Erin Downing (erinkatedowning) wrote,
Erin Downing

Excerpt Friday: MOON SHADOW

This is my very favorite chapter of the book - I wrote it late in the revision process, and it was the scene that finally helped me figure out exactly how to put the book together in the right way. Pre-order from your favorite retailer HERE.

MOON SHADOW: Chapter Five

When I woke up late the next morning, I found my dad in the middle of our living room, his leg twisted into tree pose. “Namaste,” he called to me over the sound of rolling waves. When he did his yoga, Dad listened to Ocean Wanderings or Natural Morning. I was glad it was waves that day, since Natural Morning sounded a little like animals near death.

“Namaste.” I lifted a hand and saluted while pouring myself a bowl of very unnatural Lucky Charms. “And top o’ the mornin’ to you!”

“This really is the last time I’m buying that crap, Lucia.” My dad said this halfheartedly. He loved sugar cereal too.

“Bite?” I offered, wandering over to curl up on the couch next to my dad’s yoga mat. He was down on all fours but opened his mouth and happily accepted a spoonful of sugary marshmallows. “That’s a priceless image, Dad. How often do you see a combination of Cat/Cow and Lucky Charms?”

“Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

“You got it,” I promised. My dad was the biggest faker when it came to natural and homeopathic stuff like yoga and healthy eating. He was a closet McDonald’s junkie and had used his gym membership maybe three times in the last year. The yoga thing was relatively new—I was pretty sure he’d become Captain Om only because I’d told him about the “core, mind, and body” retreats Mom and her new girlfriend Johanna had tried to drag me to this summer in Sweden. Even though he would never trump blond, busty, hemp-wearing Johanna for my mom’s affections, Dad still loved mom desperately, and I think he believed in his heart of hearts that they could make it work. I wished he could figure out how to move on.

He popped up out of his Downward Dog and said, “How much homework do you have? Want to watch a James Bond marathon? We can order Chinese. Have a little post-birthday celebration. Your sister isn’t due home for hours, so let’s have some fun. Just the two of us.”

“Sounds great,” I said. But as I watched my dad roll up his yoga mat and stuff it under the couch, I thought about what we used to do for fun as a family: play soccer in the park, go for walks along the creek near our house, get together with other families for dinner or games. Why didn’t we do that anymore? Were my dad and I really supposed to just shrivel up into over-baked couch potatoes without my mom there to organize activities for us? “Actually, Dad . . . what do you think about going out?”

“Out?” he asked, scowling. He glanced down at his tank top and flannel pants.

“Yeah, like out to dinner. We could meet up with friends, maybe? Or head to the park and try to get a game of soccer going or something?”

He looked at me like I was an alien. “Why would we do that?”

I shook my head. He was right—why would we do that? I wanted to answer: So you’ll have a social life again or So you can show Mom that life goes on without her. But who was I to talk? I’d stopped doing most of the things I used to do after Velvet ditched me, just like Dad had after Mom left. Without Velvet around to tell me what we had planned, I didn’t really do much of anything. Jonathan and Anji were mostly school friends still. We hadn’t hung out on the weekends that much. And I wasn’t involved in any after-school activities. Going to the party at Velvet’s had been a pretty big deal. “I don’t know,” I finally said. “It was just an idea. But maybe we should just watch a movie.”

“That’s my girl,” Dad said with a silly wink. As I got the movie ready, he ran upstairs to change out of his tank top (a relief, trust me). When he came back down, he was holding a folded sheet of paper. “Open it.”

I took the paper in my hands and slid my fingernail under the tape that held it closed. Inside was a photo of a lunar eclipse.

“I borrowed a good camera from a guy at work and drove up to the cliffs to take this picture last night,” he said, beaming. “I’m going to get it blown-up and framed for your room. Your birthday eclipse.”

“I love it,” I said, hugging him tight. I glanced over dad’s shoulder at the picture in my hand as I squeezed him. It was perfect. But even still, I found it hard to shake off the creepy feeling that oozed over me whenever I thought about my birthday night. I couldn’t tell Dad about the weird missing hour on Velvet’s roof or he’d never let me out of the house again. So I just settled into my end of the couch for some James Bond action, wondering if I’d ever know the truth about what had happened to me on the night of my thirteenth birthday.


We were still on the couch several hours later when my mom called. “Happy birthday, baby. I tried you yesterday, but I guess you were off doing something fun?”

I had seen Mom’s call come through as I was getting ready for Velvet’s party, but I’d ignored it. Even after our summer of bonding in Sweden, I was still upset with her. The way she’d announced the divorce last spring had stung, and I hated that she expected me to understand.

There had been only two weeks left of sixth grade when Mom had called all of us into the living room for a family powwow. Family meetings were common and usually a little random, so I hadn’t been expecting much. At one family meeting, Mom had introduced the idea of adding more kale to our diet. During another she’d warned us that Mercury was in retrograde, so we all needed to work harder to be kind to one another.

That night, Mom had held Dad’s hand, closed her eyes in a Zen-like way, and said: “Kids, I—we—need to talk to you about something.” The kale conversation had started the same way so, honestly, divorce was the furthest thing from my mind. The only thing I could think about was the tacos we were having for dinner. Taco night was the only time my mom let us eat meat, and I was starving.

“Your father and I have decided to go down different paths throughout the rest of our journeys in this life.” I glanced at my dad as Mom spewed out her soothing-sounding words. The look on his face told me that whatever this was, it wasn’t a we decision. It was an I decision. “Though I love your father dearly, and he will forever remain a part of me . . .” That’s when Mom gazed at Dad and placed a soft kiss on his stubbly cheek. “My heart is pulling me to Sweden.”

My eyes bugged out of my head. “Like, IKEA?”

This got a small laugh from my mom. Romy gave me a look that made me zip it. Quick.

“I met a woman named Johanna, and we have discovered we’re spiritual soul mates. We complete each other.” Tears leaked from my mom’s eyes, but a smile was spread wide across her face. Some lady named Johanna had my mom happy-crying.

It was Romy’s turn to gape. “Johanna? Spiritual soul mate?” She spat this out with all the sweetness and warmth of a dirt-flavored Popsicle. “Lucia . . . Romy . . . I’m in love!” Mom gushed. “I know this is a hard time for me to leave you, considering you’re both on the brink of womanhood, but I hope you’ll understand that I need to follow the life that’s calling to me. In order to give completely, we must first nourish our own selves.”

Dad dropped Mom’s hand. He wiped his palm on his khakis and cringed as he attempted a weak smile. “What your mom is trying to say is, she’s decided to move to Sweden for a while—to live with this Johanna—and we’re all supposed to be happy for her. She and I are getting a divorce.”

That’s what she was trying to say? I needed a translator to help me understand my own mom, and she was speaking English. I wondered if she would be easier to understand in Swedish.

“Let me get this straight,” Romy growled, her arms crossed. “You’re telling us you’re gay?”

“There’s no need to define it, dear. I’m telling you I’m in love.” “With a woman?”

“Yes. Johanna lives in the northern part of Sweden. Apparently her village is very beautiful.”

“And you’re moving there?” Romy’s lip curled into a sneer. “Leaving us?”

My head whipped back and forth between my mom and my sister.

While my dad and I steered away from conflict, they both loved to hash things out in the heat of the moment. I envied them, frankly. At the first sign of a fight, my tongue swelled up and refused to move. But there were plenty of times I would have given anything to be the sort of person who could blurt out exactly what I was thinking. I just didn’t have it in me.

Less conflict, more Zen. Or something like that.

Mom took a deep, cleansing breath. “Johanna and I met several years ago at a yoga retreat. We’ve kept in contact since then and over this past year, our relationship has deepened into something—”

That’s when Romy covered her ears and screamed. Really screamed. Sixteen years old with the lungs of a tantrum-prone toddler. Lucky for me, my sister was dramatic enough to get the message across for both of us. She screeched, “Gah! Mom, just stop talking! You have got to be freaking kidding me right now.”

Mom, of course, stepped forward and pulled both of us into a hug. I didn’t think a hug could cool the sting, but it did. Locked in my mom’s embrace, I felt myself stiffen, freeze. My body went numb. Our parents— seemingly without Dad’s input or approval—were getting divorced. Mom was in love with a Swedish yogi named Johanna, and she was ditching her family to move to the land of blond hair and furniture-store meatballs.

Romy freaked and hollered and slammed her bedroom door. Mom chased after her, begging her to talk through it, reminding her that bottling up her emotions was toxic. Meanwhile, I silently stewed and watched old TV shows with Dad, neither of us saying anything to the other. There was really nothing to say. Instead of tacos we ate microwave dinners and left the veggies uneaten, glistening with congealed butter in their little cardboard compartment. This was our way of lashing out.

Life moved fast after the big announcement. Mom packed up in a hurry, explaining—over and over again—that her move wasn’t permanent. She would come back home after a year (presumably with Johanna, if things worked out) but needed to take a little time for herself. To align her chi. Never mind the fact that she was leaving my chi in pieces.

Through the remaining days of sixth grade, I did my best to smile and be supportive. I hoped that if I stayed positive, it might ease the transition (for her and for me). There’s always a rainbow at the end of a bad storm. Every cloud has a silver lining. The best is yet to come.

Here’s the honest truth: I’ve never been a big believer in any of the positive-energy stuff my mom always yammers on about. But I put up a good front. Everyone likes a nice girl with a good attitude. No one ever wants to hear the truth.

Then came the kicker. Instead of celebrating the last day of school with our usual ice cream and a family hike by the river, my mom surprised us with the news that Romy and I would be joining her for the next two months in a small village outside the town of Kiruna, Sweden. She felt it was important that we get to know Johanna and adjust to this new life. No one seemed to realize that spending the summer with my mom and her new girlfriend in a strange land was not going to help me adjust to anything, except bitterness. Romy protested so much—and pulled the summer-job card—that she got out of it.

Me? I went. I just couldn’t put up a fight. How was I supposed to know that everything would break into even more pieces while I was gone?

Over the summer I discovered that Johanna was nice and everything. But two months with my new “family” wasn’t enough to convince me to accept Mom’s change of heart with open arms and confetti. I wanted her to explain herself, to tell me what was so wrong with the life she had that she had to move across the ocean to build a new one.

Now that I was home again, and Mom was still an ocean away, I could always feel the miles that stretched out between us when she called. There was a short silence; then Mom asked, “Yesterday was a big birthday, sweetie. Do you feel like you’ve come of age?” Gag. Mom had been all hopped up on buzzwords like this since her latest yoga retreat, and they weren’t helping me forgive her any faster.

“Sure, Mom. It’s like I’m finally whole.” I looked down, fully aware that nothing had changed. Nonexistent bust, the same pj pants I’d had since I was ten and hit a growth spurt, and my dad’s old KISS T-shirt. I was a real woman now.

She paused. “Really, sweetheart?” I swear I could hear the tears flowing. “I wish I could have been there with you for this.” I could almost smell her “relax” tea blend through the phone. Mom was overly sentimental and emotional about everything now that she wasn’t here for our day-to-day lives. I often wished I could tell her that that’s what you get when you walk out on a family.

“No, not really, Mom. No worries, you’re not missing much—except I can read minds now. But I told you that, right?”

“That’s not funny, Lucia. Did you get the book I sent? It made it in time?”

Mom gave me a book of some sort of bunk magic every year, and this year was no exception. My thirteenth birthday book was Legends of Shadow and Light. “Yeah, Mom, I got it. Looks like a good one.” I wondered if she could sense the sarcasm in my voice. Doubtful. In fact, I could hear her sniffling happily on the other end of the line.

But I definitely did not love the book she had sent. Just like every year, I had stuffed the book deep under my bed and hoped none of its creepy magic content would seep up from under my metal bed frame. I didn’t think that was really possible, but I wasn’t willing to risk it. Mom’s paranormal nonsense freaked me out. The woman had given me a moonstone because I was born during an eclipse, for goodness sake— you can’t get more superstitious than that. It’s not like the moon was going to steal me up into the sky and take me off to Lunar Landing.

As I waited for Mom to stop weeping on the other end of the phone, I wandered over to the front hall and pulled the moonstone out of my jacket pocket. My dad rolled his eyes when he saw me cupping it in my palm—he was on my team when it came to Mom’s magic worship. I rolled my eyes back at him, and then looked down at the rock in my palm. My eyes widened, and my heart began to beat faster. Something about the stone had changed.

The moonstone had always been just a solid, pearly white—but now there was a solid black vein running through it that made it look like the rock had split open. My palms were sweating, and a cold chill passed over me as I stared at the changed stone. The shadowy, black core hadn’t been there when I’d pulled it out at the grocery store before Velvet’s party. When had it changed?

“Do you feel any different?” Mom prodded. “Did you get a chance to see the eclipse last night? I’ve been waiting to call since I figured you’d be sleeping in this morning.”

“No, yes, and thanks.” My heart was beating furiously. I stared at the moonstone, realizing I suddenly did not feel well.

Mom laughed. “Very detailed. Seriously, Lucia . . . Is everything okay?” I could hear a catch in her voice, as if there was something specific she wanted to ask me. “Did you—”

“Everything’s fine, Mom,” I snapped, cutting her off. I didn’t want to have to lie to her about what had happened, which meant I couldn’t let her press. “The eclipse was cool.” The lie rolled off my tongue, and I waited for the moonstone to burn my hand or something. You’d figure that’s what would happen. It didn’t.

“Okay.” She sounded disappointed. Was she was expecting some other answer? It was tough to analyze someone’s words when you couldn’t see their facial expressions. Also, I had had a hard time believing much of what my mom said after we found out most of her life had been a lie.

“How’s Johanna?” I asked, steering the conversation in a new direction. I wrapped my fingers around the stone, hoping that if I couldn’t see it, I would forget about it. Pieces of last night’s bizarre dream kept flitting through my brain, a constant reminder that something strange had happened during the eclipse.

Mom sighed, as though she had more to say but didn’t want to push it. “She’s wonderful. We’re thinking of going back up to the north of Norway next month for another visit. Our last retreat was so relaxing, and I love the legends of the tribes up there. They’re so captivating, and few are in written record—so we’re digging into the verbal history slowly . . .” I zoned out. A few minutes later we said good-bye, and she promised to call in a day or two.

After we hung up, I shoved the rock—that’s all it was, a rock—into my hoodie pocket and vowed not to think about it anymore. I didn’t believe in Mom’s magic crap, and I certainly wasn’t going to believe that stupid rock had changed colors overnight. It was ridiculous. Obviously, I had just never noticed the dark vein before. Maybe it was a trick of the light. That was the only logical explanation. Even so, my stomach was knotted and uneasy for the rest of the afternoon.

Tags: moonshadow
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