Claire knows she’s broken; she feels it jabbing at her, rough and jagged. Everything changes when she meets Jake. Suddenly, Claire doesn’t feel so damaged or lost. Life starts making sense. But when a world catastrophe explodes into both their worlds, Jake, always a soldier first, is called to serve half a world away. Claire has no idea what to expect. Because, really, how could she have known, how could anyone have known, what could happen in one month, or six? What can change in a year? What one summer, or two, or three all stacked neatly on top of one another could do to two people?
Targeted Age Group:: 18-35
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love writing coming-of-age stories. I felt like my own, personal coming-of-age story happened in college, during 9/11. It was a lot for me to process as college freshman. I remember staring at the television in complete shock, knowing very deep within me that life was never going to be the same again. Reflecting on that time gave me the idea to write a girl’s coming-of-age story while she was in college, rather than high school, because I believe we never really stop “coming-of-age”. The story of Claire in Summer Unbroken is fiction, but inspired by the wide range of emotions I (and my peers) felt back then.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I love a story with romance, heartbreak, self-discovery, and deep emotion. I needed two characters with their own, very different backgrounds. I wanted someone terrified and confused about her own future, and someone who already experienced something terrifying and was trying to live through it. Claire and Jake fit the bill.
Which means it’s cold.
A frigid kind of cold. One of those Pennsylvania mountain colds that nearly – and sometimes definitely – brings tears to your eyes and then almost immediately seals them shut with the icy, whipping wind. The kind that traps you inside. Inside your apartment. Inside your school. Inside your workplace. Inside your own body. Because it hurts to venture out.
So, of course, that means that Allie has started smoking again. The “I’ll-quit-before-the-wedding” mantra lasted about a month this time. Which really isn’t all that bad. Except for the fact that we’re trapped inside.
Which means icy wind is currently whipping through the window she pushed open and into our apartment.
The apartment, a little tragedy near the railroad tracks, is not the best. Or to use the parlance of our times, an utter shithole.
The tenants are either newly-wed, almost dead, or in dubious states of intoxication. Sometimes all three at once.
It used to be an old boarding house, or so the landlord told us somewhat proudly, and our particular apartment was really just a long hall separating three bedrooms, a huge communal bathroom, and a kitchen at the end very end. The landlord just slapped a door on each end, completing the look with a shaky, rusty fire escape off the door leading to the outside to make everything legal.
When we first moved in nearly two Junes earlier, Allie and I were too young, too green, and too excited about just graduating high school and becoming real adults to care about the disastrous reality of life lived on minimum wage.
Dad and Libby helped me unpack my bedroom. Dad told me he would bring over a space heater for us to use in the fall since the heating ducts looked as unstable as the rest of the apartment.
Meth heads. All of them. Libby had declared this certainty, along with some other gems. This place is chock-full of syphilis. And other communicable diseases. You’ll be lucky to make it out alive. She then kissed me on the cheek like I might be dying and made me promise to get an updated tetanus shot.
When Libby and Dad had finally left, Allie and I ran to the gas station across the alley, pooling our money to buy meatball sandwiches and a huge Coke to share.
We crawled out the window in Allie’s room and sat on the back roof.
Day One of adulthood. We were free. Life was great.
“Oh, Jesus Lord, I hate my job.” I’m shaken back to reality as Allie expels the last of her cigarette smoke through the open window. Jesus Lord. That particular utterance is only pulled out when things are really bad. Like, when maybe she thinks a little too deeply about her future. Sometimes she crosses herself Catholic-style when she says it. I’ll cross myself too, even though neither of us has gone to church in more than a year, just because it seems like the right thing to do. Like maybe it’s a prayer Jesus will answer.
We’re nineteen years old. And our lives are a prayer Jesus needs to answer.
She slams the window shut.
The air in the apartment stills, an eerie calm that warms us. I take off the mittens I wear. They are red and a little bit frayed around the thumbs, because I rub them when I worry. Allie calls them my smoking mittens, because I only wear them when she smokes.
She pulls a Coke from the refrigerator. The kitchen light flickers above us like an old neon sign. She pounds on the wall, two sharp raps. The flickering stops.
“This place is a shithole,” I say, because we say this at least once a day, and nobody has said it yet.
“That guy won’t stop hitting on me.” Allie works at GymTanRun near the community college where I take classes, and the place is exactly what the sign says. Some free weights. Tanning. Treadmills. That’s it. It too, is a shithole. “You want a Coke?” She offers one.
We have been friends for so long we are practically sisters, and sometimes I wonder if we met for the first time today we’d even have anything in common. Our matchmaker: Miss Flemming, who moved Allie next to me during the second week of first grade, because Allie was loud and boisterous and couldn’t stop talking to Sarabeth Owens about hair bows and stickers. And I hadn’t made a peep since introducing myself the first day. What do you think about stickers? Allie had asked, her voice conspiratorially low; the whisper whistling through her loose front teeth. And that was that; Allie Cat and Claire Bear running back and forth between each other’s houses, only separated by two blocks and one uphill hike for me. And we stayed that way through junior high. It was only when we hit high school that things changed, the way they always do between friends. We branched out, she into boys and parties, me into band and college credit-worthy classes. Our core group of friends morphed, particularly when she found Chad in tenth grade. But homeroom and the alphabet always kept us together.
It was senior year, the week after spring break, when everything changed again.
“Claire,” Allie whispered over to me in homeroom. “Claire.”
I was checking my trigonometry homework with Anna, who had like a 150% in the same class. She was kind enough to let me recopy the ones (nearly every one) I missed.
“What?” Distracted and wondering why Allie whispered while everyone milled around loudly, I glanced over.
“I’m engaged.” Allie didn’t sound particularly excited; just matter-of-fact.
“No!” I shrieked and dropped my pencil to gawk at the small diamond dangling from her third finger. It took the place of Chad’s class ring and looked utterly foreign on her hand.
I heard Anna gasp behind me.
“He asked me over spring break.” She bit her lip. “I guess I’m getting married.”
“Oh my God, Allie. Are you pregnant?” Anna whispered this, and I watched Allie wide-eyed. Because this sort of thing wasn’t uncommon in our small Catholic town, I had to admit a similar thought crossed my mind. Someone always got pregnant during their senior year and ended up married before the baby made its appearance.
“Nope.” Allie, in her usual laid-back manner, didn’t bat an eye. “Just engaged.”
“When is this happening?” I asked.
“Two years. And some change. 2003.” Allie said it like she was saying “in a million years” as she waved off my shocked stare.
“Congratulations!” Anna, so sweet and innocent, couldn’t stop looking at Allie’s ring. “You’ll be a wonderful wife.”
But I knew every one of us, Allie included, didn’t believe it. Who even knows what a wonderful wife is when you’re seventeen?
“Claire!” Allie shouts now, pulling me back again. “Are you here? You’re really spacing out tonight, huh? Must have been a day.”
“Huh? What was the question?”
“Do you want a Coke?” She says the words slowly, loudly, but I know she’s just kidding.
“It’s ten o’clock, Allie.” I remind her. “The caffeine will keep me up all night.”
“I’m opening tomorrow. The early shift,” I say before she can ask. “We got a cheese shipment coming in.”
Allie always giggles about the cheese shipment. Sometimes I’ll tell her there’s a cheese shipment even when there isn’t one, only because she finds cheese shipments so hilarious.
“The early shift,” Allie repeats. At Sticks and Stones, the Italian restaurant where I spent my last two years. Also, my least favorite place in the world. “The cheese shipment.” She barely gets it out before dissolving into giggles.
I wait with a smile while she pulls herself back together. Allie waves a hand dismissively. “You’ll survive.” She holds out the can. “Claire, come on. It’s just soda.”
I sigh with frustration, because like always, I give in to Allie and reach for the can.
“You worry way too much,” she teases.
“I have math tomorrow night too,” I say, still trying to formulate an argument against the caffeine even as I take the Coke. “I’m going to be exhausted.”
“God, how will you ever survive?”
“I probably won’t.” I tap on the Coke can out of habit. “Where’s Chad?” He normally stays the night. Correction: most nights.
This means three things: he won’t be staying the night; Allie will end up calling him to “discuss” some more; and we’ll spend the night dissecting said discussion.
“Me too. What’s left?” I say over Allie’s shoulder as we peer into the nearly empty fridge. I silently curse our minimum wage jobs that leave us forced to live here.
“A cucumber. Kind of shriveleeed up.” Allie grimaces as I grin at her made-up word. “And one slice of three-day-old pizza.”
We make contemplative faces at each other. I reach for the cucumber. Allie slaps my hand away and grabs a slice of pizza for us to share. “I need to call Chad,” Allie says with a mouthful as she pours a Coke. She bumps the refrigerator door shut with one slim hip, and I feel envious. Her body runs on caffeine and Sticks and Stones leftovers. And I’m forever confused as to how she never gains an ounce.
“Why are you fighting?”
“Wedding stuff. Not even worth dissecting tonight.” She rolls her eyes. Allie offers me pizza. I take a bite of the pizza she holds at my mouth. We are like an old married couple, and I don’t know how I’ll survive when we can’t be roommates anymore.
I chew slowly for a couple minutes, waiting. “You’re really not going to tell me?”
“I told you already. Not interesting.” She takes another bite.
I give her a look.
“Fine.” She sighs dramatically and sets her Coke on the table and leans closer to me. “Do you think I should be more into the wedding?”
“It is coming up.”
“In, like, six months!” Anytime she talks about the wedding time frame it is discussed exactly like the first time in homeroom. Like it is a million years away.
“A lot can happen in six months,” I say. “Like the banquet hall could go bankrupt. Or the flower shop could catch on fire. The wedding dress could be thrown into the trash compactor.”
Allie shoots me a look. “How did you ever guess my plans,” she says, dryly.
“This is serious!” I say.
“Very,” she answers sarcastically. “Crust?” She holds out what was left of the pizza.
“I’ve heard of it happening!” I shove the crust in my mouth.
“You’ve never heard of a garbage compactor eating a dress,” she laughs.
I shove it in my mouth. “Libby told me,” I say, and in-between swallows, relate the tale of the wedding dress/trash compactor my sister told me years ago when she was planning her own wedding. “And this other place! They never ordered the bridesmaid dresses. Just took the money and ran,” I finish with a theatrical flourish of hands, sure that the heartbreaking tale of money lost will shock a sense of urgency into her.
Allie, ever calm in a real (or imagined) crisis, isn’t fazed. “You’re sister is just as bad as you. Probably worse,” Allie declares of our obsessive tendency to worry. “Remember when you made me stay up all night researching tick bites because Libby was sure one was lodged in her leg?”
“Hey,” I say defensively, “That could have been serious. Lyme Disease is no laughing matter.”
“It ended up being a mole. A mole, Claire!”
“Which,” I protest, “could have been cancerous.”
“Which,” she argues, “wasn’t.”
“I’m just saying. Bad things can happen. A lot can happen in six months.”
Allie falls into a silence for so long that it becomes unsettling. “A lot can happen in six months,” Allie finally repeats, but her tone is very different, more cryptic. Her eyes hold a mystery.
I narrow mine at her. “What does that mean?”
Her eyes fade to blank, and she shrugs. “You’re the one who said it. You tell me.”
I shift, feeling guilty that maybe I am sucking her into my vortex of worry. “I just meant that six months goes fast, Al.”
“Ha! That is so not what you meant.” She sucks in her already beautifully gaunt cheeks to chew on them contemplatively. “So you’re on his side?”
“Allie,” I say, “I don’t even know his side.”
“He thinks I should be more into it. Should I?”
I can’t answer. There is absolutely no answer in me.
She taps her fingers against her cheek, then abruptly stands to stretch. “I’m calling him.” She downs the last of her Coke and lights another cigarette. “You’re the only person I know who’s happiest when she is alone,” Allie comments as she presses the phone to her ear.
She says this a lot.
And the statement should not hurt.
But it does.
It stabs a little. It always stabs a little. But I smile. Every single time. Because it’s supposed to be true. And, really, it should be a compliment when Allie says it. Anything she says should be taken as a compliment. Because she’s so beautiful. Anything she says is as much fact as it is lovely as soon as the words escape.
She brings another cigarette to her mouth and inhales deeply. She holds the phone between an ear and a shoulder as she wrenches the window open. Just like every time, the sticky white frame creaks and groans.
The blast of cold air shocks me.
Allie’s cheeks flush red and her eyes water a little. “I’ll quit after the wedding,” she assures me, as I pull the mittens on. Because she thinks I’m worrying about lung cancer.
And she’s right.
She’s model pretty, Allie is, and she knows everything true about me.
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