but slow, lethargic raindrops that glide to the ground. A relaxing rain. A contrast to the anxiety storm in the kitchen.

Through the years she understood how she was supposed to act around Carter. Keep him calm. Don’t agitate him, especially when he was high on whatever drug or drugs he ingested. There was a part of her that wondered what would happen if he would get sober and stayed sober. Her mother woke up fully rested and smiled; that she could plan family get-togethers without worrying about how Carter might behave. Carter could finally be free. But believing the what ifs seemed to hurt them more.

Ava was a perfectionist. She pushed herself to always finish top of her classes. This drive paid off when she got admitted into her top choice for medical school. She planned on entering trauma and working in the ER. She supposed she should thank Carter for preparing her for what types of patients she might see. Unlike most of her classmates, Ava witnessed many of Carter’s episodes that ended up in either a medically induced coma or a psychiatric hold. Nothing surprised her anymore.

Ava wrapped her hand around the warm coffee mug and stared out into the backyard. Watching the light rain. She heard Carter’s truck. Inhaled, grabbed her mug tighter and said a quick prayer.


Spencer, recently filed for divorce and had two young daughters, was an immigration attorney. She accepted a position for a law firm in New York City before everything shut down. Until then, Spencer, along with her two daughters, lived with her mother. They transformed the basement into a small living area.

Spencer lay in bed. Her older daughter, five-year-old Bristol, had her feet on her chest, and Amelia, three-years-old, had her head crammed into her ribs. A shot of pain raced down her spine as she attempted to move her stiff back. Both girls had their own bed but refused to sleep in them. Bristol claimed she had good dreams when she cuddled with Mommy. Spencer knew in ten years when the girls were teenagers, she would miss these moments, but just one well-rested night would be nice. She took mental notes of what to do with the girls today. She’d accepted a new job but could not move halfway across the country with the pandemic shutting down everything. She would work from home, and there was little she could do. Unfortunately, with the courts closed, that meant her divorce would take longer to finalize.

Spencer fought hard for her marriage, but she couldn’t continue living this life. He disrespected her in front of their daughters and claimed his hobby, golfing, was a job. He was often gone on nights and weekends. She was becoming toxic herself, and she did not want her daughters to be caught in that environment. She gathered her courage and filed for divorce. Moving in with her mother and stepdad didn’t bother her too much. She knew she had a long way to go before she was able to completely move on, but she was ready for the next chapter in her life.

Spencer never saw herself as an attorney, especially an immigration attorney, but her experience as a server during her early college years changed her. Tired from the day’s classes, she walked into Rory’s Steak House to begin her shift. Frustrated, she wondered how she was going to finish her homework and make enough money to put gas in her car. She directly sniffed herself—she may or may not have washed her shirt the night before.

She entered the restaurant to find her co-worker, Margarita, clutching a middle-aged woman with tears falling down her face. A middle-aged man approached and embraced the two women. A young boy, around seven years old, stood crying. Not wanting to disturb them, Spencer tiptoed around this heartbreaking scene. Later, she discovered she had witnessed a good-bye, a good-bye that taught her about the cruel realities of hope and opportunity.

Margarita’s father immigrated from Mexico many years before. Over time, he had saved enough pesos, equivalent to $5,000 American dollars, for an attorney to help him become a legal citizen. He paid the attorney, but the attorney fled with the money. The paperwork to enter the United States never happened. Margarita’s father illegally entered the United States, followed by her and her mother. He was being deported. Margarita’s story inspired Spencer to apply for law school.

Spencer smelled freshly brewed coffee and slowly opened her eyes. She needed to go to the bathroom and desperately wanted a cup of coffee. But she didn’t want to move and wake her daughters. They looked like innocent angels while asleep. When they woke up, she knew it would not take long for the tattle telling and arguing to begin. She heard her mother’s footsteps walking down the stairs to the basement.

“Your brother’s here,” her mother announced.

Spencer tried to lift her head and look at her mother. “Shit. I can’t deal with him today,” Spencer said as she felt Bristol stretch her legs.

“Mommy, don’t say shit. That’s a bad word,” Bristol said through her yawn.

Spencer saw her mother smile before agreeing with Bristol. “That’s right. Mommy shouldn’t be saying those words.”

“It was a better alternative to my original thought,” Spencer said, “but, you’re right, it’s a bad word.”

Before Spencer could get up and pour her first cup of coffee, she heard the doorbell ring.


I have to warn my family. I have to tell them that if I end up dead, who’s responsible. I can’t let these motherfuckers get away with their corrupt bullshit. I hope my mother and sisters believe me—I’m being followed. They’re everywhere. They were watching me in the fire detectors before I ripped them out. Those motherfuckers don’t know who they’re dealing with. I know they were listening through the phone wires. I took this knife and cut every damn line. I walk up to my mother’s doorstep and push the doorbell. I hear the three rings and wait. Goddamnit! They better answer this fucking door. “Hey,” I shout, “answer the fucking door!” I see the door crack open and my mother stands there staring at me.


David Gopink, the sole detective at McClary County police department, sat on the bench near his locker, preparing for his shift. He normally jogged to the station instead of driving, and after work, he jogged to the gym and lifted weights for an hour. He had worked with the force for ten years, but recently joined the newly formed Drug Task Force team and assisted the DEA with local drug-related issues. In a town the size of Claire, everyone knew everyone else, and for the most part, this was a comfort to many citizens. At other times, David struggled to get the answers and evidence he needed to stop the drug lord, Leprechaun, from manufacturing and selling meth. Violence, missing person cases, overdoses, and robberies had increased over the past five years, and David could not gather enough evidence to truly go after Leprechaun. He suspected there were cops from his department covering for him.

On David’s side was rookie cop Patrick Stephenson dressing to go on patrol for the day. His dark hair recently cut, his form-fitting uniform accentuated his arm muscles and slender figure. His dark eyes exposed his nervousness. David looked at him. “Relax, Stephenson. Patrolling isn’t too bad. In fact, you’ll probably get bored today.”

“Thanks. I’ve always wanted to be a cop. I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” Patrick said.

“Everyone’s nervous on the first day,” David responded.

“Hey, Rookie! Are you ready to chauffer me around today?” Veteran patrol cop Josh Stockton yelled from across the locker room.

David grinned and responded, “Stockton, be nice to the kid. At least offer the kid a cup of coffee before you terrorize him.”

“Come on, Gopnik. It’s a little initiation. I remember you being a helluva lot harder on me,” Josh retorted.

David glanced at Josh with a sneer. “And look at you now.” David pulled his dress socks on, slipped on his loafers, and strode out the door while positioning the knot of his tie near his neck.

In his office, David closed the door and grabbed a mug to brew coffee from his Keurig before he sat down at his desk to begin reading a long litany of emails—eighty to be exact. He knew he would not arrive home before 10:00 p.m. He began to sort through them, adding items to his interminable “To Do” list.

David responded to an email and left his office. He found himself sitting at a red light in his unmarked police car, waiting to turn onto the highway. In the passenger seat was an evidence bag with crystal meth inside. The dealer he’d busted admitted it was meth, but he remained silent about who he was selling for. He was about thirty minutes into his trip when he decided to increase the volume of the dispatch radio. He heard patrol officers, ambulance, first responders, and the Medical Examiner being sent to 1100 Floyd Ave, Kensington Estates. He knew that address well. Spencer Leerink was his best friend in high school. He wanted more, but she was destined for more. Before he gained enough courage to admit his feelings, she was already married. Each time he saw her in public, she did not look happy. He heard she filed for divorce and moved back in with her mom.

Shots fired. Possible fatality.

The light turned green, but David remained frozen. He didn’t want to think about Spencer or one of her daughters being shot dead. Shots being fired in Kensington Estates was a rare enough event to have him finally break his daze and turn his car around and race to Spencer’s house.

David pulled halfway into the driveway and grabbed his bulletproof vest from the back of his car. Adrenaline flooded through him. He raced up the steps to the house, vaguely aware of the rookie cop Patrick he met that morning. David entered the house and saw the kitchen and living room in disarray. This was an unusual sight because in all the years he’d visited Spencer, Patricia always kept a tidy house. He walked down the hallway and turned a corner to the master bedroom. Carter was face down on the ground, blood spreading from beneath his temple from a gunshot wound. A bloody knife lay near his head. David knelt beside him and assessed him. For Carter’s tall frame, he had lost a lot of weight. It was obvious he was using again. He gently stood up and turned around. He sauntered down the front doorsteps and noticed Spencer sitting in an ambulance receiving stiches on her shoulder and bandages on her hands and arms. Despite her horrified stare, she looked exactly how he remembered her from high school. She had not aged in nearly fifteen years. He began walking toward her, when Patrick interrupted his thoughts, “We checked his truck and we found four different phones and meth.”

“He wasn’t only using, he was dealing,” David said. “Bag up everything for evidence. I’m going to talk to Spencer to figure out what happened.”

He approached Spencer, gazed into her traumatized dark green eyes, and noticed blood splattered on her crisp white night shirt. “Spence. Spence, what happened?”

She broke her daze, looked up at David, and tears drowned her cheeks.

About the Author

Kayla Branstetter

Kayla Branstetter is an educator, mother, writer, artist, and photographer from Missouri. She holds a MALS degree in Art, Literature, and Culture from the University of Denver. Her creative nonfiction, poetry, art, and photography have appeared in the following journals: The Poet's Choice, the Crowder Quill, Light & Space 'All Women' exhibit, The Human Family-Human Rights Festival, The Paragon Press-Echo: Journal of Creative Nonfiction, 805+, High Shelf Press, The Esthetic Apostle, the gyara journal, Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, a former contributing writer to a regional magazine Ozark Hills and Hollows. She recently had two paintings featured in an exhibition in Milan, Italy, and received the Dante International Art Award from Rome, Italy.