Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and author of the book Platform, writes one of my favorite blogs to follow. He is full of practical advice for writers and those involved in the world of publishing, and is an expert at building a marketing platform through social media. Per suggestion of a recent post on his own blog, today I’m sharing an excerpt from my recently published contemporary Christian novel, The Sky We Walk Upon. And if you find yourself in need of a bit of inspiration yourself, check out Michael Hyatt and his lovely list of ideas for the author/blogger. It’s like those writing prompts from high school that I loved so much!
THE SKY WE WALK UPON
It is a Tuesday morning too cold to even snow, and walking down the streets of January in Maine makes me want to write you. Not write to you, or about you, but actually write you back to me so that you might be mine again.
Occasionally, people from warmer regions ask me how I can stand the ice and cold of the long winters here, and I try to explain that things thaw in the winter, things become. I understand myself in the winter, as if everything in my life is so in focus against the whiteness of it all, the stillness, that the world just makes sense. Even my breath—the very proof that I’m alive—curls visibly above me in thick, cloudy ribbons as I exhale.
Sometimes, I tell them about you.
Hannah Mackenzie scooped a stack of folded T-shirts out of her dresser drawer and dropped them into the open suitcase on her bedroom floor before collapsing across her bed, not bothering to change her clothes or pull back the blankets. It was too hot to move another muscle. August was usually hot in New England, but this year had unleashed one of the hottest summers Hannah could remember, the humid nights having kept her sleeping in just a T-shirt and underwear since mid-May. Some nights, she would pull the top corner of a sheet up over her shoulders, sticking her legs out the bottom, but more often she slept under nothing at all and fell asleep listening to the crickets rubbing their legs together somewhere behind the dark window screen.
This night was definitely a no-sheets night. Hannah used her toes to flick her pink flip-flops onto the carpet, closing her eyes and feeling the bittersweet feelings she always felt when it came time to return to college and say good-bye to summer. It was part gratitude for the memories she’d collected over the past few months and part reluctance to get back to schoolwork and schedules.
She’d spent the last few months with her old high school friends, all home visiting their parents before the fall semester, and they’d soaked up the freedom and the sunshine with equal gratitude. There were late-night rides with the music up and the windows down, graduation parties for friends who had gone to college a year ahead of them, bonfires on the beach, and the ever-repeating phrase of impending nostalgia: “This might be the last time we’ll ever …”
This year, though, she felt the bitter part of bittersweet more acutely, knowing that after this last year at the University of Maine at Farmington, it would be time to find a real job and join the race of people without the luxury of summer vacations. Hannah’s friends seemed to sense new opportunities lingering somewhere out beyond their next few steps. To them, the world was pregnant with possibility, and their words and excited faces emanated their beliefs that this change, this ending, was the conclusion of something good and the beginning of something that might be even better, if they chose their footholds correctly. Hannah was less certain that her future would be as clean and shiny-new as she hoped it would be. She still had to make it through one more grueling year of business classes and an internship at some yet-to-be-determined location. And job searching. And work. And putting in her hours with the student life committee. Somehow. The list of duties for a college senior seemed endless.
As exhausted as her body felt from a full day of packing, Hannah’s mind was not ready to shut down for the night. Graduation was practically a year away, and she was already tossing and turning in her bed about things that, in the present moment, she could really do nothing about. This was typical Hannah. Planning was a good idea—she knew this—but sleepless nights were neither comforting nor productive. She tried flipping over to lie on her back, stretching her arms up over her head for maximum airflow to the sweatier parts of her body. It had to be a hundred degrees up there. The boxy green numbers on her phone said 11:55, which was too late to call Justin. She was sure he probably planned on being up early as well. No matter. She’d see him back on campus tomorrow anyway. Maybe putting her thoughts down in her journal would be helpful.
Ultimately, Hannah decided she was too tired for anything but an almost midnight snack. Flicking on her bedside lamp, she finagled her toes back into her flip-flops and headed downstairs.
The temperature had dropped at least ten degrees by the time she reached the first floor. In the kitchen, Hannah found her mother sitting on a barstool at the island by the sink, holding a cup of tea between her hands. Hannah, weaving her long hair into a quick, unsecured braid, shuffled past her mother and shut off the water, which had been left running. “Hey, everything okay?” she asked.
There was no response from her mother, just a glance and a half smile in Hannah’s general direction. It appeared to Hannah that that minuscule excuse for a smile required an enormous amount of effort from the woman who had raised Hannah in her early years with seemingly no effort at all. Only the last decade or so had shown Hannah and her father the extent to which their mother and wife had changed, how lost and broken she seemed lately.
“The water was running,” Hannah said gingerly. She and her father had learned over time what Elise looked like when she was having a “down” day, how she held her shoulders hunched just slightly forward or took a little too long to focus her gaze on them when she was in a particularly fragile place. There were times when they feared the wrong words or tone of voice or facial expression would scare her deeper into herself, so they trod lightly.
“Sorry,” Elise said quietly as she tried again to smile. This time it was stronger.
Hannah settled herself on the stool next to her mother. “I couldn’t sleep either. Gotta go back to Farmington tomorrow. The summer kind of flew by.”
“It’ll be nice to see Katelyn, and my friend Justin. He’s the one I told you about. Remember?” Hannah glanced sidelong at her mother, but received no sort of help in continuing the conversation. Peering into her mother’s teacup, which didn’t appear to have any liquid gone from it and still contained the teabag, she sighed. “Want me to take care of that for you?”
Elise pushed the teacup toward her daughter. “Thank you.”
“Okay. Will you be up in the morning? I want to say good-bye.”
Her mother nodded and slowly, as if she were carrying a great weight on her back, got up from her stool. As she made her way down the hall, she said, barely loud enough for Hannah to hear, “And then I might go to church.”
Church? Was that what she said? Hannah had not expected those to be the next words out of her mother’s mouth. It had been a long time since anyone in this family had had a good enough reason to step foot in a church. Not that they had anything against people who did that sort of thing; there just hadn’t been a reason to try to figure out what the point of it was. They were doing all right on their own so far, with the exception of Elise’s current emotional … instability, and they got to sleep in on Sundays. Hannah must have misheard. “Did you say church, Mom?”
“No, never mind.”
“Okay.” Hannah wasn’t going to press the issue. “Good night, Mom.”
Hannah made herself a piece of toast with peanut butter and sat in the quiet kitchen, trying to remember the last time she had been in a church building. Tamela Baker from down the street had gotten married at Augusta Community Baptist Church a few years back, but that took up all of about half an hour. And weddings didn’t really count. Everyone went to weddings, regardless of what they believed or didn’t believe.
Hannah used her last peanut-buttery bite to wipe up the stray crumbs from her plate, set her dish in the sink next to her mother’s teacup, and went back upstairs. Still feeling slightly restless, she opted for browsing through her old journal entries to see if she could find the bit she’d written about Tamela-Baker-from-down-the-street’s wedding. Instead, she stumbled upon a collection of memories from her childhood that she’d written as a sophomore in high school.
She flipped through them, touching the pages as she read the bits and pieces, and then she returned to one of her favorite entries, the one that reminded her of the woman her vibrant, affectionate mother once was.