It might feel choppy, because these are only small segments from a 80,000 word manuscript, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask. And remember, I always love some good criticism!
Elanor’s seven-year-old stare was intent. “I know you’re him, Sam—our guardian.”
Sam paused, stunned she knew so much. With her hand still in his, they stopped walking and he looked down on her, into the eyes he’d do anything for—even if it meant living a miserable eternity as an immortal. He’d never thought of himself as a guardian, only someone put in place to oversee. But the gnawing reminder of how he’d veered off that course once before made the title seem fitting, even in his failures. And now he was doing it again.
“Are you an angel, Sam?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think so. Not the last time I checked, anyway.”
“What are you then?” Her freckled brow pulled together and her pink, full lips nearly pouted. It was her traditional display of frustration and he tried not smile.
“I know you trust me, Lanor, so do you think you can keep trusting me, even though I can’t tell you everything? Just know that I will always be around to make sure you’re safe, because that’s why I’m here.”
She lowered her eyes, and her shoulders.
He put his finger under her chin and raised it toward him. “And it’s not because I don’t think you’ll understand. It’s because I don’t know how much I’m allowed to tell you. But I know that because you are so grown-up, you will understand that. You will know that sometimes, that’s the way life works.”
Her eyes softened, his words lifting her shoulders.
“Besides,” he lightheartedly continued as he started forward again, “don’t you think the secret makes our friendship extra special?”
She smiled again, the beginnings of another tooth slowly filling the gap from a month ago. “Yeah,” she dreamily replied.
Actual post here.
Elanor was in a hurry, fishing through the clutter in her closet. She threw aside shoe after shoe, though she didn’t have many, and they thumped loudly on the hardwood floor, threatening to wake her father. Most didn’t fit her, but still she kept them, collecting them like memories—every pair that she’d accumulated over her eleven years of life.
Her last encounter with her gym shoes was almost a year ago. She’d been upset at her teacher for forcing her to play dodgeball and had hid them away, vowing to never put them on again. And every day Mr. Hansen had marked her down for wearing the only pair of shoes that now fit her: her warn, black boots, bought from the thrift store. He didn’t understand kids like her, comfortable in his large house and three cars. He probably had a pair of shoes for every occasion.
But yesterday he’d threatened a visit to her father, and she’d sworn she’d never come to gym class unprepared again. Even though she knew those old shoes would squeeze her feet until she could feel them no more.
She’d grown fast over the last few months, out and up, even growing womanly things. One day, while Sam was inspecting the hem of her suddenly too-short pants, he’d called it a growth spurt.
She glanced at her pink watch and sighed, grumbling under her breath as she continued to search. She was already running late for school, and the knowledge that Sam was at the bus stop, waiting, motivated her. She pictured him, leaning against the Whitmans’ mailbox with an apple in hand, ready to add it to her measly lunch.
Then her heart stopped. Red sparkled from the bottom of the box, beneath every meaningless shoe. She reached for it, hesitantly. She felt over the coarse, glittered surface, where some collected to her fingertips. She’d forgotten about them over the last year, the only pretty, sparkly things she’d ever owned.
She pulled out the pair of ruby red shoes, the straps flaccid and the soles worn to nearly nothing, and she was surprised that they sparkled just as brightly as they once had. She was eight when she’d first watched The Wizard of Oz, and she hadn’t been able to forget it, for a whole week daydreaming of Dorothy and the yellow brick road and the ruby red slippers that had brought her back home, where everyone she loved was waiting.
A few days later, Elanor had froze when entering her bedroom, Dorothy’s very shoes sitting on the foot of her bed. Waiting. As though they’d miraculously appeared from nowhere. Her heart had sped, and the exhilaration had swelled inside her until she could no longer contain it. She’d squealed while putting them on, a perfect fit, and had even been foolish enough to tap them together a few times.
She’d practically jumped up and down when showing Sam that afternoon, and his look had been aloof. And that was when she’d known it was him who’d gotten them for her, probably placed them on her bed when her father was at the shop. She didn’t know how he’d come across such a treasure, but like most things with Sam, she never questioned.
And to this day, he denied it. But she knew.
She’d worn them every day during that next year, rain or shine, and even some the year after, when her growing toes were curled uncomfortably inside. She’d played with Sam in the barn in them, walked the railroad ties in them, pretended she was a princess in them.
And now she would take them in her backpack, since they were far too small for her ever-growing feet. Still wishing for home.
Again forgetting about her old gym shoes.
Actual post here.
SEGMENT 3 (twenty years later)
“I picked up your mail,” Paul called from Elanor’s kitchen. “It’s on the table.”
She sighed. Paul might have been an Adonis by every definition, and every woman might label her lucky to call him her fiancé, but there was still something missing, something not right. He was still fuming from the argument that had transpired on the bed, of that she knew. But it was her birthday, so tonight he acted like he’d moved past it.
She sat on the couch, where he’d demanded she stay, and heard cupboards opening and closing from the kitchen. She hated surprises. Especially birthday surprises. She stood and walked to the dining room table, blowing out a scented candle on the way, and started thumbing through the stack of mail.
Most of it was junk, but she froze, just as she did every time she saw the envelopes. Another letter from Hugh, her former name still scrawled in his handwriting…haunting her. Sighing, her face heating, she crumpled it. Before she could toss it in the waste basket, Paul appeared and took it from her hands.
“Whoa, what’s this?”
“Paul, don’t,” she begged, trying to take it from him.
They stared each other down a moment, his eyes narrowing. “What are you hiding from me?”
“I’m not hiding anything. It’s just a letter from an old foster parent.”
He straightened the envelope, reading the addresses. “A foster parent with your last name?”
“Graham is not my last name.”
He rolled his eyes. “A foster parent with your old last name? Who’s Hugh, Elanor? What aren’t you telling me?”
Just when she was about to reply with another false excuse, she saw behind his shoulder, into the kitchen. It was a birthday cake, elaborate and detailed, and just small enough for the two of them. Her eyes immediately burned. “What’s that?” she unevenly asked, pointing to it.
He twisted, then sighed. “What does it look like?”
“I thought I told you before: no cakes. You knew that.”
He ran his hand through his hair. “It’s a cake, El. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is to me!”
He studied her a moment, her eyes glistening. “It’s one thing to change the subject, but I’ve worked hard to make this night special for you. Where’s the appreciation?” He threw the crumpled envelope on the table. “I don’t know what’s with you. I’ve tried to get past your weird quirks, El, but I just don’t know…”
Inhaling unevenly, she withdrew. “What are you saying, Paul? Am I too nuts for you? Is it too crazy that I don’t like birthdays, or even birthday cakes?”
“Oh, let’s not forget all the other hang-ups. The house I wanted to buy was vintage, Elanor, and a steal. And I had to pass it up because it had hardwood floors?”
“I’m sorry if those things remind me.”
“Remind you of what?” He sighed, calming himself. “All you have to do is open up to me, El. We could work through whatever shit’s in your past.”
“We can’t work through anything. I just want to move on, I want to forget certain things. Is that too much to ask?”
His eyes turned somber. “How can you marry someone you can’t even share yourself with?”
She tightened her jaw, her eyes rewetting. “You know me, Paul,” she lied.
Glancing at the letter, his upper lip curled over his bleached teeth. “No. I don’t.” He walked toward the door, grabbing his jacket.
And he was gone.
Later, Elanor’s eyes found the blasted letter on the dining room table, suitably crinkled. She picked it up, the course wrinkles satisfying against her fingertips, and noticed something different than usual. On the front, in Hugh’s sloppy handwriting, it read, “Please don’t throw me away.”
With heating skin she huffed, revisiting her determination from nineteen years before, when she’d vowed to never play the fool again.
When she’d disowned Hugh as her father.
Hoping he could feel it, with both her fists she balled it into the tightest wad she could crumple—putting all her hatred into it—and threw it into the trash, her eyes burning from ancient betrayal.
She would never read his words, never know what lies filled his many letters.
Actual post here.
Elanor’s breath caught as she turned onto Graham Road and caught a glimpse of the old country-style house at the top of the hill, nearly bringing the car to a standstill. The wooden roof shingles looked even more dilapidated than before. Taking a deep breath, not knowing what putting herself in that place would do to her state of mind, she pressed harder on the pedal and forced herself to move forward.
She hadn’t known what to expect when preparing for her trip. She hadn’t known what she would feel. But as she stood before the house, every emotion was foreign. Maybe it was because the house was different, looking nothing like the way she remembered. In her memory it’d always been aged, but now negligence masked any trace of her childhood home: peeling paint, one green shudder hanging by a single bolt, a crack in the windowpane of her old bedroom, weeds growing above the bay window, the dirt drive nowhere to be seen.
But what threw her even more was the size. It used to feel huge and threatening. Now it seemed small. And sad.
It broke her heart to see the home that had once housed her grandfather and his grandfather before him in a shambles, unused and empty. No longer a dirty remnant of her childhood, it suddenly became a disappointing remnant of her ancestors. Where their sweat and blood had produced something once beautiful, now it was indeed an eyesore, as Gerard had said. What did they think from the afterlife as they looked on the remains of their posterity—on a drunken waste of life, rotting in prison, and a hardly sane, hardly normal woman who would probably end up alone the rest of her life? Would the Noble line stop with her?
Scanning her eyes over every spec around her, even the heavens above, she whispered a simple “sorry” as though they could hear.
It was fall, which usually brought sharp, brisk days in Idaho, but today the atmosphere was clear, and she stepped forward, leaving her jacket in the car. When she reached the overgrown path, she stopped and closed her eyes, letting the breeze move through her hair like cool, energizing fingers. Feeling moved upon by a great force, a force beyond this world, the spirit of the home and all it represented overwhelmed her. She swore the energy of her ancestors was in the wind that blew through the trees and rustled the leaves, swelling with the newfound emotions in her heart.
Somehow, they wanted her there.
Actual post here.
Sam reached into his pocket to retrieve the key, then unlocked and opened the door behind Elanor. He motioned inside with his hand.
The interior lurked behind her, the unnerving energy waiting. She felt it, saturated in memories. His eyes gave her strength and she swallowed hard, retreating until she was inside. As he closed the door behind him, leaving them in murkiness, she quietly said, “I believe forging keys is illegal.”
He chuckled. “I’ve had this key since before you were born,” he said, feeling strange again about their reunion. “You should be grateful. I’ve kept this house what it still is.”
Grasping his shoulders and reaching on her tiptoes, she kissed him lightly on the cheek. “And I can’t thank you enough.”
His eyes grew wide. It seemed that something once so innocent wasn’t anymore. She lightly cleared her throat. “Anyway, I believe you had a question to answer. And now that we’re inside, no more games. Time to spill your guts.”
Elanor stayed in place, keeping her eyes on the door as Sam made his way to every window and lifted the drapes, allowing light to infiltrate the house. “First you have to take this in,” he said. “This is your house now, Lanor. You have to accept it.”
She sighed, furrowing her brow as she slowly turned. The dust danced in the sunlight, but everything wasn’t caked in it as she expected. It was clean, immaculate even. It almost looked lived-in, and seeing it in this condition made it easier to take in, unlike the way she remembered it—the way she expected it still to look. Her mouth hung in surprise. “Sam…”
“I’m sorry. I hope you don’t mind I come in sometimes. Cleaning helps me feel…sane.”
“It’s perfect,” she said, staring into his eyes.
“I get bored,” he shrugged.
Pulled by an intruding memory, she stepped past him and knelt on the faded hardwood floor by the stairs. She ran her hand over it, feeling its smooth surface as she searched for any trace of blood. Being in this place brought it all back, that night now fresh in the forefront of her mind. She could hear her father standing just to her right, snaring her with his honey-sweet lies, his love a sham. She could see his face, the way no trace of life remained behind his eyes. She could feel herself hitting the wall, smashing the mirror and table, hear the clatter as she was showered with glass. She felt him crushing her, heard her screams. She felt her heart shattering.
She felt Sam’s warm blood on her hands, felt the shuddering of his chest as she held him, imaging his life being sucked away.
Sam knelt next to her, watching as she caressed the floor, absorbing the memories. She was feeling them all over again with the touch of her hand and releasing them with her silent tears. He touched her shoulder.
“I’m still here,” he softly reminded her.
Actual post here.
*For a rewrite of this segment, from first person narrative and present tense, visit here.
Elanor backed up as Jamie approached, his hands mysteriously behind his back. He gave her the once-over, a glimmer of male instincts getting the best of him. Flicking his tongue, he said, “They never told me how stunning you are. Killing you might be difficult.” He paused, his smile growing mischievous. “Then again, it might make it that much more enjoyable.”
She swallowed hard, unable to remove her eyes from his. “They? You mean your puppet masters?”
Briefly faltering, anger flashed across his face. “What do you know of my uncles?”
“Uncles? Is that what they told you?”
Jamie paused before smiling in enlightenment. “What they told me is that Sam may have gotten to you.”
Elanor stopped when the edge of Sam’s bed was against her calves. “Did they also tell you what they are? Or that Sam will stop at nothing to see your death?”
Jamie chuckled condescendingly. “You’ll both be dead before he even knows I’m here.”
She stayed frozen as he slowly approached, her voice wavering as she warned, “He’ll be back any minute.”
“Not if our boy Matt does his job.” Jamie removed a large machete from behind his back, inspecting the blade dramatically. “I will have to thank your sorry excuse of a bodyguard for his impeccable weapon choice, though.”
Elanor’s heart skipped into a panic as a flash of her nightmare played in her mind, the only difference to now being the location.
“Get on your knees,” he calmly commanded.
She barely shook her head.
“Get on your knees!”
Startled, Elanor slowly did as he commanded, kneeling before him. His figure blurred as she looked up at him. “Please, Jamie,” she shakily whispered. “You don’t have to do this.”
A corner of his heart twitched when gazing into her wide hazel eyes, her beauty strangely magnified by the moisture that glazed them. Surely, this woman couldn’t be a threat to his family, as his uncles had told him. He ran his fingers into her chestnut hair in a moment of hesitation, her beauty nearly hypnotizing him. He couldn’t remember wanting someone so badly in years.
Elanor shivered as Jamie’s hand cradled her head and pushed it into his thigh. His warn jeans smelled of gasoline and cigarette smoke. Closing her eyes, she let the tears drop freely. “You can walk away. You can leave.”
He clenched his jaw, remembering another warning from his uncles. Her beauty is a ruse, her existence an abomination. They knew his weaknesses, knew him better than he knew himself. They’d known the path his mind would wander. He’d dropped his guard by letting her get to him, and now he would get to her. “Take off your shirt,” he quietly ordered.
She stiffened, pushing away from him.
She shook her head in haste, her eyes pleading with him yet again.
He gripped her hair tightly, yanking her head back as he bent to her level. “That shit isn’t going to work on me. This plan has been in place for generations. You think I’m going to let you throw me off?!”
“You already have,” she warily countered, closing her eyes through the burning in her scalp. Wincing, she opened them again when his grasp tightened. “Why prolong it? Just kill me. That’s what they wanted you to do, isn’t it?”
Actual post here.