My first draft of Ava was 165,000 words. During the tough process of editing down the story to 100,000 words, and shaping up the material for sequels, hundreds of pages were cut from the manuscript.
Below, is a chapter that takes place about halfway through the book, and focuses on Ava’s parents, Kettle and Gracie Arden. In the end, this chapter contained too much background for mid-point in the novel, and it didn’t match with the flow and tone of the story, so I removed it.
It’s hard to cut words from a story so close to one’s heart, and the thought of leaving 65,000 of them to languish in the dark of my cloud storage pained me. I’ve pulled a chapter out and decided to post it here on my blog.
For those readers who may find these types of pages interesting, especially as we ramp up to the launch of Ava, a romantic thriller, I’m happy to report there is plenty more material.
On the way home from dealing with the burglary at Ava’s apartment, Kettle turned into the neighborhood a dozen streets early.
Sitting beside him in the front seat, Gracie knew where he was going; he was headed for their old house. As they came upon it, Kettle pulled to the curb.
The quaint brick beauty was very small. Despite the late hour, light from several windows and a fixture above the front door shone brightly in the crisp fall night.
The tiny shrubs and trees Kettle had installed with his own hands three and a half decades earlier had matured into a graceful landscape. Pots of amber-colored mums lined the stone walkway, gently drawing the eye up to the freshly painted wooden porch.
He couldn’t have been more pleased.
How different it looked now from the first time he and Gracie had set eyes on it back in the spring of their first year of marriage. With the due date for their first baby a scant month away, they’d bought the smallest house in the very best neighborhood they could afford.
After they’d politely but firmly declined any financial assistance from both set of parents, Gracie’s mom had expressed her disapproval by purchasing a gigantic antique Venetian chandelier as their housewarming gift. For years, it had dwarfed that small dining room, and it now hung in Gracie’s private study at the new house.
He smiled to himself. Twenty-five years later and he still thought of it as the “new” house.
But this one? This old house?
Kettle loved it the way a man always loves his first. He’d been a new husband here, a new father, a new lawyer.
As he sat in the stillness of the car, his wife beside him, a long strand of beloved memories rose up from the dusty corners of his mind.
Over the course of their marriage, he and Gracie had achieved all of the goals they’d set for themselves as a young couple. He was proud of the children they had brought into this world, proud of the adults they had become.
When the kids were little, Gracie had begun writing a popular children’s book series, and now a long-overdue Saturday morning cartoon was in development for next year. Though the success of his law practice was one for the history books, Kettle took as much pride in his wife’s achievements as he did his own.
Over the decades, they had traveled the globe, dined with presidents, and accumulated a volume of assets so large it sometimes left him a little embarrassed. But as Gracie had always pointed out, they may have had a leg up on education, but the rest of it they’d earned themselves.
And now, with a grandbaby on the way, they finally had the total package.
Why then would a too small house on a too small lot hold such power over him?
Maybe because he could still picture five-year-old Ava flying across the grass to greet him when he returned from work each evening, and launching herself confidently into his open arms. It was their daily ritual. He would scoop her up and she would tuck her small head beneath his chin and announce, “Daddy’s here.”
How is it, with two softly spoken words, a child could steal your whole heart over and over again?
He’d taught his boys how to throw a football on the small slope of this front lawn. And on hot summer nights, they’d wrestled and chased fireflies and played tag until Gracie had firmly issued the final call for bedtime.
The memories brought a smile to his lips, a lightness to his mood. How could it all be so long ago?
He was going to be sixty-one soon.
He didn’t feel as old as his birth certificate insisted he was. Occasionally his bones or his lower back would behave that age, but not his mind. Not his spirit. Not his capacity to love.
He felt alive and vibrant and relevant.
His thoughts turned to all of the late nights he’d spent downtown working hard to grow his law practice. For the stretch of years leading up to making partner in the firm, Gracie had often functioned as a single parent. It was the sacrifice such achievement required.
The fact that they’d made the decision together hadn’t erased the hardships each one had separately faced.
He may have missed bundles of little moments in the everyday lives of his children, but he had twisted himself into knots to make it to their big moments. Recitals and games and school plays.
Usually he’d show up late, but he was always there. Always.
Even so, those lost times in between, they haunted him. Markers that included his oldest son, Trace, having his first real date on a Thursday after school. And Ava, second grade, hosting a fancy afternoon tea party for the neighborhood girls. Then there was five-year-old Locke, up on a chair, gluing black construction paper on the windows of his bedroom to create a secret bat cave for his two favorite guys, James Bond and The Fonz.
It was tough, but Kettle had reached a point in his life where he was slowly letting go of that angst. With his son and daughter-in-law’s baby on the way, Kettle believed he had finally come to understand the manner in which life rewards the deep, hard sacrifices of parenting: through grandchildren.
In two months’ time, his magical, mystical, achingly poignant second chance would arrive.
Kettle wanted all of it, every moment, and was even looking forward to the day his grandchild became a hormone-ruled, conflict-seeking teenager.
He’d been working most of the time when his own children had been cutting a path toward adulthood. They’d let their emotions, their tantrums and angst, loose on their mom, on Gracie, day after day, but wouldn’t reveal a drop of it when Kettle was around.
The double standard had upset Gracie, hurt her deeply, even though the kids had told her they were afraid that if they acted out in front of their father he might stop coming home one day.
Their fears weren’t without basis; divorce had been happening all over the neighborhood. With depressing regularity, Trace, Ava, and Locke would come home from school upset, filled with new reports of parents splitting up.
They had been worried that, like a cough or the flu, their own father would catch it and disappear, too.
He would never have known any of this, never known their fears or how difficult the children could be, if his wife hadn’t shared it all with him. Gracie reassured him repeatedly that it was all a normal part of kids transitioning into adulthood
. She assured him that it was as painful for the children as it was for the parents.
Kettle carried his guilt around like a backpack until the night Gracie informed him the kids were taking their frustrations and fears out on her because they trusted her to never leave them.
This explanation, succinctly delivered to Kettle one night as he and Gracie prepared for bed, had cut him to the core. Why would his children fear that he would abandon his family? Didn’t they understand that his actions, his professional choices, were about giving them opportunities in the future?
They were still children at the time and couldn’t yet understand the layered, competing priorities of an adult life. For a time, he had let their fears dim his outlook on the value of the sacrifices he was making in the name of his family.
Gracie was always truthful with him even when the truth wounded him. When they were first married, just after a big argument, she had explained that she would never hold anything back from him. She believed that lies, no matter how sweetly told, broke couples apart. She had kissed his lips and assured him that he deserved the respect of truthfulness from her, on every subject.
He had loved her all the more for it.
Well, except for those times when Gracie was pushing him to take a step that he wasn’t financially or emotionally ready to embrace. During those times, he found her candor a source of never-ending irritation. And, in the spirit of truthfulness, had told her so.
One of those periods began shortly after their tenth wedding anniversary and lasted for several years. What had caused it? The pressing need for a bigger house.
From the first words, Kettle had refused to discuss it. He simply couldn’t. Instead, he had deferred, delayed, ignored and argued.
He believed that the memories they had made inside the walls of that old house were the foundation of their life together. Changing homes opened up their peaceful world to the unpredictable whims of risk.
As an attorney, his work day was often spent trying to sort out the expensive, emotional, destructive messes his clients had gotten themselves into by failing to calculate, anticipate or respect the far-reaching powers of risk.
Why then would he, Kettle, consciously, willingly, expose his family to any more of the great unknown than he absolutely had to? It would imprudent and irresponsible.
That’s how he saw it, anyway.
More importantly, they’d brought their children home from the hospital to this small house. All three had learned to walk here, talk here. They’d hosted birthday parties here, and had crammed the whole extended family around tables set closely together for Thanksgiving dinners.
They’d celebrated Christmas mornings in the miniature living room and Fourth of July’s in the cramped back yard. He and Gracie had made love passionately in this small house. She had decorated the place on a budget—if you wanted to call no money a budget—and somehow managed to do it with style. They’d scrimped and saved to buy new appliances for the tired kitchen, and held off on renovations and new cars for as long as possible.
For all his blustering and posturing, it all came down to one fact. In this house, Kettle was forever young. Strong, fearless, determined. His body had been lean and muscular here; his hopes for the future irrepressible; his desire for his wife unquenchable.
How could his smart, intuitive spouse not understand, not sense the problem?
To leave this home behind would be to accept that he was no longer the same man who had first walked through this front door with his wife in his arms. To move away would be to acknowledge that his youth no longer belonged to him, that now it belonged to the house.
Whether he had wanted it or not, the cycle of life had continued, and his youth had been passed into the hands of his children. Even now, his own child was preparing to continue the cycle and pass his own youth on to the next generation.
Sometimes, late at night, Kettle would lie in bed with Gracie and talk about what their lives would be like with a grandchild in it. He’d had been waiting, hoping, for a dozen years for the first one to make his way into this world.
Now that it was finally happening, it hardly seemed real.
Until, that is, he would see his daughter-in-law, Layla, and her growing belly. He couldn’t do enough for her. He followed her around with the loyalty of an old hound, always asking her if she was hot or cold, hungry or thirsty, if she needed to sit or stand.
It was real; this grandchild, this life, this age. So much of the long road that had once stretched before him now stretched behind him.
There is no fairness in time, only in humans. He knew that now.
Kettle sighed as he squeezed Gracie’s trembling hand. He turned to gaze at her profile as she sat quietly, staring out the window through watery eyes.
He thought the same thing about her now he had thought all those decades ago, the first time his senior eyes had rested on her freshman face: she was timeless. How right he had been. Gracie’s beauty had flowed with her through the years, softening but never fading.
Still holding his wife’s hand, Kettle took his foot off the brake and slowly pulled away from the curb, leaving the old house and the old memories behind them, where they belonged.
As he did, tears rolled down his cheeks.
Copyright © 2012 by Ashley Barron. All rights reserved.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in