Swear to You Excerpt

Swear to YouIf you have subscribed to my newsletter, you got to read the first part of this excerpt in September. Here is the full excerpt for Swear to You, San Juan Island Stories #4, releasing November 15, 2013!

Sera flew over the handlebars, somersaulted over her exploded bicycle tire, and landed flat on her sweaty back on the dirty sidewalk.

Her old bicycle crashed into her apartment building flower pots.

Even though the Aurora highway growled three blocks to her left and a year-round school was releasing excited elementary students to her right, the air dropped weirdly quiet, like a mountain silence after a shotgun blast. Not that she’d ever been to any mountains. Puffy white clouds bloomed into giraffe and llama shapes against the brilliant July sky. She wished she could follow them right over the horizon into a better life.

A little boy stared down at her. “Mom, is she homeless?”

His mother shushed him and hurried past

Sera groaned and rolled upright. Her shins ached and she quickly realized why: The knee of her last good pair of Dockers flapped along a jagged rip.

Funny how her old black fishnets and slutty tutus had stood up to the most violent mosh pits, but nice, conservative Dockers couldn’t handle even one little argument with the pavement.

She swore. Out loud. In way that rhymed with, “Duck duck duck duck Duck duck DUCK.”

Across the narrow one-lane street, a mother clapped her hands over her daughter’s ears and glared at Sera. “You’re in front of a school.”

She did not yell, “They have to get used to it sometime!” like her dad had once done at a wide-eyed Daisy Scout troop after he dropped the groceries in the King’s Market parking lot.

Instead, she bit back the pain and groaned to her feet. “I’m sorry.”

“You should be ashamed.” The woman slammed her door and drove off.

In her sixty-thousand-dollar Audi with limitless air conditioning.

Breaking into tears was not what a good girl would do, so Sera didn’t do it. Instead, she limped the useless bike into the apartment complex. She’d have to get another pair of khakis before tomorrow’s opening shift at Starbucks and her all-day shift at Kohl’s, and if she kept spending her money on stupid clothes, she would never pay back her student loans or save up for a trip around the world or finally climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Also, her shins hurt.

And so did her feet, and so did her palms, and so did her heart.

She passed a stoned wino who seemed to be laughing at a blank wall. Even he was having fun. Clean living was not supposed to be this hard.

Around the corner of her building, on her front mat, a strange man saw her and scrambled to his feet. “Seraphina?”

She stopped.

Her whole chest lifted, skip-a-dee-doo-dah. It was him. On her own front mat, like a thank you from God for her efforts, a church-boy treat to remind her why she was trying so hard to change. A smile rushed her face, unstoppable. She limped forward. “Seriously? Graham?”

He smiled back. So easy and kind. “You remember me.”

“Well yeah. You are…” He was filling out a road-worn Harley Davidson shirt and greasy jeans rather than the girlishly slender polo shirts and white golf visors of their shared past. His polite face was obscured by dangerous shades and his church-boy cut had grown into a tangled ponytail bisecting his wide shoulder blades. The Graham before her was a man in every sense of the meaning. “…really different, actually.”

He removed a glasses case from his pocket and exchanged the shades for wire frames that made him look like the gray-eyed philosophy professor from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “You look exactly the same.”

She ran a hand through her natural, mousy-brown hair. God, it was good to hear that library voice again, but man were the words depressing. “Really? Exactly the same?”

Well, the last time she saw him at his cousin Pez’s graduation party, she had already been making an effort to change herself. Maybe she had been more successful than she had realized.

Then the memory of what she had done there, at the graduation party, somersaulted her into the past. Pow-zot, she had confessed her eternal undying love to Graham, and he had thrown her right out of his life. Now, five years later, he was here on her doorstep. Her chest shifted. Pressured. Like she wanted to laugh, or sneeze, or cry.

She locked her dumb bike to the leaky drain spout. “So, uh, what are you doing here?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “I heard this is where you live.”

She got out her phone. Pez had just been talking about his prodigal cousin. Right after reunion officer Allison had called for Graham’s current address, Pez had gotten all sentimental, calling Sera up over and over to relive their glorious senior year. And every time they hung up on the memories they both shared, the memories she kept in secret pounded against her brain like a headache.

All the ways that she had chased Graham.

All those embarrassingly obvious hints he had ignored.

All those leading questions he had sidestepped to the very final, inescapable, in-her-painted-punk-face rejection.

Perfectly understandable now why her hands started trembling. What an appalling memory. “But how—”

Her phone slipped from her numb fingers and hit the ground, breaking into three pieces.

“Oh shi—”

She snapped her teeth shut. Gah, she could bite off her tongue. Another dollar in Pez’s swear jar. And in front of Graham, of all people.

He dropped to his knees at the same time that she leaned over and she got the familiar, clean scent of him. White bread and fresh laundry. Plus a new smokiness, like incense. Sandalwood?

“Don’t worry.” She grabbed the battery. “This happens all the—”

His hands closed around hers.

Big.

Bigger than she remembered from high school.

She swallowed. “—time. I need a new phone. I, uh, dropped it down a men’s toilet and it hasn’t worked right since.”

His eyebrows rose, but he did not ask her why she was in the men’s restroom.

Well, her old self wouldn’t have needed a reason. God, she hated her old self. “I was cleaning it. For my job.”

His deep gray eyes traveled across her nervous smile.

Sera clicked her teeth together. “What?”

He released her hands. “Nice rings.”

“You like them?” She sat cross-legged on the cement and rubber-banded the phone battery between its front and back halves, then splayed her fingers to display her last pieces of personal adornment. “The turquoise is Sagittarius, the ankh is because someday I will visit the pyramids, the butterflies are from my friend who went to Indonesia, and the snake symbolizes transformation.”

He actually seemed interested.

She jerked her thumb at the apartment. “I’ve got more inside. This is what I’m allowed at work. Well, at both my works.”

His brows dropped slightly. “But not your tongue piercing?”

She covered her mouth. See, some things were different. She stood and let herself inside. “It’s allowed but I took it out.”

He hesitated on the threshold. “Why?”

“Nobody could see it anyway.” She crossed worn beige carpeting to the kitchen and plugged in her hot water kettle. She needed to vacuum and dust but it could be worse. It could still be purple pentagrams on black ceilings and silver Pop Tart wrappers overflowing her stinking waste basket. “I really have changed.”

He eyed the thriving spider plants in orange striped macramé. “Not completely.”

“I made those macramé planters, you know. I can actually—oh, that’s going to fall.”

The chair he had pulled out to sit on was stacked with her various night courses, used astronomy textbooks, the manicure UV kit, a half-completed application for her bartender’s license, and readings she had to memorize for the internet priest exam. Graham set the whole stack on the floor and sat, stretching out and crossing his feet at the ankle.

Feet encased in steel-toed black boots.

Which was weird again. He used to wear loafers made of patent leather, with a real penny in the center.

She tapped coffee crystals into two mugs and poured boiled water gently for its ideal bloom. Or, about as ideal as you could get with Folgers instant. “So did you finish seminary? Or, actually, what are you doing here again?”

“Allison asked about you.” He accepted the hand-painted Craft Corner mug. “You RSVP’d.”

“I thought I might get the night off, but…” But thank god her manager had called her in. She shrugged. “High school so was long ago.”

He swallowed the bitter coffee in one scalding gulp. “Are you still singing?”

Oh, here it came. The second reason she dreaded attending the reunion. She blew across the steam. “Karaoke.”

“What about theater?”

“I tried out for a community play once but I didn’t get a part.”

He screwed his mouth to the side. “What are you doing now?”

“Allison asked the same thing.” Everyone who saw her patchwork transcripts asked the same thing. Some people had a career map. Others had a Rorschach ink blot. “Trying not to suck, I guess.”

He snorted like she’d made a crude joke. About sucking.

“That’s not an innuendo.” She opened her tiny fridge. “Have you eaten? I’ve got…uh…I’ve been meaning to grocery shop.”

He rose. “What do you need?”

What a helpful young man. A genuine Eagle Scout.

Five minutes later she was clinging to that genuine Eagle Scout’s broad, leather-clad back while the wind whipped her breath away. His three hundred-pound black and red beast roared like hell and throbbed like heaven. After they returned, while she was trying to figure out how to uncork the wine he’d bought with nothing but a dull butter knife, he whipped up an omelet with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and window-sill basil.

Graham ate his meal in about five gigantic bites and then rotated a silver bracelet while he told her about his life. He was a high school physics teacher in Boise now, and he bought the Harley to visit all fifty states instead of paying off his student loans. “I’ve gotten as far east as Indiana, as far south as Arizona.”

Her fork clinked against her plate. “Hawaii will be tricky.”

He laughed.

She dropped her silverware.

He handed the lost fork to her. His fingers lingered on the stem, brushing hers.

An electric shock jumped straight to her chest.

She jerked back, flinging the fork into the kitchen, and, after she found and washed it, carried their plates to the sink. “You know, you never actually told me what you’re doing here.”

“Working.” He took the dishtowel from its rack and, as she washed, he dried, finding the plates’ proper locations through simple four-cabinet elimination. “A guy is looking to fix up his bike. After that, I’ll head to Yosemite. A buddy will put me up if I help him replace a roof.”

She imagined the freedom of hopping on a Harley and disappearing over the horizon. What would the clouds look like over Yosemite? How would the Rockies sound when she flew up their winding roads and hugged Graham’s body to her own, pressing herself tight against him?

His shoulder bumped hers.

She dropped the last rinsed dish with a clack and and practically ran to her tiny dining table, fumbling to play her book-keeping cassettes. Gain contingency and sole proprietorship floated from the little stereo like a noise wall between them. “And then? After Yosemite?”

“Depends on what comes up.” He leaned against the counter and cleared his throat. “I heard you might have a couch.”

The tape player screeched.

She slammed the stop button and pressed her palms against the wobbly table. “Don’t you have other friends?”

“They’re not around.”

She crossed her arms. “How long are we talking here?”

“A week.” He licked his lips. “Maybe two.”

No. Oh no. No. “It’s not that I don’t want to help you out. I can’t even afford to fix my blowout right now, to say nothing of—”

“I’ll fix your tire. I’ll take you to work.”

She met his gray eyes for one long moment. Her legs shivered with the thrum of the Harley.

He stood with his feet apart, filling her kitchen with his distilled presence. “I’ll make you dinner.”

The taste of fresh warmed basil lingered on her tongue. She hadn’t even known the plant growing in her windowsill was edible.

But she would never let him get close to her again.

She sat and scooted in her chair. “One week.”

He started to smile. “Or maybe two.”

Oh, his smile. His unforgettable smile. She needed to touch him. Needed it, like air or potato chips or water.

“One. And that’s it. I mean it.” Sera put on her headphones and hit the play button.

She had given up chasing after Graham with wide-spread arms. He had told her that she wasn’t the kind of girl he would ever be interested in. It didn’t matter that she was different now. He thought she was the same. Well, she would show him that she was different.

No way was she going to fall in love with him again.

~~~ Read the rest on November 15! ~~~