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Authors: Marilyn Grey

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Bloom

Previous Books in

The Unspoken Series

by Marilyn Grey

Book #1

Where Love Finds You

Ella & Matthew

Book #2

Down from the Clouds

Gavin

Book #3

The Life I Now Live

Heidi & Patrick

Book #4

Heart on a Shoestring

Miranda & Derek

Marilyn Grey

WINSLET PRESS

Bloom

Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Grey

To learn more about Marilyn Grey, visit her Web site:

www.marilyn-grey.com

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, etc.—except for quotations in reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

ISBN-10: 0985723556

ISBN-13: 978-0985723552

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

To:

Candice Joy

For:

showing me what real beauty is

extended version:

Oh, Can. On one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over a decade. There are friends that come and go ... even family members that come and go ... and then, there are those rare few who become a part of your very existence. The friendship in this story is very close to our own. Ella and Sarah are opposites in many ways. Not that we are exactly like these two girls, but we are opposites for sure. We used to think music was the bond that kept us together, but now that music is history in our friendship ... what is it? Was it ever music? I don’t think so. It was us, Can. Just us. Two people who love each other like real family. That’s what we are. It’s not like a marriage where two people fall in love and choose to marry the other person. It’s different. We didn’t choose each other. We crossed paths. And although we’ve had tough times, we’ve never stopped holding hands. Cheesy as it sounds, that’s what sisters are. Real sisters. They are different, but there’s a bond there that can never be broken. A love unlike any other. I have never had many friends and doubt I ever will, but why would I need them when I have you? The rose. My rose. Whenever you feel misunderstood, just remember that there’s at least one person out there (crazy as she may be) who not only understands you ... but loves you for every little piece of beautiful that you are. You are a shining example of what this book is all about. Real beauty.

i love you

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.

Helen Keller

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

It’s a Wonderful Life

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

Confucius

People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness
sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Prologue

August

a year and a half prior

James and I made s’mores by the fire. Always a careful person, I stayed three feet away from the crackling flames as I roasted my marshmallow, then smothered it between chocolate and crunchy graham crackers. James wiped my face and kissed the side of my mouth. We spent an hour talking about life. Our goals. Our future.

Near the end of the conversation I yawned. He got down on his knees to clean up the boxes and trash. At least that’s what I thought.

Staring up at me, he took something out of his pocket. I straightened my back as I sat on the log and a smile wrapped around my face as he took my hand.

“Sarah, we’ve both been through a lot. I know I’m not like all of your friends. I’m normal. A mechanic. Not artsy like you and all of them. I’ve argued with myself constantly. Had this ring for a while, you know.” He spun it in his hands, looking down. “I didn’t know how to make this romantic and over the top. I didn’t want to ask for help either because, to me, that’s a lie. This is who I am. I may not be the most romantic guy in the world, but I need you. Forever. So ... what do you think?”

I covered my mouth as he slipped the ring on my left hand. “Of course, James. You know my concerns about leaving Abby though. She can’t lose a mother figure twice. It would be unbearable.”

“Your cancer is gone. Doctors say there’s a good chance it’s gone forever.”

I nodded, part of me nervous to commit to someone.

He stood and pulled me into his arms. “How does it feel? To be my fiance?”

“It feels ... normal.”

We laughed. He carried me into the tent and flopped me onto the pillows. We had a ton of cheap three-dollar pillows stuffed in the tent. James surprised me because I once told him I wanted to sleep on a cloud.

“Can you go put out the fire?” I said.

He smiled. “Yes. Right after I kiss my future wife.”

We kissed as the moonlight lit our faces.

I stopped him and said, “I’d feel better if you put out the fire.”

He pulled me into him and held me there. “I’ll get it in a minute.”

That’s the last thing I remember before waking up to James screaming for me.

By the time I opened my eyes the tent was orange and a horrible scent clung to my nose. I screamed and backed into the corner of the tent, looking for James as the bed of clouds engulfed into huge flames. I closed my eyes and covered my face with my arm as I clawed at the tent, trying to rip the cloth and bite my way out of the fabric. The flames licked my skin, inching closer.

I looked down at my legs and hands. Didn’t take long to realize. The ghastly smell was my own skin melting off. Sharp bursts of pain seared through every inch of my body. Skin, black like the marshmallow I burned a little while ago, flapped off my arm and I could see the bone in my left hand, where the ring he gave me no longer resided.

James screamed my name again. A haunting chill swept over me, cooling my inflamed body. I collapsed in the corner of the tent like a parachute falling to the ground and asked God to take me quickly. A rush of sunny memories terrified me. I’d never see them again. This was the end.

Then each memory vanished and the world turned black.

One

My room smelled of buttery pancakes and pumpkin pie. I turned on my phone. 9:32a.m. September 15th. I no longer needed help taking off my burn mask. Thankfully. No need to wake Cheyenne this morning, who was still sleeping peacefully in the twin bed beside mine. Ella had been an angel. Not only allowing me to stay in her home, but allowing my cousin Cheyenne to stay with me as well. Ella worried that she wouldn’t be able to help me after she had the baby, but Adelaide Kessler was four weeks and two days old and Ella spent four weeks and one day out of those first weeks of her daughters life checking on me every three hours. At least.

I stayed in the hospital longer than most of the other burn unit patients. Partly because I had a lot of infections along the way, near death experiences, and trouble learning to walk again. And also because I wanted to. I feared coming home and burdening others. I feared being needy and, most of all, I feared that I’d no longer be able to hide my tears. When someone visited me in the hospital I had enough warning to dry my eyes and put on a happy face. In the world I’d need to hold it in or let it out. And let it known.

Cheyenne stirred and saw me standing without my burn mask. “You’re getting quite ambitious, aren’t you?”

“Funny,” I said. “Gone are the days when ten mile runs were ambitious. Now getting out of bed myself is an accomplishment.”

“You’ve come so far since the accident. Imagine how normal life will be by this time next year.”

I toddled toward the bathroom. Ignoring her optimism. I knew the heart of an optimist well. I used to be one. My entire life. Until now. But normal wouldn’t exist for me ever again. A new normal, maybe. But not my old normal.

Cheyenne closed the bathroom door behind me. “Let me know if you need help.”

I stood in front of the mirror. Someone’s face stared back at me. Red, swollen, and disfigured. The right side of my face remained somewhat normal, but the left side ... I looked away and positioned myself on the toilet. Took ten minutes to do something I once did in two. I washed my hands and avoided the mirror.

Throughout my life people complimented my beauty, but honestly, I never thought much of it. I didn’t get too into my looks like some girls. Wasn’t important to me.

Every time I saw my reflection in a mirror I couldn’t help but realize how important it actually was to me. I just didn’t realize it until it was gone.

Life with a different face is a new life altogether. People treated me like a child now. They talked to me with loud and slow voices as though my ears melted away in the fire. Strangers stared and kids pointed. Men, who once turned their heads to watch me walk away, now turned their heads in disgust. I never needed attention. And I still didn’t. Maybe that’s why it upset me to be looked at so much.

Cheyenne knocked on the door. “Everything okay? Ready to change your dressings?”

I opened the door.

“And here are your pills.”

She placed them in my palm on top of the cloth surrounding my hand. I put them in my mouth one at a time and gulped the water she gave me.

“Well,” she said. “Ella made baked pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast. Would you like some?”

“No, thanks.”

“You need to eat more, Sarah.”

Cheyenne was not only my cousin. She was a nurse. And sometimes I wished she weren’t.

“Let’s change this stuff,” I said. “Get my ever dreaded shower and get through the morning routine. Maybe after that I will eat lunch.”

Cheyenne entered the bathroom and closed the door. Ella and Gavin chatted downstairs. I could hear them discussing work and lessons as silverware clanged in the sink. I imagined Adelaide snuggled against her chest in the baby wrap and Gavin’s arms around them both, wondering if I’d ever be able to have children. If so, I wouldn’t be able to nurse them. My flat chest with weird skin caught my eye as Cheyenne helped me undress. Mirrors insulted me, especially when unclothed. So I stepped aside and closed my eyes.

The pain, still intense, seemed as though it would remain with me for the rest of my life. “Poor James.”

“Not poor James. He loves you.”

“Did I say that aloud?”

She nodded as she completed her task and I took slow steps into the shower. I so dreaded the shower.

“Looks aren’t everything, Sarah. They aren’t even close.”

Easy for her to say. She still had her beauty. I didn’t even have breasts to nurse a child with. The doctor mentioned plastic surgery, but the thought appalled me.

“I’m like a child,” I said. “He needs a wife. Not a child.”

She turned on the water and I flinched.

“He needs you,” she said. “Period.”

Cheyenne helped me finish my painful morning routine in silence, then she asked me if I’d be okay with her leaving for a while. I nodded from my bed. Sleep called for me. Especially after those torturous showers.

My dreams either involved
being trapped in a burning building or a mangled car. So I didn’t sleep much, but this time I dreamt of James and Abby with a woman who could take care of them. When I awoke James was sitting beside me smiling. “Morning, beautiful.”

“How can you say beautiful?” I said, closing my eyes again.

He didn’t respond. I looked at him again. His smile disappeared. Replaced by two serious eyes and turned down lips.

“Abby deserves better, James. So do you.”

He unhooked the necklace around his neck and placed it on the table by my bed. The ring clanked as it hit the wood. James touched my shoulder. “I’m sticking by you until that ring goes back on your finger with a wedding band.”

“James.”

“Sarah.”

“You don’t have to feel sorry for me. Don’t do this out of pity or guilt. I’m a big girl.”

He stood. “Every time I visit. Every single time you try to get rid of me. I’m doing the best I can. What do you want from me?”

“You don’t want to marry me. Admit it. If you met me now you’d never think twice about putting a ring on my finger.” I held back tears. “You’re worried about Abby. I get that. Since your brother died and Abby lost her parents, you feel like you need to protect her. That’s true. You’re her daddy now and she needs you. But she also needs a mother. A real one. Let me go, James. Just let me go. I don’t want pity.”

His eyes narrowed. “I’ve been by your bed every moment possible since this happened. Is this your way of saying thanks?”

“I am thankful.” I looked down. “You’re a wonderful person. You’ve been good to me. But I’m okay. It wasn’t your fault and you can walk away without hurting me. I’ll be okay.”

“What would you have said if we were already married and this happened, huh? What then?”

I stared at my bare chest. The chest that was meant to nurse my children during sleepless nights. Gone. My dreams of motherhood went up in smoke. I’d failed my children before giving birth to them.

I loved James too much to see him settle for me just because he loved the person I was before all of this. Maybe one day he would understand it was my love for him that helped me let him go.

He stood in the doorway. “You know that scene from Titantic?”

I shook my head.

“Come on, you’ve made me watch it six times.”

“Which scene?”

“The one.”

“Please don’t, James.”

“I’ve been by your side since this happened. You almost died twice and that kind of thing makes you realize a lot. Made me realize that I may be able to go on living without you, but I don’t want to.” He closed the door. His footsteps trailed off. I heard the car door close and the engine rumble.

The door opened again.

Ella sat a few scones and a steaming cup of my favorite tea on the table beside me.

“I know what you’re going to say,” I said. “Don’t say it.”

She smiled. “What am I going to say?”

“That I need to be nice to him, but you don’t understand. I need him to let go. For his own good. If I’m nice he’ll hang on.”

“I don’t know what’s going on between you two. You never say anything and he’s as private as you are.” She handed me a blueberry-orange scone. “I was going to reprimand you for not eating. You have to if you want to get better. English breakfast tea four times a day doesn’t count.”

I picked off a piece from the scone and chewed it. Pretty good actually. “Change of pace, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“Me, depressed. You, cheery.” I laughed. “Tables have turned.”

“You remember what you said to me once?” She tapped my foot. “My dream is every day. When I wake up, I want to find something new. Something beautiful about each day I’m given. I want to take the cards I’m given and play them with a smile, not to win, just to play.”

“Yeah. I said that when life’s biggest disappointment was losing a job or being single.”

“Well, try it.” She stood, left, and returned with the baby. “Find something beautiful.”

“It’s hard, Ella. I see negative in everything. There you are holding a baby and instead of seeing her beauty and your happiness all I see is my inability to have children and it makes me not want to be around either of you.”

“Doctor never said you can’t have children.”

“What kind of man wants to marry a woman with a shriveled up chest?”

“The man you have.” She glanced at the glistening ring on my night stand. “He wants you.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the first time I opened them after the accident. I didn’t know where I was and when I did I wished I had died. For months after that, wrapped up like a mummy, I kept wishing I’d close my eyes and die of an infection. People came in and out of my room. Checked my catheter. Did my excruciating physical therapy. Had conversations about their boyfriends and girlfriends and lives outside of the hospital. The life I wanted to crawl back to.

Being strapped to a hospital bed has a way of changing your perspective of life. Before the fire I loved my iPhone, e-books, and having information right at my fingertips. I could think of someone, text them from across the country, and get a reply instantly. All those nights and days in that bed, listening to nurses talk about trivial things, watching them check their phones, seeing them obsess over what to wear on a date, all of it made me realize how much life I missed while glued to my own screens and obsessions with instant information. I dreamed of a simpler time where sending a letter to someone took time, a lot of time. Then, someone on horseback trekked across the land in honor of delivering your well thought-out words to the recipient. I dreamed of life, true life, where I’d marry for love and passion, not duty and sacrifice.

But I was stuck in that bed, forced to listen to people arguing about whether it was okay to wear white in October, and I longed to close my eyes and never open them again.

To be done. With the pain. The fast-paced, trivial conversations. All of it.

I wanted to be done.

I should’ve never went camping. Should’ve made him put the fire out. Shouldn’t have fallen asleep. Endless regrets always ran through my head.

I tried to remain positive. That’s what people expected of me. Always the sunshine in the room. I didn’t want to let people down. Or maybe I didn’t want to let myself down. Why is being fake easier than being real?

I opened my eyes. Ella smiled, sat in the chair across the room, and nursed Adelaide.

Knife in my non-existent chest.

I winced. “When you’re finished could you give me some pain medication?”

She nodded.

“And do you mind not nursing her in front of me?”

A tear slipped down her face. “Sarah, I love you, but I’m not going to hide life from you. Yes, I can nurse a baby and you may never be able to, but there are many things you can do that I will never do. Think about who you are and how this can be turned into something good. So, you can’t nurse a child. Adopt one. Do something. Think of others. Count your blessings.”

My phone made a sound. I picked it up with the hand that didn’t get burned. The hand I could still type and write with. A notification. Physical therapy in two hours. Great.

Ella already knew. She nodded when I looked at her and said, “Let’s get you ready to go.”

“Where’s Gavin?”

“In the studio. Today’s homeschooler day. He’s teaching a few art classes and I have a few private violin lessons later. It’s fine. I can take Adelaide.”

“I can get Cheyenne.”

“Sarah Jordan, I’m taking you. Soon you won’t need help anymore and you’ll be so busy that you won’t have time to read. Enjoy this while it lasts.”

I inched myself into a sitting position and sat on the edge of the bed. “Maybe I’d enjoy it a little more if I wasn’t in constant pain.”

“You’ve made it this far.”

“This is so hard, Ella. It’s so hard. I felt okay until I came home. Or to your home. Now life is going on all around me and every time I look in the mirror I want to cry.”

She placed Adelaide in a baby wrap and put her arm around me. “I’ve always admired you, Sarah. And I still do. Throughout all of this you still manage to laugh and smile. You don’t tell everyone how hard it is and you put on this positive mask, but underneath you really are that person. These moments of sadness are normal. What I admire is that you still smile more than you cry.”

“Thank you for that.” I smiled. “Let’s go.”

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