Tin Man: A Book Review

What’s better as a ‘start of the summer book’ than one covered in glimmering sunflowers? I’m a big fan of Impressionist art and Van Gogh is definitely a favorite, so I must confess this may be my favorite book cover of the year, so far. I was fortunate to see some of his work a few years ago as a collection was on tour and it is even more mesmerizing in person. Long heralded for his use of color, you see it vividly come to life in bold brush strokes that shouldn’t mean anything, but together they mean everything.

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The brush strokes are layered, swoop after swoop of color. Sometimes colors you wouldn’t have chosen, but their existence on the canvas is what makes the portrait truly stunning. The novel Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, is “Sunflowers” come to life. This novel is so quietly stunning and perfectly petite, I will be rereading it for years. The humanity Winman was able to capture with such a surprising feeling of simplicity is marvelous.

Like the book jacket says, “This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.” This is a tale of two twelve-year-old boys who bond through life’s challenges and life’s beauties. Ellis and Michael are fast friends who run amok through Oxford, swimming, cycling, sharing a love of poetry until something shifts and they are more. Fast forward into adulthood and Ellis is married to Annie, a girl who became their third Musketeer, but Michael is gone. What has happened in the years between and after? The answer is where the painting analogy really gets cooking. Winman effortlessly weaves the lives of the boys together by telling their story in stunning vignettes and memories. And as it unfolds you find yourself heartbroken and tenderly hopeful all at once. Like a painting, it is beautiful at first glance, but you know each time you return for another look there will be a deeper richness waiting to be discovered.

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The complex relationships aren’t dramatic or overdrawn, they are so damn true and I have rarely met characters so realistically drawn. I want to hug them, all of them, and thank them for their lives lived within the walls of this beautiful little book, and for allowing me to read them.

If you want to know what it would feel like to read art, this is the book.

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Unbury Carol: A Book Review

I am so very glad that I chose to engage with my readers and include you guys in deciding what books I read and review. I’ve been exposed to some really amazing books thanks to you, so first, I’d like to say thank you! I’m branching out more than ever and finding some real gems. Like this one! Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman was April’s pick and I dove headfirst into this thriller and held on for a wild ride.

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Carol has a secret. A secret clutched so tightly in fear of what ifs, but will her allowing only a few people in her life to know the truth ultimately cause her death? From time to time, with very little warning, Carol falls into a death-like coma and dwells in a world of darkness where raspy breathing she suspects is her own slowed exhalation is her only companion. She can hear the world around her, but cannot move or speak until she wakes again, days later as if nothing was amiss. Her mother long in her grave, and her best friend newly departed leaves her gold-digging husband as the only person in her life that knows her secret, and when she falls into yet another trip to her inner prison, the opportunity is too much for him to resist. An old lover, the final keeper of Carol’s wicked secret, is notified of her death and races time and the looming gravediggers to halt the unthinkable horror of being buried alive.

This book held many surprises, not just as the plot untwisted to reveal the wholly unexpected ending. A vague setting with a western, post-civil war feel lends to the mystery and plays up the magical realism. The reader is thrust into a world where the towns are small and the Trail that connects them is wild and dangerous, home to the many outlaws who prey on the accepting occupants of a time when the law is lenient and questions thought impolite.

Malerman’s prose is loose and billowy with a casual air that disarms you, making the moments of sharp clarity, the harsh realizations, all the more gutting. You know, and you don’t know how the story will unravel and I found myself gasping, mouth open in surprise anytime I dared think I had it figured out. A backward whodunnit where your exclamations at the players still putting the pieces together are as deaf to you as Carol’s yelling from the darkness, Unbury Carol is a fun and soulfully creepy tale. I found the deranged villains perfectly believable with a toe into unnaturally sinister, a personified voice of the past that cruelly twists doubts into the fissures of the would-be hero’s mind.

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A step toward Stephen King, a Tim Burton dream, this strange and unusual story is utterly creeptastic. Malerman manages to make a two-day quest up a long dirt road feel like the ultimate test of patience and trust as you hope just one of the many threads of spun plot leads to Carol remaining above ground and not clawing for her life under six feet of earth. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who likes that prickly feeling of suspense but prefers to skip outright terror.

A Story Spoken: Chapter Four

Well, I have returned from my hiatus. Thank you very much for being patient with me! I really needed the rest and time away from the blog to work on my book…and be distracted by all the things I want to do around the house…and my kids…and my husband…and, well, you know how life goes! I’m excited to get back into the groove and share more books, chapters, and all the wonderful writerly things!

Let’s catch up with the girls and see how things are faring after Annie and Cheney argument on the way to The Hummingbird Boutique. If you haven’t read my previous chapters, you can catch up here: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three.

The bell tinkled as I opened the door and danced again as I shut it behind me against the rain. My teeth chattered, the A/C chilling my drenched clothes, and I rubbed my hands together as Cheney headed for the back room of the boutique.

“Hi, sweetie! Oh, it’s so good to see you.”

Cheney’s mom cantered around the checkout desk and gave me a hug that was more patting my wet shoulders than an embrace. She held me at arm’s length, looking me up and down, judging the state of my clothes and lack of makeup, no doubt.

“Is it really that cold?” she raised an eyebrow as another shiver ran through me.

“Not outside. We just got caught in the downpour running to the car.”

She was already walking back around the desk, and I realized her question had been rhetorical. All these years of friendship with her daughter and she still hadn’t shaken the grudge she’d held against my mother. I shook my head, never understanding the pettiness this woman was capable of or how she’d managed to raise a child as kind as Cheney.

“Before I forget,” Cheney re-emerged from the stockroom with a stack of mail in her hand. “I have a book for Nan that I found online. I hope she won’t mind that I went ahead and ordered it, but if I keep clicking without buying something, I’ll lose it forever.”

She sorted through the mail as she talked, looking up every now and then, occasionally gesturing with an envelope.
“Well, that might explain the credit card bill you keep complaining about.” I chuckled at her silly, if not generous, logic.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She swatted my arm with the mail still in her hand, glancing at her mother to see if she’d heard.

“Anyway, it’s an audio slash hard copy combo that’s supposed to teach the basics of how to read braille!” She turned to face me with this last bit, eyes wide and mouth open with anticipation of my reaction.

I tried to match her enthusiasm, “Cheney, that’s so sweet of you. You really need to quit buying stuff for us though. You’re gonna go broke.” I eyeballed Ruth as I whispered the last bit. She had moved on to another part of the store, straightening and refolding odds and ends on the small sale display by the door.
“You’re no fun. Why can’t you just accept it and say thank you?” She pouted at me, still irritated by our conversation in the truck and using her gift as an outlet.
I stopped and turned to her, letting my hands fall to my side in mock exasperation.
“Thank you, Cheney. You’re the very best. No one is better at picking out gifts than you. No one, not ever.”

I bowed to her with flourish.

“There is that better?” I lifted myself back up and laughed when I noticed Ruth staring at me with a sternly raised eyebrow.

“Do you really think she’ll like it?” Cheney came around the counter and walked past me to the rotating card stand by the front door, adjusting the placement of a couple knick-knacks on a table as she passed by.
“Honestly? I don’t know. I hope so. That actually sounds really cool. She’s just been so against even trying to do anything like that. She always claims that as a purist, she couldn’t possibly enjoy the experience of reading when she can’t see the words.”

I heard Cheney chuckle behind me as she moved on to a different display.
“She does listen to audiobooks she checks out from the library from time to time, but she’s quick to find something to get frustrated by with those, too. The narrator speaks too slowly, or they do too many voices for the different characters and that’s distracting.”

I sighed thinking of all the late fees I’d had to pay when she’d talk herself into trying another one, get halfway through a book, and then forget to return it. She’d almost asked about the one Nan was listening to when they’d left but didn’t feel like having another bitter conversation about books. Nan didn’t refer to her blindness until it gave her a good excuse.
“Mostly, I just read to her. She’s not very picky, so I’ll just read aloud from whatever I’m already reading, and we make an old-school evening of it. Really she just needs a bonnet to complete the picture.”
“That’s so sweet that you do that. It would suck to not be able to do the one thing you really love anymore.”

I looked up when she said that, but Cheney didn’t let on if she had intentionally thrown the internship in my face again. Not wanting to give her a chance to realize it if she hadn’t, I half-joked a distraction.
“Well, at least she can still smoke,” I mumbled. Cheney laughed, but I could only manage a half smile, and I knew it didn’t reach my eyes.

“Where’s the desk? I want to measure it to make sure it’ll fit before I take it home.”

I turned away, ready to finish up and move to lighter conversation that could carry into lunch. Away from Nan’s eyes or internships to easy stuff I could nod through more convincingly.

The bell chimed again and I turned to see a man with day old scruff on his face and a backward ball cap walk through the door. He nodded with a half smile as he passed us, and walked toward the register where Ruth was clicking on the computer. I turned to look at Cheney whose eyebrows had disappeared under her bangs.

“Cu-ute.” she mouthed, lips pursed in an exaggerated “o” shape. I shook my head, trying to deter her from making a fuss. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d tried to set me up with a stranger, but it was the last thing I wanted to deal with right now. Even if he did have a nice smile. She ignored me and walked over to join them at the counter throwing me a mischievous look over her shoulder, shaking her hips in an exaggerated saunter until the man turned around and she stopped suddenly. I turned to face the window, hiding my laugh at her getting caught.

I wandered through the store while they talked, Ruth pointing toward the back wall and nodding along to whatever the man was saying in response. I was fiddling with a tangled tassel on the corner of a throw pillow when Cheney called over to me.

“Hey, Annie!”

Shit. I squeezed my eyes shut, for a moment, bracing myself for the awkward moment of forced civility with a stranger before turning to face my dearest friend and her good intentions.

“Yeah?” I forced the corners of my mouth into something resembling a good-natured, I’m friendly, but please don’t talk to me too long, smile and walked over to join them. The man returned the gesture, though his looked far more genuine.

“Annie,” Cheney took hold of my forearm when I got close enough and pulled me the last few inches to stand close to her and the gentleman. “This is Gavin. Mom hired him to help us with the new display shelves. Gavin, this is Annie.”

After having made eye-contact when I first stepped up, my eyes had begun to wander while she made introductions. I knew it gave my nervousness away, but I couldn’t help it. Cheney had always been the social one who never seemed to meet a stranger. I, however, met them all the time and while I wasn’t quite shy, I didn’t like being thrust into small talk with an expectant spotlight over my head.

His hand appeared before me, forcing me to look up. I shook it and smiled again, fumbling somewhere between awkward and annoyed. He did have very nice eyes.

“Hi, there. It’s nice to meet you, Annie.”

His voice had that born and raised twang to it that told me he must have just been a few years ahead of us in school because, while I couldn’t recall having seen him before, there was no doubt he was a local.

“You, too, Gavin,” I managed after clearing my throat.

“Annie, you should have him take a look at your desk before we load it up. Didn’t you say one of the drawers was stuck?” Cheney grinned from ear to ear before nudging me toward the secretary desk we’d come for that did not, and had never had a drawer stick.

Gavin followed me over to the back corner where Ruth had stuck a “sold” sticker on the scratched up surface of it. It had seen better days, but it had been a favorite of mine from Nan’s house. Mom always said it had character. She’d even added a bit of her own when she was a young girl and feeling rebellious. She’d shown me once where she’d carved her initials on the underside of the desk when Nan had sent her to bed without supper after she’d sassed her too hard one day. She’d been so mad and desperate to get back at her, she secretly defaced the old thing. Nan never found out, as far as I knew.

“Well, here it is,” I turned to face Gavin, resting my hand on top of the desk. “But, there’s nothing wrong with the drawers, as you’ve probably guessed.”

He had the grace to laugh at that.

“Yes, ma’am. I figured that was the case.”

I nodded with a sheepish look. I didn’t know why I felt guilty, but he seemed like a perfectly nice man who didn’t deserve to have his time wasted.

“Look, I know it wasn’t your idea, but…” Gavin broke into a wide grin, dropping his hands into his pockets before pulling the trigger. “You feel like humoring your friend? Can I take you to dinner on Friday? Nothing crazy, no strings. Just some company from a pretty lady for a meal we’d both be eating anyway.”

I laughed and was surprised to find I didn’t want to say no.

“Sure. I think I can make that work.” I smiled and rolled my eyes when Cheney’s bouncing back by the register told me my face had already given away her success. Gavin turned to look and chuckled himself, waving, which she returned with an insufferable smile.

“Well, here.” Gavin pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it to me after pulling up the right screen. “Just put your number in here and I’ll give you a call tomorrow to figure out timing.”

I typed in my phone number, adding “Annie” to the contact name before handing it back.

“Great. It was nice to meet you, Annie.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Gavin. Try not to look too smug when you leave? She’s already going to be a pain in the ass about this as it is.”

“I’ll do my best,” he laughed, sliding his phone back into his pocket and turning toward the door.

“Thanks, again, Mrs. Stevens,” he hollered back toward the open storeroom door with a wave, and I saw Ruth pop her head out for a moment to return it, hand over the receiver on the office phone.

Cheney skipped over to meet me after the door shut behind Gavin, fluttering her eyelashes in mocking flirtation.

“Oh, my. Does someone have a date?”

“Shut up, Cheney. I can’t believe you did that!” I shoved her gently as she exploded into giggles. I hiked the strap of my purse higher on my shoulder, waiting for her to hurry up with her gloating so we could go have lunch already and I could get back to Nan. She wiped tears of laughter from under her eyes but quickly flashed to a deep frown when I reminded her that if I even ended up going to dinner, that was where it would end.

“Oh, why?” she pouted.

“Because of Nan! Have you not been listening? I still haven’t figured out a long-term solution for me getting a job and how that’s going to work with her appointments and all that. I don’t have time for dating right now. I don’t even know why I said yes to begin with.”

Her smile returned with my last sentence, “Because he’s cute and charming and that’s good for you! Come on, Ann. You need a little fun in your life. I can’t be around all the time,” she swept her hair back in full diva glory and walked back to the office to retrieve her purse.

“You, know,” I called after her, “if this works out, I’ll just have one more reason to stay.”

Cheney walked out of the room with the shocked face of someone who’d just been had. I knew the likelihood of me actually being interested in someone enough to make life-changing decisions for was slim to none, but payback was payback and the look she had as her error registered was so very sweet.

 

The House of Broken Angels: A Book Review

As I have jumped head first into this whole “being a serious writer” thing, I’ve exposed myself to pretty incredible literature that I can’t believe I’ve been missing. I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a decades-old habit to only read old classics, or best sellers long after they’ve lost their new book luster. I think I had some twisted sense of responsibility to catch up somehow with all the books I’d missed before I read the new stuff. Like that makes sense, or is even remotely achievable. Along with featuring new publications in my book reviews, I’ve been listening to several podcasts about the current goings-on in the literary world and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been starving myself. Yes, the classic greats will always be great, but there are some truly incredible authors living right now, publishing right now, creating right now, that are simply too good to miss.

That is my disclaimer and poor excuse for never having read anything by Luis Alberto Urrea until now. Holy cow, can this dude write. I mean, it says “Pulitzer Prize Finalist” next to his name on the cover, so I should have known, but sometimes there’s a certain…pretentiousness in books with that honor…or books even close to that honor. There was nothing pretentious about this book. The House of Broken Angels is humble even in its striking beauty.

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The story spans two days with the De La Cruz family as they come together for a final birthday celebration for the ailing grand patriarch Big Angel. A week before the party, his mother passes away at nearly a hundred years old sweeping the family up in a blur of reminiscing and dreaming of what the future holds.The partitions between the aging generation that made their way to America from Mexico in their youth and the younger ones who barely speak Spanish are blurred, as the De La Cruz house bulges with familia and theatrics of emotion.

A slow read, its lingering sentences draw you to read them again just to bask in their light. This is a book you read a bit at a time, letting each moment sink in before you continue. The structure reminds me of music composition. The first third of the book serves as an overture, explaining the scope of the story, introducing themes and revealing backstories of the many players. You are then submerged in a dance of perspectives as you jump from character to character, what they see and experience in the forty-eight-hour period. You fall in love with their individualities, their simple pleasures and jagged pains, known, but not acknowledged by the others.

I felt entirely immersed in the culture of this family, each person so distinct but part of a powerful whole that leapt from the page. I stopped reading at one point and announced to my husband, “This man needs to write a screenplay.” The dialogue and simple painting of the picture are so pure and perfect I couldn’t help but make small exclamations of pleasure, adoring the very act of reading his work.

This is not what I would call an easy book, but it’s not hard either. The language is easy, the story is a meandering family fable with sharp gut-checking moments when a revelation hits true north. A stunning story that deserves to be savored for every delicious word. Luckily, it’s written in bite-sized portions, easily consumed in spare moments, but the words will follow you off the page to percolate through your mind long after closing the book.

As fate would have it, while I was reading The House of Broken Angels, I listened to another podcast, not literary-related, yet they referenced and quoted Urrea’s book The Devil’s Highway as they spoke about the history of border control and immigration from Mexico. Just the small bits they read were enough to prove that this guy is not a one-hit wonder. I will be reading as much of Urrea’s writing as I can get my hands on.

Children of Blood and Bone: A BONUS Book Review

This is a total indulgence, but I can’t help but talk about this book. It wasn’t what you guys voted for this month – that review is coming up next week – but after all the buzz, I couldn’t wait to read this one! I could hardly put it down during Spring Break, and I haven’t really shut up about it since. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut novel and the first of the Young Adult trilogy, The Legacy of Orisha. It’s a fantasy novel inspired by West African culture, so it combines the familiar feeling of your favorite quest sagas with a refreshing new look at magic and how it works in this intricately created world.

Adeyemi is an incredible talent with deep wisdom and clarity that she steeps into every page. The symbolism is stunning and powerful and the characters are a force to be reckoned with. Perfectly flawed and wonderfully redeemable, you are cheering for these people not just because you fall in love with them, but because you come to care so deeply about their success. Each has their own motives and unique personalities that create a dynamic that feeds the fire from the first page.

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A quick summary: Magic has been dead in the land of Orisha since Zélie Adebola was six. Her mother was part of the magi, a people gifted with a variety of powers from the Gods, but when a vengeful king eradicates them, the whisper of magic fades into nothing.

Now a young woman with a knack for finding trouble, Zélie discovers a way to bring magic back to Orisha. She races against the threat of the King, and his dutiful Crown Prince to restore power to her people. With the help of her brother and a rogue princess, perhaps her deepest desire is finally attainable.

I went into this book expecting it to be decent, but how could it possibly live up to the hype? It far surpassed my expectations, and dare I say…this is the best YA I’ve read since Harry Potter.

You can watch the book trailer here. You can follow Adeyemi on Twitter @tomi_adeyemi and I highly recommend you do. She couldn’t be more charmingly enthusiastic about how her book is being received. There may or may not be a video of her dancing in a wombat suit when Children of Blood and Bone hit number one of the New York Times Best Sellers List…

Please check it out. I’m reluctant to even share that Fox has already bought the film rights because this is something that needs to be read. Adeyemi has told a story that needs to be heard with every bit of richness she brings to the page.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Favorite Books: A Wrinkle in Time

I recently took a rare vacation and spent four days with my husband and his family in an A-frame cabin tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca mountains. Beautiful scenery and great company made for a fabulous trip full of adventures, bruises, and lots of reading tucked in bed with my three-year-old sprawled out between my husband and me after long days spent playing in the snow.

Y’all, I went skiing. I actually went snowboarding, too…except that’s generous. I tried snowboarding. Nope, let me try again: I failed to snowboard. I don’t know how people manage that skill. I never even got both feet strapped in…even after a 90-minute class. I managed about six feet worth of sliding prior to falling at my very best and barely stood up without toppling at my worst. It was not for me. Apparently, skiing is my snowy weather sport. It’s much more enjoyable to slide down a mountain with boards strapped to your feet when you can actually manage to steer and stop yourself. No, really. Steering and stopping are the best. All hail Steering and Stopping, forever and ever, amen.

We drove the nine hours to the cabin, so I had an abundance of reading time, which is my favorite part of traveling! As I’m sure you’ve heard, the film adaptation of the long-beloved middle-grade novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, was released last week. I’ve been itching for a re-read because it had been ages since my original copy wore out and had to be replaced. My new copy only got me about halfway to New Mexico between pit stops and assisting the threenager with her back seat entertainment, but I required more than a few nudges from my husband to pull me out of that sense-less reader cocoon where you honestly can’t hear the whining for another package of fruit snacks.

I’m hearing great things about the adaptation, and I’m looking forward to a date night with my son to go see it. Like most adaptations, I understand that it deviates from the book to some degree. The trailers alone, show the difference in how some of the main characters look, but the nature of the book allows, or even nurtures, this kind of change.

But enough about the movie, let’s talk about the book!

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I’ll estimate that I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was about ten or eleven. It was assigned reading at my school, something I generally saw as a treat. I loved being introduced to new literature and talking about it with all my friends. Books were not common conversation fodder for pre-teens at the time, and while I was fortunate to have some close friends as bookish, if not more so than I, it was always exciting to have more people to talk books with. In good company with The Hatchet by Gary Paulson and The Giver by Lois Lowry, A Wrinkle in Time was a fast favorite of the grade. It’s the kind of book that encourages even the most reluctant readers into a world of imagination.

L’Engle tells the story of Meg Murry, her brilliant little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin with the perfect balance of description and ample room for the reader to invent and imagine. She explains just enough of theoretical physics to make the children’s mode of transportation believable without losing the magic of the adventure. The Murry children and Calvin follow a most wonderfully quirky stranger and her two companions on a quest to find the Murry’s missing father and maybe save the universe along the way. With themes ranging from overcoming “otherness” and the power of faith, this 1963 winner of the Newbery Medal is still very much applicable to today’s trials. Still fresh and exciting, with nary a dull moment, if you’ve never read this gem of a book, please allow me to help with that. The passions, fears, struggles, and triumphs of these rich little characters are sure to spark recognition in the parts of you where those same traits dwell.

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High on my list of forever favorites, this book was my first elevated look at fantasy, stepping up from the fairy tales of childhood with clear morals and virtues into something a little more mature. I’d recommend it to readers ten and up. There’s some elevated thinking in this book that may be a bit confusing for the younger reader. If you’ve read it before, but didn’t realize it was the first in a series (like I didn’t, until many years later), make sure to check out the rest in the Time Quintet: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the book: “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

Happy reading, friends.

A Story Spoken: Chapter Three

It’s been raining like crazy for weeks around here, and now the storm is hitting Annie’s hometown. This month, we learn that she’s been hiding something from Nan. What kind of secret would Annie keep from her beloved grandmother, and will Cheney convince her to fess up?

If you haven’t read the first two chapters of my serial or need a refresher before you continue, you can read Chapter One here and Chapter Two here.

 

A rhythmic “shave and a haircut” knock rattled the front door to the apartment. Closing a bookmark into the novel I’d been reading, I glanced up at Nan’s old mantle clock. It was balanced somewhat precariously on the two by fours Mom had nailed together and mounted on the wall years before so we had a place to hang our Christmas stockings. A shelf would have worked fine, but I guess that hadn’t occurred to her at the time. If she had an explanation, I didn’t recall ever hearing it. Just another mystery quirk of hers I’d never be able to ask about.

I crossed the room, tapping the last two beats back to Cheney before opening the door.

“You’re early.” I smiled. It was getting easier, but guilt always tagged along quietly behind and I honestly couldn’t sort out which was right: being able to smile again, or keeping myself from it.

“Yeah, sorry,” Cheney huffed a bit as she lifted a box from the ground, “I wanted to go over putting the mailers together before we left if that’s cool?” She set the box of paper and envelopes down on the kitchen table with a loud thump that made the occupants of the lazy susan centerpiece rattle.

“Oh, yeah. I forgot you were dropping those off.”

Cheney looked up with concern, “You’re still okay with helping out with this, right?”

“Yeah! No, I just forgot. That’s all. I’m happy to help.” Another potentially disloyal smile.

“Oh, good,” Cheney sighed and opened the box to reveal the neatly stacked fliers for her mother’s boutique. “I’m already mad at myself for not just ordering the glossy postcard mailers. They were a little more expensive, but stuffing envelopes is such a pain in the ass. Thrifty is not always a good thing.”

“It’s not a big deal. I’m not sleeping much anyway. If I’m going to binge on TV late into the night, I might as well be productive while I’m doing it.”

“Have you seen that new true crime thing about the family in Minnesota that just vanished? Trent and I watched it the other night and it gave me nightmares!”

“I don’t know why you do that to yourself,” I couldn’t help but laugh at the obvious residual distress on her face. “Take a break from the murders and missing person crap before you really freak yourself out.”

“You’re probably right,” Cheney sighed, “We’re just lucky to agree on anything at all, much less what to watch on Netflix.”

I helped Cheney empty the box, neatly stacking the fliers, envelopes, and stamps in an assembly line across the table.

“You guys still having a rough time?” While I knew they weighed heavily on her mind, Cheney’s problems were mundane enough to be a break from my own. It was easier to help her sort through dating problems than it was to cope with my grief and the ever-expanding effort of taking care of Nan.

“A rough time?” Cheney scoffed, “Yeah, you could say that. I don’t think he sees it that way, but I’m about through.”

“Really?” I couldn’t hide my surprise. Two months before, Cheney was talking about rings and babies, ready to brave the meticulous and overbearing force that was her mother and plan a wedding.

“I just…,” she paused, visibly searching for the right words, “He’s a nice guy, Annie, he really, really is. I just don’t think I love him. I know I thought I did, but the longer we’ve been at this thing, the more I’m realizing that I might’ve gotten ahead of myself. He’s a solid guy, but not always the most compassionate, and I don’t really feel like hand-holding him through kindness my whole life. I want someone who cares if they hurt my feelings and cares if I hurt his.”

“He doesn’t care if you hurt his feelings?”

“Well, he cares, I guess. I shouldn’t have put it that way. He’s just so mellow that I can’t tell how he’s feeling most of the time. That’s harder than I thought. I don’t know where I stand with him and even when I’ve tried to talk to him about it, it’s more of the same! No reaction that shows me he even understands what I’m worried about.”

“That sucks, hon. I’m sorry.” I was quiet, letting her talk through what was bouncing around her head, knowing that she just needed the ear and not the advice.

Cheney trailed off, finishing her story and went through the steps of how they wanted the flyers mailed out. Cheney’s mom, Ruth, owned a small shop downtown and they sold everything from ruffled mommy-daughter outfits to embroidered tea towels. The Hummingbird Boutique was also known for having the best consignment furniture around and Ruth and Cheney were helping to sell the excess furniture we had after moving Nan in with me full-time. Most everything we’d given them had sold, but there was a small secretary table that was pretty beat up and hadn’t moved yet. Cheney had asked if I wanted to keep it on the floor for another week, but I wanted to take another look at it to see if it would fit in my room to use as a writing desk.

“Ready to go?” Cheney picked her purse up and started heading for the door, “Oh, crap it’s raining. Do you have an umbrella? I had to park pretty far down.”

“Uh, yeah there should be one hanging by the mail basket. I’m gonna let Nan know I’m leaving real quick.”

I knocked quietly on Nan’s door, pushing my arms through the worn denim sleeves of my favorite jacket while I waited for an answer. I poked my head in when I heard her call. She was lying on her bed, an old crocheted blanket loud with burnt seventies orange draped across her lap. She had pulled her headphones off one ear to hear me better.

“I’m headed out with Cheney. We’re going to run up to The Hummingbird and probably grab some lunch on the way back. Do you want anything?”

“No, that’s okay, honey. I can warm up some soup from last night.”

“Are you sure?” Nan tended to be overconfident with her ability to feed herself without at least some assistance, “I don’t mind bringing you something. That way you won’t have to mess with the microwave.”

I’d put raised stickers on certain buttons for her to feel her way around if I wasn’t home. She just needed to count how many thirty-second increments she needed for whatever needed heating up and then press start. Still too scared to leave her alone for too long so soon after the accident, I’d been making ends meet with the checks from renting Nan’s house out and odd jobs like stuffing envelopes for Cheney. I knew I’d have to find a steady job soon, but Nan wasn’t ready yet.

“I’m fine. Don’t fuss over me,” Nan grumbled. She didn’t wait for my answer. She replaced the headphones and pressed play on her audiobook.

Somehow knowing I hadn’t left yet, she waved her hand, shooing me away, “Go on, now. Have fun. Bye!”

I stepped into the room and pressed a quick kiss on her cheek. She smiled, patted the hand I’d rested on her knee as I leaned over her, and gently pushed me away.

“Bye, Nan.”

When I returned to the living room, Cheney was sitting on the edge of the couch reading something. She looked up, and, upon seeing her expression, I knew what she’d found.

“What the hell, Annie?” Cheney lifted the letter with an angry shrug, “When were you going to tell me about this?”

“There’s nothing to tell. I can’t go,” I lifted my purse off the hook by the door, sweeping the strap over my head in one fluid, practiced motion of a woman who didn’t have a lot of free time, “Come on. I want to get back by one.”

Cheney wasn’t buying it, “Nice try,” She shut the door again when I started to open it.

“Shhh!” I glanced back toward Nan’s room, “Let’s talk about it in the car.”

Cheney’s face flushed and her frown deepened, “You haven’t even told Nan?” she yelled the whisper in a huff, pursing her lips, but she followed me as I drug her through the front door and down the stairs to the parking lot.

“Annie!”

“No!” I turned to her as I walked through the rain, my shoulders lifted to my ears as the chilly raindrops dripped down my neck. Cheney had the letter in one hand and my umbrella in the other, but, in her frustration, she’d forgotten to open it.

“No, I haven’t told her. And why would I? She’ll want me to go, and when I explain why I can’t she’ll just get pissed. It won’t help anything. We’ll both just end up feeling guilty and shitty when it’s said and done,” I shrugged, turning away from her again, “I didn’t see the point.”

We’d reached Cheney’s hand-me-down truck she’d bought from her dad when we graduated from high school, but even when I rested my hand on the handle, waiting for her to unlock the door, she just stared at me, raindrops dripping from the tip of her nose.

“Cheney, get in the truck. It’s pouring out here!” She snapped out of it long enough to get us from the parking lot to the main road, windshield wipers screeching with each swipe, before she started in on me again.

“I can’t believe you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Annie, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve wanted to be a writer. You wanted to get out of this town, head to a big city somewhere and write! Now you finally have a chance and you just aren’t going to go?”

“It’s just an internship,” I gazed out the window, switching my focus from the raindrops to the traffic beyond them.

“At a New York City publishing house!”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.”

“Hey!” I turned to face her then, anger getting the better of me, “You think I don’t know that it’s an amazing opportunity? I agonized over sending my application for that internship for months!”

“I know! That’s why I don’t…”

“Cheney! My mom died! She’s gone. Nan is blind and not getting any younger. Someone has to take care of her, and I’m the only one left. It fucking sucks. I know that, but there is no way that I can just pack up and leave after everything that’s happened. It’s just not in the stars anymore.”

“But…,”

“Stop! Please, Cheney. There’s nothing else to talk about.”

She wasn’t looking at me, eyes still focused on the road, but she clapped her mouth shut. We rode the rest of the way to the boutique in silence, but when she pulled into a parking spot and threw the truck into park, she unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to face me.

“Look, I’m sorry. I know that this has been horrible for you. Losing your mom, taking care of Nan. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through,” she looked down at the now crumpled letter in her hand, and lifted it up to my face, “but this is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to you, and I can’t stand to see you give it up.”

I took the letter and looked at it, ignoring the burning threat of tears.

“It says you have until September 1st to formally accept. You still have a few weeks. Please, will you please just think about it some more? At least don’t make up your mind until you have to.”

I knew there wasn’t anything else to think about. I couldn’t imagine how I could afford to put Nan into a home even if she agreed to go, which she never would. I couldn’t abandon her. She was all I had left of Mom, and I know she felt the same about me. We’d lost her. We couldn’t lose each other, too.

“I’ll think about it.”

Cheney sighed with relief and beamed at me, satisfied that she had achieved what she’d set out to, and I would now magically come around somehow.

“But, please,” I stopped her when she turned to get out of the truck, “don’t tell Nan.”

She nodded and we ran to the door, squished together under my umbrella, as I shoved the letter deep into my pocket and away from my mind.