Fledgling, p.1
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       Fledgling, p.1
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           Natasha Brown
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  Natasha Brown

  Copyright by Natasha Brown 2012


  To my family, who supported my dreams; my mother, who helped tutor me in prose, my daughter, who displayed the strength and inspiration for my story, my son, who is one of my biggest fans, and my husband, who’s my #1 fan.

  Read a Lost Chapter of Fledgling after finishing the book! Check the last page of the book for your special code to access the extras!

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Lost chapter code

  About the author

  Chapter 1

  Sterile white walls surrounded Ana once again. They provided a form of anesthesia, a cocoon that left her comfortably numb. She sat on the examination table, her hands folded on her lap. Even though she was eighteen and technically an adult, she might as well be six years old again and totally powerless.

  “Good thing we don’t pay Dr. Wilson by the hour.” Her mother sighed.

  Ana glanced over. Melissa was busily fidgeting with her watch. Permanent worry lines creased her otherwise attractive features, making her appear far older than she was.

  “Mom, you should know by now that it always takes longer than you expect. Nothing moves quickly here.” Ana gripped the edge of the padded table and shrugged. A long strand of dark hair slipped over her shoulder.

  A sharp knock announced Dr. Wilson, a tall man with glasses. “Hello ladies, I’m sorry I’m running late today.”

  Ana’s mother jumped up, almost knocking her purse onto the floor and shook the doctor’s hand.

  “Hello, Melissa,” Dr. Wilson said. “Nice seeing you again.”

  “Hi, David. It was only the other week we were here. Only difference is, I don’t have a job now.” The strain on Melissa’s face was evident. “Layoffs.”

  Dr. Wilson frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. Any hope for a new job?”

  Melissa shrugged. “Well, my sister talked to my old boss and she thinks I can get my job back at Clark Bend Bank.”

  Ana shot her a glare, which she conveniently avoided.

  “Eva won’t be happy about leaving her friends, but she’s resilient,” Melissa said. “But I’m not so sure about dragging Ana to Idaho. What do you think, Dr. Wilson…is it too risky?”

  Dr. Wilson adjusted his glasses. “It couldn’t hurt moving to a lower altitude. More available oxygen could make Ana a bit more comfortable.”

  Ana wondered if they would notice if she stood up and left the room, but instead, she tapped her toes together in a nervous rhythm.

  As if reading her mind, Dr. Wilson turned to face her. “Ana, I didn’t mean to ignore you. How are you feeling?”

  His familiar frown was probably one of the first things she saw when she was born. Why did everyone always have to feel sorry for her? She was sick and tired of it. She wasn’t pitiful like a stray dog. Or was she? Ana stared into his eyes and saw the answer.

  “I’m fine.”

  “Baby, weren’t you complaining about shortness of breath?” Melissa glanced at her. “You were having problems the other day with carrying the laundry upstairs.”

  “How is that different from three weeks ago?” Ana said under her breath.

  Dr. Wilson nodded sympathetically and crossed his arms. “I’m going to be honest. Things don’t look good. I know you don’t want to hear the word transplant, but I’m afraid that is where we’re going. Your heart is hardening much more rapidly now, and I’m worried you’re approaching congenital heart failure. At this rate, you might only have a few months.”

  Silence fell. With each breath Ana took, she counted away the seconds she would never get back. Each breath closer to surgery, or worse.

  Dr. Wilson breached the quiet room with his softened voice. “Although moving may be a bit of an adjustment, it could give you a little more time in the waiting game. When you’re placed on the transplant list, it could be a day or a year. Idaho doesn’t have any transplant centers, but Washington does, and I know the division chief at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Where was it in Idaho you were thinking of moving?”

  Melissa cleared her throat and answered, “Clark Bend in northern Idaho. It’s not too far from Seattle.”

  “Well, it’s up to you ladies, but I would support the move. As long as Ana takes it easy. No carrying heavy boxes or arm chairs. And as long as you make an appointment the cardiology department immediately after the move.” He grinned and squeezed Ana’s shoulder.

  His wire rimmed glasses gleamed from the florescent lighting, and Ana’s reflection stared back at her blankly. She was having a worst case scenario kind of day. Then she considered it was more like a worst case scenario kind of life.

  Her mother caught her eye. Worry was written all over her face. Ana knew her mom only wanted the best for her, and it had just gone from hard to worse after the layoffs. A job with insurance was necessary. With no family nearby, going through a transplant would be a challenge to say the least. Melissa needed her sister’s support.

  She never had the leisure to make decisions based on what she wanted. Always handcuffed without a choice. A choice would imply there was more than one option, and there never was. Not in her case.

  While her doctor told her mother about the state-of-the-art facility in Washington, Ana dropped to the floor and walked to the window. Her long, pale fingers tightened into fists, and she closed her eyes tight. She was tired of the constraints of her body and the never-ending fear that plagued her. She hated her heart. It always ruined everything. Peering from the third story window down to the cars driving past on the streets below, she wished she could trade places with any anonymous, normal person. Boring would be great. If her biggest problems were cars and boys, she’d be overjoyed.

  Normal. Was that too much to ask?

  Chapter 2

  Ana shifted her weight on the backseat of her mother’s Honda and the worn leather groaned in protest. She yawned, which drew her mother’s attention.

  “How’re you holding up back there?” Melissa looked back through the rearview mirror.

  Ana arched her back to stretch. “Fine. Just tired of sitting,”

  Long strands of chestnut hair fell loose from her ponytail, whipped by the breeze from the open window. Each hair so free. A ribbon of jealousy wove its way around her chest and squeezed the air from her lungs.

  “We’re almost there, shouldn’t be much longer,” her mother said.

  Ana rested her head against the window and watched the passing scenery in silence. Evergreen forests shrouded the mountains with dense growth and fields of butter yellow grasses waved in the breeze. The postcard landscape would have soothed her nerves at home in Colorado, but with each passing mile she felt more isolated and alone.

>   On the passenger seat was a haphazard pile of food wrappers, magazines, and a lumpy pillow that had seen better days. Ana’s reprieve from navigating for her mother up front provided only a fleeting break from those watchful maternal eyes. As she glanced up at the rear-view mirror, she noted the familiar creased frown her mother wore when she didn’t think Ana was watching. Always under surveillance.

  “Clark Bend’s only a little further ahead. We’ll be able to stretch our legs as soon as we get to the house.” Her mother’s frown changed into a strained smile.

  The flash of sun glinting off a metal sign caught Ana’s attention. “Welcome to Idaho…thanks,” she mumbled.

  “What’s that, baby?” her mother asked from the front seat.

  “Nothing,” Ana said.

  She didn’t think Idaho looked any different than Montana, from where they had just traveled through. The same dark river had curled alongside the highway for what seemed like hours. As it grew wider she knew they were drawing closer to town. Its source, the Lake Pend Oreille, was just beyond Clark Bend, a place Ana remembered from her childhood.

  Melissa switched off the radio. “Hey, girls? You want me to drive by your schools real quick?”

  Ana glanced over at her twelve-year-old sister, Eva, who folded her arms and glared out the window. The whole trip Eva had made her position clear—she was angry about being ripped away from her friends.

  “No, we definitely don’t need to do that.” Eva spat.

  Ana also had no interest in seeing her new school. A pain in her chest made her flinch, and her heart sputtered. Heat radiated from her face down to her fingers as she thought about the inevitable gawking on the first day at school. A small town like this would definitely notice a new girl walking down the hallways. She tried convincing herself it was an opportunity for a fresh start, but it was a hard sell. How was it a good thing to be in a new school at the end of her senior year?

  Ana tried distracting herself from her concerns and grasped the silver chain around her neck to admire the gift her mother bought her along the way, a charm of a regal bird with wings outstretched. If she could pick an animal that represented freedom, it would be an eagle. She would give anything to fly away and be free.

  Ana’s gaze fell on her sister, who was squirming in her seat. “Eva, you okay?”

  Eva’s eyes crinkled into a frown. “I’ve gotta go.” She tilted her head to the side and squinted at her mom through the rearview mirror, her tangled brunette hair tumbling over her shoulders.

  “Hey, Mom. I don’t think it can wait–better pull over.” Ana knew her sister had a very weak bladder, and when she said she had to go, it was best to listen.

  “Can’t hold it, Miss D?”

  “Ugh, I hate going outside.” Eva rolled her eyes. “And Mom, I’m not six anymore. Stop calling me that. I’m not a diva.”

  “Sorry, D. Better safe than sorry. There’s a turn-out just ahead.” Melissa drove a little further and pulled off the road.

  Eva groaned as she wrenched open her door and walked toward a clump of tall grass near a grove of trees.

  “Hey, Ana, would you mind getting out and keeping an eye on her? Your sister isn’t at home in the wilderness like you are.”

  Ana nodded and stepped out of the car, walked slowly around the back of the sedan and sat on the bumper. She saw movement behind the trees to her left, and she heard a loud snap followed by a startled yelp.

  “You okay?”

  “Yeah, this tree is grabbing at me. Give me a minute. Any cars coming?”

  “Don’t worry sweetie, I can barely see you. I haven’t seen anything for a while.”

  Ana grabbed a long stalk of grass beside her foot and twisted it around her pointer finger. Movement from the field on the opposite side of the highway drew her attention. A tuft of red fur flashed from between some bushes. She squinted and tried to find it again but couldn’t. After waiting another moment, she spotted the small creature creep out from under a log and pause.

  Ana sucked in her breath. It was a fox. A patch of white fur on its chest made her imagine how silky soft it was. She wondered what it would feel like to run her fingers through its fur. As she mused, it darted across the field and dipped out of view down a slope. When it came back into her line of sight, it leapt up a hillock into the air. It arched down and when it was nearly to the ground, a large bird swooped up and flew into the air. The dying sunlight allowed her to discern the pointy horns of an owl who appeared unsteady as it rose through the sky. Ana soon lost sight of it behind the tall trees.

  She searched the ground for the fox and couldn’t find it. It had disappeared.

  Whatever, Ana. You’re tired.

  Was her mind playing tricks on her? The fox was probably hidden in the grass.

  “Well, I don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore, but now I have a scrape on my arm.”

  Startled, Ana turned to face her sister, who had a twig snagged in her hair. With a snicker, Ana reached out and removed it from Eva’s head.

  “Did you go sightseeing, Eva? I wasn’t sure if you were walking to the house,” Melissa said as the girls climbed into the car. She started the engine and slowly pulled back out onto the road.

  “I didn’t want anyone to see me,” Eva said and crossed her arms.

  “From space?” Ana said.

  Eva combed her fingers through her ratty hair and grew more agitated with every knot she found. “I can’t wait for a shower.”

  Ana nodded in agreement and touched Eva’s arm. “I’ll let you take the first one.”

  Her sister shot her a grin, and Ana returned her attention out the window. After a couple of minutes, a ditch in the road jolted the car. She noticed a dust covered road sign. They were close now.

  As if on cue, her mother announced, “All right, here we are. Home sweet home.”

  They drove past a field of tall grass and turned down a gravel driveway. Before them was Grandma Jo’s home. It had been over five years since they last visited and it wasn’t a happy memory. Funerals were never happy.

  Dull windows peeked out from behind low branches in a grove of fir trees. Modest sized to begin with, the house was dwarfed by the tall evergreens that surrounded it. The cheery pastel blue paint and the bare flower beds that lined the walkway begged for attention. The lush surroundings were a little overgrown and needed a good pruning. Ana’s thoughts soured. It was familiar, but it wasn’t home. Not hers. The last person who lived there had died.

  The silence in the car was broken when Eva slid outside and started up the front walk. Their mom got out of the car to stretch, but Ana sank further into the leather seat. Her lids dropped shut for a moment until Melissa said, “Hey Ana—you coming? Don’t you want to come in and say hi to your aunt and uncle?”

  Ana’s eyes flicked open and noticed a maroon sedan parked beside them in the driveway. She reached for the door and took one last breath before pushing herself out of the car. She walked up to the front stoop where her mother and sister were and waited for the onslaught of emotion. Before Melissa could reach for the door, it swung open. Aunt Tera burst out and embraced her sister.

  “Oh my, you girls are gorgeous!” Their aunt gushed. “Why, you are simply stunning, Ana. Just look at your beautiful figure.”

  Aunt Tera winked and lifted Ana’s arms to point out her curves. Ana extracted herself from her aunt’s grip to wrap her arms around her waist, trying to conceal herself.

  Then Aunt Tera turned toward Eva. “And you! Eva! My…you’re so graceful. Like a ballerina!”

  Eva giggled and embraced her adoring aunt. It was clear she enjoyed the attention.

  After fussing over her nieces, Aunt Tera gave her sister a warm hug, and the two of them chatted about the road trip. Arm in arm, they sauntered inside. Aunt Tera’s tight curls bounced around her cheery face, and Ana heard her say in an undertone, “I am so happy you’re here and not a minute too soon. Jace is getting back into fishing,
and you know how much I can’t stand the smell of his gear, and not to mention eatin’ fish. Thank goodness I have someone else on my side when it comes to picking dinner…”

  Ana shook her head. Things hadn’t changed much. Her aunt was still the same boisterous woman she remembered. Ana had always tried to spot the similarities between her mother and aunt; it was like a game. She studied Melissa’s short brown hair and thin features and compared them to Tera’s curly red hair and round face. Nope, nothing. But as they snickered together, Ana noted something—the laugh lines that framed their lips were like parentheses.

  “You all must be so tired and hungry! Don’t worry, I made you spaghetti. And we’ll be out of your hair after dinner. We don’t want to tire you out.” Aunt Tera’s gaze lingered on Ana, and she squeezed her shoulder.

  When they sauntered into the house, a voice boomed in greeting. “Welcome home!”

  Thick as a trunk, Uncle Jace’s form towered before them with open arms. He got to Melissa first, then Eva. Last of all, Ana was wrapped in a bear hug that took the breath out of her. She freed herself from his grip and rubbed her sore shoulders.

  The sweat stained band on Uncle Jace’s fishing hat indicated it hadn’t left his head for a very long time. Ana doubted he could remove it even if he tried. Then she figured it was probably better it stayed where it was. She saw pale blond locks poking out from beneath the brim, like saplings searching for light. Always eager to tell a new story or joke, Uncle Jace’s blue eyes twinkled as if unable to hold back a laugh.

  “Jace, you’re just a big kid!” Melissa said, shaking her head.

  “And that’s why we never had any—he keeps me busy enough keeping an eye on ‘im.” Aunt Tera winked at Eva.

  The smell of spaghetti hit them, and Ana’s stomach rumbled. Aunt Tera heard her belly’s groans and said, “For heaven’s sake, let these ladies eat! They don’t want to stand around while there’s perfectly good food in the other room!”

  As they were shepherded into the kitchen, Ana immediately noticed the smell of the old menthol cigarettes that grandma used to smoke. Wait, how was that possible? She had always hated that smell. One more thing to make her feel at home.

  They popped their tired, hungry bodies in front of the old kitchen table set for five. A huge yellow bowl of spaghetti, a basket of breadsticks, and fresh Parmesan cheese beckoned from the table.

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