Ava Wilder's home in small-town Iowa is her sanctuary. A talented sketch artist with severe agoraphobia, Ava spends her days drawing a far more adventurous life than her invisible disability allows. Until she receives a package from London, explaining that she has inherited her Aunt Beverly's entire estate-on condition that she lives in Bev's West End flat for a year.
Once overseas, Ava wonders if she's simply swapped one prison for another. The streets and shops are intimidating, and Bev's home appears to be a drop-in center for local eccentrics. Worst of all, Bev left a list of impossible provisos to be overseen by her quirky, attractive solicitor. Ava is expected to go out-to experience clubs, pubs, and culture; to visit Big Ben, Hyde Park, and the London Eye. After years of viewing the world through a pane of glass, she's at the messy, complicated center of it. As exhilarated as she is terrified, will she be able to step up, step out, and claim the life she was meant for?
In an insightful, poignant novel, Mary Carter delves deep into self-discovery and the meaning of courage, exploring the fears that serve to protect us-until life calls us to connect at last.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
MARY CARTER is a freelance writer and novelist. Her other works include Three Months in Florence, The Things I Do for You, The Pub Across the Pond, My Sister’s Voice, Sunnyside Blues, She’ll Take It, and Accidentally Engaged. Readers are welcome to visit her at marycarterbooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
London from my Windows
By MARY CARTER
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Mary Carter
All rights reserved.
"May I have this dance, luv?" Ava's father asked her mother.
Oh yes. Please say yes. In the corner of her living room, Ava Wilder stood on tiptoe, clasped her hands, and held her breath, fearing if she exhaled, her mother would not dance. Ava's father held the record player's needle aloft, waiting for the yes to set it down and let his favorite song play. He had on his dancing shoes, the shiny black ones with the pointed toes, black pants, and the green sweater-vest Ava's mother had bought him for Christmas.
Such a good dancer, oh, he was so good. His glass of Scotch sat untouched on the shelf above the record player, two cubes of ice bobbed at the top, and the day's last beam of sun cut through it, striking it gold. While they waited, he turned his head, winked at Ava, and unleashed his drumroll of a smile. Ava's enthusiasm spilled out into silent applause. This way she could show her full support yet not shatter the moment with useless noise. Her mother loathed useless noise. Whenever she was tortured by useless noise, her face hardened. Then, the magic would be lost. Oh, please soften; please soften. Whenever she softened and they danced, the world glowed. Their living room pulsed with life, and Ava danced with joy. Joy, right here in their little town in Iowa.
Gretchen Wilder folded her arms across her chest and shook her head before glancing at Ava. The needle scratched down anyway and bossa nova music enveloped the room. "Tall and tan and young and lovely " Her father lifted his arms up and moved his feet to the music. Yes. Oh, he was such a good dancer. Ava's right foot tapped along too. Someday she was going to be just like him. She would dance with her husband. She would never need to soften because she would never harden. His hips swayed as he sang along with Frank Sinatra. "Tall and tan and young and lovely." He was slightly off-key and it sounded funny with his British accent. Ava giggled. She wished she had a British accent, but hers was boring like her mother's.
"Come now. Dance with me."
Ava's mother shook her head again and stared at the tightly drawn curtains. "What will the neighbors think?" Could the neighbors see through the curtains? Ava would have to check next time she was in the yard. Ava's lips moved along with the song, although she didn't dare sing out loud.
"They'll think that we like to dance." Her father's voice was as upbeat as the music. He strode to the window and swooshed open the curtains. Faint stars were already starting to pop their heads into the sky. He turned to Ava. "Dance with me!" Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. Ava glanced at the windows, then at her mother's pursed lips. Should she? Could she? Her father stood in front of her and planted his feet wide and firm. The tops of his black shoes were so shiny that Ava's nose, lips, and even the ceiling fan were reflected in them.
"Bertrand." Her mother's voice relaxed slightly. It was there, beneath her tongue, a slight hesitation. She was softening. He always made her soften.
Yes! The first shot of joy coursed through Ava. Who cares, nosy neighbors. We're dancing. Ava kicked off her shoes, grabbed on to her father's outstretched hands, and stepped onto his feet. They danced as the girl from Ipanema walked to the sea. Ava leaned back, stretched her arms as far as they would go, and forced her father to hold her weight. He sped up and the crown molding carouseled by. This was the best day ever. Her father was happy; her mother was softening. Dizzy, getting a little dizzy, but Ava didn't want to stop. Her shrieks filled the air. She straightened her head. The brown recliner, flowered sofa, and RCA television blurred into a mini-tornado of color.
Her mother headed for the kitchen. "She's going to barf on the living room rug."
"I won't barf!" Ava shouted. "Aaaaaaahhhhh." The scent of garlic and tomatoes filled the air. Wednesday. It was spaghetti night with the stretchy white cheese. Her mother baked it in the oven. Ava loved, loved, loved the stretchy white cheese. "Aaaaaaaahhh."
Ava's father gently brought her up, and he began to dance her to the front door. He held on to Ava with one hand and opened the door with the other.
"What are you doing?" Gretchen called from the kitchen.
"It's a beautiful night. Let's dance outside, Ava," her father said.
"What will the neighbors think?" Ava said. Where did that come from?
Her father just laughed and opened the screen door. "That we like to dance," they said in unison. And soon they were twirling on the front porch. Ava laughed and relished the cool breeze on her hot face. The aroma of marinara sauce mingled with the rosebushes below.
"Now, down the path." Her father danced her down the steps, one-two, one-two, one-two, and even though the music was distant now, deep inside Ava the beat continued to pulse. The sky was trying to hold on to the remaining streaks of blue, but orange streaks cut across it, deeper than any shade in her box of 64 Crayola crayons. "What do you say, little lady?" her father's voice rang out in the yard. "Shall we dance in the street?"
"We shall," Ava said, putting on her best British accent. They stepped just outside their brown picket fence. Fireflies blinked around them as they danced toward the curb. If only Ava had a jar. When they reached the strip of grass just beyond the sidewalk, Ava's father lost his footing, and stumbled. He dropped her hands and Ava's feet flew out, knocking her backwards. She smacked the ground, barely missing the concrete. Pain roared through the back of her head. "Dad?" Why wasn't he worried about her? Why didn't he cry out to her? Ava sat up. Her father was lying on the sidewalk a few feet away. Inside Ava's head, the music stopped and the needle scratched. And scratched, and scratched, and scratched.
She scrambled to her feet. "Dad?" Her voice came out as a whisper. Was he playing a game? He would never hurt her on purpose. He had never dropped her like that before. "Dad?" She said it louder this time, and her voice cracked. Once more, he did not answer. A strange thudding, like a heartbeat, pulsed through her ears as Ava inched over to her father. His eyes were open, unblinking. Was he having a laugh? Sometimes he liked to have a laugh. "Dad?" This was a scary game. She didn't like it. Did not like it at all. Dead. He looked dead. "Dad? Dad?" He would never do this to her, not when she sounded so terrified. Something was really wrong, terribly wrong. Ava screamed. The kind all the neighbors would hear. She tore up the walk and clamored up to the porch. She threw open the screen door. "MOM. MOM. MOM."
A clank sounded from the kitchen, followed by the sound of something crashing to the floor. "God damn it!" her mother yelled. "Ava! God damn it!" Ava knew the spaghetti with the stretchy white cheese smashing on the kitchen floor was the sound she heard, and saw it all in her mind's eye—noodles, red sauce, and the stretchy white cheese smeared all over the floor.
Her mother's heels clacked closer, and closer, and soon she appeared, fists clenched and eyes flashing. "Guess what you made me do?" she said. Who would make her soften now? No one. She would never soften again.
"Dad," Ava said. "Help." She whirled around and raced back to the curb, not even caring if her mother was following.
"What in the name of heaven?" her mother called after her, the first sign of worry creeping into her voice. Ava was standing over her father's body when her mother came down the walk, her face as pale as the stretchy white cheese that Ava would never eat again. "What did you do, Ava?" her mother wailed. "What did you do?"
What did she do? "Nothing." She didn't know. "Nothing." She really didn't know. "We were dancing."
"Dancing," her mother said. The word sounded different coming from her. It sounded evil.
"Dad," Ava said. "Daddy, wake up." Ava knelt down on the sidewalk. Pebbles cut into her knees, but she didn't move.
"I told you not to dance," her mother said. "I told you not to dance."
"Do something, Mom," Ava said. "Do something." She stared helplessly at her father. He was so still, so pale. "CPR," Ava said. It was a lifesaving skill. Her mother dropped to her knees next to Ava. Did she know CPR? She didn't pinch his nose or breathe into his mouth. She held his face between her palms.
"Bertie, Bertie, Bertie." Ava had never heard her mother call him Bertie. "Wake up; come on, wake up now." Ava wanted to tell her to blow into his mouth and press down on his chest. She wasn't quite sure how that would help. Please, God, make him better. I will do anything you ask. Anything. "Ava, go inside. Call nine-one-one. Then turn off the stove." Ava moved, somehow, up the path, the steps, and once again she burst through the screen door. She didn't stop until she reached the kitchen, where she darted in and slipped in a pool of marinara sauce. She hit the floor face-first this time. Noodles clung to her, and sauce covered her chest. She grabbed on to the counter and hauled herself up, then turned off the stove and snatched up the phone. Her fingers trembled as she hit the buttons, and she was smearing red sauce on everything she touched.
CPR. It's a lifesaving skill.
"Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?"
"My father," Ava said. "Help."
"What's your address, sweetie?" Ava recited it. There were so many questions, she wanted to get back outside. "Where is your father? Is he with you?"
"He's on the sidewalk. We were dancing. Outside." She leaked out each word like a confession, a plea for forgiveness. She wiped noodles from her, and as much sauce as she could. It looked like blood.
"How old are you? What is your name, sweetie?"
"Ten. Ava." Why was she asking her that? What did that matter?
"Are you alone?"
"My mother is outside. She's with him."
"Is he breathing?"
"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. We were dancing outside. He's lying on the sidewalk. It's my fault! It's my fault!"
"It's not your fault."
"The ambulance is on its way."
"Can you bring the phone to your mommy, sweetie?" Ava never called her mommy. She was too old for that. Ava ran outside. Her mother was crouched over, sobbing, rocking.
"Mom. Nine-one-one wants you."
"You're too late," her mother said. "You're too late."
Too late. What did she mean? Too late. He was dead? Did she mean he was dead? That man on the sidewalk was not her father. Her father was alive. He could brighten a room just by walking into it. He was her dad. He was supposed to be there for her, watch her grow up. He was going to take her to London to see the Queen. He promised. He never broke his promises, so he couldn't be dead. They were going to visit her aunt Beverly. She was an actress in London and they were going to stay with her, and drink tea in rose-petal china cups with their pinkies sticking out, and eat something her father called trumpets. Ava's father laughed when she said it. "I wouldn't want to chomp on a trumpet." He winked. "Crumpet" was the word he said: It was more similar to an American pancake than a musical instrument. How could he be dead when she could still hear his laugh in her ear? Maybe she needed to beg.
No, please no, God. Please, God, please. Please. When that didn't work, Ava thought of everything she could have, should have, done that day instead. Ava should have run faster. No, she ran too fast; that's why she slipped. She should have been more careful around the sauce. She turned off the stove first. How could she be so stupid? She should have called 911 first. She was too late, too slow, too stupid. "I'm sorry. I slipped. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She was too. Sorrier than she had ever been. Hot stabs of guilt assaulted her on an endless loop. Make this stop. Please, make it stop. Miracles existed, didn't they? Could she get a miracle, please? Just one. Take me, God. Take me. I'm not even a good dancer.
Her mother's wails echoed in the night. Up and down the block, neighbors flung open their doors and stepped onto the sidewalk, watching. Her mother was right. The neighbors watched. They saw. But for once, her mother didn't seem to care. "My husband. My love. My only love. He's gone, he's gone, he's gone. Why? Why? Why? Why?" Ava thought her mother was pleading with God. "Why, Ava, why?" She was wrong. Her mother wasn't pleading with God; she was pleading with her. This was Ava's fault. Her father was dead, and it was all her fault.
A fireman came into their class just last week to talk about CPR. He said it was never too early to learn because you could do CPR on animals too. That's why Ava really wanted to learn CPR. In case she had to save a dog one day. Maybe a poodle, or a beagle. She prayed she wouldn't have to put her mouth on something big and mean like a Rottweiler, or slobbery like an English bulldog. But she would. She would save any breed of dying dog. The fireman was going to teach it at the firehouse on Saturday. Ava had signed up. Her father was going to take her. But this was only Wednesday. It was never too early. But it was too late. She was too late.CHAPTER 2
"You're ten years old. You know there's nothing you could have done to save him," the dork with framed degrees on his wall said. He also had fake plants. Fake plants! Ava wondered if he also pretended to water them.
"I could have done CPR!"
"Well, technically, yes, but that's like saying you could have flown him to the hospital, but you didn't because you didn't have a helicopter."
"Even if I had a helicopter, I don't know how to fly a helicopter."
"Exactly," he said. "You see?"
What a dork. On her way out he took a phone call and turned his back to her. She swiped one of the fake plants off the shelf near the door and threw it in the garbage bin outside. "Fake piece of shit," she said to the trash bin. Its plastic mouth just flapped back at her. She'd never said "shit" before, let alone stolen anything. Her father wouldn't like her saying that, wouldn't like it at all. Maybe if she said it God would send him back to straighten her out. Maybe he would see that she needed her father. She was going to turn into a cursing thief without him. Surely God wouldn't let that happen. Ava had never heard of anyone coming back to life, but miracles existed, didn't they?
If they didn't, she didn't care whether she was good or bad anymore. She knew she was supposed to feel bad, but she didn't. She'd spent ten years being a good girl and what did she get for it? The person she loved the most in the world was dead. She wasn't going to be good anymore. She wasn't even trying to be bad; she just didn't care.
Ava spent the first few days after her father's death doing every bad thing she could think of so that he would have to come back to life. She went through her mother's purse when she was in another room. She called five numbers in the phone book, said, "Help," when someone answered, then hung up. She drank milk out of the carton and stuck her fingers in every single dish well-wishers dropped by. She thought everyone was playing a joke on her, or trying to teach her a really giant lesson. The lesson was—learn CPR; it's a lifesaving skill. At her next therapy session she made the mistake of blurting this out to the dork. That repetitive thought, that her father was still alive and trying to teach her a valuable lesson, was a form of denial according to the dork psychiatrist. That made her really, really angry.
"Oh, so he's really dead then, is that what you're trying to say?" She thought he would get all embarrassed and feel bad, and apologize. She was wrong.
"Yes, Ava," he said. "Your father is really dead." She glanced at the shelf near the door where the fake plant used to sit. There was another one in its place. Piece of shit. He didn't even miss it. He just replaced it. He was trying to get her to do the same thing. Replace her father. Piece of shit, piece of shit, piece of shit. Why couldn't he be dead instead? She could bring fake flowers to his grave. Why did dorks get to live and wonderful people who could brighten rooms just by stepping into them have to die? Why? Why? Why? She wanted to smash something. Maybe that's why everything in this dork's office was soft and plastic. Maybe everybody who saw him wanted to smash things. "Did you hear me, Ava?"
"Yes, I heard you. My father is dead. Why don't you open the windows and scream it for everyone to hear?"
"Are you worried about what other people think, Ava?"
She hated how he said her name all the time, as if she would forget what it was if he didn't constantly remind her. "I hate you," Ava said.
"I'm okay with that," the dork said. "I bet you also hate that your father is dead, don't you?"
Ava didn't think a man whose breath smelled like stale maple syrup should be allowed to say things like that to a child and get paid for it.
"Why do you look away every time I say that your father is dead?"
Excerpted from London from my Windows by MARY CARTER. Copyright © 2015 Mary Carter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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