Firmness of Rock

  — Chapter 1

  Radiance of Moon

  — Chapter 1

  The Prayer


Radiance of Moon

Chapter 1
Where Lucy Writes to Her Brother

Lucy Silva pulled out a sheet of loose-leaf paper from her school binder and took her favorite mechanical pencil from out of her pencil bag. She glanced over at her bed, trying to decide if she wanted to write while laying on her stomach, but decided against it because she had not yet made her bed and the crumpled sheets didn't look very comfortable. Instead, she pulled out her chair and sat at her desk.

As she centered the paper on her desk, she glanced up and saw the family portrait sitting at the edge of the desk. The photo was taken in two autumns ago - just a little over a year ago, but considering how things had changed since then, and considering her worries now, it may as well have been a lifetime ago. Or, rather, someone else's life.

She looked at herself, smiling into the camera, not a care in the world. The whole family was framed by tree trunks, rising out of the frame, but the branches from those trees and the ones around them held thousands of multi-colored leaves. Easily half of the leaves were green, but the rest burst with fall colors - shades of yellow, orange, and red. The kids, herself and her brother Keith, sat on a large boulder. Keith sat higher up on the rock, since he was older and two feet taller, and Lucy was resting her arms on one of his knees.

Her parents, Jorge and Camilla, stood behind them, with big smiles on their faces as well. Lucy remembered the day - the photographer had arranged them so that everyone could be seen and centered in the frame, both the camera frame and the natural frame created by the trunks and canopy of leaves. She engaged them in some banter to get natural-looking shots, but just before this photo had been taken, she'd told Camilla to reach behind Jorge, and then give him a wedgie. The very suggestion had caused them all to burst out laughing, the thought of mom administering a wedgie rendering the actual act unnecessary. In the end, the photo had been one of their favorite from the entire session, and the inside story of how it came to be had become a treasured memory.

Lucy smiled at the memory, looked down at the paper, and wrote, "Dear Keith".

Keith was away. Lucy had expected when the photo had been taken that by now he would be away. Living in some college dorm somewhere, enjoying his freshman year somewhere in the south or west. But that's not where Keith was.

Keith was in prison.

In the summer before his senior year in high school, Keith had gotten himself caught up in a local drug scene. Unknown to anyone at the time, he was working throughout the summer to save money to buy drugs, not to save money for college. Then, on his way home from work one night, and after taking some of his drugs, he had gotten into an accident that ended up taking someone's life. He had been able to graduate from high school, but his last year had not gone particularly well, darkened as it was by the cloud of his indictment. Finally, after he graduated, he and his parents and his lawyer met with the prosecutor and came to an agreement that would put Keith in prison for his crimes, but without a trial. Keith had insisted. A trial would have attempted to prove his innocence, or some extenuating circumstances that would have excused his behavior. But after a year of living clean, and living with guilt, Keith felt he could do nothing less than own up to his responsibility and pay his debt to society.

Lucy missed Keith dearly, and she wrote to him whenever she could. This year had given her a lot to write about, especially since she and her best friends, Alana and Mayv, had met their new friend Michelle.

"I hope you're doing okay over there," she wrote. "Things are going pretty well at school. Michelle is doing fine, and our basketball team beat Hinesburg at their second game."

Michelle was a newcomer to their town, and the fact that Michelle, Lucy, and her friends had hit it off was a bit of good luck. It had not started out that way. In fact, they had originally thought that Michelle was dealing illegal drugs out of their school, something Lucy took personally. Turns out, though, to be a big misunderstanding, and as they learned more about Michelle, the more they all grew to like her. Lucy, though, took the longest to come around.

The first time the Williston girls' basketball team met Hinesburg on the court, Hinesburg won by one point. Alana and Michelle were both on the team, and Lucy and Mayv watched the game excitedly from the stands. The big excitement that day, though, was that Michelle collapsed as the final buzzer sounded. Michelle, unused to so much physical activity at once, had suffered an attack of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Michelle, they had learned, was a type 1 diabetic, and had to watch her blood glucose readings closely. That day, she hadn't. Alana had done some quick thinking and injected Michelle with glucagon, a hormone that snapped Michelle out of her attack fairly quickly.

"Mom and Dad say hi, too."

Lucy put down her pencil, looked at these last words, and then over to the family photo. Lucy was resigned to the fact that Keith was in prison, mostly because he had talked to her, endlessly, until she agreed with him that his way was best. He convinced their parents of this, too, convinced them of the logic of his choice, the inevitability of it. They all saw, even Lucy, how the guilt of what he had done had whittled away at him until he really had no choice.

Keith's absence from their home, from their lives, had been hard on all of them, harder than they had convinced themselves that it would be when he left. Lucy used to rely on him more than she ever thought she had. But it had been especially hard on her mom.

Camilla Silva took pride in keeping a nice house, in having a nice dinner ready and waiting when her husband came home from work, in seeing her children successful in school and in life. Though it was hard for Lucy to admit to herself, the loss of Keith to the Vermont prison system had been a great blow to her self-image, and that had affected all the other things she held dear. Mom still made a mean meatloaf and still kept the dust at bay, but Lucy could see that she was finding less and less joy in these things.

Jorge always took pride in his work, but also in keeping his home in good shape and in being home from work before five o'clock every day, But Dad had been coming home later and later, and Lucy had been surprised when he tucked a plastic shutter away in the garage after a windstorm blew it off the house, instead of immediately erecting a ladder to reattached to the house.

Lucy hadn't allowed her life to be particularly affected by Keith's new address. She had, instead, translated her anxiety into action. Lucy had worked with the school nurse to develop a program of talks that she gave to the entire school, telling her brother's story and warning her schoolmates about the dangers of drugs.

"Mom and Dad are keeping busy," she continued writing, "and Dad is really working hard these days."

Lucy had started out not paying attention on purpose. Keith had turned himself over for incarceration last June. The summer had started out quiet, but Lucy had her friends to keep her busy, Mom had had the regularly scheduled summer parties and picnics to prepare for, and Dad had pressing matters like pruning and mowing to keep him busy through the summer months. She'd had a bit of a hard time getting things going when school started, but her work and friends kept her busy.

But as time went on, and the most communication they had with Keith was an occasional letter, Lucy watched her mom and dad move further and further apart. The first time she heard them fight, ever, was just a couple of weeks ago.

She couldn't say who started it, if it mattered. Dad came home late, and she could say that laid the blame on him, since he was so religiously on time in the past. Mom, it seemed to Lucy, had overreacted by giving him the silent treatment, placing plates on the table a bit too forcefully, and sighing heavily as she finally sat down to eat. "Passive-aggressive" was a term Lucy had heard but not really understood until then.

After eating, Lucy excused herself, leaving her parents alone at the table, and within a few minutes, as she sat at her desk doing some extra French homework, Lucy heard their voices, rising louder and louder until she heard her mother yell, "Just shut up, Jorge!" Mom only called dad "Jorge" when things were serious, normally anglicizing his name to "George".

Lucy could hear the details, didn't want to hear the details, but she was worried. She'd worried about her family before, this was nothing new. But before, the worries had been based on her unsubstantiated fears. This argument was something tangible, something to make her really worry.

Lucy looked down at what she had written and decided that it wasn't worth keeping. She balled the paper up and tossed it into her trash can. She reached down to her binder and pulled another piece of paper out. Usually when she wrote to Keith, she tried to be peppy, to keep up appearances, because she didn't want him to worry about anything other than himself. She needed, though, to really talk to her brother, even if it was a one-sided conversation. She put her pencil on the paper and began writing again. This time, she decided to not pull any punches.

"Dear Keith," she wrote. "Things here are going okay, but I'm starting to get worried about mom and dad. Dad's been coming home from work late. You know how that never used to happen. They've been doing some fighting, and that scares me. Things aren't all bad. Last week they maybe fought two nights, but at least two other nights they hardly spoke to each other at all. I'm not sure which one is worse. I know there isn't anything you can do about it from where you are, so I'm not really sure why I'm telling you. I guess I just want to let you know, to get it off my chest. I wish I could call you and talk to you."

She paused and tapped her bottom lip with the pencil. She looked out the window into her back yard, into the autumnal dark at the back porch lights of the neighbors across the way. As she stared at one light in particular, her eyes lost focus and the one light split into two. She blinked and resumed writing again.

"Our family already feels split in two, Keith. I just hope that we can keep the rest of it together." Lucy sighed and looked at the photo of those four smiling faces. She wondered if such a photo could ever be recreated. "Write back soon, big brother. I miss you."

Lucy signed her name to the bottom of the page and drew a big heart underneath. Normally she also put a smiley face on the page, but she wasn't feeling very smiley, so she just folded the sheet into thirds, and slid it into one of the small pile of pre-addressed envelopes she kept at the edge of her desk.

She licked the envelope, dropped it into her backpack, and then ran her fingers through her hair. She heard the garage door open, and then a few seconds later close. A moment later, she heard her mom call up the stairs, "Lucy! Dinner!"

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