Before I give you the first part of Chapter 1, I’d like to share my thoughts about my work. It won’t take long, I swear. I just want to say that one of the best things about being an independent author is the freedom to write whatever I want. I work in a certain genre, but there are so many ways to tell a story in that particular genre. Hoodie was really gritty and raw. I was in a place in my life where I needed to write a story like that. I needed it hard. I needed it shocking. But I found myself in a very different place writing Honeysuckle Love. I felt vulnerable. Scared. For whatever reason, my heart felt tender and damaged throughout the writing of that story. (Okay, that’s a lie: I know the reason my heart felt that way but haven’t got the guts to tell you.) You’ll see a stark difference in style. I describe it as this: with Hoodie, someone slaps you across the face. But with Honeysuckle Love, someone caresses your face.
Honeysuckle Love is available Monday, November 19 through Kindle, Smashwords, and print.
Out of a desolate source, love leaps upon its course. ~ W.B. YeatsClara sat at the kitchen table that afternoon running her eyes over the papers. She had them spread out, covering every inch of the worn linoleum table top, somewhat organized as she tried to make sense of each bill. And how she would pay them. There were several notices of unpaid electric bills. That was her first concern. She picked one up and read it again out loud: “This is your final notice. A payment of $332.79 is due no later than September 15 to avoid termination of service.”
She felt the dull pains of panic ripple through her chest—butterfly feelings of dread—and breathed deeply. Today was the twelfth. Three days before her house stopped humming with the sounds of running dryer, whirling fan, buzzing light bulb. She placed the notice back on the table and picked up another. She read to herself:
Dear Mrs. Greenwich:
Our documents show that you are not up-to-date on your gas bill totaling $126.12. These charges include late fees. We have tried several times to reach you and have handed over the matter to Collections. You must make a payment on or before September 7 to avoid your gas service being terminated. Please contact us with questions or concerns.
The Blue Flame Gas Co.
Clara dropped the letter on the table and moved to the stove. September 7. Five days ago. But she had used the stove the previous night. The gas was connected.
She turned the dial to one of the burners and listened for the familiar click click that ushers the burst of low blue flame. Click click click but no flame. Her heart dropped as she turned the dial to OFF and then back to START. Click click click click . . . burst! She watched the flames shoot up, licking the burner insert hungrily. Clara stared at the flames reluctant to turn the burner off for fear that she would not see them again. But she was wasting gas, her hand hovering over the dial, so she spun it to OFF hoping she would see the flames later that evening.
She returned to the table and picked up a sealed envelope. It was the only unopened envelope she found amidst the stacks of unpaid bills, and she wondered why her mother never opened it. Clara immediately feared the worst, an amount she couldn’t hope to pay off with the money she made working at a clothing store. The envelope was stamped Baltimore County State Department of Assessment and Taxation. Clara didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded official and menacing. And she knew what a tax was. Nothing good. She looked closely at the postmarked date: May 22. My God, she thought turning the envelope over and running a shaky finger under the flap.
She pulled out a letter of multiple pages and unfolded it carefully. She didn’t bother to read the writing, only scanning her eyes hurriedly over the first page for a number. There was no number. She flipped the first page over. No number. She looked at the second page searching until her eyes fell on the big, bold ink towards the bottom: $1523.63. Clara let out a strangled cry. She covered her mouth instinctively, turning to the hallway. She waited for her sister to emerge from her bedroom. But no one came. Beatrice did not hear.
Her eyes went back to the letter. This time she read it, fast and impatiently. Her mouth moved forming the silent words. Property tax. Two payments. One due July 1! She panicked as she continued reading. Payment may be made without interest on or before September 30 . . . Second installment is due December 1 but may be paid without interest on or before December 31 . . . Delinquent notices are issued in November and January . . . interest will accrue . . . interest will accrue . . .
Clara didn’t know she was crying. It wasn’t until a tear dropped on the page, spreading in an uneven circle over a smear of black words that she realized her physical response to the information. She placed the bill on the table and wiped clumsily at her eyes. She tried crying quietly; she did not want Beatrice to hear. She moved to the kitchen sink and leaned her head over the basin. The blood rushed to her face immediately; she felt it pulling her head down farther into the sink like a heavy weight. She thought if the sink were filled with water she might just let her face be pulled into it. Permanently.
She watched as the tears splashed into the empty basin making soft plopping noises in the quiet stillness of the small kitchen. A moan escaped her lips, and she slapped her hand over her mouth once more.
“Clare-Bear?” Beatrice asked from behind.
Clara stood up immediately and wiped at her face. She took a deep breath and turned to face her little sister.
Ten-year-old Beatrice stood in the center of the kitchen holding a piece of paper in her hands. Her fingers were small, her fingernails short and stubby, painted with a cheery purple that was already chipping around her cuticles. Her blond brows were furrowed as she took stock of her older sister.
“You know when you have a really bad headache and it makes you cry?” Clara asked.
“No.” Beatrice narrowed her blue eyes at her sister. She flipped her long blond hair over her right shoulder.
“Well, I have a headache like that now,” Clara explained.
“I don’t believe you,” Beatrice said firmly. “Are you crying about Mom?”
The girls’ mother disappeared a week and a half ago. They had no idea where she went, and they were afraid she would never come back. She had packed a suitcase, Clara discovered, when she went in search of it and could not locate it. Some of her clothes were gone from her closet and dresser drawers. She left a stack of papers on her bed that Clara was unwilling to go through until today. Clara searched through it multiple times trying to find a note, some sort of letter of explanation. She needed to read the words I love you. But her mother did not write them. She wrote nothing. She simply left.
After a week and a half, it was as though she never existed.
“I’m not crying over Mom,” Clara said.
“Then why are you crying?” Beatrice pressed.
“I told you, Bea,” Clara said patiently. “My head.”
Beatrice was listening as she turned her back on Clara to take a look at the papers strewn over the kitchen table.
“What are these?” she asked, waving her hand over them.
“They’re nothing. We’ll talk about it later,” Clara said, hastily moving to the table and gathering up the bills.
Beatrice shrugged and looked up at her sister.
“Mom will be back, Clara.” She said it with such certainty that for a moment Clara believed her. She loved that about her sister, that Beatrice could be so resolute at such a young age. Clara’s heart sank thinking that Beatrice would need that quality more than anything in the coming months. That was if their mother never returned.
“I know,” Clara responded. “She just went to the store, right?”
Beatrice giggled. It was the joke they started after the fourth day—the only way they could cope with the pain, anger, and fear of not having an adult in the house. The feeling of security was all but wiped out, and Clara decided that day that she would have to bring it back, do everything she could to make Beatrice feel safe and secure. And happy.
It was a bad night complete with an overabundance of tears. Clara held her baby sister in her arms, rocked her side to side as Beatrice moaned her grief, cried her anger.
“Where is she?!” she screamed over and over into Clara’s soaked shirtfront.
Clara didn’t know what to say, what to do. She blurted the only thing that came to mind, an absurd response to a grave situation. “She just went to the store, Bea.”
Beatrice looked up at her sister, wiped awkwardly at her face, and opened her mouth to speak. But no words issued forth. Instead she burst into a fit of giggles, the kind of reaction only a clever person has, and Clara, understanding it fully, laughed too.
“That’s right,” Beatrice said after she caught her breath. She slapped her forehead with the heel of her hand. “I forgot she went to the store!” and then laughed all over again. They laughed, their faces awash with fresh tears, but this time silly, happy tears for the joke they made. In that moment, Clara felt better in her heart.
Clara smiled remembering that night. She watched her sister as she continued giggling, her little paint-chipped fingernails pressed against her lips. Beatrice was much too cute when she giggled, and Clara thought that if she were now the mother figure even at the tender age of sixteen, it was her responsibility to keep Beatrice out of trouble. Cute giggling attracted boys, and for a split second Clara feared the future when her ten-year-old sister would start noticing them.
“What?” Beatrice asked after a moment. “You have a weird look on your face.”
Clara shook her head and pointed to the piece of paper in Beatrice’s hand. “What’s that?”
Beatrice had all but forgotten about the paper until Clara mentioned it. “My supply list for school,” she said handing it to Clara. “And you remember Open House tonight, right?”
“Of course,” Clara said although she hadn’t. She looked over at the clock hanging on the wall. “What time?”
“Seven,” Beatrice answered.
Clara looked at the list once more. “Well, what do you say we go get these things before Open House?”
Beatrice agreed emphatically. She loved getting new things, especially school supplies. It was something about the smell of them she tried to explain to Clara. On one occasion, she held out a pack of erasers inviting Clara to sniff. When Clara refused, Beatrice shrugged and lifted the plastic pack up to her own nose inhaling deeply. She smiled up at her sister in confirmation that the erasers were the perfect scent. What an oddball, Clara thought at the time.
What an oddball, she thought now, watching her sister dance around the kitchen at the prospect of shopping for binders, pencils, and packs of loose-leaf notebook paper. She wondered if Beatrice would sniff everything she picked up and if the scent of each item would be the determining factor in purchasing it.
“We’re leaving in twenty minutes,” Clara said, and Beatrice rushed to get ready.