I’m back…

Hi Guys, I’ve been working with a professional editor to make The Shattered Swan into a completely different book! Persistance and self awareness – never give up!  It’ll be YA now, still a mystery and still set in LOVELY PERU with a running earthquake theme. Here is the first chapter. I’ll be sending it out soon to see if I can get this version published so any comments would be really welcome!!! Would you keep reading if you could? Let me know!

Chapter One

The vast expanse of sandy dunes at the foothills of the Andes never changed. Tamara sat in the passenger seat of her Aunt Laura’s bright blue Kia Rio sedan, determined that this trip to Peru would be different.

“I can’t believe I’m here again, Tía,” Tamara said. “And I really can’t believe that you’ll be sixty years old next week.”

“For you, cariño, I suspect that anyone over the age of twenty-one is ancient.”

Every time she visited since she started middle school, when her Peruvian parents decided that she should be in Peru more than just for those two weeks per year; that she should improve her Spanish and get immersed in her second culture—driving along the Pan American Highway after the ten-hour flight from Chicago, Tamara felt that she might as well be on the moon. Yet it also felt like she was coming home. She marveled at the rocky coast, the dirty, dusty little towns, the small groupings of beach houses that gleamed white in the sun, the small lakes surrounded by leafy palm trees and sandy desert.

“You know, K’antu simply can’t wait to see you,” Laura went on. “She seemed even more excited than me. It was all I could do to keep her from jumping in the car this morning.”

“I can’t wait to see her either. Why didn’t she come with you?”

Laura didn’t answer right away. “She’s, ah. . .she’s dealing with some other things at the moment. I’m sure she’ll be at the house when we get there.”

It wasn’t like Laura to be so uncommunicative. The last time Tamara had heard from K’antu she was planning her marriage to Eduardo. Had something happened?

“But there’s someone else who’s anxious to meet you.” Laura said, quickly changing the subject.

“Who?”

Laura sighed. “A boy.”

Tamara laughed. “It doesn’t sound like you want me to meet him. What is he—a troll?”

“Of course I want you to meet him. And no, he’s not a troll. He’s actually quite good looking. It’s just that, well. . .it’s nothing for you to worry about. It’s just that his family…”

“Oh Tía, that again?” Tamara’s family, including Laura, was from the small town of Manchay, located 246 miles south of Lima, a place with strict, old-fashioned ideas about societal rank, and society in general. Tamara had no patience with these traditions. In fact, her friendship with K’antu had initially been her way of rebelling against them. K’antu’s family had come from the mountains and were relatively poor. Laura and Mariana, Tamara’s mother, came from old money. The family owned a prosperous vineyard and exported their high priced wines all over Latin America.

“It’s not what you’re thinking, Tamara. You’ve actually met him before. You played together when you were toddlers.  It’s Mario—Rodolfo’s son. You remember Rodolfo, don’t you?”

“Your competition?” Tamara opened the window a crack. The wind blew in, but so did the dust. Coughing, she shut the window.

“Exactly. I don’t know if you remember, but Mario’s mother divorced Rodolfo when Mario was eight. She moved to Spain and took him with her. But, coincidentally, he’s here now visiting, and wants to see you again. At least, that’s what Rodolfo says. I think he gets some kind of enjoyment throwing his son in my face.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I have a niece in the United States, he has a son in Spain. Somehow his connection to the outside world is better. But never mind, it is just a stupid little game he likes to play. They’ll be at the party tomorrow, so you’ll get a chance to see them both.”

Tamara thought back, trying to conjure a memory of Mario, but without success. Despite Laura’s assurances to the contrary, Tamara envisioned a fat boy with glasses and pimples. Laura would never say anything bad about anyone.

Tamara looked out the window and saw that they were getting closer to town. Laura lived in a large house on the property that included her vineyard, located right outside of town off of a small private road to the west of the Pan American Highway. To the east a few miles out was the Pacific Ocean.

A shiver ran through Tamara’s body when she glimpsed a small, nearly dilapidated shack on the side of the road. A crude, wooden sign said, “Fresh Figs.” She remembered this place. The ramshackle building looked exactly as it had after the 8.1 earthquake a year and a half ago during her previous visit. She turned her head away, and breathed deeply. In and out. In and out. Her yoga instructor had showed her this technique to calm her fast beating heart. She was determined to feel happy on this trip. After all, despite the tragic events of that horrible day and everything that had followed, she’d been able to return to the safety of Chicago. She had fared far better than anyone in Manchay.

Tamara hoped that Laura didn’t notice her distress. She was here for her aunt’s birthday party, a time of celebration. She didn’t want to ruin things with any PTSD about the earthquake. That was in the past. It was over.

“We’re almost there, cariño,” Laura said, smiling. “I hope you’ve saved some room for your favorite lunch.”

Tamara’s taste buds tingled. Deep fried balls of cheese and yucca with huancaina sauce. Peruvian-style rice, cooked in beer with finely chopped spinach and cilantro that made the rice green, with a piece of fried chicken breast.  Sweet, juicy plums. And granadilla –  passion fruit. She envisioned cracking the hard orange shell, the luscious pulp oozing out, the sweet flavor exploding in her mouth.

Yes, this trip would be different. These would be happy times. It would be wonderful to be back “home.”

They got out of the car. Immediately a blur of energy whizzed out the door and accosted Tamara. “Amiga, I cannot believe it! You are finally here. It is so good to see you.”

It was K’antu.

Tamara, squeezed like an orange by the other girl, managed to choke out a greeting too, “It is really good to see you too K’antu.”

K’antu let go and held Tamara at arm’s length. She chuckled. “Ah, the good American greeting. But enough of that, you are here in Peru now. Give me a big hug and kiss.”

Tamara giggled. “I couldn’t hug you, silly. You had me in a bear hug. My arms were pinned.”

The girls both laughed. Laura had disappeared into the house. Soon the two teenagers also made their way towards the house, arms linked. K’antu chattered on about the plans for Laura’s party.

“We couldn’t ask you for your opinion because you were not here, Tamara. I hope that you like the arrangements…”

“Why wouldn’t I? I know the party will be a blast. What do you have left to do? I will help.”

“No, amiga, you rest and eat. Everything is done. After dinner we will talk and catch up with things. You will speak some English to me and tell me all about school. You will be off to college soon, right?”

“Not soon enough,” Tamara smiled, “I am just starting my last year of high school.”

“Yes, I forgot about the opposite seasons. But that is great! You can still party and have fun. You Americans are always in such a hurry to leave your family.” Since Peru is in the Southern hemisphere, their winter is during Chicago’s summer. August is not the time for summer vacations for Peruvian students. K’antu, seventeen years old like Tamara, had graduated from the Peruvian high school system six months previously.

“So how is everything…?” Tamara asked, opening the large, wood door. They went in. The foyer was a large room with doors on each side and a wide staircase facing the door.

K’antu looked away, “Things are Okay.”

Tamara narrowed her eyes.

“Really,” K’antu insisted.

“How can they be, K’antu? Every time I FaceTime you from Chicago I get the same “things are great”, but they can’t be… not what’s with –”

“Seriously, Tamara, they are. Of course, things aren’t perfect, but when are they ever? Hey, would you excuse me a minute, Tamara, I need to go to the bathroom.” K’antu disappeared into the house.

Tamara stood staring after her friend with a frown on her face. She sat on the wooden bench located by the door and looked around. The house had not changed much through the years. It was now as it had probably been in Tamara’s grandparent’s time, and even before that. On the walls hung faded color tapestries with scenes from the Peruvian mountains. The floor tile was a dark red, almost brownish color, and shiny from daily cleaning. Tamara’s eyes fell on a small crack in the wall by one of the doors. That particular imperfection had definitely not been there long…

Despite her resolve to put it behind her, her mind went back to last year. Her hands gripped the seat of the bench as memory flooded back; the small, dark front room of her aunt Ada’s house, laughter and happy sounds of glasses clinking as people welcomed Tamara back, K’antu appearing unexpectedly at the door, not wanting to wait another minute to see Tamara again, then the sudden rolling motion of the ground below her, the side-to-side shaking, the pitch-darkness when the electricity went out, the roaring in her ears, the cracking of the wall behind her…

“Tamara.” She came out of her trance. K’antu was shaking her shoulders. “What is the matter?”

She opened her eyes and stood up, pacing the floor in small circles. “K’antu, I don’t know if I should be here. Maybe I will just go back home.”

She looked around as if searching for her suitcase.

“Sit down, amiga. Calm down. Tell me what happened.” K’antu’s eyes were wide. There was fear in them.

They both sat down. Tamara’s leg moved up and down in a series of quick motions. “The crack… Oh my God, it was the crack.”

“What crack?”

Tamara waved vaguely toward the wall. K’antu turned and squinted over to where Tamara had indicated.

“That little thing?”

“It… it just reminded me…”

K’antu looked at Tamara. She rubbed Tamara’s arm and said in a low voice, “I know, Tamara. I remember too.”

K’antu had been standing in the doorway when it had all started; the strongest and most destructive earthquake Manchay had ever seen. Tamara had felt, rather than seen, K’antu fall to the ground. She had rushed over to help her friend, and at that moment the wall behind her had collapsed, burying Ada and two of Tamara’s second cousins.

Some of the debris from the fallen wall had hit Tamara in the back, knocking her to the floor also. She had tried to breathe and get up to continue helping K’antu. Dust filled the air, choking her. She had not been able to move. A large piece of adobe had caught her left foot, and she could not slide out from under it.

K’antu, on her hands and knees and relatively unhurt with minor scratches and a few future bruises, had quickly realized that Tamara was stuck. The house shook and there was a rumbling sound. Both girls worked frantically to get Tamara unstuck, scratching at the brick with their fingers, ripping nails and bleeding. Only a few seconds had gone by, but both of them cast periodic glances upwards as if they would be able to assess their safety and how much time they had left to free Tamara.

At one point Tamara had tried to scream out to K’antu to leave her, to just get out and save herself. K’antu either had not heard, or had acted as if she had not heard. She stayed with Tamara until they finally got Tamara’s foot free and stumbled outside just as two of Tamara’s older male cousins rushed in to help the others that had been buried. Ada had survived the night, as well as one of the rescuers and one of the buried cousins. The others had perished. Tamara had gone back to Chicago with a temporary asthma-like condition from breathing in so much dust and fine particles of rubble that floated in the air of Manchay that night and the next day.

“I could have died that night, K’antu.”

“Yes,” K’antu shivered. “If you hadn’t come to help me, maybe you would have. But you didn’t. So be happy.”

“Then you risked your own life when I got stuck. And then what did I do the next day?  I just left. I couldn’t stay and help anyone – you, my family… But it is more than that, I didn’t want to. I wanted so badly to just get the hell out of there. So I just went home. I –”

K’antu put her hand up in protest. “Hey, if you had not gone, I would never have forgiven you. It was the right thing for you to do. Remember, the looting came only a day after you left. We didn’t have much food. With you around, we would have had to split the rations up even more, and God knows, I would have hated to share my butter beans with you…”

For days after the earthquake it had been impossible for reinforcements to get into Manchay. People lived on whatever they could find. There was only one major road running down Peru’s coast, and it was destroyed both to the north and to the south of town.

K’antu grinned. Tamara looked at her and grinned also. “You are crazy, K’antu.”

“But I’m right.” She was serious, “Honestly, it really was good that you left. You come here all the time, but you don’t live here. You aren’t used to dealing with tremors and other disasters. We are.”

“How can I ever repay you, amiga…?”

“There is no need for that, Tamara. So don’t worry about it. And don’t worry about that little crack, this house is safe. That’s all that happened to it after all, right? It’s not like your aunt Ada’s house.”

Tamara smiled at her. “You are right.”

K’antu gave her a hug.

“But you are not right in keeping your problems from me. Please, K’antu, tell me what has been happening since I left last year.”

K’antu sighed, “It is not worth talking about. When I am with you I just want to feel happy.”

“But –” Tamara stopped talking at the sound of a man’s voice calling K’antu’s name. Tamara was still looking at her friend, whose face turned an ashy gray color.

“It’s Eduardo. He sounds mad.”

“Why would he be?” Tamara asked.

“I… I don’t know. He’s been so strange lately… I had better go.” K’antu stood up and walked over to the door. She opened it, revealing a young man, tall, wiry and muscular, with thick black hair that hung over one eye.

He pushed his hair out of his face in an almost feminine gesture and stopped short as he realized who had opened the door. “K’antu. What the hell? I have been looking for you all over. You’ve made me wait, and now I can’t go see Sergio. Let’s go.”

He grabbed her arm and pulled her outside.

“Eduardo, stop. Tamara is here. I was here to see her. Don’t you want to say hi?”

Tamara started forward and opened her mouth to greet him, but he did not even look back. He continued to drag K’antu away. She stumbled and had to grab onto him to recover her balance. She looked back at Tamara, tried to grin but ended up grimacing, and turned back to keep pace with Eduardo.

Tamara stared after them.