Have you read After Life Lessons yet? If so, I have a treat for you! A few weeks ago, L.C. Spoering and I released a little bonus collection of short stories called After Life Lessons – The Interlude. It’s just a bit of fun to tie us over between books, and to go into some details that we couldn’t fit into the tight structure of a novel.
At long last, Emily, Aaron and Song have found a home on the small farm in Kentucky where Annika took them in. Knowing nothing of the trials and journeys that lie ahead of them, they can allow themselves to heal – in mind and body – as they become farmers and gatherers, as they become a family.
After Life Lessons – The Interlude offers nine snapshots of their lives from the perspectives of the different characters. It paints their present and digs up their past, and leads the reader through two years of rest, until Aaron, Emily and Song are ready for their next adventure in After Life Lessons – Book Two.
After Life Lessons – The Interlude contains scenes of graphic adult content.
Excerpt: After Life Lessons — The Interlude
The barn at the edge of the property is still in view of the house, looming large in front of what must have been a field years back and now sprouts weeds and wild flowers.
Annika doesn’t know if it’s sound, or if anything has been kept in it for decades. Inside, the light filters down through cracks and rotted holes in the roof; old birds’ nests perch feathered in the eaves. The whole building rattles with the wind, but my unprofessional inspections show it sturdy, termites unaware of its existence, just like the rest of the world.
We tied the horses up outside. The weather has mostly held recently, but we built a tent anyway, with a tarp unearthed from the cellar. The horses seem amused by this, as much as Song and Lani, who duck in and out to offer handfuls of grass to the horses in the heat of the sun.
They’re back at the house, now, for lunch and for school– Annika’s damned strict about school. I’ve been in the barn all morning, working on the roof, in the loft where it joins the wall. I’m not confident enough to climb up on the outside, and it doesn’t seem to need as much work as I feared.
Emily is worried about the floor, says it’s supposed to be softer for the horses’ delicate hoofs, but I figure we can worry about that once we have them secure. I don’t like thinking about them out there, tied up in the dark, presented like a buffet. We take turns watching them, unknotting their ropes, feeding them. It’s not a permanent solution.
In the long run, we’ll need a fence, too, a place for them to graze. There’s enough meadow behind the barn, but it’ll take some planning and a lot of wood, and some skills I’m not totally sure I possess. I think we’re all trying not to think about it. One step after the other.
From up here on the ladder, I can see her– Emily, heaving a can of water around the garden. It’s so heavy it seems to dislodge her hip as she leans away from its heft. She’s gained weight herself, and muscle, and, as she moves, her face arranges itself in that determined grimace I’ve grown to know. It makes me smile, and I stop affixing patches to the holes in the roof. I am mostly hidden from view, so I indulge myself: she’s kind of impossibly cute like that.
She’s wearing jean shorts and a flannel shirt, red and way too big for her, so she’s knotted it around her stomach and in the crook of her arms. The rubber boots make her feet look unnaturally large as she trudges through the soft earth.
She likes the garden, keeps adding almost every day. Either she digs up new patches of earth, or tries to rally enthusiasm to find more crops in the neighboring properties. She’s good at it, too: she has that smile and the determination of a mother.
She eventually catches me watching her, and waves, and I wave back, only a little sheepish. I’ve tried to reason with myself, but mostly have given up– I’m allowed a few weeks, months, years, right? My arm’s barely healed, after all. A guy who faces death gets to moon over his pretty girl and act like an idiot for a fair amount of time after that.
When she moves my way, I climb carefully down the ladder. She’s got the bucket, still, and I assume she intends to water the horses, but I enjoy pretending she’s coming to see me anyway.
“You know it doesn’t have to be perfect, right?” she asks, that cheeky grin on her face, even as she peers up at the roof. “We just have to make room in there, give them a proper place.”
Her accent makes words sound like she’s gone and dug up a dictionary, even if I know they’re not special, or even unusual. Proper, from her mouth, sounds Shakespearean.
“Might as well do it right the first time,” I say, my own accent as jarring as ever next to hers, and I instinctively try to flatten it out, the way she tells me not to– it’s just something I do, out of habit.
She ducks under the stallion’s neck without letting go of the halter she took hold of. It brings her so close, I can smell her hair.
“Are you okay working up there?” she asks, her small hand sneaking up my shirt.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I’m instantly distracted, and the mare whinnies behind me, like she can tell. We still haven’t given them names; Song and Lani can’t decide. It’s the first thing they’ve ever fought over.
“You know…” Emily pulls her shoulders up like a kitten. She looks sad, and then winces when the stallion tries to make a sudden grab for the water, biting mare and little one out of the way, and yanking at Emily’s arm.
“Are you worried about me?” I can’t help the sing-song my voice takes on, and she makes a face at me. I’m grinning again, as wide and dumb as ever. She pokes her tongue out, that cute pink thing, and I want to pull her close, get her away from those animals.
“Just… protective,” she smiles, but she’s distracted, restraining that damned horse. The barn can’t be finished soon enough where I’m concerned.
“Wanna come see how it’s going?” It’s transparent, very much so, and she snorts, and then laughs, looking over at the little horse.
“You need an inspection?” she asks, raising her eyebrows.
I look up towards the main house. Everything looks quiet; the kids are likely busy with their math and reading for another hour at least. It can’t be selfish, I reason; it makes sense in my head.
“Come on.” I take her hand. When she smiles the way she does, I wonder how in the world I got this lucky.