(Disclaimer: This is unedited material and a fairly rough draft, so things may change, but here it is. Enjoy!)
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Three hours later, exhausted and dirty, Carma flung herself onto a giant boulder on the edge of the creek. Beside her, a tumble of lake stone cascaded into the water with a splash as Jeremy came up beside her.
One minute. She had been alone all of one minute before he had to come up next to her. She was starting to wonder if maybe his presence was some sort of added retribution for her crimes. The community service wasn’t enough. They had to stick her with a strange guy that didn’t know the meaning of the word silence.
He grunted as he bent down and cupped his hands in the water, sloshing it over his face. Everything about him was loud. The entire time they worked, he hadn’t stopped talking for more than five seconds. He rambled the whole time, droning on and on about the lake revitalization project, the water testing, walleye, how great the visitor’s center would be, and even the new deli they were putting in the center of town. Carma had said nothing, only half listening, thinking he’d get the hint and stop after a while if she remained silent. But he never did, and it both irritated and amazed her that he could basically carry on a three hour long conversation with himself.
Carma stared at the creek bed, trying to shirk off her irritation at his presence. She focused on the smooth stones, the size, the shape, and color. Emptying her mind, she watched the movement of the water.
He sighed beside her and wiped his face with the bottom of his t-shirt, but she continued to watch the current of the creek, as the water rushed over the stones. She marveled at their once rough surface, now smooth and slick, weathered from years of water carrying the silt and sediment that planed and polished them.
“If you could be one thing in this park, what would you be?” he asked.
It took her a second to realize he was actually waiting for a response, unlike the rhetorical questions he had flung her way all afternoon. He turned slightly toward her, his demeanor open and waiting, and blinked in expectation.
Carma glanced at him sideways. “Excuse me?”
“If you could be one thing here, in the forest or park. An animal, river rock, a tree, a bug, what would you be?”
She stared at him wordlessly, but his gaze didn’t waver as he waited. She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Ah, come on. Think about it. I would be a tree. Definitely a tree,” he answered automatically.
She brought a hand to her neck and rubbed it, exhaling with the movement. “Why?”
“They last hundreds and hundreds of years. I mean, look at some of these oaks. They’re enormous. They see so much. Can you imagine? They’ve been around for probably three hundred years. They’ve been here when the lands were unspoiled, untouched by man. When Indians roamed and ran through these woods. They’ve probably seen lovers quarrel. They’ve seen them make up. Maybe they witnessed a murder, or someone escaping their attacker in the woods. They’ve seen the birth of animals and wildlife. The—”
A bubble of laughter rose in her throat. This guy was too much. “Seen? You think the trees have eyes?”
There it was again, that lopsided grin. “Sure. Well, kinda. I don’t know. Let’s just assume. They are living things, after all. How do we know they can’t? I’m sure they have some way to see, if not feel what’s going on around them. Plus, they're just awesome because they provide shelter for other living things. Bugs. Squirrels. Chipmunks.”
Carma raised a brow. “Bugs eat the wood. They don’t just live in the tree, they kill it.”
“Yeah, but sometimes life has to be taken in order to sustain another. You know, the circle of life and all that.”
She smiled and shook her head, then turned her gaze back out to the water. She watched as a soft breeze ruffled the treetops. High up, a hawk soared and circled. Its cry pierced the momentary quiet.
“Well?” Jeremy asked.
“What?” She snapped her attention back to him.
“Man, you can really shut everything out, can’t you? You go somewhere way in there, don’t you?" He leaned forward and tapped her forehead. "You’ve been there most of the day. Me, my mind’s always working. Constantly churning. I’ve always admired people who can tune everything out. Just zone out.”
A lump formed in her throat. She swallowed, willing it away. It took years of practice, of concentration, and a broken will to learn how to zone out the people and things around her. It was an acquired skill. One she had learned when she was eight. When she came to the horrific realization that the visits at night from her step-father were not to be a onetime thing but routine. She coped by drowning everything out. She shoved all her emotions down and every ounce of feeling. After a time, she discovered that the numbness didn’t leave her when he was done with her. It stayed. Because she needed it to get through the day. Because her thoughts would drift. They would wander… And as soon as they veered to thoughts of what he did to her, she had to shut them off, and be doing so, she had to shut herself down. She became so good at not feeling, it had become habit and this ability to “drift” a daily routine.
He cleared his throat. “You’re doing it again. But I’m not letting you off the hook.”
Carma swallowed and shifted on the rock, suddenly feeling how rough the stone was, every jagged edge beneath her palms. She hated how observant he was and that he could read her so clearly. She was surprised he even had time to notice anything at all with his incessant blabbing.
“So, what’ll it be? A tree? A bird? I bet it’s a bird. A bird would be so cool because they can fly.”
Carma bit her lip and before she could think it over, her answer rolled off her tongue. “The soil. I’d be the soil.”
He nodded, his eyes narrowed in concentration, as if this made perfect sense, as if he had known she would choose it all along. “Why?”
“Everything uses it without thought. Grass, trees, plants, insects. Even people. They use it all up, sometimes until there’s not a good thing left. No nutrients. Nothing."
His grin disappeared and he swallowed. “Yeah, but it provides life. That’s an amazing thing. It’s beautiful.”
She shook her head, and though her thoughts flitted to Xaria, she knew the truth. “No. Life only takes from it. Things thrive all around it and through it, but look around. The soil is the only thing here that’s not really living. Yet it’s not dead either. It just…exists.”
Her words hung in the air, and for the first time that afternoon, Jeremy was silent. He had no response.
Standing, she turned and walked away from the creek.
Again, this book focuses on the character, Carma. Though the books can be read standalone, if you want background on her, then all I can say is you better go buy and read the first two, available HERE!