First scenelet of Heartwood Take 2. I feel comfortable posting since this will be the 10% in the Look Inside preview feature. Unless…okay, true confession, I want it out in the world where someone can tell me, “oh geez, don’t, ugh, it’s slow, boring and confusing, stop please stop.” Or, ya know, the opposite. Here ’tis:
When destiny knocked on Grace Trapani’s front door, she was out back on the patio trimming the herbs in her summer planters. The rapping sound startled her, sending a jolt of panic through nerves wound tight from months of worry. The mental short circuit bypassed common sense, which whispered the pizza must be here, and jumped straight to the terror that never went away: what if it’s him?
The idea died as fast as it sparked. Grace’s ex-husband would not knock if he came to reclaim his stolen family and punish his disobedient wife. Joshua Salucci carried a Public Safety badge now that he’d sold his soul to the devil. He could break down the door with Federal troops behind him if he wanted—but more likely he would use his new Satanic powers on Grace and force her to open it for him.
That’s why Grace had forsaken him in the first place. When Josh’s judgment first came on him, when he’d embraced evil and called the authorities against every tenet of their faith, Grace had seen her doom in his eyes. As soon as the Public Safety thugs took him away from the compound—to train him, they’d said, as if they thought that would be reassuring — she’d grabbed the girls and fled for their lives.
And for weeks she’d flinched at every shadow, cringed at every stranger’s voice, moving from hotel to hotel, daily giving thanks for the savings they had never entrusted to worldly banks. Through the God’s mercy and the kindness of strangers they had found sanctuary here in sleepy Elgin, Illinois, in a home on the enemy’s doorstep where Josh would never look.
These days she could quell the static bursts of fear with facts. If Josh could have found them, he would have come to destroy her months ago. This was the pizza delivery, and the pizza was not her responsibility.
Knuckles rapped on the front door again, harder this time. Grace set down her basket of herbs and picked up the garden hose. Water hit the upstairs bedroom window with a splatter. The sash slid open, and thumping drumbeats blasted outside, chased by screaming waves of guitar and keyboard noise. Gloria stuck out her head. The so-called music drowned out her voice, but her mouth made a familiar shape. “What?”
Memory provided Grace with the proper aggrieved tone, and again when Lauren came up beside her sister and mouthed all three syllables of “Mom!”
The twins had their black curls piled high on their heads in complicated braided arrangements today, and both wore the same indignant expression. They looked most like their father when they were angry, a detail that bothered Grace more than she liked to admit. Her children had inherited his flair for martyrdom too.
Grace considered embarrassing them in public her favorite parental duty. “Your supper’s here. They’ve knocked twice already, so you’d best hurry. I left money in the key tray for you. Bring the party out back, please. I’ll set out plates and napkins for you.”
“Fine!” The window slammed back down. The music stopped, and a shout bounced through the house. “Stay there, pizza man! We’re coming!”
Grace supposed she should discuss indoor voices with them again later, but she hated ruining together time with lectures. This would be their last summer together as a family, and she wanted everything to be as perfect as she could make it.
Oh, to be young again, trembling on the pinnacle of childhood, eager to leap into the bright air of adulthood, blissfully ignorant of the rocks below waiting to break you when you fall.
She’d always feared the girls would inherit her sin and Josh’s, and last year the mandatory tests had proved it. Starting at sixteen, her daughters’ summers would be spent fulfilling government service obligations and attending classes on coping with the horror their lives might become.
Grace didn’t want them to go, but they couldn’t claim conscientious objection. Josh would be looking for a woman Grace’s age with two daughters, and the religious exemption would put them on a short list. Grace consoled herself that education was not all indoctrination, and anyway, that was a worry for another day. She didn’t need to borrow next year’s troubles when she would have a half-dozen hungry guests to manage any minute now.
Lauren’s and Gloria’s effortless socializing was a constant marvel to Grace. They certainly didn’t get that gift from her. She’d been warned that switching schools at their age could be traumatic, but they’d made the transition with a determined enthusiasm that won over everyone they met. Every day Grace saw more glimpses of the amazing women they would become.
Thoughts of gratitude reminded her to say a blessing before the meal. Most of Lauren and Gloria’s friends got uncomfortable about religion, but that was no reason to skip the formalities herself. Gloria was at the point of making jokes about Grace saying grace, but it looked like Lauren might grow into faith, not out of it. Another worry for the future, not for today. Grace could only show them the path. They had to find their own way. She’d fought for that, for them.
She bowed her head. “Thank you, Lord, for what we are about to receive from your bounty. Amen.”
It was a perfect summer evening: sun low in a blue sky dotted with clouds, rainbows dancing in the spray from the sprinklers, green plants in the freshly-weeded garden swaying gently in the rising breeze. She loved these dog days of the year when life ripened slowly in the heat.
The girls had complained about the sticky, humid, nasty, frizzy-hair-making, zit-causing, disgusting weather all morning during the yard work. The whole gaggle of them had spent the afternoon in Lauren’s air-conditioned room, painting their nails, doing those absurd things to their hair, trying on each others’ clothes, and discussing grown-up topics like the difference between second and third base. They thought they were quiet when they whispered.
Now footsteps thundered down the stairs, followed by shrieks of laughter, a sound to warm the heart of any mother raising two angsty teens on her own. Grace gathered up her little bubble of happiness and the plates to set places at the picnic table. Indoors the girls belted out shrill commentary, and the hinges on the cheap metal screen door squealed as it opened.
Silence fell, followed by the declaration of ultimate disgust. “Mo-o-om!”
Grace prayed for patience. “Lauren, honey, I told you, the money’s in the tray.”
“It isn’t the pizza.” Gloria yelled, and a second later she appeared at the kitchen door. “It’s for you. Somebody from the Department of Public Safety.”
The perfect day veered off script into disaster
The cat picture at the top of the post has nothing to do with anything. I like the picture, that’s all.