Thought I’d share the first chapter of Bigger Than the Sky with you all!
I’m hearing that submarine warning horn in my ears. You know the one. It goes A-ooooo-ga! And that shit’s going off in my head over and over. I think it means the sub’s diving, as in, it’s going down. And that’s my warning right now because likely, I’m going down.
I clutch the sides of my dress and think, I can’t do this!
But that’s not how today’s supposed to go, is it?
What I’m supposed to do is go inside that church, take my bouquet (which is fabulous, by the way) from Cassie, my maid of honor, and walk down the aisle to my handsome fiancé who’s waiting for me in front of the altar.
But now I stand at the bottom of the church steps and suddenly can’t catch my breath. Papaw takes my hand and I smile at him weakly as he helps me up the first step and the horn suddenly stops.
Well. That’s weird. Maybe I can do this.
Second step. Hm. Better. Feeling Papaw’s hand in mine is comforting. All right. I think I’ve got this now. Piece of cake.
Third step. Oh, no. I start sweating. I can’t be sweating right now, damn it! It’s so unladylike! And I’ll get those crusty, yellowy stains on my dress from my armpits! Gross!
Fourth step. Shit! I can’t breathe. The panic has a grip on me and no matter what I do to try to calm myself and get it to let me go—closing my eyes, focusing on my breathing, picturing myself getting a full-body massage from some cute guy named Sven—it seems to dig its claws in tighter. Mayday!
On Deck. A-ooooo-ga! A-ooooo-ga! Ack! I’m going down! I gulp for air trying to fill my lungs but nothing helps. I look at Papaw but I guess my lack of air is making me hallucinate because it’s not him holding my hand and smiling at me but Viper from the movie Top Gun. What the hell?
Soooo I’m hoping you’ve noticed the Navy theme here? That’s because a Navy SEAL is waiting inside to marry me but all this stuff going on right now is messing with my head.
Let me give you the low down on the situation. Or is it the down low? Ugh. I’m so not hip. Wait. Do people still say hip anymore? God. See what living with grandparents does to a girl? I’m twenty-five and I talk like I’m twice my age. Jeez. But back to what I was trying to tell you.
My guy and I have been together since I was a sophomore and he was a senior in high school. But he’s now been enlisted in the Navy for nine years, most of it spent training to be then going on missions as a SEAL, and in all that time I’ve seen him maybe a total, a total, of a little over a year. In nine years! I’m not kidding. Since I’m a CPA I’ll figure that out for you. Out of nine years, he’s been gone almost ninety percent of the time. Can you see the face I’m making at that right now?
Anyway, now’s such a fantastic time to be figuring that out, huh?
I’m not a needy or clingy person. I mean, obviously, right? If I were, I would never have even considered marrying him, but now the alarms are going off in my head because suddenly I don’t know if I can do this. How can you make a life with someone when you only get to see them for just over one month out of the year? Like I said, I don’t have to have a man around all the time, but those statistics are just crazy.
I know you’re wondering why I even let it get this far without doing the math and here’s the answer: I don’t know! Thought you were gonna get a better answer, didn’t you? Well, if I don’t know it, I damned sure can’t tell it to you!
But maybe the answer is that I love him. I really do. Honestly. So now I’m thinking that maybe the idea of being married was what pushed me forward. Or maybe I just got caught up in planning it all—picking out the dress, the bouquet, all that fun stuff—and it kept me distracted for a while. But now that I’m here and about to walk through these doors and down the aisle to become his wife, with the numbers stacked so hugely against me, I don’t think I can.
I look up at Papaw and shake my head. He frowns in confusion but when he sees the tears in my eyes, he knows. He nods and lets my hand go. “Go to him, honey. Tell him.”
But I can’t. I can’t face him after all this.
And the only thing I know to do is run.
So that’s what I do.
I don’t want to be back in Serenity Point.
Five years ago I’d walked away from the quiet little hamlet where I’d grown up and hadn’t bothered looking back. After the first year I was gone, I’d broken ties with pretty much anybody and anything that may have linked me to the tiny community and that’s the way I wanted it. Still do.
It’s noon as I drive down Main Street, taking in the trees that line it, displaying their brilliant fall colors of reds, oranges and yellows, their leaves fluttering in the crisp October breeze like a million butterfly wings.
Looking on the east side of the street, I see that Maggie’s Diner is still the place to go for lunch, the quantity of cars parked in front and to the side of the establishment a testament to that fact, not to mention the twenty or so people milling around outside waiting to be called for seating. Mags’ roast beef alone is enough to draw customers from three towns over, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit seeing all the people there. Mags makes great food.
Across the street from the diner is what used to be Connor’s Drugstore where my best friends Cassie Kelly, London Connor and Lacey Burnheart and I walked every Friday after school from fourth grade (when we were deemed old enough to cross the street) through our freshman year (because we still couldn’t drive) to drink ten-cent Shirley Temples. London’s Grandma Millie, my namesake and my Grandma Jean’s best friend, had run the store with her husband, and she’d put a soda fountain in the back like the old dime stores used to have. We could get the likes of vanilla Cokes or strawberry Sprites on the cheap, but we always chose the Shirley Temples because GM put three maraschino cherries in them for us specifically. Anyone else only garnered one. Then we’d either sit in the curlicue wrought iron chairs at a matching table or on a stool at the counter, however the mood struck us, and experience a blast from the past, as GM had called it, proceeding to gossip about boys.
London’s grandfather had died of a heart attack when we were juniors in high school, so GM had run the store herself the next four years until she’d developed early onset dementia which gradually got worse over the years and she’d had to give it up. Since neither of her sons wanted to deal with the store, a big commercial corporation that swoops in and buys mom and pop pharmacies throughout the nation bought her out. Since then I’d only gone inside the store once to see that it was totally impersonal and the soda fountain was gone. I’d cried for an hour afterward since it was the end of such a sweet era.
I keep driving, noticing that Eli’s Hardware has gotten a new façade, Shop and Bag Grocery has a huge sign on the window telling me it’s now under new management, and Jen’s Jamming Joint is offering up fifty-cent draw beers tonight and the local band, Charlie Bit Me, is on for tomorrow night.
I drive a little farther toward the end of town knowing I’m almost there, almost to the business that my grandparents ran for over forty years, and then I see it: Hale’s Garage. It’s been mine for the past four years, sitting closed and will stay that way until I can decide what to do with it.
I pull up under the overhang next to a gas pump, turn off my car and get out, trying to be as inconspicuous as I can which I’m pretty sure has already gone south since I’m driving a salsa red Jaguar F-Type convertible and people on the streets have probably already noticed me. As I turn and face the empty storefront, pulling my sunglasses up to sit atop my head, a shit ton of memories assaults me and I’m taken back in time as I envision my grandparents inside, Papaw Elliot in his grease-smeared coveralls behind the register giving a customer their change, his easy grin showing as he thanks them. I next picture Meemaw Jean sweeping the floor and watch as she shoos Papaw out, popping him in the butt with the bristle end of the broom when he tries stealing a Snickers Bar on his way out. I’m so lost in my reminiscing that the voice that comes from behind me scares the crap out of me.
After my squawk of surprise, I turn and see Brody Kelly walking across the street and I can’t help the huge smile that covers my face.
“Brody!” I holler and run to meet him, jumping up and throwing my arms around his neck for a hug as his encircle my waist and he spins me around.
“Thought that was you,” he says with a grin as he sets me back down.
“In the flesh,” I say with a smile as I look up at him, covering my eyes with my hand to block the sun. Brody was always such a cutie with his messy sandy brown hair, expressive hazel eyes and mischievous grin that always let you know he was up to no good. He’s around six-two, two-hundred pounds of rock solid muscle and I’d think he was hot if not for the fact that he’s like a little brother to me.
He walks over and whistles at my car. “Man, Mill, getting’ pretty fancy on us. Might wanna hide it in the garage tonight so no one steals the rims.” He grins down at me when I come up beside him and smack him in the arm. He looks around for a second and says, “Seriously, where’s Jeeves? Didn’t he drive you?”
“Shut it, Brody,” I reply with a giggle.
“Guess you’re doing pretty well for yourself then, huh?” he asks, a small frown forming on his face.
I purse my lips then respond, “Yes, I’m doing okay, I guess.” He looks at me out of the corner of his eye in a that was so an understatement kind of way since my car cost almost six figures. “Um, what’re you doing here? I mean, it’s like you just appeared out of the blue,” I say.
He takes me by the shoulders and turns me to face across the street. I look at Pettyman’s Lumberyard, but that’s when I notice it no longer says Pettyman’s on the front but Kelly & Family Lumber and Construction in its place.
“Y-you bought Pettyman’s?”
He nods with another grin then asks, “So how long you in town for?”
“Not sure. I’ve got two months’ vacation time I’m using so I came to finally check out the station,” I explain, turning back to face it, my smile falling away.
“Aw, Mill, I’m sorry. They were good people,” he replies. “I know Harley feels terrible about everything.”
Harley Sedgwick, the local heating and air technician, had inspected the heater in Papaw and Meemaw’s house for years, telling Papaw on his inspection five years ago (the winter after my wedding debacle) that it really needed to be replaced. Papaw had scoffed at him telling him there was at least a good five more years in it. The next year, Papaw had neglected to call Harley to come back out and take a look, and Harley had been so busy that it hadn’t even occurred to him to check on them. The heater had developed a leak since the previous year it’d been checked, and my beloved grandparents tragically died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning on a chilly day in early November.
“I know,” I say. “I hope he knows it’s not his fault. Papaw was a stubborn old fool anyway, as Meemaw would’ve said.” I chuckle sadly.
He curls an arm around my shoulders to comfort me. The Kelly men and their protectiveness, I think which makes me sigh.
“So think you might be back to stay?” he asks looking down at me, eyebrows raised.
I huff out a laugh because that’s a ludicrous idea. “No. I wanted to see if maybe I could get the place up and running again then sell,” I inform him.
He drops his arm then nods with what looks like disappointment, which I think is ridiculous. He knows I’m never coming back.
“So how are you? How’s Piper?” I ask.
“She’s fine,” he says aloofly. Then he gets a shy look on his face. “I passed the fireman test. I’m a real-live firefighter now.”
My eyes now get big and I squeal, “Really? Oh, my God! I’m so happy for you!” I hug him again telling him his news is wonderful when I hear someone clearing his throat behind him. Still holding on to him, I lean to the side and look around his shoulder, and what I see makes me swallow down a gasp.
Brody’s older brother Kade Kelly.
Still hotter than hell Kade Kelly.
Kade Kelly who’s got a hard body that’s sculpted like a magnificent work of art.
Who has a large Celtic cross tattooed on his back with “Fiona” in the middle of it in honor of their baby sister who’d died at birth.
Kade Kelly who sings and plays guitar in a band.
Who took my virginity when I was sixteen and he was eighteen.
Kade Kelly who I left standing at the altar five years ago.
Harper Bentley © 2014