Authors: Eden Butler
Seeking Serenity Book One
2013 Eden Butler
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Edited by Sharon B. Browning
Cover Design by Steven Novack
Cover Image by Ryan Conners
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
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The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following word-marks and references mentioned in this work of fiction:
The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series by Pip Ballaentine and Tee Morris, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Saint Crispin's Day speech, “Henry V,” William Shakespeare, “It” by Stephen King, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Samuel Beckett, “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence, Arya Stark from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery;
“Firefly,” created by Joss Whedon, “The Avengers,” Warner Brother Films, Directed by Joss Whedon, “Titanic,” 20th Century Fox, Directed by James Cameron, “Doctor Who,” BBC, Steven Moffat, “Ironman” created by Larry Lieber, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck, Ironman Films, Thor, created by Larry Lieber, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck, “Fringe” created by JJ Abrams
“The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground, “All By Myself” by Mariah Carey, “The Nightingale” by The Dubliners, “Fine and Mellow” by Billie Holiday, “Kiss Me” by Ed Sheeran, “Reminders” by Mumford and Sons, “I Would Die For You” by Matt Walters, “The Wild Rover,” Folk/Historic, “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac;
The City of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, The City of Maryville, Tennessee, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park;
The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team, The Australian Wallabies Rugby Team, John Hopoate, Keith Galloway, Mark O'Meley, Bryce Gibbs;
Guinness Beer, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Crossfit, created by Greg Glassman with Lauren Glassman, Kit Kat, Hershey Corporation and iPod, Apple Corporation.
For those curious about the sport mentioned in this novel, check out
This is a love letter to the girls we used to be
and to the daddies who gave us roots and wings.
I miss mine every day.
A note of caution: This book contains profanity, fornication and the over consumption of liquor. If you gave birth to the author or she gave birth to you, it is highly recommended that you do not read.
My mother’s skin is pale. No steady thump moves the pulse in her neck, no awareness flickers in her eyes as she stares at me. There is nothing there. She is motionless, inert.
This can’t be real.
Glass is fractured all around us, stained red with our blood, and my jeans are soaked from the torrential rain that beats against the car, through the broken windshield. I can’t stop the shaking of my limbs, the shiver of cold that has nothing to do with the temperature. Mom’s face is splotched with that same red color; thick trails of blood leak from her nose and mouth. Her hands are fractured. There are breaks that twist and bend the joints, the bones, and in the stillness of the car, against the intermittent flashes from the lightening above, I notice that my hands are like hers, except where hers are battered and bloody, mine are clean. Strange that my mind can process that we share the same thin knuckles, the same translucent skin, identical ridges that taper at the wrist. I try to reach for her, to close her eyes, but something is piercing me and it traps me to the seat.
“Mom?” I know she won’t answer. I’ve screamed my voice raw over the past hour trying to get her to respond.
Above the din of racking rain and the drumming pulse of vicious thunder, I hear sirens, but I know that it is pointless. They’ve come too late. She is gone. I am going. My vision blurs and I can only manage to look at her, to take in the dull white in her eyes and the pallid color of her lips.
“Mom, please.” The words come out in a whisper and my head swims with a dizzy cluster of swaying vision. I am floating, falling, but I train my eyes onto her face, a tether to this life, as fleeting as it is. I try again to reach her, but I am met with resistance, some sharp unknowable thing that doesn’t allow me to move. I am helpless here, something I have always made a point to never be. But I cannot rescue her. I can’t manage to even move an inch, to touch her face, to say goodbye.
My mind surfs with desperate thoughts, impossible hopes, until the scatter of images lands on our family, years before, when we were whole, when my parents loved each other, when my father wasn’t a coward. His voice rings in my ears, him singing something old, something very Irish, and I allow myself a smile. I forget the heartbreak he caused. I forget the loneliness in our too big home, how my mother’s smile was never quite the same. The bitterness that I’ve held so near to me, so certain and full next to my heart, slips away like an unintentional whisper and I rest my head back, my eyes still trained on her face. The sounds of storms and sirens around me evaporate and I listen to my father’s voice. It is soft, like a feather, and certain like the force of a windstorm.
“Autumn my love, this song is for you.”
I close my eyes as the phantom of my father sings me into silence, into calm, into the oblivion I know is waiting.
Five Months Later
I can’t catch my breath. Sharp slivers of pain rack my chest, constrict my lungs as I attempt to inhale.
To my left is Duncan Street, a small lane that splinters the campus at the lake in the center of our university. I take it, wishing that the limp in my leg would subside, that this last remnant of the accident would leave me. The soft movement of fireflies skidding over the ripples on the water catches my eye, but it does not distract me from the pain in my chest or the sharp cramp that suddenly seizes my calf. My vision clouds and tiny pinpricks of light float around my eyes.
Mom’s voice is my conscience, a constant companion that berates me for even attempting a run so soon from my being released for activity. Take it easy, she says. Give your body a chance to recover. It’s something she would have said.
I’m healed, they say. The doctors, the therapists, but it doesn’t seem real, none of it. I have become an errant leaf, flickering through a storm, brittle, breaking, flirting with the calm that I can never find.
Thoughts of absent mothers and surgeries and fractured legs are pushed back to the dark spaces in my mind, with the hope that they will stay reticent. The pain is brief, fading with each step as I run forward.
For a moment, I forget my discomfort and take in the campus around me.
Our university is striking—the haunting Smoky Mountains in the distance, the rows and rows of large oak trees that line the streets, guarding activity in shadow. The low trickle of the falls behind me, sliding down the mountain, collecting into the calm lake. The large cathedral near the front gates beckons me like a crackling fire, as a huge shamrock glints green light from the stained glass window.
Cavanagh is a small Irish settlement just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, full of expats who married Americans but seemed incapable of relinquishing the hold that Ireland had on them. Generations have settled here, faces and forms that were so reminiscent of our ancestors became smiles and shapes diverse and open. We are a melting pot now, and though every building, every tradition reflects the past, it is the community that honors the present. My father used to say you’d never meet a more patriotic Irishman than one who lives away from home. He used to say a lot of things. I doubt he meant any of them.
The winds pick up, settles a cool September chill over my body as I move beyond the park, near the athletic fields. My skin pebbles with the wind, turns my nipples into hard peaks against my thin sports bra. “Shit,” I say at my own stupidity. I’d been too focused on attempting a full run. I’d been careless and now I’m chilled.
Most of the varsity members of Cavanagh University’s rugby team are here running sprints, wrapping up their practice. A small glance to the pitch gives me full view of these players—all shirtless and sweaty, chests sculpted like limestone, taunt thighs that peak and dip into hard lines, quads wide and contracted, pronouncing the cut muscle, each filthy with sweat and grass and inappropriate male-type things that aren’t supposed to affect me, that I should be too mature to notice. A look down my body and I curse again. I’m not advertising anything, but it would have been sensible to at least wear a t-shirt. My sports bra is black with those obvious erect nipples and my tight yoga pants cling to my thighs like a second skin.
A hawk sweeps to my left, landing on the uprights. The pitch around us is cleared and freshly trimmed. The uprights have been repainted and the boundaries for practice line the field. The paint is still fresh and the scent invades my nose. The bleachers around the pitch are clean, no rubbish clutters the aisle or rests beneath the stands. The season is approaching and a quick flash of my childhood in these seats rushes forward. My mother’s loud curses at some call she found undeserved, her wide smile at each score made. The image haunts me and I am reminded of our familial joy, the common activity that brings together every member of our town, right here on this pitch.
Blinking to clear away the memory, I put speed behind each step, trying to hurry past the squad, trying to ignore the low cat calls I hear as I pass, but someone grabs my arm and spins me around, and an erratic rhythm clusters in my chest. There is a tall, wide form in front of me, his face covered in shadow. A shirtless chest and tattoos that color the full length of both arms greet me. Red-rimmed, green, green eyes, breath thick with whiskey invades my personal space and my body stiffens as this intruder staggers forward, brushes my mouth; an attempt at an awkward kiss I don’t let linger.
I push against him, shove at this muscular wall of whiskey and sweat and he sways, drunk, clumsy. I’m too angry to think and when he laughs, slurs something indiscernible to his fellow squadmates behind him and he reaches for me again, I put all of my 135 pounds behind my leg, bend it up into this bastard’s crotch. Even the mighty fall when they’ve been kneed.
“Fecking hell!” he roars. My heartbeat feels like it’s somewhere in the vicinity of my throat. He rolls on the ground, cupping himself and before reason returns, I kick him, hard against the thigh and twice on his knee. He jerks to cover each injury as I inflict them.
“You son of a bitch!”
I stop hovering over this jackass long enough to see the rugby team assemble around us. The muscled chests and wide, wonderful shoulders barely register as the idiot on the ground is pulled up. Donovan, a kid in the World Lit class I sometimes teach, is at my side patting my shoulder awkwardly.
“Autumn, you alright?”
“No I’m not freakin’ alright. Who the hell is this bastard?”
The laughter around me only pisses me off, and I can tell Donovan, decked out in his Cavanagh U squad jersey, is forcing himself not to smile. “Shit, I’m sorry. It’s haze week. Declan started celebrating a little early.”
My spine straightens, but my heartbeat has not slowed and as I hear the low chortles around me, my anger grows, peppers my body until my hands shake. I throw off Donovan’s clammy palm and hope the expression on my face is severe enough, threatening enough to diffuse their humor. They do, at least, have the decency to stop laughing. The cretin on the ground can barely stand on his own. He leans against another player who is struggling to keep him upright.
“He’s drunk, Autumn. Really, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it,” Donovan says as though I shouldn’t be upset that this Declan bastard groped me.
“And that’s what? Supposed to be an excuse? He’s drunk so he can attack me?” My voice is higher than normal and I’m sure, by the sobered looks of the men around me, they can tell I don’t find this the least bit funny. “Do you think Dr. Winchell would be amused that the rugby team is, yet again, misbehaving?” Now they are positively frightened. I know it’s petulant to threaten tattling, but these idiots are kings of all things asinine. Several players are immediately repentant.
“It won’t happen again.”
“We’ll make sure he apologizes when he’s sober.”
They back away, dragging the idiot with them.
This isn’t the first time these players have done something epically stupid. They nearly lost their funding last December when they thought it wasn’t completely insane to ride in the Christmas parade stark naked.
Donovan begins to make another lame excuse, but is silenced by the looming form of Coach Mullens as he approaches.
“What happened?” Mullens is able to cower his player with the smallest glare.
“Declan,” I say and the coach’s stern frown deepens.
“What did he do?”
“Grabbed me. Tried drunk-kissing me.” I wish my heartbeat would slow.
Mullens shoots a thumb over his shoulder and Donovan retreats. He watches his players depart, some casting furtive glimpses in his direction, some narrow worried glances at me. The coach runs his fingers through his hair, leaving it to stand in odd directions and I notice his frustration, the welling annoyance tensing in his shoulders.
“Autumn, I’m sorry.” I don’t jerk back from his hand on my shoulder. His apology isn’t patronizing or forced. That simply isn’t the coach’s way. “Declan is new to Cavanagh. Junior squad member and he’s not adjusting well to the town.” He stops speaking when I hold up a finger, pinch the bridge of my nose and take a breath, try to stay my anger. The implications of Declan’s attempted attack hangs between Mullens and I like smoke wafting thick. I know what will happen if I report it.
It doesn’t make sense for me to embrace the love of the game more than my own safety, but rugby is in my blood, it breathes and thrives within and echoes who I am. This is far from over. If the president intervenes our standing with the league will suffer. I can’t have that. Cameron College has been far too smug about their chances at regionals.
“Just try to keep your players in line.” I stepped back, away from Mullens and the brimming fury in my chest starts to cool to outright anger. “What if it had been some other girl? What if he’d attacked a freshman?”
Mullens winces. “I know. I’m sorry. We’ll handle it.” He stops for a moment to rub his chin and he scans the ground, then slowly returns his attention to me. “Listen, can I ask a favor?” When I don’t respond he closes his eyes as though he is swallowing every ounce of pride nestled in his chest and the taste is bitter. “Would you mind not mentioning this to Layla?” Again he glances at me, calmer now. “We had an argument last night and I really don’t feel up to another one. If she hears my player attacked one of her best friends—”
There is obvious worry in his eyes. I’ve known Mullens since I was a kid having sleepovers with his daughter at their place. Layla is my friend and her father is fiercely protective of all of us. I know he’s not brushing me off, but I understand his concern. He hates when Layla’s mad at him. “This wasn’t your fault, coach. Besides, Layla wouldn’t blame you.”
“I wouldn’t blame him for what?” Behind me, my friend approaches followed by the rest of our little motley crew, Mollie and my best friend Sayo. They are late, as usual, and I curse myself for not waiting for them before I began my run.
“Hi, sweetheart.” The coach’s face is vacant of his earlier frustration. The endearment is forced and Layla seems to notice.
“Oh shit. You called me sweetheart. What happened, Dad?”
I nod to Sayo and Mollie as they stand at my side and Layla begins her third degree of her father.
“It’s the new guy…”
“The tattoo dude? What did he do?”
“He was drunk, grabbed Autumn when she ran around the pitch.”
A quick flush of pink darkens Layla’s pale skin. It rushes across her face and over her neck before she begins to yell. Mullens deflates at the high pitch tone of his daughter’s voice and Mollie, Sayo and I take a step back when Layla’s voice reaches banshee levels. The coach cringes when she says, “you have got to be kidding me,” closes his eyes against her shriek of “why would you let your players get drunk?” and “that’s unacceptable, Dad” before I step up to defuse her tirade.
“Hey, it’s fine. I handled it. Gave him the knee,” I say. Behind me, I hear my friends giggle and I return the smile Layla gives me as her angry scowl disappears.
“He went right down from what I saw.” The coach’s shoulders relax and he offers his daughter a placating smile. “Six years of self-defense wasn’t completely ignored, honey. Autumn handled herself well. Besides, I’ll put Declan to rights.” When Layla squints, narrowed eyes that are still unconvinced, Mullens looks at me and all offcuts of flippancy vanish from his features. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want to report this?”
The pitch is quiet, calm and I remember the naked Christmas incident last year. Winchell was ready to toss out the entire rugby program and funnel all their funding to the pottery club. A shudder works up my arms at the thought. “It’s fine, coach. Just straighten him out.”
“Autumn!” Layla’s voice is loud, piercing, but I wave my hand, dismissing her.
“He’s going to handle it.” I roll my eyes at Sayo and Mollie’s worried expressions, ignore them and nod once to Mullens before the girls follow me off the pitch. “You guys are late.”
“Mollie’s shift ran over and she was my ride,” Layla says, stretching out her shoulder, her erratic anger suddenly forgotten.
The cramp in my leg returns when we all gear up for the run, twisting our bodies to work out the sleeping muscles, stretching and pulling our limbs. Layla and Mollie sit on the ground, hands gripped as they push and pull each other, stretching their arms and backs.
“You okay?” Sayo says, her voice low, so that only I can hear.
“The drunk asshole?” She nods. “I’ll survive. I think I was more shocked than anything. Besides, I don’t envy the lecture Mullens will give him. That man is scary when he’s pissed.”
“I remember.” Sayo shakes her head and I think she must be remembering our senior year of high school. The coach’s face had gone nearly purple when Layla convinced us sneaking out at four a.m. was actually a brilliant idea. The sermon he gave us still rings in my ears.
“Let’s go,” Mollie says. We follow her and Layla down toward the lake and away from the pitch. My friends take steady strides, confident, assured. Mollie’s light brown hair bounces against her narrow shoulders, her athletic, strong frame is tall and slender. She is darker than us, says it comes from her mutt southern gene pool of Creole and rouge Irish blood, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Still, she’s lovely with large brown eyes and narrow, demur features.