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Kayla McCall

Kayla McCall

Kayla McCall's works focus on grief. A former teacher compared her to Edgar Allan Poe and her works on darker subjects have won awards and been published in literary journals.

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Finding Lights

Jo loses her dad in an accident, and when a boy that has become good at hiding his own grief enters her life, he guides her through the pain.

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Young Adult Mainstream Fiction
Birmingham, Alabama
44,696 words
100% complete
3 publishers interested

Synopsis

Another burning hot summer in Birmingham, Alabama produces the most jarring change in Johanna Palmer's life. Her father dies in a car accident just at the beginning of the season and Jo doesn't know how to handle the grief. The only close family she has is her gran and when a boy appears, offering his condolences, she is admittedly suspicious of him.  The boy, Dewey seems to have completely pure intentions though, only offering her his support.

Dewey becomes a constant presence in the weeks immediately following the funeral, but Jo is always a little wary of him. She didn't know him prior to the funeral and the only explanation he gives her is that he is the son of a friend of her dad. Still, despite her reservations, a friendship begins to form between the two. Dewey plays an integral part in Jo's grieving process. He takes her to ten places in and around Birmingham to keep her from sitting in the house by herself everyday.

Jo starts to gain an appreciation for the city she grew up in and she begins to notice all the memories within it she had with her dad. Dewey guides her through her grief and Jo is curious about how he can be so good at it. One day he tells her about his own grief that came from growing up in a house with an abusive mother and how he overcame it. Eventually though, Jo discovers that there are some things about her dad that she didn't know, but should that ruin her memory of him? 

Outline

Chapter 1: The story opens on Jo sitting in her bedroom after her dad's funeral. She's ignoring everyone that tries to comfort her.  Every few minutes though,  she hears someone knocking at her door. She doesn't know who it is, but she assumes it's someone who attended the funeral, a friend of her dad. Still, she sits in her room in complete isolation, blocking out any connection between anything outside her room as well as anything outside her mind.

Chapter 2:  Jo pulls herself out of her lethargy briefly  and she finds a boy she has never met talking with her gran.  She stands at the top of the staircase,  out of sight of both the boy and gran, and listens to him inquiring about her. She doesn't understand why he cares because she has never met him.  After he leaves, Jo asks gran  about him and gran  confronts her about isolating herself.

Chapter 3: Jo spends the next few days after the funeral in her room.  He tries not to be curious about the boy, Dewey, but she can't ignore the thoughts that fester about him. She is mostly concerned by what motivated him to inquire about her.  She ends up unwittingly awaiting his return.  It gives her idle mind something to focus on. 

Chapter 4: When Dewey does finally come back, Jo doesn't know how to talk to him. He tells her who he is, the son of her dad's friend. He tries to get her to talk to him and he ends up taking her to a pond, hoping a change of scenery will help.  However, once they get there, Jo has a mild panic attack and he takes her home.

Chapter 5: In an attempt to pull her self back together, Jo tries to help her gran with dinner, but she fails to do simple tasks under the weight of emotion. She ends up frustrating herself more than anything because it seems like everyone can continue on with their lives while she is stuck in the same place.  A day later she begins helping gran with her garden, establishing a routine she can handle.  After a while though, gran has to return to work and Jo doesn't like the change. Dewey visits her again and asks her how he can help her, but Jo  doesn't have much of an answer for him because she doesn't know herself. 

Chapter 6: Jo flashes back to the day she heard of her dad's accident. She got a call from a man she didn't know,  asking her if she could get to the hospital. Her gran came to pick her up and take her and she told Jo that her dad was in a coma. Jo was relieved because the call she received earlier lead her to believe her dad was dead. A day later though, her dad was flatlining, and when Jo shakes herself from the flashback she's screaming. Gran  gets home and tries to comfort her  and again, gran has to confront her about isolating herself  and suppressing her emotions. 

Chapter 7: Jo checks out for a while, staying in bed for hours on end. Dewey comes by,  but instead of trying to have a conversation with her,  he tells her a story. The story is about a boy who suffered from childhood abuse at the hands of his mother. The boy was eventually adopted by his neighbor. Dewey reveals that the story was about himself and that grabs Jo's interest. It's a different kind of grief, but it lets Jo know that there is a way to come out on the other side of it and continue living. 

Chapter 8: Jo walks in on gran crying, but she isn't sure of how to comfort her. Gran is looking at an old photo album and she asks Jo what her favorite memory of her dad is. Jo tells her about a time when the two of them went to the beach and she snapped a picture of him walking away, out into the ocean and she realizes that it pictured how she felt seeing him leave her. She remembers that she still has the picture and she attempts to draw it.

Chapter 9: Jo has a dream about her dad and after it, she calls Dewey. He tells her he understands what she it going through, but she insists that he doesn't because he has his dad. She asks him if he ever misses his mom and he tells her that he does even when he doesn't want to and even if it isn't the same thjng, Jo tries to understand.

Chapter 10: Dewey picks Jo up and they drive around downtown for a while. They end up at a restaurant and Dewey asks Jo what she likes about Birmingham. She doesn't have an answer, there is an anything she can think of that she particularly likes. Dewey vows to make her see what is great about Birmingham. He wants to change her mind about her hometown.

Chapter 11: Dewey  makes a list of ten places in and around Birmingham that he wants to take her to. The first stop on the list is East Lake Park. When they go there, they try to feed the ducks and Dewey gets chased by them. Jo finds this hilarious and it lifts her spirits just a bit. Jo opens up to him about her life, about gran specifically.

Chapter 12: Dewey takes Jo to the Civil Rights Institute. A conversation takes place about racism and how that fits into Birmingham's history. It reminds Jo about a time when her dad was racially profiled and she didn't understand why at the time. She ends up talking to a boy from her school that works at the institute. The boy, Aaron, tells her that he is the son of one of gran's coworkers and that he heard about her dad. He explains that his dad died as well a few months back and Jo is able to identify with him.

Chapter 13: The third place Dewey takes Jo is the Botanical Gardens.  Dewey tells her about a time that his dad and uncle took him there afted he was adopted. His uncle wasn't happy with his dad's decision. He told him that he was making a series of terrible decisions that would ruin his life. Dewey  why is convinced that his uncle hated him and Jo asks him  why he would go back to the Botanical Gardens if he associates it with a bad memory. Dewey claims that good things can come from pain and anger.

Chapter 14: Dewey brings gran some mulch for her garden.  After that, he takes Jo to see the Birmingham Barons play a baseball game at Regions Field. Jo knows nothing about baseball, but she still manages to have fun.  They are halfway through Dewey's list and Jo is starting to like Birmingham more.

Chapter 15: They go to Quinlan Castle on the south side of Birmingham. Jo thinks Dewey  must have been a Disney kid. They go to Carver Theatre nexf which houses the Jazz Hall of Fame. Jo and her dad were really big jazz fans and going there reminds her of him. She gets overwhelmed after a while though and asks to leave. They go to Vulcan next and they see a wedding ceremony taking place. Dewey says his dad wanted to get married before he adopted him, but back then it was against the law for him to marry his boyfriend. Jo is surprised at the news, but ultimately she is sad because of the lost love.

Chapter 16: Item number nine on Dewey's list is Jazz in the Park at Avondale Park. Jo feels light while she's there, she's singing with Dewey and making fun of some of the bad acts. Dewey invites Jo to an Independence Day barbecue at his house. They also run into one of Jo's dad's friends, Larry. Larry was friends with both Dewey and Jo's dads, but he stopped talking to Dewey's dad and Dewey doesn't know why.

Chapter 17: Dewey takes Jo to Moss Rock, his favorite place. This is a place his dad took him to after he was adopted  and he associates good memories with it. While they're there, Jo tells him about her problem. She doesn't know where to go from here. After her dad died, her life stalled and she doesn't know how to get it moving again. Like all the lights are off and she can't find the switch. Dewey reads a poem he wrote for her called "When No One Can See." He tells her he wants to understand her and it seems like he's gotten a little closer to doing just that.

Chapter 18: Jo goes to Dewey's house  for the Independence Day barbecue with gran. Jo finally meets Dewey's dad and she likes him at first.  She finds a picture in their living room of herself, Dewey, and both of their dads and it confuses her. Dewey tells his dad to tell her the truth. He tells her that him and her dad were really good friends and Jo puts it all together. She rationalizes all the information she has gained and finds out that the boyfriend Dewey's dad had was her dad  and it is confirmed by Dewey's dad a second later. He tells her about the day of the accident and how they have been arguing about their relationship  and Dewey's uncle's opinions right before he left and got into the accident. Jo leaves and finds some place in the neighborhood to sit by herself, but she jumps back up when she hears sirens.

Chapter 19: After hearing the sirens, Jo goes back to Dewey's house and asks is that where he is. It turns out he went to look for her after she left. Jo is convinced the sirens she heard means that he was hurt and Dewey's dad goes to see if she's right. She is correct and she finds out Dewey was in a car accident and is in the hospital. When gran drives her tl the hospital  she is told that they induced him into a coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. When she hears that, she faints.

Chapter 20: Jo works through the feelings about her dad lying to her about his sexuality. She doesn't ever truly understand why he kept it a secret. She feels guilty and she blames herself for everything that happened to Dewey and she knows she'll never forgive herself if he dies.  Dewey does wake up though and she is relieved.

Epilogue: Jo ends up  being the one to help Dewey most of the time once he is released from the hospital. It's a role reversal. They walk around the neighborhood a lot in their free time because Dewey's car was totaled in the accident. One day when they're doing just that, Dewey notices that gran's garden is finally blooming.

Audience

My main character is sixteen and the story is set within the summer, making it perfect for young adult audiences. YA novels have reached a height in sales beginning in 2012. The percentage growth in sales for YA novels exceeds that of adult novels as well. Readers of YA novels are primarily aged anywhere between 12-18, but some adults read them as well. High emotional stakes characterize these types of novels and many people are drawn to that no matter their age.

Author

Kayla McCall has been writing for a little over ten years.  She was first published when she was nine years old. Since then, her short stories have been published in literary journals such as The Writer's Block at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and The Auburn Circle at Auburn University. Her writing has won awards in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards where she won gold key as well as the PTA Reflections contest where she won first place.  Kayla is now studying  English – Creative Writing at Auburn University and she hopes to work in both writing and publishing after graduation. Out of all the stories Kayla has written, her personal favorite is a short story titled "Still Child." Like Finding Lights, it  focuses on grief, but it concentrates on a man who has lost his wife and daughter. Within the story, the main character ends up living within his head and pretend that they are still alive. This is the short story that one Kayla the gold key award in the Scholastic contest. The main character takes a different path in but Kayla maintains the ability to explore different facets of grief as well as coping mechanisms.

Promotion

The best marketing strategy for today is one that involves the internet. I plan to use Facebook primarily because my story is set in Birmingham, Alabama and because that is where I am from, majority of the people I am connected to on the platform are from the same area. I believe the novel will be popular with people who live here as it is a reflection of the city and Facebook is an easy way for me to reach them. I have started a new twitter account and I plan to work on gaining a larger following on the platform. According to a study by GlobalWebIndex, 34 million internet users use Tumblr and half of those user are between the ages of 16-24 and I plan to use this medium to my advantage as well to reach my young adult audience. I already have a writing blog and with some necessary polishing, I believe I can gain a following on there as well. Tumblr has an emphasis on blogging and it is a place where people create content instead of having a focus on pictures and instants messaging like other websites so it is where many writers and artists go to spread their work. The best thing about using social media as a resource is being able to connect directly with the audience. On these platforms, I could tease parts of the story to bring attention to the novel. 90% of teens watch videos on their devices as well so uploading videos to youtube would also be a part of my strategy.

Competition

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- publisher: Dutton Books; publication year: 2012. The Fault in Our Stars follows seventeen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster. She has lung cancer and enters a support group for people who have cancer and there she meets Augustus Waters. The two of them grow together quickly and begin a relationship, however, by the end of the story Augustus's cancer comes back and he passes away. The Fault in Our Stars is similar to Finding Lights because of the focus on grief and heartbreak. Also, Within the story Augustus takes Hazel to Amsterdam which is similar to Dewey taking Jo to places within Birmingham in my story, but there are key differences in certain plot points as my story does not include anything about fatal illnesses and my story is not a love story. 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman- publisher: Dutton Penguin; publication year: 2009. If I Stay is about a teenage girl, Mia, who was in a car accident with the rest of her family. In the following hours after the accident, Mia learned that her entire family died and she was left with the choice of dying with them or staying alive. If I Stay is similar to Finding Lights because of like my main character, Mia experiences the death of her family, but Finding Lights differs in the way that Jo is not faced with the choice to leave with her father or stay.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- publisher: Pocket Books; publication year: 1999. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about a teenage boy, Charlie, who struggles to fit in and as the story goes on, it is revealed that he has deep psychological problems from his aunt molesting him. His aunt died the same night as that incident and he blames himself for it. Similar to Finding Lights, Charlie blames himself for the death of his aunt. My main character is very similar to Charlie especially when he struggles to find his place in the world. Finding Lights is different because there is no use of sexual assault and while Charlie is similar to my main character, she has no real diagnosed psychological problems.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini- publisher: Hyperion; publication year: 2006. It's Kind of a Funny Story follows sixteen year old Craig who finds himself overcome with depression and one night while contemplating suicide, he decides to admit himself into a mental hospital and he works on his mental health. Like Finding Lights, Craig is struggling with depression. My main character never goes so far as thinking about suicide, but she can relate to the depression that Craig experiences.

Looking for Alaska by John Green- publisher: Dutton Books; publication year: 2005. Looking for Alaska follows a boy starting at a new boarding school. While he is there he meets a few new friends and one that he is especially captivated with. By the end of the book though, that girl he is captivated with, Alaska, dies. The friendship between the main character, Pudge, and Alaska is similar to the friendship between Jo and Dewey, but there is no romantic undertone. When Pudge loses Alaska it is similar to the feeling Jo has when she thinks Dewey may be dead at the end of the novel. Unlike Looking for Alaska there is no romantic pining or the element of school in Finding Lights.

Sample

Chapter 6 

Dewey stays for several hours after and only leaves when the sun is casting orange rays across the sky signaling early evening. Gran should be home shortly and he only agrees to leave after I tell him that. He goes with the promise to return tomorrow.

His car rumbles, or should I say sputters, to life after he is secured inside of it and he drives off down the road.

I close the door and resume what I was doing before he arrived. This was essentially the same thing I was doing when he was here, except this time I’m not being encouraged to talk. The former being the better scenario of course, no matter how hard I find talking to be at times.

I watch the downward descent of the sun through the window on the far wall above the television until it plunges into darkness, not complete darkness though, there are still some remaining vestiges of light that strain to pass through the clouds.

Gran should be home any minute, though I don’t know exactly when as a nurse’s schedule can be quite unpredictable. Still, I hope she will be home soon.

I feel kind of embarrassed at my codependency. I can’t even sit at home alone for a few minutes, let alone a few hours without getting anxious.

I wasn’t always like this, yet another thing to add to my growing list of reasons why I loathe myself. Nowadays, I find myself with a hollow ache in the pit of my stomach when I’m alone. Before, I loved it. So much so it was beginning to be a little worrisome. I’m an introvert by nature, but that hasn’t changed much. That’s not the problem. The real source taps into my feelings of my dad leaving me. It’s not so much people being gone as the act of watching them leave. That’s what hurts.

I watched him go. It was in the hospital that gran works at. I was home, like any other day. It was summer after all. I was enjoying my solidarity as usual when I got a phone call. It was an unknown number. I didn’t think much of it. I don’t usually answer numbers I don’t know. So predictably, I let it ring. And it rang. And rang. Finally, when whoever it was called for the third time I decided to answer.

I wish I hadn’t.

The voice on the other end was frantic. I didn’t recognize it of course as the number would suggest. I could only understand a few words at a time as his voice—as I finally recognized it was a man whom was speaking—was choked full of tears and sorrow.

“Excuse me?” I finally got in when he took a second to breathe. “Who is this?”

The voice remained quiet for a beat. When he spoke my heart dropped, already knowing something terribly bad had happened. “Can you come to St. Vincent’s Hospital?”

“Who is this?”

He repeated himself, “Can you come to St. Vincent’s Hospital?”

“N-No. I can’t.” I could just barely drive and besides both my dad and gran were gone and so were both cars.

He took a deep breath. When he spoke again his voice was farther away like he was holding the phone away from his ear. “I can’t tell her this over the phone.”

By that time my heart was beating so hard inside of my chest that I thought I was going to pass out. “What happened?” When nothing answered I asked again, that time louder.

“Your grandma is going to come get you alright?”

“No…no ‘alright.’ What happened? You’re going to tell me what happened.” My voice was tremulous as I spoke, but I continued on. I had to know what was going on.

“Your dad…he um…he’s been in an accident.”

“What kind of an accident?” I was really getting tired of him avoiding my questions; he wouldn’t get to the point. Putting off the inevitable only made the end result worse.

“He’s at St. Vincent’s Hospital.” There he did it again. “Your grandma will be there soon to bring you here.”

“What happened to my dad?”

Again, silence.

“Can you please just tell me who this is?” This time, my voice lacked what little authority it previously held. I was tired, but most of all I was scared.

“I just spoke to her and your grandma is going to come get you. As soon as she can, I promise. Just…uh sit tight until she gets there.” And with that, he hung up the phone.

At the time, I just kept questioning who that was and what on earth told him that that would be a good idea? If something really had happened to my dad why would a stranger feel the need to tell me over the phone? But that was just it; I didn’t believe him, well not fully. I couldn’t. This all had to be one crappy joke.

Later I realized that wasn’t the case. Gran did come get me, just at the man had said. She didn’t talk though, which is very out of character for her. The whole ride was accompanied by silence. When the hospital rose up around us, I felt like I was going to throw up.

Finally, I whispered, “Gran…what happened?”

She took a deep, slow breath before looking at me. Her wrinkles were more pronounced than I ever remembered them being. The skin around her eyes was swollen. “He was driving home, but there…there was an accident.”

“What accident?” I pleaded. I was really getting tired of hearing that.

“A car accident. I assume he wasn’t paying much attention. I don’t—I don’t know why.” Her hands kept rubbing the steering wheel in front of her, the worn leather sliding beneath her fingertips. “A truck. Hit him. He…he’s in a coma.”

I couldn’t explain the grief and relief that flooded my body at the same time. I thought he was dead, so to find out he wasn’t was a relief.

“He’s not dead?”

She shook her head.

My head fell back against the seat and I let out a long breath. I know I shouldn’t have felt that way, but he wasn’t dead and that’s all I wanted to focus on.

Later, I would realize just how cruel false hope was.

Gran and I stayed with him in his hospital room for several hours. He didn’t even look that bad. There were a few scratches on his face and arms, but other than that he was relatively unscathed.

“When will he wake up?” I remember asking gran.

“Only time will tell Johanna. Comas aren’t the easiest thing to deal with. He might not ever...”

That made me pause. At that time I didn’t consider that he could still die. I thought it was fine, that he was just sleeping and he would wake up in a little while.

Of course like most of the time, I was wrong. He died 24 hours later, in that hospital bed. Right in front of me.

At that time gran wasn’t in the room, she’d gone out to get water or food or something. I didn’t much care exactly what it was when the steady beeping that monitored his heart rate began to screech. The beep elongated into a sound that would forever fill my consciousness.

Gran came back and I was forced from the room while doctors tried futilely to revive him. Gran was as useless as I was. And though she was a trained nurse, her grief clouded her professionalism and she was blubbering within minutes.

I was in the cold, harshly lit hallway where a nurse pushed me to get me out of the way. I slid down and so my butt hit the floor which was just as cold as the atmosphere around me. I sat in the same position I sat in when I was in my room, my knees were against my chest and my head was in my hands, but this time my hands were shaking. I remember wanting so badly for them to stop.

After that, I heard his brain injury was overlooked by the doctors. They knew it was there, but they didn’t know how bad it was. I remember hearing of internal bleeding and whatnot, but it didn’t matter to me; my dad was dead and that’s the only fact that I acknowledged.

Gran was no better than me. She was as frantic as I was unresponsive. We make a good team, she and I. I couldn’t blame her though, her only son had died and it broke her.

Just like it is breaking me.

Now, I’m trying to shake them away, but the thoughts of that day won’t budge. I hug my knees tighter to my chest, assuming my favorite position while trying to hide from that day.

I don’t know how or when, but eventually I sleep. It brings no refuge though. I see, in all its twisted gore, my dad’s face before it was zipped into the black body bag and carted away.

I hear screaming. At first, I suspect it to be gran as that’s what she was doing at the time. Belting a painful, bellowing scream. It looked like it hurt to make that sound.

But on closer examination, I realize that it’s me. My scream. And when I wake, my throat is raw.

I glance frantically around the room and start when I noticed gran’s stricken face right before me.

“What…” I try, but my breaths are still too frantic to control. My heart is throbbing painfully in my chest. “When did you—” I try again, but gran stops me and encourages me to take deep, slow breaths. “When did you get here?” I finally get out.

“Just now,” she responds. “I came in and heard you screaming. You nearly gave me a heart attack girl. Are you okay?”

I nod, somewhat unconvincingly so I try strengthening my claim with words, but I’m still a mess. My next words are pitiful. “I just want my dad.”

Her face crinkles with concern and I can tell she’s holding back tears. I’m not though. No tears threaten to fall. The turmoil I feel inside does not show on my face.

Gran tries to hold in her emotions, tries to stay strong for me, but her voice wavers when she whispers, “I miss him too.”

We are quiet for a moment as I imagine her thinking of something to say, sifting through her brain to find the right words.

“Johanna,” she begins. She’s the only one that calls me that. “I’m not going to tell you things are going to be alright because that would be a lie.” I’m not sure how this is supposed to make me feel better. “But,” she continues. “It will get easier.” It’s hard to see how things could, but I nod along like I agree anyway.

“Don’t do that,” I startle at her change in tone. Where she was once calm and teary-eyed, she now seems frustrated. “I know you better than you think I do. You’re lying. It’s as simple as that. I wish you would for once, tell me the truth. Please.”

And there is that guilt again.

I look into her eyes, muddy brown and searching.

When I speak, it is barely audible, “I wish I could’ve done something. If only…if only I was there in the car with him, and then maybe I could’ve—”

“What?” She asks and repeating it is so much worse.

“You couldn’t have done anything. If you were with him, you would’ve gotten hurt too. And I don’t know what I would have done with you being gone too. I need you little girl. No matter how much you may not see it, I do. I’m hurting too, but having you lessens it. Without you, I wouldn’t know where I’d be right now.”

Her words, which are meant to reassure me, do nothing but place and unwanted pressure on my shoulders. I can’t be good for her. I just can’t. But I wish I could.

My frustration, however misplaced, is mounting. I’m not asking for her to reassure me and tell me that there was nothing I could do because I know it isn’t true. Is it? At this point she just needs to listen. I tell her that and she settles into silence as I continue. “I wanted to be able to do something. To be able to help. I didn’t want to just stand idly by watching him die!” I’m desperate for her to understand.

“No! No I don’t understand Johanna!” She insists just as furiously. “You are a sixteen-year-old that you watched your father die in front of you!” She states it bluntly. I clench my blanket tighter in my fists. “And to think that you could have done more, that you would’ve been expected to is preposterous!” Tears are falling openly down her cheeks now, falling in the grooves of each of her wrinkles. “If you say that, then I must be terrible. I’m a nurse and I couldn’t do anything.”

I shake my head, avoiding her gaze.

“I’m trying,” she begins, this time her voice is much softer. “I’m trying so damn hard Johanna and I pray it will get easier. I really do.” With that, she stands and makes her way toward the stairs. “Come find me if you want to talk, but I can’t do this right now.” I can hear every step she takes up the creaky staircase. I wish I could get away from me too.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, though I know there is no one there to hear me.

Chapter 7

I revert back to the useless lump under my comforter that I’d been surrounding the first days since it happened. I have nothing better to do anyway. So why not?

Dewey comes by; just as he’d promised, but even still I don’t open the door. It’s just like after the funeral, but the mystery is gone and now I have no inclination to open the door.

Even moving to open it seems as impossible an idea to fathom as flying.

“She’s depressed.” I hear gran tell Dewey through the paper-thin walls. She must have stayed home, afraid I was going to off myself or something. What she doesn’t understand is: How could I do that when the most physical activity I’ve participated in—and desire to participate in, might I add—is turning over in bed.

There are murmurs from downstairs, but I no longer make any effort to try to make them out.

Eventually, I hear footsteps coming up the stairs and I am not surprised when the door opens, I am surprised, however, to see Dewey step in, no knocking this time. I’m not sure why he knocked in the first place actually; I didn’t lock my door today.

“Hey,” he says and I let out some sound resembling a grunt in response.

I watch him, his hair stands on end and his hands are buried deeply in the pockets of his worn black jeans.

He looks like he’s searching for a place to sit. His eyes flit across the expanse of my room before settling on the edge of my bed a second before he sits there.

“You know Jo,” He says after he settles. “There are a lot of things I don’t understand about you.” I frown, but otherwise don’t respond. “But what I do know,” he continues. “Is that it’s stupid to ask how you’re doing. I already know that. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to talk. I want to tell you about a story I’ve been writing. It’s about a boy and his mother.”

Dewey goes on to weave a tapestry with only his words. I’m amazed, really, that he possesses this much talent at such a young age. The boy in his story is eight years old. His mother is, for lack of a better word, mean.

“He would hide in the closet whenever she got home,” Dewey continues. “She…abuses him.” My heart constricts with his words. I don’t know how a mother could ever do that to her own child.

“One time, when she was really angry, angrier than she usually is, she…she um started tearing the house apart looking for him. When he got the chance though, he crawled out of the bathroom window. She didn’t even hear the window open or close. And he’s not particularly stealthy, but she was too enraptured in her own anger to notice.” At that, he laughs ruefully. A laugh that has always made me uncomfortable because the happiness that is supposed to be the underlying layer of it is not present. Instead, it is replaced by sadness. The laugh is humorless, lacking all the joy it should possess.

“He wandered to his neighbor’s house. He was in search of a place where his mom couldn’t find him. But he wasn’t the smartest kid on the block so instead of ringing the doorbell, or trying to go in the front door in general, he decides to climb through the neighbor’s window.”

“Really?” I ask. The surprise on his face at hearing my response is unmistakable. But the look is gone just as fast as it came.

He cocks a smile, “Like I said, he’s not the smartest.”

I snort before mumbling, “Clearly.”

“Anyway, when he got through the window he kind of fell to the floor…hurt his arm,” he rubs his arm subconsciously as he speaks.

“His neighbor heard the noises he was making and grabbed a shotgun,” He pantomimes holding a gun. “You know, one of those rifles people hunt with?” I nodded. “He thought someone was breaking in and he was trying to protect himself,” he shrugs. “So he runs into the room that the boy climbed into, gun in hand and yells ‘Who the hell is that? Who’s in my house?’” He imitates a deep voice, one that might belong to a big, burly man. “And he—please excuse my language—scares the shit out of the little boy.”

I’ve lost myself in his tale. He’s grabbed my attention and refuses to let go. He’s holding on, as if, for dear life itself.

“But when the neighbor realized who he was pointing his gun at—the currently tear soaked boy from next-door—he lowered it. He said ‘What are you doing here Dewey?’”

He waits for my reaction and I do indeed sit up in my bed, where I had previously been laying down. “What?”

He sucks in a deep breath before nodding.

“Then what happened?”

“I told him, ‘Mommy’s being mean again.’ That wasn’t the first time I’d run out of the house when my mother went off on one of her tears, but it was the first time I did something as stupid as that.”

He swallows thickly then his gaze, which had previously been fixated on me, turns to the floor. “She um…she had problems with drugs or s-something. She was rarely in a good mood. But sometimes…sometimes she would be and I remember being so happy when she was. I always felt like it was my fault whenever she got angry. Like I did something to make her mad at me. But there was really nothing I could do…I think the fact that she had to come home to me—that she was burdened with a child she never wanted—is what really pissed her off so much.”

He pauses to take a breath and wipe frustratingly at the tears that have started to trickle out of his red rimmed eyes.

“So she hit you because she didn’t want you?” I ask, already knowing the answer, but the silence is so deafening—only punctuated by his occasional sniffles—that I feel inclined to fill it. “That doesn’t sound very fair,” I say after a few moments because he doesn’t answer my question.

“No it doesn’t. But that didn’t matter much to her. The reason I was so scared that time is because the night before she punched me square in my face and gave me the worst black eye of my life because I went in her room without asking when she wasn’t home. I knocked over a little jewelry box and little bags full of white powder fell out,” He shakes his head before continuing. “Well one of the bags busted and I wasn’t so good at using the broom because it was taller than me. Long story short, she found out when she got home and ran straight for me. Maybe that’s why I was acting so stupid…brain damage or something,” he rubs absently at his head.

“You can’t possibly think that,” I tell him with all the sincerity I can muster.

“But I do. If I had of just stayed out of her way then maybe…maybe she’d have wanted me. I could have—”

I stopped him right there with an insistent squeeze of his wrist. “Are you serious? How could you think that?”

“Living eight years with a mother that hates you kind of makes your mind wander.”

I wish I could placate him in some way, tell him that his mother didn’t hate him, that no mother could ever hate her child. But I can’t. I didn’t know her. I can’t help him. I’m worthless.

What a pair we are. Sad and lonely. Well, maybe not lonely, I do have gran and he has—

“What about your dad? Where was he?”

“My dad ran off a long time ago.”

“What?” Now I’m really confused.

He notices. “No wait.” He takes a deep breath. I’m expecting some big explanation and that’s exactly what I get. He says, “You know the neighbor I told you about?” I nodded. “Well… he’s my father. My adopted father, that is.”

My eyes widen.

“Yeah, I know,” he replies. “It was a long process, but he did it because for one he always liked me—or so he claimed,” he chuckled at this. “And also because he knew I couldn’t live there anymore.”

“So he just adopted you? Just like that?” I asked unbelieving.

“Don’t underestimate the kindness of people.”

“It’s just hard to believe is all. It seems so simple.”

“It wasn’t. Trying to get my mother to relinquish her custody took months.”

“Why was she trying to keep you?”

“My guess is stubbornness was a key factor. But I really don’t know. Just it was… probably something selfish.”

“Oh.”

He smiles ruefully. “Yeah, but, the good news is I’m out of there. I haven’t seen her in eight years and I don’t plan to.”

I’ve run out of things to say so I just stare at him with hopefully an understanding—not pitying—look.

“My dad…my adoptive father…he’s a really good guy. I mean really good.” He says quietly, almost reverently.

“Well I can guess that much,” I reply tersely before checking my tone. “If he did all you said…how couldn’t he be good? I don’t know anyone who would do that for someone.” I continue, this time much softer.

“What about your dad?” He eyes me warily when he says this.

I shrugged. “What about him?”

“What was he like?”

My first instinct at his line of questioning is to bristle, maybe try to steer the conversation in a different direction, but I don’t. Instead I say, “He was the best person I’ve ever known.” My answer is still cryptic, but it’s better than not saying anything at all.

“I know the feeling.”

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  • Chandra Bell-McCall on June 11, 2017, 1:44 a.m.

    Thank you for expressing your emotions through written word. Your work is inspirational and will help all those that dedicate themselves to experiencing it. You are truly a vessel that God is using to bless others.

  • Crystal Peebles on June 12, 2017, 2:13 p.m.

    I am so proud of you!!!!

  • Sharon Baldwin on June 14, 2017, 2:28 a.m.

    Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, " plans to prosper you and not to harm you , plans to give you hope and a future.

  • Kerri Linley on June 15, 2017, 3:55 p.m.

    Great job Kayla McCall. So proud of you!

  • Kertis Johnson on June 15, 2017, 9:25 p.m.

    Congratulations on your book

  • Pamela Washington on July 7, 2017, 5:08 p.m.

    Xoxo

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