A Thousand Letters, p.1Staci Hart
A Thousand Letters
3. As Air
4. Small Comfort
6. Thin Soul
8. Here and Now
9. So Easy
10. Bring It On Home
11. Never Prepared
13. Truth in Darkness
15. Wandering Voices
18. To Live
19. Ground Zero
20. No More
22. The Truth Lies
24. The Length of Love
25. To survive
26. The Constant
Also by Staci Hart
Copyright © 2017 Staci Hart
All rights reserved.
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No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
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Cover design by Quirky Bird
Photography by Perrywinkle Photography
Editing by Love N Books and Rebecca Slemons
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HEARTS AND ARROWS
Rereleasing in 2017
With a Twist
A Thousand Letters
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To those of you
who have known the mercy
of a second chance.
When pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.
-Anne Elliot, Jane Austen’s PERSUASION
I’ve never understood why the heart always reacts.
A shot of adrenaline is all it takes, triggered by a thought. A word. A memory. And every time the reaction is singular, a fingerprint of a moment.
Sometimes it’s a flutter, a flicker of wings in your chest. Others, it’s a relentless vise that stops the beat, if only for a second. It might be a hot burn, spreading like wildfire in your ribs, or an icy cold space, empty and void.
But the heart always reacts. Even after seven years, just hearing his name inspired any of those reactions or a dozen more. And there was one every single time.
The ticking of the clock
Marring the deafening silence,
Time's footsteps toward an end
Or a beginning.
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- M. White
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I didn't hear the knocking until I closed the door to my nephew's bedroom, and my first thought was that I hoped it wouldn't wake him from his nap. The second was wonder over who it could be as I hurried to the door of my sister's brownstone. But nothing could have prepared me for the turn my life would take when I opened it.
My best friend stood on the steps, her dark hair hanging over her bent shoulders, tears falling from sparkling gray eyes, her mouth gaping in pain as she reached for me, falling into my arms.
"Sophie," I breathed as I held her trembling frame as best I could.
Sobs racked through her, and her hands fisted my sweater. She couldn't speak, so I held her with my mind racing, heart aching with dread, and her father's name echoing in my head. She'd come from the hospital, and she'd brought news. News I didn't know that any of us were prepared for.
"Come inside," I said gently, guiding her into the house, down the stairs, and into my room.
We sat on the edge of my bed, and Sophie hid her face in her hands as her shoulders shook. I turned to her, laying my hand on her back, waiting.
She wiped her cheeks with the flats of her fingers, though tears kept falling as she looked at me with crisp eyes and a trembling chin and said words that would echo in my heart forever.
"The stroke … it was because he's …" she struggled. "He has cancer, Elliot, and … and …" Her thin composure had nearly shattered, her face bending under the weight of the words, and my fingers went numb as my heart split open. "He's dying."
She broke, folding over, and I pulled her into me, wrapping my arms around her, pressing my cheek to her crown as my tears fell, blinding me.
He was more my father than my own. And now … now …
"Wade …" she started, but couldn't finish; the words held too much power.
Even the one she uttered had power over me, the same power it always had. His name. That name I'd heard a thousand times, a thousand ways, and still — even under the shock of the moment — his name crushed my heart, splintering it like broken glass.
"Wade's on the plane," Sophie said, her words uneven. (Again, his name, my heart murmuring fresh pain.) "I can't … he doesn't know. There's no way to tell him what happened, not until his flight lands. He's on the plane, and he doesn't know … doesn't know that Dad only has weeks …" she said as she clutched my sweater. "Weeks. That's all we have left. I don't … I can't …" The words dissolved into sobs.
"Shhh," I soothed, rocking her until she found her voice again.
"I need Wade," she whispered. "I don't know what to do. But he'll know. He always knows."
My heart thumped hard, bumping the broken glass, nicked by sharp edges. "He'll be here soon."
She nodded against my breast. "And Sadie. What will I do about Sadie? She's still at school … I came straight here." She moaned gently. "I don't even know what I'm doing. I didn't even tell my own sister. I should … I should call the school. But how will I tell her? How can I? I can't do this without Wade." The words split and cracked, sending her over the edge again.
There was nothing to say, no words of comfort to offer; it wouldn't be okay, time wouldn't heal her wounds, it wouldn't work itself out. Her father was dying with no warning. A seizure at work the day before sent him to the hospital, and the diagnosis gave him a life sentence. An expiration date.
I had no way of comprehending what was happening to the man who had been like a father to me. My best friend's father. Wade's father.
My heart folded in on itself for a beat. He was coming home. Seven years without a word. Seven years without seeing his face.
It was all too much.
I squeezed my eyes closed and rested my cheek on top of her head.
Her sobbing ebbed, and she pulled away, though her eyes were trained on the ground, barely open.
"I don't know what to do."
My fingers wound together in my lap, squeezing and twisting. "For now, wait for your brother." I couldn't say his name, such a simple thing, still beyond me. "How long will your dad be in the hospital?"
"Two days. He's stable now, speaking, but he can't walk, can't feed himself. He fell asleep and I couldn't … I couldn't be the only one who knew. I needed you. God, what are we going to do,
Her eyes were bright and sparkling behind thick, dark, tear-soaked lashes, her brows stitched together with fear and sadness and grief.
"Have you spoken to hospice yet?"
She shook her head and buried her face in her hands. "We're meeting tonight with a social worker. Dad wants to come home, so we've got to make a plan, figure everything out, but I … I just …"
"What can I do?" I laid a hand on her back.
"I don't even know. Wade lands at five-thirty at La Guardia — we're meeting at the hospital. He doesn't know, I don't want to text him, don't want him to find out that way. I've got to tell him when he's here. But I … I don't want to be alone until then. Please, will you come with me to the hospital?" Her eyes were big, shining, begging me. "I wouldn't ask if things were different."
I swallowed my emotions, swallowed my fears. She needed me, and I'd be there. "Of course I'll go with you."
She looked sorry she'd asked. "Are you sure? It's been so long."
I shook my head, just a small motion. "Don't think about that. I'll take care of everything, okay? I need to make some calls, though. Will you be okay here in my room? I'll be just outside if you need anything, just call for me."
She nodded again, looking grateful and relieved, and I guided her to lie down, tucking her into my bed. I closed the curtains and left her there in my room.
Fresh tears fell as I walked through my sister's quiet home, up the stairs and to the window seat overlooking the Manhattan street. My sister and her husband were at work, and the kids would be asleep for a little while yet. I had time to help, and I'd do whatever I could.
First, I texted my sister Mary and told her what happened. My phone dinged within minutes with a reply, rare because she was a resident at Mt. Sinai and was always busy. Also uncommon because she was one of the least affable people on the planet, rarely showing concern for anyone other than herself, outside of her job. Her cold detachment helped her disconnect from her patients, and her bedside manner left something to be desired. But today she was obliging, offering promises to have Charlie come home early to take care of the kids so I could go to the hospital with Sophie.
After that, I texted Sophie's younger sister and asked her to text me when she was home from school in the hopes I could keep the lid on it all until her brother was home.
His name again, the sting of it ever unexpected.
As I sat in the window seat, bathed by the cool winter sun, I thought of him, worrying as I so often did. I imagined him on the plane over the Atlantic, not knowing what was going on. Not knowing what he was walking into.
I knew what his father meant to him. He'd already lost his mother, and now … now everything would rest on his shoulders.
More tears fell, and I pulled my legs into my chest, head pressed to my knees, shoulders sagging, heart aching as I mustered the strength to calm myself so I could check on the kids.
I climbed the stairs to the third floor, peeking in on the sleeping children. They were peaceful, faces slack and lips puckered, lashes against their cheeks and chests rising and falling. I wished for a long moment that I could find relief that complete.
Down I went again to the second floor and took my seat once more, my head resting against the glass as I sifted my way through all that had come to pass.
In an hour, my world had been brought to a stop. In five hours, it would begin to turn backward, back to my past, back to the boy I loved. The boy I ruined.
The first time I saw him, I was fifteen and he was sixteen, the boy with the dark shock of hair and broad shoulders, with eyes gray and cool as December and a smile as bright and warm as June. I remember walking into their house with Sophie just a few days after we met and finding him there in the living room, tall and beautiful, the light shining in through the window as he worked on his homework. He saw me, and I stopped, and he stopped, and time stopped.
The last time I saw him, I was seventeen, and he stood before me with tears in his eyes as he begged me to say yes. Begged me to go with him. Begged me to be his forever. Begged me to change my mind. But I couldn't. Didn't matter how much I wanted to, because I did. I would have given him the world. But in the end, it hadn't been up to me.
He left the next day for the Army. That was seven years ago.
It felt like yesterday. It felt like another lifetime. It felt like I relived the moment every single day.
I'd written him almost every day, pleading at first for forgiveness, telling him I'd changed my mind, begging him to come back to me. After a year, my letters grew angry, accusing, my hurt and rejection pouring out of me and onto the paper, though the transference never relieved me. And then I found resignation, and I'd stopped sending my letters completely.
He never answered me. Not once. Not a single word, not from any avenue.
But I was still connected to him through Sophie and her dad, though they rarely mentioned his name around me. I knew when Wade came home, though he never stayed for more than a night or two before moving on, back to wherever he was based, back to Iraq. Afghanistan. Now Germany. I knew very little, but I took comfort in that he was alive — fear had weighed on me every moment he was deployed throughout the course of the war.
That was the sum total of my knowledge, but I was never able to let him go. Didn't matter that I knew nothing. The boy who I walked away from lived on in the wreckage of my heart, and I never stopped wishing things had been different.
Maybe he hadn't gotten my letters. Maybe he'd never know how I felt. Or maybe he'd read every one. Maybe he'd burned them all without breaking the seal of the envelopes.
Maybe I'd never know.
My niece Maven woke from her nap — her little voice carried over the monitor as she played in her crib. And with that, I wiped my tears and made my way to her room, grateful for her love, which she gave freely and without condition. She hugged me around the neck, reminding me just what it was like to feel tenderness after so long without.
I took a deep breath as the cab pulled to a stop outside of Mt. Sinai, eyeing the entrance to the hospital with my throat in a clamp. My father was in that building, lying in a hospital bed.
I had no idea what I would find inside those walls.
The second Sophie had called me, time began to move differently, fast and slow. The words had turned around and around in my mind as I spoke with my supervisor, who granted me leave. I'd packed my bag and rushed to the airport, getting on the first commercial flight I could. And I spent eight hours on the plane, staring out the window with every fear whispering to me.
A stroke. I didn't know what it meant other than he needed me, so here I was.
My mind was everywhere but where I was as I paid the cab driver and unloaded my duffle bag. I didn't feel the fatigue of the flight or the hunger from not having eaten, only icy dread as I walked to the nurse's station, then down the cold hallway to my father's room.
The door swung open, and I stood in the threshold, still and silent as my eyes found my father. He looked smaller than I remembered him, lying in that hospital bed with tubes and wires twisting away, connecting him to machines that blinked and beeped. They didn't seem to disturb his sleep. Even at rest, I could see the slackness of the left half of his face from the stroke, his mouth downturned and drooping open.
He'd always been strong, larger than life. But lying there, he was vulnerable, shrinking under the weight of his body.
My bag fell to the ground with a thump next to my boots, my chest rising and falling painfully with every breath.
Sophie drew a breath from the corner of the room; her face bent and tears streamed as she flew across the room and into my arms. That was all it took for my composure to crack and crumble, emotion climbing up my throat, stinging my eyes, burning my nose. I closed my eyes to stop the tears, but it was no use. They seeped from the corners, defying the physics of my pinched lids, and my sister sobbed in my arms, clinging to my shirtfront.
She stilled after a moment, pulling away. Something in her eyes stopped me dead.
"I need to talk to you," she whispered, casting a furtive glance over her shoulder at our sleeping father.
I nodded, moving my bag out of the way as she took my arm and guided us into the hallway.
When the door was closed, she stood before me for a long minute, wringing her hands, lip between her teeth. She couldn't look at me.
"Soph," I said softly, gently, "what's going on?"
She opened her mouth to speak but took a shaky breath instead. Then she met my eyes. "It's not just the stroke, Wade."
I couldn't swallow my fear. I tried, but it stayed lodged where it was. "What do you mean?"
"They did scans and … and …" Her eyes darted, her bottom lip trembling.
I reached for her hands, willing her to look at me as my pulse raced, hands tingling from adrenaline and foreboding. "Sophie, just tell me."
A fat tear slipped down her cheek as she looked into my eyes and hit the detonator on my heart. "He has brain cancer, Wade. They've given us a few weeks before he's gone …"
If she said more, I didn't hear her. My knees buckled, and I reached for the wall to brace myself, turning to press my forehead against the cool veneer. It couldn't be possible, couldn't be real. It was a dream. A nightmare.
I fought the truth. He was too young, too healthy. He was a superhero: immune. I wasn't old enough to lose him — I was supposed to have years. Years and years. I'd already lost one parent, a loss I'd never recovered from, a loss that changed the course of my life. And now, I'd be alone.
He taught me how to be a man. He gave me everything.
A Thousand Letters by Staci Hart / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes