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Reel (Hollywood Renaissance #1)
Author: Kennedy Ryan


Zora Neale Hurston,

Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

 

Canon’s Prologue - At 20 Years Old

 

 

It’s the magic hour.

Gold dust smatters the horizon, gilding the fine line dividing earth and sky, bathing the shore in light and shimmer.

“It never gets old,” my mother whispers, the awe in her eyes as new as the unfolding sunset.

After a thousand sunsets from a thousand rickety piers, she, a veteran photographer, still holds onto wonder for this view.

A brisk breeze slips beneath my unzipped windbreaker.

“It is beautiful, but we should probably go inside. It’s getting cool out here.”

“It’s not cool out here.” Mama’s eyes, alive in her weary face, snap to meet mine. “Don’t treat me like an invalid, Canon.”

“I’m not. I . . . I’m not.” I study the wheelchair she spends most of her days in now, the camera in her lap, cradled lovingly in unsteady hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

The irritation eases from her expression a little, but her lips remain set. “Ever really consider that word? Invalid? In-valid. Because someone can’t walk or get around easily, we invalidate them? We don’t see them, don’t respect their wishes?”

“Ma, I didn’t mean to do that. We been out here for a while. It’s been a long day and I just want it to end well.”

The camera, when she lifts it to her eyes and aims it at the sun, shakes in her tenuous hold until her tightening grip steadies it. “Every day that ends with me still breathing has ended well.”

Her words grind into my heart and I draw a sharp breath through my nose, never prepared for the idea that my mother won’t always be around. May not be around much longer.

“Don’t talk like that, Ma.” I shift my feet, feeling as unsteady as the waves lapping at the legs of the pier.

She tears her eyes away from the camera, from the burnished horizon, to cast me a shrewd glance and scoffs. “Boy, we all gonna die. Question is, how did you live? Did you live or just wait for death to come? Not me. I ain’t waiting for nothing.”

She turns back to the sunset. “Except this. I’ll wait for the magic hour every time. It’s waiting for a miracle, but knowing it’ll come through. Like clockwork, it’ll come through. A miracle you can count on.”

I don’t have the heart to tell her I’ve given up on miracles. She’d only say I’m too young to abandon faith and hope and the luxury of naiveté, but the disease ravaging my mother’s body has accelerated her aging and mine.

“Where’s your camera?” she asks, her sudden question finding me over the sound of sloshing waves.

I slide the backpack from my shoulders and pull out my handheld video camera. I know what she wants. More and more she’s been documenting this journey of hers. Of ours. While it hurts to hear some of the things she tells the camera, things she doesn’t say to me, I never stop her. I’m always ready to capture every word, every glance from the remarkable woman who raised me.

“You are my boy for sure. Couldn’t ever find me without my camera either.” She peers over the camera, up at me. “It’s the love of my life, but as much as you love your art, Canon, I want you to find someone you can love more.”

I laugh and taste salty air. “You didn’t, but you want me to?”

A sad smile sketches fine-line parentheses around her mouth. “We always want more for our children than we had.”

I won’t tell her that me loving someone more than my art would take a miracle. Life has stolen enough of my mother’s illusions. I can’t bring myself to take more.

I turn the camera on. I turn it on her.

“Oh good. It’s on?” She lowers her camera and squints into mine, resolve as bright in her eyes as the sinking sun setting the ocean on fire. “’Cause I got something to say.”

 

 

Neevah’s Prologue – At 18 Years Old

 

 

I should have known this day would suck.

At breakfast, I knocked over the salt. Late for school, I paused long enough to scoop up a handful and toss it over my shoulder to counter the bad luck, but the damage had already been done.

First period, Mr. Kaminsky called on me just when I realized I’d left my AP English assignment at home. At lunch, I dropped my tray, spilling chocolate milk, mashed potatoes and my fruit cup all over the cafeteria floor. And the worst part of this day? I dropped a line in rehearsal for the final school play, Our Town. I had that monologue down. How did I forget?

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” I recite my character Emily’s words under my breath and pull Mama’s old Camry into our driveway. “Every, every minute?”

I scoured my brain for those words, but for the life of me couldn’t find them anywhere when I needed them. I even knew the line that came next, the stage manager’s response, his answer to the question I couldn’t come up with.

“Saints and poets maybe.”

The theater department is the best thing about our little high school. I wouldn’t have a full scholarship offer to Rutgers’ drama program without everything the drama club and classes have taught me.

I put the car in park and bang my head against the steering wheel, still mad about forgetting those lines today. “Damn salt.”

When I look up, Brandon’s F150 is parked up ahead under our car porch. My boyfriend—correction, my fiancé since we got engaged over Christmas—always seems to come right when I need him. He’s not thrilled about the Rutgers offer, even though I haven’t decided if I’ll go or not. He hopes I’ll attend a school closer to home, though none of them have offered to pay my way. Despite our recent tension over my future plans, this bad day just got better knowing he’s inside waiting, even though I didn’t expect him.

I love it when he comes over after his shift at Olson’s, his daddy’s garage, where he’s a mechanic. Brand’s got a knack for cars—always has. When no football scholarships came through, he took it in stride and started working at Olson’s without complaint. He always smells like Irish Spring, the soap he uses to wash up after work. No matter how hard he scrubs, stubborn traces of grease usually stick under his nails and in the creases of his hands. I don’t mind as long as his hands are on me.

Brand was my first. My only. Secretly, I’ve been leaning toward staying, maybe studying drama at our community college instead of going up north because I can’t stand the thought of being away from him four years.

I hop out and head for our ranch-style brick house.

“I’m home!” I pocket my keys and close the front door behind me.

Brandon always waits in the living room. Mama would skin us alive if she ever found us in my bedroom, though we’ve gotten away with it a time or two.

I head up the hall, stopping short when I see my sister Terry seated beside him on the couch. They were both juniors when I started high school. Terry is so beautiful, everyone tries at least once with her, but as far as I know, Brandon never has. I couldn’t believe it when he asked me, a freshman, out.

“Hey, guys.” I walk in and flop onto the couch since they’re squeezed onto the love seat. Brandon holds himself stiffly beside her, sitting straight as a pole, fists clenched in his lap. Terry, with her quick smile and that fat ass, is the life of every party, but right now her brows pinch, her face twisted with what looks like misery.

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