Angel Eyesby Shannon Dittemore
Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Shannon Dittemore invites you to enter a realm that only angels and demons---and Brielle---can perceive.See more details below
Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Shannon Dittemore invites you to enter a realm that only angels and demons---and Brielle---can perceive.
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By SHANNON DITTEMORE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Shannon Dittemore
All right reserved.
The knot in my throat is constant. An aching thing. Shallow breaths whisper around it, sting my chapped lips, and leave white smoke monsters in the air.
It takes them nine seconds to disappear. Nine seconds for the phantoms I've created to dissolve into nothingness.
How long till the one haunting my dreams does the same?
The absence of an answer makes my hands shake, so I slide the lambskin gloves out of my book bag and put them on.
If only it were that easy.
Like glacial masses shoving along, ice travels my veins, chilling my skin and numbing my insides. Three weeks of this biting cold outstrips the severity of my nightmares, but I haven't suffered enough and I know it.
"Miss, isn't this your stop?" The man's voice skates atop the frozen air.
I want to answer him, but the words don't come. A single tear thaws, escapes the confines of my lashes, and races triumphantly down my cheek. It soaks into my knit scarf—an invisible trail marking its life.
"Miss?" he tries again. "We're here. We've reached Stratus."
My legs are stiff, refusing to stand. I just need a minute. I should say something at least—answer him—but the knot in my throat refuses to budge. I raise a gloved hand to wrestle it away.
"I'm sorry, dear, but the conductor is impatient today. If you don't exit the train, you'll have to ride back to Portland with us."
I turn toward the aisle and look at the poor man. He's sixty at least, with a tuft of gray hair and an oversized bow tie. The kind you only see in the movies. He, too, is wearing gloves, and it's a small comfort to know I'm not the only one chilled. His face wrinkles into a million lines, and the corners of his mouth lift.
"Of course, if you'd like to return with the train, you're more than welcome. I could use the company." He gestures to row after row of empty seats.
"No," I murmur, standing quickly. I cannot return with this train. Not now. Not to the place where it happened. "You're right. This is my stop." I gather my bags and sink deep into my parka before stepping onto the platform.
Why is everything so cold?
I wrap my scarf around my neck once more and think of Hank, a coworker of my dad's, who climbs Mount Hood every year. He's lost all the toes on his right foot to frostbite, and one year a companion fell on the south side of the peak and slid into a crevasse, sacrificed to the god of adrenaline. After losing so much, how can such a journey be worth it?
The train pulls away from the station. It's empty now, but I stare after the steel snake as the heaviness of good-bye squirms inside my chest, locked away in a cage of frozen bones and tissue. Will I ever thaw enough to say the word?
The parking lot is small, but as I cross it I cast a flickering gaze at the man standing by a pickup. Six foot five and burly, my father waits with a stubborn smile as I trudge toward him. Don't come, I'd said. I can take a taxi. I knew he'd be here anyway.
The heavy load falls from my hands. It crunches into the frozen blacktop, and I lean against his truck, counting silently to fifty-eight before he says a word.
"I know you didn't want me to come, Brielle, but you're not in the city anymore. There's just the one cabbie. Didn't want you standing here all night waiting for the guy." He stretches his long lumberjack arms around my shoulders awkwardly. "Plus, I couldn't wait to see you. It's been too long."
He adds the last sentence very quietly, and I pretend not to hear it. The knot in my throat is a traitor, though, and explodes in a gush of air. The sobs that have bruised me from the inside out finally break free as my daddy wraps me in his arms and tucks me into his flannel coat.
He lets me cry, his grip so tight I have to struggle out of it when I'm done. Still snuffling, I wipe my face on my sleeve and crawl into the truck. The scent of wood chips and spearmint gum tickles my nostrils, and I settle back, breathing it deep. Dad drops into his seat, and I have to brace my hand against the door to keep from sliding into him on the sloping bench-seat.
"Sorry," he says.
The engine revs, and we leave the parking lot behind us. From the train station it's just three miles to the house I grew up in. The distance flies by, leaving me feeling like an outsider. I can't point out a single change, but it all feels foreign. The mixture of evergreen trees and cow pastures are a bizarre juxtaposition after the city's skyscrapers and manicured parks.
I don't want to be back here, but the oak tree in our lawn comes into sight and the pain ebbs a bit. The house isn't anything to get worked up over, though I've always been happy to call it home. Ranch-style, white with yellow trim, it sits nestled in a jumble of evergreens. Within, everything about the furnishings is supersized to fit my mountain of a father.
We pull into the long gravel driveway, and I cringe at the ridiculous mailbox that's been added in my absence.
"Where did you get that?"
"I made it," he says, proud of his handiwork. The mailbox is ghastly: a ten-gallon bucket, our last name scrawled across it, perched atop the old post. "Whatcha think?"
"What happened to the old normal mailbox?"
"I backed into it with the trailer." He chuckles, and the elastic bands around my heart ease up just a millimeter.
"Well, at least I know what to get you for Christmas."
Dad parks the truck, and a small sigh escapes my lips. I hadn't planned on living here again, ever, and the sting of disappointment jabs at my gut: I did not finish what I set out to do. But I can't go back. I can't. I need this house, and I need my dad.
"Who's living in the old Miller place?" I ask, nodding at the only other house in sight—a farmhouse situated about a hundred yards to the east.
He cranes his neck to look past me. "Don't know. Somebody just moved in."
Several of the windows are alive with light. The truck rattles with the sound of a stereo, and my heart slows to the rhythm of the bass line. Like a metronome, it's soothing, and I lean back against the headrest.
"Ah, heck. I'll go over there after dinner and tell 'em to turn it down."
"No. Don't. Please."
His shoulders sag, and I realize he'll do anything to make me comfortable tonight. We sit in the cab, the rattling truck and bass guitar filling the silence.
"You know, kiddo, you don't have to talk about it. You don't. You don't really need to do anything for a while." He's rehearsed this little speech, I can tell. "Just be, okay? Be here, and maybe one day you'll see it really wasn't your fault."
I choke a bit and look into his big teddy bear face. He can't know. He's my dad. He sees only what he wants to see. He'll never understand that I could have stopped it. I look out the passenger-side window, over the dead grass and the brown leaves scattered on the ground. I look out at the coming winter and the setting sun and say all I plan on saying about it.
"Ali was eighteen, Dad. My age. A little bit younger, really." My body—my skin, even—feels so heavy with the icy weight of it all. "I could have stopped the whole thing. There's no way around that, but you said it yourself. I don't have to talk about it."
I turn to face my father. He needs to know how serious I am. This subject is off-limits. Until the trial—until I'm sitting on that witness stand—there isn't another soul who needs to hear my story. I look Dad straight in the eye. Tears gather there, they run down his face and sparkle in his beard.
"Okay. We just won't talk about it," he concedes. He kisses my nose. "Some guy named Pizza Hut made us dinner, so let's get to it."
He climbs out and throws a hostile look at the old Miller place. Then he grabs my bags from the bed of the truck and stomps inside.
"Pizza Hut, huh?"
I follow him into the house. His boots leave muddy prints up the porch stairs and across the linoleum floor. I used to reprimand him for stuff like that, but not today. Today, I simply ghost by.
Weaving around the mud splotches, I make my way through the kitchen and into my old room. It's been vacant for two years, and still it looks the same. I pick at a loose thread on my jeans, uneasy at the lack of change. This ancient town is tightfisted with her diversions, and it's quite possible I've had my share. The idea hurts. Like that dingy penny in the bottom of your pocket—the one that must be eighty years old. You scratch away the gummy muck and are horrified to find how new the coin is. Much newer than you ever would have guessed.
How did I get so filthy, so damaged in just a few short years?
I'd been given the chance of a lifetime, and now, two years later, my own inaction had ruined not only my dreams but the life of someone I'd loved. Broken dreams I can handle, but I'd give anything to go back and make things right for her.
That isn't possible, of course. Some things you have to do right the first time. If the past three weeks have taught me anything, it's that.
You don't always get a second chance.
The doorbell rings, mercifully pulling me from thoughts that can only lead to tears.
An unnoticed, quiet transition back home was too grand a thing to hope for. I realize this only now as I reenter the kitchen, followed by several of my old friends. It's a diverse group I've collected through the years: there's the softball player, the cheerleader, my first lab partner, a girl I've known since Girl Scouts, and two dancers from Miss Macy's studio on Main.
I'm the outgoing one. The ballerina, the model.
My place has always been the clubhouse. The home without a nagging mother. Without chores to do. Without pestering siblings. We've grown up together, all of us. Their mothers made me cookies and hemmed my dance costumes. Their fathers kept Dad company while I was away at summer camp. These girls and their families will always be the players on the stage of my childhood, and I can tell by their optimistic, chipper faces that they assume we can pick up where we left off.
They're wrong. Nothing will ever be the same.
I try to smile and nod at the right times, but I'm cold and slow. Eventually their smiles fade. They ask a few questions about the train ride home, about my school in the city. No one approaches the tie-dyed elephant in the room, but their eyes avoid mine, and I know they're scrutinizing the poor beast in any case. Mostly they fidget uncomfortably. After half an hour the entire huddle smiles politely, mutters garbled apologies, and leaves one after the other. Only Kaylee, my childhood sidekick, stays long enough to grab a slice of pizza and attempt to wring me from my melancholy.
"Brielle, you've got to let this go," she says, picking the pepperoni off her pizza. I wonder if this attempt at vegetarianism will last longer than her emo phase.
"If it's all right with you, Kay, I'd rather not talk about it," I say from across the kitchen.
"I know, but one day you will, and I'll be here, okay? I'll be right here." She stares at her pizza as she speaks, and for that I'm grateful. "This pizza's great. I mean, I know I'm a vegetarian, but if I pick it off like this"—she waves a pepperoni at me—"the cheese still tastes like meat." She flashes her teeth at me, marinara coating her braces.
A giggle hiding somewhere inside my gut wriggles its way north and surprises both of us.
"Well, you're not spewing soda out your nose yet, but it's better than the face you had when I got here. You'll be at school tomorrow?"
"Yes, of course. What else is there to do around here?"
"I heard that." Dad's recliner moans, and a second later he lumbers into the kitchen. He's been pretending to watch some Japanese reality show and now leans heavily on the island, studying my face. "You don't have to jump back into things so fast, kiddo. Thanksgiving break's just ending. Take a week for yourself. Adjust."
"The bucket outside doubling as a mailbox—that's the only thing that's changed, Dad." I tweak his nose, trying to cram my lively past-self into the gesture.
He takes my hand and folds it into his. "But you've changed, baby. You've had to."
I tug my fingers free and turn away. "School is fine."
Actually, I dread it. All those faces staring at me. Knowing. All the questions stirring behind sympathetic expressions. Yes, I dread it. Absolutely. Suddenly the pizza seems like an awful idea, and I'm sick to my stomach.
"Brielle? You're white as a sheet. Maybe you should listen to your dad."
"I just need to lie down. I'll see you tomorrow, Kay." I run from the room, bleating the last few words as I go.
I make it to the bathroom before I start throwing up, but only just. Dad brings me a glass of water and a rag. I send him to bed and tell him not to worry—it's probably just the greasy pizza. He isn't convinced, I'm sure, but he understands I'd rather be alone in my misery, and he's kind enough to give me that.
The rest of the night passes—uneasily, but it passes. I don't sleep much, and when I wake, my hands are shaking violently. My dreams scare me now. Not because they're always about Ali, but because I'm always afraid they will be. Fear is the real spook haunting my dreams. When I'm awake, though, it isn't fear that makes me shake. It's guilt. Frigid and ever present.
The sound of tire chewing gravel tells me Dad's truck is backing down the driveway. I yank the cord on my blinds. They fly up and away, and I rub my hands together as the sky brightens moderately behind a canopy of gray clouds. My sheets and blankets have balled up and settled in a wad on my stomach. I kick them off and step into the shower, cranking the knob hard to the left—so hard the pipes squeal in protest. Hot water, sputtering and steamy, washes over my skin. Still, I wash quickly.
How it can scald my flesh and still leave me chilled, I have no idea, but the past twenty-three days have brought one disappointing shower after the next.
It's too early to head to school, so I start a load of laundry for Dad. I unload the dishwasher and unpack quickly, cramming away shirts and pants before I'm forced to remember why I bought them or who I bought them with.
Wrapped in a blanket, I wander through the empty house. It's pretty clean, but I suspect Dad has paid someone to do that. There are no cobwebs on the white walls, the flat-screen TV is void of dust, the thick brown carpet has been vacuumed, the blue recliner and sectional smell like Febreze. An afghan is folded neatly and draped over my favorite reading chair. A collection of books adorns the leather ottoman, and the bathroom has a new addition: a plug-in air freshener.
Yeah, he's paying someone.
Pictures of my dead mother doing things I have no recollection of litter the walls and tables: holding my pudgy toddler hand as we walk through a park, wearing a flowery bathing suit and splashing in the surf, kissing my father under the mistletoe. I stop at a picture by the front door. It's a family portrait taken outside Miss Macy's dance studio on the afternoon of my first recital. Dad looks nearly unchanged: ruddy complexion, mussed beard and hair, flannel shirt. I think he was happier then.
In the photograph Mom's holding me tight. My legs, in white tights, wrap around her waist. The tiny bun on top of my head is pulling loose, but there's no mistaking the resemblance to my mother. Even at three years old I favor her. Blue eyes, red lips, fair skin. Her golden-blond hair sits in waves upon her shoulders in a way I've never been able to replicate. Instead, mine hangs long and straight. Still, I have her soft round cheeks and small chin. I run a finger over her face. I don't remember her at all.
Dressing as warmly as possible, I pull on my parka and gloves over everything else. I step onto the porch and fumble in my bag for the car keys I haven't needed in two years.
We live on a fairly empty stretch of road. The view from our porch shows a spattering of trees, the highway, and then acres and acres of abandoned farmland. The old Miller place sits to the east, and a mile or so beyond is the Stratus cemetery. There's also a road leading back to the interstate. The rest of the town sits to the west.
With an anxious sigh I climb into my hand-me-down Volkswagen Beetle. She's a 1967, black with a rack on top, and we call her Slugger. Slugger was Mom's, so Dad's always taken good care of her, but she's not allowed out of town. Too old, Dad says. Too slow, I say. Either way, Slugger's a piece of Mom, and I love her.
Excerpted from ANGEL EYES by SHANNON DITTEMORE Copyright © 2012 by Shannon Dittemore. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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