The Second Finish Line


Okay, after much whining and complaining, I finally finished draft number 2! I’m shooting for a September 1 publication date and upon doing a quick read-through before I hand things over to my beta readers, I’m feeling a bit better about my story and my 17-year-old narrator.

All good things, right? I certainly hope so!

I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout this writing process though and that’s a good thing. I know, for one, that I’m not meant to write YA. Of course, that’s not what I set out to write, but it’s the path my narrator took me down. And, not so dutifully, I followed. But I think I’m a better writer having gone through this experience.

I thought I’d leave you with a little teaser from chapter 4.

———

Later that evening, I lay on my side on a bedroll thinking of my parents and turning the charm they had given me for my birthday over in the firelight as flames licked the approaching darkness. There were no photographs of us. I had no images to carry with me. Their smiles, my mother’s long nose, my father’s thick shoulders, all of it would only ever exist in my mind, until I myself was no more. Kale lay nearby on his own bedroll, cleaning the pocket knife he had found earlier. Was Kale right? Was Bram really to blame for our fate? Or would it have happened anyway? “Why do you hate Bram?” I whispered in the darkness.

He folded the knife and returned it to his pocket. “I don’t hate Bram.”

I let the charm drop and sat up. “Really? You’re so angry when I talk about him.”

Kale moved closer and sat on a rock, slapping the dust from his pant leg. “I don’t hate Bram. I do think things would’ve been different though if he hadn’t done the things he did. Not just for Curare. But, everyone.” He paused and caught my eye. “I know how much you admire him.”

I bowed my head. “You’re right. I do.”

“You should know, Vea, that you’re not alone. There are others out there fighting for Curare.”

“There are?”

“Of course. That little charm you wear.” He gestured to the necklace I wore. “It’s a phoenix, our symbol.”

Kale reached for my hand and I let him take it. His hands were rough, sharp with callused skin and covered in cracks and crevices from his years of hard work. My body hummed at his touch, but his words cut through me like a knife. I frowned. What was he saying? Did my parents know about these people? They knew about Kale? I clenched my free hand into a tight fist. “But I got this from my parents. It was a gift.” My voice wavered with betrayal. I grew hard, defensive.

“I know. Your parents…they knew.” He tread carefully, choosing his words like you would choose where to step on rocky ground. “I know you’ve never trusted me. But they knew why I came from the City. I was looking for you.”

He tried to catch my eye, but I didn’t want to see his soul laid bare or to believe in the truth of what he spoke. I yanked my hand from his grasp and he recoiled as if I’d burned him. “You kept this from me,” I whispered. No. They had kept this from me.

Kale reached for my hand again, but I shrunk away from him. His eyes filled with unspoken sorrows. The divide rose between us once more. “I didn’t want to. They…your parents didn’t want me to tell you. I argued against it. But they forced me to agree so that I could stay on your farm. Stay with you.”

“Why?” I demanded.

“You’ve dealt with so much already. They wanted to protect you as long as possible. And your mother…she’d already lost her sister. I think she didn’t want to lose you too.” I stood up to leave, unable to bear any more. My parents had lied to me, had kept things from me. Kale had kept things from me. Their gift was not what I thought and the weight of it burned against my skin just like the flames that licked at the bird’s feet. “Vea,” Kale called as I stood to escape. “Please. That bird. That phoenix. It’s important. A phoenix burns after it dies and then is reborn. It’s a symbol of renewal. It’s a sign of life, of overcoming. Of strength. It wasn’t a real bird, of course. They only existed in stories. But that little bird means the world to Curare. And to the Undergrounds.”

I paused. “And you?”

He nodded. “Yes, to me too.” Did I believe him?

“Where did they get it?” I asked, knowing the answer already but forcing him to say it anyway.

Kale hesitated. “I brought it with me from the City. It was mine.”

With a gasp of rage, I turned and fled into the darkness, my eyes hot with tears. The only reminder of my family was nothing more than a symbol of their betrayal, of their willingness to keep secrets from me, making deals behind my back. How many more secrets did they keep?

The darkness did nothing to quench my rage. My breath came in raspy gulps and my tears flowed like rain. How dare they? How could they?

All at once, I remembered the night Kale had arrived in South Farm. My parents thought I was asleep in my bed. But I had become accomplished at sneaking around in the dark. They had seen to that. They sat in the barn talking to Kale, their faces dipping in and out of shadows that flickered in the candlelight. They whispered hotly in the darkness, though I couldn’t make out what they said. That’s when I had decided that he was a spy sent by the CPA to find me.

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