Before It Was Swimming Sideways, It Was Fallen

Here’s the story: in 2009 Stephanie Meyer dropped New Moon. I was so disheartened by how Jacob’s character was treated, it inspired me to write my own story. The story begins with a demon villain - Amaros -arriving in Cantos. He wants two things: to find one of the missing shards of Azul and to avenge his bitter loss of it to a fallen angel who still has it. Then we meet Abby who’s new to Cantos, reconnects with her childhood friend, Seth, and meets a mysterious outcast, Gabe, with an ambiguous past. All three of them have a strange connection which allows them to communicate telepathically. . . . I wrote the first book of this planned trilogy. Finished it, developed the query and months later Lauren Kate’s Fallen and then Becca Fitzgerald’s Hush Hush were published.

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For your reading (and comedic) pleasure . . . This is a great example of process and growth (and I don’t blame you if you stop reading) . . .I hope you enjoy this early version of Swimming Sideways . . .


Fallen by CL Walters (2009)

PROLOGUE: SOMETHING WICKED

Topaz lights twinkled in the distance against the black canvas of night.  Nestled like a treasure in the valley: Cantos, Oregon. The being pacing the bluff, an inky shadow devoid of light – a black hole – it could sense its prey here. This wasn’t the first place the creature devoured.  It wouldn’t be the last. The monster inhaled, its billowing form shifting with the movement hoping to catch the scent of its prey. A part of it changed to blend in with the earth, another part of it to match the forest of trees at its back, invisible against the countryside. Then it exhaled; the shadow returned and smoldered like remnants of a fire that floated toward the jeweled landscape.  

CHAPTER ONE: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Anger was my only self defense.  I was willing to wield it like a super power.  I was willing to submit to it as long as necessary in order punished them.  I was willing to alienate the ones I loved. Stupid and selfish as it was, my anger was the only thing left over which I had control.  I was willing to be miserable.

“Abby, you can’t stay mad at us forever,” my mother sighed.  She set a bowl of cereal in front of me, a peace offering, or better yet, a guilt offering, since I was usually responsible for my own breakfast.  

“Whatever, Grace.”  The boredom in my voice had to be grating her nerves.

“Abby,” she said, a thin brow rose in warning – a perfected look that drove me crazy, proved me right.  I may have been pushing my limits, but I wasn’t willing to cross the line. I focused on the cereal.

“Aren’t you the least bit excited?”

The spoon arrested between my mouth and the bowl.  Milk dripped my gazed fixed with incredulity on my mother. “Bursting.”  The sarcasm was thick. I took the bite.

“It’s a chance to start new,” she turned away from me and wiped the already clean counter next to the sink.  “It isn’t very often that we have that chance.” Her voice faded and I had the impression she was talking about something other than my first day at a new school.

“I don’t remember asking for a new start.  Seems to me that I barely had a chance to live the first one.”  I took another bite.

“Abby,” she said with a sigh.  She leaned against the sink. She looked tired, weary, dark circles under her usually bright eyes.  “I really wish you would stop with this passive aggressive attack. This is the way things are. I realize you didn’t want to move here, that you didn’t have a choice in the matter.”  She stopped, and for a moment I felt a little guilty at the grief I had been heaping on her. Her brow was creased and she pinched the bridge of her thin nose. “I’m going to see what’s keeping your brothers.”

“Mutants,” I muttered and picked up the bowl of cereal to carry into the kitchen.  I wasn’t hungry.

My mother’s voice called for them, her voice faint as she walked deeper into the bowels of the new house, the boxes, their vomited contents, leftovers of unpacking visible in every direction.  I recognized I wasn’t being fair. The whole family was dealing with the move, but then I didn’t really feel like the move was fair either. I missed Hawaii. I missed my friends. I missed hanging out at the beach, surfing and sun. At the kitchen sink I disposed of the cereal and rinsed the bowl.  A glance out the window forecasted another overcast and gray day. I sighed. Cantos wasn’t Hawaii.

“Morning, sweets,” Dad said as he sidled up next to me at the sink.  He wrapped an arm around me and kissed my head. “Ready for your first day at Cantos High, your mom’s old alma mater?”

I moved away from him without a word.  As tough as it was, I continued to punish him.  My dad and I were close, and in my boycott of our relationship I admitted that I missed spending time with him.  Although it wasn’t much different than before we’d moved. Wait – hadn’t that been one of the reasons for the displacement from Hawaii?

“Still mad, huh?  How much longer?”

“The rest of my life,” I stated evenly.

My father had the nerve to chuckle.  He poured himself a cup of coffee just as my brothers sauntered into the room.  “Morning Nate, Matt,” he said.

“Dad,” they said in unison.  

I made a disgusted sound.  Man, I hated that twin thing.

“Sunshine over there isn’t up for much this morning fellas.  Might want to control the obnoxious behavior.” Dad took another sip of his coffee.

“Ab, can we get a ride to school?”  Nate asked.

They were identical: dark wavy hair still highlighted by the Hawaii sun and deep chocolate eyes fringed in thick lashes.  Their skin the perfect hue of a surfer’s tan – one they’d never lose thanks to my father and his Hawaiian ethnicity. But I knew both of them, the subtle differences between them and could easily tell them apart.  Matt maintained a mischievous gleam in his dark eyes instigating trouble most of the time. Nate, on the other hand, was even keel and compassionate in all respects so was very adept at keeping the peace.

I didn’t answer and looked expectantly at Matt, waiting for some smart comment.  He brought his fingers to his lips and motioned that he was zipping them tight. Though I was barely tolerant of them, I understood in that moment that they were probably just as nervous about today as I was.  “Alright.”

“You have to eat something before you leave,” Mom said as she walked into the kitchen, a towel draped over her shoulder.

“Morning, hon,” my father said and leaned to kiss my mom.  She offered him her cheek. I saw him hesitate and then plant a peck there.  Then he turned to me, “Come have a chat with me while you wait for your brothers,” he said.  “And cut the dramatics,” he added when I sighed loudly.

I grabbed my black messenger bag stitched with surfing logos and followed him out through the front door.  He stopped at the top step of the porch, sat down stretching his long legs out in front of him and patted the space on the steps to his left.

The wooden screen door squeaked as it closed behind me.  I sat wanting to keep the lecture as short as possible.

“Are you willing to talk this out?”  He asked.

Silence.

“I get that you are mad, Abby.  And I understand. If my father forced me to move at your age, I probably would have been angry too.”

“He didn’t.”

“You’re right.  I haven’t experienced what you are experiencing.  Want to fill me in?” He held the navy coffee cup in his strong hands and stared out at the distant landscape.

I didn’t answer.  I didn’t want to admit to him that I was scared. I didn’t want to admit it to myself.  He was always so brave, and I couldn’t allow myself to ever be scared.  But walking into a strange high school where suddenly I wasn’t like everyone else, where I didn’t know anyone.  The unknown. It didn’t count that I had lived in Cantos until I was five. I could barely remember it. In Hawaii, I could have laid out like a map how things would have happened through graduation and beyond.  It was safe. Now the map was blank, and that made me anxious. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find a safe route.

“I know that it’s hard for you to understand my position,” he paused lost for a moment in his own thoughts.  “Your mom and I knew this was the right course for our family, Abby. We didn’t make the decision to move back lightly.  And in all honesty, I was scared about moving.”

I glanced at him and wondered if he was thinking about life before the move.  How each of us seemed to be living our own separate lives. Then Grandpa had died.

“I am willing to let your anger last as long as you want it to, until you feel we’ve been justly punished but I’ve got something for you to think about:  Who is your anger really hurting? My dad used to tell me that my anger was like the waves in the ocean and I was the earth. The waves would crash against the shore with a vengeance seeking anything to punish, but in the end, it was only the earth that was eroded by the power of the nalu.

He was quiet a bit and then put a hand around the back of my neck, his touch familiar and comfortable. Safe.  He pulled me closer, “I love you, kid,” he said and kissed my hair. Then he let go of me and stood. I missed him in that moment.

I’d missed him for a while, now.  I carried nostalgia for surfing with him, the laughter which seemed to have disappeared, the family outings to the beach or even watching a movie on the couch.  I should have told him that I loved him too. I knew it in my heart, but my anger at him, at my mom, imprisoned the words. He walked into the house the moment following him.

I stayed waiting on the porch for my brothers and studied Cantos from my perch.  A sliver of the gray ocean met the overcast sky peaking between green hills on the horizon.  The house my parents had rented was situated on a knoll at the edge of town. The heart of town spread out in a predictable grid around a mile away.  It was quaint and picturesque. Perfect, I supposed when looked at it with clear lenses.

Maybe my father was right.  Maybe the only one I was hurting was myself.  Maybe an attitude adjustment might invite an adventure.  Maybe. I didn’t know if I was ready to give up my anger just yet.

The screen door opened and my brothers tumbled out over one another, followed by my father and mother.  I stood up.

“Jeez, twinkle toes.  No wonder you skipped Lacrosse tryouts,” Matt snapped at Nate.  “Football is perfect for your clumsy butt.”

Nate laughed good-naturedly.

“See you all tonight,” my father walked down the porch steps.  

“Don’t forget the light bulbs, John,” my mom stated as he continued down the sidewalk to the detached garage.

“Call me this afternoon to remind me,” he called over his shoulder.

I picked up my bag and placed the strap on my shoulder. “Let’s get this over with,” I said the sullen attitude loud and clear for my mother’s benefit.

“Have a great day,” my mother offered anyway from behind the screen door.

“Right,” I answered and headed down the steps to the street.  My first car – another guilt offering – a beat up ’65 Mustang, its paint peeling and rusty, sat at the sidewalk. I had dubbed it Brutus.

“We’ll work on it together,” my Dad had said with a hopeful grin.  We had yet to. It ran, though, which was good, maybe not so environmentally friendly, but definitely a positive.

Cantos High School was a sprawling campus, a single story tribute to unimaginative architecture everywhere, though the landscaping around the school was picturesque in a sort of park-like sort of way. Practice fields dotted its perimeter, broken by parking lots.  A stadium rested in the northeast corner of the property. It was so different in comparison to my previous school which had been immersed in the midst of a concrete city skyline and open to the elements. I pulled up the drive, exhaust billowing out behind the car.

“I think I might walk tomorrow,” Matt jibbed as I pulled into a parking spot.  He was sitting low in the front seat.

“Whatever,” I said and got out of the car.  Students milled about, moving toward the entrances.  We’d definitely made an entrance. Curious glances were cast our way followed by whispers.  “Come on,” I said the anger with my parents surging.

Nate and Matt followed me into the office where we were given a kind welcome and our schedules.   I parted ways with my brothers, but felt the parting keenly. Being alone, wandering the halls of high school, without buffers – dangerous.  At least they had each other.

I glanced at my schedule and the map and headed to my first class.  I didn’t have anywhere else to hang out, and no one to hang out with.  How I wished my friends from home were with me now: Maile and Joanna; Kamu, Brian and Jorge.  Things would have been so different if it were my first day at school at home.

The stares I received walking down the halls were disconcerting not something I was used to having run with the “it” crowd.  I ducked into a girl’s bathroom to make sure everything was alright:

Zipper up.  Check.

Shoes the same color.  Check.

Buttons fastened.  Check.

A glance in the mirror:

No zits popping out on my nose.  Check.

Hair in place.  Check.

No stray lip gloss.  Check.

No cereal in my teeth.  Check.

I looked at my face: the bronze tinted skin, a touch lighter than my brothers thanks to the fair skin of my mother but the hours spent at the beach still apparent; A few freckles dotted my nose and cheeks;  my eyes were dark brown, almost black; my straight dark hair long to the middle of my back. A run of the mill Hawaiian local-girl. Why were people staring?

Several girls laughing loudly walked into the restroom – a herd of three.  They stopped chattering when they saw me and hesitated for a moment before carrying on their private conversation.  I was tempted to ask if I stunk, but held my tongue. Instead, I smiled and went back out into the hall. In my rush to be inconspicuous I ran into a brick wall.  Okay, not literally a wall, but he might as well have been.

I stumbled backwards and he caught me around the waist.

“I’m sorry,” the wall stated his face close to mine.

I looked up into the bluest of eyes – oceans of home.  “My fault,” I breathed. His hair was dark and his features chiseled like the razor sharp mountain ranges of the islands.  I had to catch my breath. “I should have watched where I was going,” I muttered.

He smiled though it didn’t quite reach his eyes and then released me after I was steady to pick up my bag.  “Here you go.”

“Thank you.”  I grabbed the shoulder strap, my hand brushed his.  Electricity wound its way up my arm into my shoulder socket and then down through my core.

And then he was gone.  I watched him as he walked past me bothered by his affect on me as well as the apparent lack of affect I had on him. Another new experience. I didn’t usually have trouble attracting male attention, but I didn’t have time to linger on it.  The first bell rang. I had five minutes to actually find my first class.


CHAPTER TWO: LIGHTER STEPS

I stepped into class just as the second bell rang.  Six rows deep and five wide nearly every seat was taken.  Two near the front and one in the back and all eyes were on me.

“Come in and find a seat,” the teacher stated her eyes watching me.  At least she was smiling.

Attention back to the seats.

The front:

Nerd

Over achiever

Kiss-up

The back:

Under achiever

Smart ass

On the five-year plan

I decided to take my chances with the front row, besides it was closer.  A girl next to the seat I chose offered me a smile.

“Welcome to history ladies and gentlemen.  I am Mrs. Josephs. You are in junior level history.  Let’s make sure you are in the right place.” She began to take attendance.  Names like Anderson, Andrews, Billings, Brock, Carson, Evans, Graham were called.  I cringed as she approached my name.

“Abigail Mak-“

“Abby,” I said quickly.

“And your last name?  How do you pronounce it?”

“Maw-Kaw-Naw, Makana,” I pronounced as a blush heated my cheeks.

“That’s a beautiful name.  May I ask the ethnicity?”

“Hawaiian,” I stated.  A low murmur went through the classroom.

“Thank you,” she said moved on down the list.

One class and pronunciation down.  Five more to go.

By lunch time, my nerves were on end.  I stood at the entrance to the cafeteria, tray in hand, a lone sheep in a pack of wolves.  I scanned the crowd for my brothers but couldn’t find them. Besides a few polite people who’d smiled at me in classes or passing in between, I hadn’t actually met anyone.  I squared my shoulders and found an empty end of a table next the windows. I sat with my back to the room so I could look outside – that way I didn’t have to face the probing stares.

Being the odd one out was foreign to me.  At home as part of the popular crowd, not the standout alpha female – but part of the pack, I’d had many friends.  This was awful. Guilt tripped through me thinking about the kids I had never made friends with that came new to school – the military transfers there for a year or so and then gone, the fresh off the boat students who struggled to speak the language or any new kid who’d just arrived from the mainland.  My sins stared me in the face.

“There you are,” Nate said and plopped down beside me.

I took a deep breath as relief flooded me.  “I looked for you.”

“I got out of my math class late.  I found Matt sitting at a table over there.”

I turned to look.  Leave it to Matt to have already found a group.  His charisma was infectious as the boys around him at the table laughed loudly at something he said.  “You don’t have to sit with me,” I told him. Though I secretly wanted him to stay, I also didn’t want him to commit social suicide either.  I knew how crucial it was to find a social group.

“I’ll stay here with you.”

“I’m good, Nate,” I said.  “I’ve got a book to keep me company.”  I reached for my bag. When he sat there indecisive, wanting to take care of me – which was his way, I turned tactic.  With my voice lowered, “Nate – I’m a junior. I can’t be seen with a freshman.”

Of course he could see through me – as he always did.  He smiled and stood. “Whatever you want, Abby.” He turned and walked to where Matt was sitting.

I felt a little better knowing that they were alright, but not too much.  Instead, I felt the anger at my parents again for putting me through this.

“Abby?”  A voice interrupted my smoldering thoughts.

I turned and looked into a face I recognized from my history class.  “Hi.”

“Hannah,” she said.  “May I?”

“Sure.”

She walked around to the other side of the table, her back to the window and sat down.  “I saw you over here and thought I would come over.” I was reminded of renaissance art when I looked at her, of the classic cherub or Venus’s cupids: her pale face round with high pink color on her cheeks, her blond hair thick and curly to her shoulders.  “I heard you say that your last name is Hawaiian.”

I nodded.

“So you are Hawaiian?”

“Yes – my dad.”

“Wow.  That is really cool.  You’re new right – I mean – I didn’t recognize,” she hesitated as though afraid to offend me.  “So you are from Hawaii?”

I smiled.  “Yeah, sort of new.  And yeah, I am from Hawaii.  We just moved back a couple of weeks ago.”

“Back?”

“Yeah.  My mom is from Cantos.  We lived here until I was five.”

“Wow.  That’s cool.  And your Hawaiian name – does it have a special meaning.”

“Makana means gift,” I shared.

She seemed awed.  “Would you like to meet some of my friends?”  She asked.

“Sure,” I said and watched as she waved her friends over and then proceeded to introduce them.

“Hi,” a boy Hannah introduced as David said.  “We have Math together.” He pushed his glasses up from the end of his nose.

“I hope you are better at it than I am,” I replied.

“Probably,” he replied.

“We keep David around because he’s so smart,” Hannah teased him with a smile to which he blushed.  “This is Ruth and Liz,” Hannah continued.

I smiled at the two girls:  Ruth who had bright red hair and freckles, Liz who had a reserved smile and eyes that matched her violet sweater.

“We have science with you,” a pretty blond girl stated her reception cool.  She was pretty: green eyes set deeply into smooth white skin and accented with smooth brown hair.  Her heart-shaped mouth pouted naturally. “I’m Sara, and that’s Ethan.” She indicated a boy at the end of the table in the midst of eating.  He tried to smile, but decided not to since his mouth was full and instead lifted his chin.

“And I want to know what you have this afternoon,” another boy at the table stated.  He lifted his eyebrows and looked me over rather conspicuously. He was cute, but definitely not my type.  His dark curly hair was cut short to his head. He was still growing into his face and body. “I’m Isaac.”

I smiled.  There was no shame in trying I supposed – had to give him that. “I think I have English next and art last.”

“Do you have Mr. Bilson for English?” Hannah asked.

I nodded.

“We have that together,” she replied excitedly.

I smiled, yet again, the politeness of the ordeal causing my cheeks to ache.  The shock of finding a group jumped through me. There I had been, sitting alone and miserable, nearly cursing my parents.  Oh ye of little faith, I heard my inner voice say.  

I glanced over my shoulder to see Matt and Nate.  The latter had a huge smile on his face when my gaze connected with his.  I shrugged and turned back to the group of kids I had only met. They were immersed in a conversation about – what else – Hawaii.

Mr. Bilson, my literature teacher, was a soft spoken man, sinewy and thin.  He wore wire-rimmed glasses on his pointy nose. His silver hair was shorn tightly, his balding apparent.  Instead of spending the class talking about the syllabus, as every other teacher had so far, he pulled out our first novel.

“I would like to introduce you to Dante.”  He said and held up the nondescript paperback.  “Ahead of his time, he was a political and theological muckraker of his time – questioning authority and motivations of power.”

“This semester,” he continued, “we will begin our look at society.  Using Dante we will grapple with the idea of good and evil, light and dark, virtue and sin.”  He looked around the room and with a conspirator gleam in his eye said, “Are you ready?”

A few brave souls issued half hearted “whoo hoos.”

“Ahh,” Mr. Bilson stated and turned away from the group.  “Just as I suspected. Conformity has already gotten to you.”  He picked up paper and pencils. “Pass these, please,” he told a student near him.

I watched the materials distributed around the circle in which the desks were arranged.

“On this piece of paper, I would like you to tell me who you are.  I don’t just mean your name,” he said. “I want to know what makes you tick.  Nothing is off limits.”

“Can I swear?”  A boy asked.

“If you feel so compelled young man, although I would challenge you to use your intellect to find a better method of communication,” Bilson answered.  He looked around checking to make sure each of us were ready. “Get started,” he directed.

English passed quickly, Mr. Bilson made it engaging.  It didn’t hurt that it was one of my favorite subjects, second only to art and that was next. I walked into the art room and chose a seat in the middle of the room.  I had been looking forward to this class all day. The tables were pushed together conference style, with seating around the outside. In the rear of the room were easels.  The class filled up, though both chairs next to me remained empty.

I sighed.

Another boy entered the room and because there weren’t any other seats, he sat next to me.  I noticed he was cute and glanced my way, an appreciative gleam in his eye. Finally, the feeling that I was a member of the leper colony of Kalaupapa began to subside.  The second bell rang just as another student stepped into the room. The brick wall! He was more handsome than I remembered. My stomach twisted into a knot when I realized he would have to sit by me.  He glanced at me as he took his seat. I felt his energy radiate through the right side of my body and his close proximity.

“Class.  Welcome to art.  Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.  I’d like your first and last name, and a fun fact about yourself.  I’ll start: I’m Mr. Mike Andrews, please call me Mr. Mike; I play the guitar in a garage band.”

A few in the class snickered.

“Laugh all you want.  One day you will join me in the garage band ranks. How about here to my right,” he stated.

One by one, the students shared their names and a fun fact.  I could feel my palms sweating. What on earth could I share that was “fun” or “interesting?”  Everything about me seemed so ordinary. Finally they were to the boy at my left.

“Seth Peters,” he said and paused.  “I like to surf.”

I looked at him directly something about his name familiar.  I wanted to ask him about surfing, but realized it was my turn. “Abby Makana.  I can’t think of anything interesting, sorry.”

“That’s alright, Abby.  I am sure we will learn a lot about you this semester,” Mr. Mike.

My gaze shifted to my right.  

“Gabriel Daniels. Gabe.” His voice was melodic, deep.  It reminded me of diving under a wave and watching the power of the water wash along the surface above me.

“And your fun fact, Gabe?”  Mr. Mike asked.

His gaze locked onto mine.  “I don’t have one either.” He looked away.

I noticed the reactions of the other kids in the room: snickers, eye rolling and elbow jabbing.  I glanced back at Gabe – why would he cause such a reaction? He was intimidating!

“It looks like you are a trend setter, Ms. Abby. Next?”

The names continued and then Mr. Mike made a list on the white board the sorts of things we were interested in learning about.  I took an opportunity to look at the brick wall again. He was leaning back in his chair, his long legs out in front of him. He was staring straight ahead his jaw clenched.

When I managed to tear my gaze away and looked at my notebook, a note had been scrawled in the margin:

You from Hawaii?

I wrote back:

Yes.  Why?

The boy on my left, Seth, reached a hand over and wrote:

We should talk surf.

I smiled at him – for the first time all day, a smile I didn’t feel like I had to force.

Matt and Nate were waiting at the car when I emerged from the building.  My step was a little lighter than at the beginning of the day. Seth’s number in my notebook a sort of connection to home and my number headed home with him on his hand.  Maybe Cantos wouldn’t be so bad after all. Maybe the nalu had finished its pounding against the surf.

CHAPTER THREE: ANTICIPATION

The house was empty when my brothers and I arrived home, a note from Mom on the counter requested that I drive the twins to practice: she had an interview at the local paper.  I was surprised given she’d said she wasn’t going to work outside the home. “Oregon’s lower cost of living” had been part of the sales pitch. Whatever.

I sat at the counter and pulled out my Algebra homework.  Figured it would be better to get started on it only to be interrupted by the obnoxious twins a few moments later.

Matt pushed Nate into the kitchen.  “You’re such a bum.”

Nate laughed.  “Whatever. You were the one who said it.  Hi.” He mimicked the last word in a strange voice and opened the refrigerator to get out a snack.

“I didn’t hear you say anything, chicken.”  Matt jumped up onto the counter next to my homework.  He picked up a pencil and was trying to write on my paper.

“Heck no.  She was hot,” Nate stated.

I rolled my eyes and then smacked Matt’s hand away from my papers.  Losing interest, he dropped the pencil and jumped down joining Nate at the refrigerator.

“What’s her name?” I asked and continued my homework.

“None of your business, Blabby,” Matt stated as he tried to forcibly move Nate from the refrigerator.

“Megan,” Nate stated and allowed Matt to push him out of the way.

“Some twin you are,” Matt pouted and pulled a container from inside the fridge.  He opened it and retrieved a slice of leftover pizza. As Nate reached for the container, Matt slammed the cover down.  A short wrestling match ensued until Nate overpowered Matt.

“You both have access to a wealth of knowledge regarding the opposite sex,” I stated drolly.  

“Yeah right,” Matt said.  “You don’t count, big sis.  You aren’t really a girl.”

“Nice.”

“Okay, Abby.  What do you think is the best way to approach a girl one might find good looking?”

“Certainly not conducting a wrestling match in front of her.”

Color crept up Mattie’s cheeks.

With a wide smile directed at Matt, Nate laughed while pointing at him.

“A direct approach – confident,” I finished.  I saw the brick wall, Gabe’s face in my mind’s eye and frowned.  If only.

Matt harrumphed.  “Let’s go before we’re late,” he mumbled heading for the front door.  Nate laughed behind him.

I grabbed my purse and my copy of the Inferno in case I needed to wait for them.

Matt jumped from the car after I’d barely pulled to a stop in the parking lot and sprinted toward the Lacrosse field with his duffle bag slamming against his hip.  

“I got a ride,” Nate called as he backed away from me.  “Don’t wait.” He took off in the opposite direction toward the football field with a wave.  

Unsure about Matt’s plans, I followed his course toward the Lacrosse field.  He was stretching on the sidelines with a couple of his teammates by the time I got there.  A brief concern about embarrassing him crossed my mind, but then he deserved it for rushing off without letting me know what was what.

“Matt?”  I called and leaned against the chain link fence a few feet from him.

He glanced at me and rolled his eyes as he stood.  “What?”

“You need me to wait or not?” I asked.

He turned back to his friends, “Dooley, can I get a ride home?”

“No problem,” the other boy answered.

“There’s your answer,” he said.

“You’re welcome.”  I turned away from him and started back to the car.

“Thanks, Abby!”  He yelled across the lot – obnoxious as usual.

“Abby?”

I turned toward the sound of my name.  Seth, with a duffle slung over his shoulder, was walking toward the Lacrosse field.  He was taller than I noticed in art. A bit over six feet was my best guess. In his practice clothes, he looked so different than I’d noticed in school, his arms and legs lean with defined muscles. And in the fading sunlight I discovered that his skin was tan, darker than most of the boys I’d seen around school.

He smiled brightly.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Had to drop my brothers off at practice.”

“They are?”

“Matt.  JV Lacrosse.”

“And?”

“Nate.  He plays football.”

“And you?  No fall sport?”

“Spring. Swimming.”

“Cool.  Still got your number.” He held up his hand.

“For now at least.  Your workout might save you from using it.”

“We’ll see,” he said and backed away from me toward the field.  “Time will tell.”

“Have a good practice.”  I gave him a smile and slight wave then turned to go to my car.  When I returned home, Mom bustled around the kitchen.

“Need some help, Grace?”  I asked purposely throwing in her first name to irritate her.

“Someone must have had a good day.”

“Jury’s still out,” I answered.

“I see you started your homework.”  She nodded at my open algebra book. “Why don’t you work on that while I get dinner?”

I moved around to the other side of the counter.  “How did your interview go?”

“I have a good feeling.”

“What happened to not working?  Oregon allowing you to stay home and all?”  I asked.

“Yeah, well, saving for that house will take time and resources,” she said and pulled some produce from the fridge.  “Besides, it’s nice to have some extra spending money to shop, right?” She looked over her shoulder at me and flashed a smile.

“What did Dad say?”

Her smile faded and she momentarily got lost in her thoughts before saying, “Oh shoot.  Your dad! If forgot to call him about the light bulbs and didn’t get a chance to get them myself.”  She reached for the phone.

“I can go,” I offered glad to get away from her strange mood.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.  The twins have rides home.  Homework is light.”

“Get the eco friendly ones.”  She handed me some cash. “I’ll try to get a hold of your dad and let him know.”

Thompson’s Hardware was situated on Main Street.  It was a two story brick structure though the store only occupied the street level. It seemed as though Dad had been at least once a day since we’d moved.  He’d been able to drag me with him once, but holding out had been part of his punishment. Inside were displays and rows of all sorts of different supplies.  

I found the light bulb isle with little difficulty, but the sheer volume of what could have only been a thousand different types of lights was confusing.  I narrowed it down to four possibilities and proceeded to read the back.

“Can I help you?”

“I was looking for,” I looked up, “an eco friendly-” the words got lost.  A disconcerting pair of blue eyes was watching me. The brick wall! I cleared my throat, heat creeping up my cheeks. “I wasn’t sure which one to choose.”

“I guess it depends.  Abby, right?”

“Yes.  I’m sorry… we have art together right?”  I knew his name – it was ringing loud and clear like a fire bell in my head - but I couldn’t bring myself to let him know that.

He smiled, my insides melted.  “Gabe.”

“Right.  I didn’t know you worked here.”  That sounded so lame!

“My foster dad, Bruce, owns it.  I work after school and on weekends most of the time.”

“Oh.  That’s good.”

An awkward silence followed.  What made it worse was how aware I was of him, of his eyes watching me.

“What did you need the light bulb for?”

“I’m not sure.  My mom asked for them.  She just wanted the environmentally friendly one.”

“Let’s see what you have.”  He took a step closer to me and leaned in to look at the boxes which I held up.

My breath hitched in my chest and I prayed that I wouldn’t fall over.  I found my air and released it slowly, attempting nonchalance. He smelled so good, a heady scent that reminded me of home.  Electricity sizzled up my arms.

“All of these are good.  Does your mom have a preference for brand?”  He stepped away.

Disappointed at the sudden loss of his proximity, I sighed.  “I don’t think so. Maybe I should call her.” I didn’t want to end the semi-conversation.

“Abby?  Hi Gabe!”

I turned to see my father come up the isle.

“Hi John,” Gabe said and took my father’s outstretched hand.

“What are you doing here?”  He asked me and then remembered why he was there.  “Light bulbs. I told your mom I would get them.”

“She wasn’t sure since she forgot to call.  I offered. Gabe was trying to help me decide which one.”  My gaze slid to him. He glanced at me and then looked quickly back to my dad.

“You’ve probably got this covered,” Gabe said and took a step backward.

“Thanks for the help,” Dad said which I parroted suddenly feeling very stupid.

“Anytime,” Gabe said.  “See you at school Abby.”

He disappeared around the corner and I glanced at my father, who was looking at me a little too perceptively.  He looked to where Gabe disappeared at the end of the row. “You know Gabe from school huh?” He was back to looking at the light bulbs.

“Yeah.  We have art together.”

“Hmm,” he said and looked as though he were reading the labels on the light bulb packaging.  “I can get these. Want to get your brothers and meet me at home?”

“They’ve got rides, but I’ll meet you at home,” I said.

I left Thompson’s glancing toward the back of the store.  Down the aisle from the front door I caught site of Gabe. His blue eyes caught mine and held them with a twinkle.  An almost smile touched his mouth and I realized that I might as well have effervesced into steam there in the doorway.  With an attempt at a casual smile and wave I left the store.

The next day my nerves were frayed anticipating art and the hope that I might catch a glimpse of Gabe between classes.  Since I didn’t share my PE class with any of my new friends, I entered the cafeteria alone, but Hannah waved me over to the table where they’d joined me the day before.  

“So, Abby,” Isaac started.  “You got a boyfriend back in Hawaii?”

“No.”  I smiled.  “You looking to fill the role?”

A toothy grin lit up his features, his wide brown eyes sparkling.  “Well, if it’s open.”

I pulled an apple from my backpack.  “You’ll be the first to know when I start accepting applications,” I said evenly.

Isaac’s loud guffaw drew the attention of several tables around us.

“Isaac.  You can be so loud,” Sara stated.  “It’s obnoxious.” Her gaze rested on me.  “You lead all the boys on?” She asked.

“Only those that want to be,” I replied with a good natured smile.  Thankfully Isaac laughed getting my joke. I had the impression that Sara was only a part of the group because she needed a social circle from which to rise. She leaned toward Liz and made a comment to which Liz nodded.

Isaac seemed to fight a blush and took a bite of his sandwich.

David, always completely preoccupied with his academic achievement, broached the topic of a new concept covered in Advanced Placement Biology to which Isaac and Ethan joined in.  Hannah and Ruth were talking about Mr. Edwards, the psychology teacher they shared before lunch. Sara and Liz ignored me. Provided with the perfect opportunity to search for a familiar set of azure eyes, I scanned the room.

On the first pass I found Seth looking at me from across the room.  He shared a table with a group of his friends. He raised his hand to point at where my phone number had been written and then smiled with a wink.

I smiled back, a little flutter in my stomach at his attention, but resumed my study.  I’d almost given up and returned my attention to the conversation occurring around me when I spotted him.  Gabe sat at a table alone in the corner of the room near the stage. He looked relaxed; a book opened on the table in which he seemed engrossed his elbows resting on the table. The soft waves of his black hair fell against his face, his jeans clad legs set wide as he leaned forward.

“Hannah?”  I asked after her conversation with Ruth had died.  “Can you tell me about him?”

“Who?”  She followed my gaze.  “Oh. Gabriel.” The sound of her voice sounded almost ominous.

“Is that bad?”

“I don’t know much.  He’s kind of the school mystery. No body really pays much attention to him anymore.”

I looked away afraid to get caught.

Hannah continued.  “He’s the Thompson’s foster kid.”

“And he doesn’t have any friends?”  I asked. I snuck another glance. He was engrossed in his book, his look intense.  What are you reading? I wondered in a one sided conversation with myself.  My gaze returned to Hannah.

“He’s a loner.  Doesn’t really hang out with anyone.  You can only try to befriend someone for so long.”

I looked again at Gabe but this time collided with his powerful gaze.  He was scowling at me, as though angry, but I didn’t retreat. Instead, I lifted a hand in a sort of wave.  We’d made a connection, yesterday, or so I’d thought.

He looked away, got up and left the room.

Art was now the last place I wanted to go.


CHAPTER FOUR: FACES IN THE CROWD


During English, I worked to stay on task.  I was sitting in a small group going over prepared questions that Mr. Bilson had prepared about Dante’s descent into the first circle with Virgil.  

“What are the seven deadly sins?”  A girl named Rachel asked. She had been pretty good at keeping us on task as our group’s leader.

“Oh, like that movie!”  A jock named Darnell said.  “The one about those detectives chasing the serial killer.”

I glanced at the clock, the group’s timekeeper.  I wondered if there was a way to slow it down.

“Lust,” Darnell said and wagged his eyebrows, “but I don’t see a problem with it.”

“I’m sure you don’t Mr. Jackson,” Mr. Bilson said as he listened into our group.  “Remember that you must keep Dante’s perspective at the forefront of our discussion.  Why might lust have been on of the deadly sins?”

“Control?”  Rachel asked.  “Like women for example.”

“Maybe,” Mr. Bilson replied.

“To prevent the spread of disease?”  A boy named Patrick said. He was usually quiet, but when he spoke it was usually on the money.

“That would make sense.  Politicos and Theologians both gain from that right?”

“Lust would take your eyes away from God,” I said.  “Hyper focus on sex would take away any desire to seek God.”

“Thereby?”  Mr. Bilson coaxed.

“Keeping people from going to church?” I offered.

“And what happens when people didn’t attend church?”  He asked.

“They didn’t learn about God?”  Darnell asked.

“Well that,” Mr Bilson said.

“They didn’t contribute money,” Patrick stated.

“Good.  Keep talking,” Mr. Bilson said and moved onto the next group.

“I don’t get it,” Darnell said.  “Lust was bad because it kept people from paying the church?”

“A simplified version, Darnell,” Patrick stated.

“Other sins?” Rachel prompted to keep us on track.

“Gluttony.”

“That’s eating too much, right?”  Darnell asked.

“Yeah and drinking,” Rachel said.

“I think it encompasses imbibing in too much of anything,” Patrick stated.

“Imbibing?”  Darnell scoffed.  “Is that English?”

“Greed,” I added.

“That’s three,” Rachel stated and Patrick wrote our answers in our notes that we had to turn in.

“What’s the one about being lazy?”  Darnell asked.

“Sloth,” Patrick provided and then added, “Wrath.”

“I commit that all the time,” Darnell stated.

I glanced at the clock.  Me too, I thought thinking of the anger I’d been harboring against my parents.

“Two more,” Patrick said.

“Jealousy,” I said.

“And pride.  That’s seven right?”  Rachel stated.

I looked at the clock again.  The hands seemed to fly around its face.  A part of me craved art, just to see Gabe again, while another part of me was anxious to avoid it.  He’d looked so angry. I hoped for a fire alarm as the group started discussing the counterparts to the seven deadly sins – the virtues.  A fire alarm would help me avoid art. Why had Gabe acted like that? He’d been, well polite, pleasant even, at the hardware store the night before.  Chills swept down my spine thinking about the emotions spilling across his features before he’d stormed out of the cafeteria.

When I reached the art room, Seth was already there and waved me over to sit next to him.  Gabe hadn’t arrived yet.

“Hey,” Seth greeted me.

“Thanks for the seat.”

“Had to.”

“Why’s that?”  I asked.

“I didn’t get a chance to call last night with homework after practice.”

“That’s okay.”  I glanced away from him and looked toward the door, expectant.  No Gabe.

“I really want to talk to you about surfing.”

“Not everyone in Hawaii surfs you know.”

He smiled, a dimple creased his left cheek and his amber eyes twinkled.  “Good point. I hadn’t thought that far.”

“Lucky for you, I do.”  And then I felt his energy, turned to look and sure enough, Gabe walked in and sat at the opposite end of the table even though the seat next to me he’d occupied the day before was available.  My spirit plummeted.

“You okay?”  Seth asked.

Gabe looked towards us then a scowl on his face as his gaze danced between Seth and me. I looked away quickly.  He couldn’t know how much his behavior was affecting me. Besides, I barely knew him. There wasn’t any reason that I should have these irrational feelings.

“Yeah.  I’m good.”  I smiled pushing the brick wall from my mind.

“Let’s invigorate your mind’s full of mush,” Mr. Mike said as he entered the room.  In his arms was a stack of at least a dozen coffee table books. “I’ve got inspiration.”  He passed out the books around the tables. In front of Seth and me he set a book about Rembrandt.  

“Well open them up,” Mr. Mike coaxed.

Seth and I flipped through the book about Rembrandt, stopping periodically to study one of his works.  Seth made comments on quite of few of them, hoping for a laugh, which I obliged. One thing that struck me as I gazed at the replicas was how many of them were religious in nature.  I read about the paintings and recognized the biblical figures the painter had used as inspiration. Each painting was dark, almost ominous, in not only color but in content: John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Dante’s descent came to mind. Where did that fit into the sins and virtues, I wondered?

“Okay.  Pass the books to your left,” Mr. Mike stated.

Our next book: Picasso who seemed like a spring breeze in comparison to Rembrandt.  Almost like Gabe, I glanced at him, a Rembrandt, and Seth; I glanced at him, a Picasso.

Seth walked me out of the building after class.

“What do you think of the Oregon Coast?” he asked.  He was easy-going and funny making it easy to talk to him.  

“I actually haven’t made a trip to the beach yet.”

“Really?”

We crossed the driveway to the parking lot.  Subconsciously I noticed the glances that we were drawing but failed to make a mental connection focusing on Seth instead.

“Between the unpacking and fixing up the house with the parents, I haven’t had any time.”

“I can take you out if you want,” Seth offered.

A quiet heat stole through me.  “I don’t have the wet suit,” I said.  “But thanks.”

“Right.  Hawaii doesn’t require the heater.”

“What took you so long, Naggy?”  Matt said leaning against the car.  “Hey, Seth.” Hero worship seemed to emanate from my brother’s voice.

“I take it you know my brother Matt,” I said to Seth, “with Lacrosse and all.”

“I do now.”

“And Nate,” I said indicating my brother leaning against the other side of the car.

They did that strange head nod ritual seen among adolescent and young adult males of the species.  

Seth opened his mouth to speak to me but was interrupted by a primal yell several yards away.  “Fight!”

My brothers, like the Mina birds from home who relished in conflict circling the combatants, took off in that direction and joined the mob that now surrounded the gladiators.  I called after them to no avail and followed with Seth. Chaos seemed to evaporate into the atmosphere like heat radiating off of hot pavement.

Two boys circled each other shouting obscenities – the verbal spar.  One lunged at the other, his frame small but sturdy; I couldn’t see how he would fare against the larger boy.  The crowd around them was yelling, adding to the already volatile situation. It wasn’t the first altercation between adolescent boys I had witnessed, but it was what happened a few moments later that surprised me and then terrified me.

The skinny boy got a shot in, smashing the larger fighter’s nose.  Blood gushed from the wound and fueled his anger. He reached out with his python arms and wrapped them around the smaller fighter’s body in a bear hug.  Blood dripping from the broken nose stained the white shirt of the smaller boy.

The crowd parted, like the Red Sea in the story of Moses.  I expected a teacher to come through the students, but Gabe materialized and stepped up to the fighting boys.  My heart tripped its beat. Was he going to join in the fight? With what could only be described as gentle, he stepped between the fighters breaking them apart, stopping it.  Stillness emanated from his presence so much so that I could feel it in my system, peace touching my being like a breeze. I saw that he was speaking, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. The boys took a few steps back from one another.

A strange smoke like substance seemed to hover around the boys like a swarm of bees, shifting and pulsating.  Then it disappeared into the crowd. I glanced around, looking for the swarm, thinking that rationally, the onlookers would be freaking out.  The faces of several kids shifted, scrunching, popping and stretching as though warped their eyes completely black – no iris, no pupil, no white sclera.  Wrath was fixed on their faces as they watched Gabe talk to the boys. I sucked in a breath and in horror retreated a step as skin crawled across my spine. Their unnatural gazes locked on me.  Gabe also turned to look at me concern etched on his features.

“Nate,” I said as evenly as I could taking another step backward.  I bumped into Seth. I dropped my gaze. “Matt. Let’s go.” Turning I headed back to the car.

“That was lame,” Matt quipped catching up with me.

“Be quiet,” I snapped at him.

“Wonder who John Lennon was,” he stated.

“Who Daniels?” Seth asked just behind me. “Nobody messes with him even if he is a freak.”

“Who would,” Nate added.  “You see the size of him?”

“What about the others?  Their faces,” I asked my heart still racing with fear.  I could feel my legs shaking thankful that the boys were between me and them.

My brothers and Seth cast a puzzled look in my direction.

“What do you mean?”  Seth asked.

“Their faces-” I started and then stopped.  The looks I was getting were clear enough indication that they hadn’t a clue to what I was referring.  I changed tactic. “All that blood.”

“No doubt,” Matt said with a little too much exuberance.  At least I thought so.

I couldn’t get those faces out of my mind, couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d witnessed something that I wasn’t supposed to see.  It would be a wonder that my dreams weren’t consumed by those terrifying faces.

While I was attempting to concentrate on my homework, the house phone rang.  My brothers dove for it every time it rang so I didn’t bother. Matt pushed open my door with a bang.  “It’s for you, Saggy.”

“Hannah?”  I asked.

Matt shook his head and simulated kissing on his free hand.

I snatched the phone from him, puzzled.

“I told you I wouldn’t lose your number,” Seth said.

“Hi.”  My stomach gave a little jump in excitement.  I pushed Matt out by his forehead while he continued his one sided make out session.

“You seemed kind of shook up about the fight today after school.  I thought I would call and see if you were alright.”

“Yeah.  I’m good,” I lied.  It wasn’t like I could share that I had gone crazy with him.

“That’s good.”  It was quiet a bit longer than was comfortable.  “What are you doing?”

“Homework.  English is crazy.”

“I took humanities with Palmer instead English with Bilson.  It’s a lot easier.”

“I don’t mind the challenge,” I admitted and then rolled my eyes.  I wondered if I could sound nerdier?

“Yeah.”  A pregnant pause broke his comment in half.  “Hey. I was wondering if you’d like to catch a movie this Friday.  The football game is away, so we wouldn’t miss it.”

As if football dictated my schedule.  “That sound like fun,” I answered.

“Dinner first?”

“Sure.”

“See you tomorrow then.  I have some homework to get to,” he finished, his voice carried a far more confident tune than before he’d called.

I returned the phone to its cradle and went back to my homework.  A date with Seth Peters. Little jolts of excitement shot through me but they were followed by tiny jabs of anxiety.  I wanted to be excited about it, and I suppose I was, but there was a strange vision of creepy faces blocking all emotion but trepidation.  Not only that, but I kept seeing Gabe in my mind which shot electricity out to the tips of my fingers. These confusing feelings were a jumble of snakes within me.

Jumpy must have been the way people described me the next day.  I couldn’t stop scanning faces, waiting for them to warp into something unrecognizable.  The pit of my stomach ached with dread each time I met someone’s gaze, and even though I tried not to look, I couldn’t help myself.  

Hannah spoke to me during history and I answered her with a response to which she shot me a quizzical glance.  I covered by telling her about my date with Seth and she was ecstatic. In math, David tried to ask to see my notes, but I hadn’t taken any, and instead doodled strange eyes on the paper in my notebook.  It was those faces haunting me. I expected to see them again but I didn’t experience the phenomenon throughout the morning. I was beginning to wonder if I hadn’t just imagined it yesterday.

When I emerged from the locker room, I slowed my pace.  At the top of the walkway, leaning against the wall, Gabe waited.  After the initial hesitation, I put my head down and kept walking. I reasoned that he must be waiting for someone else – a girlfriend perhaps.  The thought sent little jabs of disappointment into my ribs.

“Abby.”  

I looked up as I walked past him.  Annoyance flared behind my eyes. “Oh.  You can talk to me today?” What are you doing, my inner voice screamed at me?  I thought you wanted him to talk to you.

“About that,” he said pushing away from the wall to match my stride.  It didn’t take much as he was so much taller than me. “I-” he hesitated as though measuring his words.  “I’m sorry. I’m not very good with people.”

I was surprised.  I’d expected an excuse or a lie.  I’d received neither. It was hard to stay mad.  “Okay,” was all that I could come up with in response.  

“I was wondering if you would eat lunch with me.”

My steps slowed while the pace of my heart quickened.  “Are you sure you want to be seen with me? Sorry.” I said when I saw his jaw tighten. “That was uncalled for.  I’d like to.”

“You need to get food from the cafeteria?”

“No.  I’ve got my lunch in here.”  I patted my bag.

“Mind if we skip the zoo?”  He asked. “And no, it isn’t because I care if we are seen together.  I just thought it might be quieter.”

I smiled at his quick explanation.  “I’m following your lead.”

“There’s a really nice spot on the lawn out front,” he said and surprised me with the accuracy of his statement.

The front lawn of Cantos High was expansive as it stretched across campus creating a park between the school and the main road into the community.  Trees lined the perimeter and created a little wilderness around the outside of the park. Four enormous trees broke up the center of the space. A hundred yards away or so a touch football game was in play.  

Gabe picked a spot in faux wilderness, the trees joined in a game of ring around the rosy as their branches reached for one another.  Sun slipped through the spaces. It was a crisp, cool fall day. Cool enough for a sweater, which I was thankful to be wearing.

Gabe removed his sweatshirt.  His T-shirt hiked up underneath the garment as he pulled it over his head offering me a glimpse of his back.  The skin was smooth. My insides dipped, my face heated and I looked away.

“Here,” he said.  “Sit on this.” He laid his sweatshirt on the grass.

The gesture, completely foreign to me set off fireworks through my insides.  I was used to being called names, getting a punch on the arm, to the art of male flirting.  My dad was a gentleman, but he was my father. This was the first instance in my life in which a boy had shown a sort of chivalry.  

“Thank you,” I managed and sat.  

Gabriel joined me on the lawn and retrieved an orange from his backpack.

I pulled the brown sack from my school satchel.  I searched for something to say, feeling self conscious.  “It’s a nice day,” was the only thing I could come up with.  Inane.

“I didn’t know that John was your dad,” he said peeling the fruit.

It sounded weird – someone calling my dad John.  “Yeah, for the last sixteen years at least.” I began peeled the orange I’d retrieved from my lunch.  “He’s enjoyed Thompson’s. I think he’s contemplated moving in.”

Gabe smiled.  “Yeah.”

Because I wasn’t very good at being patient: “So why the change yesterday, you know, between the hardware store Gabe and the Gabe at school?” I snuck a glance at him.  

He was watching me, the peel of the orange coming off in one peel I worked at it so carefully. “I’m just not very good at being with people.”

“I guess I don’t understand.”

“You must have noticed over the last couple of days that I don’t really hang out with anyone.”

“I might have.  So that’s by choice?”

He was quiet and then offered me a nod.

I matched his silence.  While I wasn’t offended by quiet and usually welcomed the respite from having to fill the stillness with strangers with meaningless chatter, my comfort was a bit discomfiting.  How was it that I could feel so at ease in the presence of a boy that sent my pulse racing with just a look?

I stole another glance at him.  He pulled open his orange, lost in thought. I glanced at my own orange and thought both of us could have been holding flames in our hands.  Butterfly wings fluttered against the inside of my stomach. And suddenly I wanted to know everything about him. First things first:

“I want to ask you something,” I started interrupting the serenity.

He looked at me.  “Yes?”

“That fight,” I paused and saw that he was watching me.  I was taken with the wisdom in his countenance – as though I could have been speaking with someone much older – and in that moment I remembered the gentle commanding that he possessed with the two fighters the day before.  “No one else was willing to step in to stop it, but you did.”

“It was the right thing to do.”  He looked away.

“Why care?”

“Why?  That seems a strange question.  I would rather ask why not?” His piercing blue eyes captured mine.

“That’s novel.  Society kind of pushes the mind-your-own- business philosophy don’t you think?”  I couldn’t look away. Swimming in the depth of his gaze was preferable.

“And yet, look at the state of society.”  He raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t disagree with you.  I just have never seen . . . wouldn’t have thought to witness that sort of selflessness, you know.”

“You honor me.”

“I think the honor is yours,” I said finding his generosity of spirit strange and so refreshing.  The boys I was used to, including my brothers at times, were bawdy, arrogant and egotistical. Gabe’s attitude was so wholly . . . different, almost old world – a knight in the days of old.

“The onlookers at a fight are what always surprise me,” he said.

He was looking at me again the intensity of his gaze seemed to be seeking more than what my answer would offer.

“Why is that?”

“I wonder why people are drawn to the violence.”

I didn’t respond and instead slipped into seeing those faces again, distorted and frightening.  I shivered.

“Are you cold?”

I shook my head.

“What’s wrong?”

“Its-” I stopped but when I looked at Gabe, his face etched with concern.  “I’m not cold.” I couldn’t share what I thought I saw. The embarrassment, feeling like a freak in his eyes was too great a risk.

“Then?”

But I instinctively knew he wouldn’t judge me:  A boy on the edges of this high school culture, a person willing to risk his own skin to break up a fight because it is the right thing to do probably wouldn’t laugh at me.  “I thought I saw something yesterday. It scared me is all.”

“What?”  His gaze hadn’t wavered.

“It’s stupid.  I am sure I imagined it.”

“Are you building a case for self defense?”  He asked.

His insight stopped me short.  That was exactly what I was doing – making excuses for self preservation. “Wow.  Direct aren’t you?”

A small smile touched his face.  “I don’t care what others think about me, I suppose.”

The mirror held up to my face was uncomfortable.

“You were saying – about the crowd.”

“Their faces changed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever seen a movie when two images have been laid over one another, so you see two images as one?”  I laid my hands one on top of the other.

He shook his head.

“Well they look blurry and distorted, like you can’t make heads or tails of the features.  That’s sort of what their faces looked like, but it was their eyes.” My voice faded - the picture in my mind so clear.

“What about them?”

“They were black – all black – the whites of their eyes even.  They looked right at me.”

He looked away.

“What is it?  You think I am crazy don’t you.  I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I don’t,” but he was distant again.  It was as though we were immersed in water and he was floating further and further away in the current and I was treading water in the same place.  

Defensive, I shifted and stood.  “Look. Don’t play games with me.  You either want to be my . . . friend, or you don’t.” I hesitated on the word friend as my heart was beating as though it was so much more. I knew that was ridiculous; I barely knew him.  Besides there was Seth. I slung the bag over my shoulder. “But I sense that you are too kind to play games.” He was silent. “Thanks for your sweatshirt.” I picked it up, shook it of earthen elements and held it out for him.

Instead he looked up at me.  “I’m not playing games, Abby.”  He stood. Close. And I tried to catch my breath. “I just don’t know how – there are just things that I can’t-” he paused struggling with how to say something.  “As a friend, can you trust me?”

I bit back that I hardly knew him and instead fell into the ocean of his eyes.  In that place I trusted him implicitly. I felt safe, secure and strangely at home.  It was comfortable and calm. So I nodded.

“Let’s finish,” He said and replaced his sweatshirt on the grass.”  He smiled and I drowned.




The Ugly Truth: Read Aloud

First, April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month as well as Alcohol Awareness and Prevention Month. Both of these issues are heavy weights the protagonist of The Ugly Truth, Seth, carries through his narrative and contribute to his struggles.

That said, The Ugly Truth is the second book in a series of three inter-connected books of the Cantos Chronicles that follows Seth on his journey. The first book is Abby’s tale in Swimming Sideways (Seth and Gabe are important parts of her narrative). The third and final book in this series will be published later this year and will explore Gabe’s adventure. Ultimately, all three of these books ask us to understand that what we see isn’t always the whole picture of a person’s truth.

One of the difficulties of writing The Ugly Truth was the darker content which explained Seth’s perspective, a glimpse of what we were able to see in Abby’s story (Seth wrote a letter to readers which also provides a glimpse into this character. You can read that here). The following is an excerpt taken from two chapters which explore Seth’s relationship with his parents and the emotions which fuel his actions. Some things to keep in mind:

1) The narrative of Seth’s story isn’t told linearly. Instead, it jumps between the present and the past. This excerpt starts in the past and will return to the present.

2) In the present, Seth’s consciousness and soul is outside of his body observing the world happen around him and powerless to do anything to impact it.

The Ugly Truth Read Aloud

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Swimming Sideways: Read Aloud

Swimming Sideways is the first book in a series of three. Abby Kaiāulu who’s been given the opportunity to start over with a move from Hawaiʻi to Oregon is hiding a secret. In the midst of redefining herself, however, she recognizes she’s losing sight of who she really is . . . As everything around her falls apart, Abby must discover the truth of who she is as a daughter, a sister, a woman, a Hawaiian, a friend.

The following excerpt is from the novel.

Whole

In connection to the blog published on Monday about motherhood and writing, I wrote this poem after giving birth to my first child, my daughter. I remember sitting in the rocking chair just after giving birth to her and creating it in my head as we rocked together. The poem was published in a local Hawaii anthology called Strong Currents: An anthology by Hawai’i Writers (2002).


Whole

Burdened with decisions

and laden with pain,

my body reacts with life.

Moving from childless to motherhood,

I am wrapped by vice-like fingers

across my abdomen

that squeeze and steal my breath.

Fear moves through my blood,

yet ignites a desire to explore

the unknown realm before me.

Life has happened,

daily monotony has turned

into joyous minutes that pass like hours.

Through this exhaustion a treasure awaits.

With a force,

a supernatural force

unknown to me,

I push you from the warmth to the cold

I invite you into my world,

Arms open,

Belly and breasts bared.

You are beautiful.

You are my finest achievement.

You are my daughter.

We are whole.


Rereading it through lenses almost twenty years older, I would rewrite the poem. However, the poignancy connected to this piece is it was my very first publication (along with a short story in the same anthology).

Write Your Truth

I wrote the following memoir for a group of senior students I taught several years ago. During our English class, I challenged them to write their story - their truth. I also recognized that unless I was willing to do the same, I had no right to ask it of them. If I wanted them to find it meaningful, it had to be as authentic as possible. The second part of the assignment was to share the story aloud (and of course, there was a safety mechanism built into the assignment in order to make it safe to share - or not to). So, I stood up in front of my students and read the following story. I shook and I cried, but it was catharsis. If I can offer any beauty in a story which is so difficult, my hope would be to tell you: Write your truth.


The Wrong Questions

I remember, even though I’d like to forget.  The event is a black mark on my memory; a giant X which marks the spot on my life map, but it doesn’t identify a treasure.  Instead, it delineates a turning point. I’d said “no.” It’s what I’d been taught. My parents, my teachers, my pastors, the policemen who’d visited the classroom.  They had all said, “Just say no.” For some reason, my ‘no’ wasn’t good enough.

I’d been eighteen, my freshman year in college.  I’d been invited to a small get together at a new friend’s house. It was someone from class I was getting to know.  When I arrived, it became clear it wasn’t a small get together at all. The apartment was quiet but for the TV which spat spittle of sound and Morse code lights into the room. It was just us. I don’t remember what I said.  I like to think I hesitated, like my inner Beyoncé leaned in and said in my ear, “hold up.” Maybe there was a voice in my head which tried to guide me, but if so, I’d ignored it. I walked into the living room. I wish I could have seen the future through wise eyes, maybe I would have made a different choice.  

He offered me a drink. He was drinking.

“No thanks,” I’d said.  “I’m driving.” If only I’d noticed the road signs.  They were there: A proceed with caution, a yield, a stop sign. I just didn’t recognize them.  At eighteen, a small-town girl who’d never faced the darkness of ill-intention, who knew very little beyond small-town drama, who trusted everyone because she believed everyone was kind-hearted. I couldn’t see them.

He wanted to show me something and invited me to his room.

I followed.



Hold up!

I think that now in the shadows of an aftermath.  A twenty-year shadow is long and cold. I spent a lot of time considering the question: Why did I follow?  The shame covers my skin and makes me itch.



I don’t recall the how (a selective memory to be sure), but he kissed me.  I was surprised, taken aback. How did one respond to an unexpected kiss and keep another’s feelings in tact?  How naïve of me to think that all kisses were created equal: I assumed they all connected to the heart and weren’t wrapped up in other kinds of packaging. Because I didn’t know how to respond, I allowed the kiss, politely kissed him back.  He was handsome and we seemed to enjoy talking earlier. It was just a kiss, right? And then it wasn’t. Somehow, I found my quiet voice – the one that insisted that it was okay to be honest - I gently extricated myself from the moment, pulled back and said, “I’m not comfortable with this. I should go.”

He wouldn’t let me leave the room.  I remember cajoling. He joked. Laughed.  Put hand on my arm. Another kiss. He became more insistent, the pressure of his mouth, his hands, his body.  I pushed at him now. “I don’t want this. We shouldn’t do this,” I’d said. “No.” My voice was even, though, small and uncomfortable. I was trying to be nice.  Polite. Everything I’d been taught. Don’t be rude. Be a good girl.

He didn’t stop.

He was strong.

I wasn’t.

I went still.  It seems macabre to think: If I play dead, maybe he’ll leave me alone. He didn’t.  And then he was done, and I was crying.

He seemed surprised.  He said, “I’m sorry.”



Hold up!

I think that now in the shadows of an aftermath.  A twenty-year shadow is long and cold. I asked the question: Why did he say he was sorry?  He knew. He knew what he’d done. Why didn’t I hold my head up and scream! “You raped me!”



I gathered the only remnants of myself left, and I escaped into the night, into the safety of my car.  Somehow I made it home – drove myself and stole into the house like a thief. I didn’t want my mom or dad to see me.  I didn’t want them to know what had happened. I climbed into the shower to wash away the dirt – him – but it didn’t matter how hot the water was – I couldn’t wash away the memory. I couldn’t wash away the fear.  I couldn’t wash away the feeling of shame. I couldn’t wash away myself.

Eventually, days after, I did tell my mom and dad.  Mom cried with me – what else is a Momma to do when her baby has been violated?  Dad went numb – what else does a Daddy do when he couldn’t save his baby-girl? He retreated.  Mom held me, but we couldn’t turn the clock back to when I was six, and it was only a skinned knee.  There were no number of hugs, no Band-Aids that could fix this hurt. Everything about me was skinned, raw, exposed, and ashamed.  Self-blame began, and the shadow of self-hate began to stretch. I asked myself: How could I have been so dumb?

Somehow I mustered up the courage to call the police, to report it.  That’s what we’d been taught after all: Report the bad guys. I didn’t want this to happen to someone else. An officer answered, I rushed through my story – crying as I re-lived it in order to tell it.

“Did you say ‘no’,” the police officer asked over the phone.  

“Yes,” I said again. “I said, ‘no’.”

And then he said, “Well, did you fight him off?”

I pictured the officer on the other end of the line: I pictured him bored.  It was the sound of his voice. The tone which suggested to my already weak heart maybe he was cleaning his desk, or doodling on his paper, or maybe scraping shit he stepped in earlier from his boot. I supposed that assumption is unfair, I don’t know what he was doing, but I wanted something different from him.  Kindness. Compassion. My heart, fractured but racing with fear at telling the story, now sputtered with shame and doubt. “I didn’t,” I answered.

His silence was so loud, it screamed at me.  “Why not?”

I don’t know if it was his voice aloud or if it was my own thoughts interrogating me.  I remember saying, “I was afraid.”

“Did you go to the hospital?” He asked.  That tone, again.

“No,” I said.

He dismissed me.  And I dismissed myself.  No officer came to my rescue.  I guess my story was easy to disregard.  I was easy to disregard. I disregarded myself and disappeared into the Void.



It’s dark there in that place.  Nothing. No light. No hope. No feeling.  I see a red balloon, floating in the space, buoyant, but distant.  I don’t know why it is red, but I think it is something I have lost.



Eventually, I emerged from the darkness. It was a gradual reawakening, but I was different.  The anger turned into self-hate, self-doubt, and self-blame. I was no longer myself, and in my place was a shell of someone.  This girl didn’t like herself very much. This girl didn’t have any confidence. This girl retreated into a world of “I’m sorry.”

In the shadow of the aftermath, the questions and doubt are the worst part.  It’s like being stuck on a Ferris wheel. I went around for many years:

Why didn’t I fucking scream?  

Why didn’t I kick and scratch and maim?  

Why did I become prey, a frightened rabbit in the jaws of a predator?  

Why was I so weak?

How could I have been so stupid?

The cycle repeats and repeats.  It never ends, just like the questions never get answered. Twenty years is a long time to ride the wheel.  Twenty-some odd years later, I finally try to write this story – it isn’t the first time I have tried, but it is the closest I’ve come to it.  I usually write around it. The first effort was in a creative writing class in college. It was a story about The Void. That’s where I was. The second go around was ten years ago. That’s where the story Sharks came from.  Sharks was the aftermath when I found a light in my now husband. The third attempt was during a storytelling class. I’ve lost that story, and to this day, I can’t tell you what I wrote.  I’ve blocked it for some reason, and maybe it is because I actually wrote it. I can’t remember the words, and I can’t find the story anywhere; I surmise I subconsciously put it back in The Void.  So this is it.

I recently read a book called, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein.  By choosing the book, I was trying to be informed as the parent, but it led me on a path to confront the shadow I’d been dragging around.  I discovered that I wasn’t alone, even if logically I knew it. Though the statistics are best guesses, it is believed one in four women is sexually assaulted at some point in her life and it is a terrible problem on our college campuses.  One thing she said which really stuck with me was that despite all of the education we’ve done for girls, it isn’t only the girls we need to empower, it is also our sons for the cultural expectations placed on them about their sexual prowess is equally damaging.  I have a daughter. I have a son.

It has taken me twenty-plus years to realize my questions – the ones that have had me on the Ferris wheel and often echo from the recesses of self-doubt I so often feel – weren’t the right questions to ask.  The right questions were: why did I have to fight? Why wasn’t my “no” good enough? Why did he choose to steal from me? Why have I believed it was my fault?

So, I write this story now, as difficult as it is, to tell our daughters, to tell our sons: It’s time to start asking the right questions.

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YA Fantasy WIP: Chapter 1

From a new Work in Progress tentatively titled Starlight:

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Caleb

The unsettled feeling tugging on his innards was more insistent than it had been for a while. Caleb rolled his shoulders trying to reset himself as Mr. Johns talked about the filtration system of their hydroponic plants, but it was difficult to concentrate. This was usually the one class which helped that insecure, needy feeling subside, but lately it had become more persistent, as if he wasn’t in the right place. It was the opposite of deja vous, more like his muscles - caught between his skin and bones - tried to move quicker than the rest of him would allow, so the muscles rioted in his body with the need to go. Caleb had always felt that way, as though he didn’t belong where he was. It wasn’t surprising considering where he came from. He had, after all, been abandoned as a baby behind the ‘Ole Rickety Eatery. Truth was this: his real parents hadn’t wanted him.

“So, that is why it is important for us to flush the system,” Mr. Johns continued, but Caleb couldn’t focus on his favorite teacher or his favorite class.

Instead, his mind was stuck looping around the fact he’d been abandoned and the anger which accompanied it. When he’d been eight, Caleb created an elaborate story based on a dream he’d had and insisted he’d been stolen from his real parents. His foster family at the time - the Smythes - prodded him for more information. Side note: The Smythes had probably been his favorite foster placement in his whole life. They were a good family, so what followed still hurts: Eight-year-old Caleb told an elaborate tale about a kidnapper who dropped him as a baby behind the Rickety because he’d been on the run from the police. He’d been so sure of this dream he’d insisted on searching for his real parents. Of course, because Mr. Smythe was a responsible parent, he called Social Services to request another placement for Caleb. That foster father’s reason: he was afraid Caleb’s delusions were putting his own children in danger.

Caleb’s social worker at the time - Mr. Dweck - put an end to Caleb’s story.  “Dreams are good, Caleb,” he’d said, “But our sleeping dreams aren’t truth. Sometimes they are wishes. You know, like Santa Claus.” First, this statement killed any remaining slivers of belief eight-year-old Caleb might have had about Santa. Then, when Mr. Dweck added, “your parents, who are probably drug addicts, tried to find you a better home.”

Yeah. Whatever.

What home?

Caleb stopped believing in dreams (and Santa) that year. What hadn’t stopped, however, was the feeling his body was supposed to be somewhere else.

“You okay, Caleb?” Mr. Johns asked. He’d stopped at Caleb’s table as he moved through the room, or rather a space housed in a greenhouse where their hydroponic system was located.  A quick glance around the room and Caleb realized the rest of the students had moved to check their plants and system lines, while he’d been lost in his own thoughts.

This attention deficit - a supposed product of a possibly drug addicted mother no one knew, according to school counselors - was his norm. In elementary school he’d been dubbed the space cadet. In middle school classmates had laughed behind their hands when he couldn’t answer the question because he’d zoned out. Later, they’d just taken to ignoring him, but at least he’d had a friend or two as weird as he was. He never failed to frustrate whichever foster parents he happened to be living with because he couldn’t remember stuff. Unfortunately, new foster placements meant new schools and a revolving door of sorta friends. High school was the worst. Being teased was preferable to being invisible; at least you were seen. Now, he was in his senior year. He figured he could make it to the finish line, age out of foster care and hit the road to find that place his body wanted to take him.

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”

Mr. Johns and his class were the only reasons Caleb hadn’t dropped out of school yet. He glanced at his teacher. He had a kind face, not too old, but not too young either. He had nice light, brown hair with a smattering of gray here and there, and his light eyes were kind and compassionate. In contrast to his current foster mother, Margie Doyle, who’s light eyes were soulless and cold.

“You look worried,” his teacher said. “Want to talk?” Mr. Johns leaned against the table.

“You ever get that feeling like you’re supposed to be somewhere else?”

“Where does this feeling think you’re supposed to be?”

Caleb shrugged and sighed. “That’s the point right. Where would I go?”

Mr. Johns stood up and put his hands in the front pockets of his brown canvas overalls. He leaned back slightly, his thinking stance. Caleb loved those overalls so much, he’d decided that someday, after he got to his first stop and his first job at one of the Jasper County farms on the other side of the Brody Woods, those overalls would be his first purchase. “Can’t say I’ve had that feeling. Like today, I feel like I’m supposed to be exactly where I was designed to be. But-” Mr. Johns reached over and brushed one of the leaves on the plant behind Caleb. He pulled a brown one from the healthy stem and returned his attention to Caleb. “I have felt though, sometimes, I’m ready to reach the finish line of my goal before I’ve made it through the race. That what you mean?”

It wasn’t, but Caleb nodded anyway. It was easier than trying to explain. How did you explain to a teacher that his whole life he’d felt like the skin he was wearing didn’t cover his insides properly. Like if he just pinched the skin by his face, it would pull away revealing his skeleton underneath. He had to remind himself at regular intervals when he felt like he might burst from the energy flowing through him, he’d been abandoned and passed from foster home to foster home. Which, he supposed, it wasn’t a wonder he didn’t feel like he matched his life or like he belonged, even if he wanted to with his whole being. Nowhere, nothing, no one ever fit. There were so many question marks about who he was, who were his people, but no answers. Yeah. How did you tell a teacher that?

Mr. Johns filled Caleb’s silence. “Maybe it just means you’re on the right path even if you haven’t made it to that finish line.”

“Yeah. Maybe,” Caleb answered.

“Need help flushing the lines?” Mr. Johns asked nodding toward the plants.

“No sir.”

Caleb watched Mr. Johns walk away and stop at the table of Sadie Green who hated the class with loud exuberant vehemence, but hadn’t been able to drop it for another. Her gray eyes locked with Caleb’s and her mouth slid into a sneer. This happened in a span of a second as he turned away to avoid her disdain. Sadie Green’s condescension and usual bitchiness were enough to keep most - except for her popular crew - away.

Caleb swore under his breath at his failure to avoid Sadie’s gaze as he moved through the motions with his plants, even though the plants usually brought him contentment.  He couldn’t help feeling like something had to change, or maybe the feeling was prophetic that something was about to change. The thought of spending his eternity in the perpetual state of unrest was tiring. Besides, anything about to happen to him had never been good.


****

After class, Caleb walked across the asphalt lot toward the entrance of the building. The hallway was teeming with a rush of bodies moving between passing period. He caught sight of Tim with his friends. Though he and Tim were foster brothers, at school they didn’t interact much, but Tim did raise his chin in acknowledgement. Tim was a sophomore, and Dalton, one of his other foster brothers, was a junior. They had their own friends. Caleb had none.

“Yo. Space Caleb.” A voice said halting Caleb’s movement through the hall.

He looked up to see Wyatt Gunnar, his arm draped over Sadie Green’s shoulders standing in the middle of the corridor staring at him. Wyatt shifted his head to flip his longish blond hair out of his face then smirked. Caleb stopped in the middle of the hallway and was jostled by bodies still moving past him. “Yeah?”

Wyatt removed his arm from Sadie leaving her behind as he stepped forward. “How’s it, bro?”

Confused, Caleb backed up a step and looked around. A group of people now formed a circle around them. He looked at Wyatt again, the alpha-male moving his head side to side as though cracking his neck. “Fine,” Caleb answered pretty confident, Wyatt wouldn’t fight on school property. Caleb stood his ground, though the other guy - a star wrestler - wasn’t the most predictable of people. They’d gone to school together since seventh grade but had never been friends.

“So, I heard you were staring at my girl.” Wyatt cracked his knuckles.

Caleb looked past him at Sadie standing with all of her weight on one hip. Her smirk matched her boy-toy’s. He focused his gaze on Wyatt. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The thing about being a foster kid and not giving a fuck - or pretending not to at least - is the incredible survival mechanism built in the psyche. He’d spend his life moving, adapting, being whatever he needed to be to make it. He understood most people even if he didn’t always understand himself. Right now, Wyatt needed to put on a show for the girl he wanted to bang and probably hadn’t yet. Caleb knew Wyatt was bigger than him in width, but he had the edge in height and reach. He knew Wyatt was probably a better fighter, at least he was a solid wrestler, but that didn’t mean he could throw down. Dressed as he was in his designer clothes and stark white pretty-boy shoes, flipping his hair out of his face every two seconds, it might be a safe conclusion Wyatt didn’t want to mess up his look. While Caleb didn’t consider himself a fighter, it didn’t mean he hadn’t fought.

“You don’t? Because Sadie says you were staring at her. Giving her a look, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t and I didn’t,” and even as he said it, he knew which way it was going to go. There was no winning this verbal interaction. Wyatt was setting him up.

“You calling Sadie a liar?”

There is was. The trap.

Caleb shrugged and walked into it. “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

Wyatt’s face turned red.

The crowd around them pushed in against them with an “Ooooo.”

Caleb tried to walk around Wyatt who shoved against him with one of his shoulders. Caleb lost balance and caught himself in the crowd. They helped him back up. “What’s up, Gunnar?” Caleb asked his anger mounting. There was a lot Caleb dealt with, a lot that he put up with, but assholes and injustice weren’t two of them. He could seem easy going and usually was, but once his fuse was lit, putting it out was nearly impossible.

“I want you to stop gawking at my girl and find your own.”

“Why would I gawk at her? She’s a bitch.”

And there, in the middle of the hall still on school property, Wyatt Gunnar threw a punch. Caleb side-stepped it, popped him in the temple and watched him fall. It took less than three seconds, and Caleb was walking away back down the hall, pissed off and pretty sure he’d just gotten himself kicked out of school.

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