Chapter Reveal: Faete by Aimee Oswald Sellars
Today we're excited to share a chapter reveal from Aimee Oswald Sellars new book, Faete!
Below you'll find more about Aimee,
her book, plus the chapter reveal!
I’m a Young Adult paranormal fiction writer. I guess growing up in a haunted house might explain it. Sharing a house with a ghost makes you see things a little differently.
When I’m not writing or driving my family crazy with some new story idea, I spend my time reading, walking in the woods or scoping out the latest scary flicks.
And of course, counting the days till Halloween.
Faete is my first novel. Visit me online at aimeeoswaldsellars.com
They say your life can turn on a dime. In my case It was a book. An ancient Celtic book of magic to be precise. While most of my classmates are worried about filling out college applications, I’ve got bigger concerns about the future. Like trying to unravel some pretty dark and disturbing family secrets I unearthed in the old springhouse. And then there’s the little matter of finding a way to reverse a fae’s deadly spell and a witch’s curse.
When seventeen-year-old Renny McGuire agrees to close her mother’s bookshop one night, her life is irrevocably changed. She inadvertently opens the gateway between the mundane world and that of the fae , setting in motion a dangerous chain reaction that threatens not only her life, but the lives of those she loves as well.
Two enigmatic and mysterious strangers enter her life. From the moment she meets Keegan Doyle and Tristan Byrne, Renny feels a powerful and inexplicable connection to them. Her best friend, Jesse is suddenly acting weird. Her mother and housekeeper whisper and exchange furtive glances. Renny is haunted by unsettling dreams and visions. And suddenly it seems everyone has something to hide.
Fates collide in this dark and twisting tale of love, lies, loss and obsession. Faete, a spellbinding page-turner blending mystery and romance, is the first book in the two-part Blood Moon series.
Faete Aimee Oswald Sellars
Time is the fire in which we burn.
I belong to both sides of the Veil. Not wholly human or fully fae, but halfling born. I walk a razor’s edge between the magical and the mundane, never completely at home in either world. I balance on my tightrope between the two, except for one night of the year.
Samhain means summer’s end, harbinger of the final harvest and beginning of the dark half of the year. Once more the veil between the worlds thins and the twins, Magic and Mirth, reign supreme. Fair folk and mortals celebrate side by side this hallowed night, and I belong, if just for a whisper in time.
I pulled my woolen cloak from the peg and stepped outside. A Blood Moon loomed overhead, dark and red against a sea of inky black sky. The night was still, filled with the crackling sound of nearby fires and the rhythmic pounding of drums. Bonfires transformed the hills into giant blazing torches of yellow and orange. Billowing plumes of smoke infused the air with the pungent scent of heather, peat and wood.
Thoughts of Logan filled my head and sent my pulse racing. I longed to lose myself in his eyes and feel his warm embrace once again. Taking a short cut through a field, I hiked my skirt up, praying I didn’t sink into any boggy areas in my new boots and cloak. If only I’d known the shortcut would cost me far more than a possible muddied cloak and boots.
My heart soared as I sailed across the open field and onto a road leading to town, my cloak and boots none the worse for wear. I smiled and waved as I passed a procession of children heading down into the village. They waved and giggled with excitement. Their feet clattered down the cobblestone, eyes vigilant, holding out their turnip lanterns to frighten any evil spirits away.
Giddy with anticipation, I took a wrong turn, down an unfamiliar, deserted street. My ears pricked up at the sound of soft footfalls in the distance. I exhaled deeply as a young woman headed in my direction. My relief was short-lived. As she neared, an ice-cold breeze filled the air. Shivering, I pulled my cloak tighter around me. I trudged forward, my limbs heavy and slow.
A gust of wind caught the hood of the woman’s purple cloak, pulling it backwards. My hands flew to my mouth. No. An unruly mass of copper-red hair tumbled down her shoulders like writhing snakes. A raven’s feather hung from a velvet choker that encircled her neck. She was a cailleach, a veiled one.
I bowed my head as I walked by. Three words came hissing from her mouth as she passed. “Thus it begins.”
I cursed myself for taking that wrong turn. My limbs trembled as I recalled the warning I’d heard countless times, “tis no luck worse than to cross the path of the red-haired witch at night. Go back from whence you came and start your journey over, or misery is sure to follow.”
I stomped my foot. Fiddlesticks. This unplanned detour had already cost me precious time. I couldn’t go back and retrace my steps. I had no choice but to ignore the warning. I tried to reassure myself it was nothing more than an old farmer’s tale, but found myself frantically searching my pockets for the white clover I’d gathered earlier today. If ever there were a need to ward off evil spirits it was tonight. My pockets were empty except for two large stones. In my haste, I’d left the clover on the windowsill at home. Shaken and chilled by the time I found the main road, I drew in a deep breath and smiled as the village square came into sight.
I wandered toward the bonfire and the enticing aroma of roasting apples and nuts. Hand in hand, dancers twirled in sunwise circles round rings of fire. I rubbed my hands together, warming them in front of a nearby fire. The flickering of the orange and yellow flames mesmerized me, as drumbeats, loud and primal, pounded in my ears and chest. I closed my eyes and swayed to the ancient rhythms. I slowly opened them, and glanced across the fire, straight into Logan’s penetrating gaze. The fire glowed fierce and bright in his deep blue eyes. His lips parted, slowly curving into a playful and seductive smile. I looked down, stomach fluttering, unable to meet his gaze. I sighed. He was the most handsome mortal I’d ever seen and my heart and soul were utterly and completely lost to him from the first moment our eyes had met.
A soft deep voice came from behind me and whispered in my ear as his arm gently encircled my waist.
“May I have the honor of this dance with you, Caitlin Brody?”
Smiling, I turned round to face him. I nodded and placed my hand in his. He raised my hand to his mouth, kissing it as he led me toward the circle. The circle slowed and opened as we entered and joined hands with the dancers on either side of us. Laughing, breathless, round and round we whirled to the beat of the drums.
The circle slowed again and opened on the opposite side. Booming laughter drifted across the fire. My whole body tensed at the sound. I peered over the fire to confirm my suspicion. Darcy cut a commanding figure in his black cloak and riding boots. His wild black hair framed creamy white skin and flashing green eyes. He flirted with and flattered first one girl, then the other, all the while his eyes fixed on me. His lips turned up at the corners into a defiant smirk. He was, without question, the most dashing and dangerous faery I had ever seen. Looking at Darcy, I knew the tender feelings I once had for him had vanished long ago, replaced by a mixture of pity and contempt. He had traded his warm heart for a cold and blinding ambition, ascending quickly
within the ranks of the Dark Court. The seductive trappings of status and wealth had shredded Darcy’s soul, leaving in its stead a shell of arrogance and cynicism.
I looked away and shuddered, leaning closer into Logan.
“Take me away from here,” I begged.
A voice bellowed. “Leaving so soon, Caitlin? Such a shame, the Samhain night is young, the
moon is full and the fire burns bright.”
Logan took my hand and led me from the circle. Arm in arm we strolled across the village
square. The festive atmosphere brightened my mood.
Children sat huddled beside their glowing lanterns, greedily devouring their buttery sweet
soul cakes, eyes huge, ears cocked, listening to the yarn spinner’s tale of Stingy Jack and the Devil. Young couples leaned over buckets that brimmed with splashing water and bouncing apples, each vying to be the first to grab one with their teeth. Others sorted through spoonfuls of colcannon mash in search of the coveted prize, a gold band foretelling who would marry next. Rowdy young men paraded in animal heads and skins, chasing unsuspecting young women who passed their way. A symphony of raucous laughter, rousing drumbeats, and high-pitched shrieks filled the night air.
I winked at Logan and laughed. “Indulge me. Wait here.” I hurried over to a table with shiny red apples lined up in a neat row.
An old lady flashed me a toothless grin. “Which one will it be, dearie?”
I looked them over and chose the biggest apple of the lot. “This one ought to do.”
“Good luck, dearie, and be careful where you toss it. Remember, ‘you’re sure to wear his ring
by the coming of the spring.’”
I grabbed the apple and giggled. “That’s one superstition I’d like to believe.”
A crowd gathered as one apple after another was chosen. Logan joined the other young men
lined up on one side as I joined the group of giddy young women lined up across from them. We stood with our backs to them and tossed our apples as high and far behind us as possible, hoping they would find their way into the right hands. There was much laughter and commotion.
Deep boisterous laughter drowned out the rest. Turning around, I searched to find Logan. His outstretched hands were cradled and empty. His jaw muscles clenched and his nostrils flared. Darcy stood next to him. My eyes darted to his hands, clasped tight together. He chuckled as he opened them revealing the void within. He kicked at something on the ground. My apple lay bruised and broken on the ground between him and Logan.
Scowling at Darcy, I marched over to where he stood. His warm breath caressed my face. I poked his chest with my finger. “You may have had your fun with us, Darcy, but rest assured, you are not going to ruin tonight. There’s still the casting of the stones, and even you cannot alter their prophecy.”
He grabbed my hand and kissed it. “Ever the village spitfire, I see. It suits you, all heaving bosom and flushed cheeks. It’s charming really, the human in you I mean, bowing to such superstition. Such a waste, that you’ve chosen to settle for a mere mortal when a faery kingdom is yours for the taking.”
He brushed a stray lock of hair from my face. I pushed him away. “Love is the only magic I’ll ever need, something you could never understand, Darcy.”
The night was pitch black now and the fires were beginning to wane as Logan and I headed toward the fire to cast our stones. I pulled the two stones from my pocket. They were flattened and glass-smooth from years of being battered and tossed about by the fickle sea. Our names were scratched into the stones. I pressed the larger stone in Logan’s hand. I looked up into his eyes. “Are you ready?”
He nodded as he raised his arm and hurled the stone into the fire. My eyes were fixed on where it landed. I tossed my stone in the direction of his. The two stones lay side by side. I wiped my hands.
“That’s a good sign.” I beamed.
Logan winked at me. “We’ll see what the fates think tomorrow morning.”
Wrapping his arms around me, he kissed my lips long and hard. He stroked my cheek with his
hand. “Come on my little ‘spitfire.’ I think we’ve had enough fireworks for one night. Time to get you home.”
I sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but I wish this night could last forever.”
I turned to take one last look at the merriment behind me, another Samhain fading with the dawn, ushering in the dark half of the year. I spied Darcy over my shoulder. A beautiful girl with wavy black hair and violet-blue eyes stood next to him. She glared at me across the fire as she tightened her grip on Darcy’s arm. Still as a statue, he stared into the fire as if willing it to do his bidding. He pushed the girl’s arm away and reached into his pocket and retrieved a stone. Darcy
hurled the stone into the flames before storming away.
I slept fitfully. I could think of nothing but the stones since Logan and I cast them into the
fire. Unable to contain my curiosity, I threw on my cloak and headed for the village.
The sky was grey with ash from the smoldering fires, and the pungent smell of burnt embers hung in the air as I approached the village square. The square was empty except for two women standing near the site where Logan and I had cast our stones. One of the women had her hand outstretched, a bony finger pointing to something in the ash. Her voice carried in the morning
“Look at that stone; such a shame.”
The other woman nodded in agreement.
“Some poor lass is sure to have her heart broken before the year is out.”
They turned and walked away.
A lump rose in my throat. I ran over to where the two women had stood and combed the area
with my eyes. There in the cold white ash they lay, two uneven halves of a rock. Hands shaking, I stooped down and picked up the two pieces. I dusted the ash off of them. One side bore the letters CAIT. I didn’t need to look at the other half. I dropped the pieces at my feet and searched first for Logan’s stone and then Darcy’s. Crazed, I scoured through mounds of ash, tossing every stone on the grass until there were no more. Two stones missing, a premonition of tragedy
doubled. I fell to the ground covered in ash and soot, and despair. My mouth opened, a scream welling up in my throat, but the only sound to pierce the silence was the cry of ravens overhead.
Cedarburg, Wisconsin Present Day
C H A PT E R 1
A cool breeze stirred my hair at that moment.
As the night wind began to come down from the hills. But it felt like breath from another world.
Francis Marion Crawford
I come from a long line of seanachies. My great-great-great grandmother kissed the Blarney Stone the day her son was born, or so the story goes. And so, like all distinguished seanachies before him, he was born with the gift of gab.
Seanachies are storytellers, keepers of the stories or sceals. The stories are a rich stew of clan history flavored with the tales and traditions of the old country, passed down from generation to generation.
I was named after my grandfather, Renny McGuire, the last real seanachie in our family. The stories, he’d said, were like the rings of a tree. Each generation added its own unique pattern, but, like the tree, it’s only in observing the patterns as a whole that you can piece together its history.
The day he died all the secrets, history and lore were buried with him, sealed away forever as he drew his last breath. Or so my mother thought.
My mother had learned the stories but she forbade my grandfather to speak of such things in my presence. So he didn’t. Not exactly that is. Regular as clockwork, he’d pull out his pipe before launching into one of his stories. And I’d be banished from the kitchen. But my grandfather and I had a secret. I’d run and hide in the hall closet, spellbound as he spun his tales at the kitchen table. On my grandfather’s passing, my mother refused to pick up the mantle. Whether she tired of hearing the tales or wrote it off as superstitious rubbish, I’ll never know. She never discussed it. She never discussed a lot of things, though.
No one was more surprised than me when she decided to open a Celtic bookstore – Seanachie.
They say your life can turn on a dime. In my case, it was a book. It had caught my attention earlier that day, while I was unpacking the new arrivals. I traced my finger over the embossed scrollwork on the leather cover. The gold leaf lettering glinted in the dim light of the store. DRAIOCHT. Magic. The Celtic Ancients Book of Magic, to be precise.
I hesitated, fighting the impulse to open it. DRAIOCHT. Magic. The book held the promise of danger, excitement, and forbidden fruit between its pages. My eighteenth birthday was approaching and my life felt like one giant Groundhog Day. The book seemed like the perfect panacea for what ailed me. Little did I know, my panacea was Pandora’s Box in disguise.
I sighed, setting the book aside, determined to take a better look later when I was alone. I didn’t think a store full of customers, not to mention my mom, would appreciate me playing sorcerer’s apprentice.
As I was closing out the register later that evening, I felt the book call to me again. The promise of that one gilded word, MAGIC, proved too much temptation for me.
The customers were gone, the doors locked. A few embers still glowed in the fireplace, but most had given way to grey ash. It was still outside, the streets empty. The only sound was the rhythmic ticking of the clock. I caressed the smooth leather of the book, wondering what secrets it would reveal. I heaved it onto the counter to get a better look. I drew in a deep breath as I opened the book.
My fascination grew as I leafed through the book, each page more dazzling than the last. Jewel-toned leaves and vines and fanciful animals intertwined, forming intricate borders. Thick, elegant black script flowed across cream-colored papyrus. My finger skimmed the index. My heart beat faster as I pored over the various chapters. Chapters crammed with recipes for spells and charms, talismans and amulets all sounded tempting. But it was the next chapter, Summoning and Invocations, which caused my finger to pause. I quickly dismissed the idea of invoking any supernatural entities. It’d be kinda hard to explain away a store full of disembodied customers. Summoning a love from the past however was a different kettle of fish. It sounded innocuous enough. After all, what harm could come from a little romance?
I drew in a breath and held my arms outstretched to the ceiling. I had no clue how, or even if it would help, but it seemed like the natural invocation-y type of thing to do. I read from the book using a commanding tone I deemed appropriate for trying to summon someone out of the ethers.
“What once was, shall be again, As though never parted.
By forest and sky, by bird and bee, My burning flame, I summon thee. By light of day and stars at night, Hasten now unto my sight.
By stream and meadow, moon and sun,
On this eve my wish be done.”
I felt a shift in the atmosphere the moment the last word escaped my lips. But then again, it could’ve been my imagination on steroids. My heart flip-flopped in my chest. What was that saying about someone walking on your grave? My eyes darted around the store, searching the corners. I told myself to get a grip. Did I really expect to see my high school sweetheart, Tommy Donnelly, materialize before my eyes? He was freckle-faced, funny, and my first love. We’d been together since eighth grade. He dumped me faster than an X box for an older woman, a junior. Imported from California, she was tall and tan and every Midwestern girl’s worst
nightmare. No contest there. My father was the first person to break my heart. Tommy was the second, and I vowed then he’d be the last.
Tommy was a no show, of course. Even so, I found myself looking over my shoulder as I finished up the last chores. I may not have been able to summon Tommy, but I’d sure been able to summon my inner wuss.
I straightened the book display in the front window and looked up. Maybe it was the Blood Moon. The crimson orb hung low in the sky, huge and eerie, suspended against a sea of black, casting shadows everywhere. It wasn’t like this was the first time I’d closed the bookstore for my mom. Normally, I relished the quiet of the store after hours. Now, I found the stillness unnerving. Of course, dabbling in magic, alone, and in the dead of night, could have something to do with it. Come to think of it, dabbling and magic probably weren’t a great combination no matter what time of day.
Finally done, I grabbed my sweater coat and pulled it on. As I stepped out onto the street, a cool damp mist enfolded me in its vaporous embrace. A whisper, riding on the night breeze, stopped me in my tracks. And so it begins. An electric charge surged through my body. My heart stuttered. I hurried, anxious to get home. My only wish right now was of a more mundane variety, a hot bath followed by bed and some much-needed sleep. The tree tops gyrated in a frantic dance as a gust of wind blew through their branches. A feather, blue-black and iridescent, floated down and landed on my arm. I took it from my sleeve and tucked it in my pocket. I stared up at the sky. The Blood Moon, full and red, stared back at me.
C H A PT E R 2
As I went out walking this fall afternoon, I heard a whisper whispering,
I heard a whisper whispering,
Upon this fine fall day
As I went out walking this fall afternoon, I heard a laugh a’ laughing,
I heard a laugh a’ laughing,
Upon this fine fall day
I heard this whisper and I wondered, I heard this laugh and then I knew. The time is getting near my friends, The time that I hold dear my friends, The veil is getting thin my friends, And strange things will pass through.
As I pulled into the parking lot at Lion’s Den Park, my skin was covered in goosebumps. My eyes swept the deserted parking lot. Something was off, though I couldn’t say what. The isolated and wooded location added to the feeling. The sun, pale and low in the afternoon sky, cast long, gloomy shadows. Getting out of my car, the unnatural quiet added to my vague sense of unease.
I turned to look at the parking lot one last time before crossing the footbridge onto the trailhead. The sound of leaves rustling stopped me dead in my tracks. I swallowed hard, then laughed as a deer bounded through the woods. A bad case of the jitters, that was all.
As I hiked down the trail, the only sound that remained was the dry crunch of cedar mulch under my solitary footsteps.
Making my way onto Bluff Trail, I stopped to look out over the steel-blue waters. Angry whitecaps slammed onto the beach below. The sky was dull and lifeless, streaked with flat and leaden clouds. The afternoon waning, I quickened my pace, heading deeper into the woods.
The alders and birches wore the last remnants of their crimson and amber foliage, the forest floor littered with dry, withered leaves. The unmistakable smell of earth and decay filled my nostrils. A tree lay sprawled across the path, its limbs twisted and gnarled.
Ahead, the forest path narrowed, the trees closing in and crowding out the sky above like some dark tunnel. Heart racing, I spun around, suddenly agitated and disoriented by these woods I knew and loved so well. My peaceful refuge had morphed into an unfamiliar and nerve- wracking maze.
I screamed as a huge black raven flew across my path and hovered, beating its wings as if trying to telegraph some warning.
I fought to catch my breath, gulping the air, adding to my sense of panic.
A cool fog off the lake made its way onto the path, creating an eerie gossamer curtain. It
curled around me in thick wisps, caressing my neck like the touch of a phantom lover.
I stumbled along the path, straining to see what lay ahead. I was certain I was being followed. No. Not followed. Watched. I stood still and listened. Taunting laughter and whispers that carried my name rode like eddies on the wind. I lurched forward, struggling in vain to find my way back to the main trail and parking lot. My ears pricked up. The rustle of dry, crisp leaves came from behind me. I whirled around and froze where I stood as the sound of snapping branches grew nearer. My mouth moved in wordless silence. The earth shook and groaned beneath my feet. The trail gave way and ripped itself in two. I stood at the fork, looking down both branches in the
path. A stranger stood on either side, wrapped in a hazy, swirling mist.
A voice, soft and deep called out to me, “Renny.” My name sounded like music on his
lips—exquisite lips curved into an inviting smile. I strained my eyes to see the stranger who’d called my name. He whispered my name again. As I made my way toward him, a mocking laugh rang out from the opposite branch in the path. The sound pierced the quiet, stopping me in my tracks. The stranger who called to me fell silent. His radiant smile disappeared, replaced in turn by one both wistful and bittersweet. I turned toward the direction of the laughter. A dark figure with haunting eyes stared at me. He raised his arms hungrily toward me.
I jolted upright in bed, awakened by a loud thud against my window. I raced to the window and pulled back the curtains. A blue-black feather clung to the window pane.
My eyes scanned the dark corners of my room. I pulled off my nightgown, which clung to beads of sweat on my clammy skin, and threw on a t-shirt and yoga pants. Too wired to go back to sleep, I headed downstairs to the kitchen.
The haunting images from my dream played over and over in my head like an endless loop of film. I craved one thing right now, a strong cup of coffee laced with an obscene amount of caramel creamer. As if on cue, the rich, earthy scent wafted out of the kitchen toward me. Most days I loved the early morning solitude, but today I welcomed the thought of company.
Dolya smiled as she handed me a steaming mug of coffee. Seeing her familiar face grounded me. More than just the family housekeeper, she was a grandmother figure to me and trusted confidante to my mom. All this rolled into one tiny and feisty package. I laughed as I took the coffee.
“What are you, the Amazing Kreskin or something? It’s like you can read my mind. You always seem to know exactly what I need.”
She pulled some hot blueberry muffins out of the oven. “Don’t need to be a mind reader. Up this early can only mean one of two things. So what’s chased you out of bed this morning then, bad dreams or a skull full of worries?” she asked as she pinned her long silver hair into a bun.
I shrugged my shoulders as I reached for a muffin.
“Weird dream I guess, you know the kind where you’re not sure if you’re dreaming or awake. It’s hard to explain.”
“Give it a go. It’s the best way I know to chase the Trom-luigh away.”
“The Trom what’s?”
“The Trom-luigh, those that bring the dark dreams.”
I choked on my coffee. I remembered cowering in my closet years ago after eavesdropping
on my grandfather as he talked about ‘they that bring the nightmares.’ I could still hear his lilting words. “Aye, first ya feel a pressure on yer feet that climbs like a rotten vine up to yer stomach until the demon’s perched on yer chest. An’ ya canna move a muscle as it whispers its terrifying tales in yer ears.”
That was the year my fear of the dark went into overdrive. I must’ve slept with my bedroom light on for a year after that. These days I’ve traded in the bedroom light for an unhealthy relationship with night lights.
My heart pounded in my chest as I recounted the details of my dream. Instead of draining the dream’s power, talking about it had the opposite effect, making it more real somehow. The image of the two strangers lingered, one with hypnotic eyes like fathomless pools, the other brandishing a bewitching and roguish smile.
Dolya studied me with the concentration of a hawk. She arched her brows, her clear blue eyes stern. “Can’t say as I’m surprised given how much time you spend alone in those woods. Your poor mum would have a coronary if she knew. Lord knows your mother has enough to worry about. Besides, you never know what you might run into.”
I laughed. “What I might run into? Please. My name’s not Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. You guys worry too much. The scariest thing in the park is the birdwatchers.”
Dolya stood with her hands on her hips, her lips pursed.
“Seriously, it’s just a bunch of hikers and maybe a random fox or deer. I’ve always felt safe in the woods. That’s what makes the dream so weird. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I have seen a bunch of stray dogs recently. Big white ones.”
A strange fleeting look passed over Dolya’s face. Her brows furrowed and her mouth twitched at the corners. “Big white dogs, you say?” She twisted the corner of her apron.
“Wait, don’t tell me. There’s a pack of rabid white werewolves roaming the park in search of tasty teenage girls.”
Dolya held up her hand. “Fine, laugh if you want, but I’m not the one having the nightmares.” I got up and poured another cup of coffee. “I never said it was a nightmare. It was strange,
She shook her spoon at me. “Fine, you say tomato, I’ll say tomahto. Now go upstairs and get
ready for school.”
“My birthday’s coming up you know. I saw some nice tasers online.”
I sighed as I climbed the stairs. I didn’t get the big fuss over my trips to the park. I never forgot my cell phone or pepper spray. To tell the truth, I felt more at home in the woods than in the “real world.” I remember the magical lure of the woods even as a child. It was a heady
experience, the thrill of a trail to be explored, the irresistible urge to find what secrets lay waiting around the next crook.
I stared out my bedroom window. The moon was growing faint in the sky. A glimmer of light reflected off the pale green beach glass on my windowsill. My windowsills were covered with my little treasures: pieces of white birch with moss, some agates and a quartz-filled geode. Next to them lay my latest acquisition. The morning light transformed the long, glossy black feather into a light show of iridescent green, purple and blue. I twirled the feather in my hand.
A gloomy mood came over me, out of nowhere, as if someone had thrown a sopping wet blanket on top of me. I was like one of those hamsters on a wheel, hoping eventually that wheel would deliver me to a different destination. Get up, get dressed. Breakfast, then school. Plug in one of the following – work at Seanachie/fidchell practice/Go Wild meeting. Home for dinner, schoolwork and bed. Wake up and repeat.
I reminded myself that these were supposed to be the halcyon days of youth, for God’s sake – the beginning of senior year. Goodbye high school servitude, hello freedom. And the best part of it all, my upcoming eighteenth birthday. My long-awaited emancipation was right around the corner and with it, I hoped, two things that had been in short supply in my life, change and choices. With that in mind, I’d set my sights on being a finalist in A Walk in the Park, a landscape design contest for high school students. The coveted prize was a weekend trip to New York City to be mentored by one of the leading gurus in landscape architecture, Chandler Bancroft. That was cool enough, but the cherry on top was the chance to compete for a scholarship being awarded to the winner by Pratt Institute’s School of Landscape Design and Architecture.
In my daydreams, I imagined winning that prize and going on to become a famous landscape architect. My dad would read about me, or see an interview on TV, and would be filled with regret for what he’d missed. Early on, though, I learned the things most kids take granted would never be part of my life. No bike riding lessons, no camping out or take-your-child-to-work day. No father to coach my driving or take me to a father-daughter dance, and he’d never walk me down the aisle. But in my dreams, he’d been watching from afar all these years and I hoped his heartache was as boundless as mine.
I turned on the radio as I headed to the bathroom. I hopped in the shower, letting the hot water wash over me and the fresh smell of soap fill the air. But even that couldn’t remove the residue of anxiety that stubbornly clung to me like old paint. I repeated a mantra from one of my mom’s new age books as I worked the shampoo through my hair. Today is a new beginning; anything’s possible. Now, if only I could make myself believe it.
I pulled into the parking lot at school and surveyed the familiar red brick building. Students hung out in their usual groups, in their usual spots. Not much had changed in four years. Note to myself: get a new mantra.
I watched as couples snuck urgent kisses in cars and behind trees. I shook my head. How many of these clueless happy couples were headed for the heartbreak hotel?
My love life on the other hand was non-existent, but that was my choice, or fault depending on how you looked at it. I’d been asked out on a few dates, but after turning down one too many offers, the explanation the boys came up with sounded like a multiple choice quiz. It was either because a) I was too stuck up, b) I was frigid as a Lake Michigan ice floe, or c) I didn’t like boys. They left out d) none of the above. After a while, the invitations dried up.
My mom, on the other hand, blamed this on the fact that I grew up without a dad. It was true; I never knew my father. It was also true he never wanted to know me. He left my mom before I was born. According to my mom, my lack of interest in boys stemmed from an unconscious desire to push them away. Her diagnosis: a deep seated fear of rejection. Dr. Phil had nothing on my mom. Maybe she was right though, since I seemed to assign any guy who showed interest in me to the dreaded “friend zone”, preempting any possibility of romance or the inevitable heartbreak.
I did have one long term relationship but it never qualified as serious, at least on my part. Jesse Dalton. Jesse’s a great guy. In fact, he could be the poster boy for Mr. Right. He’s the whole package. Considerate – check. Funny – check. Cute – check. Liked horror flicks – check. And last but not least, my mom adored him, which made the inevitable that much harder. It was difficult to rationalize breaking up with the perfect guy.
And then I realized the one thing that was missing, the most important box without a check. My heart never raced when I saw him, and my heart never ached in his absence. Not a boyfriend, but a boy friend. It would’ve been easy to stay with Jesse. I knew my heart was safe with him. And isn’t that what I really wanted? No fear of rejection, no pain and heartache. But in the end it wasn’t enough and I knew it wasn’t fair to him. Luckily for me, he is now my best boy friend.
All things considered, my life could definitely be a lot worse, so why did everything suddenly feel so unsatisfying? I closed my eyes and lay my head on the steering wheel.
A loud rap on my window made me jump. I looked up to see Jesse standing with eyebrows furrowed and a grim set to his mouth. I rolled my window down.
“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” I gasped.
“From where I’m standing looks more like you lost your best friend. What’s up?”
I grabbed my books and got out of the car. I shook my head. “It’s silly, I guess. I was just thinking about the past three years and how quickly they’ve gone by. I don’t know, maybe it’s the realization that this is our last year, I mean before everyone goes their separate ways.”
Jesse stepped backward, placing his hand over his heart. “Why Renny McGuire, are you going soft on me? That’s really not your style. Nostalgia doesn’t suit you. No, tough as nails, that’s what I like about you.”
My laugh sounded feeble. “You’re right, who am I kidding anyway? It’s not like I have all these warm, fuzzy high school memories, but it’s like I’m torn between the comfort and familiarity of the life I’ve always known and this sudden, urgent desire for something, anything, different. It’s totally schizophrenic, I know.”
“My diagnosis? A classic case of small-town senior-itis. I told you before Ren, say the word and I’ll whisk you away from your mundane existence.”
I stuck my tongue out at Jesse so far it ached. “Don’t make fun of me. I’m being serious.”
“So am I, Ren. Think about it. You’ve lived in Cedarburg your whole life, in the same house, same friends, and same job at your mom’s store. On top of all that, you’ve tried to be the perfect
daughter, hoping you could somehow right the crappy hand your mom was dealt.”
“Yeah, right. Some perfect daughter. Sometimes I just want to scream. I feel trapped by my mom’s expectations and I’m resentful. I know she expects me to take over the bookstore someday, and maybe I will, but at times the idea of a totally different life sounds pretty
awesome. Then, of course, the guilt sets in.”
“So, about that awesome alternate reality that awaits in New York. Have you heard anything
yet about your submission?”
I shifted my books and looked away. I didn’t want Jesse to see how uncomfortable I was.
Everything he’d said was true. It was unnerving how well he knew me. “No, I haven’t, but thanks for the psychoanalysis.”
“Anytime. Hey, I gotta go, but I want you to know you can feel free to lie on my couch anytime, Renny.”
“Yeah right, in your dreams, Dr. Freud.”
I watched Jesse walk away. He was probably right, but whatever the reason, I couldn’t shake this unfamiliar restlessness.
The shrill sound of the first bell filled the air. I rushed into homeroom, out of breath, and took my seat. Excited voices buzzed with the latest gossip. The whole atmosphere was electric. Turned out a visiting grad student from Ireland was the source responsible for generating all that electricity. Jill Meyers, resident town crier, said she’d heard the principal tell Mr. Pi that he was here to do research on American teen culture. I shook my head. Why on earth would you choose a high school in Southeastern Wisconsin?
The estrogen-fueled sighs and giggles were a dead giveaway that the grad student was of the male persuasion. It wouldn’t take much to stir up the female student body – a wee bit of an accent and a chunky Fisherman’s knit sweater was enough to guarantee some serious swooning.
The guys, on the other hand, rolled their eyes and groaned. It was exactly the sort of material Rob Nelson, future stand-up comic, lived for.
“What do you call an Irishman who has 1,500 girlfriends? A shepherd.” Without missing a beat, “What does an Irishman get after eating Italian food? Gaelic breath. What’s Irish and ...”
“That’s enough, Mr. Nelson. Save it for the school talent show.” Judging from the look on Mr. Piezkowski’s face as he peered over his bifocals, he lacked an appreciation for Rob’s sophisticated brand of humor.
After a dramatic scan of the room, Mr. Pi. launched into the standard “play nice” speech. “I’m sure ladies and gentlemen, and I use that term in the loosest sense for some of you, that I can count on this homeroom to make our visitor feel welcome. The staff here at Cedarburg High feel certain this will be a mutually beneficial experience. We expect you to be of assistance to Mr. Doyle during his stay with us.”
Oh yeah, looking around I could see the girls couldn’t wait to be of assistance. Judging by their eager eyes, they were all hoping for a “mutually beneficial experience.”
“As you may have heard, Mr. Doyle is here to write a comparative analysis examining teen culture in America and Ireland.”
Major yawn. All I cared about was the diversion this guy might provide from the status quo. Good looks would certainly be a fringe benefit.
My eyes glazed over as Mr. Pi’s voice continued to fade in and out, and my mind wandered back to the dream. The haunting quality of the dream remained, even in broad daylight. I was thankful the bell rang before I had time to obsess any further.
I saw Katy fidgeting in the hallway. She waved me over with both hands, her face animated and flushed.
“Did you hear about the grad student from Ireland? He’s supposed to be a total hottie. I can’t wait to get a glimpse. I’m such a sucker for tall, dark and handsome – throw in an accent and I’m Jello.”
“You’re a sucker for the entire male species,” I laughed, “but yeah, I have to agree, it’ll be fun to have some new eye candy around here.”
I headed down the hall to first period, visions of Jonathon Rhys Meyers, and Colin O’Donaghue dancing in my head when Mr. Pi called me back to homeroom.
“May I see you for a moment, Renny?”
“Sure, Mr. Pi.”
A young man stood on the far side of the room staring out the window. He was slender and
of medium height with jagged wisps of jet black hair, hands tucked casually into the pockets of his jeans. I had to stifle a giggle as I noticed the requisite Fisherman’s knit sweater.
“Renny, Mr. Doyle is in need of a guide while he’s here. Perhaps you could help him navigate these unfamiliar waters, help him feel at home.”
My cheeks burned as “Mr. Doyle” turned around. A shaft of light from the window cast a halo around his head. But one look told me this was no face of an angel. Even from across the room I could tell he was, without a doubt, the most dangerously handsome guy I had seen outside of the movies. My eyes scanned his face, from brooding eyes to aquiline nose to sculpted jaw line. My eyes lingered a moment too long on his mouth. A sinfully voluptuous mouth, the lips like two soft pillows parted ever so slightly.
“Please, call me Keegan.” He smiled as he crossed the room toward me. I watched as some papers he’d stuffed in a notebook slipped from his hand. He bent down to gather the scattered papers. I seized the opportunity and walked over to where he knelt. I reached down to help retrieve them. The blood drained from my face as he met my gaze. One crystal blue eye, the other a pale hypnotic green, stared back at me. The whole room seemed to tilt, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.