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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cut Scenes from TAKEN BY STORM!

Welcome to day three of the Tenth Anniversary Celebration! Today is the epic 50 Blogs in a Day Promo Blast sponsored by Reading Addiction Blog Tours. I'm incredibly excited. A big, warm, howdy, to any new friends who've found our party today. Don't be shy. Make yourself at home. Be sure to enter the big giveaway!  Download the new Kindle Taken by Storm ebook for only $0.99. And through Friday, July 20th at midnight get Unbroken Connection and Cayman Summer free. They will be on sale for $0.99 after the promo.

I'd like to thank all the bloggers who've celebrated with me this week on their blogs and helped promote the contest and Kindle deals. You are marvelous. Today I want to send you to Blkosiner's Book Blog! Brandi has been such an incredible support. She's promo'd the celebration and posted a letter I wrote to my teen self. You must, must, must go find out how that letter connects with Taken by Storm. (And get a peak at what I'll be working on this fall.)

Thanks to those of you who stopped by and chatted with Michael yesterday. He's a guy, so he said he hated it, but I think he's lying. He promised to answer questions all week so keep them coming. Leesie will be here tomorrow. Today, I'm posting my favorite cut scenes from Taken by Storm.

When I sold Taken by Storm to Penguin, it was 87,000 words. They wanted 60,000. My editor's letter was a roadmap of cuts. Some of the scenes found a new life in Unbroken Connection. But some ended up shelved on my hard drive. Here are a few of my favorites.

Cut Scene #1: "The Porch Swing"
At my grandmother’s house in Tekoa (that I loaned to Michael’s gram for the duration of the Michael/Leesie saga), there was an old porch swing on the breezeway between the back door and the garage. My sister and her boyfriend were always hanging out on it. I loved to sit there, too. The soft sway and cushy seats brought immediate peace and comfort. After creating such a nightmare for Michael, I was desperate to comfort him. He needed to grieve, so I let him in the following scene. I love this scene, but it had to go because it came way too early in the novel. Those tears had to wait. His inability to shed them added to the tension in his relationship with Leesie and within himself. When he finally does sob in Leesie’s arms, it has way more power.

This scene took place the day after Michael goes free diving in the town’s swimming pool, and Leesie gets soaked saving him. It would fit in between Chapter 13 and 14.

Michael’s Dive Log – Volume #8
Dive Buddy:  Leesie Date:  10/7 Dive #:  4 with her
Location:  Teacup
Dive Site:  Gram’s porch swing
Weather Condition: sunny Water Condition: heavy
Depth: drowning Visibility: too clear Water Temp.: cold
Bottom Time: 41 minutes
Comments:

    By morning, i can’t keep my eyes open. i stumble to Dad’s old room, fall into his bed, wrap in the pants quilt. i sleep with sunlight warm on my eyelids and dream Mom and Dad  diving Bloody Bay wall.
    They fin along the wall with sun beaming down in shafts through a hundred feet of clear water. They find a crevice in the coral and swim through a shady tunnel pierced with Caribbean  sunshine that filters down from the top of the reef. Dad has his yellow dive light out, flashing it in all the dark corners. He finds a crab and a sleepy eel. They break through onto the top of the wall, in about thirty feet of water, where the reef, red, orange, yellow, green, flapping and wavering, shimmers vivid. Bright. Nothing masked in deep water bluing. Angels and parrots. Tiny blue chromis. Mom’s favorites. A massive lobster, brilliant orange and red, camouflaged in the lush coral garden. Remembered joy of being there with them trickles into my bruised soul. i wake up, my face wet.
    i’m not there.
    In the dream.
    i’m not with them anymore.
    Late afternoon, the doorbell rings. i hear it from my room.
    “Why, Leesie, it’s lovely to see you again.”
    She’s standing right outside the door. i roll out of bed, dizzy, slide pants on, grab my fleece, stumble into the kitchen.
    “I made this for you. And, Michael.” She pushes something at Gram. Leaving. No—
    “Leesie?” i step around Gram.
    “Hey.” Her eyes take in my greasy, matted hair, the stubble on my cheeks. i probably have dried spit on my chin.
     “I brought you an apple pie.” She gives me her grin that makes her gorgeous. “Made it myself.” Her eyes look watery.
    “You make pies?” Her hand holding the edge of the pie plate wears four scabs that fit my fingernails.
    “My church is like homemaker boot camp.” The smile fades.
    i swallow the thickness that starts in my throat. “Can you stay?”
    “Gee, I’m supposed to—”
    “Never mind.” i don’t blame her. i’m psycho—reek like an entire locker room of guys.
    “Just let me make a call.”
    i stand there dull-witted, waiting for her to pull a cell out of her backpack, takes me a minute to realize she doesn’t have one. i open the door wider, point to the phone on the table in the living room. She dials, cradles the phone between her head and shoulder, picks up the photo of me and my parents. “Can you have Phil pick me up on the way? I’m at Mrs. Walden’s. Thanks. Bye.” She puts the picture down.
    Gram pounces. “What can I get you, dear?”
    “I’m fine, thank you.” Her eyes dart from me to Gram, back to me. “It’s sunny out.  Want to sit on the porch?”
    More thawing? i hold the door open, catch a whiff of Leesie’s leather jacket and tropical fruit scented hair as she drifts by me and perches on Gram’s porch swing. i ease down beside her like a broken old man. Leesie doesn’t say anything, just takes my hand, holds it in both of hers again. Her short fingers, pale and chapped, contrast with my long, tan ones.
    i touch the thin scabs on the back of her right hand. “Does it hurt?”
    “Kind of sore.”
    “Might leave scars.”
    “I don’t mind.”
    “Hands are like that.” i show her the scar on my thumb. “i broke a glass and cut myself when i was four. Really deep. Needed stitches. i kept sucking on it. Got all infected. i remember my mom soaking it in salt water. Ancient Mayan remedy.”
    “Maybe I should try that.”
    “Might help.” Makes me sad to think my brand won’t last. That she’ll get over it. Heal. i wish i could soak in salt water. Maybe i could dump a box in Gram’s pink bathtub, get the taste of salt on my skin again.
    i put my head back on the swing’s seventies green floral cushions and close my eyes. “Did you ever see your grandmother again?”
    “Just that once. It was enough.”
    “Could you make her come back?”
    “No.” Leesie shakes her head. “Stuff like that—the Lord sends it when you need it and then you have to remember.”
    i keep the swing going, pushing off with my feet every once in awhile. The scent of her cradles me. i open my eyes, look down at her. “Did you do some voodoo on me?”
    “No. Just plain old, every day prayers.”
    Did i want her praying at me? Did she make me dream my parents like that?
    “Have you seen a doctor?”
    “Gram tried to arrange something.” i put my foot down, stop the swing. “They gave me drugs in Belize. Wish i had more.”
    “Drugs?” Leesie sits up straighter. “Maybe you could just try getting out of bed each morning, going to school.”
    “What’s the point? Will going to school bring them back? i need the water, need to go under again.”
    “The pool’s covered now.”
    “Let’s go back to your lake. i’ll bring the seven mil.”
    “The storm washed out the road.”
    “Do you think there’s a scuba shop in Spokane? They’ll know about indoor pools. Deep ones.”
    “Stop it.” Leesie gives my hand a shake. “You’re scaring me.”
    “i should be dead. Everybody else is.”
    “Don’t.” She rests her head on my shoulder.
    “i’m trained to go without breathing so i survived. My body was used to it. My mom drowned. My dad didn’t have a chance, but my mom—” My voice cracks.
Leesie squeezes my hand, and i put my arms around her, hold her tight like she’s a living, breathing mangrove buddy.
    “Why didn’t i go to Mom? Grab her? Bring her with me.”
    Leesie’s thin body presses against mine. Is that her heart? Can’t be me. i don’t think i have one left.
    “Hey, hey. Hush.” Her voice is soft, kind of mewing. “No one blames you. It was a hurricane. She knows you didn’t mean it.”
    Knows? Right. Maybe she knew. Maybe when she was fighting for her life in the water Mom thought of me, knew i loved her, even though i’m an ungrateful idiot who saved himself while she drowned. What did she think when she couldn’t get free? When the oxygen ran out and her lungs filled with salt water? She would have blacked out before that. i did when i was ten—she saved me. It wasn’t even scary. Not for me. Still, all i can see is Mom terrified, under the water, breathing it in, sinking, dying.
    Leesie’s wrong. Mom doesn’t know anything anymore.
    i can’t stop the erratic shudders that capture my breathing, the salty drops that seep from my eyes. i fight for control. i don’t want to dissolve into the crazed, tortured sobs that poured out of me when i woke up in the hurricane shelter with Isadore howling again outside. i take a long breath. “i begged them to search the swamp for her.”
    “Hush, now, hush.” Leesie mews into my neck. “It’s not your fault.”
    “It took three days for the helicopter to spot her pink sundress.” Inhale Leesie’s hair, exhale her leather jacket, hold her tighter.
    “Just let it go.” Leesie arms tighten around me and her hands smooth over my back.
    i surrender my cheek on her head and cry.
    She stops with the “shushing,” holds me, and rocks the swing.
   i finally let go of her, move away. i wipe my face with my hands. Hot snot and tears all over me. Pretty gross. “Sorry for that.”
    “It’s okay.” She seems relieved to back off, doesn’t take my hand again.  
    We rock apart, silent, except for the creak of the porch swing. We both jump when the horn honks.
    “Shoot. I gotta go.”
    Not yet. “Online later?” i beg her like a puppy after a bone.
    “Sure.”  Her jerk brother honks again, and she runs to the car.

    Do you think i can get Leesie to move in with me and Gram? She can sleep on the couch or i’ll give her my room. Then i could sit by her all the time and feel her arm pressed against mine, her leg touching mine, her hands holding mine. i could wrap her up in a ball against my chest like a borrowed heart. Inhale her all the time. If Isadore tries to take me, Leesie can bring me back.

Cut Scene #2 - Light of Day
My editor at Razorbill, loved the impossible romance between Michael and Leesie, but she wasn’t all that into scuba diving, so I had to cut a lot of those scenes. You can push back to a certain extent and fight for what you think is important. I revised and saved a few crucial ones.

There are a few things, though, that almost every editor or agent out there dislike.

Moralizing. You can't tidy up all the loose ends and pin a didactic lesson onto your story. The major ends must be knotted. Don’t confuse the reader. But leave how the character grew or what the character learned to your reader to decide. Devise scenes that test your character and shows how they’ve changed. Readers--and editors--love that.

Prologues. This is kind of a myth. Kind of a truth. Some editors loathe prologues. Some love them. I don’t write prologues. But take a look at both of my novels first chapters. What do you see? They both start with a prologue. My editor likes prologues. The truth is, sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. I think it’s best to leave them out and start in media res with a first chapter scene that gets things moving with a bang. That’s just my preference. Not right or wrong.

Pancakes Scenes. Almost every writer sticks a scene where the characters eat pancakes into his/her novel. It’s kind of a universal reflex--like the campfire scene in Western movies. They are so ubiquitous that they’ve become an industry shibboleth. Books with pancake scenes will not be invited to the party. So, beware, if writers have a cozy breakfast scene where the characters delve deeply into life and love and the meaning of the universe over pancakes, waffles, French toast, or even eggs and bacon, they need to cut it quickly. Even if they love it to death. Save the meat of the scene and put that heart and poignant dialogue into a different time and setting. (Like a campfire! They are still fine.)

I knew this. But still. My scene wasn’t actually a breakfast scene. It was lunch. And they ate Gram’s signature French Toast. (Let me know if you want the recipe!) And it was so achingly tender. My editor’s reaction, “Cut the pancakes with grandma.”  Ah, my poor beautiful scene. I hated to see it go.

So here it is, in all it’s glory. It would have gone somewhere around Chapter 17--first time they see each other after their first kiss turned into a first make-out. The dialogue in this scene became a chat. I like it so much better with French Toast!

Michael’s Dive Log – Volume #8
Dive Buddy:  Leesie Date:  10/8 Dive #: six with her
Location:  Teacup
Dive Site:  Gram’s
Weather Condition: partly cloudy Water Condition: dry
Depth:  shifting Visibility: murky Water Temp.: warm  
Bottom Time: didn’t look at my watch
Comments:

    i felt so strong with Leesie trembling in my arms. Stan would be proud. At school she comes off as ultra-confident Miss Perfect, the Ice Queen. She’s anything but. i told her i’d look out for her. From now on, no guy will touch her. i promised. She’s got all that screwy religious crap to deal with. i don’t even care. i can hardly believe i made out with her. A few days ago, i couldn’t even take her hand.
    When i got home last night, i slept forever. Sleeping Beauty in reverse. My mind filled with empty water. No rays flying by, no morays snapping slow motion. Not even a grunt or two darting through coral ledges. Just deep, blue water.
    Bodies floated up from the abyss—my dad bloated and strange, my mom wrapped in her sundress shroud, Dive Dog and the other club guys, even the waitress. i was in there on scuba, took a drag on the reg. No air. i searched for a buddy, and Leesie swam towards me wearing her funky leather jacket and faded jeans, holding out her hand. i reached for her and woke up.
    Almost lunch time. Too late for school. i try to go back to sleep, find where Leesie and i go in that dream. No chance. i lay in bed thinking about her. It felt so good to make out with her, hold her, care about something, someone, but maybe it’s weird to be doing that. Where does losing yourself with a girl come in the grief cycle? It’s a hell of a lot better than Mr. Frozen, but still. Maybe she’s right.
    Friends.
    She could shave her head and gain twenty pounds. Then that might work. i ache for her, physical. Normal. Is that fair? Should i be allowed the soothing, safe feeling i get with her? The—what’s her word for it—frustration. Why do i get to be safe, turned on, maybe even happy? My parents are dead.
i finally give it up, get out of bed, stand in the shower, get dressed. Gram is at it again with the French toast.
    i wander into the kitchen. It smells great. Maybe i’ll try a slice. Leesie’s pie sits on the counter. Her fingers created all those perfect pinch marks around the edge. Her hands sprinkled sugar on the top.     Maybe she breathed magic Leesie dust on it.
    The telephone rings.
    Let it be her.
    Gram picks it up. “He won’t be in class again today. That’s right.”
    School secretary.
    “I don’t care what you think. He’s grieving, young lady.”
    She hangs up, but the principal calls right back. Gram goes into the other room, talks for a few minutes, and then comes back to the kitchen, throws a piece of bread into the egg mixture. “He says you should try to go on with your normal life.”
    i let out a snort.
    “They’re getting a counselor to come down from Spokane to talk to you.”
    Great. Some pushy, prying loser i’ll have to spill my guts to.
    A soft knock comes from the kitchen door. i beat Gram to it. “Hey, it’s the Leesie fairy.” i’m actually smiling. Should i be smiling?
    Leesie freezes, blushes, drops her eyes. “I brought your homework.”
    Gram’s silver head peaks around my shoulder. “Come in, dear. We’re having breakfast for lunch. French toast. Or maybe you’d like a nice tuna sandwich.”
    Leesie smiles at the tuna, agrees to join me for French toast. We sit at Gram’s tiny melamine table for two. i stare at Leesie’s dolphin necklace.
    Gram bustles around the kitchen with her apron on. She comes to the table and sets a plate of toast in front of each of us.
    i douse my plate with maple syrup.
    “Tea for you, dear?” Gram asks Leesie.
    “No thank you. I can’t drink tea.” i can tell Leesie feels bad checking Gram’s bustle. Leesie smiles politely. “Would you have any mint for an infusion?”
    “Mint tea?” The bustle’s back. “I’ve got cubes down in the freezer. I’ll just be a minute.” Gram bustles right out of the room.
    “What are you two talking about?” i put a forkful of French toast in my mouth.
    “Best way to save fresh mint.” She stares at her plate. Deep flush. “Thought maybe you’d be at school this morning.”
    i swallow and cut another piece.
    “i got to go this afternoon. Come with?”
    “Maybe next week.” i tell her about the snotty secretary and the principal with his counselor. “Guess i should be dressed in black or something. ‘Get on with my normal life.’ That’s rich.”
    “He’s not the brightest principal on the block. i know that counselor. She visits the small schools around here. She gives the IQ tests, too.”
    A drop of buttery syrup oozes down my chin. Leesie reaches across the tiny table, wipes it off with her napkin. i catch her hand.
    She laces her fingers through mine.
    i lean across the table and kiss her. She tries to kiss me back, but i dodge it. “And you’re supposed to be the prissy one.” i untangle my hand from hers and tip back in the chair, balancing on two legs, fold my arms across my chest.
    “What’d I do now? Is my breath gross?”
     “i’ve been thinking about last night.”
    “Me, too.” She sighs. “I can’t stop thinking about last night.”
    i let my chair drop back onto four legs and lean my elbows on the table. “Do you think it’s sick that my parents are dead, i can’t eat, i’m so wasted that i lie in bed staring at a crack in the wall too tired to sleep, too tired to get up, and all i want to do is make out with you?”
    The smile fades from Leesie’s face. “You make it sound nasty.”
    My face drops into my hands. i look back up at her. “You are the only thing i’ve really wanted since Isadore. Is there something wrong with that? Do you think it’s”--i search for the right word-- “disrespectful?”
    She pushes away her plate. “I get the hint. Light of day. Second thoughts. You pressed me, you know.”
    “That’s not—”
    Gram walks in holding up a bag of green ice cubes. “They were clear at the bottom, but I found them.”
    “I’m sorry, Mrs. Walden.” Leesie stands up. “I have to go.”

Cut Scene #3 - "Replacement Gear"
When I was at VCFA getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and Tim Wynne-Jones used to tell another writer in workshop, “What we have here is an embarrassment of riches,” I was always so jealous. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful problem to suffer from? I thought Tim meant this piece is so wonderful the rest of you should be embarrassed because you have no riches whatsoever, but Tim was trying to teach us an important lesson.

When I was cutting Taken by Storm with Lexa, his point finally hit home. You CAN have too much of a good thing. These are the hardest "darlings" to kill.

I gave Michael two invested objects to remind him of his mother--the gardenia perfume that those of you who have read Taken by Storm will remember from the ending and a lone white sandal with gold seashell charms sewn across the toe. Michael’s mother can only find one when they are in Belize. Michael found the other when he returned to their FL Keys condo with Leesie. Both were great details. But one could do the job. Having two objects made them both less powerful. I had to choose. I loved the sandals--especially when Michael carried around the one he found all day and slept with it on his nightstand, but scents were so integral to Michael’s feelings for Leesie, that I chose the perfume.

I also had Michael receive two separate mysterious shipments after his parents were killed. A shipment of replacement scuba gear from his parents dive insurance policy and the two white boxes that Michael finds in Gram’s basement that bring him and Leesie back together. Those mysterious white boxes had to stay, so this scene that shows Michael grieving got axed. (Yikes, I also have a second shower scene--this poor scene had competition coming and going.) When one of my reviewers wrote that Michael’s mourning wasn’t authentic, I mourned for this scene! “Replacement Gear” fits in after Chapter 23. For the Razorbill revision, I rewrote 24 and 25 pretty much from the ground up. This was part of the old chapters.

Michael’s Dive Log – Volume #8
Dive Buddy: Gram and Leesie Date: 11/11 Dive #: 1 in the shower
Location:  Teacup
Dive Site:  Gram’s
Weather Condition: Snowing Water Condition: showers
Depth:  1” Visibility:  inward Water Temp.:  started out hot
Bottom Time: all evening
Comments:

    Leesie has church again. She asks me if i want to go. Again. “We’re working at the food bank tonight.”
    “Good for you, babe.”
    “Well, it is. And a nice service project would be good for you, too.”
    “Project?”
    “We try to do service projects like this regularly. Wouldn’t you like to come help us next time we mow an old lady’s lawn?”
    “i’ve got my own old lady to look out for.”
    “Good idea. Let’s clean up her garden in the spring. Shoot, we could get started Saturday if the snow doesn’t stick. You want me to bring reinforcements?”
    “No.” i don’t want her churchy friends crawling all over the place, giving me dirty looks. “i’m not a gardener.” A great Mexican family used to keep our Phoenix desertscape yard trimmed and tidy. i wonder if they still do. They were like part of the family. At Christmas they always brought us great food. i’d like to see them again.
     “i’m good with pools,” i call after Leesie as she heads out the door. “Next time you have a pool cleaning project count me in.”
    Not long after she takes off to find Phil, Gram’s front door bell rings. No one ever uses that entrance. Gram opens it to a delivery guy dipped in brown. She directs him to bring his dolly loaded with boxes to the kitchen door. Gram signs. i ferry them into the living room, notice the return address is Stan.
    Gram counts them up. “Seven. What do you suppose it is?” She goes into the kitchen to get something to cut through the packing tape.  
    i don’t want to open anything. Maybe Stan had our cleaning girl pack up my room. i picture her emptying my closet, bookcases, trying to sort through the garbage under the bed.  My desk. i don’t want anybody in there. Even worse, it could be Mom and Dad’s stuff. Dad’s sweat-stained baseball caps. Mom’s clothes with her gardenia perfume still on them. i’d need more than my stupid itinerant counselor for that. Please pass a big bottle of tiny blue pills.
    It could be CDs and books. Family pictures. Mom’s dive log. Her logs are more like scrapbooks. She wrote up every detail about each dive, listed the coral formations, fish species. She made Dad print photos for her and taped them to the page—worked on the thing for hours. i tried to get her to go completely digital with it, but she liked writing it out by hand. Seeing her handwriting again, touching the letters—that would be cool. i really want her dive logs to be in those boxes.
     i wander around the room trying to figure it out. Sit on the couch. Stare. When i go into the kitchen to get a knife, Gram is on the phone.
    “Don’t use that.” She takes a big butcher’s knife away from me, rummages through her junk drawer, hands me a box cutter. She hangs up the phone. “Why don’t you wait.  Leesie’s on the way.”
    So she can watch me dissolve into a sniveling wimp when i can’t handle what’s in the boxes? “Thanks.”
    i choose the biggest one first, slit the tape, pry open the flaps. Packing peanuts spill all over Gram’s rug when I lift out a huge Mylar vest with Velcro straps, hoses, and belts hanging off it. It’s exactly like my dad’s B.C. XXL. Weight-integrated. Black. All it needs is the jumble of clips and gadgets Dad collected so he could rig his gear just so. The next one is Mom’s. Pink pockets. Shaped for a woman. Tiny. Easy to pack. The last B.C. is a new version of the basic vest i dive with. Nothing fancy. i barely use a B.C. when i dive. Lean body. Breath control. Keep the thing simple. Like my weight belt.
    i open the remaining boxes one after the other. More and more gear. Giant Sporasub free dive fins for me. Dad’s heavy split fins. His prescription mask. Mom’s pink gloves. Her wet suit with the hot pink V down the front. Booties. Dive computers. An ocean of white packing foam.
    “What’s all this?” Leesie stands in the doorway from the kitchen, surveying my mess.
    “Thought you had church.”
    “I’m skipping. My mom’s ticked.” She walks into the middle of the room “What’s happening?”
    “i’m not sure. i need to call Stan.”
    “You bought new scuba stuff?”
    “No. Why would i do that here?”
    Gram comes in from the kitchen. “Stan’s working on all the insurance claims.”
So she did talk to him behind my back. If Leesie weren’t there, i would have had it out with Gram. What else does she know? What else is Stan doing? Is the news about Dad gruesome? Stupid Stan. If he thinks it’s too gruesome for me, it’s way too gruesome for Gram. No wonder she still breaks down a dozen times a day.
    “What does gear have to do with insurance? i’m still calling him.” i search my wallet for Stan’s card. Leesie brings me the phone, holds my hand when i finished dialing.
     i rub my thumb across the four scars on the back of Leesie’s hand, fit my fingernails into them. The phone rings three times and then goes to voice mail. i hang up. What was i thinking? It’s too late for the office on the East coast. i toss Stan’s card on the coffee table.
    Leesie squeezes my hand. Gram slips back into the kitchen.
    i press my face into Leesie’s hair, pack her tropical fruit spiked essence into my gut and chest, throat and head. i let go of her, move away, pick up Dad’s giant scuba vest, and cradle it in my arms. “This was my dad’s B.C.” i swallow hard, fight to keep my voice steady. “That was my mom’s.” i point. “It’s not really their gear, but it’s all the exact same stuff.”
    i stare at the expensive mountain that overwhelms Gram’s small living room. “Brand new force fins.” i put down Dad’s B.C and pick them up. “Yellow. Only thing my mom had that wasn’t pink. She loved those.” i sniff, swipe at my nose with the back of my hand, meet Leesie’s puzzled eyes. “What am i going to do with three sets of scuba gear in a wheat field?”
    “Let’s just pack it back up.” She picks up Mom’s B.C. and drops it in a box. “Gram probably has room in the basement.”
    “No. Don’t touch it.”
    Leesie steps back.
    i take Mom’s B.C. out of the box, place the vest gently on a chair, stroke the pockets. “i want to see it for awhile.” i kneel on the floor in front of it and arrange the hoses.
    Leesie sits on the couch and watches me for a few minutes. She squats down beside me, kisses my cheek and leaves.
    i hear quiet murmurs in the kitchen, the pickup starting up, and the sound of its motor disappearing in the night. i notice Stan’s card lying face down on the coffee table. He wrote his home and cell numbers on the back. i dial the home number first. No answer. Try the cell. It rings five times before i hear Stan’s familiar Brooklyn-ite turned Floridian accent. “Hello. You found me.”
    “Hey, Stan. It’s Michael.” i sink down into the chair by the phone table.
    “Michael?”
    “Walden.” Great. This guy’s managing my life.
    “Oh, Mikey. i’m sorry. It’s late this side of the country.”
    Good cover, Stan. i clear my throat. “We got the boxes. What’s going on?”
    “Your parents?”
    “And my gear, too.” i stare out at the equipment strewn around the room. “What gives?”
    “Remember last year when the airline lost your dad’s gear bag?”
    “The trip to St. Lucia?” Dad was furious. He had to rent gear. The only XXL B.C. the resort owned hissed air.
    “Exactly. Apparently, Mike added automatic gear replacement to your dive insurance policies. Probably doubled his payments. When i put in a claim for repatriation expenses—”
    Repatriation? i wish Stan would just say what he meant. “You mean transporting their bodies?”
    “Right. You’re a smart boy, Mikey. i found out about the replacement clause and claimed that, too. A cash settlement would have been better. Perhaps you can sell some of it. You need new gear, so i shipped it all. Take what you want and the rest—”
    “i live in a wheat field, Stan.”
    “Aren’t you close to Vancouver? Great wreck diving up there. Dry suit stuff. You should get in to that. Take a friend. You’re not strapped for cash, buddy.”
    Leesie? Could she do it? Dive? Would she?
    Stan didn’t stop talking, “And you’ll be back to the condo.”
    “Don’t sell it.” If Stan sells the condo, i’ll kill him.
    “The condo? We’re not selling anything until the will’s been probated. That’ll take at least a year—nine months if we’re lucky.”
    So the house in Phoenix will just sit there? i stand up, drift to the center of the room. i put a hand on Dad’s B.C, pick up Mom’s yellow flipper.
    “Mikey, are you still there?”
    i close my eyes. “Stan, what about my parents?”
    “Did that shipment get there?”
    Stan doesn’t get it. “There were seven boxes. Their gear came, too. i told you that.” But where are my parents?
    Stan interrupts before i can nerve myself to ask again. “I need to talk to your grandmother.”
    i walk into the kitchen and give Gram the phone. “Yes.” Her lips begin to tremble. “That shipment arrived.” Her face slides out of her control. Why would dive gear tear her up like that? It’s just a mound of strange equipment to her. Why is Stan doing this?
    i take the phone. “It’s all here, okay.” And hang up.
   Gram disappears into her room to cry. i’m alone with all that gear and still have no clue about what Stan did with my parents. At least he “repatriated” Dad. No more fish food. So, now, where are they?
    i start sifting through the boxes, searching. i attach Mom’s snorkel to the mask, hook her regs to the B.C. i blow gently into the inflator hose, fill the vest so it stands by itself. i assemble all her gear—the wet suit, gloves, booties, goofy yellow duck fins. Is Leesie’s poem right in front of me? She comes to me?  i activate Mom’s dive computer thinking all our dives from Belize will be in the electronic log. But it’s brand spanking new empty.
    i organize Dad’s gear, too. His big blue and black wetsuit, long split fins. The B.C. and his mask. I put his B.C. on and stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. XXL. Way big.
    i put on my replacement wetsuit, gloves, booties, B.C., mask and snorkel and stand in the shower. Soak it good. My dive computer’s a state-of-the-art air-integrated model, water activated. So i take it into the shower, too. Let the water run over me while i scroll through the empty logbook.
    Standing wet in that shower dressed out in scuba gear, i want my mom to come to me. i want my dad to pick us up in a tangle and toss us on the bed. i want six-year-old me to laugh. “Again. Again.”
    i want our life.
    Back.
    i stand there, waiting.
    Until the water runs cold.

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