“Try to cut at least 20,000 words…”

When your soon-to-be editor, who seems to be brilliant and amazing and probably right about everything, tells you it’s a good idea to cut 20,000 words because the book is over the range a typical YA fiction reader will commit to, it feels like saying goodbye to friends who live on a different continent, who you may never, ever see again. Below is a chapter in the massive section I think I need to cut, but I’ve got to find a way to include the “almost kiss” somewhere, for continuity between 2 of my main characters. 

Setting the stage, Iris, Emmy, and Aberdeen are on the “practice quest” in preparation for what their main mission will be in the second book. They are practicing in the garb they’ll have to wear to blend in, in 1776. Oh yes, time travel people. This is deep into Book I so just catch on where you can — I feel the need to put this somewhere, for posterity.

Chapter 18 – The Almost Kiss

Iris was trying to adjust to a side-saddle posture today, along with the yards and yards of fabric hanging from her body in the form of a perfectly practical eighteenth century dress with just an added bit of flair, zoot zoot. The silk attached to the point of her hat kept getting caught in her mouth whenever the wind felt the need to irritate her.

“Ugh!” she grunted once again yanking the delicate sheath from her face. “There’s no way we can travel like this for more than a day!”

“Earlo said to get practice in both sets of clothes, zoot zoot!” Emmy trilled. “Suck it up, Iris!”

Aberdeen laughed from behind, also dressed in more formal attire of a cinched, brocade waistcoat that accentuated his rather lean figure. As the day wore on, the threesome passed the time by creating humorous potential scenarios of 1776. Emmy’s rendering of a colonial girl falling down the well of an outhouse was particularly hilarious. Iris expressed nervousness about the possibility that something about themselves would give away their future selves, and that they’d be arrested as spies or witches. Although Aberdeen seemed to have fun devising daring ways to save them both from the witch’s noose, he stopped playing when he remembered that the girls would be going on this crazy mission without him.

The sun was setting slowly in the western sky, and Emmy must have decided it was time for camp because she dismounted Tobias abruptly and started walking toward shelter. The snow was nearly to her knees here, but it didn’t seem to slow her. Iris and Aberdeen didn’t argue, and before long, Emmy was setting up her cook fire. She gathered her bow and arrow and said she’d be “back in a jiffy” with some meat. Then corrected herself and using the colloquial language of the 18th century, “I’ll be back before long with some meat and roughage for our supper. I shall make haste.”

Aberdeen beckoned Iris to him once he removed the horses’ saddles and created a makeshift sofa from them and the horse blankets. She knelt down to sit beside Aberdeen, and once her body felt the earth she realized just how exhausted she was. She tried to direct her attention to the scroll Aberdeen was now unfurling, but looked at the top of his shoulder and found herself longing to lay her head there. He must have caught her looking at him, and then suddenly their faces were very close. The sunset somehow made him look even more beautiful, if that was possible. Iris sensed a hint of anxiousness in Aberdeen, but eagerness as well. Her stomach was in knots. He started to lean in only just and then…

“Check it out!”

Emmy’s call from a distance away jarred them both back to reality, and they turned sharply to find Emmy carrying a handful of squirrels by the tale back to the camp fire.

Aberdeen cleared his throat loudly and tripped in getting up from the ground.

“Can I help you that, my lady?” he asked Emmy in a hurry.

Emmy stopped and looked from Iris to Aberdeen then made the face that said, “Oh shoot, sorry!”

Aberdeen quickly got to work skinning the squirrels, and Emmy didn’t fight him in completing this task. She’d have plenty to do on her own in the pastlands. Emmy proceeded to pan fry the squirrel meat with mushrooms she grew from her stores. She finished it off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Iris never imagined herself eating squirrel, ones that were just frolicking around only moments ago, but she was famished and they were in the wild. Desperate times, she thought.

The group finished their meal and packed up for the night. The stars began twinkling with more fervor, and Iris asked Emmy to call down the branches of the old aspen tree that would serve as their sleeping haven this time. She wanted to make sure that she could do it if for some reason on their quest, Iris could not. Emmy was beyond delighted when the aspen, with its tear-drop shaped leaves, bowed to her words as they had to Iris’s. As she lay next to Emmy wrapped in the warm embrace of the tree, she allowed herself to hear the nearby heartbeats of the other living things around her. The steady tempo of a trio of squirrels four branches up, and the hectic flutter of a pair of robins one tree over. There was no mistaking the heavy heart thumps of Ester, Tobias, and Onyx down below. She had not noticed that the beat that usually accompanied the snowflake on her arm was not silent.

She rolled over carefully so as not wake Emmy and stared up through the branches to moon overhead. The almost kiss with Aberdeen had her heart aglow, and she didn’t think she’d ever be able to sleep now. Constellations emerged before her as she whispered their names like Zurinne taught her, Sirius, Arcturus, Hyades. Even if they didn’t have access to a calendar in 1778, she’d be able to approximate the time down to the week at least.

The moon’s light pulled her gaze away from the stars as if by a magnet. Her eyes started to grow heavy. Just then, something up and to the right caught her eye in the twisted branch of the aspen tree. It was a brown and green leaf fluttering in the light breeze, jostling on its stem as if to say let me go! One more gentle nudge from the cool night air and it floated down like a feather to rest on Iris’s chest. She picked it up and twisted the stem between her fingers this way and that. Brown and green, brown and green, then more colors whirring before her. She caught her breath as another memory unfolded upon the skin and veins of the little leaf.

It was Hesper, she knew it immediately. She was the spitting image of her mother, but there were shadows cast across her face, so as to make the lines of her nose and jaw just a tad sharper than Aurora’s. Her hair was dark, where her mother’s was the color of sunshine. The image unfolding showed a young Hesper, maybe as old as Iris is now, about fourteen years of age. Hesper quietly knelt beside her sleeping sister, in the very room where Emmy and Iris had lodged during their time in Veilmira. She watched with bated breath as Hesper removed the sun periapt from around a sleeping Aurora’s neck with the stealth of a ghost. Hesper froze. Aurora shifted as the weight of her periapt left her chest but she did not awaken. Iris watched as Hesper removed her own periapt and held it aloft with her sisters. She was equally mesmerized by the vision of Hesper staring with a wild wonder at the twin periapts that suddenly clanked together with a kind of magnetic force, then twisted around one another nearly braiding the leather straps into one. Hesper struggled to separate them. Iris found herself searching Hesper’s thoughts in order to find out in any way her motives were for stealing all the periapts in the first place, but she couldn’t, because this was just a memory. She watched as Hesper crawled back into her bed with both periapts, sure that she would deposit her sister’s back with her before the morning.

Just as Iris was about to look away, the last image upon the leaf was of her young mother lying still with closed eyes, and tears dripping slowly onto her pillow.

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