The Spirit Tree has won a publishing contract through the Kindle Scout program - think American Idol for books. My 30-day campaign ended May 16th. I received notice May 24th that the novel was selected. I'll update the post as soon as I have a release date.
Everyone who voted for the book will receive a free e-copy!
Some events leave scars. They mark time, changing life as you know it into something unrecognizable. Death split my life into two periods—before Charlie and after Charlie.
That morning, I woke crying without knowing why. Dread followed me through the day. It needled my thoughts until I succumbed and acknowledged someone I loved would die before the sun set.
“Tessa Marie, we need you to come to the hospital. It’s your Uncle Charlie,” my great-grandmother Mae said through the phone.
“Is he all right?” I knew the answer.
“No, child. He had a heart attack and is on life support. They’re talking about turning off the machines. Please hurry. We’re at Florida Hospital on Rollins Street.” The call disconnected. My grandmother lost the cell connection. Impeccable southern manners wouldn’t have allowed her to hang up without saying goodbye.
“I’ve got to go.” I sprang from the bed, searching for my discarded clothing. Sex had been my last ditch effort to shake the feeling someone would die. It didn’t work.
“I’ll wait here until you get back.”
“Ian, get up. You can’t stay here.” I pulled a T-shirt over my head.
Ian threw the blanket off and tugged on his jeans. “What’s going on?”
“My uncle is on life support. This can’t be happening. He can’t die. I need him too much. I talked to him this morning. He sounded fine. There has to be a mistake.” I slid on flip flops and headed for the door.
“Let me drive.” Ian jangled his keys.
I wanted to tell him to stay put, but I didn’t want to drive.
We rode in silence for a while, then Ian sighed and turned on the radio. A disembodied voice reported the murder of a young mother and possible kidnapping of two small children. The victim’s mother had found her body in her kitchen earlier in the day. The children had disappeared. Police hadn’t released the names. I drew my knees to my chest and prayed for both my family and the family of the murdered woman.
“Want me to come in?” Ian eased the car to a stop.
I studied him for the first time since the call ruined our alone time. Wide eyed, he rubbed his palm on his thigh and shifted in his seat. His expression puzzled me. I couldn’t tell if he worried about me or feared I would ask him to come inside. We’d dated about three weeks—if hanging out during happy hour and having sex at every opportunity counted as dating. Come to think of it, we’d never had a proper date. “No, I’m fine. Thank you, though.”
Ian exhaled and grasped the steering wheel. He pulled away before the car door shut. Actions speak louder than words, and his words screamed.
I stood in the hospital’s lobby. My skin prickled, and I turned to the woman behind the welcome desk. Under the puff of cottony white hair, two dark, beady eyes fixed on me. The volunteer’s lips twisted in disapproval. What had I done to offend her? I resisted the urge to rush up the escalators, to avoid the sour, old woman.
Behind the welcome desk sat the hospital gift shop with flowers and balloons. The contrast between the not-so-welcome-desk and the happy little gift shop made me grin. I drew my courage and walked to the desk.
“Can you tell me what room Charles Nokoseka is in?”
“Nokoseka? How do you spell that?” The old woman glared.
I spelled the last name, exaggerating the pronunciation of each letter. I knew the drill. Not my last name, but I’d spelled Nokoseka a million times. The woman typed in the name, looking between me and the screen.
“He is in ICU Step-Down, only immediate family members are allowed to visit.” For some unknown reason, the little old lady had an issue with me.
“I’m his niece. But he raised me…” What the hell? I didn’t have time to argue. I needed to find my uncle.
“You missed visiting hours.”
“Considering they called me to pull the motherfucking plug, I don’t think visiting hours are going to be an issue. Tell me where he is.” My outburst surprised us both. I didn’t care. I hated the world she lived in.
I hurried to the escalators, taking the metal steps two at a time. The hairs on the back of my neck stood. I needed to get to my family, something was wrong. More wrong than the man who raised me fighting for his life. I rounded the corner to the Step Down Unit and stopped.
Two large men stood in front of the elevators and blocked the hall. Their size didn’t strike me as much as their ponytails and sharp features. They could’ve been members of the tribe, coming to pay their last respects, had it not been for their tight expressions and stiff posture. They were angry, very angry.
I turned and went the opposite direction until the elevator pinged. I counted to ten and doubled back toward Charlie’s room, pausing in the hallway. At least twenty family members had gathered in the waiting room, including my mother. I would have rather gone up against the two big guys than face down my family. I should’ve guessed my mother would be there. Even still, it struck me like a punch to the gut.
All eyes turned to me when I wandered into the waiting room. I scanned the faces, searching for my great grandmother or great aunt, and found neither. The television in the corner caught my attention. The newscast reported on the story of the murdered mother. Pictures of the young woman with two small children flashed across the screen. The police urged the public to call with any information regarding the whereabouts of the kids.
Hearing the story on the radio had tugged my heart strings, seeing the children’s faces yanked them out. “Shit.”
“Now, Darlin’, shit is something we do, not something we say.” The sweet southern drawl and gentile chiding made me feel eight years old. Mae told me the same thing standing in her vegetable garden. The second time I cursed in front of her earned me Ivory soap for mouthwash.
I bent down to hug Mae’s short, round body. Gram Mae grew up in abject poverty, but behaved like a southern lady. She grew her own tomatoes, drank her tea sweet as cane, and could drop a deer, or whiskey, in one shot.
“How is he?” I cringed, wanting to believe Glinda the Good Witch would swoop down in her bubble and fix all the wrongs.
“Not good, darlin’.”
“Can I see him?”
“He is waiting for you.” Mae took a firm grip on my hand and led me away from the wide eyed family members. Gram didn’t have that determined look in her eyes often. They all knew to get out of her way when she did, everyone except my mother.
“Tessa! Oh, I’m so glad you came.” Darlene rushed toward me with arms outstretched, her heavy makeup ruined with twin black streaks. A well-used tissue hung in her hand as she reached for me. Sure, now she acknowledges my presence. Long ago, I would have sold my soul for a few moments of my mother’s attention. That ended about the time I turned ten.
Mae shook her head, while Darlene pretended not to notice. I side-stepped the unwelcome hug, and mouthed “sorry” to my angry-faced mother as Gram Mae dragged me down the hall.
Darlene narrowed her eyes. “Tessa thinks she is too good for us.”
A knot tightened in my stomach as family members surrounded my mother. They cooed and petted, agreeing with everything she said.
“Trauma drama,” Gram whispered. “Don’t let them shake you. They come out when there’s blood or money on the line.”
I forced myself to ignore my family. Truth be told, my real family consisted of the three people inside the hospital room. Great Gram Mae, Uncle Charlie, and Aunt Dottie raised me. My mother came to collect me a few times, promising things would be different. The visits always ended sooner, rather than later, and I found myself on Dottie and Charlie’s doorstep.
The second I entered the room, tears sprang to my eyes. I covered my mouth to prevent the scream rising in my throat. I wanted to run away, to go home to Charlie’s house and visit over sweet tea. I wanted him to tell me everything would be all right.
I hugged Aunt Dottie. When had my vivacious aunt grown old and frail? How long had it been since I sat with her watching soap operas and eating macaroons? I turned toward my uncle, and my knees went out from under me. As they had done my entire life, Dottie and Mae steadied me until I could stand on my own two feet.
“We’re going to be right outside,” Dottie whispered and patted my shoulder.
My mouth fell open, and I shook my head. Before I could form a word of protest, they left me alone with my uncle and several large, noisy, machines. Each step toward him felt like a monumental accomplishment. I sat on the edge of his bed, transfixed by the gentle rise and fall of his chest. His jet black hair had grayed, and the smile lines on his cheeks had deepened. “I’m sorry I have been away so long. I promise I’ll take care of Dottie and Gram for you.”
Memories flooded me when I placed my hand on top of my uncle’s. I remembered being a tiny girl and setting my hand against his, measuring my small fingers against his, marveling about how pale my skin looked next to his.
I’d ask, “Am I Cherokee?”
“About half, I reckon,” he’d reply.
I’d crinkle my nose and giggle. “Which half?”
“Your color is white but your stubborn is all Indian.” He’d laugh in his deep, good-hearted way and kiss the tip of my nose.
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