All good things to those who wait . . .

Hello everyone and Happy Mother’s Day!

“Wait, who is that,” you ask?  Ani who?  Ani-the-seemingly-nice-author-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth-and-left-us-with-no-story? That bitch! Yep, it’s me.  Really me and not the zombie-like creature that I practically became for quite a while. A hideously long while. I know it has been forever since I have posted here and, after you yell at me some more, I hope you say “ok, fine, welcome back! We sort of missed you, too.” Because I really missed you . . . And because I think my news will make you happy.

Half-jokes aside, I wanted to thank every single one of you who dropped me a line during this absence, and checked in on me, Aiden, and Elisa.  All your messages meant a lot to me during a very hard personal time.  I won’t bore you or waste your time with the gory details (nor do I really want to revisit them) but I promise I had good reasons, which kept piling up in what appeared to be some sick joke.  I’ll be honest (and really embarrassed) to admit that I gave up on quite a few things, and dreams—like writing is for me—have a way of being the first ones to go.  And the most painful ones to hold on to. I don’t know why that is, but I now know how to get past it: with friends and family and actually learning to accept some goddamn help! It sounds cheesy and simple but it’s the truth. So slowly but surely, things got better. A lot better! And now, I know what to do next time the universe plots a merciless shitstorm on me or anyone I love. :-)  Some day, I may even write about it.  But—as Elisa would say—not today.  Today is only about happy news! And—aside from my family—I can’t imagine anyone else who would be as excited about this as you will be.  Drumroll please . . .

THIRTY NIGHTS HAS FOUND ITS HOME!  Yep, that’s right!!!!  After months of editing and revising, preparing things like “book jackets,” writing synopses (eek!), taking author photos (double eek!), dealing with submissions, surviving rejections, rejoicing from offers, and learning about terms like “trade edition rights,” I have a deal for its publication with a great U.S. publisher and an awesome, kick-ass editor that loves Elisa and Aiden as much as I do (and that’s a lot!).  Although I can’t share a lot of these details until we get closer to publication date (currently slated for Fall 2015!!) I’m very happy with it. Actually, “happy” does not begin to describe it! In the words of Elizabeth Bennet, it’s “incandescently happy.” I feel like it’s the reward, the gratitude, and the joy for everything that happened this past  year and a reminder to never, ever, ever give up on your dreams! Take breaks from them, have some distance when they get painful, but keep writing until your little fingers fall on that keyboard from typing, ignore all the naysayers, especially yourself, and listen only to those who see your potential!!  Because they are right! And trust me, some day, after rock-bottom, your dream happens! Not at all the way you thought it would (at least not for me) but it does come!!  So at the risk of sounding like the movie “Pretty Woman,”  keep on dreaming!! :-)

NOW, the fun details… at least those that I can share.  1) The picture below is just for fun, we don’t know what the cover will look like yet. :-)  2) Yes, my new pen name is “Ani Keating” (Surnois is really hard to spell… my fault, I thought I was being clever but why should any reader have to scratch their heads to find me?); 3) The published novel will involve scenes, dates and chapters you have not seen before, some of my secret twists and turns that I had always envisioned and hoped I could share with you  but thought I’d never get a chance to (plus, if people will buy copies, I want them to get something new too :-)); 4) But it will be a bit shorter—those things you hear about word count maximums, etc.—they are all true.  When the book goes to print, there is a huge cost to publishers so some things (as much as it wrenches my heart right out of my chest) have to come out.  But they will be on my website after publication, so you’ll have lots and lots of materials to play with; 5) This novel—the story I had always wanted to tell—is the first of a series.  Yep, a series.  “The American Beauty” Series—I gotta admit, I have a soft spot for that name; 6) I am now a blubbering mess.

And LAST BUT NOT LEAST, because you have been so so so so so so  patient, supportive, enthusiastic, and integral for this story to come to life—and the best readership  I could have hoped for—here is a snippet from Thirty Nights you have not read before.  I cannot post a lot of text now that it will be published but I’m hoping that just a little to say “thank you” will be okay.  And an extra bonus—an Aiden POV.  This is the chapter that a lot of you have asked for: the coffee shop scene.  I hope you enjoy both of them and are as excited about this as I am.  I can’t wait for all of you to finally hold the book in your hands, and who knows . . . maybe meet some of you too!!

In the meantime, I’ll be around. Although 30N and 90D material will be limited due to contract restrictions, I will have new things for you, new stories, and of course, the trials and tribulations of publication.  Thank you for following me in this journey every step of the way, even during my absence, and thank you for the faith and loyalty you have given to me and my story!!  Here it starts!!

American Beauty Coming Soon

 

THIRTY NIGHTS EXCERPT

*Pesky legalese disclaimer: this portion is provided for entertainment purposes only. It may change, alter, or not appear in the published version.  It is copyrighted material that may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, or stored in any way without the express written permission of the author and publisher.*

“What do you want?” I whisper, fixing my eyes on his so I miss nothing.

They still—the turquoise more translucent than ever. His lips lift into the first full smile today. “I want more, Elisa.  A lot more . . . I want to take you out to concerts. Fall asleep with my nose in your hair.” He runs his fingers through my tangles. “Kiss you in broad daylight in the middle of the Rose Garden, not caring who is around us.”

All the things he cannot have.

He tips my face up so I can look at him. “I want to be your new home.”

For a long moment, I can’t speak. And that’s good. Because the only thing I want to say is I love you.

Instead, I kiss him hard. He groans and responds so forcefully that we fall back on the bed, our bodies skating across the sheets to the very edge. His hand clamps around my jaw—like it did on our first night.

“I don’t want the fantasy anymore,” he says. “I want the real girl.”

His mouth locks with mine then, our tongues twining with no more space for other words. Or even air. He grips the collar of my T-shirt and rips it off. Before my gasp leaves my lips, he shreds my knickers. His lips start a scorching path down my throat, along my collarbones, to my shoulder, closing around my left nipple. He breathes on it once and tugs gently. It stands at attention, arching the rest of my body off the bed.

Mmm . . . still perfect,” he moans, his breath making me hiss. He switches between tongue, teeth, and lips in a sucking, nibbling, kissing pattern. As my belly tightens in a familiar, sharp ache, I grasp what he is doing. He is retracing our first time, with perfect, infallible detail.

And like the first time, my body bows to him down to my last cell. But unlike then, now I move with him. In a togetherness we haven’t had before.

I wrap my legs around his waist, soldering him to me. His mouth and tongue travel to my other nipple, then lower—circling my belly button, nipping at my waist, sucking at my hip. With each kiss, his fingers skim around my ankle, along the calf, inside my thigh until they meet his lips on the relentless pulse beating between my legs. His mouth wraps around me in the same move as his fingers slide inside.

I moan a garbled version of Aiden, gripping his hair and pushing myself into his mouth.

“Open up,” he orders as he sucks hard. He kicks my legs apart as far as they will go. “I want to taste you . . . All of you . . . I wanted to do this since I first tasted your candy . . . That’s when I knew it was you . . . Ah, you taste better than your candy, baby. Better than Baci. Better than anything.” His tongue laps away in circles, jolts, dips, and flicks. Exactly as then. Yet new.

Everything burns and shivers at the same time. I hold onto his hair like I might drown if he lets go. He doesn’t. Another suck, another lick. His fingers thrust one more time, two, three. I’m suspended for a timeless moment—then I soar and vanish. Reincarnated back into that first night of wakefulness.

mia-maid-rose_0

A faint gust of air wafts over my face, then a distant chuckle, a far-away sigh. I open my eyes and Aiden’s face is here.

“Hey,” he whispers, smiling. He has taken off his clothes, his skin blazing against mine.

“Hey,” I breathe, expecting his kiss and my citrusy residue on his lips. I kiss him until all I can taste is his fiery cinnamon flavor.

“I wish I could explain how this feels for me,” he sighs, raining kisses on my nose, my eyelids, my cheeks. “Always like the first time”—he kisses my forehead—“And always better.”

“It’s like that for me, too,” I whisper, wrapping my legs around him.

Eye-to-eye, he slides inside me. My body knows him now and grips his every inch. Our hips circle and roll together. He lifts my hips up until my toes touch the mattress above my head. He pins them there and thrusts hard inside me. My cries mingle with his rough breathing. Aiden. Baby. Aiden. Elisa.

His rhythm picks up—hard, fast, and blinding. I absorb all his blows, and crave more. On every thrust, my insides close around him with precision. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

I explode violently, crying out his name. Just like then. Just like always.

©2015 Ani Keating; Ani Surnois

AIDEN’S NIGHTS

Chapter 5

Paradox

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine . . .

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life . . .

We will become part of each other. . .

The United States Marine Creed

Saturday morning at precisely 9:42, Benson pulls into the Reed East Parking lot by the Chemistry building, as close to Dalton’s lab as possible.

“We’re here, Sir,” he says.

Here. Yes, here. What the fuck am I doing here? Didn’t I promise myself not to sully the air Elisa Snow breathes?

I stare out of the Rover’s window as though the answer will materialize there. An unnecessary, empty action. I already know very well what I’m doing here. I am further solidifying my standing at the top of The World’s Most Obsessive and Dangerous Suitors. No, that’s not the right word. I’m not a suitor, nor should I be. A stalker—that’s better. An obsessive and dangerous stalker. Who can’t forget anything.

“School is out so the campus should be all empty,” continues Benson. “And I’ll follow from a distance.”

I roll down the window—another unnecessary, empty action—but its whirling noise fills the air with a sound other than Benson’s words. A sound other than the disease I’m dragging into this misty spring morning. Into an innocent life. Now that I know who Elisa Snow is, now that I’ve had time to process what She means, all fire has left me. No, not really . . . it has just made room for reason. For conscience.

“She’ll be safe, Sir,” Benson persists.

His words—low, in his deep drawl—splinter the air. Instead of assuring me, I feel something similar to the sharp cadence of a rifle being loaded. A looming sense of an irreversible shot in the air that forever changes the war. The trouble in this case is that I don’t hold the weapon; I am the weapon. Loaded to the brim with bullets. She only has to choose where to aim me. My horror is that like any rifle, I could hurt my owner just as well as my enemy. And like any rifle, I no longer seem to have a will of my own. I am only as good as the soft hands that wield me. Maybe I’ll be lucky and She will point me to whatever is haunting her so I can end it. Or maybe, luck will be on her side and She won’t pick me up at all. But there is a third option— the bloodiest one—that She will pick me up and aim me at herself.

Of the three options, the one I should want is the second: that She will stay away from me, perhaps after using me for Option 1. But, deadly as I am, the option I dread as much as I covet is the last. The one where I claim her as mine once and for all. This is my Catch 22: there is no middle ground for me. No alternative where She can just hold me without firing. That’s the problem with loaded weapons: we all aim at something.

A thought flickers once. Maybe there is an Option 4: She can unload the rifle. I snort. No darling, this rifle is incapable of being unloaded. It has held a bullet in its chamber since it was born.

“Sir?” Benson asks, a bit more forcefully this time. “Should we go back?”

That does it. No! I don’t want to go back. I want to see Her. That’s why I am here—first and foremost. To see her. Not her image in my memory. Not her fantasy in my sleep. Her. And to finally find out what is haunting her; what She keeps locked away from the world, away from my intrusive search . . . Abruptly, I feel lighter.

“All right, I’m going,” I say, opening my door. “Follow us but not too close. “

“Where will you take her?”

“Wherever she wants.” I slam the door and race down the path to the Chemistry building, fighting a sudden urge to sprint. Even though Elisa Snow has no idea I am here, suddenly I feel late. 32 years late.

I yank open the double doors with a strange, enervating energy and take the stairs to Dalton’s office two at a time. The office is closed, the lights off.   But down the hall, his lab is open, buzzing with an ominous hissing crackle that does not sound healthy for a place chock-full of chemicals. Fuck! What if She is here early and is in danger? I start sprinting to the lab before I realize that She knows more about Chemistry than I. Flying past the glass-pane windows, I try to assess the situation. I marshal all my Marine Corps knowledge for dealing with chemical weapons and burst through the lab doors, scanning the area corner to corner. Thank the good Lord! She is not here. Instead, a slight boy with tar-black hair sticking out in every direction is standing over a white-tiled workstation, mumbling to himself in triplicate.

“Crap, crap, crap. No, no, no. Shush! Shush! Shush! Be good, Beaker, be good. Do not break. Do not break. Ugh, Snow will kill me this time.” He is fidgeting with some crucible tongs in one hand and forceps in the other.

Jesus Christ! This must be her replacement. Fuck me—my grant is wasted if this fucknut is going to oversee the testing stage. Something hisses again and he jumps back like the beaker is about to bite him. I want to announce myself but this kid does not look like he can handle the strain of an introduction right now. Suddenly, he lurches forward and turns off the burner under the beaker. The hissing stops.

“There! Nice beaker. Nice beaker,” he whispers.

I clear my throat quietly to get his attention. He yelps and whirls around, eyes as wide as his goggles. But when he sees me, he takes a deep breath, his knees buckle, and he grips the counter. I have to repress a laugh when I realize he was worried that I was Elisa Snow. The idea that, to this kid, She is scarier than I am is ludicrous.

“Hello,” he says, clearly grateful that he will live for another few seconds.

“Pardon the interruption. Is this a safe time?” I ask, in case he has something else brewing that may explode and blow us all into smithereens.

“Oh, yeah, yeah. I unplugged the Bunsen. Sorry. I’m . . . well . . . ah . . . new . . . here. I mean I’m a second-year, but new with Dalton and Snow.   Real coup to train with them, ya know. 72 people applied. Still . . . ah—umm—who are you?” he rattles off in one short, nervous breath.

Replacing Elisa Snow as Dalton’s Chief Research Assistant must be quite a feat. Although I have no claim to her whatsoever, I feel a strong sense of pride.

“I’m Aiden Hale,” I say, stepping inside the lab. “I . . . ah . . . I’m looking for Ms. Snow.” Apparently, Elisa Snow makes all men stutter.

Fucknuts looks like he cannot imagine why any man in his right mind would walk around looking for Ms. Snow voluntarily.   His eyes dart to the clock on the wall.

“She should be here any minute. She’s never late. I’m running the experiment today so she should have time,” he says, starting to resemble very much the green goop in the beaker. He nods awkwardly once and takes off his goggles. He puts on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and starts scrubbing the beaker vigorously.

At his intense focus, I feel the need to pace. The energy that was building in my blood has seeped in my brain, in my lungs. I look around the lab to distract myself from my ridiculous physical reaction to the mere anticipation of her. Instantly, I recognize what must be her desk. It’s spotless. The polished surface reflects the fluorescents. A large collection of pens bursts like a bouquet from a small crystal vase. Most of them have multi-colored feathers glued on top, like quills.

I inch closer to her desk, craving even this slight voyeurism into her world. If Fucknuts wasn’t here, I’d open the drawers. As it is, the eidetic beast inhales everything in double time. At the corner of the desk is a spray bottle labeled “Rose-Scented Ethanol.” Next to it, a small, clear glass jar of white cream, labeled “Shea Olive You.” It takes me a moment to realize it’s a pun. Good God, She makes her own cosmetics! From the feel of her hand, they work. On the shelf above the desk is a solved twelve-sided Rubik’s Cube because clearly a six-sided one would be too easy.

“Ah, here she is!” Fucknuts cries out.

I turn around. And there She is indeed!

Standing by the lab door, staring at me. On cue, the beast stops ravaging, kneels, and bows. Elisa’s silence floods every neuron until every space between all and nothing is filled with her alone. The sensation is extraordinary. Everything inside at peace and everything outside at war. Mind, heart, maybe even soul—quiet. Body, blood, skin—aflame.

The vibrant purple of her eyes twinkles with the same wonder as it did at her presentation but her lashes don’t release their trademark melancholy for a second. Her hair is straight today. Like a sigil of black satin. I like her natural waves better but that’s not saying much. It’s like comparing one star to another and preferring the one to the left because it’s on the side of your heart.

Her clothes cling to her closely, not that I blame them. She is wearing a light blue sweater and dark jeans. Modern clothes seem out of place on her. Like Snow White or Elizabeth Bennett wearing something so common as denim. It is not until this thought occurs to me that I realize how truly unusual She is. Here is the most ubiquitous of all fabrics, looking redundant.   Every article of clothing on her is redundant, Private Dick delivers his verdict. Apparently, he has noticed her too and is very much pissed at my Diesels. Clearly, denim is unpopular this morning.

Elisa is still standing by the door, examining me. For the first time, I have enough presence of mind around her to notice the scientist in her eyes. They are sharp and focused, with a laser quality as if they look beyond skin, to my very cells and molecules. She assesses me like I am the cause of whatever theory She is forming.   Strangely, I am unwilling to let her draw a conclusion yet. Not on so little. I step towards her, trying to look normal.

“Hello again, Ms. Snow.” As I address her, I notice a strange phenomenon. I want to call her Elisa. Not just to say her name in vacuum, but to hear her respond to it.

“Good morning, Mr. Hale. This is a surprise,” she chimes but I am distracted but yet another epiphany. Apparently, I want her to say my name, too. Lunacy all around!

“Yes, it is,” I mutter, except my “surprise” has nothing to do with showing up in this lab. In fact, of all the revelations where Elisa is involved, my presence here is the least surprising and the most expected.

“Do you have any additional questions about my project?”

A reasonable assumption. But utterly wrong. Still, I can’t blame her for not guessing ‘are you here because you cannot sleep at night, because I am usurping your every thought, because I own you in parts of yourself you did not know you could be owned, because I will rule you for as long as you live and there is nothing you can do about it?’

“Not as such,” I answer. “But I’d like to speak with you for a few moments. I understand from your assistant that your schedule is flexible.”

“Sure. Let me just leave a note for Professor Dalton and show Eric the timer.”

I smile at her easy “yes” to me. With the way She resisted my questions at her presentation, I was expecting at least a military-length interrogation before She gave a single answer.

She glides to Dalton’s office and starts writing a Post-it note. Eric has blanched completely, knowing that She is going after him next. Sure enough, She turns around and smiles at him. He tries to smile back but it looks like he has a toothache. Good God, I hope I don’t look like that when I smile at her.

“Did you burn the protein?” She asks him quietly. Her gentle manners are wasted on Eric who grips the station desk with both hands for support.

“H-h-h-how did you know?” he manages.

Good question. How did She know? The poor bastard scrubbed that beaker spotless.

“Well, the lab usually smells like ethanol, with a trace of peppermint or cinnamon. Today, there’s no peppermint or cinnamon, but there is more alcohol and a hint of carbon dioxide. That makes me think that you burned the protein and disinfected the beaker with extra ethanol, at least four times,” She whispers as if She is lullabying him to sleep. I suspect She is trying not to embarrass him in front of me.

Eric has forgotten to speak English altogether and just stares at her, mouth open. She laughs with a beautiful, Christmassy sound.

“Don’t worry. I burned mine when I first started, too. Here, you must remember to use this…” She is off in geek land, explaining to Eric how to use a specialized chronometer. Eric writes it all down but every few words or so, he gets lost on her face. Yes, buddy, I know. Brutal, isn’t it?

She gives him a last instruction, laughing and saying, “I’ve got my ion you.”

Her pun is lost on Eric who is staring at her without blinking. She pats him on the shoulder – Fucknuts gets a touch! – and dances towards me. Finally!

I open the lab door, relieved that I can move slightly better than Eric. She steps out with a smile playing on her lips. Those lips. I look away from her face. To my great misfortune, that’s my first mistake because my eyes roam over her back to her ass.

I realize now that I was holding it together quite well. Light-years better than Eric Fucknuts, for example. But this ass ended it all and catapulted me galaxies behind beaker boy. It’s an inverted heart with a fluid life of its own. It does not bounce. It sways. Gently. Right-left, right-left. Like a hypnosis pendulum. I use all my strength to look away. Futile. It’s not until we reach the main doors—the bane of my existence—that I resurface.

I open them for her, stepping carefully aside so that She is nowhere near my back. She walks through—oblivious to the danger—and I follow in a trance. Mercifully, Reed’s moist air brings me back to my senses. Good. Regroup. Start over. Defense formation. Don’t look at her ass. My eyes – rogue fuckers – deprived of their new Mecca, start roaming up her front but I look away instantly. No! I cannot handle that right now. I already have her cleavage on replay in my head. Damn all clingy clothes to the deepest pits of hell where they belong. What’s wrong with turtlenecks or nun habits, hmm?

Fine. Don’t look anywhere below her chin. On second thought, don’t look at her at all. There, look at the wall of the approaching library. Or at Benson, following us from a distance. I sense Elisa’s eyes on my face and have no choice but to look at her. Only her eyes. Just her eyes. And say something.

“Is there a particular place you’d like to go? We can go to The Nines or the Heathman? Andina?” Mars? Jupiter?

She smiles but a trace of regret lingers at the corner of her lips. “They all sound lovely but I need to be back soon. Eric is still learning how to use the bioreactor. Maybe Reed’s Paradox Café?”

Good God, Eric operates a reactor? “Sure. Although if a reactor is about to go off, Andina may be safer.”

She smiles brilliantly, sadness all but gone from her lashes. Why is that? Let’s see if I can find out. I start with easy questions.

“How did your finals go?”

“Fine, all,” She says, her lips twitching with a smile but then She frowns. “I mean, they went well, thank you.”

A hint of blush bursts along her hairline, and She keeps her eyes on her red shoes. Embarrassed? At what—her pun? I don’t know why; it’s adorable. She just gave the word “final” three fully appropriate meanings in one utterance. And She smiled, which means that school is a safe subject.

“Did you have a favorite class this year?”

“My thesis with Professor Dalton,” She shrugs and instantly, the walls go up in her eyes. Hmm. Maybe school is not safe. What was the difference with this question? Maybe because college is over? Try it.

“Has Reed turned out to be everything it promised to be?”

She nods but does not speak. Okay, we are getting close. New test.

“I noticed you liked Rubik’s cubes.”

Guards down. Dazzling smile. “Yes. They have a new one now with mirrors! It’s supposed to be really difficult.” Her eyes twinkle as though putting the brain through torturous mirror puzzles is her idea of fun.

“How do you think Eric will do with the experiment when you’re done?”

Guards up. “He’ll do fine.”

Yes, something about her thesis and school ending. That has to be it. I slide my thoughts back to neutral for now, as we approach Paradox Café. Because whether Elisa Snow calms me or not, I need my head in the game if I’m about to enter a public space. From the corner of my eye, I notice Benson closing some of our distance. He holds up two fingers discreetly, then taps his left hand. Two people inside, both to my left.

I open the café’s door for Elisa, fighting the tension of my shoulders with every ounce of strength. It is not as difficult as usual—probably because She is here, calming me with her sheer presence. And consequently, making me more dangerous because I’m not as vigilant.

The café is small—30 by 24. One fire exit in the back. A wall of cottage windows. In the left, a gothic barista with a stud in his eyebrow. Next to him, wiping glasses, a bubbly waitress—corkscrew blond curls, sparkly eye shadow.

Safe. As safe as it can be with me here.

I sense Elisa’s scientist eyes on my face again and lead her quickly to a table in the far right corner. She can never see this part of me. I smile at her for good measure. For some reason, She blushes and looks away immediately, fixing her eyes on an unfinished chess game on the table. Four moves to checkmate for the white. As if I outlined them out loud, her eyes trace those very same moves with practiced ease.

“Do you play?” I ask, fighting a jolt of alacrity that we may have the ultimate game of strategy in common. When my brain is not occupied with mergers and acquisitions and predicting the stock market, it plays chess. The patterns tend to dull the memories and channel the mental energy to the least violent form of war.

“I used to. Not anymore though,” She speaks the words softly but the guards in her eyes become a fortress. Impenetrable.

“Why not?” I try to keep my voice even lest she withdraws more, if such a thing is possible.

It is.

“It’s a long story. What did you want to discuss Mr. Hale?” Even her voice has lost its silver bell sound. It is lower, like a muted piano key.

“I have time,” I press. As long as it takes. As long as it’s safe.

She looks at me as she did at her presentation. She does not speak but her eyes say it all. Please don’t ask me, she is begging. Abruptly, I sense rage prickling at the edges of my conscience. It builds like a gulp of smoke in my throat and I want to demand that she tell me everything. But I am not sure what will hurt her more. To tell or not to tell?

From the corner of my eye, I see the corkscrew waitress skip to our table. I tear my eyes from Elisa only enough to give my order. But the waitress is staring at me, eyes wide, cheeks flushed, mouth open. Ah, fuck! Not now. I raise my eyebrow at her. Nothing. I frown. Nothing. I cock my head to the side. Nothing. All right. I clear my throat. She blinks and draws a breath. Thank Christ. I don’t need an admirer right now unless she is sitting across from me with purple eyes, spewing out puns.

“My name is Megan. What can I get you folks?”

I keep my eyes on Elisa. We are not together but strangely, I don’t want her to think I have any interest in Megan or any other woman. In fact, from the way the beast is knocked out unconscious, it is highly unlikely I will ever have an interest in another woman again. Terrifying. If I could, I would leave now and never return.

“A hot chocolate, please,” Elisa orders with a grin as if the world is about to right itself at the prospect of chocolate.

“And for you, Sir?” Megan turns to me.

“An espresso doppio. A Pellegrino, still, no ice, no lemon,” I say, making only as much eye contact as politeness strictly requires. Megan takes off. Excellent.

“Are you sure you only want hot chocolate?” I ask her. Surely, she should eat some protein.

Smile. “Yes.”

“Have you had breakfast? It’s early.”

“Yes, I had something at home.”

Good. At least, She won’t faint. I smile but her eyes widen abruptly at some realization. She looks around as though to see if anyone else witnessed whatever she did. What the fuck? Maybe She is unstable. I suppose I could arrange for top-notch psychiatric care and place her in an exclusive mental health facility with proper visitation rights. Or maybe I will voluntarily commit myself to the nuthouse, too. We can live there together, Ms. Snow and I—licking the windows. Or each other. Stop it with the licking!

Megan returns with our order. She gives the hot chocolate to Elisa who looks like she is praying for restraint not to swallow the cup and its saucer. Then, she sets the espresso in front of me, her hands shaking, and runs off.

I turn to Elisa to ask about her obvious chocolate issues, or anything else, but She has other plans.

“So, what did you want to discuss, Mr. Hale?”

God fucking damn it! So eager to be done with me. And that should be a good thing; not a rage-inducing event. I cannot allow myself to be in her company for long—or to enjoy it for that matter. And I’m enjoying it a lot more than I should. I set down my cup of espresso—it’s too sweet—and get on with the program.

“Are you the woman in my paintings?” I start.

I meant to ask only for confirmation but I might as well have fired a shotgun. Her body stills from her lashes to her knotted hands. She blanches and her mouth parts only slightly, whether to let air in or out, I don’t know. What the fuck have I done? I am about to tell her to forget about it—whatever my question triggered is not worth this dread—but in seconds, She is back to her masterful command. The guards in her eyes become a stronghold. Wall after wall rises up at some internal command. I have never seen a mind overpower emotion on its tracks like this. The only thing left behind is her patent sadness. Apparently no matter what her mind can conquer, it cannot overcome that. Whatever causes that melancholy, is beyond her strength or perhaps a part of her.

“Why would you ask me that?” her voice is surprisingly strong, but her controlled delivery hints at a careful calculation underneath. I have hit a spot, but I don’t know if it is painful, scary, or simply private.

“I am a man of means, Ms. Snow,” I say quietly, not entirely sure how to handle this.

“What exactly does that mean?” The scientist is back. She will give nothing until She has her own answers.

That’s all right. I will give them if it calms her. I start explaining, keeping my voice soft because we are clearly in dangerous waters. “It means that if I want something, I will stop at nothing to get it.” Okay, that’s not really true when it comes to Her. Better stick to facts. “In this case, however, the conclusion was not hard to reach. I saw you at Feign’s gallery and the way the receptionist ordered you around indicated that you must work there. I obtained a copy of Feign’s personnel records and the only two women that have worked for him are blondes. You are the only one with dark hair and the woman in the painting of the neck has dark hair.”

“But the model does not need to be an employee. She could be anyone.” Still clinical, scientist voice.

Why is She insisting on this? Is She ashamed that she poses nude? Hmm . . . I had not considered that possibility. “Yes, she could be. But she is not. She is you.”

“If you have already reached this conclusion, why are you asking me about it?”

Because I want you to tell me something about yourself. Something you obviously guard so closely. “To hear you confirm it, Ms. Snow.”

“Why would my confirmation matter if you are convinced?” Her inscrutable eyes brighten slightly, and She cocks her head to the side as if the experiment just became interesting.

Beautiful question. It strips me bare but reveals nothing of her. Poor performance, Hale. Very poor performance. In four questions, She got to the heart of the matter, and in one week, you still know shit about her.   Well, I might as well be honest.

“Because it will be a surrender, rather than a conquest.” I dissect her face but her control never slips.

“A surrender? Is that why you are here?”

This is not going according to plan. Clearly She uses her “Twenty Questions” game as a distraction. “It’s one of the reasons. And before you try your distraction technique again, let me make it clear that I don’t intend to divulge the other reason for my visit until you have satisfied me on this point.” There.

She squints her eyes at the corners as if She is masterminding some other strategy.

“Admit it,” I say before She bests me again. I don’t know why it is suddenly so important to me that She admits the truth. Perhaps because this kind of subterfuge is so at odds with the virtue She has exuded from that very first sight. Or perhaps because I want to have something of hers as a token—a souvenir for when I finally figure out how to leave her alone.

“It seems that despite your impressive deduction skills, you have overlooked one possibility, Mr. Hale,” She says.

Oh no, Elisa! I most certainly have not. “Have I?”

“Yes. It is possible that there are different women for each painting.”

At her denial, I briefly wonder how many ways are there to drive a man insane. I calculate at least six: mind, beauty, heart, paintings, candy, and secrets. I take a deep breath and try a different tactic.

“There is only one woman, Ms. Snow. And we both know who she is. But if you need more convincing, I’ll be happy to show you.”

Show me? How?” Her voice breaks on the word “show.”

Finally, a crack! I take full advantage and lean across the small table into her space. Except at her proximity, my mouth dries. For the first time in my life, I am hesitant to touch a woman. Not just any woman, but this woman. She is here, inches from me, with a clean scent of soap and water—perhaps roses—but I cannot make contact even though touching her is all I have thought about this week. This entire life, it seems. I know why. From the first moment I saw her painting, I have been afraid of defiling her. Still, captive, I hover my index finger close to her skin. My body responds with vengeance, as if this non-touch is the climax.

“Like this,” I say. “It’s your neckline . . . Your throat . . . Your collarbone.” My finger trails along the path with no contact. “I have no doubt, Ms. Snow, that if you take off this sweater and these jeans, I would see the same waistline, hipbone, and leg as in my paintings.”

I keep my eyes on hers, afraid that if I blink, I will lose it all—especially my hesitation—and tear off her clothes right here, right now. Her body is tensed, coiled, and her eyes gleam with something like thrill and fear. If it were only fear, I would retreat. But that thrill—that spell-bound look—that illuminates her violets propels me forward.

“I can describe them to you if you wish,” I say, hardly recognizing the hoarseness of my voice. “You have three dark freckles, positioned exactly like an equilateral triangle right above your left hip. They are the only marks on your skin. I would be more than happy to prove my case. Would you like me to or will you surrender?”

Surrender, Elisa, surrender. Fight, Elisa, fight. The compulsion to touch her is so vehement that I pull back an inch. But at my words, something cellular happens. Her breathing shallows, her body braces as if to withstand a torrent within, and her pale-rose blush morphs into crimson—a color of life, so vibrant that it eclipses for once her shining violets. For any other woman, this would look almost like . . . well, frankly, arousal. But on her, this is . . . what is it? As though somewhere, in a mystical space in her veins, someone plugged in a cord, turned on a switch, or simply breached a dam and now her blood is rushing through her, strong and implacable.

Astounded as I am by the process, I almost miss her body straighten a fraction as though synapses are finally talking to the flesh. Her skin takes on a subtle glow, and for the first time, the sadness disappears from her eyes. Maybe relieved of the weight, her lashes flutter instantly as if She is shaking off sleep. The purple of her eyes changes. The bluish undertone turns indigo and burns with a fiery intensity until the only nuance left is a dark lilac or orchid, illuminating from within. She blinks once, twice… three times.

At her rose skin and vibrant eyes, I finally find a word for what I am seeing. More than bloom, more than life. An awakening. That’s what this is. And for some reason, I caused it.

Helpless—and fairly incoherent—I simply whisper, “Which will you choose, Ms. Snow?”

She blinks as if She returned from another world. She smiles at some thought, swallows once, then closes her eyes as if to stay in that other world a bit longer. When She opens them, they are still glowing.

“I surrender,” she whispers.

I know She only means that She admits She is the woman in the painting. But her small admission means more. It’s not her surrender, as much as it is her decision to let at least one guard down. And it belongs to me. But before I congratulate myself too thoroughly, reality seeps through and I realize what She really decided. She chose not to argue, not to let me in. It was not a yes, Hale. It was a no.

The dejection leaves me winded but at least, in it, I find the silver lining. She chose Option 2; She did not pick up the weapon. For a moment, it was tempting. But in the end, She chose against it. And that’s a good thing.

“Safe decision,” I say, ignoring the mangled, terrifying ways in which my insides are twisting. They’re irrelevant. What matters is that She is safe from me. I should leave now. Let her move on with her life that is just starting. Earn a PhD or more likely ten. Invent a pill that cures cancer with one dose. Design a computer model that prevents wars. Or simply say “yes” to a nice, moderately geeky college professor, marry, and have enough children to deposit her DNA in this world’s genetic database.

For a blind moment, the beast does not conjure the past; it conjures the future. Elisa Snow—the way She was a moment ago, hectic spots of crimson on her cheeks, amethysts in her eyes, and fluttering lashes—dressed in white. Gliding down an aisle toward a faceless man. Why is that image so painful? So visceral? I don’t know this girl from Eve; She is not mine. But that’s precisely why. Because She is not mine. And should never be. The only place where She should belong to me is in a painting.

Abruptly, of its own volition, a haphazard plan forms in my head. On second thought, maybe it was not abrupt at all. Maybe it has been brewing in my subconscience ever since I realized that Elisa’s world and mine should not coexist. I take a sip of my water and fix my eyes on her.

“That leaves only one question before we move on to my other reason for coming here today,” I say, noticing with relief that my voice does not betray the madness within. “Why did you lie about it?”

“I didn’t lie,” she says defensively.

“It’s a loose use of the word but you cannot deny that you were trying to cover the truth. Why?”

She squints her eyes—clearly, a habit of geniuses. Then, She sits up straight and squares her shoulders.

“Because I was working illegally, Mr. Hale. My student visa does not allow me to work off campus. My brief hours of modeling have provided some much-needed income,” her voice is even, almost defiant.

Aha! So this is the issue, is it? She is just breaking the law. I am surprised by how unchanged She remains in my eyes. If this is what She needs to be well, I don’t give a flying fuck how many laws She breaks. And She just gave me another secret.

“I see,” I say, keeping my voice light. “That explains why there is so very little information about you anywhere.”

“You researched me?”

Researched? That’s an understatement. Hiring a whole team to find you and nearly breaking into the student health center to see if you had a health problem is more accurate. But tomato—tomato. “As I said, I’m a man of means. But I could not find much about you beyond your impressive academic credentials.”

She takes a deep breath as though this relieves her. “Yes, that would be the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service, CIS. They keep the records of foreign visitors strictly confidential.”

Well, that explains the nightmare that has been this last week. Benson will be relieved. I think he was beginning to worry he had lost his investigative touch.

“I must say, you’re unexpected Ms. Snow. I thought you were an independent contractor, not an under-the-table worker. But don’t worry, I won’t turn you in,” I say, in case this is worrying her. I take a deep breath and make the final move. The move that will allow me to keep her in some form without danger, and without guilt. “In fact, that brings me to my next point. I’d like to hire you.”

Her mouth pops open in one of those rare unguarded expressions of hers. “Hire me?” She squeaks.

“Yes, indeed. And yes, I realize that would break the law. Apparently, I don’t care.”

“B-but I have to finish my supplement first,” She stutters.

So naïve and responsible. It’s always about her supplement. “I’m not talking about your supplement although I would certainly hire you for that, too. I’m talking about a painting. I’d like to hire you to model for a painting for my eyes only.”

Her mouth widens into a perfect O but her eyes squint at the corners in some inner mischief. “What kind of painting? I don’t pose nude.”

Good! I’ve been driving myself insane with venom that Feign sees her naked. This small disclosure relieves me to no end and momentarily takes the sting off her rejection. I smile. “What makes you think I want you to pose nude?”

Her skin explodes crimson again. “I’m sorry, I assumed that’s what you wanted because of the nature of the paintings you already bought. My mistake.” She keeps her eyes on her cup of hot—or maybe cold—chocolate, looking like She is praying for Eric Fucknuts to blow a fuse in the reactor and take us all out.

She looks so precious that I can’t resist teasing her . . . and prolonging this moment without guards or walls or rules.

“You assumed both right and wrong,” I say. “If I were the artist, your reluctance against nudity would be a problem indeed. But since I am not, and you will have to pose in front of another man, I have no intention of commissioning a nude painting. Does that satisfy you?”

She blinks a few times while I start panicking that She will say no and leave me with nothing of her at all—nothing but my suddenly inadequate memory.

“Why should you care if another man sees me naked?” She says instead.

Because I’m obsessed with you in irreversible and unsafe ways. “I have pondered the question myself. For now, let’s just say that I like my art . . . unique. In fact, I plan to pay Mr. Feign a very handsome amount so that he does not paint you ever again.”

This, I had already planned. Mine or not mine, She’s not going to hang on anyone else’s wall. I cannot, and will not control her life. But I will be damned if I don’t keep one little, itsy-bitsy part of her for myself alone. After all, I’m the one She has irrevocably changed for life. I’m the only one who needs Her like medicine, not art. Between the sick and the healthy, who needs more help?

Is it an insane, selfish, stalkery, overblown demand? Yes. I admit it. Apparently, so does Elisa because her little mouth opens into another full O. I press my case before She can see through the madness or—worse—before I do something to that O of a mouth. “I regret that this will cause you to be out of a job that you desperately need.” This is actually true but I can fix it. “I will compensate you on a fair trade commission, which would include the share of profits you should have received for your work.”

Her mouth closes. Good. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Hale,” She says haughtily, her chin jutting out. “But you don’t need to pay me. I still have my job at the lab and my student visa ends soon.”

Why would I deprive her of something she really needs? And why is She determined to fight me every fucking step of the way? Especially when every single step is designed for her best interest, not mine? Rage starts prickling at my neurons again, so I fire off my first defense. Voice. “You seem to be under a misapprehension that this is a negotiation, Ms. Snow, but it is not. I refuse not to pay you when I am the reason you will never pose for anyone ever again. And that’s the end of the discussion on this point.”

For most people, men or women, usually this scathing tone is enough to trigger a natural warning to back off before my war defect implodes and burns them to ash. Does it work the same way on Elisa? Of course not. She stands up straighter, tilts her head to the side pleasantly, and smiles a seraphic smile that does not touch her eyes.

“Mr. Hale, you seem to have picked up on the same thing that Feign has: that some immigrants don’t have any bargaining power. You are unfortunately right, and you have me cornered because you know my secret. So I have no option but to agree. But make no mistake that, until your ultimatum, I was going to accept your offer with pleasure. But now, all you will get is the surrender you wanted. So let’s get down to business, shall we?”

What. The. Fuck. How can She react in this manner? How dare She question the way I view her? How high I hold her? If I thought She didn’t matter, I would not be waging World War Three inside my head, battling between my desire for her and her own safety. It’s not enough that She owns me, She wants to question my motives, too? My motives—the only fucking good thing I’ve brought into this mess.

Rage—already in the horizon—now floods my veins, inexorable. My blood becomes gasoline, with a metallic, smoky taste in my throat. Instantly, my muscles lock down to stave off the onslaught. I have one, maybe two minutes left. I replay the Moonlight Sonata in my head, fixing my eyes on Elisa’s jawline, throat, skin, wrestling to fend off the symptoms. I just need the smoke to leave my throat. Ten seconds, five. Slowly, it wafts back into the pits of my stomach, and my throat relaxes enough for me to see reason. Just because I hold her to an impossible ideal, does not mean She knows it. And more importantly—it does not mean that someone else has not made her feel used.

“I don’t view you as a second-class citizen, Ms. Snow,” I say slowly, keeping my teeth together lest the rage implodes again. “But I suppose I can understand why my delivery would be offensive for someone in your circumstances. It was not my intent to make you feel used. My apologies.”

She gives me a curt nod. “Accepted.”

I take a deep breath and finish the Sonata in my head. My blood cools as instantly as it ignited and the remnants of fire coil and settle in the recesses of my brain. On a leash for now, along with the beast. Quickly, I turn the subject to lighter topics. “Now, about the business details. I’d like you to model in my home.” Yes, I need her there. Once. Only once.

“That’s fine,” She says, taking another sip of hot chocolate.

“And I don’t want just glimpses of your body. I want all of it, including your face.”

The cup shakes in her hand and she sets it back down. Crimson explodes on her cheeks again. “I don’t know why but okay.”

Her answer sets an odd indigestion-type ache in my chest. Because as perfect as She is in my eyes, She still has insecurities. “You don’t know why?” I ask her, my voice unintentionally soft.

“No, not really. But it’s okay. You don’t have to give me some speech about how I really am beautiful and don’t see myself clearly.”

“It seems you are familiar with that speech.”

“Yes, and frankly it never works for anyone. It would be better if we used our time productively.”

Yes, of course. God forbid we are being inefficient. Another idea pops in my mind—unbidden, awful, and beautiful. There is one thing I can do well for Elisa Snow. One thing I can do really, really well even by her standards. I can bring her to life, just like I did a few minutes ago. I can show her exactly why I want my eyes on her, on all of her. Exposed and open to me alone . . . Not that I should . . . but if it could cure even one insecurity, if it wipes away her sadness even for one night, if She comes alive only once with me, and if I was being very, very, very careful, maybe . . . Wouldn’t it be worth it? Just once? Ah, but would I have the strength to stop at once then? To stay away? One half-finished espresso and leaving her is already grueling. What would one night do? If She would even have me.

Maybe my thoughts are showing on my face because She blushes and breaks the long silence. “What would you like me to wear?”

Nothing. “My shirt.”

More crimson, more life in her eyes. “And what else?”

Me. “Nothing else. Just my shirt.”

Her cup rattles in her hand and she sets it down again. Then she picks it back up. “Will the shirt be open or buttoned?”

Oh, Elisa, your brain is failing you at this moment. “Open,” I mouth.

She swallows reflexively—as though her mouth is dry. Good! For once ever since I have met her, I have the upper hand. And She is not looking sad.

“Umm . . . ” She starts, her eyes flitting to my glass of water and then back at her cup as though water is winning over chocolate. “That might be a problem with the no-nude rule.” Another peek at my water. “I’d feel more comfortable if I could keep my knickers.” She bows her head completely, staring at the cup.

I almost laugh. I almost rip her off her orange velvet armchair and across the table onto my lap. I almost implement my insane idea in this small, well-lit café with witnesses. Almost. A very close almost. Only her hands gripping that damn cup for dear life—and my recently resurrected conscience—stop me.

“Okay, knickers,” I say, but it feels like too much to give up so I tack on a condition. “But I get to pick them.”

She nods so fervently that her teeth chatter a little. “Thank you,” She whispers, beyond crimson.

I want to ask her what kind of knickers She would like, what is She wearing right now, should we buy the entire Agent Provocateur, or how about the edible ones? Except there are two problems. One, Private Dick just defected and is going rogue. Two, I truly don’t think She could take it.

“That’s it,” I relent. “Unless you want to talk price.”

She shakes her head vigorously again—a lock of hair flops across her forehead. Apparently, she cannot even bring herself to speak this time. I take advantage of the chink in her armor, and move on to questions for which I need her unguarded. Questions I really shouldn’t ask. Questions that really are none of my business. Questions that make absolutely no difference between us. But fuck it!

“Now, I’d like the same color and style as the rest of the paintings but before I hire Feign, I need some information from you.”

Still crimson in the cheeks. “What kind of information?”

“Are you sleeping with Feign?”

Her eyes widen and the crimson spreads to her neck. “No, I am not.”

Excellent. “Incidentally, are you with someone else?”

A little crease between her eyebrows, but still crimson. “No.”

I relax and lean back in the chair as though these answers change everything. They don’t. They only make me selfishly, ridiculously pleased—a pleasure I should fight, not covet. “Then, I will discuss the schedule with Feign and get back to you.”

Her little crease becomes a full frown—an adorable, attractive frown. “Why would you not hire Feign if I was with him or someone else?”

Not a chance. She is not getting the upper hand again. I just broke her down. And She gave me so much in return. I try to deserve it by giving her some version of the truth. “I don’t want you distracted, Ms. Snow. And I certainly don’t need to invite the ire of a jealous boyfriend. It wouldn’t end well for him.” It most certainly wouldn’t. Not that I should fantasize about choking the non-existing boyfriend with my bare hands. Not that I would ever hurt her that way.

“I guess that makes sense,” She mumbles, but her eyes squint at the corners.

No! She’s thinking! That’s no good. Strike now! Learning her secrets is becoming an addictive yearning—placated only by more information. No matter how minor. “Do you go back to England often?”

She looks up almost startled. “No.”

“What about your parents? Are they in England?”

It was supposed to be an easy question. A simple one that keeps her silver bell voice in the air. But one look at her face and I realize now my mistake. All my mistakes with her. I know her answer before She gives it. I know it in the way her eyes zoom in and out of focus like mine do when I remember Marshall. In the way all blood drained from her face. In the way her mouth parts open to let in air because She has no strength to breathe it on her own.

I want to tell her not to answer. I want to take back this whole damn morning, this indefensible pursuit, and even give up the few moments of peace She gives me. Just so I don’t have to see that look on her face. But She speaks before I do.

“My parents have passed away, Mr. Hale,” she whispers, keeping her eyes on her cup, her fingers clutching the ceramic tightly.

It is even worse in her breathless whisper.

Are you happy now? You came here to learn what haunts her—well, there you have it! At what price did you learn it, you fucking asshole? Why couldn’t you have done a background check? Why did you have to be so fucking selfish that you wanted her secrets from her own mouth? What did her privacy matter in the face of this devastation?

What can I tell her? What can I do? How can I fix this? How arrogant to think I could! There is nothing I can do for her. Nothing to replace this void. Nothing that will bring them back.

“I’m really sorry,” I manage. The words are inadequate, sterile, so I try to find other ones. “I’m sorry I asked. I had no idea.” These aren’t any better. I am sorry for more things than that. I am sorry that I’m here at all. That’s bad enough. But inflicting myself into the life of someone who has no protectors, who has already lost so much—that’s truly inexcusable.

“No need to apologize,” She says, her voice gaining some strength. “There can be no fault when the intention is kind.”

Oh yes, there can, Elisa. Trust me on this one. “Do you have siblings?” I ask. Please say yes.

“No.”

As alone as she can get. In a foreign country, no less. “I’m an only child myself. I sympathize.” It probably makes no difference . . . but maybe if She sees something similar in another human being, She will feel less lonely.

She smiles. “I went through a stage where I would draw my brother and sister. My parents had to endure the stick figures at the dinner table for several months.”

I smile, too, so She doesn’t feel alone in the act. And also because I can picture her doing that—this sense of self-sufficiency fully formed even then. “I should have given that a try. It might have made me less selfish.”

“Most kind people think of themselves as selfish, I have noticed,” her voice is very soft—the audio equivalent of someone holding your hand.

I want to tell her that some men think they are selfish simply because they are right. But how would that help her? Especially when She is trying to redeem me? I force another smile because that’s clearly what She wants.

“What about your parents?” She asks, still in her hand-holding voice. But I cannot flirt with triggers right now. Not to mention that talking about my parents—when hers are not here—would vanquish any last cell of humanity I have left.

“They’re vacationing in Thailand for the next month,” I say quickly, but her face is open, expectant so I reel off the most mundane details. “My father, Robert, is an architect, my mother, Stella, an editor. Why did you leave England?”

Why not stay in the only home she had? Maybe with distant relatives in a world she knew?

She shrugs. “After my parents’ car accident, I needed a fresh start . . . I’d always heard the States were immigrant-friendly. So, here I am.”

Of course! Memories! How could I of all people not see that? Perhaps because mine are so vicious that I forget that normal memories are painful, too. Or perhaps because when it comes to her, none of my usual instincts work. For a brief moment, I want to tell her I understand. I want her to know something about my pain so she can feel less alone. But She seems to be exactly the kind of person who would take someone else’s pain and add it to her own. No! I can never burden her that way.

“This must have been very difficult for you,” I say instead.

A small smile. Another shrug—as though her own pain does not matter. “I’ve had my moments. It’s better now though. I miss them still, but I have done my best to keep parts of them alive. Like the nutritional supplement that my dad was so keen on. Most days, I just feel really lucky to have had such unconditional love even for a short while.”

It’s the longest explanation She has ever given. And it’s not about her. It’s about her parents. Every word She spoke sets off a chest ache again. For many reasons. Because She is hurting. Because She is resigned. Because She is kind. But above all, because every word hints at an enormous truth behind Elisa Snow: She does not live her own life. She lives to keep them alive.

I know it because I do it, too. And I have no idea how to fix it.

“Well, from what I’ve seen, they would be really proud.” If there is one thing She has to know, it must be this.

“Thank you. I’d like to think so,” She whispers, fixing her eyes on her cold chocolate. I bend my head to meet them but She does not look up. Instead, She starts fidgeting with the wristband of her watch—a 1970s Seiko with a wide, round face and sturdy leather strap, clearly built for a man . . . an older man. A man from the 1970s. A father! At the realization that chest ache becomes a full-blown spasm.

“Yes, this was my dad’s,” She says. She must have noticed me looking at it. “I know it’s masculine but I can’t imagine wearing something else.” Her voice is wistful and her eyes drift to my own watch.

A fucking Audemars Piguet. Why did I have to wear it today? I place my hand on my thigh, hoping the gesture looks casual and not premeditated.

“No need to hide your James Bond watch, Mr. Hale,” She smiles—of course her scientist eyes would notice it. She sees cause-and-effect, not accidents. “Trust me, orphans don’t like making others uncomfortable. On the contrary, I’m happy for you.” Her voice is fervent again, unquestionable. “Your parents must be proud, too,” She adds with a brilliant smile.

At her words, the beast—until now unconscious, snoring and dreaming of Elisa Snow—stirs. As though even in its slumber it senses the most painful triggers. The rolodex cards shift—bursts of all the events that could never make my parents proud. I clench my teeth and gaze at Elisa’s throat again, trying to stop the memory reel. Only a snapshot of my mother’s broken body slips through.

As if She knows, Elisa’s voice breaks the flashback. “If I ever sell my supplement, I’ll send you a picture of my Audemars.” She is smiling more brightly, perhaps intentionally so.

I force yet another smile at her obvious joke. “Or maybe you’ll find yourself winning the lottery, Ms. Snow.” Surely She is owed some good fortune. Somewhere, in the universe, some force must recognize this. Not in money, even though my bad joke could mean that. A lottery for what She’s lacking now. Love, I suppose. Safety.

She meets my eyes for a long moment—they twinkle more and soften. I have no idea what She is thinking but there is no question of me looking away. Finally, She speaks in that same hand-holding voice.

“You can call me Elisa, Mr. Hale . . . Or Isa.”

She couldn’t have known that I have wanted to say her name out loud since I first saw her this morning. But now that I can, I’m not sure I should. How would it help if I got closer to this woman? Isn’t distance the better strategy? Or is distance painful for someone this alone? I might sit here all day, driving myself insane with these questions but in the end, something simple decides it for me.

This is what she wants.

I swallow once, as if to clear my mouth for her name. “Elisa.”

She smiles brilliantly in response. The first, full, glistening smile that annihilates all sadness from her eyes. It’s so beautiful that I almost say her name again but instantly her smile disappears and She bolts to her feet.

“I’d better go,” she says quickly. “I have a lot of information to download on poor Eric.”

Eric? Eric, who? Fucknuts? I realize now that—eidetic though I am—I had forgotten the world outside this small café. Maybe because the beast is in a coma. Or maybe because another world seems to have sprouted here, between us. A world I where the regular principles of right and wrong don’t apply. Where there are no loaded weapons. Where gravity is a smile, and the sun is a girl. Where mass is the past, and energy is a vague, undefined future. And where I have no clue how the equation that holds them together works. The only thing I do now about this world is that if I step inside, I will likely never leave.

“I’ll walk you to the lab, Elisa,” I say her name again, and stand.

She stands too—seeming slightly wobbly on her feet—and leads the way. I follow in her wake, not sure whether I am going inside her world or leaving it for good.

©2015 Ani Keating; Ani Surnois

THANK YOU FOR READING AND FOR ALWAYS BEING THERE!

New Chapter is Up (and it’s long!)

Hey everyone,

I am sorry for the delay in posting this time. I had a not-so-minor crisis with our landlord who selfishly decided to renovate and not renew our lease. I will spare you the madness but it’s all sorted now.  Thank you for your patience and thank you to everyone who wrote to me and almost sent out a search and rescue mission. YOU ROCK! I was going to write back individually but I figured between an email from me and a new chapter, you’d like a new chapter.  So here it is! We are getting close to that KEY moment you’ve all been waiting for, very close, so keep going.  :-)  And thank you to everyone who reviewed in the last chapter.  I know so many of you read and follow and spread the word and I love you all for it.  And to those of you who take an extra minute to drop me a line, you have no idea how much that means to a writer, especially after long nights of wondering “why the hell am I doing this again?”  SO THANK YOU EVERYONE!! Links below (pinterest will be up in a bit so that I don’t spoil for my Facebook followers).  And if you are looking for cool stories, check out the other writers we have in our  midst in my previous post.  Love them!!

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Chapter Link: https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/8-cistilina/

Song: Thom Yorke, Hearing Damage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU-Bc0a-wmw

Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/90-days-of-hale/

Chapter 7 is up!

Hey everyone,

Welcome back and thank you for your general awesomeness. My geekery will show if I say that the last chapter was one of my favorite Elisa moments. So a million thanks to those of you who supported her in  that landmark moment. :-)

For this new chapter, a lot of you have been waiting for a while (wow, that sounded like Yoda!).  There is a section here you have seen before – hopefully, now that you will see it in context, the puzzle pieces will fit. Also, please listen to the song because in this case, the song is part of the chapter. :-)  Oh, and check out Aiden’s letters in  his own handwriting (or at least the only nongirly font I had available) on the side bar menu.

And a special thanks to those who are always there to help from British culture (Ariadne) to reviews to typos – it’s hard to list all the names or I will go on forever or worse, forget someone and torture myself while watching Game of Thrones (as if the show doesn’t tear your guts out enough).  :-) Love you all!  Link, song, Pinterest below. Also, we have some wonderful writers among our readers here: check out Wattle on Fanfiction, Sasha Cameron, BG Holmes, Nanette Virden, Candiefloss on Fanfiction, and Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps on Fanfiction and her Tmblr page! I’m still discovering others in my three minutes of reading per day. :-)  Love – Ani

For Whom Does Phosphorus Bark?

Chapter 7 https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/7-deja-vu/

Song: Sleepsong, Secret Garden http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_cdXNWD1VY&list=PLB52821BCF16067EF&index=1

New Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/90-days-of-hale/

Chapter 6 is here!

Hey lovelies,

I promised to get you this chapter quickly because of the cliffhanger.  Cliffhangers are not really my style – I just didn’t know where else to leave the last chapter.  But hopefully, a quick update fixes that.  NOTE about this chapter: AFTER you read it, you may want to consult the new pages on the side bar menu under Elisa’s Pedigree.  You will need them going forward.

A big thank you to everyone who commented in the last chapter, along with everyone who reads and follows.  As of now, this little blog has exceeded 1,000 followers!!!!  And it’s all because of your word of mouth.  So thank you for spreading the word.  Please help me  make Thirty Nights and Ninety Days as dear to others as it has become to you.  :-) So for every time you have read, told someone about it, and sat down to drop me a note, thank you.  A special hug to Ariadne for her guidance on British things and to my friends “S”  and Arilee for always being a good soundboard.

The title of this chapter “Sub Rosa Reviresco” has a special meaning to Elisa, as you will see.  It means “Under the Rose, I reflourish.”  Finally, the Blue Roses Poem below is important to this chapter so you may want to refer to it as you read the chapter (or before).  Link and song below.  Pinterest will be uploaded soon, so as not to spoil it for those who will see my postings through my FB page.

Blue Roses

Chapter: https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/6-sub-rosa-reviresco/

Song:  Way Down in the Hole, The Blind Boys of Alabama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKyKVYRHYn8

New chapter is up!

Hey everyone,

Thank you so much for the outpouring of support at the last chapter.  I loved hearing all your theories, and have posted a lot of the answers to your questions on my FB page for efficiency but will add them to a list here on the side menu as soon as I have a minute.  And THANK YOU for all your comments and theories and guesses – there’s nothing better for a wanna-be writer than to hear from her readers in real time.

A special thanks and gratitude to Ariadne for British-proofing this chapter, Mr. Plemmons’ mannerisms, and all her advice on Snowshill and all things British.  I have the “best of British” luck in meeting her.  One day, I hope she will write a book of her own.

A kiss and hug from anyone who lives in Snowshill for letting me take liberties with your beautiful town.  :-)

This chapter is dedicated to two readers who have followed my journey from the beginning and who both suffered tragedy this week:  To S’s mom – may you rest in peace and may your soul shine like phosphorus.  To Purpleale – there is a bright road ahead, I know it!

Link, song, and Pinterest below :-)

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“Let there be light” – Elisa Snow
Phosphorus Sand – this picture is real!

Link:  https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/5-phosphorus/ 

Song: Dark Paradise, Lana Del Rey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6X3w-YmXZM8

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/90-days-of-hale/

THANK YOU!!!

Chapter 3 of Sequel: Aurora Borealis

Hey all,

Here we go!  Told you I’d be updating more frequently.  :-) The sequel is in full flow now.  Chapter 3’s link is below (or under the 90 Days tab), along with the song and the new Pinterest goodies (can you tell I am learning how to make Pinterest quotes? I’m going crazy with that stuff – it’s addictive!!)  Thank you to everyone who read and commented on the last chapter.  I know you have to scroll to the bottom of the page to review and I am so indebted to everyone who takes the time to drop me a word, no matter what you have to say.  I read all of them (sometimes many times :-) – okay, my crazy is showing).  

And last but not least, thank you to Ariadne for all things British, from giving me the correct radio station to giving me tips on the real Snowshill (and to even agreeing to help me with British slang). This lady needs to be a paid editor but until then, I am just fortunate that she came across my story and tolerates my incessant questions.  Thank you also to Wendy for suggesting the song for this chapter – you are right: it is absolutely precious and the words are exactly what Peter and Clare would have said to Aiden. :-)

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Link for Chapter 3: https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/4-aurora-borealis/

Song: October, Rosie Thomas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_MoC__hZkk  (isn’t it a cute coincidence that the singer’s name is Rosie and the video has roses)?

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/90-days-of-hale/ 

Chapter 2 of 90 Days is up!

Hello everyone!

Hope 2014 is off to a good start for you!  I know it’s been since before Christmas, but here  is the second chapter of 90 Days.  You’ll notice some changes in the website, too: now the sequel has its own tab above per your requests.  In addition, there are two new Pinterest boards, one for Elisa’s  new wardrobe and one for the sequel, which includes many things mentioned in this chapter, from the Cottage door to… well…  no spoilers.

I hope you enjoy it.  There will be more Aiden coming up, and more sequel.  Link, song, and new Pinterest boards below.  :-)  THANK YOU!!

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“The Cottage stands there, with the presence of soul and the absence of time.” – Elisa Snow, Chapter 2, 90 Days

Link to Chapter 2: https://thirtynights.wordpress.com/3-quo-vadis/

Song: I Am Coming Home, Skylar Grey, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-6Yg8RSRqw

Pinterest Fun: 90 DAYS,  http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/90-days-of-hale/  ELISA’S NEW WARDROBE, http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/elisas-new-wardrobe/

Happy Holidays and a surprise chapter!

Hey everyone,

I wanted to wish all of you Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays, and a healthy, lucky, sexy, and loving New Year’s!  I was going to write about how special you have made 2013 for me, by following Thirty Nights from its very first chapter to its current journey through publishing houses.  I wanted to thank you for all your faith, support, and thousands and thousands of messages, comments, reviews, cards, and notes you have sent me.  But if I did that, I would go on forever.  So instead, I will say simply a BIG THANK YOU and give you what you like!  Some more writing. :-)  Over the last several months, so many of you have asked for this scene.  It is set before Thirty Nights starts, and I thought  it was the most appropriate to post today, on Christmas Eve.  Not only to use it as a scene for hope and love for all of you, but also in a moment of self-indulgence because this scene is very close to my heart.  Some of you know that Javier was partly inspired by my own brother.  Well, this last week, I learned that the American Embassy didn’t give my brother a visa to come spend Christmas with me.  So, this is for the apple of my eye, “Andrew,” as well as for all you who have been my muses in this process.  Oh, and don’t panic. Aiden POV will return soon, too.  I’m just trying to upgrade the website to include more of his chapters.  THANK YOU EVERYONE!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND SEE YOU IN THE  NEW YEAR (my hubby is dragging me to Seattle for a family get-together).  All my love, xoxo, Ani

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!! xoxo, Ani

NEUVO DIA, NEUVA VIDA

Christmas Eve, 2008

“Javier, hijo, ándale, ándale, neuvo dia, neuva vida!”

My mother, Maria, has been waking me up this way since July 2, 1994.  New day, new life, she said.  I remember her with a four-year old’s eyes.  Tall, even though she is only five foot two.  Plump, because she was wearing three wool sweaters—yes, in July.  Happy, because she was smiling.  Strong, because she was carrying two black, duffel bags full of our clothes.  And right, because she was my mother.  New day, new life, she said.  She put me in three sweaters, too, and a coat.  She gave me my Optimus Prime transformer that my father had sent me all the way from Oregon, America, and took my hand.  Vamos a ver a tu papá.  Vamos a América, she smiled.  I followed her with a four-year old’s steps.  Small, quick, and trusting—rushing to keep up with the rest of the world.

“Javier, ándale,” her voice drifts from our tiny, American kitchen, with the same urgency, the same faith as it held fourteen years ago.  But unlike fourteen years ago, I am already awake, even though it’s only 4:30 a.m.  Still, I let her believe she is waking me up because she likes that.  My mother is nothing if she is not the first face her children see in the morning and the last they see at night.

“Okay, okay, I’m up,” I say, my voice still thick from sleep.  The house is quiet except Maria’s soft footsteps on the linoleum floor.  My father, Antonio, already left for work to build The Nines Hotel downtown Portland.  My sisters are asleep.  I look at the small Christmas tree in the corner, covered in tinsel and pink lights.  No presents there yet.  But the stockings hanging on the coat rack are stuffed, most likely with Maria’s knitted socks and gloves.  I bet mine will be navy again this year.

I get out of our couch—that’s my bed.  No, no, don’t feel bad for me. This sleeping arrangement is by choice because I have converted my bedroom into a painting studio.  More about that later.  I fold my comforter and sheets, and stuff them in the matchbox closet in our hallway where they will stay until around ten tonight, when I get back from work.  Why 10:00 p.m.?  Because my boss is letting me out early.  Merry Christmas Eve, America!

I shuffle down the hall to the bathroom, stepping on two dolls and a pacifier, and nearly breaking my neck over a soccer ball.  My sisters’ toys.  Four sisters now.  Anamelia just joined us two months ago.  It was almost fun until I realized where babies come from.  Then I went through a phase of throwing up in my mouth every time I saw my mother pregnant.  But I grew out of it.  Now, I just blame the five of us on my parents’ love for each other—the love that conquered time, distance, and illegal immigration—but I also know there is a little bit of good ole’ Catholicism in there, too.  As faithful Mexican immigrants, we go forth and multiply, filling America’s schools, streets, buses, and homes with American citizens.  So they can have the life that we came here to find.  The American dream could be an ad for aphrodisiacs.  Save an oyster, find America!  Neuvo dia, nueva vida.

In the bathroom, I curse my stubble to the deepest pits of Mexico.  It grows like fungus after rain.  The painter in me wants to grow it out Van Gogh style but Antonio believes in three rules that make a man: a clean-shaven face, a good woman, and a back-breaking job.  I am two out of three.  I’ve been growing a beard since I was eleven.  I’ve been working not one, but two, back-breaking jobs since I was fifteen.  As for the good woman . . . well, I’ll just paint her.  See, it puts a real damper on dating style when you are eighteen and living with your parents.

Hello Miss American Pie, my name is Harvey Sellers.  No, not really, but I can’t tell you my real name because I am a criminal by your laws.  In fact, your peeps call me illegal. I’d like to take you out to dinner somewhere on a hilltop, if my Honda Civic makes it that far.  But it has to be around eleven because that’s when I get out of work.  Is that too late for dinner? I promise to pack my mother’s carnitas . . . or salad, whichever you prefer.  Once there, we can dance.  Do you tango? Vertical? Horizontal? And at the end of the date, I’ll drop you off.  I won’t give you my phone number because you may know Immigration and Customs Enforcement police . . . you know, ICE men.  So how about that date, Miss?

And that is why I, Javier Solis, do not have a girlfriend.

I slap my newly-shaved face, now softer than Anamelia’s bottom after a new diaper, and start putting on my work clothes.  We’re supposed to get an ice storm today.  Lucky for me as a landscaper, ice storms are rare in Portland, Oregon.  But when they come, they turn the world upside down.  See, Portlanders have no fucking clue what to do with snow.  They usually walk around like dingbats, calling off school and public transportation, wearing sleeping bags with holes for legs and arms, and discussing the merits of global warming.  As a native Mexican with the word Sun for a last name, I would join them wholeheartedly.  But Boss pays extra on ice storms, which means they’re better than sunny days.

I put on my long underwear—sexy.  Then jeans—hot. Then my work coveralls—even sexier.  Repeat the process with three layers up top.  Steel toed boots? Check.  A man needs toes.  Ear muffs?  For sure.  A man needs ears, too.  Coat? Two, please.  They’re out in the foyer.  Actually, foyer is what Maria calls it.  In reality, it’s a two-by-two space cluttered with the girls’ shoes.

I come out of the bathroom, sweating bullets.  I can smell Maria’s fried eggs and potatoes so I sprint to the kitchen.  She smiles when she sees me, her chocolate eyes twinkling like the Christmas tree.  In five seconds, she will hug me, bless me, and ask about my work schedule even though it’s the same every day.  Five, four, three, two, one.

“Bendito, hijo, bendito,” she says, marking a cross over my forehead.  Then she slides   three eggs and a mountain of hash browns on a plate with reindeers—one dollar, ninety-nine cents at TJ Maxx, a present from Antonio two Christmases ago.  I sit at the kitchen table and dig in.  Maria pats my cheek.

“You growing.  You need new jeans, hijo.” She smiles but in her voice, I sense the hesitation of math.  She is adding up the dollars in our checking account.

“Not really.  You know me, I’m a kilt guy,” I say because that will make her laugh.  She does and for a moment, I sense an echo of the four-year old boy.  That boy is long gone but there are some moments—rare, Christmas-Eve moments—when Maria’s laughter turns back time to Optimus Prime transformers, hot July days, trips to America, and a mother’s guiding hand.  Nuevo dia, nueva vida.

“So what is Boss having you do today?” Maria asks in English.  She always asks this question in English, as though to emphasize its importance.

“Going over to Reed College.  Gotta treat the rhododendrons around campus. Then off to Feign Art.  Someone ordered a replica of that Pursuit of Happiness series I did last year and I have to finish it by January third.”

“Oh, that’s nice, that’s nice,” Maria says, patting my arm.  I know her pats by now.  On the cheek to say hello or I love you, on the head to say behave, and on the arm to say maybe later.  She reserves this latter pat for my “art talks.” She and Antonio know that if we really want to talk American dreams, mine would be to have my own gallery, paint the land I see versus the land I want, and of course, collect money from it.  And they think that’s as impractical as a man can get.  Pointless concern because as an illegal, I could never own or operate a gallery.  So instead, I settle for ghost-painting for Brett Feign who sells my work under his name and gives me about a fiftieth of what he makes.  Fair? No.  Acceptable? Yes.  It puts food on the table and I get to do what I love.  Not many have that luxury.  Not even Americans.

“How much is Feign paying for the paintings this time?” Maria asks.

“Same as always. Two hundred bucks a pop.  There’re five of them though so that’s good.”

Her face softens and she pats my cheek. “Buen hijo,” she says. A good son.  “Someday, you will not have to work so much.”

She speaks the words with a far-away look, as though that is the only aspiration, the holy promise. Because it is. She pats my cheek again, takes my plate, and walks over to the sink.

I watch her straight back.  It breaks too, under loads of laundry, bending to clean, wipe, sweep, and mop Portland’s hotels.  Still, on any given day, life is better here.  Or if not life, the dream of life.  Somehow it feels closer, graspable, or at least more vivid on this side of the border.  I suppose, in the end, a vivid dream is better than a blurry dream, even if it never becomes reality.

I still have a few minutes before six o’ clock, but suddenly, the promise of Nuevo dia, nueva vida, rings both loud and mute.  I stand to leave.  Maria turns around and wipes her hands with a kitchen towel, covered with snowmen.  Two dollars, ninety nine cents at Crate and Barrel.  A present from me four Christmases ago.  Maria is nuts about Crate and Barrel.  Which is why this year, I’m getting her stocking-shaped mugs, in addition to a painting of her and Antonio.

“You leaving already? You still have a few minutes,” she looks at the cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall.

“I know. I want to drive slow.  Ice and all.”

She blanches at the word ICE.

“I meant real ice, Mom. It’s okay.”

I walk over to her and give her a hug.  The word ICE in our house is the same as the word muerte. It is never said unless it happens. Damn the genius who named immigration police ICE.  What the hell are we supposed to call real ice without causing heart attacks for our parents?

“How about we call it Aspirin from now on?” I say.

Maria’s color returns.  Almost.  “Aspirin?” she smiles.

“Sure.  Aspirin is supposed to prevent heart attacks.”

She laughs and pats my cheek.  “Ah, sí.  Okay.  Aspirin.”

“I love you,” I say, and kiss her hair.

“I love you, too,” she answers in English.

I put on my two coats, pick up my packed lunch, and go out to brave the Portland Aspirin storm.

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By 11:30 a.m., I have snowballs instead of testicles.  Reed College has more rhododendrons than ICE has cops on the Mexico border.  Why the fuck does any college need so many rhododendrons? Oh right, the college that gave us Steve Jobs, Wikipedia, the CD, and who knows what else.  I usually keep my eyes on the ground and away from the brainiacs that attend this school but the truth is I have crashed a couple of their art lectures while pretending to take out the trash.  I even wrote down their syllabus and have been saving for the books.  At my rate, I will have a better chance at buying them one chapter at a time . . .  and should have them all when I turn sixty.  Awesome! I continue covering the rhododendrons with plastic bags and spraying them with anti-freeze, whistling Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At  A Time.”

“Umm… hello?” A soft voice, almost a windy whisper, interrupts me right at “you’ll know it’s me when I come through your town.”  I look up.  And man though I am, I gasp.  Airless, I have a sudden urge to cross  myself.

A few steps from me, is a . . . girl.  I think.  But the word does not fit her.  She is almost transparent, as though she lacks substance, not form.  She is tiny, no taller than five foot four.  Her skin is pale, almost like onion skin.  It stretches over her prominent cheeks and upturned nose like the edges of her bones are about to break through the delicate film.  Her lips are white, chapped, and slightly parted as though she is barely drawing breath.  Her hair is long, past her waist, and almost black.  It is thin, and I suppose at some point, it must have been wavy.  It blows in the wind behind her like a sigil—dark and ominous as the flag death would carry if it were in the habit of announcing itself.

Standing out above and beyond the haunting sight, are the girl’s eyes.  They are an astonishing color.  A deep orchid purple, almost indigo blue. I have studied human eyes and colors for my art but I have never seen eyes like this.  They are large, too big for her drawn face.  Long, black lashes frame them but she blinks very little.  The lashes flutter in the wind, too, like feathers.  I watch her eyes closely, wondering if she is wearing lenses.  She is not.  Her eyes are real.  Yet despite their vibrancy, they remind me of a hearth after the fire has gone out.  No embers glowing, no warmth.  Only ash.  Like her hair, her eyes must have had some life in them but whatever specter has hollowed her, has extinguished them, too.

I tear  my eyes from her face and look at the rest of her.  She is wearing a man’s coat, too large for her.  It’s a dark brown tweed, the sleeves rolled a few times to expose her frail hands, locked together.  The coat falls to her shins.  She has a dark green man’s scarf wrapped around her neck.  Under the coat, she is wearing a pair of black slacks.  On her feet, some black pumps that look like they belong on a mother, not on a teenage girl.  Her feet shift on the frozen lawn.  It’s not until I see that slight movement that I realize why the word girl does not fit her.  She is not a girl.  She is a ghost.

I look back at her face.  She swallows once and flinches as if the act caused her pain.  She looks at the anti-freeze spray bottle and then back at me.  Her shoulders are hunched and another word pops in my head.  Waif.  She has that aura of an abandoned child, even though she is probably about eighteen years old.  I try to say something —anything—but cannot.  There was beauty in this girl once.  The kind of beauty you paint, immortalize. A beauty underneath, between reality and imagination.  A painter knows a pretty woman at first sight, and a beautiful woman at the thousandth.  The Mona Lisa’s, the Simonetta’s, the Dora Maar’s. The muses. What could destroy that type of beauty with such vengeance? Why?

“I . . . I can help . . . help you with the rhododendrons?” she whispers again.  Now I realize that, in fact, she is not whispering; she is talking.  Whatever evil drained her beauty, muted her voice, too.  But quiet though her words are, I notice a British accent in them.

She waits with an empty dread in her eyes, like she is afraid I am going to say no.  Maybe she is crazy.  As in true mental illness.  I watch her under this new theory.  She blinks once and looks at the rhododendrons again like they may hold the answer on how to weird out innocent landscapers.  Yes, ill.  Ill describes her.  But not dangerous, no.  Just . . . hurting.  I open and close my mouth a few times, blink for the both of us, and find some words.

“Hey, there.  Ah, you don’t need to help me.  I got this. Uh, is there anything I can help you with?”  Some food maybe? Or gloves?  Or rocks in your pockets so you don’t blow away in the wind?

The moment she hears my “no” she flinches again and her chest rises as if she is trying to breathe.  “Umm . . . you can help me if you let me help you,” she whispers.

What the hell does that mean? Oh, that if I let her help me, it will in turn help her? How on Oregon’s green forests will that happen?  This girl needs to be in bed, hooked up to some IV or something.  Not out in an Aspirin storm, treating shrubbery.

I shake my head.  “Honestly, I think you should go home. It’s getting bad out here. Just go be warm or eat or something.  I’m almost finished here.”

At the word home, she closes her eyes briefly, then opens them, looking at the rhododendrons in panic.  “But . . . but . . . But if you cover their roots with leaves, it will be better for them.  And the spray you are using is not effective.  It doesn’t have a surfactant ingredient listed on the bottle, and it won’t help.  If you want, I can show you how to make one that will help,” she whispers urgently.  “Please?”

Okay.  Either this girl has some serious, tree hugger kind of obsession with rhododendrons, or she invents anti-freeze and is trying to dupe me into buying some, or she is downright nuts.  Besides, I know what I am doing with the shrubs.

“Look, ah . . . what’s your name?”

“Elisa.  Elisa Snow,” her whisper drops so low that I have to lean in to catch her words.  She almost mouths her last name as if her vocal chords cannot support the sound.

“Right.  Okay, Elisa.  My name is Harvey.  Are you feeling . . . you know, okay and all?”

She nods slowly in a way that could mean only “no.”  Some strange current starts to crawl and zap in my chest the same way it does when Maria is crying or one of the girls gets picked on at school.

“You don’t seem okay,” I push.

She steps back, looks at the rhododendrons one last time, inclines her head at me once, and turns to leave.  Maybe she accepted defeat with the stupid shrubs, or perhaps gave it up in exchange for her silence to my question.  Before I know what I am doing, I run after her.

“Hey, hey! Elisa?” I call, but she tries to walk faster.  I catch up to her in about three steps and a half.  “Hey, don’t run.  I thought you wanted to help me out?”  I say, keeping my voice casual like I do when I tease my sisters.  Maybe this way, she will tell me what’s wrong with her.  I don’t know why it’s suddenly so important for me to know, but it is.

She looks at me, and blinks twice—a record for her.  “You’d let me help you?” she asks.

“Well, yeah, sure.  As long as you tell me why you’re so upset.”  I meant to make it sound like a negotiation but instead, it came out as a question.

She dissects my face, with a thinker’s look.  A flash of intelligence gleams in her empty eyes.  “And you will let me help you until you are all done?”

“Yes.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

She looks around.  What could be so momentous about telling someone why she’s upset.  Oh shit, maybe it’s a crime? No, she doesn’t look like a criminal.  No, this is something painful.  I know that.  That’s why I’m standing here like a dude’s Christmas tree: stiff, dead from the root up, and with a pair of snowballs.

“So, what do you say? A secret in exchange for hard labor?” I offer.  I hoped to make her smile but she doesn’t.  Perhaps she does not remember how.  Or maybe my joke was not that funny.  Still, for some nutjob reason, I keep going.

“I promise to make the labor really hard if that helps? You can do all the rhodies by yourself even.  And you can show me what the deal is with anti-freeze and the surf-whatever.”

She looks up at me.  For an instant, a shadow of life flits in her eyes, almost like recognition or trust.  To my utter astonishment, she nods only once.

“Yeah? Deal?” I ask, unsure that a nod really is a nod with this girl.

“Deal,” she whispers.

I smile and wait in what I think is a very nice-guy, encouraging stance.  Elisa locks her hands together tightly, as if she is looking for something to grip.  Yes, my chest is definitely acting up.  She is so fragile and the pain in her eyes so acute that, of its own volition, my hand extends toward her.

“You can hold on to me, if you want,” I say.  If any dude anywhere has had a weirder conversation with a woman, I’ll give ICE my real name.

She stares at my open hand in that blinkless way of hers.  I am about to withdraw it when her fingers relax a fraction.  I hold my palm closer to her, like one might when offering a hazelnut to a wounded, trembling squirrel.

She extends her hand to me slowly.  It shakes like the last leaves on Reed’s oaks.  The weird crawl in my chest creeps up in my throat, changing into an ache I have never felt about a stranger.  Something about her trust is transformative, like that right ray of light that makes the canvass a window, not a frame.

At last, her small hand rests on mine.  Her fingers are icicles, brittle and frail. I wrap my hand around hers gently, afraid that if I shake it, it will shatter into a million crystals.  She closes her fingers around mine. They are weightless, almost a caress, not a grip.  Still, the touch must do something for her because she looks up at me.

“Thank you,” she mouths.

“Sure.  See? Not that hard.  Now, all this shrubbery is yours for the treating, just tell me what’s wrong.”

Her fingers tighten slightly on mine.  I wait for a long time.  At least a long time by an hourly worker’s standards.  “You know, those rhodies will freeze by the time we’re done here.”

That does it.  Yep, definitely a rhododendron hugger.  Her lips move slowly as if she is testing the words in her mind first.  Is it possible she has never said them? Then she looks up at me.

“Do you have parents, Harvey?” she whispers, as if she just took her last breath.

I repeat her words in my head, trying to make sense of the riddle.  Why is she asking about my parents? My eyes flit to her clothes.  A man’s clothes.  An older man’s clothes.  A father’s.  And the shoes.  A mom’s shoes, just as I thought earlier.  I suck in a sharp, icy breath as it finally hits me.  She is asking about my parents because she has lost hers.

I don’t usually have time to study my insides but there are some changes, body and blood changes, that even the most practical, overworked, meat-and-potatoes, full-beard-by-lunchtime man notices.  That’s where I am right now.  A strange, thick burn— like I’m inhaling paint thinner on fire—blisters in my throat.  Without thought or plan, I try to pull her slowly to me.  She doesn’t move.

“Will you settle for a brother on loan?” I say.  As the words leave my mouth though, I feel like I have signed and sealed some summons from above.  Like her parents hailed me to this frozen lawn, on this Christmas Eve, with the missive of angels.  And even though I offer her brotherhood, to Elisa, I will always be whatever is written in that missive.  Brother, family, or whatever the skies have in order.

She looks at our joined hands, and then in my eyes.  She nods, but the motion is more fluid, somehow.  Not as stiff.  She doesn’t smile but that flicker of life flashes in her eyes. “Can I help now?”

I pat her small hand as I realize what she is asking.  She wants something to make Christmas Eve livable.  Something she can breathe through.  The bite of frost, the prickle of shrubs, perhaps even the idea of protecting something —a life form as simple as a plant—from the end.

I swallow to make sure my voice is not frozen.  It is, but her purple eyes melt it into the only words she needs.

“Yeah, you can help me.  For as long as  you want.”

“Thank you,” she says with so much feeling that I am not certain whether she is thanking me for the rhododendrons or for something else.  Her voice is a little clearer as if she put all her strength behind it.

I smile. “Sure. But if I’m a brother on loan, you should probably know my real name.  It’s Javier.  Javier Solis.”

She doesn’t ask me why I lied. In fact, she doesn’t look surprised.  “My . . . parents,” she swallows as she says the word.   “They called me Isa.”

“Well, Merry Christmas Eve, Isa.”

She looks at me for a long moment.  A few wisps of snow fall over us.  “Merry Christmas Eve, Javier,” her fingers tighten weakly on mine.  Then, she lets go off my hand and picks up the bottle of anti-freeze.  She walks to the next rhododendron in line and starts covering the base and upper roots with all the leaves she can find.  Her hair gets stuck in the branches but she doesn’t care.  She pats down the layers of leaves with an odd energy.  Almost dedication.  She starts to fold sleeves of plastic and tucks the branches in with a motherly edge to her delicate face.  At length, a faint, almost invisible pink tints her cheeks.

The Mona Lisa’s, the Simonetta’s, the Dora Maar’s.  And the Elisa’s.

I look up at the sky that sent me a missive, realizing it was not a commandment; it was a gift.  Every painter has a painting, every painting has some art, every art has a maker, but not every maker is an artist.  An artist exists only if he has a muse.

Snowflakes fall on Elisa’s hair.  Merry Christmas to me. 

Thirty Nights and all related materials © 2013 Ani Surnois

Thirty Nights of Holidays!

Hey all,

We have survived a city power outtage that lasted four days this week, and the workload that piled up as a result. So I am a little buried, in addition to frenzied. But, we are getting a Christmas tree today—yay!! (My poor husband dreads this: he thinks I need serious help about my Christmas tree obsession. But they HAVE to be the right shape. :-))  Anyway, in the holiday spirit, some of you have asked for the holiday playlist that Elisa had on her iPhone for Thirty Nights.  Here it is for everyone! And for my international readers, the list includes some of Elisa’s (umm … mine) favorite holiday songs from around the world.  Hope you enjoy it, while I catch my breath and try to write some more.  THANK YOU as always for your comments, questions, and support. Lots of love, xoxo – Ani

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You’re All I Want For Christmas—Bing Crosby

Winter Wonderland—Louis Armstrong

Amid the Falling Snow—Enya

My Favorite Things—Dean Martin

Schedryk  (Christmas)—Pink Martini

Santa Baby—Eartha Kitt

Baby, It’s Cold Outside—Dean Martin

The Little Drummer Boy—Peggy Lee

Blue Christmas—Johnny Cash

Elohai N’tsor—Pink Martini

We Three Kings—The Roches

La Vergine degli Angeli—Maria Callas

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow —Lady Antebellum

Silent Night—Celtic Woman

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus—The Jackson 5

Sleigh Ride—She and Him

All I Want for Ismas—Jacob Miller (just because reggae is good!)

Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Candles)—Pink Martini (my favorite!!)

In Dulce Jubilo—Mike Oldfield

Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer—Ella Fitzgerald

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town—Bruce Springsteen

Fairytale of New York—The Pogues

Run, Run, Rudolph—Chuck Berry

Winter Song—Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson

Purple Snowflakes—Marvin Gaye

Radetzky March—Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra & Willi Boskovsky

Meet Mrs. Hale – Aiden’s Mother (and his baby pics!!)

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!

On Thanksgiving, while I was eating things like soup due to my broken tooth, and seething that my hubby was gorging himself in turkey and stuffing, I thought to myself: yes, but he does not have almost 1,000 followers in his blog (ignoring the fact that he does not have a blog)! So I sat there with my soup, giving thanks for all of you. For every time you have clicked on this blog, followed it, spread the word, told someone about the story, sent me a message, wrote a review, or simply thought of 30Nights, THANK YOU!!

In honor of the holidays, I thought you should meet Aiden’s mother, Stella Hale, through an interview.  I have had a lot of questions about Aiden’s childhood.  Let’s see if she can answer some of them for you. As always, some sequel hints are embedded as well. Be careful, Stella does not know that she is a character in a book.

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Stella Hale (Daphne Zuniga)

AS: (has changed into sweat pants for the occasion) Mrs. Hale, I’m Ani Surnois and I’m your son’s creato—ahh…creativity director… yep, that’s me.

Stella Hale: Hello, Ms. Surnois, how do you do? Do I owe Aiden’s brand-new campaign called Il Legal to you?

AS: Well, I only named it but it was Aiden’s initiative through and through.

SH: (smiles proudly) That’s my son! May I ask … where am I exactly? I was just in an airplane, and my husband was telling me to get some sleep, and now I’m here. I have a family emergency, you see, and I have to get to Portland, Oregon, ASAP.

AS:  Umm… yes, the plane is … refueling. You will be on your way very shortly.  While that happens, this … ah… place is my head. Sort of.

SH: I beg your pardon?

AS:  My head … my office.

SH:  Ah! Ah, yes, of course. (looks around with bright blue eyes, very much like Aiden’s). How curious a place! What is that thing in the back? Is that a… ballroom?

AS:  Oh,that! Yes, yes, it is. Here, don’t mind that, Mrs. Hale.  I’m doing a … biography of Aiden. And I’ve seen so much curiosity about his childhood. Would you be willing to answer some questions for me?

SH: Of course, of course. As long as I get back on the plane in the next few minutes. I really need to see my son. (fidgets and wrings her fingers.)

AS:  (feeling like an emotional leech.) I understand. I’ll get you out of here very soon.  Here, have some Baci chocolates.  They really help.  Now, let’s get started.  What was Aiden’s first word?

SH: (eyes soften and speaks softly.)  Aiden didn’t have a first word. He had a first sentence.

AH:  A first sentence?

SH:  (nods with a smile).  Yes, he said “Mama,” paused for a just a second and continued “Mama, fank you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He dropped his little bouncing ball and I gave it back to him, and there it was. “Mama, fank you.”  So I did it again, and again he said it. With a big grin. “Mama, fank you.” I called my husband, Robert, at work in a tizzy. He came home immediately—we spent the whole day just watching Aiden. He was only 13 months old! And the words were almost fully pronounced. (shakes her head. Oh hell, there’s a tear. Yep, there it goes, down her cheek.) We should have known right then that something was different. But the pediatrician kept saying “he’s just a smart boy.”  We had no idea just how advanced his little brain was…

AS: Are you referring to his eidetic memory?

SH: (looks up startled) You know about that?

AH:  Umm… yes.  Aiden told me.

SH:  Really? That’s very unusual. Aiden does not share private information. (frowns, purses lips, eyebrow flies in the air and squints her eyes at me.) Are you sure you are his creativity director?

AS:  Positive. I also do his hair so that means we’re friends. Plus, I’m very nosy. Mrs. Hale, when did you first notice Aiden’s intellectual gifts?

SH: Well, in retrospect, from the first time he fully opened his eyes. They were almost… too intelligent for a baby. Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it?

AS: (melting into a puddle of raging female hormones) YES, PLEASE!

SH: (pulls out of her bag, not a wallet, but an album, thicker than Brothers Karamazov, full of Aiden baby pictures and sniffles).  Here is my favorite. This is how he watched us from the very beginning. Like he understood it all! Even Doctor Nikos who delivered him said, “smarty eyes! Looks like he’s telling me how to do my job.”

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Aiden’s Baby Blues

AS: (can’t talk because she is experiencing an out-of-this-womb moment!)

SH: (looking at the photo.) When he was born, he came so gently. Doctor Nikos said it was almost as if he was worried he would hurt me. It took Robert and me a while to conceive but once I got pregnant, Aiden gave me no trouble… Here are some other ones (starts flipping feverishly through baby pictures).  Here, this one. He was born with a full head of hair. Robert called him “Mohawk.”

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Baby Mohawk

SH: I tried to comb it a few times but Robert wouldn’t let me. Here he is with our dog Marlow. He loved that dog! We always had a dog. I have no clue why Aiden doesn’t have one now. He’s so good with dogs. Every time I ask, he gives me some joking answer like “because I don’t have a mailman,” or “because I can’t neuter another male.”

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Aiden and Marlow

SH: I have some others, too— would you like to see them? (pulling more pictures now.) Are you okay, Ms. Surnois? You seem choked up?

AS:  Ah, yes, yes, I have a tearduct allergy. Something about polaroids. Go figure. Mrs. Hale, aside from the intelligent eyes, when was the first sign of his memory?

SH: (looks up from the baby pictures as if she forgot I am here.) Oh! When he was five. One night, I was reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to him.  The next night, I was tucking him in and started to read again but I couldn’t remember the page I’d left off so I picked up a few pages earlier.  Suddenly, he started reading with me! It took all my strength not to scream. I was terrified. I thought he was really reading. But then I covered the words with my hand, and said “Aiden,can you read it now, love?”  So he recited what he remembered from the night before: “Bogis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one mean, these horrible crooks, so different in looks, were  nonetheless equally mean.” He didn’t know how to read, he just remembered it perfectly (shakes her head again, tearing up.)

Here he is, reading later, on Manzanita Beach. This is how he used to read, roughly two pages or so per minute, which is the speed of an average teenager.

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Aiden reading on Manzanita Beach…

AS: Was eidetic memory something that ran in your family?

SH: (shrugs.) We don’t really know. My grandfather spoke four languages so there may be a genetic strain but scientists can’t say. I wonder if that’s why—(stops abruptly if she spoke one word too many.)

AS: If that’s why what, Mrs. Hale?

SH: (shakes head).  An errant thought… my apologies.

AS: No, please, I’d like to know.  And the sooner you tell me, the sooner you can go.

SH: Well, I was wondering if Aiden worries that the memory would  be passed on to his children. Whether that’s not part of the reason why he has never really talked about having a family?

AS: (mental note to address with Aiden; he did put this in his first letter to Jacob Marshall. Damn him!) How many languages does Aiden speak?

SH: Seven, I think.  Let me see… Farsi, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Greek, Sanskrit and English. The first four, he learned in the military, of course. The others, he picked up from reading.

AS: (picks up her jaw from the floor.) How did Aiden get so wealthy so quickly? A lot of … umm… investors want to know about that.

SH: (breaks into a laugh).  Well, darling, he didn’t exactly get wealthy “quickly.”  See, Aiden started making money when he was six. He started his own business, inventing mnemonic devices. (stands up straight, looking proud)

AS:  (picks up jaw from the floor again and glues it to her face.) What?

SH: (laughs again).  It’s true. One day, I went to the grocery store but forgot his Honey Nut Cheerios. He was not a happy camper. So he had Robert—who is an architect and engineer–install this contraption in my alarm clock that shuffled song lyrics in sync with our grocery list. That way I would never forget. The first song that played when the alarm went off was “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the story of being Aiden’s parents: being astounded on a daily basis.  From then on, he started inventing other mnemonic devices. One time, he converted his baseball card statistics into a gambling operation, and showed up at home with all sorts of treasures from baseball bats and toys to candy. We made him return them—he was furious. He kept saying “I worked so hard all day long and no one helps me.” (laughs.) But soon, the private middle schools around Seattle were buying his mnemonic devices. We started patenting them for him, and saving the money. By the time he entered high school, he had about $100,000 in the bank.

AS: So that’s how he started HH?

SH:  Yes, many years later. We held the money in trust. And I’m glad we did because he’d have blown it all away in his wild years. We just managed it until he returned from Iraq. Then he pulled it out, used it as seed funding for HH, and the rest is history. It helps if you never forget the stock market trends.

AS: What is your favorite moment of Aiden’s childhood?

SH: (wipes her tears.) There are so many. Like any mom. He was a character. But one that always makes me laugh despite the fact that it was horrifically embarrassing for Robert and me was something he did  when he was 4. It showed me even then that he wanted to be like his parents and wanted a happy family.

AS:  What happened?

SH: Well, he was in preschool one day. He usually played baseball or ran around in the jungle gym but he had this little girlfriend for about a week—Taylor. Taylor wanted to play house. The teacher told me that she and Aiden tucked in their baby dolls—Aiden got in trouble for holding the doll upside down—and then pretended to go to bed. There they lay, the two of them, next to each other. Taylor pretended to turn off the light and closed her eyes. Aiden tossed and turned, crossed his arms, and huffed and puffed. Eventually, bored, he asked Taylor “when are you going to go Aaaaaah so I can go play ball?”

AS: Oh my God!

SH: (laughs and blushes).  I know! Robert and I were mortified when the teacher told us. We had no idea how much he was retaining. We were always careful of course, but he was four! He didn’t know any better, he just remembered a pattern. We had to be so careful.  So very very careful. And we still let him down. (wipes a tear.)

AS: Looking back, would you have done anything different in raising Aiden?

SH:  (looks down). Wouldn’t any parent? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I would have done a lot of things differently.  A lot…

AS: For example?

SH: I would have never kicked him out when he was spiraling. I would have rather he killed me in his rage than shut the door on my only son. I would have given him a brother if I could have. I wouldn’t have miscarried during our beach vacation.  I would have never let him join the military. Never, ever. I  would have slept outside his bootcamp every night. I would have laid myself in front of that damn plane when he was deployed. I would have gone to Afghanistan. To Iraq. Carry all that gear for him. All those guns. Have him sleep on me rather than on cold desert. Have my arms around him instead of bullet rounds. Enlist myself if they would let me, take his place.  It really should be a law that mothers be allowed to take their children’s place in war. We would all do it.  All of us. Kill those animals that touched a hair in his head. Or have them torture me. They hurt my baby boy. He’s always my baby boy. But I can’t turn back time. I just can’t… (wipes her eyes, straightens her camel-colored cardigan and looks up.)  My apologies, Ms. Surnois… do you have any other questions? I really must get back to my son.

AS: (sobbing too, feeling like she might have wanted to take Aiden’s place as well). Only two more. Is there anything you think would help him?

SH:  (looks at me, smiling.)  Love.  Love, if he lets it. But he is so convinced of his own danger that I don’t know what it will take for Aiden to ever really allow love in his life.  If he has been able to isolate his own mother for years, what could possibly convince him to allow another woman to love him?

AS: Is that what you think Aiden’s main obstacle will be? Letting anyone love him?

SH: (nods firmly.) Yes. Yes. I think he will love, I have no doubt about that. And he will love deeply, that’s the only way he knows how. But accepting love in return… that, I don’t know. He has not accepted it from me, not once in the last 14 years … (wipes her eyes again, shakes her head.)

AS: (thinking furious of a way to cheer her up.)  Can you show me another Aiden baby picture?

SH: (smiles immediately.)  Oh yes, yes, of course.  Here is one with him making his funny faces. He has not changed much.

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Where is my boob? – Aiden “Mohawk” Hale

AS: Mrs. Hale, thank you so much for your time. I see they have refueled the plane, and you’re ready to go.  I’m sure we will see more of each other.

SH: (stands.) Thank you, dear.  Oh, the ballroom in the back is all lit up!!  What is that for? Wait— a girl just appeared in there! Who is—?

AS: Ah, don’t worry about that Mrs. Hale. That girl is a dream.  Have a safe flight.

SH: You too, Ms. Surnois.  And please, darling, I know you are a creative and all, but sweat pants??

THANK YOU FOR READING EVERYONE!!!!! I had no idea you would enjoy the interviews so much. We have more coming up, including Reagan, Elisa, Anamelia, and some other characters. :-)  See you soon.  All my love – Ani

Interview with Benson and Cora – more hints (including on a mysterious character)

Hello everyone,

I’ve missed you like I’m missing summer in mid-twenties temperature.  But you’ve been awesome, writing to me and raising more questions!  To my surprise, Aiden’s interview was quite popular so I decided we will do interviews with the full “cast,” including some you have not met.  I will use these interviews to answer more of your questions and bring up hints on characters, sequel, and even 30N.  Next up, Benson (Karl Urban) and Cora (Juliette Binoche).  Boy, you guys have questions about them.  A warning! They are furious with me.

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Cora Davis

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John Benson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AS: (enters undisclosed location and knocks  on undisclosed door.  Benson opens it.)

AS:  Hey –

JB: I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU HAVE THE NERVE TO SHOW YOUR FACE HERE!

AS: Umm… Benson, I –

JB: That’s Mr. Benson to you.

AS:  Mr.?  Since when are you a Mr.?

JB: Since you darkened this doorstep with your tar-black soul.

AS:  Tar-black?  I go for gray usually.  You know, try to keep a low profile.

JB:  (flares nostrils, fists hands to the side, steps out, and hovers half-an-inch from my face, hissing through his teeth.  Mental note: Dragonosis is contagious.)  DO YOU THINK I WILL SPARE YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN?  IN NAME ONLY.

AS: Hey, that’s harsh.  I’m on my period.  Which means I am a woman.  And if you kill me, you will all remain in your current state of hell unless someone writes a fan fiction on you.

JB:  A fan-what?  IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE SOME KIND OF A THREAT?

AS: You’re damn right.  Now I have readers with a million questions.  Are you going to let me in or not?  (taps foot, which in reality is trembling.)

JB:  NO!

AS: Fine, I’m calling Aiden.  (pulls out ancient cell phone and dials super-secret number.  It rings…. and rings…. and rings….finally, Aiden picks up.)

AH: You better be calling to tell  me the sequel is finished and it has only five words:  “She lived happily ever after.”

AS:  No. I’m calling because your asshole security guard won’t agree to be interviewed by my readers.  And if they don’t get their answers, you get no sequel.  Period.  And I mean that literally.

AH:  NO. PUNS.

AS:  Well, then you tell Benson to let me in.

AH: (growls something that may or may not mean “let me talk to talk to him”)

AS: (passes derelict phone to Dragon No. 2.)  Aiden wants to talk to you.

JB:  (takes the phone from my hand with look of disgust on his face.)  Sir?… Weapons?  No, just that fucked-up brain of hers… (presses lips together)… This woman needs to be committed, Sir.  Who the fuck knows what she will write next…She is wearing flannel pajamas and is mumbling about “lilies on a grave”…  I don’t know what that means… Respectfully Sir, this is Jane Doe to the Nth Degree.  At least with Jane Doe, we know she has an obsession with Marine uniforms soaked in blood.  With this one, we could end up hookers harvested for internal organs.  I don’t trust her.  I suggest immediate termination of target…(glares at me with flared nostrils)… Are you sure, Sir?… Not even in her drink?… Yes, Sir. (hangs up, hands me the phone).

AS:  What’s that part about the drink? You’re making me nervous.

JB:  (smiles like Hannibal Lecter).  Let me show you.  Would you like to make yourself at home and have a nice cup of hot chocolate?

AS: (shakes in fear).  I will come in but no to the chocolate.  I hear arsenic is really bad for you.

JB:  (lets me in, follows like a shadow to an undisclosed sitting area, and sits at the edge of a chair.)  Your questions.

AS:  I need Cora around.  You know… as a witness.

JB:  (laughs in mirth).  If you think Cora will save you, be my guest.   I’ll call her.

AS: (squares shoulders in a manner befitting her role as a creator).  No need.  I can summon her with my mind. Voila! (Cora appears next to Benson).

CD:  (starts running towards me) HOW DARE YOU SHOW UP HERE? (JB restrains her from her waist and pleads with her to sit down because Mr. Hale said so.  CD sits next to JB, breathing hard.)

AS: (straightens her pajamas) Right.  Calm down both of you.  I know what you think, it’s all in my head.  So just sit down and answer the readers’ questions.

JB and CD: (finally shut their mouths and glare at me with poisonous eyes, waiting.)

AS:  Benson, Aiden said in his interview that you are undoing dirty deeds.  What does that mean?

JB: It means I am trying to help him right four wrongs.

AS: Four?  By whom?

JB: By your sick, twisted brain.

CD:  (grips Benson’s arm and whispers).  Benson, please!  Be careful.  She can send us to Siberia and then we can’t help at all.

JB: (turns to her)  Careful?  Cora, for the love of God, when was the last time you saw Mr. Hale eat?  Or sleep?  I’ve had to sit up with him every night since Isa left.  You know what happens at night.  You’ve seen it!

CD:  I know.  I know. But she can make things worse. Just answer her questions so she can leave.

AS:  You know I can hear you.

JB:  Do we look like we give a fuck?

AS:  You should.  Now what do you mean by what happens at night?  I have readers who worry that Aiden will hurt himself.

JB and CD:  Over our dead bodies.

AS:  Is he sleeping?

JB: (sighs)  Barely.  And when he does, he can’t wake up.  His dreams are different.  Violent like the ones about the war but all the violence is inwards… I don’t know how to explain it.

AS:  Is Payne around?  I know Isa called him before she left.

JB:  He practically lives with us now.  Happy?

AS:  Not particularly.  And Giles, does he know?

CD:  Yes, Payne called him.

AS:  What about Aiden’s parents?  Do they know?

CD:  (looks down, twisting her fingers).  Not yet.  They… they only know that they needed to come home.

AS:  Who told them?

CD: (swallows, looking guilty)  I did.

AS:  Cora, why?

JB:  Don’t you dare talk to Cora that way!

CD:  Mrs. Hale called me.  She had been trying to reach Mr. Hale’s cell and the house phone for days.  She was besides herself with worry.  I didn’t tell her anything but she asked me point blank, ‘Do I need to come home for my son?’  And I only said ‘He misses you.’  Next thing I knew, they had boarded a plane. (starts tearing up, wiping her tears with a napkin.)

JB: (glares at me)  See what you did?

AS: Sorry Cora.  I know you don’t believe me but I have a plan.  Benson, does Aiden know his letters are gone?

JB:  What do you think, genius?

CD:  Benson please!

JB:  Fine.  Yes, he knows.

AS:  Was he angry?

JB:  Angry is an understatement.  But not because she has them.  He said they were always hers.  I don’t know what the letters say  but I think he was angry that I imposed their burden on her.  But thankfully for my job, he understood my intentions.

AS:  What were your intentions?

JB: (sighs again)  I am not allowed to talk about this.  I can only say that I knew the truth and I knew she would leave him.  I suppose I hoped that the letters would ease the pain for her.  And eventually for him.

AS: When did you write your note to Isa?

JB:  When Ms. Petras showed up to pick up Isa’s things.

AS:  You seemed shocked that Isa was leaving for England.

JB:  (puts his face in his hands and rubs his eyes hard).  Nothing could have prepared me for it.  Or Mr. Hale.  In all his plans, that was one thing he did not account for.  I suspect part of the reason I am not dead for letting her go is his shock.  That, and the other Marines of course.  But how were we supposed to know?  She is selfless, yes, but she had worked so hard for that green card.  It was all she wanted.  How could anyone have predicted she would sacrifice it in an instant for the Solis’s?

CD:  I’m not sure it was only for the Solis’s.  I think even if they were wealthy and Mr. Hale still reported Javier, she would have left.  I think America started to mean both Mr. Hale and Javier to her.  Either loss, let alone both, would have destroyed the dream.  I think that’s why she left in the end.  Like she said to Benson, if she was going to be homeless, there was only one place for her.  England.

JB and CD: (stop talking, their eyes glued to their feet.  Benson looks up.)  Any other questions?

AS:  Not for now.  I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.

JB:  Don’t bet on it. Now leave or so help me God, I will write that sequel myself and it will end with a wedding and sixteen children.

CD: And your painful death.

THANK YOU EVERYONE for all your comments, feedback, and for reading through my rambles.  Hope you are getting your questions answered.  As always, you rock!!!

Aiden gives hints on sequel and Goodbye for now Thirty Nights!!!

Hey lovelies (*says while sobbing hysterically),

I have a sequel/Aiden surprise for you (see below Fabulous Gandy as Aiden) but please read this intro to get some context.  The story is now down.  (My husband had to do it – I was too much of a crying mess – yes, I am insane.)  But Aiden is coming soon to the rescue as he always does.  Bless him, today he kicked my ass when I was having to take breaks between some work presentations to marshal some tears.  So, here is something for you: An interview with Aiden, where he answers some of your questions and gives some hints about the sequel.  Hope you like it.

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INTERVIEW WITH AIDEN HALE

Ani:  Aiden, thank you for coming here today.

AH:  Did I have a choice in the matter?

AS:  No, not really. I’m still thankful though – I know you are really miserable right now.

AH:  Miserable?   That’s what you call it?

AS:  Ummm… what would you call it?

AH:  Dead and unburied while being pissed on by Iraqi insurgents in a ditch full of shit and having the words “fuck me in the ass” cut out on your chest and shrapnel under your fingernails comes close.  But, tomato – tomato.

AS:  Ah…. that sounds… shitty?

AH:  If you have an ounce of decency as a woman, you will not try puns with me.

AS:  Good point.  Though I don’t really have decency.

AH:  Clearly – judging by the hell you have left me in since you finished your “book” on May 19th, at 6:37 p.m.  Hideous pajamas by the way.

AS:  Umm… I can always take them off?

AH:  Disgusting.

AS:  Then behave.  Where are Jazz and the others?

AH:  Right next me, as you can see.

AS:  Why are they holding on to your arms for dear life?

AH:  Because my last words to them were “I only leave the cabin dead.”

AS:  Interesting command – and a good segue.  We have some readers that are seriously worried about you.

AH:  They have my deepest gratitude.  I demand that you put them and me out of our joint ditch of shit very soon.

AS:  I’m writing as fast as I can but I’m really picky about my Oxford commas.

AH:  Do. Not. Mention. Oxford. To. Me.

AS:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Okay, mental note. No references to England if you want to live through the night.  Moving on to other questions.  Have you talked to Benson recently?

AH:  Ob.Vious.Ly.

AS:  Is he alive?

AH: Define alive.

AS:  Ah…. breathing and conscious?

AH:  Yes.

AS:  Does he still work for you?

AH:  Theoretically.

AS: Where is he now?

AH:  Undoing dirty deeds.

AS:  What about your parents?  Are they still in Thailand?

AH:  No.

AS:  Where are they?

AH:  On a plane.

AS:  Where are you right now?

AH:  In your fucked-up head.

AS:  Ummm… where exactly?

AH:  I cannot disclose that.  But there is an empty building next to me and I use the term building -.

AS: Okay, okay, no details.  Less risky questions.  Oh, I know, something that will put you in a good mood.  We have a lot of questions about how big … ummm… Private Dick is?

AH:  You’re serious.

AS:  Yes.

AH:  It’s custom-made for one specific woman so measurements are irrelevant.

AS:  Still… readers want to know.

AH:  Fine.  As someone put it once, take the cubic root of 90, multiply by two, add the third digit of Pi, and subtract the rounded Pi.

AS:  I think we can guess who would have come up with this formula.

AH: I’m sure you can.  It was not Dalton.

AS:  Speaking of Dalton… is he aware of recent events?

AH:  Not from my mouth.

AS:  And Bob – have you talked to him?

AH:  Define talk.

AS:  Ummm… civil conversation where most of the words consist of human sounds?

AH:  Then no.

AS:  Okay.  How about Reagan, have you talked to her?

AH:  Under the previous definition of talk, no.

AS:  And Javier?…. Aiden?  Hello?  Ummm… Aiden?  You’re freaking me out.  Did you just walk out of my head?  Aiden?  I will move onto other questions, I promise.  Aiden?  Ah… I will write a sex scene outtake… oh, here you are!  Thank you.

AH:  Don’t. Mention. It.

AS:  What is your favorite song?

AH:  Fur Elise.

AS:  Your favorite food?

AH:  Baci chocolates.

AS:  The last Baci quote you read?

AH: Love me for love’s sake only.

AS:  The last meal you ate?

AH:  Father’s day breakfast at Crater Lake lodge.

AS:  That’s a while ago, Aiden.  You need to eat.

AH: Bite me.

AS: Okay, my fault.  I get it.  Do you currently own a certain nutritional supplement named “Peter?”

AH:  No.  Pursuant to a certain sale contract, the ownership of Peter and all intellectual rights thereto appertaining automatically reverted to …. ah…. (*swallows hard… again… again…) to…  (deep breath)… to… (looks out of the dark window)…. (seems to count in his head)…. (deep breath)… to… (holy fuck, is that a tear?)…. (closes eyes, shakes head)…. to Her (whispers).   (Clears throat).  Any other questions?

AS:  Ah…

AH:  Why are you crying?

AS:  Because I love all three of you so much.

AH:  You have a fucked up way of showing it.

AS:  I know.  I’m sorry – it’s for the best, I promise.

AH:  Whatever.  Any other questions?

AS:  Yes, sorry.  What are you wearing right now?

AH:  Purple shirt, grey pants, shoes, socks, wallet.

AS:  What’s in your wallet?

AH:  (glares, then eyes soften).  A picture.

AS:  You don’t need pictures.

AH:  I do.  And will need them again very soon.

AS:  What else is in your wallet?

AH:  Cash.

AS:  What else?

AH:  Baci quotes.

AS:  Anything else?

AH:  Are you a fucking CIA interrogator?

AS:  Sure.

AH: A note.

AS:  A note?  By whom?

AH:  You’re CIA.  Figure it out.

AS:  Anything in your pockets?

AH:  Yes.

AS:  Care to elaborate?

AH: (reaches in his right pant pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. Unfolds it carefully.  Shows it to me.  Without a single word.)

AS:  A plane ticket?  August 23, 2008.  The day She flew to the U.S.?

AH: (whispers) My Christmas present. (Looks out of the window again.)

AS:  Umm… anything on your skin?

AH:  Are you fully determined to humiliate me?

AS:  No.  But I think the readers need to know your goodness.

AH:  (Sighs heavily.  Undoes the buttons of his shirt slowly, opens the shirt, revealing his chest and looking away).

AS:  Jesus Christ!  In Her handwriting?

AH:  I can replicate Her hand, not Her touch.

AS:  Can I read it to the readers?

AH: (nods)

AS:

If certain, when this life was out,

That yours and mine should be,

I’d toss it yonder like a rind,

And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the truth,

Of distance’s unbending wing,

It goads me, like the goblin bee,

That will not state its sting.

Aiden, you’ve changed Emily  Dickinson’s words!! It used to be about time, now it’s about truth and distance?

AH:  Yes.

AS:  But you’ve still left the poem  ambiguous: both terminal and eternal?

AH:  You’re the writer.  What will you choose for me?

AS:  (sits up from chair and walks to Aiden.  Curls up on the floor and puts head on his knee, sobbing.)  You deserve only the best.  I love you.

AH:  (puts hand on my hair.)  Oh fuck.  I love you too.

Thank you again for all your good wishes, blessings, and happy thoughts for TMM/30 Nights.  This last week was so difficult for me knowing it was going to come down so much sooner than planned.  But you made it so special with all your comments, private messages, spreading the word, and being there for the story and me from beautiful pictures on my Facebook page to sharing with me your private stories, lives and ways in which TMM/30N has touched you.  You always thank me for inviting you on my journey when I should be thanking you for allowing this little story into your lives and sharing so many private moments with me about yourselves.  So to all of you who have had someone in the military, or known an immigrant, or have had a ticking clock over your heads, or have fallen in love, or have lost dear ones, or have had to find your own way in life – THANK YOU for bestowing that same grace on TMM/30N.  I will be back soon.

Thirty Nights of Snow ©2013 Ani Surnois

Answers and The Expanded Thirty Nights Soundtrack

Hey everyone, thank you so much for all your comments, questions, love, and support!! You all rock (pun on reason for this post). I have received a lot of questions on the whole of Thirty Nights, current status, and future steps.  I will post answers to those questions that are not going to be resolved in the sequel in the next few days.  If you have a question, feel free to send it to me at asurnois@gmail.com, and I will add it to the list.  :-)

Some of you have requested the full Thirty Nights Soundtrack (rather than the limited one I first posted).  I love you guys for the attention to detail you give this story.  Here it is to listen to some of these in the final hours!!  You will see everything from Beethoven to a rap song associated with the epitaph and Aiden’s dick (boy, you guys have a lot of questions about his dick).  See if you can guess which songs go with each scene (some I have tipped you off to).  Trust me, listening to this is much better than if I was singing.  My mom says “it rains when I sing.”  :-) Anyway, hope you like it!

On a final note, hang in there!! I know some of you are going through withdrawals.  I am too, which is good because there will be Aiden POV soon.  Lots of love, Ani

P.S. Oh, and there will be a Thirty Nights Holidays Playlist soon too.  :-)

Piano playing

Fur Elise- Beethoven

Hey Hey, My My – Battleme  (Elisa’s rejection)

Romeo & Juliette, Je Veux Vivre – Maria Callas  (seeing Aiden Hale)

The Things That Stop You Dreaming – Passenger

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

Take You Away – Angus & Julia Stone

30 Minutes – t.a.T.u.

Broken Life – Blue Foundation (long intro, but worth it)

Dark Star – Polica

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Nina Simone

Chocolate – Tricia Sebastian

All I want Is You – Barry Louis Polisar

Burn This Town – Battleme (Lie to Me)

Sentimientos – Tango Project

Hearts a Mess – Gotye

Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash (Elisa waking up drunk)

Tiff – Polica

Closer – Kings of Leon

Breathe Mia – Sia

Caruso – Andrea Bocelli

Crazy in Love – Emeli Sande & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra

Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon – Neil Diamond

Tonight – Lykke Li  (embargo starting)

La Traviata – Giuseppe Verdi

Une Femme Amoureuse – Mireille Mathieu

Il Tempo Se Ne Va – Adriano Celentano  (Elisa’s parents story, song is about father and daughter)

Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven

No Light, No Light – Florence + The Machine

Let Her Go – Passenger

The Limit to Your Love – Feist

This is What Makes Us Girls – Lana del Rey

Baila Morena – Julio Iglesias

Mondo Bongo – Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros

The Moth and The Flame – Les Deux Love Orchestra

Million Dollar Man – Lana Del Rey

Even After All – Finley Quaye

Beyond Love – Time Bomb

You’re Onto Something – Ivan & Alyosha  (no joke, that’s the title of the band! Straight from the Brothers K)

Freak Like Me – Santigold  (Aiden’s and Elisa’s brains, after Aiden’s eidetic memory disclosure)

Some Nights – Fun.

Sail – Awolnation

Hello Veitnam – Johnny Wright

Soli – Adriano Celentano

My Dick – Mickey Avalon (the epitaph song)

Fever – Peggy Lee

Love Song #2 – The White Buffalo

Policy of Truth – Depeche Mode

I’m Feeling Good – Nina Simone

You’ll Find a Way – Santigold

La Vida Es Un Carnaval – Celia Cruz

Amado Mio – Pink Martini

Assassin’s Tango – John Powell

Schedryk  (Christmas) – Pink Martini

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Dean Martin

Crawling King Snake – John Lee Hooker (second epitaph song)

You’re All I want For Christmas – Bing Crosby

Cream – Prince  (Elisa’s striptease)

Sadeness – Enigma (Elisa’s striptease)

Criminal – Fiona Apple  (Aiden’s revenge)

From Clare to Here – Ralph McTell  (Lady Clare)

30 Lives – Imagine Dragons

Ave Maria – Celtic Woman

Clandestino – Manu Chao

O Children – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds  (babysitting)

Asturias – Isaac Albeniz  (Javier’s kiss)

Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down – Nancy Sinatra  (The fight in the library)

O Fortuna, Carmina Burana – London Philharmonic Orchestra  (the attack and Aiden’s fall)

Paint it Black – The Rolling Stones

Bonfires – Blue Foundation

P.S. I Love You – The Beatles  (reading Aiden’s letter)

Stubborn Love – The Lumineers

Remember – Michael Groban

Your Bruise – Death Cab for Cutie

Only Time – Enya

Fire in Blood/Snake Song – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Star-Spangled Banner – Whitney Houston

Safe and Sound – Azure Ray

See You On The Other Side – Ozzy Osbourne

Ashokan Farewell – Jay Ungar

30 Nights Finale, a Surprise, and Happy Veteran’s Day!

Sometimes things happen by design.  Sometimes by accident… these are the words Elisa  uses to describe why Aiden and she came into each other’s life.  I never thought they would ring so true for my last post of Thirty Nights which, by accident, happens to be on Veteran’s Day.  Perhaps, as she says, accident will become meaning and plan.  Perhaps it’s a sign that the story should go on.  Or perhaps, I have gone crazy and am in a padded room somewhere.  Please indulge me for a few moments (crying a little over here…)

I wanted to do something special for you today!!  I spent all Veteran’s Day today taking pictures of the Reed Campus and all other moments referenced in 30N.  I wanted to put them together as Elisa ends this phase of her journey and starts a new one.  And – SCARY – I managed to make my first Youtube video for you – Thirty Nights from Aiden’s Camera!!  If you know me, you know how radical this is and how much I love you.  Computers and I don’t get along.  As you will see, I tried to take pics of the places that meant the most to them.  Just like Elisa wanted in her last wishes.  I hope you like it.  Hopefully, you won’t sob like I am right now.  You will see the first fan art (for Master’s Muse), The Immigration Building, their last wishes, the Solis home, and the last moments of silence is the ending… (I couldn’t figure out how to add sounds of tears there)….  Go easy on me, I am a Youtube virgin!

My last note for Thirty Nights before we continue Aiden’s Nights and 90 Days is to thank you!!  From the bottom of my heart.  In my blog stats, I have viewers from just about every country, from the United States (my home) to my birth country (my origin – though they don’t know they are reading a compatriot’s story).  To all of the Americans that gave me a home when I needed it, and to all those “originers” that gave me life – THANK YOU!  And thank you to all of you for reading, encouraging me, becoming friends, supports, critics, lovers, haters but always  putting time in 30N and me – THIS IS FOR YOU!

Thirty Nights comes down a week from today, at midnight (embargo night style).  Then we start Aiden and more – Aiden’s story will have new parts you have not read, including all skipped days.  Until then, trust me that I want these three happy.  All my love, Ani (video, songs, and links below).

THIRTY NIGHTS – AIDEN’S CAMERA  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jMnVTk8AQw

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He is the dream, I am its meaning… Elisa Snow.

Song for Chapter 39, Only Time – Enya 

Song for Chapter 40, Star-Spangled Banner – Whitney Houston

Three more chapters up (getting there!!)

Hey lovelies… here we go!  Three more up.  I know these are hard:  but hopefully, among the hardship and tears, you will see the beauty of these three souls. My goal is to highlight the hidden terror of PTSD. We all get the terror of Elisa and Javier but Aiden, like most PTSD soldiers and Marines, hides it all inside. It was very hard for me to write his past through a third-person but I knew Aiden himself would never “tell.”  That’s the curse of PTSD – silence and judgment.  I hope to God that real people who live with it find as much love as Aiden has and allow themselves to accept it.  :-)

The last two chapters will be posted together tonight or tomorrow.  I thought it would be easier on you this way than rush through all of them.  Thank you as always for your support, messages, and encouragement – including those of you who commented for the first time!! Love hearing from you and it makes this process so much more enjoyable.  There’s no writer without a reader – that’s the truth.  And I have been blessed with the best readership I could have asked for. Truly!  As questions come up, feel free to email me.  It will take me a few days to get to them all while preparing everything else, but I will get back to you.

New and senior readers alike will find new things in these chapters.  Specifically, more of Aiden’s backstory.  Also, of course, I am keeping more surprises for the official version that gets published (whether by a publisher or me so there are things that will be new at that time.  This way, you feel like you get something new each time, specially those who know the story so well by now.)

Songs and links for all these chapters are below.  THANK YOU!

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Song for Chapter 36, Corpus Elisa – O Fortuna, Carmina Burana (the video contains the translated lyrics from Latin.  I can’t think of another song better suited for this chapter.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWiyKgeGWx0&list=PL53A75CD61DF4762D

Song for Chapter 37, The Way Only a Man Can – Paint It Black, The Rolling Stones, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1zBG2TEjn4

Song for Chapter 38, Marshall – Bonfires, Blue Foundation, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyJy1GLxYf0

Two more chapters (getting close to the end)

Thank you so much everyone for your comments and questions.  I will answer them all in the next couple of days.  We are getting close to the end, with the final chapters to be posted tomorrow and Monday.  I will keep them up for a few days to give you time to read, comment, ask questions.  Then we start Aiden, skipped holidays, etc.  Even senior TMM/30N readers will find something new in Chapter 35 – a bit of trivia that may become relevant in the sequel.  Thank you so much for following this journey with me!!  Song and link below.

For those of you who wondered what song Aiden plays for Elisa in the library (“bad, bad girl”), it’s Criminal, by Fiona Apple.

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Two Songs for Chapter 34,  From Clare to Here, Ralph McTell  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B3_of9CY24; 30 Lives, Imagine Dragons http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbZGtzC_yZo

Song for Chapter 35, O Children, Nick Cave and The Bad Sees, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0dq6SL8WRc, Ave Maria, Celtic Woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWV02z6JOaE

Two new chapters are up (Christmas!!)

Thank you so much everyone for your birthday and anniversary wishes for TMM/30N.  And thank you for all your good-luck wishes, too.  As one of you quoted, fingers, toes, and mosquito bites crossed.  So funny!  I am so lucky to have readers like you.  Truly – I couldn’t have asked for better followers.  Smart, funny, loyal!  What more can a writer ask for?

These chapters were fun to write.  Here they are with some added pictures.  Check out the pinterest board for more pictures too.  A special hello to my Sons of Anarchy girls (yes, that’s a different story) who are particularly distraught this week after what happened in that show on Tuesday.  See below for links and songs.

All my love to all of you!! xo Ani (still recovering from my all-American dinner of chicken wings and sweet potato fries.)

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Song for Chapter 32:  Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Dean Martin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9DPF-bE5EA

Song for Chapter 33:  Sadeness, Enigma http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFLRHPUWBI8

 

Happy First Birthday Master’s Muse/30Nights! (and a chapter at the end of the ramble)

Warning: cheesiness and tears ahead!!

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One year ago today, after 14 years of fighting America’s immigration system, America finally opened its doors to me and I became a citizen!  As my husband snapped pictures and filmed, along with other proud families, I had a rare moment of utter clarity:  all my life, I had pursued only one dream.  A single one!  To be safe, to choose my own destiny, my own husband, my own life.  It’s small, it’s cliche, it’s something you hear everyday – but none of that makes it less self-defining.  In a strange movie reel, America flashed before my eyes the same way our dreams of “The One” do:

I started learning English with a flashlight or a candle that often burned the tip of my nose dark the next morning.  

My first memory of hearing the English language was Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana song.

My first memory of hearing the word “rock and roll” was at a traditional wedding where I was the equivalent of a flower girl but it meant I carried the bride’s dowery around.  As I folded her new bed linens, I heard a strange music.   It was Ray Charles “I’ve Got a Woman.”  I followed it to the flat rooftop of the small house where I saw the young guests dancing in the dark.  A boy whose face,  name, or relationship to the wedding I don’t remember said to me “Dance little rocker!”

And so on and so on.  I will spare you the journey, but when I was swearing my allegiance, I looked around me and I saw what they called “Faces of America.”  Every race, every color, every creed…. all for one dream.  I wondered what each of their fights had looked like…  And just like that, as I vowed  that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God,  30 Nights was born in my head!   Within 30 minutes (true!) of my oath, my husband and I were driving like lunatics to make the polls to vote in the presidential election.  I dropped my ballot with about 10 minutes to spare from closing!  That evening, after a burger, a beer, and doughnuts, I started outlining 30 Nights.  Here are my first notes :-)  (ignore my chicken scratch, there is a reason Elisa writes in calligraphy!)

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A bit later, I put pen to paper and my babies, Elisa, Aiden, and Javier were born.  So today, in a way is their birthday too – at least their conception!  :-) Here are my first doughnuts in America, courtesy of my friend Arilee and coworkers who saw this journey with me.

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A year later, almost to the date, Thirty Nights is heading to the publishers!  I looked up some statistics, hoping to find that the death rate for people on their birthday is very low.  But unfortunately, I found the opposite.  It’s apparently 14% chance.  Well, I am told that traditional publishing chances these days are even lower, less than 1%!!  So my birthday wish, ironically, remains the same today as it was when I first started having the American Dream:  not to be a statistic!

The rest of Thirty Nights/TMM will be posted very quickly in the next few days and will come down officially next week to maintain its creative integrity.  It will give you time to finish it (especially the new readers!) and – if it’s not too much to ask – please bless it with your love and care the way you have done all this time.  Maybe if we combine our wishes and happy thoughts, it will help this story on its little journey!  I admit to some superstition and belief in karma and since you have helped this story form, it felt wrong sending it off without your little “Godspeed!”  There will be other things that will be posted on the blog, Aiden POV, outtakes, sequel, a new story (yep, you read that right!!), and of course all the rejection letters as they roll in.  If Nabakov got 367 rejection letters, I cannot imagine what my number will be.  Hideous, as Elisa would say.  But none of that today.    Let’s have another TMM/30N chapter!  THANK YOU everyone, thank you my country of origin and thank you America!!!!

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For the first time, tango does for me what tango does for women!! Elisa Snow, Chapter 31.

Song:  Amado Mio, Pink Martini  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MV2A-XwoSw

 

Chapter 30 of 30N/TMM is up :-)

Well, when you are sick and sleep 18-hours per day, you wake up at all sorts of ungodly times.  And since you can’t really think or write new material, you post old ones.  Hope you enjoy it!  Thanks for all the support on the last chapter.  You guys really like car sex.  :-).  Song (including Spanish translation) and link below.

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Salsa seems to fit Javier better now that I have Aiden. Elisa Snow, Chapter 30.

Song, La Vida Es Un Carnaval, Celia Cruz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nBFWzpWXuM

La Vida Es Un Carnaval (Life Is A Carnaval)

Everyone out there that thinks life is unfair,

Needs to know that’s not the case,

Because life is beautiful, you just have to live it.

Everyone out there that thinks they are alone,

Needs to know that’s not the case,

Because in life, there is always someone.

Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,

It’s more beautiful to live singing.

Ay, there’s no need to cry,

For life is a carnival

And pain evaporates through song.

Anyone thinking that life is cruel,
Needs to know that’s not the case,
That there are just bad times, and it will pass.
Anyone thinking that things will never change,
Needs to know that’s not the case,
smile to the hard times, and they will pass.
Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,

It’s more beautiful to live singing.

Ay, there’s no need to cry,

For life is a carnival

And pain evaporates through song.

Chapter 29 of TMM/30N is up!

Hey everyone!  Thanks for your patience.  I have been struck by the flu and these last few days have been pretty miserable.  My Aiden POV is a little late but it’s coming together.  In the meantime, here is another chapter.  I remember getting so many questions after Aiden disclosed his PTSD and memory about what he feels when he sees Elisa.  Hopefully, this chapter answers that.  Thank you again for all your comments and questions.  I owe a few of you some responses and will do so once I’m up and running.  Thanks!!  Song and link below.

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His rendition of my eyes stares back at me. Elisa Snow, Chapter 29.

Song:  Peggy Lee, Fever  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eIDtwcFXcI

Chapter 28 (one my “little darlings”) of TMM/30N

Okay, here we go as promised.  I reminisced with this chapter because I remember how many messages I got about what Aiden would do if he read the epitaph.  Here it is in its original with a slight nod to the book that brought us all together.  And I couldn’t help the picture below.  Or the song – it’s one of my favorites (and a cool fan-video too).  I translated the lyrics from Italian below if you want to read them.  Thank you as always for reading and commenting.  I do love hearing from you!!  Song and chapter link below.

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Song.  Soli, Adriano Celentano, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-G8ssIeAs0

SOLI (ALONE TOGETHER)

It is useless to ring the bell,

No one will answer here.

We shut out the outside world, along with its noise.

A white lie with your folks

The fridge full and then

A little soccer on TV.

Only you.  Only me.

It is useless to call.

No one will pick up.

The phone flew outside of the window

From the fourth floor.

It was important, you see,

to think a little about us.

We are never together,

but here and now,

yes, we will be.  now, yes.

Together.

The skin for a dress

Together

Sharing a panini for two.

I and you,

breadcrumbs on the bed.

Together,

Tightly a little more

Only I, only you.

The world behind the glass

seems a movie without sound

Your innocent loving

Makes your body more real

You are beautiful when you want

Girl, and then woman

You never let me down.

This is how I want you.

Together,

Leaving the lights on.

Together

Look inside your heart, who is it?

You and I.

Together

With the time that has stopped.

Together.

Finally us.

Only us.  Only us.

It’s useless to ring the bell,

No one will open the door.

We shut the world out, along with its noise.

A white lie with your folks

The fridge full, and then,

Some soccer on TV

Only you, only me.

Chapter 27 of TMM/30N is up (song, link, and new bits even for TMM pro-s)

Hey everyone!  Sorry for the delay.  Sometimes reality interferes even with the best escapes like this one.  But I hope to have an Aiden chapter for you soon.  In the meantime, even seasoned TMM readers will notice some new parts here – parts that were in my original story, not in FF, and that may change some hypotheses you had about the story.  I hope you all enjoy it.  I have a special spot in my heart for this chapter because it was after this that I was officially admitted to the secret FB group of FF writers.  Now, I have met some of my best readers, mentors, and friends there. Thank you all of you for your support.  Song and link below.  Love, Ani

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“In that simple word ‘Please,’ he went from telling to asking. A call for help, maybe? And whether in England or from my grave, I will answer it.” Elisa Snow, Chapter 26.

Song:  Some Nights, Fun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ho0y4en95Y

Two chapters this time! Ch. 25 and 26 of TMM/30N are up…

Okay, to  make up for skipping a chapter yesterday, I am posting two chapters tonight!!  Thank you so much for continuing to read and comment and give me feedback.  All of you!!  And thanks to those who have submitted their entries for the Louboutin writing challenge.  So fun!  Song and links below…

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“Then, slowly, he first breathes on my forehead like I did with his scar. I shiver as I feel a touch there for the first time in over four years.” Elisa Snow, Chapter 26

Song for Chapter 25 (Heart of Doing Business), Million Dollar Man, Lana del Rey (it’s as if the words were written for this chapter) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5H467MnzVs

Song for Chapter 26 (Boy, Man, God), Beyond Love, The The, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7j9TFmH7VU

Chapter 24 of TMM/30N is up (link and song below)

Thank you everyone for reading and commenting!  I am so lucky to have such great readers.  A special shout out to Lyn R. this week for her helpful edit recommendations and sharp eye.  As promised, we will be moving quickly now.  Every day.  Chapter 24 coming up.  Also, by popular demand (which has shocked even me), I will incorporate book recommendations, reviews, etc., going forward.  Nothing big but I always get questions on what books I am reading –  perhaps because of the classics and the poetry references in 30N.  So I will keep them short and to the point so that those of you who don’t want to hear about them, can ignore them easily.  Those of you who want to geek out on books, the more the merrier.  Join the group, recommend anything you want.  Okay.  Hope you like this chapter!  And thanks to those who have responded on the Louboutin challenge.  Let me know if anyone else is interested and I will include you in the submission as well.

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“Did you see anything suspicious, Calico? Did our neighbor’s paramour leave with a kiss or a kick?” Elisa Snow, Chapter 24.

Song.  This little tune is very rare and difficult to find.  But it’s a beautiful song and it often plays in my head when I think of how hard I fell for my hubby (that’s a different story).  The Moth and The Flame, Les Deux Love Orchestra.  They have it on spotify/facebook, not even on youtube!  Also on iTunes.  It’s such a beautiful song if you can find it.

 

Ch. 23 of TMM/30N is up (link and song below)

Thank you everyone for all your comments!! Love hearing from you.  I will be posting the next several chapters very quickly so get ready.  :-)   I have to share this because it makes me giggle:  the song for this chapter was my and my husband’s first dance at our wedding.  Okay, thanks for indulging me.  xo, Ani

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“Slowly, he wraps his large, paint-stained hand around my waist and we move.” Elisa Snow, Chapter 23.

Song  Baila Morena, Julio Iglesias http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2VJVhLFyKc

 

Chapter 22 of TMM/30N is up (link and song below, and a little challenge)

Thank you everyone for following, reading, writing to me, commenting, and sharing this journey with me.  As always, you make the trip worth it.   The painting below is titled Snow Stars – given Elisa’s last name, I found it appropriate for this chapter.   See fun challenge below (thanks Analeyna!)

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Snow Stars.

Song:  This Is What Makes Us Girls, Lana Del Rey, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGapatrKPWw  (one of my favorites – to all my girls out there.)

Fun Challenge:  A couple of you liked the Marine Corps Louboutins  on my Pinterest enough to suggest that we all try to write a little snippet about Elisa, Aiden, or ourselves involving the shoes (below).  It doesn’t have to be long.  No rules. I don’t have prizes except to offer that I write a snippet of 30N or 90D (except the ending) for the winner.  So this is just for fun.  If you feel up to it, here is the SHOE! I wish I owned this!  Let me know, and we can post the entries here.  Or you can do it anonymously too, if you’re shy.   Either way, you’re wonderful!

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U.S Marine Corps Louboutins

Chapter 21 of 30N/TMM is up (song and link below)

Hey lovies, I know these next chapters are a bit hard on the heart so I will post them quickly so not to keep you in suspense.  But, they are consistent with Aiden’s blind commitment to do what’s right.  Hang in there.  And thank you to Bunny Wallace for suggesting to me the payment structure for Javier.  Thank you also to all my usual readers and reviewers who continuously support me and remind me why I am doing this:  because you enjoy it.  All my love, Ani.

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It looks like he is trying hard to not say something and I would give anything – maybe even the rest of my 29 days – to know what it is. Elisa Snow, Chapter 21.

Song:  Feist, Limit to Your Love http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kwjn8YaaB1Q

 

Women of the World – Happy International Girl Day!

Lovely readers, please allow me a personal post for a global moment.  All my life, I have had a girl inside me, even now as a woman.   I still have that girl’s dreams, memories, love, tears, and smiles.  I like to think I have done right by the little girl I was.  But that’s because I had women in my life, leading me to womanhood.  If I had not, I may have pined about my weight, height, boob size, eyebrows, brains, heart, skill – and above all, legitimacy.  That’s why I celebrate International Girl Day and support Girls Inc.   Because there are girls out there – some of whom alone like I was at one time – who need a woman in their life to teach them something:  teach them how to love, how to think, how to learn, what to learn.  Teach them about anything you want:  boys, kisses, high-heels, music, books, writing, school, love, family, dreams.  But above all, teach them that they matter:  exactly the way they are!   Teach them it’s okay to love the Anastasias, the Juliannes, the Bellas, the Kareninas, the Elizabeth Bennetts, the Jane Eyeres, the Lisbeths, the Katerinas.  But above all, teach them to love themselves.  If we do that, these girls will become women.  Strong women, smart women, funny women, loving women, spunky or shy, humble or proud – but however they turn out, they will know that they matter.   In honor of their day, if you are so inclined, please pick a girl in your life and support her, even just once.  Give back to the girls we were, the girls we have, and the girls we still are!

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Girls Run the World!!!

SONG:  Beyonce, Run the World (GIRLS), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U

GIRLS INC.  http://www.girlsinc.org

 

90 Days of Hale: Chapter 1- Amor Vincit Omnia

Hello everyone, here is the first chapter of TMM/30N sequel.  Remember that there was a prologue posted, lower on this page (you can use the search field to the side).  This was a chapter that was very emotional for me.  It was one of the first scenes I envisioned when the story first formed in my head.  I hope you enjoy it.   Check out the song for this chapter and the photos in the links below.  Thank you as always for all your support.  – Ani.

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CHAPTER 1

AMOR VINCIT OMNIA

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The black London cab stops, its diesel lungs stilling.  I now know its every nook and cranny.  The worn upholstered seat.  The yellow clip of my seatbelt.  The tiny snag in the shoulder seam of the cab driver’s jacket. I keep my eyes on these tangentials, and away from the window.

“We’re in Snowshill, Miss.  What was the address again?” the driver turns to look at me with arched eyebrows and creased forehead.  Three creases, like Javier’s when he would ask about my day.

“Miss, the flight attendant said something about Snowshill Lavender, Rose Cottage?  Up the hill? Is that right?”

The hill.  How many times have I walked it hand-in-hand with Peter and Clare? Hundreds, maybe thousands.  It will be bluish green now, the purple of lavender fronds still undercover.  I follow the driver’s index finger out of the cab’s window for the first time.  We are in the village center, by Snowshill Arms pub.  He points at the lane undulating uphill in the horizon.  In my empty body, right next to the ulcer, I feel a tiny jolt.  Almost a nudge, perhaps a heartbeat.

“Miss?” the driver asks again, his outstretched hand dropping to his side.  I avert my eyes from the window, reaching woodenly for my money inside my pack.  It lies inside an envelope from Bob’s law firm, in flat, crisp notes.  I take out some bills.  American dollars.

“No need, Miss.  The flight attendant paid for it,” the driver gives me a tight smile when he sees the money.  “Shall I take you uphill then?”

I shake my head, silently thanking the kind hazel-eyed woman.  He frowns but I draw in some air, pick up my pack, and open the door.

“Thank you,” I whisper at the driver, my eyes on his Javier wrinkles.  Thank you to you too.  For every time you frowned for me.  I step out of the cab in the flight attendant’s shoes and close the door behind me.

It takes a few moments for that first step.  The crunch of the old road under the low heels is familiar, and the ulcer erupts at the sound.  It’s the sound my mother’s tango shoes would make when she and Peter strolled home after a night of dancing.  I rest my eyes on the shoes and start walking.

Some journeys are meant to be taken on foot.  Journeys home.  Journeys to a grave.  Over the last 24 hours, I have travelled with all technology has to offer.  Private helicopter, commercial jet, luxury Aston Martin, a faithful BMW, and an old-fashioned iconic cab.  But now, at the very end, I walk.  I keep my eyes only on my footsteps and the gravel-spotted lane.  Up the hill.  Higher.  Higher.  I don’t look at the vanilla limestone houses tucked on the edge of the road like books on a shelf.  I know their numbers, their doors, their wooden shutters.  Perhaps Mrs. Plemmons sees me from her blue window.  Perhaps she thinks she sees Clare’s ghost.  I walk faster until the houses are far behind and the lavender fields start.  And it’s here that I begin counting.  Because the Rose Cottage is precisely 2,357 steps away.   The genteel British sun jolts my shadow behind me.  I focus only on the rhythm of numbers and on the festering ulcer that reminds me I am neither ghost, nor alive.   In the last four years, I have never allowed myself to think of what I would feel climbing this hill again.  I thought I knew.  I thought I lived it.  Still, had ICE asked me under oath, my answer would have never been silence.  But if all that lives inside you is a pain so livid that it renders the rest of your senses null and void, isn’t silence the only word to describe it?  I watch my shadow shiver on the pavement for an instance as I realize that silence is not something you hear, taste, see.  Silence is a feeling.

On 2,357th step, I stare at my feet.  I don’t look to my left. I don’t breathe the rose-scented air.  I sense the Cottage’s presence there, within a few feet, the way the tide might sense the shore.  I hear the two sibilant oaks and the single apple tree that Peter planted when I was born.  Even the buzz of the bees in Clare’s roses.  Without thought, I start running.  Fast and hard until my legs burn.  I know the Cottage is behind me now but I sprint down the curve of the road until I reach the very edge where the asphalt meets the grass.  I stop there, grasping my knees.  My breath comes in loud, sharp tempests but there is nothing alive about the sound.  The long grass comes to my shins.  Braided in it are wildflowers.   Cornflowers, chamomile, red poppies, and marigolds.  I start picking them until the purples, whites, reds, and yellows cover my numb, cold hands.  I tie them with strands of grass, and look at my measly tribute.  I should have brought lilies.  Or maybe chocolates.  But I was too lost in my selfish hell to do right by them.

I stand slowly and, for the first time, tear my eyes from the ground and look straight into the distance.  And even though I have been here only once before, I recognize the glimmering white marble under the single oak tree.  Peter and Clare’s grave.

I make my way heavily through the grass, keeping my eyes on the tombstone.  They have waited four years for me to come see them. Breaking through dreams, distance, time, and – in the end – even through love to summon me back.  I feel suddenly so ashamed of my absence that I run faster.  With each step towards their grave, grief silences even the ulcer. It floods the Solis’s, Reagan, my American dream, and even him.  Until no space between my skin and bones belongs to anyone else but Peter and Clare.

I reach them at last.  The marble is clean.  Snow white.  Perhaps even now, Clare finds a way for the winds to sweep it.  There is a single white lily on it, from whom I don’t know.  The pink roses I planted have grown.  Their vines wind around the tombstone, clutching it into their chest.  The buds are about to bloom around the words carved in Clare’s calligraphy.

Peter Andrew Snow & Clare Juliana Snow

2 July 1962 – 4 January 2008, 16 December 1967 – 4 January 2008

Amor Vincit Omnia

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I look at the epitaph I chose.  It certainly was true for you.  I don’t think about the lie it was for me.  I don’t think of Javier or him.  I kneel by the grave and put the wildflowers on it.  I run my frozen hand over the marble.  To my surprise, it is not cold.  The sun must have warmed it because at the touch, my icy fingertips thaw slightly.  I put both my hands on the grave.  How often have I thought about the words I would say to them and now, I can’t form them.  Instead of words, or even letters, my body breaks into dry, violent shivers.  No tears.  No sound.

I grip the marble edge, craving the strain of my knuckles.  But pain thresholds must change next to a grave, because even though my fingers dig into the stone, my bones bend around it in atrophied surrender.  The only thing seeping through is the marble’s warmth and a seismic tremor under my knees as though the earth is rocking with a cradle-like movement.  I know it’s not the earth.  It’s me.  The shivers peak and I lay on the marble, resting my cheek on it.  Exactly where their chests would be.

I keep my eyes only on the epitaph.   Amor Vincit Omnia.  Amor Vincit Omnia.  Amor Vincit Omnia.  It sounds like an incantation until I realize I am chanting it with the desperation a sorcerer must put behind his words, even though I know my spell won’t bring them back.   So perhaps I am not conjuring; I am praying.  That love won this one, at least.

I want to leave my parents a tear, a smile, even my breath, but nothing comes out.  I move the only thing I can.  My lips.  I press them on the marble and lie there – for the first time in years, waiting for nothing.  Who are we when we stand by a grave?  Does our own loss burst forth, at its most selfish?  Or do we become what we were in the eyes of those underground? I suppose this is now the question I need to answer.  I lay on the warm marble, gripping it to slow my shivers as the sun dips behind the hill, turning the grave pinkish.   Amor Vincit Omnia.  Amor Vincit Omnia.  Amor Vincit Omnia.

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A piano is playing a song I know.  A string of innocent notes, morphing into a womanly melody too fast for a lullaby, too slow for a march.  It’s a song of continuums, not extremes.  A soft hand caresses my hair.  Elisa. Elisa.  Elisa.  The song peaks as I recognize Für Elise.  I open my eyes, reaching for the hand in my hair.

It’s twilight.  Or perhaps dawn.  The first thing I see is the marble tombstone.  Bluish now.  No longer warm.  There is no hand in my hair.  Just the Snowshill wind.  The shivers have stopped, but only because I am frozen solid to the grave.  I lift my head, a sharp pain piercing my neck.  I blink to grasp my surroundings.  The East sky is lightening, the stars fading.  I look at my dad’s watch.  9:23 p.m., Portland time.  5:23 a.m., here.  I have been sleeping on this grave all night.  It takes a few moments for the truth to sink in:  this is rock bottom.

I look down at myself: jeans stained with grass, hands night-bitten, hair a tangle of leaves and wind, a stranger’s shoes.  At the sight, a shot of life surges through my spine and I sit up straight.  Ironic – life by a grave.  But perhaps this is what it takes: the end of the beginning to show you far you have fallen, and how far you can rise.   Maybe it’s this grave, maybe it’s the fact that my parents are the first ones to witness my fall, or maybe it’s this shame I am feeling at repaying them this way and running for so long.  Whatever it is, the answer to the question I fell asleep asking, comes to me.  Who are we by a grave?  We are who we were born to be.  We are who we were in the eyes of those that knew us best.

As the answer forms in my mind, so does my purpose.  I pick up my backpack and stand.  The sun is rising higher now, like it did two days ago over Crater Lake.  And suddenly, the words come and I know why.  There are no pretenses for graves.  They all speak one tongue: the truth.  Methodically, I caress the marble until the shallow air forms into letters and then into words.

“Hi Mum… Dad.  I am here.  And I am so sorry.  Sorry for running away, sorry for doing a half-job of living the life you gave me.  I don’t know if it was guilt for surviving or for not being able to repay you for every minute of love you gave me.  I tried.  That’s all I’ve done these last four years.  Live like you would have done.   I don’t regret that part.  I invented the supplement, I saved the Solis’s.  I even fell in love.  Yes, I did.  Isn’t that astounding? In the middle of every end, yours, mine, ours, I found love.  And I fell with all my senses, as you used to say, Mum.  His name is…,”  the words stop, lodged where my throat used to be, perhaps even deeper.  I swallow hard and breathe whatever air I can.

“Aiden Hale,” I force out his name.

The moment it burns my lips, I have again that haunted feeling that I am missing something vital.  Something that explains everything.  It’s much like a stutter – the way he described what his memory did the first time he saw me.  Ironic.  I don’t have a memory stutter – I will remember this as long as I live.  It’s more like a logic stutter, a discordance between what I know and what I have seen.  His name echoes in my head as my mind stutters again.  I ignore it.  If I am missing something, I am used to it.  And if I am not missing anything, I am wishing I was, because I don’t want to believe he did what he did.  I shake my head, caressing the marble again.

“It’s finished now because it needed to be.  Maybe someday, I will tell you about him.  But not today.  Today is about me.  I have spent four years wondering if you would be proud.  If you would approve of the woman I’ve become.  Well, I know the answer now.  Seeing me here, sleeping on graves, you would be furious – ” I pause again, my lungs shuddering at what’s coming next.  I breathe in and out, as though I am rolling rosary beads with my airways.  Until my lungs steady enough for me to say the final words.  They are hard words, but they are right.

“I have to let you go, Mum and Dad.  Not by running this time, but by doing what I should have done four years ago.   Pick up the pieces.  Find what I want among these shambles.  I have no idea how I’m going to do it.  I’ll start at the beginning, as you used to say Dad… And maybe in the end I’ll know the answer to the million-dollar question.  Would I still want America, out of choice this time, not fear?  Will Aiden survive out of love, not out of loss?  And if he does, can I love someone else?”

The rose vines flutter in the wind, like a nod.  Strange how human beings will find signs to confirm what they want to hear.  My eyes drift to the white lily that now reminds me of Aiden.  At the thought of his name, that logical stutter happens again but I shove it away.  I wonder if it will be easier to get over someone dead or alive.  We will see.  For now, it’s just about me.  Every time he crosses my mind, I will think of something for me alone.  That’s Rule Number One.  I kiss the marble stone.

“See you tomorrow.”  And every day until I accept you are gone.

And with that, I turn my back, heading for the Cottage.  It is time to face my home, even if my origin is frozen.  The grief of this new loss creeps but I know the symptoms by now.  Ulcer flaring and a perpetual cold in your fingertips, even in high summer.  I look at the windy road ahead of me.  The moment Aiden’s name crosses my mind, shockingly I start whistling like Javier taught me.  One single tune:  Für Elise.  The melody that woke me up.  The melody that gave me a name.

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Song:  Suo Gan, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lapculOfR0

Check out the images on 30 Nights Pinterest.  http://www.pinterest.com/anisurnois/30-nights-of-snow/

Thank you for the wonderful support!

90 Days of Hale ©2013 Ani Surnois

Ch. 19 of TMM/30N and the song that always makes me cry… This is for my dad (he would know why!)

It has been over 14 years since I cannot listen to this song without tears in my eyes.  This one is for my dad, who is Elisa’s father namesake and inspiration!  Love you daddy, even though you probably can’t read this!

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“The best parents anyone could have asked for…” Elisa Snow, Ch. 19

Song:  Adriano Celentano, Il Tempo Se Ne Va (Time Goes By) (about a father and daughter, see translated lyrics from Italian below) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–dqleeZ43M

Lyrics Translated  “Time Goes By”

http://lyricstranslate.com

That dress, where did you snag it?
What an astonishment
to see you wear it,
if your mother sees you, you know
tonight, we will be in deep trouble.
It’s strange but it’s really you
14 years old, or maybe a little older
You haven’t held your Barbie for some time now
And your walk is that of a lady now.

The phone calls are always a secret,
how many words in a single breath
I’d like to ask you who it is
but I know you will be embarrassed
The door is shut badly and you
on the mirror, doing your make-up
showing your cleavage.
soon, you will go out at night
and on those nights, I will never sleep

And so the time goes by
and you no longer feel like a little girl
growing in fear of your age
I had not realized it before
And so the time goes by
among dreams and worries
lacy stockings have already replaced
the white knee-length socks

Becoming a woman is natural
but a daughter
is something special
Maybe you already have a boyfriend
how many times have you cried for him
The skirt a little short and then
Malice in some of your gestures
and soon, you will go out at night
those nights, I will never sleep

And so the time goes by
and you no longer feel like a little girl
growing in fear of your age
I had not realized it before
And so the time goes by
among dreams and worries
lacy stockings have already replaced
the white knee-length socks.

LOVE YOU DADDY!

Ch. 18, a poem, and a thought… thank you as always (links below)

I always read poems about a woman’s beauty, but not enough of them about the beauty of a man.  This poem is Elisa’s conception of Aiden’s beauty.  I hope you like it.  Song and poem below (the song’s lyrics are perfect for this).

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In a flash of intuition, I realize that Aiden Hale does not just make love. He creates meaning, visions, life. Elisa Snow, Ch. 18

MALE

Your body knows no beauty that falls softly

Loosened as the moonlight on my skin,

Lilacs don’t bloom with your fragrance,

Petals don’t open at your whim.

Your beauty knows nothing of azure light,

Of droplets of dew or blossoms of cherries.

Suspended in your dense, perfumed breath,

I think of steel, not of lavender prairies.

You come with a violent beauty, like war,

One that tears through body and blood.

I crave no touch but your rough, iron hands,

As I lay sodden in your carnal flood.

Your beauty storms, beats, defiles,

Sharp tempests of air in my burning lungs.

I know my margins only from your fire,

My riverbeds and valleys only from your tongue.

Your skin doesn’t soothe, it flays me alive

I break under your fingers as morsels of bread

Clasped around your salty infinity

Your hardness shatters me like spume over crags.

I bear the brunt of your opulent being

Like this I love you, neither wrong nor right

But a man with clenched body and mind

The love I love loves me fierce and blind.

Song:  Une Femme Amoureuse, Mireille Mathieu (the words are PERFECT, translated below) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GzICQ6_Cxc

Translated lyrics:

Time flies like crazy
But today it stops for us
You look at me and who knows if you see me,
But I see only you,
I have only one question,
Your eyes, my eyes
And I sing your name
If someone else comes
I’ll drive him away and I will protect myself.

Chorus:
I am a woman in love
And inside me burns the desire of building around you
The walls of my life,
It’s my right to love you
And to want to protect you
Above all.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow
Are only one day, when you hold my hand
It’s like a fantastic plan made in heaven
For the love between us,
To be together for a long time
Or separated by oceans.
If danger comes
I’ll eliminate it and I’ll protect myself

30 Nights Poems ©2013 Ani Surnois

30 Nights of Snow ©2013 Ani Surnois

Chapter 17 of TMM/30N is up (link below). THANK YOU for reading and commenting. I’m so lucky I have you.

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“Aiden smiles, still playing with my hair. ‘A hopeful beginning, in the most unfair end.'” Elisa C. Snow, Ch. 17.

 

Song:  Tonight, Lykke Li, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0Q6NGvdmXQ

30 Nights Playlist

Hey everyone, last day of vacation here (Boo!).  To delay the Monday, post-vacation abyss, I am posting the “soundtrack” (does that word work outside of the movie world?) for 30 Nights.  So many of you have asked for and recommended songs over the last few months, and I have adopted some of those recommendations.  Thank you so much for thinking about 30N in so much detail!!  My goal with the list of songs was to have music from various parts of the world that represent all the diverse readership of 30N, but also the immigration theme.  And of course, I tried to pick songs that have resisted time because time is such a big issue in 30N/TMM.   Hope you all like it!!  Lots of love (while trying my best to banish Sunday blues).  Feel free to guess which songs go with each moment from 30N/TMM.  xo, Ani

Intimate lovers embrace

30 Nights Of Snow Soundtrack

Fur Elise, Ludwig Van Beethoven, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mVW8tgGY_w

Romeo et Juliette, Je Veux Vivre, Maria Callas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjQkvxIQkJw

Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnpaPGHFsL4

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Nina Simone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ckv6-yhnIY

Sentimientos, Tango Project http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mvKvqHyas0

Breathe Me, Sia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFGvmrJ5rjM

Closer, Kings of Leon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg3F4zpOdK8

Caruso, Andrea Bocelli http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlzZ3vuDbf8

Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, Neil Diamond http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGvMjgLXBi0

Tonight, Lykke Li  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0Q6NGvdmXQ

I Just Want You, Ozzy Osbourne, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDb8OPUS7LM

La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi (The Drinking Song) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfBxYxU5vwQ

Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig Van Beethoven http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT7_IZPHHb0

No Light, No Light, Florence + The Machine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATfUdaZQLMA

The Limit to Your Love, Feist http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kwjn8YaaB1Q

Mondo Bongo, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPjaXu6g1Xk

Million Dollar Man, Lana Del Rey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5H467MnzVs

Hello Vietnam, Johnny Wright http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fs4puvFVRmI

Sail, Awolnation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CaypEojjKQ

Beyond Love, The The http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-1_7UXjKsM

Fun, Some Nights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zqRYGlkgjE

The Policy of Truth, Depeche Mode http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp3JgWmQHcE

La Vida Es Un Carnival, Celia Cruz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaZoajkutG8

Deja Vu, Inna http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8R0O1LcPAM

Amado Mio, Pink Martini http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDx2N4BmS_M

Assassin’s Tango, John Powell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64HLXWjbJxE

Cream, Prince (no link on youtube)

Sadeness Part 1, Enigma http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNYC3kAsPiw

Ave Maria, Celtic Woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWV02z6JOaE

Clandestino, Manu Chao http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rylGaxCyVYY

O Children, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3RhOU8dH2o

Carmina Burana O Fortuna, London Philharmonic Orchestra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWiyKgeGWx0

Only Time, Enya http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RW9JX6961KM

Star-Spangled Banner, Whitney Houston http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHruYuEfIyE

Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGeCPv6gw_U

Aiden’s Letters… (this is the first letter he wrote to his son’s mother)

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“There is a ripple in the closet’s trademark organization…The yellowed, sealed envelopes – one of them torn in half… These must be the letters he wrote during the war. He never said to whom.” Elisa Snow, Ch. 38.

Letter 4

My All,

To whom else does a man write on a day like this?  Not to his son – there are no lessons or answers to give.  Not to his mother – she would only weep.  Not to a friend – he already knows.   He writes to his woman – because she forgives.

I should write to you about how you have kept me alive.  I should say that these nights, I only fall asleep if I synchronize my lungs to yours.  You breathe like the Moonlight Sonata.  At first slowly, softly, like a butterfly on my lips.   Then, because I can’t fall asleep unless I am inside you, your breathing changes, now like a humming bird’s wings under my hands.   Your body rises and trembles, and yet you never leave my lips.  You hold on to them, as I breathe the air that you create faithfully.   And that’s when it happens.  For a blind instant, your breathing stops and it becomes a single word.  My name.  That’s how you come.  That’s how you go.  With my name on your lips, blindly, maddeningly, and for me alone.  

As you fall asleep, your breathing slows.  Deepens.  I feel an instant of jealousy for whatever dream pulls you away from me.   But your lungs let in and out a steady airflow, as if they know that without it, I am nothing.   It takes 15 of your breaths for me to fall asleep.  

I should write to thank you for breathing…  But instead, I write to add to the burden that you already carry on your delicate alabaster shoulders (I have kissed them a thousand times). 

It’s done, love.  Baghdad is razed to the ground.  Only 35 out of 650 animals in the zoo survive.  Almost 170,000 Mesopotamian artifacts are missing from the National Museum.  The National Library and all manuscripts over 7,000 years old burned down.  I don’t know how many men, women, or children are dead, or how many of them from my hand. 

Yet, there was a moment I reveled in it.   We raided a marble palace with golden doors.   You may have seen it on TV.   That is where Saddam’s son, Uday, lived.  Marble, gold, silk, milk-filled pools.  Around it, homes with no running water.  Stray dogs.   Children playing soccer with an American helmet quoting Joshua 1:9, For the Lord my God is with me wherever I go.   Blood danced in my veins as we stormed the golden doors.  I laughed at the carnage.  I whistled as we searched for bodies in the marble ruins, hoping one of them was alive so I could end him myself.

Marshall asks God for forgiveness, but I have no God with me, I have only you.   Still, every man needs an altar.   Mine is the taste of your lips and the glow of your skin.  And your soft eyes that are neither tearful, nor sad.  They sparkle with the light of open doors.  The only doors that welcome someone like me.  I suppose this letter is my knock.  And because you are not real, you let me in.

Yours,

Aiden

Ani’s Note:  Some of you may have wondered why Aiden asks Elisa “not to leave his lips” the first time they make love.  Perhaps this letter will give you  one of the answers.

30 Nights of Snow ©2013 Ani Surnois

Chapter 14 of TMM/30N is up (link below)…

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!  You’re awesome.  Here is the next chapter of TMM/30 N.  I don’t have a poem today because my hubby has whisked me away for a vacation but there will be more soon.

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“… I suppose I’m in a better position to help you if I strike this deal than if I don’t. So, yes, we have an embargo. For today.” – Aiden Hale, Ch. 14.

 

Song: Caruso, Andrea Bocelli, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tVZn4T3rM8

Chapter 13 of TMM/30N is up (link below)

Thank you everyone who is following and commenting here.  And welcome to all the new readers and followers (almost 400 in the last week)!!!  You are wonderful and I cannot thank you enough for the appreciation you have shown me.

After a short break from 30N with the prologue for 90D last week, I’m continuing to post the remaining chapters of TMM/30 Nights, as promised.  As before, each chapter comes with the painting I think represents it best, a poem I have written for it, and the song that played in my head when I wrote it.    As for 90D, there will be some additional teasers off an on…  Thank you so much!!  Links below.

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Cinderella found.

LIFE-KISS

Of your open mouth,

I have learned to expect

the ocean air that keeps me alive

the cinnamon scent that spikes my dreams

the rose’s bloom that laces your smile.

From your parted lips,

I crave too much

A tempest of words that will set me free,

The soft music that mutes battlegrounds,

The sighs that lullaby a man to sleep.

From your open lips,

I desire salvation,

Benediction of my infinite days

But should you wish upon me condemnation,

I want your lips to burn me to the stake.

But of all the burdens I place upon your mouth,

Of all that I crave, and all that I miss,

It goads me love, something profound,

that your petal-lips remember this.

When next they open, they let fall

like crepuscular snow into the abyss,

the secret knowledge, the primal call,

from flesh to ash, they scorch me kiss by kiss.

 

Song:  Nina Simone, Feeling Good http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfJRX-8SXOs

30 Nights Poems ©2013 Ani Surnois

Covers for 30N and 90D, and Elisa’s Calligraphy…

Some of you asked for the meaning behind the covers (I gave you all a big cyber hug, in a very non-creepy way)… :-)

These are just dream covers.  Nothing official because I have no clue if the book will ever get published… The cover for 30N is a metaphor for Elisa:  innocent, closed, virginal, guarding a secret, but about to bloom.   The cover for 90D is also a metaphor for Elisa:  now bloomed into a full woman/rose, she is bleeding from within.  The question of the sequel is:  will the blood be a hemorrhage or will it turn into the lifeblood she always wanted?  Oh, and I picked a rose because she grew up with a rose garden, it was her mother’s favorite flower, and it relates to one of the most important moments in Elisa and Aiden’s relationship.

On a scale 1 to 10, how crazy do you think I am?

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to my awesome artist/ best girlfriend/miracle woman who-manages-to-stay-beautiful-without-even-needing-moisturizer, M, who helped me build this blog and who composed these covers from beautiful pictures to representations of Elisa’s life, as well as Elisa’s calligraphy.  Love you with  my life, M!!

And here they are… :-)

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Introducing 90 DAYS OF HALE, the sequel to 30 NIGHTS OF SNOW…

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THIRTY NIGHTS OF SNOW
Ani Surnois

PREVIOUSLY ON 30 NIGHTS

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Reagan and I hold each other until airport security calls my name.  Elisa Snow… exactly like in both of my nightmares.  But unlike my nightmares, I don’t have either Aiden or Javier with me.  Instead, Reagan is here until the very end.

“I love you with my life,” I tell her.

“I love you too.  I’ll see you in two weeks.  And I’ll bring any American man I can find along the way to marry you and bring you back.”

Security attributes my Valium stupor to anxiety and wheels me to the Gate.  Reagan waves behind the liquid curtain of my tears until I can see her no more.

Inside the plane, I stuff my backpack under the seat and look out of the window unblinking.  I don’t want to miss a glimpse of my American un-dream.  In the distance, The Met’s glass exterior reflects the sun setting, like it did at Crater Lake.  Strength.  He said he needed it too.  I wonder if my soul is back from the Rogue yet.  It will never catch up with me in England.  It will always float here, keeping tabs on Solis’s, Aiden, and Reagan.  I guess if you travel far enough, the soul divides.

Beneath me, America fades. Perhaps it’s the height, the Valium fog, or the hollowness inside but in this flight, I’m not carrying ghosts.  I am one.  Shivering, I reach for my backpack to get my scarf.  His dog tag comes out of my blouse but I don’t see it.  Because as I unzip my pack, on the very top next to Reagan’s paper, is a stack of yellowed, sealed envelopes, and a folded white note.  Oh!

CONTINUING…

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90 DAYS OF HALE
Ani Surnois

90 DAYS OF HALE 

PROLOGUE

Oh!

The last breath is similar to the first one, they say.  Violent on the lungs, thirsting for life.  But as the gasp of air leaves my mouth, I understand the difference.  For the first breath, there is always someone waiting.

I reach for the folded note inside my backpack, wondering if it can bring me to life.  My ghostly fingers make contact with the crisp piece of paper but they no longer touch.  They simply work:  grip, pick up, unfold.   I read the unfamiliar slanted handwriting, one blurry letter at a time.

Elisa, 

I am breaking Mr. Hale’s rules by giving you his letters, but I hope that they will remind you of the man you know, not the one you saw today. 

Benson

I look at the stack of envelopes in my backpack.  Unopened, yellowed, watermarked.  Maybe I should pick them up, but I cannot.  So I simply run my fingers over them.  Occasionally, a grain of sand – desert, Iraq sand – prickles my skin.   The sand never leaves you, Aiden Hale told me once.  I leave his letters in my pack, and re-read Benson’s note for clues.  For answers.  For anything that may explain how Aiden Hale – the man I know – ended seven lives, eight if you count mine.

But the Valium that Reagan gave me before I boarded this plane weighs down my eyelids.  I struggle to keep them open until darkness engulfs me.  The Valium fogs my thoughts until they become disjointed spurs of conscience, and finally, there is nothing.

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 “Miss? Miss?”   A gentle, feminine voice comes from somewhere in the distance.  Someone is shaking my shoulder.  A hard, cold surface presses against my left cheek and I lean into it to escape the shaking.

“Miss?  Please?  Are you Elisa Snow?”  The same voice asks, now urgently.

I open my eyes.  They sting in their sockets.  Slowly, the world comes into focus.  The edges are blurry, as if I am looking at them through salty water.  I am knotted in an upholstered seat, strapped with a safety belt, leaning against a round window with thick glass.  Outside of the window, the plane’s long, white wing spans over an endless runway into the horizon.  A bodiless pain morphs into a livid ulcer between my lungs.  My hand flies to the spot, the spot that once felt warm and pulsed with life.

“Miss?”

I turn towards the voice.  A woman about the age my mother would have been today, with light brown hair and hazel eyes, is looking at me with a creased forehead.  She is wearing a navy-blue suit, a white shirt, and a scarf like the British flag.  At the sight, the ulcer flares and my spine petrifies as my body registers what the mind is unwilling to absorb.

I am on a plane.  I have landed in London.  My home country, but not my home.

Too awake for a coma but too dormant for life, I remember why I am here.  My true love, Aiden Hale, reported my only family, Javier Solis, to the American immigration police, and Javier is now in jail.  In three weeks, he will be deported to Mexico for being an illegal immigrant.  To save his four little sisters, paralyzed father, and aging mom from deportation and destitution, I gave them all the money I needed for a green card.  And now, I am back where I started:  in a land where I have no one left because my parents are cold dust, six feet under in a village called Snowshill, one hour from London.

The ulcer shoots fire whirls in my chest and throat.  I swallow reflexively but my own saliva chafes my throat, as though some other-worldly force has scrubbed it with sand paper.

“Miss, are you feeling all right?”  The hazel-eyed stewardess asks me again.  Only now I hear her Yorkshire accent.   The sound deafens my American-tuned ears.

I know I need to answer.  I just don’t know where the answer will come from.  I search my body, inch by inch, for a reserve of thought, or at least words.

“Yes,” I croak, at last.  My first word in my land is a lie.

“You are Ms. Snow?”

I nod.

“We’ve arrived at Heathrow, Ms. Snow.  Local time is 12:15 in the afternoon.  You have been…” She looks around my seat as if she is searching for words.  I wait to feel concern about how I have been but there is nothing.

She purses her lips.  “You have been unwell, Ms. Snow.  Is someone fetching you?  Or shall I call someone for you?”

Shall I call someone?  Who?  There is no one else left.  I shake my head but when she doesn’t look away, I decide to move.

It takes some time to find my body.  It’s one of those timeless searches where you find what you were looking for, only to realize you have lost it for life.  I move my legs and arms.  My muscles are stiff, and a razor-sharp pain wrings my shoulders and neck.

I notice my right hand is clenched into a tight fist.  I open it slowly.  Crumpled inside in a small ball is Benson’s note.  Strangely, I have a compulsion to put it in my mouth and swallow it.  Like they do with those secrets-of-the-universe notes.  Perhaps because like those answers, Benson’s note feels like a code that although it cannot reverse the end, perhaps it can explain it.

The stewardess watches the ball of paper too.  She reaches slowly with her fingers as if she wants to pick it up.  My hand closes in reflex.

“Don’t be scared,” she says.  “I won’t take it from you.  You would not release your grip even in your sleep.  I just want to tuck it away with your envelopes.”  She points at my still-open backpack with the sealed envelopes resting on top.

At the sight, my body convulses and heaves.  The stewardess sits next to me and covers my clenched fist with her hands.

“Where do you live, darling?  Can you say it?”

I keep my eyes on hers, trying with all I have left to answer the question.  Where do I live now?  She looks blurry, opaque.  I wonder why.   Another shape comes into focus, a man in uniform.  They speak to each other in hushed voices.  I hear some words, and the rest are simply sound.

“I don’t know… no, she won’t talk…  called the coppers but she’s not in trouble… oh, her passport… good idea…”

The stewardess ducks and resurfaces.   “Elisa Snow… Rose Cottage, Snowshill…” she whispers.

More hushed sounds, then a warm hand on my fist.

“Ms. Snow… we called a taxi to take you to Snowshill.  Can you stand?”

I nod and try to move.  The stewardess turns to the blurry shadow and whispers something.  I only hear the word “doctor.”  But it is enough.  Enough to take me back to a sterile hospital corridor, with the smell of ethanol in my tongue and the numbing sedative in my veins.   No doctors.  No.

I stand slowly, testing my knees.  The stewardess holds out her hand.  I take it, Benson’s note still inside my fist.   She picks up my backpack.  My body must react somehow because she looks at me.

“I won’t take it from you, darling.”  Her voice is soft, like a mother lullabying to a cradle.  “I am only going to zip it for you, and put it on your shoulders, all right?

Yes, please.  Yes, on my shoulders.   I feel the weight of the bag on my back.  Strangely, it is comforting.  It carries American dust, just like me.  The stewardess hovers closely, as I plod down the plane’s aisle, the blurry male shadow behind me.

My eyes refuse to leave the face of the hazel-eyed stewardess.  She looks like no one I know but she has a woman’s touch.  Soft, like Maria’s.  Strong, like Clare’s.

At the plane’s door, she reaches for my hand again. “We’ll take the steps together,” she says and opens the door slowly.

The British air slithers inside me, but my lungs refuse it.  The last air they breathed was in Portland.  That is the only dust I want inside me.  Not the British air that my parents exhaled in their last breath.

“Watch your step, darling,” the stewardess nudges me.

I look down at my feet.  But the sight of my new sneakers rips the ulcer wide open.  These are the sneakers Aide Hale bought me for my graduation.  My knees buckle.  A pair of strong arms breaks my fall but I thrash against them.

The hazel-eyed woman steps close to me.  She murmurs words I don’t hear.  My throat burns, as if I am screaming myself hoarse.  But my skin cannot tolerate his gift. My feet blister, and the ulcer flares in the spot I used to call origin.

“Elisa!”  The woman finally yells, and the fire in my throat stops.  She takes a deep breath and touches my cheek.   She nods once.

“All right.  All right.  We will take them off,” she says and kneels in front of me.  Only now, I realize what I was screaming.  I sit down too, and together we undo my shoelaces.  One after the other, the sneakers come off my feet.  She turns them over, and I see the words he monogramed for me. 

Elisa C. Snow

Summa Cum Laude

May 14, 2012

She Walks in Beauty.

A.H.

“Here, they are off, little darling,” the stewardess says.  “Would you like them in your bag?”

No! My insides convulse at the idea.  I cannot form the word but perhaps she knows it anyway.  She nods and looks inside my sneakers.  Then, she takes off her own shoes, and smiles.

“Luck is everywhere if you look,” she says.  She slides her shoes on my feet and looks at me with warm eyes.  “We wear the same size.”

Hand-in-hand, we take the plane steps as I breathe the London air.

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90 Days of Hale ©2013 Ani Surnois

30 Nights of Snow ©2013 Ani Surnois