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Chapter 1

Winded, Kate ran through a wide field of tall weeds. Foxtails tickled then bowed as she defeated them, slashing her way to a leaf-covered fortress. As if in a dream, the fiveyear-old stopped and twirled. Arms extended, she pictured her scarred torso as a pinwheel. No one near contradicted. Distant battles yards behind her revolutions rarely threatened summers expected pleasures. No disruption marred the purity of nature that quiet moment. Youre your mothers daughter. If he hadnt sounded so disappointed, Kate wouldve gladly worn the designation with pride. But, recognizing accusation and anger in his tone, shed fled as shed done many times before from her fathers side. Shattering glass


on the living room floor couldnt stall near-involuntary steps. Her mother urging her to run carried Kate until shed almost forgotten why shed begun. Bare feet objected. Their pleas to stop went ignored. The fantasizing child cartwheeled no longer stifling an impulse to cry. Feet followed hands into the sky in jubilation. Sheer victory was assured till their eighth change of position prompted little legs to falter as if theyd lost sight of where they belonged. Collapsing to the ground outside her castle, Kate smiled. Quickly selecting a visible star in the stillshifting expanse, she requested swift reconciliation that the king and queen rule happily together forever. But, upright, petitions roamed unanswered. Nineteen years passed. Still, Kate indulged the habit. The spinning soothed her. For a few fleeting seconds, problems would cease to exist. Self-induced vertigo preempted fears, allowing the willowy young woman when she gauged she was unwatched to disregard concerns which seemingly spiraled beyond her slipping control. Slowing, the chestnut brunette who secretly coveted both blonde and black locks opened nearsighted brown eyes. Drugstore hair dyes, shed determined, would plainly reveal a lack of selfacceptance. And glasses would make her look far too bookish


and unattractive to keep a boyfriend. Nagging insecurities trumped reason. Contact lenses were out of the question. The prospect of losing one inside her eye encouraged an aversion Kate hadnt quite been able to conquer. She knew her reaction was somewhat irrational. The impaired driver chose blurry back roads over envisioned, belittling criticism. Seeing neighbors out of focus afforded fantasies that her foibles were similarly shielded from view. Surrendering to one physical limitation dizziness Kate sat at the base of a towering, red maple. Each shadebearer on the familys property had been planted and nurtured by her grandfather. Edgar had planted that particular tree for his firstborn son. But, after mourning Williams loss before the cheerful infants first birthday the young father never attempted to grow a seedling so far from his home. His only daughters tree flourished years later outside her window where he could keep watch. No crib death stole her. But, Edgars life would cease in his early fifties following heart failure before his future granddaughter could receive what he would have deemed her fitting, vital, branched defense. Glory saw the tree-planting ritual as sentimental and superstitious. Still, when the former homecoming queen was


forced to withdraw from school to attend her ailing father after his first devastating episode, shed hoped the capable limbs that had guarded her would do the same for him and her own children assuming shed have some. The thought was fleeting, but a flash of chopping down two of the three trees maintained for her older brothers who were too busy to help the man whod paid their way through four years of college each occasionally plagued her. Career aspirations and potential relationships stole flagging loyalties to the one whod made the majority of their material gains possible. Sacrifice, to the two middle children, was merely the foolish martyrs one-way street. The duo desired no direct participation in any written or verbal arrangement which required periodic visitation. They preferred pretending their responsibilities were too overwhelming to take a backseat. Frenetic action, which usually accomplished little, was a key element to performing their amateurish illusion. Yet, despite the daily use of choking smoke and carefully-positioned mirrors, the youngest and eldest siblings found evidence of blatant fraud. The distressed pair mostly refrained from condemning. Itemizing every transgression only fanned the flames of weekly fights and dereliction. The schism growing between clearly competing teams was wide enough, two of the four recognized.

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