So the countdown is over, and Thirty Nights is here! Really, truly, finally here. I wanted to thank every one who has followed me in this incredible journey: from those very first few readers on fan fiction to every single one of you who has read, reviewed, emailed, messaged, and supported my story. And a ginormous thank-you and blog-hug to the following:
My wonderful editor, Tera Cuskaden Norris, for taking a chance on Thirty Nights, for her passion for a good story, and her hard work to bring you this book;
My awesome agent, Stacy Lorts, who saw the potential of this story when it was just a fairytale on my blog;
The whole Samhain team, and especially Katlyn Osborn, for all of their guidance and hard work;
My PR agency, Inkslinger PR, and the amazing, superwoman Nazarea Andrews, for curbing the insanity of the marketing and promos during the #30days countdown;
And last, because it’s the closest to my heart, my friends and my husband for all his love, patience, and support during these last two mad, beautiful years .
I couldn’t have made it without you! I hope you enjoy Thirty Nights, and know that this was all for you! I can’t wait to hear what you think. I will be waiting for your thoughts with open hearts. And no matter what you say, THANK YOU!
And now another little goodie to keep you company while reading: the Poem Soundtrack for Thirty Nights. Yep, you heard that right. And why not? A poem soundtrack makes as much sense for Thirty Nights as a playlist. 🙂 Here it is, with my favorite lines! Enjoy and see which one suits which scene and/or character… and read in the end for more info.
She Walks in Beauty, Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and light,
meets in her aspect and her eyes.
If You Were Coming in the Fall, Emily Dickinson
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
I Do Not Love You… Pablo Neruda
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
I Do Not Love You, Except Because I love You, Pablo Neruda
In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
I Carry Your Heart With Me, E.E. Cummings
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart).
Because She Would Ask Me Why I Loved Her, Christopher Brennan
Then seek not, sweet, the “If” and “Why”
I love you now until I die.
For I must love because I live
And life in me is what you give.
If Thou Must Love Me (Sonnet 14), Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only.
Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark…
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Extinguish My Eyes, Rainer Maria Rilke
Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.
and without feet, I still can come to you,
without a mouth, I still can call your name.
Sever my arms, I will still hold you,
with all my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.
Ahhhhh… I read these, and I want to give up writing because these are genius. But not yet… 🙂 I will have more goodies for you during release week, including excerpts, guest posts, Aiden POV, giveaway announcement (over 1,500 people have entered!!!!) etc. I will be back soon with more. All my love, Ani
I am sorry for the delay in posting this time. I had a not-so-minor crisis with our landlord who selfishly decided to renovate and not renew our lease. I will spare you the madness but it’s all sorted now. Thank you for your patience and thank you to everyone who wrote to me and almost sent out a search and rescue mission. YOU ROCK! I was going to write back individually but I figured between an email from me and a new chapter, you’d like a new chapter. So here it is! We are getting close to that KEY moment you’ve all been waiting for, very close, so keep going. 🙂 And thank you to everyone who reviewed in the last chapter. I know so many of you read and follow and spread the word and I love you all for it. And to those of you who take an extra minute to drop me a line, you have no idea how much that means to a writer, especially after long nights of wondering “why the hell am I doing this again?” SO THANK YOU EVERYONE!! Links below (pinterest will be up in a bit so that I don’t spoil for my Facebook followers). And if you are looking for cool stories, check out the other writers we have in our midst in my previous post. Love them!!
Thank you so much for the outpouring of support at the last chapter. I loved hearing all your theories, and have posted a lot of the answers to your questions on my FB page for efficiency but will add them to a list here on the side menu as soon as I have a minute. And THANK YOU for all your comments and theories and guesses – there’s nothing better for a wanna-be writer than to hear from her readers in real time.
A special thanks and gratitude to Ariadne for British-proofing this chapter, Mr. Plemmons’ mannerisms, and all her advice on Snowshill and all things British. I have the “best of British” luck in meeting her. One day, I hope she will write a book of her own.
A kiss and hug from anyone who lives in Snowshill for letting me take liberties with your beautiful town. 🙂
This chapter is dedicated to two readers who have followed my journey from the beginning and who both suffered tragedy this week: To S’s mom – may you rest in peace and may your soul shine like phosphorus. To Purpleale – there is a bright road ahead, I know it!
Link, song, and Pinterest below 🙂
“Let there be light” – Elisa Snow Phosphorus Sand – this picture is real!
Hope 2014 is off to a good start for you! I know it’s been since before Christmas, but here is the second chapter of 90 Days. You’ll notice some changes in the website, too: now the sequel has its own tab above per your requests. In addition, there are two new Pinterest boards, one for Elisa’s new wardrobe and one for the sequel, which includes many things mentioned in this chapter, from the Cottage door to… well… no spoilers.
I hope you enjoy it. There will be more Aiden coming up, and more sequel. Link, song, and new Pinterest boards below. 🙂 THANK YOU!!
“The Cottage stands there, with the presence of soul and the absence of time.” – Elisa Snow, Chapter 2, 90 Days
I wanted to wish all of you Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays, and a healthy, lucky, sexy, and loving New Year’s! I was going to write about how special you have made 2013 for me, by following Thirty Nights from its very first chapter to its current journey through publishing houses. I wanted to thank you for all your faith, support, and thousands and thousands of messages, comments, reviews, cards, and notes you have sent me. But if I did that, I would go on forever. So instead, I will say simply a BIG THANK YOU and give you what you like! Some more writing. 🙂 Over the last several months, so many of you have asked for this scene. It is set before Thirty Nights starts, and I thought it was the most appropriate to post today, on Christmas Eve. Not only to use it as a scene for hope and love for all of you, but also in a moment of self-indulgence because this scene is very close to my heart. Some of you know that Javier was partly inspired by my own brother. Well, this last week, I learned that the American Embassy didn’t give my brother a visa to come spend Christmas with me. So, this is for the apple of my eye, “Andrew,” as well as for all you who have been my muses in this process. Oh, and don’t panic. Aiden POV will return soon, too. I’m just trying to upgrade the website to include more of his chapters. THANK YOU EVERYONE!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND SEE YOU IN THE NEW YEAR (my hubby is dragging me to Seattle for a family get-together). All my love, xoxo, Ani
My mother, Maria, has been waking me up this way since July 2, 1994. New day, new life, she said. I remember her with a four-year old’s eyes. Tall, even though she is only five foot two. Plump, because she was wearing three wool sweaters—yes, in July. Happy, because she was smiling. Strong, because she was carrying two black, duffel bags full of our clothes. And right, because she was my mother. New day, new life, she said. She put me in three sweaters, too, and a coat. She gave me my Optimus Prime transformer that my father had sent me all the way from Oregon, America, and took my hand. Vamos a ver a tu papá. Vamos a América, she smiled. I followed her with a four-year old’s steps. Small, quick, and trusting—rushing to keep up with the rest of the world.
“Javier, ándale,” her voice drifts from our tiny, American kitchen, with the same urgency, the same faith as it held fourteen years ago. But unlike fourteen years ago, I am already awake, even though it’s only 4:30 a.m. Still, I let her believe she is waking me up because she likes that. My mother is nothing if she is not the first face her children see in the morning and the last they see at night.
“Okay, okay, I’m up,” I say, my voice still thick from sleep. The house is quiet except Maria’s soft footsteps on the linoleum floor. My father, Antonio, already left for work to build The Nines Hotel downtown Portland. My sisters are asleep. I look at the small Christmas tree in the corner, covered in tinsel and pink lights. No presents there yet. But the stockings hanging on the coat rack are stuffed, most likely with Maria’s knitted socks and gloves. I bet mine will be navy again this year.
I get out of our couch—that’s my bed. No, no, don’t feel bad for me. This sleeping arrangement is by choice because I have converted my bedroom into a painting studio. More about that later. I fold my comforter and sheets, and stuff them in the matchbox closet in our hallway where they will stay until around ten tonight, when I get back from work. Why 10:00 p.m.? Because my boss is letting me out early. Merry Christmas Eve, America!
I shuffle down the hall to the bathroom, stepping on two dolls and a pacifier, and nearly breaking my neck over a soccer ball. My sisters’ toys. Four sisters now. Anamelia just joined us two months ago. It was almost fun until I realized where babies come from. Then I went through a phase of throwing up in my mouth every time I saw my mother pregnant. But I grew out of it. Now, I just blame the five of us on my parents’ love for each other—the love that conquered time, distance, and illegal immigration—but I also know there is a little bit of good ole’ Catholicism in there, too. As faithful Mexican immigrants, we go forth and multiply, filling America’s schools, streets, buses, and homes with American citizens. So they can have the life that we came here to find. The American dream could be an ad for aphrodisiacs. Save an oyster, find America! Neuvo dia, nueva vida.
In the bathroom, I curse my stubble to the deepest pits of Mexico. It grows like fungus after rain. The painter in me wants to grow it out Van Gogh style but Antonio believes in three rules that make a man: a clean-shaven face, a good woman, and a back-breaking job. I am two out of three. I’ve been growing a beard since I was eleven. I’ve been working not one, but two, back-breaking jobs since I was fifteen. As for the good woman . . . well, I’ll just paint her. See, it puts a real damper on dating style when you are eighteen and living with your parents.
Hello Miss American Pie, my name is Harvey Sellers. No, not really, but I can’t tell you my real name because I am a criminal by your laws. In fact, your peeps call me illegal. I’d like to take you out to dinner somewhere on a hilltop, if my Honda Civic makes it that far. But it has to be around eleven because that’s when I get out of work. Is that too late for dinner? I promise to pack my mother’s carnitas . . . or salad, whichever you prefer. Once there, we can dance. Do you tango? Vertical? Horizontal? And at the end of the date, I’ll drop you off. I won’t give you my phone number because you may know Immigration and Customs Enforcement police . . . you know, ICE men. So how about that date, Miss?
And that is why I, Javier Solis, do not have a girlfriend.
I slap my newly-shaved face, now softer than Anamelia’s bottom after a new diaper, and start putting on my work clothes. We’re supposed to get an ice storm today. Lucky for me as a landscaper, ice storms are rare in Portland, Oregon. But when they come, they turn the world upside down. See, Portlanders have no fucking clue what to do with snow. They usually walk around like dingbats, calling off school and public transportation, wearing sleeping bags with holes for legs and arms, and discussing the merits of global warming. As a native Mexican with the word Sun for a last name, I would join them wholeheartedly. But Boss pays extra on ice storms, which means they’re better than sunny days.
I put on my long underwear—sexy. Then jeans—hot. Then my work coveralls—even sexier. Repeat the process with three layers up top. Steel toed boots? Check. A man needs toes. Ear muffs? For sure. A man needs ears, too. Coat? Two, please. They’re out in the foyer. Actually, foyer is what Maria calls it. In reality, it’s a two-by-two space cluttered with the girls’ shoes.
I come out of the bathroom, sweating bullets. I can smell Maria’s fried eggs and potatoes so I sprint to the kitchen. She smiles when she sees me, her chocolate eyes twinkling like the Christmas tree. In five seconds, she will hug me, bless me, and ask about my work schedule even though it’s the same every day. Five, four, three, two, one.
“Bendito, hijo, bendito,” she says, marking a cross over my forehead. Then she slides three eggs and a mountain of hash browns on a plate with reindeers—one dollar, ninety-nine cents at TJ Maxx, a present from Antonio two Christmases ago. I sit at the kitchen table and dig in. Maria pats my cheek.
“You growing. You need new jeans, hijo.” She smiles but in her voice, I sense the hesitation of math. She is adding up the dollars in our checking account.
“Not really. You know me, I’m a kilt guy,” I say because that will make her laugh. She does and for a moment, I sense an echo of the four-year old boy. That boy is long gone but there are some moments—rare, Christmas-Eve moments—when Maria’s laughter turns back time to Optimus Prime transformers, hot July days, trips to America, and a mother’s guiding hand. Nuevo dia, nueva vida.
“So what is Boss having you do today?” Maria asks in English. She always asks this question in English, as though to emphasize its importance.
“Going over to Reed College. Gotta treat the rhododendrons around campus. Then off to Feign Art. Someone ordered a replica of that Pursuit of Happiness series I did last year and I have to finish it by January third.”
“Oh, that’s nice, that’s nice,” Maria says, patting my arm. I know her pats by now. On the cheek to say hello or I love you, on the head to say behave, and on the arm to say maybe later. She reserves this latter pat for my “art talks.” She and Antonio know that if we really want to talk American dreams, mine would be to have my own gallery, paint the land I see versus the land I want, and of course, collect money from it. And they think that’s as impractical as a man can get. Pointless concern because as an illegal, I could never own or operate a gallery. So instead, I settle for ghost-painting for Brett Feign who sells my work under his name and gives me about a fiftieth of what he makes. Fair? No. Acceptable? Yes. It puts food on the table and I get to do what I love. Not many have that luxury. Not even Americans.
“How much is Feign paying for the paintings this time?” Maria asks.
“Same as always. Two hundred bucks a pop. There’re five of them though so that’s good.”
Her face softens and she pats my cheek. “Buen hijo,” she says. A good son. “Someday, you will not have to work so much.”
She speaks the words with a far-away look, as though that is the only aspiration, the holy promise. Because it is. She pats my cheek again, takes my plate, and walks over to the sink.
I watch her straight back. It breaks too, under loads of laundry, bending to clean, wipe, sweep, and mop Portland’s hotels. Still, on any given day, life is better here. Or if not life, the dream of life. Somehow it feels closer, graspable, or at least more vivid on this side of the border. I suppose, in the end, a vivid dream is better than a blurry dream, even if it never becomes reality.
I still have a few minutes before six o’ clock, but suddenly, the promise of Nuevo dia, nueva vida, rings both loud and mute. I stand to leave. Maria turns around and wipes her hands with a kitchen towel, covered with snowmen. Two dollars, ninety nine cents at Crate and Barrel. A present from me four Christmases ago. Maria is nuts about Crate and Barrel. Which is why this year, I’m getting her stocking-shaped mugs, in addition to a painting of her and Antonio.
“You leaving already? You still have a few minutes,” she looks at the cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall.
“I know. I want to drive slow. Ice and all.”
She blanches at the word ICE.
“I meant real ice, Mom. It’s okay.”
I walk over to her and give her a hug. The word ICE in our house is the same as the word muerte. It is never said unless it happens. Damn the genius who named immigration police ICE. What the hell are we supposed to call real ice without causing heart attacks for our parents?
“How about we call it Aspirin from now on?” I say.
Maria’s color returns. Almost. “Aspirin?” she smiles.
“Sure. Aspirin is supposed to prevent heart attacks.”
She laughs and pats my cheek. “Ah, sí. Okay. Aspirin.”
“I love you,” I say, and kiss her hair.
“I love you, too,” she answers in English.
I put on my two coats, pick up my packed lunch, and go out to brave the Portland Aspirin storm.
By 11:30 a.m., I have snowballs instead of testicles. Reed College has more rhododendrons than ICE has cops on the Mexico border. Why the fuck does any college need so many rhododendrons? Oh right, the college that gave us Steve Jobs, Wikipedia, the CD, and who knows what else. I usually keep my eyes on the ground and away from the brainiacs that attend this school but the truth is I have crashed a couple of their art lectures while pretending to take out the trash. I even wrote down their syllabus and have been saving for the books. At my rate, I will have a better chance at buying them one chapter at a time . . . and should have them all when I turn sixty. Awesome! I continue covering the rhododendrons with plastic bags and spraying them with anti-freeze, whistling Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”
“Umm… hello?” A soft voice, almost a windy whisper, interrupts me right at “you’ll know it’s me when I come through your town.” I look up. And man though I am, I gasp. Airless, I have a sudden urge to cross myself.
A few steps from me, is a . . . girl. I think. But the word does not fit her. She is almost transparent, as though she lacks substance, not form. She is tiny, no taller than five foot four. Her skin is pale, almost like onion skin. It stretches over her prominent cheeks and upturned nose like the edges of her bones are about to break through the delicate film. Her lips are white, chapped, and slightly parted as though she is barely drawing breath. Her hair is long, past her waist, and almost black. It is thin, and I suppose at some point, it must have been wavy. It blows in the wind behind her like a sigil—dark and ominous as the flag death would carry if it were in the habit of announcing itself.
Standing out above and beyond the haunting sight, are the girl’s eyes. They are an astonishing color. A deep orchid purple, almost indigo blue. I have studied human eyes and colors for my art but I have never seen eyes like this. They are large, too big for her drawn face. Long, black lashes frame them but she blinks very little. The lashes flutter in the wind, too, like feathers. I watch her eyes closely, wondering if she is wearing lenses. She is not. Her eyes are real. Yet despite their vibrancy, they remind me of a hearth after the fire has gone out. No embers glowing, no warmth. Only ash. Like her hair, her eyes must have had some life in them but whatever specter has hollowed her, has extinguished them, too.
I tear my eyes from her face and look at the rest of her. She is wearing a man’s coat, too large for her. It’s a dark brown tweed, the sleeves rolled a few times to expose her frail hands, locked together. The coat falls to her shins. She has a dark green man’s scarf wrapped around her neck. Under the coat, she is wearing a pair of black slacks. On her feet, some black pumps that look like they belong on a mother, not on a teenage girl. Her feet shift on the frozen lawn. It’s not until I see that slight movement that I realize why the word girl does not fit her. She is not a girl. She is a ghost.
I look back at her face. She swallows once and flinches as if the act caused her pain. She looks at the anti-freeze spray bottle and then back at me. Her shoulders are hunched and another word pops in my head. Waif. She has that aura of an abandoned child, even though she is probably about eighteen years old. I try to say something —anything—but cannot. There was beauty in this girl once. The kind of beauty you paint, immortalize. A beauty underneath, between reality and imagination. A painter knows a pretty woman at first sight, and a beautiful woman at the thousandth. The Mona Lisa’s, the Simonetta’s, the Dora Maar’s. The muses. What could destroy that type of beauty with such vengeance? Why?
“I . . . I can help . . . help you with the rhododendrons?” she whispers again. Now I realize that, in fact, she is not whispering; she is talking. Whatever evil drained her beauty, muted her voice, too. But quiet though her words are, I notice a British accent in them.
She waits with an empty dread in her eyes, like she is afraid I am going to say no. Maybe she is crazy. As in true mental illness. I watch her under this new theory. She blinks once and looks at the rhododendrons again like they may hold the answer on how to weird out innocent landscapers. Yes, ill. Ill describes her. But not dangerous, no. Just . . . hurting. I open and close my mouth a few times, blink for the both of us, and find some words.
“Hey, there. Ah, you don’t need to help me. I got this. Uh, is there anything I can help you with?” Some food maybe? Or gloves? Or rocks in your pockets so you don’t blow away in the wind?
The moment she hears my “no” she flinches again and her chest rises as if she is trying to breathe. “Umm . . . you can help me if you let me help you,” she whispers.
What the hell does that mean? Oh, that if I let her help me, it will in turn help her? How on Oregon’s green forests will that happen? This girl needs to be in bed, hooked up to some IV or something. Not out in an Aspirin storm, treating shrubbery.
I shake my head. “Honestly, I think you should go home. It’s getting bad out here. Just go be warm or eat or something. I’m almost finished here.”
At the word home, she closes her eyes briefly, then opens them, looking at the rhododendrons in panic. “But . . . but . . . But if you cover their roots with leaves, it will be better for them. And the spray you are using is not effective. It doesn’t have a surfactant ingredient listed on the bottle, and it won’t help. If you want, I can show you how to make one that will help,” she whispers urgently. “Please?”
Okay. Either this girl has some serious, tree hugger kind of obsession with rhododendrons, or she invents anti-freeze and is trying to dupe me into buying some, or she is downright nuts. Besides, I know what I am doing with the shrubs.
“Look, ah . . . what’s your name?”
“Elisa. Elisa Snow,” her whisper drops so low that I have to lean in to catch her words. She almost mouths her last name as if her vocal chords cannot support the sound.
“Right. Okay, Elisa. My name is Harvey. Are you feeling . . . you know, okay and all?”
She nods slowly in a way that could mean only “no.” Some strange current starts to crawl and zap in my chest the same way it does when Maria is crying or one of the girls gets picked on at school.
“You don’t seem okay,” I push.
She steps back, looks at the rhododendrons one last time, inclines her head at me once, and turns to leave. Maybe she accepted defeat with the stupid shrubs, or perhaps gave it up in exchange for her silence to my question. Before I know what I am doing, I run after her.
“Hey, hey! Elisa?” I call, but she tries to walk faster. I catch up to her in about three steps and a half. “Hey, don’t run. I thought you wanted to help me out?” I say, keeping my voice casual like I do when I tease my sisters. Maybe this way, she will tell me what’s wrong with her. I don’t know why it’s suddenly so important for me to know, but it is.
She looks at me, and blinks twice—a record for her. “You’d let me help you?” she asks.
“Well, yeah, sure. As long as you tell me why you’re so upset.” I meant to make it sound like a negotiation but instead, it came out as a question.
She dissects my face, with a thinker’s look. A flash of intelligence gleams in her empty eyes. “And you will let me help you until you are all done?”
She looks around. What could be so momentous about telling someone why she’s upset. Oh shit, maybe it’s a crime? No, she doesn’t look like a criminal. No, this is something painful. I know that. That’s why I’m standing here like a dude’s Christmas tree: stiff, dead from the root up, and with a pair of snowballs.
“So, what do you say? A secret in exchange for hard labor?” I offer. I hoped to make her smile but she doesn’t. Perhaps she does not remember how. Or maybe my joke was not that funny. Still, for some nutjob reason, I keep going.
“I promise to make the labor really hard if that helps? You can do all the rhodies by yourself even. And you can show me what the deal is with anti-freeze and the surf-whatever.”
She looks up at me. For an instant, a shadow of life flits in her eyes, almost like recognition or trust. To my utter astonishment, she nods only once.
“Yeah? Deal?” I ask, unsure that a nod really is a nod with this girl.
“Deal,” she whispers.
I smile and wait in what I think is a very nice-guy, encouraging stance. Elisa locks her hands together tightly, as if she is looking for something to grip. Yes, my chest is definitely acting up. She is so fragile and the pain in her eyes so acute that, of its own volition, my hand extends toward her.
“You can hold on to me, if you want,” I say. If any dude anywhere has had a weirder conversation with a woman, I’ll give ICE my real name.
She stares at my open hand in that blinkless way of hers. I am about to withdraw it when her fingers relax a fraction. I hold my palm closer to her, like one might when offering a hazelnut to a wounded, trembling squirrel.
She extends her hand to me slowly. It shakes like the last leaves on Reed’s oaks. The weird crawl in my chest creeps up in my throat, changing into an ache I have never felt about a stranger. Something about her trust is transformative, like that right ray of light that makes the canvass a window, not a frame.
At last, her small hand rests on mine. Her fingers are icicles, brittle and frail. I wrap my hand around hers gently, afraid that if I shake it, it will shatter into a million crystals. She closes her fingers around mine. They are weightless, almost a caress, not a grip. Still, the touch must do something for her because she looks up at me.
“Thank you,” she mouths.
“Sure. See? Not that hard. Now, all this shrubbery is yours for the treating, just tell me what’s wrong.”
Her fingers tighten slightly on mine. I wait for a long time. At least a long time by an hourly worker’s standards. “You know, those rhodies will freeze by the time we’re done here.”
That does it. Yep, definitely a rhododendron hugger. Her lips move slowly as if she is testing the words in her mind first. Is it possible she has never said them? Then she looks up at me.
“Do you have parents, Harvey?” she whispers, as if she just took her last breath.
I repeat her words in my head, trying to make sense of the riddle. Why is she asking about my parents? My eyes flit to her clothes. A man’s clothes. An older man’s clothes. A father’s. And the shoes. A mom’s shoes, just as I thought earlier. I suck in a sharp, icy breath as it finally hits me. She is asking about my parents because she has lost hers.
I don’t usually have time to study my insides but there are some changes, body and blood changes, that even the most practical, overworked, meat-and-potatoes, full-beard-by-lunchtime man notices. That’s where I am right now. A strange, thick burn— like I’m inhaling paint thinner on fire—blisters in my throat. Without thought or plan, I try to pull her slowly to me. She doesn’t move.
“Will you settle for a brother on loan?” I say. As the words leave my mouth though, I feel like I have signed and sealed some summons from above. Like her parents hailed me to this frozen lawn, on this Christmas Eve, with the missive of angels. And even though I offer her brotherhood, to Elisa, I will always be whatever is written in that missive. Brother, family, or whatever the skies have in order.
She looks at our joined hands, and then in my eyes. She nods, but the motion is more fluid, somehow. Not as stiff. She doesn’t smile but that flicker of life flashes in her eyes. “Can I help now?”
I pat her small hand as I realize what she is asking. She wants something to make Christmas Eve livable. Something she can breathe through. The bite of frost, the prickle of shrubs, perhaps even the idea of protecting something —a life form as simple as a plant—from the end.
I swallow to make sure my voice is not frozen. It is, but her purple eyes melt it into the only words she needs.
“Yeah, you can help me. For as long as you want.”
“Thank you,” she says with so much feeling that I am not certain whether she is thanking me for the rhododendrons or for something else. Her voice is a little clearer as if she put all her strength behind it.
I smile. “Sure. But if I’m a brother on loan, you should probably know my real name. It’s Javier. Javier Solis.”
She doesn’t ask me why I lied. In fact, she doesn’t look surprised. “My . . . parents,” she swallows as she says the word. “They called me Isa.”
“Well, Merry Christmas Eve, Isa.”
She looks at me for a long moment. A few wisps of snow fall over us. “Merry Christmas Eve, Javier,” her fingers tighten weakly on mine. Then, she lets go off my hand and picks up the bottle of anti-freeze. She walks to the next rhododendron in line and starts covering the base and upper roots with all the leaves she can find. Her hair gets stuck in the branches but she doesn’t care. She pats down the layers of leaves with an odd energy. Almost dedication. She starts to fold sleeves of plastic and tucks the branches in with a motherly edge to her delicate face. At length, a faint, almost invisible pink tints her cheeks.
The Mona Lisa’s, the Simonetta’s, the Dora Maar’s. And the Elisa’s.
I look up at the sky that sent me a missive, realizing it was not a commandment; it was a gift. Every painter has a painting, every painting has some art, every art has a maker, but not every maker is an artist. An artist exists only if he has a muse.
Snowflakes fall on Elisa’s hair. Merry Christmas to me.
On Thanksgiving, while I was eating things like soup due to my broken tooth, and seething that my hubby was gorging himself in turkey and stuffing, I thought to myself: yes, but he does not have almost 1,000 followers in his blog (ignoring the fact that he does not have a blog)! So I sat there with my soup, giving thanks for all of you. For every time you have clicked on this blog, followed it, spread the word, told someone about the story, sent me a message, wrote a review, or simply thought of 30Nights, THANK YOU!!
In honor of the holidays, I thought you should meet Aiden’s mother, Stella Hale, through an interview. I have had a lot of questions about Aiden’s childhood. Let’s see if she can answer some of them for you. As always, some sequel hints are embedded as well. Be careful, Stella does not know that she is a character in a book.
Stella Hale (Daphne Zuniga)
AS: (has changed into sweat pants for the occasion) Mrs. Hale, I’m Ani Surnois and I’m your son’s creato—ahh…creativity director… yep, that’s me.
Stella Hale: Hello, Ms. Surnois, how do you do? Do I owe Aiden’s brand-new campaign called Il Legal to you?
AS: Well, I only named it but it was Aiden’s initiative through and through.
SH: (smiles proudly) That’s my son! May I ask … where am I exactly? I was just in an airplane, and my husband was telling me to get some sleep, and now I’m here. I have a family emergency, you see, and I have to get to Portland, Oregon, ASAP.
AS: Umm… yes, the plane is … refueling. You will be on your way very shortly. While that happens, this … ah… place is my head. Sort of.
SH: I beg your pardon?
AS: My head … my office.
SH: Ah! Ah, yes, of course. (looks around with bright blue eyes, very much like Aiden’s). How curious a place! What is that thing in the back? Is that a… ballroom?
AS: Oh,that! Yes, yes, it is. Here, don’t mind that, Mrs. Hale. I’m doing a … biography of Aiden. And I’ve seen so much curiosity about his childhood. Would you be willing to answer some questions for me?
SH: Of course, of course. As long as I get back on the plane in the next few minutes. I really need to see my son. (fidgets and wrings her fingers.)
AS: (feeling like an emotional leech.) I understand. I’ll get you out of here very soon. Here, have some Baci chocolates. They really help. Now, let’s get started. What was Aiden’s first word?
SH: (eyes soften and speaks softly.) Aiden didn’t have a first word. He had a first sentence.
AH: A first sentence?
SH: (nods with a smile). Yes, he said “Mama,” paused for a just a second and continued “Mama, fank you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He dropped his little bouncing ball and I gave it back to him, and there it was. “Mama, fank you.” So I did it again, and again he said it. With a big grin. “Mama, fank you.” I called my husband, Robert, at work in a tizzy. He came home immediately—we spent the whole day just watching Aiden. He was only 13 months old! And the words were almost fully pronounced. (shakes her head. Oh hell, there’s a tear. Yep, there it goes, down her cheek.) We should have known right then that something was different. But the pediatrician kept saying “he’s just a smart boy.” We had no idea just how advanced his little brain was…
AS: Are you referring to his eidetic memory?
SH: (looks up startled) You know about that?
AH: Umm… yes. Aiden told me.
SH: Really? That’s very unusual. Aiden does not share private information. (frowns, purses lips, eyebrow flies in the air and squints her eyes at me.) Are you sure you are his creativity director?
AS: Positive. I also do his hair so that means we’re friends. Plus, I’m very nosy. Mrs. Hale, when did you first notice Aiden’s intellectual gifts?
SH: Well, in retrospect, from the first time he fully opened his eyes. They were almost… too intelligent for a baby. Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it?
AS: (melting into a puddle of raging female hormones) YES, PLEASE!
SH: (pulls out of her bag, not a wallet, but an album, thicker than Brothers Karamazov, full of Aiden baby pictures and sniffles). Here is my favorite. This is how he watched us from the very beginning. Like he understood it all! Even Doctor Nikos who delivered him said, “smarty eyes! Looks like he’s telling me how to do my job.”
Aiden’s Baby Blues
AS: (can’t talk because she is experiencing an out-of-this-womb moment!)
SH: (looking at the photo.) When he was born, he came so gently. Doctor Nikos said it was almost as if he was worried he would hurt me. It took Robert and me a while to conceive but once I got pregnant, Aiden gave me no trouble… Here are some other ones (starts flipping feverishly through baby pictures). Here, this one. He was born with a full head of hair. Robert called him “Mohawk.”
SH: I tried to comb it a few times but Robert wouldn’t let me. Here he is with our dog Marlow. He loved that dog! We always had a dog. I have no clue why Aiden doesn’t have one now. He’s so good with dogs. Every time I ask, he gives me some joking answer like “because I don’t have a mailman,” or “because I can’t neuter another male.”
Aiden and Marlow
SH: I have some others, too— would you like to see them? (pulling more pictures now.) Are you okay, Ms. Surnois? You seem choked up?
AS: Ah, yes, yes, I have a tearduct allergy. Something about polaroids. Go figure. Mrs. Hale, aside from the intelligent eyes, when was the first sign of his memory?
SH: (looks up from the baby pictures as if she forgot I am here.) Oh! When he was five. One night, I was reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to him. The next night, I was tucking him in and started to read again but I couldn’t remember the page I’d left off so I picked up a few pages earlier. Suddenly, he started reading with me! It took all my strength not to scream. I was terrified. I thought he was really reading. But then I covered the words with my hand, and said “Aiden,can you read it now, love?” So he recited what he remembered from the night before: “Bogis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one mean, these horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.” He didn’t know how to read, he just remembered it perfectly (shakes her head again, tearing up.)
Here he is, reading later, on Manzanita Beach. This is how he used to read, roughly two pages or so per minute, which is the speed of an average teenager.
Aiden reading on Manzanita Beach…
AS: Was eidetic memory something that ran in your family?
SH: (shrugs.) We don’t really know. My grandfather spoke four languages so there may be a genetic strain but scientists can’t say. I wonder if that’s why—(stops abruptly if she spoke one word too many.)
AS: If that’s why what, Mrs. Hale?
SH: (shakes head). An errant thought… my apologies.
AS: No, please, I’d like to know. And the sooner you tell me, the sooner you can go.
SH: Well, I was wondering if Aiden worries that the memory would be passed on to his children. Whether that’s not part of the reason why he has never really talked about having a family?
AS: (mental note to address with Aiden; he did put this in his first letter to Jacob Marshall. Damn him!) How many languages does Aiden speak?
SH: Seven, I think. Let me see… Farsi, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Greek, Sanskrit and English. The first four, he learned in the military, of course. The others, he picked up from reading.
AS: (picks up her jaw from the floor.) How did Aiden get so wealthy so quickly? A lot of … umm… investors want to know about that.
SH: (breaks into a laugh). Well, darling, he didn’t exactly get wealthy “quickly.” See, Aiden started making money when he was six. He started his own business, inventing mnemonic devices. (stands up straight, looking proud)
AS: (picks up jaw from the floor again and glues it to her face.) What?
SH: (laughs again). It’s true. One day, I went to the grocery store but forgot his Honey Nut Cheerios. He was not a happy camper. So he had Robert—who is an architect and engineer–install this contraption in my alarm clock that shuffled song lyrics in sync with our grocery list. That way I would never forget. The first song that played when the alarm went off was “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the story of being Aiden’s parents: being astounded on a daily basis. From then on, he started inventing other mnemonic devices. One time, he converted his baseball card statistics into a gambling operation, and showed up at home with all sorts of treasures from baseball bats and toys to candy. We made him return them—he was furious. He kept saying “I worked so hard all day long and no one helps me.” (laughs.) But soon, the private middle schools around Seattle were buying his mnemonic devices. We started patenting them for him, and saving the money. By the time he entered high school, he had about $100,000 in the bank.
AS: So that’s how he started HH?
SH: Yes, many years later. We held the money in trust. And I’m glad we did because he’d have blown it all away in his wild years. We just managed it until he returned from Iraq. Then he pulled it out, used it as seed funding for HH, and the rest is history. It helps if you never forget the stock market trends.
AS: What is your favorite moment of Aiden’s childhood?
SH: (wipes her tears.) There are so many. Like any mom. He was a character. But one that always makes me laugh despite the fact that it was horrifically embarrassing for Robert and me was something he did when he was 4. It showed me even then that he wanted to be like his parents and wanted a happy family.
AS: What happened?
SH: Well, he was in preschool one day. He usually played baseball or ran around in the jungle gym but he had this little girlfriend for about a week—Taylor. Taylor wanted to play house. The teacher told me that she and Aiden tucked in their baby dolls—Aiden got in trouble for holding the doll upside down—and then pretended to go to bed. There they lay, the two of them, next to each other. Taylor pretended to turn off the light and closed her eyes. Aiden tossed and turned, crossed his arms, and huffed and puffed. Eventually, bored, he asked Taylor “when are you going to go Aaaaaah so I can go play ball?”
AS: Oh my God!
SH: (laughs and blushes). I know! Robert and I were mortified when the teacher told us. We had no idea how much he was retaining. We were always careful of course, but he was four! He didn’t know any better, he just remembered a pattern. We had to be so careful. So very very careful. And we still let him down. (wipes a tear.)
AS: Looking back, would you have done anything different in raising Aiden?
SH: (looks down). Wouldn’t any parent? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I would have done a lot of things differently. A lot…
AS: For example?
SH: I would have never kicked him out when he was spiraling. I would have rather he killed me in his rage than shut the door on my only son. I would have given him a brother if I could have. I wouldn’t have miscarried during our beach vacation. I would have never let him join the military. Never, ever. I would have slept outside his bootcamp every night. I would have laid myself in front of that damn plane when he was deployed. I would have gone to Afghanistan. To Iraq. Carry all that gear for him. All those guns. Have him sleep on me rather than on cold desert. Have my arms around him instead of bullet rounds. Enlist myself if they would let me, take his place. It really should be a law that mothers be allowed to take their children’s place in war. We would all do it. All of us. Kill those animals that touched a hair in his head. Or have them torture me. They hurt my baby boy. He’s always my baby boy. But I can’t turn back time. I just can’t… (wipes her eyes, straightens her camel-colored cardigan and looks up.) My apologies, Ms. Surnois… do you have any other questions? I really must get back to my son.
AS: (sobbing too, feeling like she might have wanted to take Aiden’s place as well). Only two more. Is there anything you think would help him?
SH: (looks at me, smiling.) Love. Love, if he lets it. But he is so convinced of his own danger that I don’t know what it will take for Aiden to ever really allow love in his life. If he has been able to isolate his own mother for years, what could possibly convince him to allow another woman to love him?
AS: Is that what you think Aiden’s main obstacle will be? Letting anyone love him?
SH: (nods firmly.) Yes. Yes. I think he will love, I have no doubt about that. And he will love deeply, that’s the only way he knows how. But accepting love in return… that, I don’t know. He has not accepted it from me, not once in the last 14 years … (wipes her eyes again, shakes her head.)
AS: (thinking furious of a way to cheer her up.) Can you show me another Aiden baby picture?
SH: (smiles immediately.) Oh yes, yes, of course. Here is one with him making his funny faces. He has not changed much.
Where is my boob? – Aiden “Mohawk” Hale
AS: Mrs. Hale, thank you so much for your time. I see they have refueled the plane, and you’re ready to go. I’m sure we will see more of each other.
SH: (stands.) Thank you, dear. Oh, the ballroom in the back is all lit up!! What is that for? Wait— a girl just appeared in there! Who is—?
AS: Ah, don’t worry about that Mrs. Hale. That girl is a dream. Have a safe flight.
SH: You too, Ms. Surnois. And please, darling, I know you are a creative and all, but sweat pants??
THANK YOU FOR READING EVERYONE!!!!! I had no idea you would enjoy the interviews so much. We have more coming up, including Reagan, Elisa, Anamelia, and some other characters. 🙂 See you soon. All my love – Ani
Sometimes things happen by design. Sometimes by accident… these are the words Elisa uses to describe why Aiden and she came into each other’s life. I never thought they would ring so true for my last post of Thirty Nights which, by accident, happens to be on Veteran’s Day. Perhaps, as she says, accident will become meaning and plan. Perhaps it’s a sign that the story should go on. Or perhaps, I have gone crazy and am in a padded room somewhere. Please indulge me for a few moments (crying a little over here…)
I wanted to do something special for you today!! I spent all Veteran’s Day today taking pictures of the Reed Campus and all other moments referenced in 30N. I wanted to put them together as Elisa ends this phase of her journey and starts a new one. And – SCARY – I managed to make my first Youtube video for you – Thirty Nights from Aiden’s Camera!! If you know me, you know how radical this is and how much I love you. Computers and I don’t get along. As you will see, I tried to take pics of the places that meant the most to them. Just like Elisa wanted in her last wishes. I hope you like it. Hopefully, you won’t sob like I am right now. You will see the first fan art (for Master’s Muse), The Immigration Building, their last wishes, the Solis home, and the last moments of silence is the ending… (I couldn’t figure out how to add sounds of tears there)…. Go easy on me, I am a Youtube virgin!
My last note for Thirty Nights before we continue Aiden’s Nights and 90 Days is to thank you!! From the bottom of my heart. In my blog stats, I have viewers from just about every country, from the United States (my home) to my birth country (my origin – though they don’t know they are reading a compatriot’s story). To all of the Americans that gave me a home when I needed it, and to all those “originers” that gave me life – THANK YOU! And thank you to all of you for reading, encouraging me, becoming friends, supports, critics, lovers, haters but always putting time in 30N and me – THIS IS FOR YOU!
Thirty Nights comes down a week from today, at midnight (embargo night style). Then we start Aiden and more – Aiden’s story will have new parts you have not read, including all skipped days. Until then, trust me that I want these three happy. All my love, Ani (video, songs, and links below).
Thank you so much everyone for your birthday and anniversary wishes for TMM/30N. And thank you for all your good-luck wishes, too. As one of you quoted, fingers, toes, and mosquito bites crossed. So funny! I am so lucky to have readers like you. Truly – I couldn’t have asked for better followers. Smart, funny, loyal! What more can a writer ask for?
These chapters were fun to write. Here they are with some added pictures. Check out the pinterest board for more pictures too. A special hello to my Sons of Anarchy girls (yes, that’s a different story) who are particularly distraught this week after what happened in that show on Tuesday. See below for links and songs.
All my love to all of you!! xo Ani (still recovering from my all-American dinner of chicken wings and sweet potato fries.)
One year ago today, after 14 years of fighting America’s immigration system, America finally opened its doors to me and I became a citizen! As my husband snapped pictures and filmed, along with other proud families, I had a rare moment of utter clarity: all my life, I had pursued only one dream. A single one! To be safe, to choose my own destiny, my own husband, my own life. It’s small, it’s cliche, it’s something you hear everyday – but none of that makes it less self-defining. In a strange movie reel, America flashed before my eyes the same way our dreams of “The One” do:
I started learning English with a flashlight or a candle that often burned the tip of my nose dark the next morning.
My first memory of hearing the English language was Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana song.
My first memory of hearing the word “rock and roll” was at a traditional wedding where I was the equivalent of a flower girl but it meant I carried the bride’s dowery around. As I folded her new bed linens, I heard a strange music. It was Ray Charles “I’ve Got a Woman.” I followed it to the flat rooftop of the small house where I saw the young guests dancing in the dark. A boy whose face, name, or relationship to the wedding I don’t remember said to me “Dance little rocker!”
And so on and so on. I will spare you the journey, but when I was swearing my allegiance, I looked around me and I saw what they called “Faces of America.” Every race, every color, every creed…. all for one dream. I wondered what each of their fights had looked like… And just like that, as I vowed that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God, 30 Nights was born in my head! Within 30 minutes (true!) of my oath, my husband and I were driving like lunatics to make the polls to vote in the presidential election. I dropped my ballot with about 10 minutes to spare from closing! That evening, after a burger, a beer, and doughnuts, I started outlining 30 Nights. Here are my first notes 🙂 (ignore my chicken scratch, there is a reason Elisa writes in calligraphy!)
A bit later, I put pen to paper and my babies, Elisa, Aiden, and Javier were born. So today, in a way is their birthday too – at least their conception! 🙂 Here are my first doughnuts in America, courtesy of my friend Arilee and coworkers who saw this journey with me.
A year later, almost to the date, Thirty Nights is heading to the publishers! I looked up some statistics, hoping to find that the death rate for people on their birthday is very low. But unfortunately, I found the opposite. It’s apparently 14% chance. Well, I am told that traditional publishing chances these days are even lower, less than 1%!! So my birthday wish, ironically, remains the same today as it was when I first started having the American Dream: not to be a statistic!
The rest of Thirty Nights/TMM will be posted very quickly in the next few days and will come down officially next week to maintain its creative integrity. It will give you time to finish it (especially the new readers!) and – if it’s not too much to ask – please bless it with your love and care the way you have done all this time. Maybe if we combine our wishes and happy thoughts, it will help this story on its little journey! I admit to some superstition and belief in karma and since you have helped this story form, it felt wrong sending it off without your little “Godspeed!” There will be other things that will be posted on the blog, Aiden POV, outtakes, sequel, a new story (yep, you read that right!!), and of course all the rejection letters as they roll in. If Nabakov got 367 rejection letters, I cannot imagine what my number will be. Hideous, as Elisa would say. But none of that today. Let’s have another TMM/30N chapter! THANK YOU everyone, thank you my country of origin and thank you America!!!!
Okay, to make up for skipping a chapter yesterday, I am posting two chapters tonight!! Thank you so much for continuing to read and comment and give me feedback. All of you!! And thanks to those who have submitted their entries for the Louboutin writing challenge. So fun! Song and links below…
Thank you everyone for reading and commenting! I am so lucky to have such great readers. A special shout out to Lyn R. this week for her helpful edit recommendations and sharp eye. As promised, we will be moving quickly now. Every day. Chapter 24 coming up. Also, by popular demand (which has shocked even me), I will incorporate book recommendations, reviews, etc., going forward. Nothing big but I always get questions on what books I am reading – perhaps because of the classics and the poetry references in 30N. So I will keep them short and to the point so that those of you who don’t want to hear about them, can ignore them easily. Those of you who want to geek out on books, the more the merrier. Join the group, recommend anything you want. Okay. Hope you like this chapter! And thanks to those who have responded on the Louboutin challenge. Let me know if anyone else is interested and I will include you in the submission as well.
Song. This little tune is very rare and difficult to find. But it’s a beautiful song and it often plays in my head when I think of how hard I fell for my hubby (that’s a different story). The Moth and The Flame, Les Deux Love Orchestra. They have it on spotify/facebook, not even on youtube! Also on iTunes. It’s such a beautiful song if you can find it.
Thank you everyone for all your comments!! Love hearing from you. I will be posting the next several chapters very quickly so get ready. 🙂 I have to share this because it makes me giggle: the song for this chapter was my and my husband’s first dance at our wedding. Okay, thanks for indulging me. xo, Ani
Thank you everyone for following, reading, writing to me, commenting, and sharing this journey with me. As always, you make the trip worth it. The painting below is titled Snow Stars – given Elisa’s last name, I found it appropriate for this chapter. See fun challenge below (thanks Analeyna!)
Fun Challenge: A couple of you liked the Marine Corps Louboutins on my Pinterest enough to suggest that we all try to write a little snippet about Elisa, Aiden, or ourselves involving the shoes (below). It doesn’t have to be long. No rules. I don’t have prizes except to offer that I write a snippet of 30N or 90D (except the ending) for the winner. So this is just for fun. If you feel up to it, here is the SHOE! I wish I owned this! Let me know, and we can post the entries here. Or you can do it anonymously too, if you’re shy. Either way, you’re wonderful!
Hey lovies, I know these next chapters are a bit hard on the heart so I will post them quickly so not to keep you in suspense. But, they are consistent with Aiden’s blind commitment to do what’s right. Hang in there. And thank you to Bunny Wallace for suggesting to me the payment structure for Javier. Thank you also to all my usual readers and reviewers who continuously support me and remind me why I am doing this: because you enjoy it. All my love, Ani.