Updating Livejournal...

Wow. I almost forgot about this account, which details some very crazy times in my life, including meeting my husband, having my first baby, and moving to the West from the oppressive cold of Michigan. Good times.

I'm now the mother of two beautiful boys, one just seven months old--the product of a mercifully smooth and quick home birth. If all births were like that! Well, I'd have eight kids. No hospital, no nurses telling me how lucky I was that my labor was only 28 hours (seriously, someone told me the morning of my first birth that other women have it much harder than I did). There were almost no rules, because I didn't need them. This time, I was researched. I was studied. I was prepared. And it paid off dearly. LJ was born in our oval tub after only one hour of really intense labor. And the only people in the room during most of the labor were my mother and my husband, who was holding me up in the tub. Oh, I love my husband.

Okay, so after a six-month battle with the social security department over whether or not LJ's birth certificate was good enough to constitute U.S. citizenship, I was beginning to feel sorry for Barack Obama. But my children are both citizens at last. Yea!

On to more current news:

S is 3 years old, writes the word CAT and his name (with a very creative S), and reads sight words in his huge library of children's books. I love that he loves to read already.
LJ is growing up so fast, already has two teeth and pulls up on everything in sight. He probably fell twenty times today, trying to stand up by himself. He is my inspiration.
My hubby is working hard. I won't rant about that because I want him to keep his job. :-) No, truthfully it's not that bad. We live in so-Cal in a decent apartment in a beautiful neighborhood filled with parks and recreation. hee hee.

We are both training for a marathon in the fall. I ran 8 miles on Monday. I know, I rock.

My writing:
It's an obsession again, but I'm not blogging about it much, really. My blog: http://www.katrinalantznovelist.blogspot.com
Is actually filled with musings about the writing process, book reviews, and one (so far) interview with a real-life published author, Devin O'Branagan, who wrote GLORY. I guess I'm still trying to decide exactly what I want to do with my blog. I know I want to talk about books. I live, breathe, and sleep books. I read, write, and keep books. How's that for impromptu poetry? Bad? Okay, I'll stop.

I'm working on a MG boy book about superheroes. That's all I'm gonna say because the concept is a little different from what's out there now, and I don't want to get copied. The voice, I think, is maybe TOO fun, but we'll see if somebody likes that goofy alliteration-name thing. I sure hope somebody does. I know everyone in my family would love it, but aren't we all trained with our parents' sense of humor?

I sure am. Thanks a lot, DAD. No, really. Thank you. I love you, Dad.

And with that, I'm off to watch Bones with the husband. And after that, up till midnight with my WIP...again.

Realizing goals feels good.

I have recently discovered that realizing your personal and familial goals feels pretty darn good. With Bill making more than twice what he was making in Michigan, and Samuel growing up to be a darling, decent little boy, my life has been cozy--to put it mildly!

I've had time to train for my first marathon, which will be in October 2008. And I've had time to write. In the past few months, I have written an entire book. Well, I have a few pages left to write at the beginning and the end, but the middle is complete. It is amazing what you can get done in just one day when motivated and disciplined... and blessed. Let's not forget the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven who gives me purpose and realization of my worthy goals. He is glorious and--well, Divine!

With daily prayers for inspiration, I've been able to average ten pages in my story each day. The catch is that I have to write forward. I discovered that going back to revise the previous day's work only serves to stall the process and inhibit my imagination. So, I'm going to revise the book through a series of re-readings once it is complete. I have reached page 250 and passed it, so my new goal is simply to write out the rest of my outline in story form. That should only take a remaining 10-15 pages. After that, I had planned to revise and revise and revise with a paper copy of my work with a good old fashioned red pen.

But then I had an epiphany. Well, I remembered that my genre of novel likes to see a series, and so I pondered it, and mulled it over, and decided that, yes, I would write a trilogy. Why not? It's been done by so many! Surely, I can do it, too! Well, I certainly hope I can because the goal is on paper now and there's no stopping it from reaching fruition. I will complete this project and I will do it before the end of this year!

Having done with the middle part of the story, I have a prequel and a sequel to write. The prequel is practically written, since I began this story six years ago with events predating the middle portion. I've found some of those portions here, on livejournal. I'm so satisfied that the internet didn't eat them up. Sometimes one wonders about the things we send into cyberspace.

So the biggest challenge will be writing the last installment of the series. That is the episode that will require the most raw imagination. The outline isn't written yet--not really. Oh, but it will be soon. I find that the keys to my continual writing include a dash of self-deception. For one thing, I can't very well admit to myself how terrible I think that last paragraph sounds. I have to keep moving forward, as Disney says, and hope to revise it later. This requires ignoring a lot of my book's faults, but only temporarily. The depressing period of revision will be the time for picking at every pimple and sore. Painful as it will be, I will do it. Just not now. Now, I have goals to meet and two more books of a series to write, mesh, and coordinate together.

I read a book recently about how to read like a writer. In fact, I think that's what it was called: Read Like a Writer by a lady named Prose.

She made some helpful points, including the point that we should be reading our favorite authors carefully to learn from them the nuances of good writing. So I picked up my anthology of Emily Dickinson today and perused a few of her thousands of poems. Then I picked up the first Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and began that for the umpteenth time, admiring the way she structures her sentences to keep me interested, even though I know how the story goes. Do you know that she has another book out? Tales of Beedle the Bard, or something. I can't wait to read it. When I first picked up Harry Potter at the recommendation of my 13-year-old sister, I read a few lines in the middle and gave this verdict: "There's nothing remarkable about this writing." That was one of my life lessons. It turned out over the course of actually reading the books, there was something remarkable about her writing! It was in the way she used simple words and phrases in creative ways to tell an ingenious story with important moral principles. It was in the humor of her scenes and in her characters' voices, or the fright you can almost feel when Harry battles a foe. They were meant for children, published by Scholastic, no less. Yet, they reached a much more vast audience. There was definitely something remarkable about that author's writing. I can only hope to be a quarter as successful as she was, or half as good a writer.

Then there is Jane Austen, who is, of course, in a class by herself. Nobody can hold a candle to her. J.K. Rowling is fabulous, of course, but it is a different kind of writing. Rowling is like J.R.R. Tolkein himself, or C. S. Lewis in her skillfull story-telling. Jane Austen did more than tell a story with a moral. She gave us elegant insight into the minds of real people--not just made-up characters. Oh, she was fantastic. If only I could write with her narrator's authority and eloquence. If only my characters could be as aloof and emotionally-charged as hers.

I may be relegated to the status of blog-writer forever. Would that be a travesty? My only claim on writing is that I love it so well, and that it soothes me, and that my mother always loved my poetry. No greater than any other man's claim on the sport. But I do love it.

I hope that novel-writing is like essay-writing. The first essay I ever wrote was horrible, unremarkable, and disorganized. But as I learned the rules of good essay-writing, and practiced, and received criticism well, I began to get A's and then gold medals in Academic Decathlon essay category, and then published in the school journal. If I sat down to write an essay, even now, it would not be as good as my essays then were. It's about learning the rules and practicing consistently, right? So, in theory, I should be able to learn the art of novel-writing in the same manner. With this in mind, I believe strongly that my method of moving forward and writing and writing and writing and finishing my rough draft before I revise will work. When I have finished that, I will go back and apply the new rules I have learned through practice, and the revised copy will be glorious. Or at least better. I hope.

Wish me luck in my attempts at writing. For I have been working on the same novel for six years, and that is too long for failure. I must finish this story, because at least three others that I have thought of since beginning now beg to be told. My work is never done.

My baby is 6 months old...

It's true. Six months ago almost to the day was my first experience with childbirth. It didn't go exactly as I had hoped and planned, but it barely matters now. My baby is so precious to me. He scoots across the floor awkwardly, pausing to mouth toys and say, "Mnah, nah, nah, nah, nah." He looks up at me and smiles when he hears his name. He loves it when I put my fingers in his mouth to apply counterpressure to his teething gums. He says mama, but doesn't know what it means or why I look at him so blissfully when he says it.

Bill is doing great! I'm so proud of him and love him so dearly. He worked it out so that he's getting a $5/hour raise, working fewer hours (45 instead of 55) and working from home out West or wherever we wish to move! Now we are selling our furniture, including my beloved Baldwin french provincial sideboard spinet piano. Everything, except the crib and rocking chair for baby. We're not even close to having it all sold, but three of the biggest things are on auction on ebay.com and end tomorrow. Phew, will that be a relief! We hope we will make enough money from the auctions to afford the trailer and gas for moving.

Aside from the stress of packing and selling things, I am exceedingly happy. I have the cutest baby in the world who is also a genius. And I have the most thoughtful and hunky man I ever dreamed possible by my side. I am heading toward the place I want to live, to be in the climate I am accustomed to, and Bill will be free to spend more time with our family and pursuing his education, and less time working (though still fulltime). We are really only sacrificing a little compared with the blessings we are receiving!

Since I last wrote here, my kid sister Shayna has been married (October 13, 2006) and had a baby named Braxton; my baby sister Aubrey has been married (June 15, 2007) and is currently in boot camp for the air force national guard; and my older brother Ryan has had his third child, a son named Taft.

My parents have also built their dream house and are living in it in St. George, Utah. My family has been tremendously blessed in so many ways!

I love life! After marrying Bill, my life became much happier, but I still felt that death would be a welcome blessing-- just to be in the presence of my God with all of His love for me and all His children, and to be free of pain and sorrow. But with the addition of my son into our lives, I cannot wish for death at all. Not only do I want to watch him grow and learn, but I want him to know and feel all the LOVE we, his parents, have for him. And in death, that would be almost impossible to relay. I now feel that I must stay alive to make his life whole and happy... at least until he knows how much I love him, and until he no longer needs me. Then I will happily die and enjoy eternity with my wonderful celestial companion, Bill.

These things are much too deep for an online journal, so I curtail my entry and simply say that I am happy and my life has many profound meanings for me and those around me. I am growing and I am learning and I love this Plan of Salvation that I am traveling.

What about Angus? After chapter 2

Angus looked up at the misty glass wishing he could see the world beyond. The room surrounding him was dark and small, but soft. He didn't know how long he had been couped up there, isolated from human contact. It felt like weeks, but it had probably only been a few days. Drops of bluish green rain streaked down the small, foggy window pane and Angus deduced that it must already be late afternoon, for the lack of light. As he inhaled deeply, the thick obtrusive scent of mold and old, pent-up moisture struck his nose, enticing him to take more shallow spurts of breath to avoid pneumonia.

How much longer would he be trapped in this stormy prison? He struggled to sit up, gently cradling his bruised arms. The rumbling sounds of unstable thunder and the steady wash of pouring rain made him long for California's open, sunny air. His thoughts turned to the Benedicts and Mirielle's ruined birthday party. Guilt and regret his constant companions, Angus closed his eyes against the swelling pain in his chest. His eyes stung, and the solitude of the dark, cool room made him forget for the moment that grown men do not cry.

Where was his enemy now? Gloating over his explosive victory? Lying in wait for Angus's expected return? He fingered the tiny silver phone strapped to his ankle. His goddaughter was one button-push away. The tempting thought of her angelic voice welcomed him to call her. But the consequences of that action still brewed in the forefront of his mind. He did not need more haunting regrets. What if he only called her for a moment, just to ensure that she is safe and content? What would be the harm in one very short phone call? Nobody knew about her new "spy phone," as she called it. No one would be tracing the call. Angus's attention was confiscated by the familiar sound of music permeating the paper-thin walls of his cell. The sweet hypnotic melody set his mind at ease and he sank into the soft, thick blankets all around him, drifting off to sleep.

Mirielle's sophomore finals: take 2

Brian finally turned and broke into a run toward Calculus, remembering at once his final exam, and his teacher's assertion that late-comers would have ten points taken from their final score.

Mirielle reached the main building, scaled the steps, and found her classroom, two doors down the left hallway. Everyone was seated with exams on their desks and pencils ready. A wave of faces looked up when she rushed into the room, brown hair disheveled and rabbit foot in hand. The late bell buzzed and Mirielle breathed a sigh of relief as she caught her breath.

"Nice of you to join us, Mirielle." Mr. Cook was writing vocabulary words from their history text book on the white board, his back to the class. He had a habit of talking to people without looking at them, which Mirielle found creepy, not to mention rude.

She sheepishly apologized and took her seat behind Taura Gage, who gave her a pitying smile before sticking her nose in her own exam in front of her. Mirielle shoved her backpack beneath her desk and focused on the stapled packet of questions before her. This exam needed no introduction or instructions. Mr. Cook had spent the past semester working it up in their minds as the most comprehensive American History exam they would ever take.

The first five pages were lined with ten multiple choice questions each. Mirielle read the first question in her head:
In what years was the Cold War fought and which three countries were our allies?
Each lettered option beneath it showed a specific range of years and three countries, but several of them represented the same year and only changed one country in the answer. An iron ball seemed to fall from Mirielle's chest to the pit of her stomach. Why hadn't she studied these dates and places more carefully?

Mirielle's mind wandered to Brian in his Calculus test. I hope he's doing better than I am, she thought. He really seemed to be improving.

Though Mirielle was a year behind Brian in school, she had the advantage of a summer tutor in Angus every year for as long as she could remember. Mathematics came easily to her, but History just wouldn't seem to keep in her memory. She tried to remember what Angus had said about the Cold War, but most of his tutoring had been fantastic stories about battles and heroes. The stories had helped her to remember names, but the details were still evading her as she rallied every particular of Angus's Cold War stories she could think of.

She looked at the options again and chose (c)1945-1991; USSR, USA, and Great Britain. Fairly certain she had got it right, she went on to the next question, and found each question became easier as she recalled the stories Angus told her. She laughed to herself reminscing about Angus's hilarious impression of Kennedy mistakenly telling the Germans he was a jelly donut.

After the multiple choice questions were two essay prompts requiring a five-paragraph essay response each. Mirielle looked at the round, black-rimmed clock. She had fifteen minutes left and she could feel her right hand begin to cramp from her intense focus on the first essay. With four paragraphs down and only the conclusion left, she feverishly scribbled her restated thesis, and ended with a sloppy resolution.

She let out a sigh of relief and turned the page to the next essay question, realizing she now had less than ten minutes to complete it. She sketched a rough outline in the margin of her paper with three one-word points that would constitute her main paragraphs, then wrote what she thought was a clever first line.

"Five minutes," Mr. Cook called out. There was a rattle of papers in response and a few students walked to the front of the classroom to hand him their completed test packets. These students were allowed to leave early, but Mirielle was not one of them.

She was still working on her first paragraph of this final essay. She wrote quickly, almost illegibly, barely backing up her points with one evidenciary statement each, and concluded again with a sloppy restatement of her hurried thesis. She half stood up, ready to turn in her packet when she realized she had forgotten to label it with her name. As she did, the bell buzzed.

Mr. Cook invited the remaining students to bring him their test packets. Mirielle stood raptly, but found herself stuck behind a rather large junior who was slowly collecting his backpack from underneath his desk. She awkwardly stared at his wide rear-end as she waited, unable to see much else. Finally he moved, and Mirielle had a clear path to her teacher. She smiled politely as she handed over her test packet.

"Last to arrive and last to leave, eh?" Mr. Cook did not look at Mirielle, but at his thick stack of tests. Mirielle felt no guilt in ignoring him as she hurried out of the classroom and onto her next final.

Relief swam over her. That wasn't so bad! she thought. Thanks to Angus, anyway. I wonder how Brian's test went. She wouldn't see him until lunch, two hours from now. Mirielle reached into her pants pocket where the lucky rabbit foot called Thumper bulged as though bursting to escape. She smiled at it, recalling all the events to which Thumper had accompanied herself and Brian. Between his soccer games, her essay competitions, and both their finals since they met in grade school, it was no wonder the fluffy relic was missing small patches of fur. She cautiously replaced it in the small zipper pouch at the front of her backpack as she walked down the hall to the opposite end of the building. It had surprised her when Brian offered her Thumper that morning. Calculus was as difficult for him as History was for her, and Thumper was technically his lucky charm. She loved the way Brian always shared what he had even though his family didn't have much.

Her English classroom was nearly empty when she arrived, as usual. The teacher wasn't even there yet.

Baby and Daddy

pregnancy week by week

Exciting, huh?

I'm five weeks along. Baby's heart is growing! Father's Day is on Sunday and I can't wait to give Billy his first Father's Day present.
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Start of junior year- Mirielle

Mirielle looked at her calendar with dread at the upcoming start of the school semester. August 12th, was fast approaching, and Mirielle wondered where the past month had gone. It seemed like an eternity since the night Angus had disappeared. She had spent most of the lazy summer days with Brian, swimming in the ocean or her backyard pool, or just lying around. Every once in a while, they'd sneak down into the bomb shelter to be completley alone, but they hadn't discovered any more of its secrets since their first expedition through the secret bookshelf in Mr. Benedict's office a month before. In fact, Mirielle had been quite distracted from her family research lately. If she wasn't with Brian, she was with Taura, who was spending less and less time at her own house these days.

Taura and Mirielle exchanged horror stories from therapy sessions, but encouraged each other to keep going, anyway. They went hiking occasionally near Ernest Peaks and Mirielle introduced Taura to the medicine stone. It made her feel better to pass on the stories Angus had told her to someone else. One particularly clear starry night, they went camping with Mirielle's parents in Rockies. Mirielle remembered Angus saying, "It's not really camping if you don't sleep under the stars," so she had fought against her parents' bringing the camper. But ultimately Mrs. Benedict had won ("Where else are we going to go to the bathroom?").

Each Wednesday night, Mr. Benedict arranged to come home from work early to cook a special dinner for the family, after which they played board games or went to the movie theatre. Mirielle was pleased with the change in her father's devotion to his family. Unfortunately, his devotion meant that sometimes she had to fight with him in order to spend an evening away from home with Brian ("Why can't you hang out here? I'll make Creme Brulee!"). But Mirielle almost always won these arguments.

Mirielle had read through her grandmother's book at least three times by the beginning of August. She read mostly at night when her mind raced too much for her to sleep. She had even asked Grandma Pearl for one of her other novels, but Grandma Pearl had told her she was still too young to read romance novels. Grandma Pearl loved her lunch visits with her granddaughter now. Mirielle was an avid listener and Grandma Pearl proved to be an avid storyteller, much like Angus. But Mirielle didn't mention this similarity to Grandma Pearl. She still had a sense that Angus was a touchy subject for her. Mirielle was glad for the chance to speak freely of Angus around everyone else in her life. They all spoke of him as though he were only away on a very long business trip out of the country.

Mirielle was comforted to find that her family was still intact, even without Angus, but there were many times (when she was alone) that she still felt like only half a person.

Now, with the first day of school one day away, Mirielle closed the small screen that held her calendar day planner and shut off the PDA completely. She had work to do. Taura's mother was going to take them back-to-school shopping and it was a tradition for Mirielle to thoroughly clean out and organize the scrapbooks, papers, and text books from the previous year before the annual shopping trip.

She sifted through a box of neatly folded notes on lined paper, some in the shape of paper frogs; some that were folded so that one corner of paper stuck out like a tab that read, "Pull!"; and one that was shaped like an oragami crane. Mirielle laughed to herself, remembering when Brian had thrown it at her during the school lunch break.

"It's flying! Oh, watch out, Miri!"

It hit her square in the forehead when she turned toward the sound of Brian's voice.

"Oww!" It had hurt about as much as an olive falling on her head, but she pretended that it hurt her more than that.

"Oops," Brian said. He took two steps and was looking down at a pouting Mirielle. "Well, I warned ya!" he defended.

"Yeah, thanks."

"You're welcome," he grinned boyishly. "It's a love note. You can add it to your collection."

Mirielle had smiled sarcastically and taken it home to her collection as he'd suggested. She had been very curious about whether or not anything was really written on the paper crane, but she was afraid she'd never be able to fold it back together once she had taken it apart. Now, she was faced with the ultimatum she had given herself for all papers on clean-up day: justify keeping it or throw it away.

She tore it open... gently. To her satisfaction, something was written inside: "


"Can you believe she's wearing those same jeans AGAIN!? Like, get some new clothes!" Gabby was saying loudly so that an oddly dressed freshman nearby could hear her.

Bianca and Gabby laughed louder than their little joke warranted. Taura smiled complacently, as always. Mirielle, who had been lost in her thoughts again, woke from her trance at the sound of her friends' cruel laughter. It wasn't that she had never heard Gabby taunt freshmen before, but Mirielle heard her words and laughter differently this time. She did not join in.

"I never knew," she said softly, "that laughter had such different tones. I've never heard laughter so hollow and full of itself. Do we always sound like that?" She looked up at the others, who didn't seem to know what to say in response.

Bianca looked as if she had sniffed something peutred on the air. "Not as full of itself as you, Miri. You know what? You think you are so special and different from us," she gestured to the other two girls. "There is nothing special about you, except your dead godfather."

Mirielle looked at Bianca with an expression that normally accompanied vomit. She felt woosy, and angry, and completely incapable of dealing with both feelings at once.

"What? I'm sick of you lording over us with Angus's ridiculous presents. It's all just drug money, and you know it's true, Miri." Bianca was unaffected by Mirielle's apparent disgust. She flipped her hair and laughed while she spoke, and Mirielle felt as though she were seeing Bianca for the first time. She looked older and meaner.

"Bee, it's un-called-for! She hasn't done anything to you, and she's been through a lot already!" Taura was yelling.

Mirielle thought she might pass out.

"So what? Everyone has to grow up sometime, Miri, and realize that reality isn't as nice as their little dream world." Bianca's cold eyes were fixed on Mirielle, but Mirielle only saw the concrete at her feet. "Angus isn't coming back, Miri. Get a grip."

As Bianca walked away emphatically, Taura yelled, "I hope your parents drown on their stupid yacht, you stuck-up pig!"

Bianca turned and smirked at Taura before disappearing around the corner of the large, brick building. Gabby looked at Mirielle and Taura uncertainly and then chased after Bianca.

Taura looked at Mirielle with a face full of pity and a feeling of helplessness in the pit of her stomach.

Sarei of Sahmoon

Sarei with her big, almond, slanted eyes walked through the Ancient Wood cautiously and froze solid still at the slightest snapping of a twig fifty feet away. Then she heard voices, deep and angry. Men were tearing through the ground ivy and giant fern, examining every redwood tree with a quick, sharp glare as they plowed on. They would know who she was when they saw her in her camel skins with broken beads. They would make her go back and she knew what would happen then. Torture. She held very still, like she used to do when her father was looking for her. If she held still enough, he would rush right past her without noticing her at all, and then she could get away. She ran faster than her brothers, faster than grown men. Mama said it was the lightness of her spirit that pushed her speed. Sarei looked down at the sparkling, polished rock in her hand. She loved the way the sunlight struck its surface and came back out at her, drawing her in. She waited silently for the men to rush past her, then she ran. The stone was cold and heavy in the small palm of her right hand. It slowed her down, but she dared not look behind her for fear that the guards were running right behind her. She swirled around the mountain up a winding path, feeling drawn to its peak. Legends and stories of the Leedak Fire Opal's power seemed so real to her now and she whole-heartedly believed them. Breathing in the sweet-smelling air, she exhaled anxiously as the mists of the mountain grew thick around her as she continued her ascent. She tried in vain not to be distracted by the strange plants and flowers that now covered the large stones surrounding the path. Their colors were so strange and bright, not at all like the bland daisies that graced Mama's poor table. These flowers looked as though they had been planted by someone who cared meticulously about their fates. The sky darkened above her and her legs and arms ached in the oncoming drizzle, but she pushed onward, her dread of the village below chasing her upward. An angry clap of thunder accompanied a line of fire shooting across the sky. The lightning and thunder startled her and she stumbled to the ground forcefully, the Leedak Fire Opal bouncing from her grasp onto a patch of flowers, whose bright colors were diminished slightly by the overcast sky. She reached almost instinctively for the Opal and held it close to her chest, sitting still for a moment on the path to listen and catch her breath. She noted how strangely the flowers grew over the stones as though a seed had been planted within each stone. Even in the dull, pale grey of early evening, these flowers sang with brightness compared to the drab mustard-colored daisies she had seen only this morning in her family's cold, damp cavern. The cavern was part of a small mountain range that encircled the village. It was filled with caverns facing inward to the village and each cavern was crowded with those who were outcast from the inner circle of the village. Sarei's cavern home was also home to another family with four children, not a single one of which was her own age. They, too, were outcast from the inner circle and lived as slaves to the society that dwelt within. Sarei rung her thick, damp hair, drinking the raindrops as they ran down her tightened fists. Her stomach growled greedily and she presently regretted rejecting her one chance for breakfast. Tunik had been monstrous when he'd offered it to her after dipping the stale ash cake in dirty ground water on purpose. Sarei's face hardened as she recalled his cruel smile, dressed up in royal cloaks and lotioned hair. Son of a Council Elder, he was unusually mischeivous and remarkably wild. In another life, she thought, I will boss him around and take his bread away. This revenge she found mildly comforting, but her stomach did not cease its grumbling.
At length, her legs became stiff from sitting on stones, and she stood up to continue her trek up the mountain. Her extraordinary eyes gleamed with excitement when she thought of reaching the top and placing the Opal in its rightful place at the peak of Mount Leedak. Legend told that the Holy One would smile on the whole land when a young girl reached the peak alone and returned the Opal to the place of birth. Sarei hurried upward, staying on the path for fear of becoming lost on the notorious cliffs of Leedak. Her advantage over the guards of the inner circle was increased by the falling rain and powerful lightning. The rain made the path slippery even for her, but the guards with their metal clothes would struggle still more than she would. The lightning frightened them all. It was thought to mean bad luck and doom. But Sarei had been taught that the lightning was a sign, a reminder that rain is a gift from the Holy One. Sarei loved the rain, and she found her bare feet capable tools on the slippery stone path. Though the rain slowed her down considerably, she moved forward quickly, her mind single to her cause. Each turn found the next turn closer to the last until she could no longer see in front of her for the thick mists of fog. Here, she stumbled and tripped, but moved forward, feet light and hands outstretched in earnest. The blinding fog lasted two spirals of the path and then cleared up just before the path reached the peak. Sarei stepped beyond the fog and gasped, holding her breath at the sight she saw.
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Chapter 4- The secret house

Mirielle turned open the thick leather cover of her grandmother's book and began to read. Her grandmother's written words were compelling and the story she told came alive. Mirielle felt at once as if she truly knew Kurt Oriel and his friends in the unit. Remarkably, they weren't so different from Angus and Brian: gruff and brave when they thought it was necessary, and gentle and weak when true sorrows came their way. One of Grandpa Kurt's friends, nicknamed Speeo, even reminded Mirielle of Zach with his mischievous pranks. Pearl Oriel had described one particularly ridiculous moment when Speedo had planted a pair of pink, lacey panties under Kurt's pillow, just so he could pretend to discover them in front of the rest of the gang in the morning. She told how Kurt had turned beet red before laughing nervously and wrapping the panties around Speedo's face in such a way that he wouldn't be able to remove them without great difficulty. Speedo had ended up with pink panties around his neck for the greater part of the day for the simple fact that he wouldn't let anyone with a pocket-knife near his neck to cut them off. Mirielle almost cried later in the book when she read about Speedo's untimely and tragic death from an unexpected enemy grenade. Pearl had described the reactions of the other men in his unit, as she'd gathered them from her interviews with them just a few years ago. She told a poignant tale of boys turned into men by the simple tragedy of death. Mirielle couldn't help but think of Angus and what he must've gone through in his experiences with battle and war. No wonder, she thought, he looked so sad sometimes. And she thought that if only Grandmother Pearl had known Angus better, she would have seen how much like her own husband Angus really was, as a soldier and as a friend. Mirielle wiped the tears from her eyes and closed the book at her side. She set it on the end table in the parlor where she'd been sitting, and stood to stretch her legs and walk around the house.
Her thoughts were filled with the light that comes from learning something profound that changes paradigms, and she was somewhat oblivious to anything else in the house as she meandered from the kitchen down the hall, and into the first room on the right. She sat down again in a cushy, black leather desk chair and was looking around at the tall, dark cherry book-case on the wall when she suddenly woke up to where she had wandered. She was sitting in her father's home office, the one room in the house she had never set foot in before. As a child, she hadn't been allowed, because she would have been a distraction to her father's work. As a teenager, she never felt interested enough to explore it, since she found her father's work quite boring and she had quite enough of her own business to mind. Now, though, in her current state of mind, she was interested in everything that had been of no interest to her before. She was on a mission to learn everything about her family's past and she looked at the study with new eyes.
With her new eyes, she surveyed the tall book-case, which was filled with books all colors, backs, and sizes. She burst out in laughter when she saw the bottom shelf, half hidden by the computer desk. Over three dozen, tightly squeezed, bright yellow books lined that shelf, each with a spine reading "Speaking Italian For Dummies" or "French Cuisine For Dummies" or "Raising Smart Kids For Dummies." The titles ranged from computer programming to gardening, all in the "For Dummies" format. The "Wilderness survival for Dummies" edition blared at Mirielle invitingly, but she dared not pull out one book for fear she'd never be able to squeeze it back into place. She turned her attention to the opposite wall where a tall, grandfather clock stood completely still. She reached for the glass cover of the pendulum and wound the key within. Then, a familiar sound emanated from the room. It was the familiar whirring noise she had wondered about the previous evening. She thought it must be a very old clock to need winding so often since it had obviously been wound just the night before. She was in the middle of this thought when, from the corner of her eye, she saw the book-case behind her flipping slowly around. Instead of being surprised or afraid, she was merely tickled and laughed again heartily, shaking her head. "Seriously, you guys," she said out loud to the absent Mr. Benedict and Angus. "Could you be a little more original?" The book-case had opened, revealing a mechanical button-laden console and a door-shaped opening that Mirielle wasn't sure how to close. "Oops," she laughed again. "I'm gonna be busted if I don't figure out how to close this before Dad gets home." She looked at the console. It wasn't so complicated after all, just colorful. One button actually bore the word "CLOSE" on it. But Mirielle wasn't quite ready to push that button yet. Other buttons were labeled with time increments on them: "ONE HOUR" or "TWO HOURS." The largest time increment was a very small, yellow button labeled "BOMB SHELTER- INDEFINITE."
"Alright," Mirielle whispered to herself. "Don't push the yellow button." So, she pushed the "ONE HOUR" button and, to her horror, saw that the door was beginning to close rapidly. She rushed in. In a moment, she was standing in a cool, enclosed darkness and feeling quite foolish for not first discovering a light switch before she rushed into a dark, enclosed place. Arms outstretched, she turned 360 degrees to her left, feeling every wall up and down for any indication of another mechanical console. She found nothing and felt a sinking feeling deep in her gut. She was able to judge only that the hallway was about the same width across as the door itself, though she knew nothing about the length of the chamber. She did the only thing left to do. Stepping cautiously with wide, light steps, Mirielle moved away from the recently shut door and, to her delight, the hallway became flooded with bright light. Motion sensors, she thought. Another original idea. An excited, nervous feeling rose from the pit of her stomach to the center of her chest when the hallway she was walking in suddenly opened up into a room larger than the rest of the house entirely. She struggled in her mind to reconcile the size of the room with any noticeable building that could be seen outside the house, but she knew their neighbors well, and they did not live in a secret chamber like this. She determined that she must be underground somehow, though she remembered no steps into this basement room. Unless, she thought excitedly, the sinking feeling from the hallway had been more than a fear of the dark. Had the floor been sinking down to this level, like an elevator? That would explain why there was no light switch, Mirielle thought sarcastically.The room was also dark for a moment before noticing her presence and brightening at once. Mirielle mouthed "WOW" at the sight of the tremendous room in which she now stood. There were doors all along the four walls, which gave Mirielle the impression that this hidden place was even more expansive than it first appeared. Her awe was interrupted by the gentle vibration of her phone in her pocket. It was her pink phone, not her silver phone, though she half-expected Angus to contact her in a place like this. Instead, the caller ID told her it was Brian. She answered, eager to share her latest discovery with him.
"Brian! You will never believe where I'm standing right now!"
There was no answer and Mirielle thought for a moment that they had been disconnected. "Brian? Are you there?" she said again.
"You stood me up, Miri," came Brian's quiet voice. He sounded really hurt. "I called you last night to talk about it and you didn't even answer or call me back."
"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, Brian! I completely forgot. I mean, Angus--He's--"
"It's okay. I know he's more important to you than me. I just thought, being your best friend and all--"
"Brian, no. You don't understand. Angus is dead." She said it without emotion, without trembling lips, perhaps because she didn't really believe it yet. She still felt as though Angus were merely testing her. And her lack of emotion is exactly what made it so difficult for Brian to believe her.
"Come on, Miri, you don't have to make anything up like that. I don't want Angus to die, I just want to have some time with you too, sometimes. Is that so much to ask?"
"Brian, I'm not making it up. Yesterday morning I woke up to find the police in my kitchen. They told me his house blew up, or rather, his whole block blew up. They found no remains. His house was leveled! I just needed to get out of the house and away, so I went out to Ernest Peaks. I completely forgot about our lunch."
Silence again filled Mirielle's ear while Brian thought about what he should say.
"Are you okay?" he finally asked.
"Yeah, Brian," Mirielle's tone softened. "I really am. I wasn't for a while, but everything happens for a reason. I know that now."
"Miri, he's your godfather, your favorite person in the whole world! How can you not care about this?"
"I do care, Brian!" Mirielle was struggling to make him understand everything she'd been through in the past forty-eight hours. "It sucks that he's gone, but who knows if he's really dead, Brian? He could have been away from the house when it happened. He could be anywhere."
Brian was quiet again for a moment. "Miri, if he was still out there, don't you think he'd have contacted you by now?" His voice was gentle. Mirielle had expected this response from him, but she hadn't expected to feel angry when he said out loud what she herself had wondered a hundred times.
"He's not dead, Brian!" she said firmly. "He just can't reach us yet. It isn't safe. Look, you should come over right now. My parents are gone, and you have got to see what I found in my dad's office."
Brian was still feeling confused by the information about Angus and didn't know what else to say. He did want to see Mirielle. In fact, he had felt a slight ache to see her since he left her birthday party two days before.
"I'll be over in a minute."
"Okay, go into my dad's office, it's a right from the kitchen hallway, wind the clock, and press the ONE HOUR button. Meet me down here." Mirielle hung up before Brian could ask her what ONE HOUR button she was talking about or remind her that her house didn't have a basement.
Mirielle took a moment to recover from Brian's unwelcome reminder that Angus might really be dead. She lay down on a black leather sofa nearest the entrace to the room and fought the oncoming tears in her throat. Exhausted from emotion, she quickly fell asleep and woke only when Brian emerged from the hallway yelling "Holy crap!"
"Oh, sorry, Miri. Didn't mean to wake you. Think you might have told me you were napping in a secret bomb shelter that your psycho spy godfather built." Brian seemed a mixture of annoyed and delighted. "Who are you people?"
Mirielle was awake, but groggy. "I'm just a victim," she yawned. "I had no idea this was here until about twenty minutes ago."
"Speaking of that, the clock will run for another hour while we're down here, but I've a feeling that when our time's up, the lights will turn off and the door will re-lock. We might even get locked in ourselves, so let's try to make sure we're only down here an hour."
Mirielle nodded and smiled at Brian. "You're so smart," she gushed. "I shoulda talked to you about this yesterday. You could have figured it out much sooner than I did."
"You found this yesterday?" Brian asked as he examined a coffee table that seemed to be topped with a movie screen-like surface.
"Oh, no. I mean the other things. The computer and phone and stuff. Angus's birthday gift."
Brian stopped in his tracks. "I almost forgot," he said thoughtfully, sitting beside her on the leather sofa. "What happened exactly? Did he hint at anything that would explain his house being blown up?"
Mirielle was completely awake now. "Yes, he did," she said resolutely. "I was so stupid, Brian. I didn't even get what he was saying all through dinner. The entire event was his goodbye to me and I had no idea."
"Quit beating yourself up about it. Angus is a mysterious guy. You only caught onto the things he wanted you to catch. I've a feeling he wouldn't have it any other way." Brian seemed irritated when he said this, and Mirielle was just beginning to understand how jealous Brian must be of Angus for all of Mirielle's attention.
"Brian," she began. "I'm sorry I haven't always been there when you needed me. Sometimes I can be a flakey friend."
"You're not flakey," Brian insisted. "Just forgetful when you're with Angus. Anyway, I get it. He's like your fairy godmother, but with spy stories to boot." He smiled and so did Mirielle.
"I never had a crush on him, though," Miri said boldly, looking steadily at Brian. He was looking down when she said it and when he looked up, he was almost startled by the intensity of her gaze.
"You had a crush on me?" Brian asked innocently, with a slightly higher voice than usual.
"Don't act like you couldn't tell," Mirielle laughed. "You know I'm crazy about you." This time Mirielle looked down, trying to hide the blush of her face.
"Really?" Brian smiled. "Well, that's a relief."
Mirielle looked up, trying to read his meaning in his face.
"I thought it was just me." Brian said, and he moved closer to Mirielle, taking her hand.
"You're the only guy I ever think about when I'm not with you," Mirielle went on, still not looking at Brian. The butterflies in her stomach from the sight of the room were nothing compared to the butterflies she felt when Brian touched her hand. "And you're the first friend to call when I really need a shoulder, even if you don't know why." She was somewhat rambling now, merely to avoid what she feared would be an awkward silence if she stopped.
"I like you, too," Brian smiled, gently pulling her chin upward so their eyes met. Then the ache in Brian's own chest disappeared and he bowed down his head and kissed Mirielle's forehead sweetly, making Mirielle feel very dizzy. She wrapped her arms around her best friend and rested her head on his shoulder. She felt very safe for the first time in two days.
After a few long moments of lying there together in complete peace, Brian glanced at his watch and said, "If we want to explore this place, we've got exactly thirty-six minutes before we're locked in."
Mirielle looked up at him lazily. Then she kissed him on the lips quickly, and bounced off the sofa, ready to go.
Brian sat on the sofa, hypnotized for a moment by the unexpected kiss. "Or, we could sit on the couch for another half hour. We don't need that much time to explore, right?" he said sheepishly.
Mirielle laughed and sat back down to kiss him again, and before they knew it, they had ten minutes left of their original hour.
"Okay, we really gotta get going now," Brian said regretfully, looking at his watch again.
"Yeah, I know," Mirielle said, making a funny face at Brian that made him want to tackle her. "Well, we'd better check what's behind all these doors before we go, at least." Mirielle was walking toward one of the doors very quickly, as if running away from Brian (in case he really did try to tackle her).
He followed closely behind her and looked into each room as she opened the doors. The first door led to a bathroom. The second led to a bedroom, which Mirielle shut very quickly, making them both laugh.
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