A new city and unexpected freedom give Andrea the fresh start she craved, but her haunting past threatens to unrest an already tangled future. In this tense and emotionally stirring sequel to Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed, Awakened will leave you breathless as it navigates the heartbreaking disquiet of one survivor’s scattered and uncertain path towards healing.
“Andie!” Ethan shouted with a big grin on his face. He was seated in the crowded hot tub and started to get out when he saw us. Grabbing a towel from the nearby deck chair, his long legs stumbled underneath him as he moved. “Phew,” he said when he finally planted himself by me, wrapping his left arm around me for a side hug.
“Come on, man.” I laughed as the warm water dripped from his body onto my shirt. He shook his head quickly, so the droplets spritzed toward me as they flicked from his curly hair. Ethan snickered through his wide smile, his sky-blue eyes dancing.
“You all right?” Carter asked him. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough to talk to you!” Ethan shouted, his words slurring through some forced laughter.
“Ah, okay, so it’s like that? Let’s talk another time, man, after you sober up. Maybe tomorrow,” Carter offered. “I want us to be cool.”
“I have an easy solution! Don’t move away!” Ethan remarked. His tone sounded like he was joking, but there was truth buried behind the inflection that Carter picked up on, too. I shot Ethan a steely glare, trying with my eyes to get him to stop talking. I didn’t need anything or anyone to give Carter a reason to stay.
“I’m gonna get you some water,” Carter said. “Will you guys stay here for a bit? I’ll be back in a few.” I nodded.
“We’ll miss you!” Ethan shouted mockingly. His body started swaying, and I grabbed his forearm to steady him.
“Come on, Ethan, let’s go sit down in the grass over there.” I held Ethan’s arms as we lowered ourselves onto a soft grassy part of the yard, the noise from the party still buzzing in the background. Once he was planted, he flopped down on his back.
“I think I can literally feel the Earth spinning,” Ethan said with a loud sigh.
“Haha, I think you’re just drunk,” I replied, stretching out next to him, our heads both facing the starlit sky.
Ethan turned his head to face me, his left cheek resting in the grass. I turned toward him.
“You’ll be fine. You just need some water and—”
“Don’t go,” he said quietly, interrupting me.
“Huh? Oh, come on, you’ve got to stop giving me such a hard time for taking Carter away from the band. I promise you guys will find another singer.”
“I don’t care about that,” Ethan continued, suddenly sounding clearheaded. “Don’t go, Andie.”
“You can visit us whenever you want. I know it’s not the same, but we’ll still text like every day,” I reassured him.
“You’re my best friend. It’s always been us against the world, you know?” He paused and took a breath. “What if I still need you even if you don’t need me anymore?”
Each sentence hung more resounding in the thick, humid air as the guilt crept in, disguised as acidic, aching nausea. I squinted my eyes as if that would help me process, but all I saw was Ethan as he lay on the soft grass next to me. His smooth, chiseled face was lit by the twinkly outdoor lights in the tree above us, his pale eyes burning into mine with an earnestness I’d never seen from him before.
“I have to go. You know I have to go,” I said, my voice shaking.
“What if I never get out of here?” he asked quietly.
“All you have to do is make the decision and start driving,” I stated, hoping that if I said it out loud, it would make it true.
“It’s not that easy for everyone, Andie, and you know it. We don’t all have safety nets or parents with money. And some of us have responsibilities here. And friends.”
“That’s not fair,” I started.
“Are you even going to take a part of me with you? I can’t shake this feeling that you’re just going to disappear.”
“Yo!” Carter’s familiar voice rang out behind us, and I shot up to a seated position.
“Hey!” I said chipperly. He casually sat down next to us, crossing his legs and handing a bottle of water to Ethan as he cracked open a fresh beer for himself. Ethan slowly sat up, too, taking the water from Carter without making eye contact.
“Thanks,” Ethan said softly.
My mind was racing, and I felt soaked in the unrest. I loved Ethan in this profound and endearing way, but if he loved me, too, then he would understand that I wasn’t just running toward something glamorous or exciting; I was saving myself from the town and darkness that threatened to consume me with each tainted memory. There was no way we could laugh through this tension to get back to where we once were. We couldn’t binge-watch dark comedies in my parents’ basement or swap playlists of our favorite new music without tonight’s conversation bleeding into every word, every movement. I’d wonder if he was resentful that I left. He’d wonder if I even cared about what I left behind. I prayed that he was too drunk to remember tonight. If so, I could forget, too. I could push this down where the other things I chose not to remember dwelled in my body. And I was good at keeping secrets.
I decided instantly that I wouldn’t tell Carter about this. He didn’t need any more reasons to reconsider coming with me, so this, too, went deep into my vault. I could examine my feelings later if I wanted to, but for now, it just needed to go away.
“It was hilarious,” Carter said as I realized he had been talking. I forced a smile and a soft laugh, hoping that was the appropriate response to whatever story he told.
“I need to lay down for a minute,” Ethan said dizzily as he settled back down to the grass, closing his eyes.
“Yeah, he’s probably out for the night. Jeff said he had a lot to drink. We should get him out of here. He can crash at my place tonight,” Carter offered. I agreed. “Okay, come on, big guy,” Carter said as he swung Ethan’s arm around his neck and pulled him up. “Little help, babe?” he asked. I grabbed Ethan’s other arm and placed it around my shoulders to help prop him up.
“Ugh,” Ethan groaned, half awake. It felt strange being this close to him, my head under his chin with his arm around my shoulders as Carter and I helped him walk toward the car. Ethan and I had shared probably a million hugs throughout our years of friendship, but this time the closeness felt different, clouded by my wondering if it would be the last time.
Christine lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and their two children. She works full-time as a marketing director for a large media company and holds a Bachelor's of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University where she studied marketing. Growing up in the chilly midwest, she developed a deep passion for dramatic writing and alternative music at an early age, which still peaks through in her adult-corporate-mom life today. Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed is Christine's debut novel.