by Audrey Carlan
On Sale: May 9, 2020
Publisher: HQN Books
Paperback: 320 Pages
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl series brings readers a poignant and honest look at life’s most complicated relationships.
When their mother passed away, Evie Ross and her sister were each given a stack of letters, one to be opened every year on their birthday; letters their free-spirited mother hoped would inspire and guide them through adulthood. But although Evie has made a successful career, her desire for the stability and security she never had from her parents has meant she’s never experienced the best life has to offer. But the discovery of more letters hidden in a safe-deposit box points to secrets her mother held close, and possibly a new way for Evie to think about her family, her heart and her dreams.
About the author
Audrey Carlan is a #1 New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over 40 novels, including the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl serial, and her books have been translated into more than 30 languages across the globe. Audrey lives in the California Valley with her two children and the love of her life.
“Audrey Carlan has created a gem of a story about sisterhood, love, second chances, and the kind of wanderlust that won’t be silenced, reminding us that sometimes the most important journey is the one we take home.” —Lexi Ryan, New York Times bestselling author
“A wonderful story about building a dream and loving your life, home, family, and more.” –Kylie Scott, New York Times Bestselling Author on What the Heart Wants
Ten years ago…
Tears track down my face as Tahsuda, my Toko, which is the Comanche word for “grandfather,” hands me a large stack of pink envelopes tied with a ribbon. My mother’s beautiful handwriting is visible on the top. He hands another stack to my eighteen-year-old sister, Suda Kaye.
“From my Catori, for her Taabe and Huutsuu,” he begins, using the Comanche nicknames my mother gave us. “To have a piece of her on their birthdays. One for today, and one for each birthday and important moment in your life to come. I shall leave you to your peace but know I am here for you, forevermore.” Tahsuda puts his hands together under his worn red-and-black poncho and nods his head forward. His long, silky black hair gleams a dark midnight blue in the rays of the sunlight that streak through our bedroom window. His hair is so much like my mother’s I have to swallow down the sob that aches to come out in a flood of misery and grief.
Misery because I am so angry at her for all the time we could have had together. Grief because she left this world six months ago, and today, on my twentieth birthday and Suda Kaye’s eighteenth, we are facing our entire lives without her. This wasn’t another one of her many adventures. We’d grown used to the routine. She’d skip around the house, packing her battered suitcase while she told us all about what she hoped to see and do on her travels. While she fluttered around the globe, we stayed behind and went to school, dropped off for an undetermined amount of time at the reservation where our grandfather lived. Months later, with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, she’d reenter our lives as though she’d never even left.
At least she’d come back.
As much as I hated our mother’s wanderlust, I always knew eventually she’d find her way home. Her weary feet would be tired, and she’d come dancing into Toko’s home with grand tales about a world I didn’t ever care to see. I didn’t want to go anywhere that made me up and leave my family for months on end. Them always wondering where I was, who I was with and whether or not I was okay.
No way. That was not me. And it never would be.
I finger the ribbon on the stack of envelopes and take mine to the papasan chair in the corner of our shared room. Suda Kaye stretches out on her twin bed. We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Pueblo. Suda Kaye has just graduated high school. I attend the local community college.
The one thing Catori Ross never imagined could happen to her was illness. In all her plans to travel the globe, to experience absolutely everything she could, she didn’t factor in time to get regular checkups. Since she didn’t tend to get sick, Mom hadn’t been to a doctor in a solid decade before she started to feel unwell. After three solid months of lethargy and depression—two things our mother never was— the first round of tests gave us the first blow.
She believed with her whole heart that she could beat it, but as Toko says, cancer took both his wife and his daughter. He says it was written in the stars. That was the reason he never gave Mom hell about her traveling and leaving us with him. He always said a person must do what their heart wants. Dreams are not only for the sleeping. They are meant to be chased and caught.
Our mother lived. Chased every dream with a hunger that could never be quenched. I fear my sister will do the same.
Suda Kaye sits against her headboard as I cuddle into the chair. I untie the ribbon and then set all but the top letter to the side. The first envelope has today’s date on it and her nickname for me. Taabe, which means “sun” in Comanche. Mom called me her sun because I am light everywhere, while she and my sister were dark. Mom was full-blooded Native American like Toko. Suda Kaye and I are half, and we each have different fathers. I got a lot of my coloring from my father, Adam Ross. Like Dad, my hair is golden blond and I have his ice-blue eyes. Though my high cheekbones, the shape of my eyes and my full lips are my mother’s. Suda Kaye has dark, espresso-colored hair, amber eyes and will one day have a knockout figure. She already is growing into her womanly hourglass shape—full bosom, long legs and rounded hips. Me, I have the tall, lanky, athletic build. Still, there is no denying our heritage even with the play on light and dark in our coloring.
We are Catori’s daughters, a vibrant mix of her and our biological fathers. Though Suda Kaye and I don’t know much about her real dad. We just know what Mom told us much later in life—that she had made a mistake. She and her husband—my father, Adam—had been going through a rough time and separated for a year. In that year she’d gone on an adventure and come back pregnant with my sister. I was only two when she was born so none of that had ever mattered to me one way or the other. My father treated Suda Kaye mostly the same, which also didn’t matter because he wasn’t around much, either, always deployed someplace far away.
I thumb the envelope and run my fingers across her pretty handwriting.
I miss you, Mom.
Taking a full deep breath, I ease back against my chair and open the first letter.
Evie, my golden Taabe,
Never in a million years did I think I’d be in this situation. Gone from you and your sister in a way that I cannot come back from. I know you’ve always hated my need to wander, as it took me away from you and Suda Kaye, but you were never far from my mind or my heart. Never unloved.
I had to chase my dreams, Taabe. One day, you’ll understand.
My greatest hope is that you know my love for you transcends any reality, location or final destination. It is as the sun, shining brightly each day. Never ending, always warm, forever shedding light onto you and your sister.
With me gone, without the burden of having to take care of me and Suda Kaye, I want you to think long and hard about what it is you want in life. Just you. Think big. Live out loud.
What is still out there to explore?
Where in the world do you see yourself visiting? What new journey have you wished to undertake?
Think of all the beauty I’ve shared through my stories and photos over the years. Those experiences are a huge part of me. And I’m so grateful I had them. It gave me the ability to open your eyes to the fact that anything in life is possible.
My only regret was having to leave you and your sister behind. Though I hope now, you will take time out for yourself.
Evie, you are so grounded. Your feet firmly rooted to God’s green earth. Pull those roots, my lovely girl. Break away from all that keeps you still and give yourself an experience unlike any other. Perhaps then you will understand my need to go, to feel the wind in my hair, the sand between my toes, the gravel under my boots. I lived every moment to the fullest and I want that for you so deeply.
Please take the inheritance I left you and use it to live.
See the world, my precious girl.
With all my love,
I grind down on my teeth and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. I fold my letter into thirds and stuff it back into the envelope. Clearing my throat, I flatten my hand along the front before lifting it to my nose and inhaling the familiar scent of citrus with a hint of patchouli.
“Smells like her.” I clear my throat as a traitorous tear slides down my cheek.
Suda Kaye sniffs her letter and smiles sadly. “Mom always said if you’re going to smell like anything, let it be natural. Fruit and spice.”
“And everything nice!” I chuckle, then sigh as the weight of everything in my letter festers in my heart and soul, mixing with the intense sorrow I haven’t shaken off in the six months since she passed.
“I miss her. Sometimes I pretend she’s just gone off on another one of her adventures, you know? Then I can be pissed off and plan out all the catty things I’m going to say to her when she finally returns with a suitcase full of dirty clothes and presents to smooth over the hurt.”
My sister gasps and her stunning amber eyes fill with more tears. “Evie, she didn’t want to leave…”
I fist my hands, rekindling the anger that never seems to disappear when I think of all the years we might have had with her. “Not this time, Kaye, but what about all the other times? Years and years of time lost. And for what?” I huff and stand, pacing our small room with Mom’s letters plastered to my chest like a well-loved teddy bear. “Fun. Wild experiences. Adventures! It killed her. This need to see the greener grass on the other side.” Scowling, I point at myself. “Well, that won’t be me. No way. No how. I’ve got my feet firmly planted on terra firma. I’m going to finish school, get my bachelor’s in finance, then my master’s, and make something of myself. And I’m going to be happy!”
How I’m going to be happy without my mother in my life, I don’t know. I never knew how to fill the hole she left with each adventure she took. It just seemed that the void got bigger and bigger. But my mother…she was such a glorious woman, an incredible presence when she was there. She could easily fill up that gaping wound that I call my heart each and every time she came back.
Finding that the pacing isn’t doing much, I toss my stack of letters onto the chair and drop onto the bed next to Kaye, face planted dramatically in the crook of my arms, my nose touching the mattress as I breathe deeply and try my best not to break down in front of my baby sister.
Slowly, she strokes my hair in long, soothing sweeps of her hand. Once I’ve gotten myself under control emotionally—for now, that is—I turn over.
“What did your letter say?” I ask. Kaye licks her lips and glances away. We don’t have any secrets from one another, but I can tell this is one she’d rather keep from me. Eventually she caves and hands me her letter. Pulling myself up, I sit cross-legged and read out loud.
“‘Suda Kaye, my little huutsuu.’” I cover my mouth and close my eyes. The last word comes out as a croak. Mom’s nickname for Suda Kaye meant “little bird” in Comanche. Huutsuu to my Taabe. My sister has always been the one up for a grand adventure. She could make going grocery shopping the highlight of anyone’s week with her dramatic flair and interest in all things. Same goes for a laundromat, the car wash, a walk around the neighborhood. Always something to experience, to see, hear, sense. My sister soaks up life like a sponge until she’s wrung out, and then starts all over again. That apple did not fall far from the tree, much to my dismay.
She smiles wide. “Always and forever, Taabe,” she responds. Not wanting to make Suda Kaye more emotional, I quickly read her letter. With every sentence my heart sinks. Basically, Mom has told my sister to leave home. To get in her car and travel the world, starting with the States. To leave me in order to allow me to find my own calling, without the worry of my baby sister there to hold me back. My stomach churns and acid creeps up my throat as I read the last couple sentences that tell her that if Camden, Suda Kaye’s longtime boyfriend, truly loves her, he will set her free.
My hands shake as I pass it back to her, my entire body stiff as a board. I feel as though I’ve been staked through the heart and left for dead.
My mother wants my sister—my best friend—to leave me.
To go away for as long as it took for Mom to find herself.
“You’re not going to do it, are you?” I ask, the fear clear in my tone.
She bites down on the side of her cheek and nods.
“Kaye…you can’t do that. What about Camden? He won’t understand. A guy like that…the life he wants to give you. No way. You just…” I let out a breath, grab my sister’s hands and squeeze, trying to transfer all the worry and fear I’ll experience with her leaving me behind. And yet I don’t say a word. In this moment, she has to make the choice that’s right for her.
I swallow down the lump of emotion swelling in my throat and whisper, “What are you going to do?” She stares into my eyes, right through to my soul, and says the five words I never wanted to hear from her.
“I’m going to fly free.”
I close my eyes, lean forward to kiss her forehead. “I love you, Suda Kaye.” It’s the only thing I can say. It’s raw, honest and life-changing.
“You know you could come with me?” Her voice fills with hope, but the last thing she needs is me tying her down, trying to run her life for her. Mom made that very clear in her letter. Heck, she made it clear in mine.
Shaking my head, I cup her soft cheek. “You have to make your own choices.”
She nods, folds up her letter, puts it back in the envelope and then ties up the stack in a bundle once more.
My sister, not one to let grass grow under her feet, pulls the big suitcase from under her bed that Mom gave her for graduation and sets it on the comforter. Methodically, without saying a word, I help my sister pack her things. The last item she puts on top of her clothes is a picture of me, Mom and her, taken last year before Mom became too sick. It had been a good day; we’d had a picnic in the park. Laughing, snacking and listening to our mother share one story after another.
I knew then that those good days would be few and far between, so I encouraged her storytelling, while Suda Kaye ate up every ounce as though it were her very favorite dish.
Holding hands, I walk my sister to her car and put her suitcase in the trunk.
“Do you know where you’ll go after you see Camden?” I ask, knowing she wouldn’t leave without seeing him first.
She smiles and shrugs. “We’re in the middle of the country. I’m going to pick a direction and just keep driving until I get too tired. Then I’ll stop and decide where I’m meant to be next.”
“You call me. I’ll come get you anywhere, any place. No matter w-what.” My voice shakes as I pull her into my arms and inhale her fragrance—cherry-scented shampoo and lotion. I allow the scent to imprint on my memory bank for I know I’ll need it in the lonely months, maybe even years, to come.
Suda Kaye walks around her car and opens the driver’s side door. “Miss me,” she says, and the deluge of tears falls from my eyes like a waterfall.
“Miss me more,” I whisper, and hold up my hand.
She mimics the gesture, placing her palm against mine. “Always.”
Then I watch for a long time as my sister’s taillights eventually fade and disappear into the black night. Before long, I look up into the open sky and the wealth of sparkling stars blanketing the sky like diamonds over black velvet.
I pick a star and make the same wish I’ve been making since I was a child. “One of these days, I wish someone I love would stay.”
Excerpted from To Catch a Dream by Audrey Carlan. Copyright © Audrey Carlan. Published by HQN Books.