When Ace leaves home to spend the summer in Cherokee, North Carolina the last thing she expects to find is a boyfriend—until she meets Cherokee Tribe member John Spears. As Ace and John's friendship blossoms, they find their life experiences mirror each other and they fall in love. Despite hurdles thrown by well-meaning family members and jealous frenemies, the star-crossed lovers remain committed to their mutual belief that the universe has drawn them together. However, when Ace sends John a strange text and then suddenly disappears, the two must rely on their trust in each other to save both their lives and their love.
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.69(d)|
Read an Excerpt
I'm late. My self-imposed curfew ended an hour ago, but sometimes I have to get away just to breathe. My hand trembles as I sweep the key card through the lock mechanism. The green light blinks, and I let myself in. A warm lamp burns in the large living area, but the sharp angles of the ultra-modern furnishings keep the place from looking like a real home. Who am I kidding? A suite in a casino resort in Cherokee, North Carolina isn't a real home, but thanks to Dad's job, that's where we're living for the summer.
"Mom, I'm home," I call.
I toss my purse on the counter and run to the bedroom I share with my twelve-year-old brother, Zack, to be sure he's okay. He's in bed asleep with the light on, an encyclopedia draped across his chest. The book rises and falls with each of his shallow breaths. I sweep his long brown bangs to the side and kiss him on the forehead. He would never let me do that if he were awake. He's sensitive to touch, so he only lets me show him the love he deserves when he doesn't know he's getting it.
Now to check on Mom.
I only make it halfway to her bedroom before my stomach cramps, and I have to stop. I really have no reason to worry. She's been fine since we got here, even happy. She's probably just sleeping.
A couple steps further and I'm knocking on the door. "Mom, are you awake?"
No answer, still.
I take a deep breath to keep my anxiety in check, then let myself in. The room is dark and quiet, lit only by the full moon bleeding through the solid glass wall.
I squint while my eyes adjust. My mother sits in the Jacuzzi in the far corner of the room, a mere silhouette, a lonely black ghost. She rolls in my direction and mumbles something. A glass slips from her hand and shatters on the tile floor. Before I have a chance to react, she sinks into the tub.
"Omigod!" I dash to her side, grope through the water, and fish her out. She coughs and sprays chlorinated saliva over my favorite shirt — the blue one with the beadwork horse on the pocket. A design I spent hours creating.
I shake her. "Wake up. You have to get out before you drown."
She fights me, but I hold strong while glass crunches beneath my sneakers. To my advantage, she isn't very big — a whole size smaller than my size seven frame — and I'm able to get her on her knees. While this isn't the first time I've had to take care of her, I've never seen her this drunk. My mother is like a stranger to me.
She groans when I drape her over the side of the tub. With one hand on her back, I brush away the glass shards with a neatly folded towel. Then I ease her forward, and she tumbles out with a wet thud.
"Don't move. You might cut yourself," I say.
She lies sprawled like a naked rag doll while I run to get a clean towel from the bathroom. I return in a flash and help her to a sitting position, then wrap it around her middle.
Mom scrubs her nose with the back of her arm and rasps, "Your father left me. He's with another woman."
Here she goes again. The alcohol has damaged her brain. There's no other explanation. I mean, they fight a lot, but Dad loves her. He loves us. "Stop with the nonsense. You're imagining things. He's working. You know that."
"You left me. Zack fell asleep early. Why does everyone always leave me?" Her breath is ragged and tears flood her already damp face.
I'm mad as hell, but her sobs, as usual, evoke pity in me. I don't want them to, but they do. I knew Dad was going out, and I left her. It's my fault she's in this condition. Now I have no choice but to undo the damage I've done, right my wrong. I've got to fix things before anyone finds out.
I hug her and kiss the top of her head. "Don't cry. It's okay now. I'm home. I won't leave again tonight."
"Swear you'll stay?" she whimpers.
"I always do," I say under my breath as I jump up to flip on the lights.
My mother's usually perfect blonde hair is matted to her head in stringy wet noodles. Trails of black mascara stain her cheeks, and there's a smudge of red lipstick on her chin. Beneath it all she's still beautiful. Even when my mother's a mess, she's a hot mess.
I find her satin, multi-colored birds of paradise bathrobe — her favorite — then I coax her to her feet. She reels a bit but cooperates and slips into the robe. I tie it snugly around her waist and tug at the skirt part until it hangs evenly the way she likes it. Mom totters to bed with me guiding her by the elbow. She flops onto the mattress, and I tuck her in under the covers.
Snatching a tissue from the silver holder on the bed table, I wipe her face clean as best I can. "There. You're all better," I lie colossally. A real whopper. "Do you need anything else?"
She grasps my wrist, digging her manicured nails into my flesh. "Ace, I don't know what I'd do without you. You're the best daughter in the whole world."
She deserves my wrath, but how can I be mad at her? She's nice to me when I'm playing nursemaid. It's the other times that suck.
I sit on the edge of the bed and pat her shoulder. "Get some rest, okay, Mom?"
She nods and closes her eyes. It's not long before she's snoring. I turn her on her side and prop a pillow behind her back, adjusting her position until her breathing quiets. After cleaning the broken glass off the floor, I turn out the light and leave her to sleep it off.
In the living room, a half-empty pint of vodka sits open on an end table near the couch. I take a sniff. The stench stings my nose. It reminds me of a floor cleaner. Which one? I can't remember. I screw on the lid, zip it in my backpack, and hide it in my bedroom closet under a bag of dirty clothes. Then I wrap the empty bottle of wine in today's newspaper and stuff it in the bottom of the trashcan. There's no point in letting Dad find out how much she drank. We've had enough family battles lately to classify the area as a combat zone.
My phone bleeps like a space laser, making me jump. Zack's been messing with my ringtone again. I dash to pluck it from my purse and silence it.
There's a text from Cameron. What does he want? It's only been an hour since we said goodbye in the hallway.
CAMERON 12:45 AM: Meet me downstairs. Our moms did some serious partying. Mine's out cold. Is yours? We could sneak out and they'd never know.
Oh, brother. I bet Dad thinks he's done everyone a huge favor inviting Cameron and his mother on our family vacation and paying for their room. Would he be so generous if he knew Susan drinks as much as Mom and Cameron's trying to lure me out of the house in the middle of the night.
I text him back.
ACE: Can't. Mom's standing guard duty at the front door. LOL
One more little lie couldn't hurt.
CAMERON: Come on. Don't be a chicken.
He gives me strange vibes, but I hardly know him so it's really not fair to judge. Mom wants me to be friendly to him so Susan will like her. Pathetic, I know, but her drinking has alienated her from most of her other friends. Her plea, "Be nice to him for me," swirls around in my brain. My stomach spasms as I peck out my next text.
ACE: Maybe we can do something tomorrow.
CAMERON: Deal. Can't wait. (I visualize all the exclamation points he lazily left off.)
ACE: See you then. (I leave off the sad face emoticon.)
Why do guys always have to push?
Between dealing with Mom, and now him, I'm in desperate need of a little distraction. I flip on the TV, press the mute button, and watch meaningless images flash across the screen. What the hell am I going to do when the sun comes up?CHAPTER 2
My eyes shoot open.
The volume is set to just above audible, but at this hour, when the house is silent, it might as well be a foghorn. I poke at the off button and ease out from under the covers, careful not to disturb my brother, Victor, who's lying next to me, snoring his brains out. One day I'll have my own place and my own bed. For now, I'm stuck status quo.
My little cousin, Lenny, is sprawled out on the single bed in the corner. He's uncovered but the bed is dry this morning. Good thing, 'cause I'm not in the mood to change sheets. I pull the covers up to his neck, grab my clothes, and strut down the hall, ninety-eight percent sure there will be no fight for the bathroom. Living with as many people as I do, I can never be one hundred percent sure.
Rae, my twin sister, is conked out on the couch under a fuzzy blue blanket. Damn. Everyone in the house gets to sleep in but me. I don't really mind too much, though. My job is cool.
Once I'm locked behind the bathroom door, I run the water until it's lukewarm and hop into the shower. I'm going to get soaked rafting, but I don't want to start my day smelling rank. Tips are pretty good when my passengers like me.
I towel off and dress in my board shorts and work T-shirt. Then I braid my hair into two long plaits. Braiding long hair is a pain, but every time I think of chopping it off, my grandmother's words pound in my head. "Your hair is a part of you. It's an extension of your thoughts. Without it you'll be lost."
I've never had short hair, so I don't know if she's right, but I like the way I look and I want to please her, so keeping my hair long is a win-win situation.
When I'm done, I hang my towel on the hook on the door and hurry to the kitchen to grab a granola bar for the road.
"Osda sunalei, ulisi atsutsa." "Good morning, grandson," my grandmother shouts from behind me.
I choke on pure air. Why does she always have to sneak up on me? Can't she say good morning face-to-face like a normal person?
I turn around. "Morning, Elisi." Ay-lee-see is the Tsalagi word for maternal grandmother.
She glares at my hand — the one with the granola bar. "What kind of breakfast is that? You'll starve to death." Shuffling past, she motions for me to follow. "Come on, I'll make you something proper to eat."
"Can't. I have to go to work."
"Then don't eat. There will be more for everyone else. But work can wait. I want to talk to you. Sit, please?"
By the tone of her voice I can tell I'm not getting out of this one. Elisi rules the house with an iron gavel. If I don't obey, she'll jab a finger at me like that lady judge on TV and hit me with, "Cherokee heritage dictates women rule not only the house but the children who live in it, too." Loosely translated, "While you live under my roof, you'll shut up and listen whether you like it or not." I heave out a breath and follow her across the cracked linoleum floor I've vowed to replace when I find the time.
While Elisi cooks oatmeal over the old gas stove, I sit in a wooden chair and drum my fingers on the table. Her silence is grating on my nerves. I'd rather she just get down to business so we can end the tension between us and move on with the day.
Finally, she stops stirring and stares at me. "Why do you work so hard at a meaningless job? After you graduate there'll be plenty of time for work."
My job is far from meaningless and pays well, but there's no point in letting her rile me up. "My scholarships aren't enough. I still need extra cash for when I'm away at the university."
Elisi puffs, popping out a p sound. "You torture yourself for nothing. You have a beautiful life on the reservation. Leave and you'll end up like your mother. Do you want that for yourself?"
My cheeks heat up to two hundred degrees, and I flex and release my fingers. I hate when Elisi predicts my future based on my mother's life. I hate it even more when anyone talks bad about Mom. I've been known to loosen a few molars of those who dared to disrespect her. Not my grandmother's, of course. Elisi can say what she wants about her own daughter. It's her right, but I don't have to listen to it.
My chair squeaks against the floor like chalk on a board as I push away from the table. A few steps later, I'm at her side, leaning on her shoulders. "You know I love you, old lady, but I have to go."
"Go, go." She waves her hand around as she speaks. "You're always in such a hurry. No time to appreciate life." She gestures toward the pot boiling on the stove. "Or good food. Go ahead and eat the white man's processed junk. Work in the white man's world until you drop dead. Don't listen to an old lady like me. I don't know anything."
I kiss her cheek, then say, "You know plenty," as I head for the door.
Elisi grumbles but doesn't try to stop me. Both of us know which way our conversation is heading. We've had this argument too many times before. She knows I burn inside when she talks about my mother, and I know she gets depressed when I talk about leaving the reservation. After we get done exhausting those topics, Elisi will break into a lecture about the darkest abyss in my life — my dead father. She always has plenty to say about him, and I can't dispute it like I do with my mom. All I remember about my father is the long braid that hung down the middle of his back — and my mother crying for days when he was killed in a car wreck.
I hesitate with my hand on the doorknob. Leaving without some sort of parting words will hurt her, and that's the last thing I want to do. I lean back and peek into the kitchen until she notices me.
"Stiyu," I say to her.
It sounds like I'm saying "see you," but it means, "be strong." My family says this because the Tsalagi language doesn't have a word for goodbye. It's too final.
Even though Elisi crosses her arms and shakes her head, I know now it's okay to leave. So I do.
Outside, the pale yellow sun peeks over the horizon, kissing the eggplant-colored sky. The cool, clean, mountain air clears my mind. I jog across the overgrown grass, while dew wets my shoes and splatters my ankles.
When I reach my ride, I run my hand along the fender. Old Blue was built by Ford Motor Company back in 1956, but with new paint and a rebuilt engine, she carries me around town just fine.
I settle behind the wheel, grab my shades off the visor, and turn the key. The engine growls and the floorboard rumbles beneath my feet. When my lap belt's fastened, I slip the transmission into first gear. Gravel spits and crunches under the large wheels as I roll down the driveway and on to the road.
Though it's not far to the Nantahala River, I'm late so I step on the gas. Old Blue hugs the road, shifting hard to the right, then left, in an S- shaped pattern as I climb higher into the mountains. When the road straightens out, I roll down the window and settle into my seat. The fresh air bears a slight hint of wildflower and tickles my sinuses. I'll miss the mountains and my people when I leave for Duke University, but I'm ready to get on with my life.
A little while later, beyond the reservation, I reach the Adventure Center where I work. Just as I swing into the parking lot, a black BMW ignores the stop sign and darts in front of me. I slam on the brakes and simultaneously lay on the horn. The girl in the passenger seat stares at me, eyes wide, jaw hanging open as the distance between my front bumper and the Beemer shrinks. If my truck doesn't stop, she'll get killed. How could the driver of that vehicle be so careless with her life?
My tires screech to a halt inches before we collide.
The guy driving reaches across and flips me off.
What the hell? I avoid a major catastrophe that he almost caused and he has the nerve to give me the finger? Only a guy in a pink polo shirt would be a big enough idiot to do something like that.
Then, just as I think no one can be more obnoxious than this guy, the kid in the backseat presses his nose to the glass and torments me with a goofy grin.
The car whizzes past, exposing New Jersey tags. That explains it. Tourists around here are getting ballsier every year, but the ones from the Northeast are the worst. Good thing no one was behind me.
As soon as my racing pulse slows, I let off the brake and go park my truck. The only place left in the employee section is the end spot farthest from the building. Damn Elisi for making me late.
I climb from my truck and check out the sky. The heavens are clear blue without any clouds. The weather will be beautiful — a Southern scorcher, but rain free. If the morning delay and a near accident are the worst things that happen, the day might still turn out okay.
Without further hesitation, I hustle inside to take on my first assignment.
"Hey, Tim. Sorry I'm late," I blurt out, knowing my boss will be behind the desk where he usually is.
Tim looks at his watch. "You were due ten minutes ago. What gives?"
"I had battery trouble." I lie to him because it's better than telling him my grandmother controls my life.
"Well, hurry up. Your victims are waiting on the deck."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cherokee Summer"
Copyright © 2019 Susan J. Schaefer.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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