September 9, 2012

Something of a Kind by Miranda Wheeler {Excerpt & Give@way}

Mom would know what to do.
It was a realization that had been haunting Aly all night. Noah was something she never experienced before. She’d never known anyone or anything like him. It was so easy, so natural. He always made sense without thinking about it, not that she could stop. He knocked down her walls before she erected them.
Her mother had only dated once, and it was more of a hinted backstory than anything Aly could remember. When Aly was in her toddler years, some guy named Aaron swept Vanessa off her feet.
Apparently, he flew out to Los Angeles for a work conference, and never came back. Word of a horrific bus accident floated into town two weeks later.
Broken hearted, Vanessa always told Aly that he was the man she should have been with from the beginning, that he was the father she should have had growing up. Between the devastation of the loss Aly couldn’t recall, having Greg down her throat, and the first diagnoses, as far as Aly knew, her mother never tried again. She had already worked too hard for it, and the pain never proved worth it.
Her mother always teased that someday Aly would stumble into that stage, what she called the ‘ridiculous head over heels fantasy every little one dreams of, every old person dreads remember, and a piece of happiness that every girl deserves’.
Her mother expressed some of the most grief over never attending Aly’s wedding or seeing her children. She made Aly promised that she wouldn’t make her mistake, pregnant and alone as a teen. The week before Vanessa stopped talking; she whispered that she was going to miss the story of a first love, and they both mourned.
Just for a moment, Alyson was thankful for no one’s eyes or arms. Flat on her back as she lay in bed, her lip trembled. Tears flooded down her face, hot and silent. Stomach relaxed to a concave between her hipbones, Aly balled her fists around the frame propped below her rips.
She would lift her head or pull it close, eyes scathing the wounded moment. A memory edging into her head, she flipped it on its back, sliding the metal clasps away from the cardboard backing. A second picture had been turned around, her packing revealing she was a frame too short to display it.
When moving to Lauren’s, Aly had found it in a paperback of The Tempest. It was wrapped for her seventeenth birthday, due at the end of the early spring Vanessa intended to see. It wasn’t wine-stained, in a mass collection, or an easy-reading version like the beat up renditions peppering the rest of her mother’s shelves. In her mother’s closet, it was hidden in a box covered in black lace. Inside, along with an unsigned card, it was brand new, the cover filled with artistic edgy illustrations, perfect-bound.
As if an afterthought, like a stray piece of paper, the picture was tucked beneath the cover. On the back, in her perfect, old-fashioned cursive printed with her calligraphy pens, she wrote, I love you, my Aly Sun, and below, “What is past is prologue” – William Shakespeare.
The photograph was taken the second time she got sick, before radiation affected her thick head of hair. It was always a shame when it pieced out, clumps in the sink or on top of a filled trashcan. Post full premature hysterectomy, it kept coming back – in surrounding areas, in new places, finally weaseling into her blood and bones, traveling to her head.
Standing against the vibrant yellow panels of a hot dog stand, her bright blue pea-coat was a contrast as stark as her dark brown curls. Pupils reduced to specks from the camera’s bright flash, her green irises looked alien. Light freckles covered her ashen skin, only noticeable after her complexion paled with dangerous levels of anemia. Her young mother shared a genuine smile, both warm and pained, her lips pale and dimples slack.
She always was beautiful.
At her side, Lauren had her fast twisted into a mock-gape, leaning forward with both arms crossed. In a gray sweater, black skinny jeans, and a blue beanie that caused the bottom of her hair to spray out passed her shoulders, they were both dressed too chilled for that summer. Aly remembered the blistering heat, a rare feat to be prolonged over so many months, as distinctly as she remembered her mother’s frigid fingers.
Aly wished either were here to offer advice, but the longing for her mother was overwhelming. It took a while to confess how viciously the grief was, as though labeling it was an understatement. It tasted like pain and fear, a constant haunting over her shoulder, fighting its way forward through every thought. It had been half a year, those unspeakable days after Christmas, before New Year’s, since the doctors offered false hope that she’d be able to fight it until an early spring.
At the time, it never felt like her mother was the only one carrying the disease, always a dozen bricks too many on her own chest. Like glass, and ashes, it filled her lungs. Always crying, praying, pleading with God and fate, trying to open sympathy cards or pick at flower-esque fruit bouquets like they were a final promise, a sweetness with a reassurance to faith it would pass, and go away.
The devastation crept up with constant nausea. Spending day after day sitting crisscross-applesauce, laptop or textbook or Austen classic in hand, she stayed loyally beside her mother’s bed – enduring the howling of an IV when her arm bent, her mother’s tears and breakdowns followed by senseless apologies, the plans for a possible post-mortem that killed Aly but comforted Vanessa. 
Even snow-blind with the blackness of an impending end, constantly coming to terms and falling to pieces again, Aly never fathomed missing anyone so much. It never came close to the clenching desire for a father when she was a child, or even the terrible ache she had when her day with Noah no longer made her smile, but instead only want him more, unable to wait for the sun to rise.
Vanessa wouldn’t see her dreams and she wouldn’t see Aly’s. Her mother wouldn’t be there when Noah eventually either broke Aly’s heart or offered vows, and she wasn’t there to offer advice or suggest the perfect words to fix everything and make her laugh again.
Mom’s gone. She always will be.
A wave of agony clenching in her chest, Aly put it back, propped on her bedside table. After a moment, she pushed the face down. Glancing at the boxy alarm clock she always hated, the angry red blinking of 2:35 AM felt like scorn.
Exhaustion heavy in her limbs, she rolled onto her side, in fetal position. The exposed window bathed the room in blue moonlight. Stars, however untouchable, glistened with distinction: the sun thieves, and the thousand souls around them, dancing in place, breathed across the sky.
They were magnified, almost beneath a lens, compared to nights in the middle of Kingsley’s city. Sleeping in Ashland, lying in bed every night felt like a camping trip, like the sunroof after late night car trips, like the window from that one summer in a cabin on Long Lake. Aly didn’t know which star was brightest, but she knew who it belonged to.
She didn’t want to fall asleep. Time was too precious, life too short. She found the most comfort in the stories, a hope of heaven, of rebirth, of the new life she always swore she wanted. Like a lightning strike from divinity, Noah sowed a rift in the relentless burden of six unendurable months. Noah gave her the sun thieves.
She wanted to get up and run to him then, falling into his embrace so seamlessly. Maybe fate would put him outside, standing beneath the stars in Ashland, the town without streetlights.
But as much as she wanted to break down his door and offer a thousand apologies, she knew everything was too fast, too little time to be so engrossed. As much as she wanted to bother him, pull him away from the demands of his family, she knew that it was possible Lee was right. It was possible she belonged on the outside – outside of Noah, outside of Ashland, and outside of Alaska.
Greg Glass, in his predictable narcissism, was dishonest, a liar, not a father. As always, Aly couldn’t deal with it, and refused to accept it. Noah was hurt because she demanded he help her prove the impossible, some unfathomable something of a kind, to Greg, a heart to hardened to hear anyone but himself. She begged him to humor her. She pushed something too new and too good way too far. It shouldn’t be such a shock that Lee’s outburst was so viciously honest.
Did he mean it? Could she not see Noah? If she ignored it, would Noah even want to see her?
Guilty and feeling selfish, Aly swallowed, squeezing her eyes shut. Fear flooded her veins, like blackness and grief, that someone was talking sense somewhere and Noah would see it first. He was worth more than a temporary placement court-ordered into his little town, diving into his life with an uproar, changing his world unapologetically. Aly feared he would leave to make peace with his father, or she would have to.
I’d do it for him.
Maybe Noah never broke the frame. Maybe he just freed the picture.

One winner will win an ebook of Something of a Kind. Giveaway ends Sept 15th! Spread the word!! 

Miranda Wheeler

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