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Excerpt: Winter Skye

 

Chapter One

The old church looked just as she’d remembered. When she first started coming here as a child, dragged along by her aunt and uncle, the place seemed intimidating, the services strange, the minister a man to watch with suspicion—the way she watched all men. But she realized over time that this place was different. It was good. And the people who were part of this church were good people. Now the old stone walls welcomed her, inviting her home. Destiny is home. It’s good to be back!

Silver Skye Ray parked behind the building among the few cars already there. In another hour, the backlot, as well as the street parking, would fill with wedding guests, but she, cousin to the bride and a member of the wedding party, got to choose from among the best parking spots.

Skye put on the emergency brake and stepped into the crisp spring morning. I need to smile. Today is a happy occasion. Just because things aren’t working out for me as I’d planned… She stopped the thought. This is Amber’s day—well, Max and Amber’s. It isn’t their fault that men keep letting me down. That’s been the story of my life since I was a kid! She paused as her inner voice challenged her assumption. I admit there have been exceptions. Uncle Enrique was the perfect substitute dad, and the minister here was always good to me.

Her thoughts turned back to recent disappointments. At least today will be a happy celebration. Unlike last November with Ryan… She and Ryan had met at an NA meeting and agreed they’d support one another in sobriety. Over time they grew closer and began dating. Skye even thought they could become serious and, since Ryan’s family lived in Boston and it was too expensive and too awkward for him to fly out there, she invited him to join her for the Reyes/Ray Thanksgiving in Destiny. She’d been so looking forward to it, to everyone meeting Ryan, the guy she’d fallen for. The first guy in a long time that she felt maybe could be part of her future.

When she arrived at his place to pick him up, she realized she’d been completely wrong about Ryan. He was as high as a set of birthday balloons, sailing into the sky. But it was his excuse that ticked her off the most. “You can’t expect me to meet your family without a little help,” he’d said in a slurred voice. If he’d been having problems, he should have confided in her and sought help, but perhaps he was cheating the entire time. He didn’t care enough about himself to make that commitment to staying sober. They were warned at NA not to get involved romantically with new people until they were strong enough, and especially not with other people in the group. But she didn’t listen. She fell for Ryan’s cute smile and blue eyes, and with his apparent empathy for her situation as a recovering addict

So much for that! At least Doug disappointed me early. He gave me a week to get used to not having a date for Sunny’s wedding. Doug had been another disastrous relationship, met through NA.

The memory raised her ire again. What part of “sobriety is a requirement” do these guys not understand? I can’t be around people who don’t take that seriously. But there I go again, obsessing about me. Today I need to be here for Amber. She’s like a sister to me and Sunny—and she’s always been there for us. Skye wanted Amber’s wedding day to be perfect, even if their relationship hadn’t always been quite so perfect.

She couldn’t help remembering strangers who mistook Sunny and Amber for sisters, or even twins while asking if she, Skye, was adopted. I suppose I can’t blame them. Sunny and Amber are almost the same age. And just look at them! They both have straight, dark brown hair, dark eyes, and light olive complexions. That all made sense since both Sunny and Amber had one Hispanic and one Anglo parent. Sunny and Skye shared a mother but had different fathers. I don’t look like anyone in the family. Easy to see why I never fit in. Once again, she struggled to put negative thoughts away.

Skye took the dress bag, cosmetics case, and accessories from the trunk of her car, and pasted on a cheerful expression. Then she hurried toward the church, hoping to find her way to the room used for bridal parties without running into anyone.

I shouldn’t be edgy; I’ve done this before. I was here for my sister Sunny’s wedding, just a few months ago, although I missed it when Paris married Greg. Then again, Paris was always more Amber’s friend than mine. She treated me like the annoying tag-along I probably was. Still, I’d have come to her wedding if I hadn’t been tied up at the time.

She smiled wryly. In fact, she’d been locked up at the time, the result of her third D.U.I., this one while driving without a license. No regrets. Those months of forced sobriety were exactly what I needed to get clean. Now I need to stay clean, and that means staying away from people who use, including, and especially, men I might date.

She’d heard people at twelve-step meetings bemoaning the difficulties of being in a relationship when you’re a recovering alcoholic or addict. Skye knew she needed someone who could understand what she’d been through without judgment, and the only people who could truly empathize were those who had been there themselves. Yet dating an addict, even one in recovery, presented the problems she’d had with Ryan and Doug. To make it more difficult, she needed a partner who could accept the unpredictable life of an artist, which could be erratic, as well as emotionally and physically taxing. Will there ever be a man for me? A jolt of reality hit: Maintaining my sobriety may mean being alone.

That means I need to avoid the negative thought cycles I’m wrestling with today if I don’t want them to suck me under. Time to happy up! This time, I have to make it stick.

She reached the glass door at the back of the church and caught a glimpse of her reflection. No, I don’t look like any of them. Her darker skin, full lips, and near-black, wavy hair told a story. Although she and Sunny shared their Latina mother—who claimed they were both fathered by Rah, the Sun God—the differences between them were obvious.

She thought of Lachlan, owner of the Tahoe art gallery where she staged her last big show. “If you straightened your hair, you’d look even more like Meghan Markle,” he had said, clearly flattering her into dating him. I’m not sure I appreciate comparisons to the Duchess of Sussex, whether present or past My life bears little resemblance to hers.

She again reminded herself to smile as she entered the room where the women of the bridal party were primping and chattering. Sunny and Paris helped one another with the zippers on their attendants’ dresses. Amber stood placidly while her mother, Skye’s Aunt Olivia, worked on the long row of buttons up the back of her bridal gown.

“Whew! Somebody’s gone heavy on the hairspray,” Skye said, waving her hand in front of her face as she entered.

“There you are!” Olivia said as Skye entered. “Was the traffic-heavy coming up from the valley?”

“Not too bad. Why?”

“You’re a bit later than we expected, but don’t worry. There’s still time.”

“Good! I wouldn’t want to be late to my cousin-sister’s wedding.” Skye carefully hung her dress and turned to share hugs with the others—big hugs for Sunny, Amber, and Olivia; a small side-hug for Paris.

Cousin-sister. Amber resisted the label, but to Skye, it seemed perfect for the relationship they shared. They’d grown up almost as siblings after Olivia rescued Skye and Sunny from the Children of Rah cult compound, taking them from their loving, but addicted and neglectful, mother. Skye was barely nine back then. She moved closer. “Anything I can help with?”

“Paris has things under control,” Amber said, looking to her matron of honor, her best buddy since girlhood. “You might want to have a look at the chapel, just to see how pretty it is before we all march in there.”

“I’ll do that.” Skye hung her dress and freed herself from the other items. “See you in a few.” She stepped out into the hall and let her face and her thoughts fall again. Why am I having such a hard time being positive today? I’ve got to do better than this. I’m sure part of it is watching yet another friend or family member marry when I don’t know if I’ll ever…but there I go again. Stop it, Skye!

She stepped into the chapel. Lovely, just as Amber said. Floral arrangements on either side of the altar filled the small space with the rich scents of roses and…stargazer lilies. I should have known. They were always Amber’s favorite. A riot of flowers in pinks, dark reds, and burgundies accented a base of white roses and carnations with dark green foliage. Ribbons in bright navy and robin’s-egg blue matched the ribbons on the ends of the pews. The same colors as the bridesmaid’s dresses Amber chose for me and Sunny. She and Paris have done a good job.

That’s surprising, given what a flake Paris often is. She groaned. Why can’t I pull myself out of this negative thought spiral? As she looked again at the altar, a small voice inside her whispered. You know why.

Sighing, Skye slipped into a pew and let herself remember. She’d been through her Twelve-Step manuals often enough to have them practically memorized. The one thing she’d never fully embraced about Step Nine now stood out as if written in neon.

 

She remembered one group leader who put it plainly: “Step Nine isn’t just about seeking forgiveness from those you have wronged. You have to be willing to forgive. Other people are only human, and they make mistakes just as you have. Be like that princess in Frozen. Let it go!”

He’s right. I need to put that all behind me. Right then, right there, she chose to let go of old wounds. To stop wishing her mother had never started down the path of drug addiction or that she had not given birth inside a cult compound, unable to identify the fathers of her daughters. To forgive Ryan and Doug and think instead about someday meeting the right guy— someone who would understand her struggle to overcome her addictions. Someone who would support her in recovery. A good man who would simply be there for her. She needed to forget the wounds from childhood when people asked if she was adopted, and remember instead the way Enrique and Olivia had rescued her and her sister from the chaos of the Children of Rah—to remember how they’d dressed and fed and educated them both and treated them like a beloved member of the family. She resolved to let it go.

Skye stood. Closing her eyes, she took in five deep, cleansing breaths, one after the other, letting each out slowly. With each exhale, she let her tension ease as she breathed out the injuries of the past. That feels better. I can enjoy the wedding now. I know the negative thoughts will come again. They always do, but each time I work through this exercise, I come a little closer to truly being free.

She left the chapel feeling renewed. Eight minutes after leaving the dressing room, she reentered it. This time, her smile was genuine.

Susan Aylworth writes sweet and clean, contemporary romance novels set in small-town America (USA).

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