Paradise is CLOSED. And I couldn’t be happier. We survived! And I couldn’t be happier. Our Host Chris Harrison looked amazing. And I couldn’t be happier....
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Love Me Like Music
"I guess it’s safe to say
We both could use this fire escape
Cause I've been breathing ashes in …
Cause I have made mistakes today.
Yes, I have made mistakes today..."
We were kings and queens in a common time. Magicians in a world where the inhabitants had long since forgotten fairytales and the magic all around them. We were five souls entwined almost to the point of oneness, so close and deep and real was our friendship. To hear us described by townsfolk, we were inseparable, infallible, invincible.
The truth is, we were star athletes, scholars, musicians, and dreamers with ambition and the talent to take us where few before us had gone. In a quiet Texas oil town on the decline, these things were enough to inspire a kind of worship. People who had lost their own dreams lived through ours. And boy, did we know how to dream …
Lakeshore, Texas: it wasn’t just our birthplace. It’s where all of life’s defining moments happened. It’s where the five of us forged a bond so strong it made us into the people we were destined to be. It’s where we had our first loves and heartbreaks. It’s where we celebrated our greatest moments and the culmination of so many dreams.
It is also where we mourned the ultimate tragedy of our lives.
Through it all, we stood side-by-side.
Lexie Taylor. Beautiful, independent, passionate, and incredibly brilliant, although most never knew her truest personality. She masked it with a carefully constructed wall of humor and aloofness, hiding her wounded heart from the world because of a father who never really was. She danced like Heinrich Heine’s ballerina Giselle: ethereal, earnest, effortless, and with a broken heart. In her dancing, if you looked beyond her graceful movements and into her eyes, you caught a glimpse of her soul. It would take your breath away and cause you to admire her all the more, realizing the strength she possessed. To turn her pain into such exquisite beauty was art in its purest form. Lexie Taylor was loyal, selfless, honest, brave, and the best friend anyone could have hoped for.
Caleb O’Brien, “the boy with laughing eyes.” That’s how my grandmother described him the first time they met, and it was true. Caleb had a way of making people feel as though they belonged. With just a glance into his fathomless eyes (ask almost anyone who knew Caleb, and they probably couldn’t tell you what color his eyes were), one would think he was the happiest, most carefree football star in Lakeshore. His motto was “no regrets,” and he lived it to the fullest, not taking into consideration that graduating at the bottom of our high school class might be a regret. He was far too busy enjoying the present to concern himself with the future. He was fiercely protective, loyal, and he had a way of turning any day into an adventure fit for the grandest of novels. He had demons inside he fought hard to control, and baggage he tried to hide—even from himself. But I saw it. We all did, and that’s what bound Caleb so tightly to us. We were the first people he ever allowed to see beyond those laughing eyes. And in being seen, he found what he needed to allow the laughter to break the barrier of his eyes and reach into his soul. Hearing Caleb laugh from his heart was the freest sound I’ve ever heard.
My brothers, Austin and Tyler, were my heroes from my earliest memories.
Austin was the oldest, so he took on the protective role. Tall, strikingly handsome, and athletic, his popularity was practically unavoidable, even if he had tried to avoid it, which he didn’t. Not because he gloried in the adoration of an entire town, but more because he seemed above it all, almost oblivious to it. Austin lived for one thing: football. While the rest of us had varied interests, his focus was singular, and he excelled at it. On the football field and in the hallways of Lakeshore High, he was in charge. When Austin walked into a room, he commanded a presence just by being there—words weren’t always necessary, which was a good thing since Austin never minced his. He taught Caleb and Tyler everything he knew; he loved coaching them on the field. They were his legacy. When he graduated, the Lakeshore Bulldogs never missed a beat as Tyler and Caleb took their places. Austin both adored and annoyed me as only an oldest brother can, but even on the days when I pretended that his presence alone was the most distasteful thing I could imagine, I’d always turn away from him with a grin parting my lips, because I knew how lucky I was to have him.
Tyler and I were born two minutes apart—and of course he came out first so that for the rest of our lives, he could be the older twin. We were two sides of one coin. We were so much alike that had we both been girls, or boys, we would most certainly have been identical. Lexie was my best friend. Tyler was more than that. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say that our hearts seemed to beat as one, pounding out a rhythm only the two of us could hear. We shared a love of football, music, literature, and dreaming. Unlike Austin, Tyler had a gentler personality—unless he was on the football field. But on the field or off of it, Tyler was dedicated, determined, and fierce—with the soul of a poet. His laugh was infectious. His smile lit up every room. He wrote music, and his lyrics had the power to make me cry or laugh or feel whatever it was he felt when he wrote them, so powerful was his ability to communicate. Some of our friends even resented Tyler’s and my closeness, but I think it was only that they didn’t understand it. And that’s okay, except that it always made me a little sad for them because I knew what they were missing out on. The greatest gift I was ever given was being born a twin. Being born Ty’s twin.
Lastly, there’s me: Brooklyn Juliet Martini. I revel in living and don’t have any use for the word “mundane,” for there is nothing mundane about my existence or anyone else’s.
My life and time as one of “The Five” can be summed up by a series of moments that took me down roads I never intended to travel. Good roads, miserable roads, destined roads. I’ve experienced highs so high I thought my feet might never touch the ground again. Lows so deep and nights so long I didn’t think I’d make it through until I saw a ray of sunlight that illuminated my world again. Moments that changed me irrevocably, deeply, forever.
In every memory, I hear music. It’s one of the elements that bound my friends and me so tightly together. There is a power unique to the art of music. The power to change a mood—even the course of an entire day. A song can change your life if you let it. Have you ever had the feeling that a melody or a lyric was singing straight to your soul? If you have, then you understand how music can make your spirit ascend to new heights. How it can give you chills, bring unexplainable tears to your eyes, or even cause a sudden smile to touch your lips. Music helped save me in my darkest days. And it made the best moments even better.
For me, the memories and the music, when strung together, weave a tapestry of love and loss, joy and grief, adventure and familiarity. And when it all comes together, I find that life is beautiful. Heartbreakingly, tragically, beautiful.
This is the soundtrack of my life.
Chapter 1: Carry You Home
"Come closer, we're alone
And it chills me to the bone
I wish that I'd been there
To care, and carry you, carry you home.
We smiled for awhile ..."
My dream is a sequence of memories. I’m vaguely aware that I’m dreaming, yet I can’t wake myself. I’ve had the same dream every night for the past year, since the day my life turned upside down, fell apart, and shattered into a million pieces. As if that day wasn’t bad enough, I relive it every night in what I can only attribute to some cruel, cosmic joke.
I’m wearing a new black dress. It has wrinkle lines across the front from hours of sitting. Sitting, sitting, sitting. I am so tired of being still. I need to go for a run, do something. Anything but this. My mind rebels even as I seat myself once again in the first row of a room full of somber-looking people and flowers and a polished black coffin in the front that overshadows everything, except for the smell. It smells like death, and I feel my stomach churning as I stare at the casket—and the face in it. I feel as dead as that face looks.
All of a sudden, I’m transported as one can only be in a dream to a small room—it’s the pastor’s office at the small, country church I grew up attending in Lakeshore. My family and I sit in a semi-circle of folding chairs. I’m hot, but not because of the temperature. I’m hot because I’m angry. Pastor Tim rambles on about “heaven” and “the mysteries of God” and “time heals all,” but all I can think about is that he is dead. He isn’t coming back. And if that’s some kind of “mystery of God,” then I don’t want anything to do with Him.
Suddenly, I stand, interrupting Pastor Tim and receiving concerned looks from my family members. I don’t know where I want to be, but I know it isn’t here.
“Brooklyn, can I get you something?” Pastor Tim asks me, clearly troubled by my abrupt movement.
“No, I don’t think you can, Pastor Tim,” I respond without hesitating, contempt lacing each word. “I appreciate you trying to help,” I don’t mean that, and I think he knows it. “You’ve brought comfort to my family during this time. But, I’m done,” my eyes fill with tears as the anger builds. “I don’t want to have anything to do with a God who allows someone like … him …” I can’t bear to say his name, “to be taken away. I’m done with God, because, from the looks of it, He’s done with me.”
I see the pain my words cause my mother, but I cannot bear to sit in this room anymore and pretend to be comforted by the empty words of a book written thousands of years ago and a pastor who has no idea what the searing pain of loss feels like.
“Brooklyn, you can’t outrun God,” Pastor Tim says, a pleading look in his eyes. But my hand is already on the doorknob, my mind made up.
“Well then, it’s a good thing I’m a fast runner,” I say as I walk out the door, his words echoing in my mind as though he shouted them from a mountaintop.
I’m jolted awake by something that feels like an earthquake. The movement wakes my best friend Lexie, too, who was asleep next to me. That’s when the dream fog lifts and I realize we’re on a plane. The pilot’s voice comes over the speakers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain. We’re expecting turbulence as we near our final destination, so please fasten your seatbelts until we’re safely on the ground.”
The next 25 minutes pass in a series of bumps and freefalls. Lexie and I are silent, each absorbed in our own thoughts. Finally, the wheels of our plane touch down on the runway.
“Welcome to San Angelo, Texas!” the pilot says enthusiastically, as though we’ve just arrived in Hawaii.
I look at Lexie and roll my eyes. “Texas pride!” I say with mock excitement. She looks back at me, conflicting emotions crossing her face. We have both dreaded this moment.
“The gig is up,” I say more matter-of-factly than I feel. “We’ve been gone almost a year, but all of a sudden, it feels like I never left.”
She reaches over and squeezes my hand reassuringly. “It’s going to be okay, Brook. You’re ready to face home again, and we’re together. We can face anything side by side.”
I shake my head slowly, not at all sure she’s right. “I prefer running,” I say, and mean it. “Plus, you’re leaving in a week for New York and medical school at Columbia …” I trail off, allowing myself a moment of self-pity at the thought of my best friend moving away without me. “And I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do next. All I know is that I don’t want to stay in Lakeshore a second longer than I have to.”
Lexie turns toward me and forces my eyes to meet hers in that way only she can. She could take an army of captives with her gaze alone.
“Brooklyn, listen to me. You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. You have been through hell, yet you managed to not only survive, but you spent the past year giving your heart to kids who have nothing,” she’s referring to the gypsy children we helped in Romania, and I smile as I remember their dark, guarded eyes, so hungry for love and attention. “You have never been without a dream, and you are one of the rare people in the world who actually chases your dreams.” Her eyes fill with tears and her voice takes on that scratchy quality it gets when she tries not to cry. “You will find a new dream to chase, and you will be happy again. Romania was the tip of the ice burg, but there are big things ahead for you and me—I can feel it. And you know my sixth sense is never wrong,” she gives a short laugh, providing some levity to an otherwise dreary homecoming. I’ve always teased Lexie because she gets “feelings” about everything—from what her arch nemesis in high school would wear to prom, to big things, like when I would get engaged, and even what the ring would look like.
“I hope your sixth sense is right this time, Lex,” and I force a laugh too, even though my stomach is in knots. She glares at me, and I quickly correct myself. “Not that it isn’t always right,” I pause, unsure of how to say what I feel like I need to. “I know coming home isn’t easy for you either.” I never want to detract from the grief she experienced too—the tragedy touched us all. “You make me so proud, Lex … and Columbia! You’re kind of stealing my dream, you know.” We both try to mask our tears and smile for the other. I can’t imagine life without my best friend.
I relax into my seat for a few more minutes, relishing the uncomfortable plane chair only because I know what awaits me once I leave its protection: the past. And the future. And it all just feels like too much.
I’ve spent the past year filling my life with every possible distraction, including a nine-month-long humanitarian trip to Romania, which is where Lexie and I are coming back from. It was remarkable, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us both. While I was there, I had moments where I felt myself coming alive again, where I saw glimpses of the old Brooklyn. Slowly, piece-by-piece, I thought maybe I was being put back together. But now, I have the sinking feeling that all the progress and “healing” is about to be ripped out from under me, because it wasn’t actual progress. I was running. I ran to something good, but I was running nonetheless. And now that I’m back, how can I return to the place so filled with pain and memories and not come out with even more scars than before?
As we enter the small baggage-claim area, I spot Lexie’s mom, my mom and Nonna—“grandma” in Italian—holding a ridiculously huge “Welcome Home Brooklyn and Lexie!” sign they clearly made by hand. I can’t help but smile. And then, as my mom wraps me in her arms, a flood of unexpected emotion crashes into me, and tears fill my eyes. “We have missed you SO much, Brooklyn,” she drawls softly as she takes my face in her hands, tears streaming down her cheeks. Dad, who was standing behind her, joins us in the hug.
“I see they fed you well in Romania,” Nonna quips, effectively staunching both my tears and mom’s. I laugh and hug her, then shrug as she looks me over. I gained at least 10 pounds while I was away.
“Well, Nonna, you always complained that I was too skinny and that I didn’t eat enough of your cooking. Maybe you ought to learn how to make Romanian dishes,” I tease her, knowing nothing gets under the skin of an Italian woman like insulting her cooking. She swats me playfully on the behind.
“Did you even feel that with the extra padding?” she winks at me. “You look great, honey. You lost so much weight last year … you needed to gain some of it back.”
And so it begins, I think to myself, unsurprised that it didn’t even take five minutes of being back in Texas before it was alluded to. I sigh deeply, trying to emotionally prepare myself for what will surely be a lot more sad references to a time I’d like nothing more than to forget.
Not wanting to dwell on painful memories, my dad changes the subject and guides us back to safer ground by asking about our flights home. Lexie launches into a funny story about a guy we sat next to on the flight from Paris to New York, and soon no one is even thinking about that day.
Later at home, I’m exhausted from the 26-hour trek home. I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow in my childhood room, surrounded by photos and homemade knickknacks my mom doesn’t seem to be able to part with. One face has been removed, though, but it flashes through my mind as I fall asleep, like it does every night as I enter the place between wakefulness and dreams.
I wake sometime early in the morning, my body not yet adjusted to the time change, and it takes me a minute to orient myself with my surroundings. I confusedly look around the room, trying to shake that just-woke-up-in-a-strange-place feeling and remember where I am and why I’m here. I close my eyes and inhale deeply as I remember: “home” I whisper to the empty room. My dream comes back to me as I lie in bed.
Running. It’s what I do in the dream, and it’s what I’ve been doing in my life for the past year: running to escape a God I thought loved me but let me down; running to escape pain and memories. There is no denying its effectiveness. But now that I’m home, without a plan for where to run next, it feels like it’s all over. Today, I will face reality. I can only hope it doesn’t cause my heart to shatter into a million pieces all over again.
I sink back into the pillows for a few more minutes, delaying the inevitable just a little longer. I close my eyes and allow myself to think about the two men I loved more than life itself. Their faces flash before me—I don’t need a photograph to recall them. I’m grateful for that. I’ve been told that at some point, many people forget what their lost loved ones looked like. I can retrace every line on their faces, though. Every speck of color in their eyes. Every habitual, predictable movement. The sound of their laughter …
That’s all I allow myself. It’s a discipline I’ve fought hard to achieve. My rules are to remember only the good things. Think about them for a limited amount of time. Otherwise, if I dwell on the memories, I find myself on a dark road that it’s nearly impossible to return from. Some days, I cry. But that’s less frequent now than it used to be. I suspect it has something to do with time and distance. And possibly the running … Always running, occupying myself with projects, friends, activities, anything to keep my mind from straying back there, back to that day that turned into weeks and months of wretched misery.
Suddenly, I remember a conversation that took place on a beach long ago.
My brothers, Austin and Tyler, their best friend Caleb, Lexie, and I are on Spring break, circled around a bonfire. We huddle close, enjoying our last night, not wanting to be interrupted by other spring break revelers. Caleb and Ty each hold guitars, and we sing some of our favorite songs—songs that remind us of our week at the beach, songs that we all know will forever bring back memories of these perfect days in the sun and nights on the beach, surrounded by music and love and each other.
“Look at those people over there,” Ty cocks his head in the direction of another group around a bonfire. Their music is loud and it’s obvious they’re high—the cloying scent of marijuana wafts toward us on the breeze.
We all look at him expectantly, wondering what he’s observed, ever the philosopher among us.
“Don’t you see it? They’re all in their own worlds. That girl is dancing by herself off to the side,” he points to a girl swaying in an offbeat tempo. “Two of the guys are listening to their iPods, and the rest of them are either passed out, or totally spacing from the high. It’s tragic.”
I look at him quizzically. It’s unlike Tyler to be melodramatic. “Tragic?” Lexie, Austin, and I ask at the same time. Caleb merely observes and waits, as he so often does.
“Yeah, it’s something I’ve been thinking about: white noise,” Tyler continues.
“Explain,” Lexie demands in her way that sounds more intrigued than demanding.
“They’re drowning out life. Between the high and the barriers they put up between one another, they’re missing out on making memories. It’s like white noise is drowning out the sound of real life. It’s kind of a sad way to live, don’t you think?”
I smile at him, loving my brother—the star quarterback who also has an incredible amount of depth.
Caleb nods, on track with Ty’s thoughts. “I feel ya, Fiver.” Caleb calls us all by nicknames. Tyler’s football jersey number is five, so he became “Fiver” long ago. “The Tragedy of the White Noise. I like it. I think we should compose a song.” Despite the laughter in his eyes, Caleb is serious as he begins to strum his guitar.
Lexie, Austin, and I laugh. We’ve watched the two of them do this for so many years that it no longer takes us by surprise. It’s like they’re a couple—perfectly completing each other’s thoughts.
We all proceed to compose a hilarious song about white noise, and drinking Lone Star beer, and all sorts of other spring break memories. It’s the perfect way to end our vacation.
Chapter 2: Too Late for Heroes
"Who's gonna know when to give us the signal to run?
When everything, everything's crazy
When it's too late for heroes.
If someone was going to rise up
To lead us all out
They should have already
Come to the rescue by now
Just how dark can a day be?
When it's too late for heroes."
As I push the bedding off my body and swing my legs over the side of the bed, I also push away thoughts of white noise and Tyler’s words—I’ve filled my life with as much white noise as I could find for the last year. It’s the only way I know how to survive now. Maybe that’s how those spring breakers felt that night on the beach. Maybe the only way they could cope with reality was by drowning it out.
My phone rings, drawing me from my reverie. I look at the screen, and it’s a phone number I don’t recognize. I answer anyway, curious as to who would be calling me after I’ve been away for so long.
“This is Brooklyn,” I say, sounding more professional than I intend.
“Ohmigod, I love your accent,” the effeminate-sounding male voice on the other end gushes.
I give a short laugh, because he has no idea that what he intended as a compliment is an insult to the years I spent making my Texas accent sound more “neutral.”
“My name is Andrew, and I am absolutely in love with you—I mean, not literally in love. But I’m in love with your work.”
I am more confused by the second. “Um, Andrew? It could be the jet lag, but I’m a little confused about who you are and what work of mine to which you’re referring. Can you back it up a bit?”
He laughs on the other end—a carefree laugh that I imagine would be pleasant if I wasn’t so bewildered right now. “I’m so sorry. I just didn’t expect to actually talk to you. I thought I’d have to leave voicemail. My name is Andrew Lange, and I am assistant editor to Julianne Fitzpatrick.” He pauses expectantly, and I think this means I should know who Julianne Fitzpatrick is, but I don’t.
“Still lost over here, Andrew,” I tell him.
“At Random House?” he goes on, trying in vain to jog my memory. “She’s probably the most prolific non-fiction editor of our time. Google her. You’ll see what I mean.”
“Okaaay,” I say with a question in my voice. “I still don’t understand why you’re calling me.”
“Brooklyn, your book about Romania is incredible, and Julianne wants to publish it. Like, now. So, when can you be in New York to talk over the nitty gritty?”
I happen to glance at myself in the mirror at this very moment. My long blonde hair is disheveled from the day-long plane ride yesterday and nine hours of sleep. I see the dazed look on my face, and I force my jaw to close. My inclination for being sidetracked quickly kicks in and I take in my tank-top and shorts-clad figure. “I’m not that thick,” I say aloud. I slap my hand over my mouth as I realize I just responded to a book deal by telling my would-be editor that I’m not fat. Awesome.
“Sorry, what was that, Brooklyn?” Now Andrew is the confused one.
“Sorry, Andrew,” I reply quickly. “I’m getting over a little bit of shock right now …” I pause. “Actually, that’s the understatement of the year. I had no idea anyone was submitting my writing to a publisher. I just kept a journal, photos, and blog from my time in Romania. I would hardly consider it a book—it was written to be shared with a handful of people. Not to be published.”
“But these stories, Brooklyn! And the pictures!” he exclaims on the other end of the line, and I find myself imagining a short, dark-haired guy in his early-20s with fabulous shoes, sitting on the edge of his seat in $300 True Religion jeans and a bright H&M shirt and tie. “These kids! Every heartbreaking detail! It’s a story that needs to be told, and we want to tell it here at Random House. Please, let us help you.”
I don’t really need to think about it. Of course I’ll have the book published. It’s not like I have anything else going on, which may not be the best rationale for decision making. But the book could help people, and that’s better than doing nothing with my life, which seemed to be my only option until this phone call came. While I was in Romania, I experienced things and heard stories that I couldn’t have imagined. Horrific, terrifying, heartbreaking stories from children who should never have had to experience them. They need a voice, an advocate, and if I can help bridge the gap between those who need help and those who can help them, there’s nothing to consider. Maybe this could make the fact that I went to Romania in some ways as an escape into something good.
“I’m in.” I say it confidently. And I know this is it. This is my next step. I don’t want to be in Lakeshore any longer than necessary, and I’ve been avoiding looking ahead to the future, but I never considered that this could be my future. “A trip to New York sounds perfect, and the sooner the better,” I add.
This doesn’t just feel like “white noise.” Hope is stirring again, and I know that somehow, my life will go on, even now that I’m back in the United States. Maybe part of me is still running—but I’m running toward good things, and that has to count for something.
I hear computer keys tapping, then Andrew’s voice. “I can have you on a plane Monday morning, arriving at LaGuardia at 3 p.m. eastern. Julianne would like to have you here for the whole week, but this will be the first of many trips. Once all the details are ironed out and we get your book published, you’ll have publicity, book signings, and all sorts of other fun stuff. Brooklyn, you and I are about to become BFF’s. I can’t wait to meet you!”
“Monday through Friday sounds good,” I respond. I’m still in shock, and I can’t think of much else to say. “Oh! Andrew? I’d like to know who submitted my ‘book’ to you.”
I hear some papers shuffling, then he clears his throat. “Well, the paperwork says that you did. But, I’m assuming you didn’t, since you clearly know nothing about what’s going on.” I can’t help but laugh at his bluntness. “Someone must have wanted to surprise you. Just go with it, girl. You’re about to embark on one of the best rides of your life. Buckle up! I’ll send you the itinerary.”
He gathers all the information he needs to finalize my trip. “See you Monday,” he says before he hangs up, just as enthused as he was at the beginning of our bizarre call.
I nod, then realize he can’t see me. “Uh, yeah! Monday! Great, I’m looking forward to it.” I hang up the phone, still in a state of shock.
I immediately call Lexie to find out if she’s the one who submitted my writing and photos. After about 30 seconds of squealing, she swears it wasn’t her, but promises to ask the rest of our Romania team members to find out who might have done it.
“Brook, do you have any idea how perfect this is?” she exclaims, and I can imagine her big, expressive eyes on the other end of the line. “I’m starting medical school in NYC in a month. We are totally going to live in New York and be roomies, just like we always dreamed. I told you something big was about to happen! And you doubted my sixth sense …”
A smile comes from somewhere deep inside me. This just feels right, I think again. “Maybe we will, Lex. Let’s take it one step at a time, though. I have no idea what this process is like. I mean, this is crazy. Most people write a book intentionally and then try to get it published … I didn’t even try.”
“Whatever, Brook,” Lexie retorts. “What happened to the ‘no regrets,’ ‘seize every opportunity,’ ‘take the road less traveled’ best friend I used to have?” She pauses, and I can tell from her sudden silence that she regrets saying it. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”
“No more tiptoeing around it, Lex. Really. I need to find my old self, and maybe this is the next step.” I pause now too, and the silence stretches between us. “I’ll make it back, right?” I ask quietly. “To at least a version of who I used to be?” All of a sudden, I feel a deep need for reassurance that I can do this—not just the book, but that I can be me again. I’ve been lost for so long. I’ve felt dead inside, and I’m tired of it. I want to be alive. I hardly remember what it feels like.
“Brooklyn, you are the strongest person I’ve ever known,” she tells me. I doubt that it’s true, but I’m thankful she thinks it is. “You have been understandably distraught, but you are still the same best friend I met in kindergarten, and your sense of humor and optimism and excitement for life is buried in there somewhere. We’ll find it. Together. In New York City!”
The excitement comes back, and we spend the next hour on the phone, dreaming about what our future in the Big Apple will look like.
“Okay, Lex. I need to go break the news to my mom and dad now. I don’t know how they’ll react. First, we miss Christmas. Now, we’re back for the New Year, only to leave the day after.” I sigh, feeling both sad and excited. And something else I’m familiar with: Guilt.
“Don’t you dare feel guilty for this, B,” Lexie commands.
“Stop reading my mind, freak,” I tease, not at all surprised by her ability to interpret my thoughts. “I just feel like I’ve abandoned them. This has been the most difficult year of all of our lives, and I haven’t been here for any of it. Sometimes, I just feel so guilty.”
I can hear Lexie sigh. “Brook, they wanted you to go to Romania. They wanted us to spend Christmas in Paris before we came home. And they are going to be your biggest cheerleaders with the book deal. They always pushed you and Austin and Ty to be the best versions of yourselves you could be. They had big dreams for you before you even knew what that word meant. This book deal will come as no surprise to them. I just wish I could be there to see Mom and Dad Martini’s faces when you drop the news on them. They’re going to flip!”
And she’s right. My parents are thrilled with the news when I tell them, even if they are sad I have to leave so soon. They’ve always been my biggest fans, and once again, I am assured that nothing that happened in the last year will ever change that.
“Just one promise, Brooklyn,” Dad says with a serious look on his face. “When you hit the New York Times bestseller list, you buy me a Harley Davidson motorcycle.” I laugh and hug my dad, knowing how lucky I am to have him. Then I lean back and shake his hand.
By Monday evening in New York, my head is spinning. There are so many details, and Julianne seems to drill into each one of them. I can see why she’s good at her job. All day we have discussed every possible angle for the book, and Julianne has laid out exactly how we’ll edit and publish it.
“We want to do a first print run of 100,000 copies of the book,” she holds up her hand to stop me—as though I would argue with this goddess of publishing. “I know it sounds small.”
Small? I think to myself.
“But we’ll do reprints as needed,” she continues. “We want this sent to press by the end of the March. That’s three months away, which means you, Andrew, and I are going to live in this office until we have a book you and I can not only live with, but that is worthy of the New York Times bestseller list. And, most importantly, worthy of those whose stories it tells.” She finally takes a breath. “So, are you up for the challenge, Brooklyn Martini?”
I stand up and extend my hand. She takes it and we shake. “I am very much up for the challenge.” I immediately remember my recent handshake with my dad, and for the first time, I wonder if his joke about the bestseller list and a Harley are really a joke. This is happening! I think excitedly. A week ago, I never could have imagined I’d be here, standing in one of the biggest publishing houses in New York City, discussing national publicity tours for a book I never intended to write.
Once again, I am struck by how crazy all this is, how rare—destined almost, if I still believed in destiny.
Andrew makes the necessary phone calls to extend my plane ticket and hotel reservation, and just like that, the next chapter of my life seems to take shape.
Chapter 3: Been a Long Day
"It's been a long day
And all I've got to say is I've been wrong
It's been a long week
I'm finally feeling like it's okay to break
into a thousand pieces
no one can replace
It's been a long year
And everyone around me has disappeared
It's been a long year
And I'm finally ready to be here ..."
- Rosi Golan
The next three months are a whirlwind. Writing, re-writing, editing, and writing some more. It’s exhausting. I wake up. Run for 30 minutes. Shower. Eat. Work. Get back to my hotel at 10 p.m. Beat on my punching bag (a stress-relief habit I picked up from my brothers and Caleb) until I’m too exhausted to throw another punch or lift my legs to kick again. Then I collapse into bed, utterly spent.
By the end of the process, though, I am ecstatic. The book is incredible—Julianne knows how to pull out the most intricate details that enhance the power of the story. We feed off each other’s energy and ideas, with Andrew, our comic relief, always there for coffee and food runs and an occasionally brilliant idea that seems to come out of thin air. I call him my muse, because he always seems to offer encouragement and inspiration at the moments when I need them most.
“We make one kick-ass team,” he says to me over dinner our last night in the office. The book has been finished and just sent to the printer. Julianne walks in then, a bottle of Dom Perignon in her hand. “I’ll drink to that,” she says and pops the cork. “Let’s sell some books!” We laugh and plan and celebrate, and it is a good night. It’s been a good three months. I smile as Andrew fills my glass again.
The next morning, I fly home again. As the wheels touch down, I’m surprised by the thought that comes to my mind: It’s good to be home. Of course, being here is only temporary, which is probably why I’m okay with it. Hopefully, there won’t be enough time to dwell on the past, because it’s official: Lexie and I are moving to the city together next week. We have an apartment on the Upper West Side—complete with a doorman and a rooftop pool, thanks to my book deal and Lexie’s scholarships. She will begin her medical program at Columbia, and I’ll start working with my publicist in preparation for the book launch.
I love New York. I love the pace of the city and the feeling I get when I’m walking down the street after dark, surrounded by people. I love to look up at the tall, twinkling buildings that outshine the stars. In Lakeshore, all there is to see at night are stars. Caleb loved looking at stars with his telescope in the middle of a field. But that was before, and this is now. Thankfully, I can barely see the stars in New York, and I like that because it’s another way I can move on from my past. It feels so alive in the city that maybe, somehow, it will all rub off on me and I’ll come alive again by living there.
I received more money up front for my book than I’ve made total in the last year at my other job, and from what Julianne told me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Not that I’m in it for the money. But money doesn’t hurt, either.
I asked Julianne last night what will happen next, after the book is printed, I’ve made the publicity rounds, and everything dies down. She looked at me like I was stupid. “You’ll write your next book,” she said, as though it was the most obvious answer in the world.
“About …?” I let the question dangle.
“We’ll figure it out when we get there, but I have some ideas.” She left it at that, and I didn’t pry. I’m not looking forward to seeing the look on her face when I tell her I’m not planning to write another book (I didn’t intend to write any book, so one seems like more than enough).
The next week in Lakeshore is so full of friends, family, and moving preparation that I hardly have time to dwell on the past, or on the future. I don’t even revisit the places that remind me most of them—the two who aren’t here anymore. Once the movers load and drive away with all of Lexie’s and my earthly possessions, I’m exhausted. I look around the circle of people in the driveway. Faces I love so much. And I cry. I cry because I’m going to miss them. I cry because of the faces I already do miss. And I cry because I’m grateful for a new beginning.
Chapter 4: The Longer I Run
"When my blood runs warm with the warm red wine
I miss the life that I left behind
But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry
I know I left in the nick of time
Well this road I'm on's gonna turn to sand
And leave me lost in a far off land
So let me ride the wind til I don't look back
Forget the life that I almost had."
- Peter Bradley Adams
Two months later, NYC
I have a routine, which is strange, because I’m not really a routine kind of person. In the past, I always made lists, wrote down goals, and penned schedules that I vowed to keep. But, I was never very good at sticking to a schedule until I moved to New York. Now, my life runs like clockwork. Lexie teases me that I’m like a grandma, but I like my routine.
The alarm goes off at seven o’clock every morning. I change into running clothes, throw my hair into a messy ponytail, and head outside. I exit the apartment and inhale deeply, loving the smell of New York. It’s spring now—my formerly least favorite season. But there’s something almost intoxicating to me about the chilly spring mornings in New York City, the smell of coffee drifting through the doors of a hundred different cafes, a light frost still on the ground, and air just cold enough to see my breath as I run at a steady pace toward Central Park. I feel energized. I love living here, I smile to myself. I might just become a fan of spring after all.
Running long distances bores me, so I focus instead on running fast and covering as much ground as possible during my short “sprints.” Forty-five minutes and six miles later, I’m back at the apartment. Barnes, our doorman, sees me coming and opens the door. I smile and hand him the cup of coffee I pick up for him every morning on my way back from my run.
I bet he likes my routine, I think to myself and make a mental note to tell Lexie that later. Barnes smiles his big, grateful smile, and I take off for the stairs. Five flights later, I’m back in the apartment, shedding my jacket and shirt and trading them for boxing gloves. Boxing is a great emotional release—much more effective than paying a therapist (not that I’ve seen one). Plus, as Lex pointed out yesterday, it’s given me the “best bod” of my life. I love my best friend.
For the next 30 minutes, I get lost in kicking, punching, and moving around the bag. To me, boxing is an art, a dance of sorts. Even though no one is fighting back, I pretend they are, and my adrenaline flows. My body takes over and my mind is free to wander wherever it wants. I find that I have some of my most clarifying, creative thoughts while I’m boxing. Who knew beating on a big, heavy bag could be so cathartic?
At 8:30, I meet Lexie in the kitchen for breakfast—one of us always makes a smoothie—then she leaves for school and I get in the shower. At promptly 9:30, I exit the apartment building for the second time each morning, laptop bag in hand, and make my way the four blocks to Max Caffe, which is, in my opinion, the best place in New York City to write. Although, some might argue (my editor included) that in order to make such a statement, one must be in the process of writing something. However, I disagree. It has all the best elements of a writer’s urban paradise: great tea and coffee selection, good food, interesting people watching when a distraction is needed, and comfy seating. Most importantly, the staff doesn’t mind a chair being filled by the same person day after day, for hours on end.
I arrive at Max, order a peppermint tea or decaf almond milk latte—depending on my mood—take my seat in what has become “my” back corner booth that has plenty of privacy, but is also a great perch for people-watching, open my computer, and stare at it blankly. This is part of my routine too. The staring. I do it for about six hours, with a break in the middle of the day for lunch and a walk in the park.
Today is going to be different than the last month, though. My publicity tour ended for the most part four weeks ago, with the occasional appearance on a talk show or news program in New York. I’m not completely unaffected. I know these are opportunities most authors would kill for. It’s just that my heart can’t get to where my mind thinks it should. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt truly happy—that completely unadulterated feeling of joy that makes you want to run around in the rain or have a spontaneous dance party, not caring who sees, because the happiness just takes over and there’s nothing you can do about it. I used to feel that way a lot, and I miss it. This should be one of those times, but I just can’t “get there.”
Sometimes Lexie pinches my arm to remind me that this is actually happening—because she wants me to be happy as much as I do, maybe more. But every time I make an appearance, or host a book signing, the same question nags me from each person I talk to: When is your next book coming out, and what is it about? To which I reply: “You’ll just have to wait and see!” It’s about as noncommittal as can be, but it’s the best I have, because I’m not sure.
The fact is, my first book, Voiceless, was never intended to be a book—let alone a bestseller (I’m buying Dad that Harley Davidson motorcycle for his birthday next month) that garnered international attention and sparked legislative action on behalf of orphans in Eastern Europe. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined I would write something with that kind of impact. But it was easy to write it, because I fell in love with the children in Romania, and I simply told their stories—heartbreaking, hopeless stories that I knew didn’t have to end the way they began.
My publisher tricked me into signing on to write another book. That’s the only explanation I can come up with, because I don’t remember agreeing to it, but they have my signature. I think maybe they sabotaged me at the Voiceless wrap party, when I may have had a few too many flutes of Dom. I not only agreed to write a book, I agreed to write a book about me—my life. And now, four weeks and zero words written later, I am staring at my computer screen with a million memories rushing through my mind, but nothing making its way to my fingers and onto the page. Yet.
Julianne says it will come to me, that I need to be patient, find my inspiration, blah, blah, blah! What she doesn’t understand is that I already have inspiration. I know the story is inside me, and the people in my life are all the inspiration I need. But fear keeps me from unleashing it. And I do mean unleashing, because once I start writing, I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop. And writing my story doesn’t just mean my story. It’s Lexie’s story. Austin’s story. Tylery’s story. Caleb’s story. It’s the story of my family and friends and Lakeshore, the place where it all happened.
How can I write my story—their story—and do everyone the justice they deserve, especially those who can’t speak for themselves. But the thing is, I know they would want me to do this, and so, that’s why, regardless of the fact that it’s day 28 and I have nary a word written, I am here. My computer is open with a blank page staring back at me almost as intently as I stare at it. We’re dueling. But today, I’m going to win. Because I had a new idea last night. I finally decided to let the music back in. It has been nearly a year-and-a-half since I listened to music. Of course, I’ve heard it when I’m shopping or riding in someone else’s car. But really listened? Let a song in? I haven’t done that since the day everything turned upside down. The day I said goodbye forever to people I loved, I buried music, too.
But last night on the phone, Dad gently-yet-firmly challenged me to let the music back in. “You need it to get this story out, Brook. I just know it,” he told me. And I knew deep down inside that he was right. “Music is as much a part of your DNA as blue eyes are.”
And so I put together a playlist of songs that remind me of growing up in Lakeshore, of specific high school memories, college days, and so much more. Music that takes me back.
“I think I had a breakthrough for the book today,” I say excitedly when Lexie walks through the door after her classes.
Always up for good news, she smiles encouragingly. “You finally started it?”
Insert long pause here.”…Well, not quite.”
“Brooklyn Juliet Martini!” she picks up our volleyball from its spot in the corner and throws it at me. Of course I catch it. She rolls her eyes, because she throws like a girl, and I catch like a Martini.
“Stop procrastinating!” she lectures .“At the rate you’re going, I’ll be done with medical school and my entire residency before you finish the first chapter. Don’t make me call Nonna, because I will.” I think she might be serious this time.
“Could you shut up for a minute, please?” I ask. “I had a breakthrough in the sense that I know how I’m going to write the story.” Lexie relaxes at this.
“I’m listening,” she says.
“Music.” I say with surety. “Music seems to be the common thread that weaves our story together. It has always been a part of my life—of our lives. In every memory—good and terrible—there is a song that plays along with it in my mind.”
I see her eyes light with the beginning of realization. “That’s true. Music has always been huge for us. I mean, it’s always just been there, part of the fabric of who we are.” She smiles, and I imagine that one of our many nights spent around a bonfire, guitars in hand and songs sporadically rising from one or more of us, is playing through her mind. “There’s nothing like a song to bring back a memory.”
“Exactly,” I say, grateful that she gets it. “You know how the first song we hear in the morning can change our whole day, or sometimes, you hear a song and smile or laugh or cry, depending on how it speaks to you? I read this quote last night that said, ‘Music is the expression of words the soul cannot utter.’ That’s how I feel. Music is part of my soul, and it’s going to help me find the words. It was my dad’s idea, really.”
She nods, encouraging me to continue.
“I’ve created a playlist,” I hold up my iPod, which I just finished updating. “Every song I could think of that brought back memories from the past 25 years is on here—some new ones that just remind me of certain things or people, and some that actually played during those years. I’m sure there are more that I haven’t thought of yet, but it’s a start. Tomorrow, when I sit down to write, I’m going to put my ear buds in, turn on this playlist, and let the memories flow.” I stop talking and look to her for a response.
“I think it’s perfect,” she says, tears filling her eyes as they have so many times when we’ve discussed this book. “Music is so much a part of the story, I’m not sure how we didn’t think of this before.” She hugs me. “I’m sorry if I’ve been pushing you too hard about the book. There’s this part of me that wants you to write it because I think it’s going to be healing for all of us—to go back and read the story of our lives. Because it’s a great story, Brooklyn. But I think it’s going to bring the most healing for you as you tell it. Just promise me I have editorial rights on any mention of my name,” she adds.
“What makes you think you’re in this book?” I tease her. Then I grow serious. “It’s time to write. I feel it. Tomorrow is the day. Julianne said to just start downloading memories—the moments that have shaped me—onto the page. She’ll help me find the story in all of it.”
“That sounds like good advice,” Lexie says. “But seriously, you better plan on showing me your progress—daily, weekly, hourly—I don’t care. I need to make sure the world gets to know the real Lexie Taylor.” We both laugh.
Since it’s Monday night and Lexie is obsessed with Dancing with the Stars (okay, so am I. Her zeal for the show is irresistible), we spend the rest of the evening watching so-called celebrities dance with their professional dance partners, who are trying to make dancers out of them. We mainly watch because Lexie is “in love” with one of the male professional dancers. Her goal is to become famous for the sole purpose of being on the show and dancing with him.
“Oh my gosh, B! I just thought of something!” she exclaims as her fantasy boyfriend Cha-Cha’s with an overweight celebrity. “Maybe I’ll get famous from your book right alongside you, and we’ll be casted on Dancing with the Stars together.” She laughs gleefully, and her eyes light up like they do when she has one of her grandiose ideas. I don’t think I’ve seen them light up this much since we were in Paris. “This is going to be so perfect! But I call dibs on Alex.” Alex is her fantasy dancer-boyfriend. As the show ends, I walk toward my bedroom. “No promises, Lex. He is fine … I can’t be held responsible for what may or may not happen when he’s my partner.”
A pillow hits the back of my head, and I’m shocked—not because it hurts, but because Lexie usually has terrible aim. “Sisters over MISTERS, Brooklyn! You promised!” She reminds me of our lifelong pact, made so long ago in high school.
I laugh and close my bedroom door, intentionally not responding to annoy my friend, loving how much like sisters we are.
The bells over the door at Max jingle and I’m pulled back to the present as I look up to see who’s entered. There’s this rebellious part of me I can’t seem to tame: my eyes. They look up every time that bell rings, hoping beyond any rationale to see a certain pair of “laughing eyes” turned my way. I quickly stuff the memory of those eyes back inside—deep inside—turn on my playlist, take a deep breath, and begin to write.
Chapter 5: In My Arms
"Your baby blues
So full of wonder
Your curly cues
Your contagious smile
And as I watch
You start to grow up
All I can do
is hold you tight.
Clouds will rage in
Storms will race in
But you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down
Waves will crash around
But you will be safe in my arms."
It’s summer—at least I think it is. I’m three years old, so seasons don’t mean a lot. So far, my life has been one unending, idyllic summer. My family just finished dinner, and now we’re outside playing. I can hear music drifting lazily through the screens of the open windows, and I like the sound of it. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Texas born and raised, like you!” Dad always tells my brothers and me in his accent that doesn’t match ours or Mom’s. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, right after my Nonna and Nonno (Grandma and Grandpa) emigrated from Italy. They loved Brooklyn, which is why I have this name. But Dad says he loves Texas just as much as New York, and that’s why my brothers are named Austin and Tyler, after two Texas cities. Plus, mom is from Texas, and she picked their names I think.
“Come on, Brooklyn! It’s our turn to hide,” Dad says as he takes my hand and we run toward our backyard. Mom is on the front porch, covering her eyes, with my brothers, who are supposed to be doing the same. Austin is five, and he’s peaking. Tyler, my twin, is dutifully, thoroughly covering his eyes. He always does what he’s told. I look up at my dad—so far up! He’s tall and handsome, and I think he must be the strongest dad in the world, especially when he carries Tyler and me at the same time, with Austin sitting on his foot being dragged along, laughing all the time. My dad is my hero. He has nicknames for me: Angel Baby, Scooter, Little Bee, and Brook-Jules, because my middle name is Juliet. I like when he calls me by my nicknames—it makes me feel special. And I love his eyes. They’re big and blue, just like mine, and in them I can see how much he loves me. Plus, he always smells good—like flour and sugar and fresh doughnuts. He’s a baker, like Nonno.
“Daddy, Austin was peaking again!” I tell him in my ongoing effort to get my big brother in trouble.
“It’s ok, Brook. I have the perfect hiding place. Even if they cheat, they won’t find us.” He scoops me up in his arm and runs with me like a football, which makes me giggle. “Gotta hurry before they finish counting!”
He sets me down next to our kiddie pool, which is propped up against the tool shed at the back of our yard. He tilts the pool away from the shed and says, “Ok, we’re going in. Ready?” I nod up at him, and we carefully slide between the shed and the pool. He lets the pool fall back toward the shed so we’re concealed, and crouches down so he can fit. “Shhhh, I think they’re coming,” he puts his finger to his lips.
This is my favorite part, because I’m nervous and excited at the same time, which gives my stomach a deliciously funny feeling. I huddle close to dad and try my hardest not to move a muscle or even breathe. This is the hardest part too, because whenever I hide and that funny feeling takes over my stomach, I want to laugh. But I know I can’t, because then mom and the boys will find us. That makes me want to laugh even more. Dad looks over at me and sees me trying to stifle my giggles with my hand over my mouth.
I see laughter bubble up in his eyes now, too. My eyes widen and I shake my head and reach out a hand to cover his mouth, but that makes us laugh even more. Soon, we’re laughing so hard that we lose our balance and fall into the pool, which lands flat in the yard, just as Ty rounds the corner. Dad and I just keep laughing and laughing, not caring that our perfect hiding place is out in the wide open. Ty, Austin, and Mom run over, ready to tag us and call it a game. We make a run for it.
The sun is setting now, low and huge in the endless, pink and orange-hued Texas sky, and mom picks me up to “catch” me as the boys run after Dad. She’s laughing, and I love the sound of Mom’s laughter as much as I love when Daddy calls me Angel or Scooter. She’s so happy, and when she laughs, I feel like the whole world is a nice place.
Ty and Austin drag Dad over to mom and me, each clutching one of his hands, and he says the dreaded words we all hate so much, “Okay, kids, bath time! If you hurry, Mom and I will read an extra chapter to you.”
Thirty minutes later, we’re all lying on mom and dad’s big bed. This week, Tyler picked the book, because last week was my turn. Austin will choose next. I fall asleep while Mom reads from Pippi Longstocking, Ty’s favorite. I wake up later when Dad picks me up and carries me to my little yellow bedroom, just across the hall from he and Mom’s room. The boys share the room next to mine, but sometimes I sleep in their room too, since it’s not fair that they get to sleep together, while I sleep alone.
“Daddy,” I whisper drowsily. “I want to sleep with Ty and Aus, please.”
“Okay, Bee.” He carries me into their room and lays me down next to Ty, who is already asleep on his bed. Just like so many other nights, I curl against his back and fall asleep.
A little while later, I wake up to the sound of Mom and Dad’s laughter. I quietly slip out of bed and walk to the open door of the boys’ room, which has a view of the living room. Dad’s arms are wrapped around mom, and they’re dancing to music that floats from the record player. I watch until my eyes are too heavy to stay open, then climb back in bed next to Tyler. I fall asleep, content, unaware of life outside these four, safe, happy walls and the warmth of my brother.
I look up from my computer, almost as if in a trance. My eyes are blurry with bittersweet tears. I’m sad for what I’ve lost. Yet, I’m grateful for what I had, which is much more than so many others. I even smile a little as I remember Tyler and me, so alike with our tow-headed hair and blue eyes, and Austin, always big, tan, and bossy. A familiar stab of pain hits my stomach as I recall our family, all together, everyone happy, before I knew the world could be anything but perfect.
Before I give myself too much time to think about it, I send this first “memory” to Julianne and copy Andrew and Lexie.
CC: Andrew; Lexie
I have a feeling there’s a lot more where this came from.
My email almost immediately pops up with two new messages: Andrew and Juilanne must be sitting at their computers. Both messages say the exact same thing, which makes me laugh: “FINALLY! Keep it coming.”
So, just like that, my book has begun.
My phone rings, and I see Lexie’s number on the screen. She must be in between classes. I’m sure she’s seen my email. Her reaction means more to me than Julianne or Andrew’s, and so I’m nervous as I pick up the phone. “Hey Lex,” I answer tentatively.
“Oh. My. GOSH.” She draws this out dramatically, and I smile. She likes it.
“Yeah?” I respond.
“Um, YEAH,” she says enthusiastically. “I can’t believe the picture you painted with your words. I know your family, but that made me love them even more. It’s amazing, Brook.”
I can’t help my smile. “Thanks, Lex. You know your opinion means the world to me.”
“As it should,” she quips. “So, I know you’re a grandma and you never do anything after 4 p.m., but some friends from school and I are going out tonight. I demand that you come—we need to celebrate you finally getting over your writer’s block, and, frankly, this whole hermit thing is so not you.”
She’s right, even though I don’t like to admit it. “In my defense, I traveled for the first month we ‘lived’ here, Lex. I haven’t had much of a chance to meet people,” I rebut her hermit comment. “But I fully intend to make some friends and have fun, which is why I planned something for us this Saturday. Don’t make plans, okay?”
“As long as you promise to come out tonight,” she replies.
“Text me where, and I’ll meet you,” I commit. “Thanks for the invite, by the way. I’ll try not to embarrass you with my awkward social behavior and grandmotherly tendencies.”
We both laugh, because I have always been social. It’s so unlike me to not have sun-up-to-sun-down activity in my life, full of people and fun. I suppose I’ve been avoiding meeting people in New York, preferring the autonomy of the masses hurrying along the busy city streets. It’s mostly because I don’t have “casual” friendships in my life. I like to know my friends and be known by them. The problem with being known now is that means I have to tell people my story eventually, which I hate to do.
My stomach clenches in that all-too-familiar way, and for a moment, I almost back out of plans with Lexie and her friends. Then I take a deep breath and reflect on the first part of my story I just wrote, and how it felt almost freeing when I wrote the memory and shared it. Making friends will be a good next step.
“Keep writing, Brook,” Lexie commands. “And your next section better include me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I intentionally drawl as I hang up. I look at my computer again, turning up the music on my iPod, and recalling with a smile the next defining moment in my life that I remember as clearly as if it happened yesterday.