Authors: Claudette Melanson
Book 1 of the Maura DeLuca Trilogy
Copyright © 2014
All rights reserved.
is dedicated to my husband—the Ron who was meant to be—and five fur-bun-babies,
including the one over The Rainbow Bridge. My handsome son, Jacob, and my
baby sister Susie, my forever friend.
A huge word of thanks to Daniel Chon who worked tirelessly to understand
my vision for the cover of my first novel. It is a thing of beauty!
I also acknowledge, in advance, all those who took the time to read my
hours of agonizing over this story. It truly is a dream come true for me.
When my mother told me we were
moving to Vancouver, British Columbia—in Canada….
to say I was
shocked was more than an understatement.
“Why, mom?” was all I asked, though
there were a ton of other questions running through my mind. Was she going to
quit her job? Did she already have a new one? Where would we
live? Was she going to sell our small, but familiar house? What had
made her come to such an unthinkable decision, to move from our small, boring
Pennsylvania town to a city as unimaginable to me as Vancouver?
She ruffled my hair with a smile,
one that wasn’t present in her eyes, and answered, “Oh, come on, Mink.
Don’t look at me like that. I’m hoping it will help your…condition.”
My name wasn’t Mink, it was
Maura. The embarrassing nickname was given to me by my mother because of
the particular brown of my hair. Mom had told me I was born with a large
shock of it on my head and it reminded her right away of a mink cap.
Attractive…. But my real name had been a constant source of bother to me,
so much that I would cringe almost anytime I heard someone speak it
aloud. I had looked its meaning up one time, hoping for something
generic, like “flower” or “happiness,” only to be stuck with “Sea of
Bitterness,” glaring back at me from the web page. When I’d growled this
discovery at my mother, her apologetic tone made me see that the dark meaning
wasn’t an accident.
“It was a hard time for me, Mink,”
she said casting her cat-green eyes down, “but really, don’t you think it’s a
I hadn’t known what to say in
response. In time, I resigned myself to accepting that I was just a part
of the disappointment that seemed to overwhelm her life. I knew that I
was a constant reminder of my father, whom she’d lost before I was born.
He had been the most magical thing she’d ever experienced, she’d told me
once. I guess you could say I was the consolation prize she got stuck
with. I tried hard to make up for his absence, but finally realized that
none of my efforts could ever completely repair the fissure in her heart.
The realization wasn’t enough to make me stop trying, though.
My straight A status always
received a big smile, but it was incomplete, hollow. Unlike other sixteen
year olds, I kept not only my own room, but the rest of the house irrationally
spotless. My three parentless, afternoon hours were spent cleaning, so
that she never had to bother.
That earned me an, “Oh Mink, what
I do without you!” at least once a week. She would even use
her best pretending-to-be-happy voice.
At present, I was coming, rapidly,
to the end of my junior year. May was nearing its middle, and with the
coming of spring, my ‘condition,’ as mom put it, would always worsen.
Most teenagers were in love with the sun. In Indiana, Pennsylvania,
springtime meant more sun, even though it did still rain a lot, which made most
if its inhabitants jubilant. But not me. Spring meant my torture
was about to begin. The excuses for staying in, the fabricated illnesses……the
further separating of myself from normal humans in general.
I had been born with fairly pale
skin. Maybe ‘fairly’ wasn’t a good word choice, since it was more like
pale skin. In most places, my blue veins were beyond noticeable, like
sky-colored worms sliding right beneath the surface. Couple this with my
eyes, so dark brown, they were almost black, and the deeply brown brunette of
my hair and you have one very strange looking human girl. My pallor was
probably one of the reasons I grew my hair long, attempting to hide as much of
myself as possible.
If the color of my skin hadn’t been
enough to drop me into the freak category, I had also been born with an extreme
sensitivity to the sun. In fact, most fair-skinned people are struck with
this affliction, but I didn’t just burn easily, the sun made me physically
ill. I couldn’t be out in direct sunlight for little more than a half
hour without becoming violently nauseous. It was beyond embarrassing, besides
making me feel like a carnival attraction. I’d once ruined the interior
of my mother’s new car, due to the sun shining on the side of my head for too
long. She’d quickly invested in the darkest window tint she could have
And today, of course, the sun was
shining miserably on my head, as I quickly headed for the oak-tree shaded bus
stop. In my rush to get out of the house, I’d forgotten to put on my dark
sunglasses, but I dug them out of my pack now, twisting around awkwardly as I made
my way into the comforting shadows. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw
Katie Parker coming out of her house across the street.
“Great,” I muttered under my
breath. Placed beside Katie’s blonde, tanned perfection, I looked all the
more irregular. I tried to put on a happy face anyway and be sociable, a
definite struggle for me.
“Hi Katie,” I said with as much
enthusiasm as I could muster. I refused to ever say ‘good morning,’ as I
hated mornings and saw nothing good about them whatsoever. I didn’t
expect much in the way of a reply. Katie, annoyingly perky in her
cheerleading uniform, was miles away from my end of the social spectrum.
So, I was shocked when she turned her bright blue eyes on me dazzlingly, and
spoke to me in a way she never had before this day.
“Hi Maura!” She was so
chipper, it was stifling. “Beautiful morning isn’t it?”
I wondered briefly what she would
say if I shot back: “Actually, I like the rain,” like I was
thinking. I thought better of it and replied, “Sure is.”
“Aren’t you excited about prom?” she bubbled.
Oh, so that was it. She was
overexcited about prom and probably just needed an outlet for venting all her
pent up enthusiasm. Prom was in a few weeks and no one had asked me, not
that I really wanted to go. The thought of my pale shoulders exposed in
some fancy dress made me cringe. I tugged at the edge of one of my long
sleeves unconsciously in response.
“Well…er…I hadn’t really planned to
go.” I cringed again, waiting for the sardonic giggle, or the accusation
that I couldn’t get a date.
Instead the corners of her mouth
turned down, “Oh, that’s too bad.” She sounded like she really meant it,
and I wondered if I actually was standing here on the sidewalk with her, and
not still asleep in my room. This was more attention Katie had given me
than in all the years we’d gone to school together, combined. Our last
interaction had been a nasty pudding-to-the-hair incident in first grade…me on
the receiving end of course, resulting in a demand from my mother to hers that
Katie stay far away from me…or else! I think I must have been looking at
her with my mouth hanging open. She quickly tried to fill the silence.
“I could get Trent to set you up with
one of his friends,” she offered eagerly.
My quick temper flared, “I don’t
need a pity date,” I snarled. She looked hurt at that, and I was
instantly ashamed of responding so venomously.
“I-I d-didn’t mean it that way…”
her eyes were wide.
I felt worse. How could she
understand all the defenses I’d put into place to remind myself to keep away
from others and avoid the way they treated me like the freak I was. Maybe
my behavior had made it into something worse that it really was? First
grade was a long time ago…I dropped my eyes to the sun-speckled shadows falling
from the leaves above.
“I’m sorry, Katie,” I made up an
excuse fast, “I didn’t sleep very well last night…” my voice trailed off.
How could I expect to be forgiven? It was unlikely in the first place
that someone like
would talk to someone like
, and I’d
already gone and messed things up. Not that I really cared, I told
myself; I was used to the sanctuary of solitude I’d built around myself.
To my extreme surprise she brushed
it off with a wave of her hand. “It’s ok, Maura. I never meant to
offend you. Of course you’re pretty enough to get your own date.
I’d kill to have hair like yours.” Was she kidding?
At that moment, her twin brother
emerged from the house. Trent sauntered across the street toward
us. Like his sister, he was blonde perfection, except he was as huge and
as heavily muscled as she was sleek and slender. The hours of football
practiced were evident in the rippling muscles that covered his six foot three
frame. He still made me gape in awe. I’d had a crush on him since
ninth grade…not that it would ever do me any good. “Morning Maura,” he
did a double take. “Nice hair,” he noted, and looked at me as if with new
eyes. Yep, I had to be dreaming.
“Thanks,” it came out way too soft
and I felt myself blush. I looked down quickly. When I looked back
up, Kate and Trent were looking at each other and something unintelligible
passed between them. I shrugged it off, chalking it up to being a twin
“You’re not driving today?” I
managed to ask, trying to make conversation. It wasn’t often he left the
red Mustang convertible at home.
“In the shop,” he grinned back at
me. I realized he’d never really been much of a conversationalist.
It took away a little of his faerie glamour. I smiled to myself at that
I heard the bus coming then, but I
was the only one who turned around to see. Funny, it was way down the
street, not nearly as close as it had sounded. How could I hear the
engine running from this far away? As suddenly as the sound had amplified
in my head, it died away. It was like the sound was fading away to
normal. I shook my head to clear it…weird. Katie and Trent were
standing beside me, uninspired looks on both their faces. I pinched
myself rather hard on the leg to see if I could wake myself up. All I
ended up with was a bruise, ugly on my too-white skin.
The dreamlike feel to the day continued
as the hours passed. Trent actually invited me to sit with him and the
rest of the football players and cheerleaders at lunch. Besides having
next to nothing in common with any of them, I felt even more flawed amid their
little sea of perfection.
“Say Maura, what’re ya doing this
Saturday?” Trent asked.
I almost choked on the French fry I
was attempting to swallow. I
been planning to study for
upcoming finals. The end of school was almost a month away to the
day. Of course I would never admit I was that lame. “Nothing
special,” I managed, after I got the fry down.
“We’re going swimming down by the
bridge, wanna come?” His invitation was much less than eloquent, but it
still made my heart flutter. People never asked me to go anywhere.
Not that I’d ever really tried to connect with anyone in high school. The
teasing I’d endured during elementary and junior high had been more than enough
to make anyone avoid human contact. It had turned me into a bookworm and
a bit of a video game freak.
“Sure,” I was trying to be casual,
but it came out as a squeak. One of the idiotic cheerleaders let out a
laugh at my response. Katie, of all people, reprimanded her.
“Geez, Wendy, what’s your
shut up okay
” she put a menacing edge on the last
three words. The day just kept getting stranger.
Katie poured sunshine into a
brilliant smile she then turned on me, “You’ll come, right, Maura?
I settled for nodding my head in
response. It was only Monday, so I had five whole days—almost—to change
Later that night I stood in front
of the mirror, fresh out of the shower, blow drying my hair. I looked a
bit closer, trying to see something there that would possibly cause,
perfect Katie Parker to wish she had
hair. And cause her
brother to take special note of it. I realized, stunned for a moment,
that it was different, somehow. I’d always thought of my hair as
ordinary. It was a dark, unusual kind of brown, but I’d always been
disappointed with its flat, lackluster look and straight texture.
Tonight, even under the subdued
lighting in our bathroom, my hair shone with a new light. I blinked and
looked back, picking up a strand for close examination. I turned the dryer
off and ran my hand down the lock, amazed at how it
Dark highlights played across the surface as I twisted my head under the scant
light. And there just seemed to be more of it, as well. I ran both
hands up through, along the sides of my head. It was so thick, thick and
silky soft, like never before. Or had I just never noticed? Did
Katie’s unexpected comment somehow wake me up to see things I’d never seen in
myself before? Impossible. I didn’t remember my hair ever being
like this, and even twisted to the side to get a glimpse of it falling toward
my waist in waves more like my mother’s hair.
Smiling, I shrugged and turned the
dryer back on, the logical part of my brain chalking the whole thing up to
Caelyn purchasing some expensive, salon-brand shampoo that I hadn’t noticed in
the shower. Satisfied with my theory, I didn’t dare pull the shower
curtain back to check.