Her father swayed drunkenly, as if held up by her alone, but that was impossible. He was a huge man, tall and broad, with hands like turkey platters; mom was as frail and white as an eggshell. It was from him that Jolene got her height.
"You can't leave me," her mother sobbed, slurring the words.
Her father looked away. For a split second, Jolene saw the pain in his eyes pain, and worse, shame and loss and regret.
"I need a drink," he said in a voice roughened by years of smoking unfiltered cigarettes.
He took her mother's hand, dragged her through the kitchen. Looking dazed but grinning foolishly, her mother stumbled along behind him, heedless of the fact that she was barefooted.
It wasn't until he opened the back door that Jolene got it. "No!" she yelled, scrambling to her feet, running after them.
Outside, the February night was cold and dark. Rain hammered the roof and ran in rivulets over the edges of the eaves. Her father's leased logging truck, the only thing he really cared about, sat like some huge black insect in the driveway. She ran out onto the wooden porch, tripping over a chainsaw, righting herself.
Her mother paused at the car's open passenger door, looked at her. Rain plastered the hair across her hollow cheeks, made her mascara run. She lifted a hand, pale and shaking, and waved.
"Get out of the rain, Karen," her father yelled, and her mother complied instantly. In a second, both doors slammed shut. The car backed up, turned onto the road, drove away.
And Jolene was alone again.
Four months, she thought dully. Only four more months and she would graduate from high school and be able to leave home.
Home. What ever that meant.
But what would she do? Where would she go? There was no money for college, and what money Jolene saved from work her parents invariably found and "borrowed." She didn't even have enough for first month's rent.
She didn't know how long she stood there, thinking, worrying, watching rain turn the driveway to mud; all she really knew was that at some point she became aware of an impossible, unearthly flash of color in the night.
Red. The color of blood and fire and loss.
When the police car pulled up into her yard, she wasn't surprised. What surprised her was how it felt, hearing that her parents were dead.
What surprised her was how hard she cried.
On her forty-first birthday, as on every other day, Jolene
Zarkades woke before the dawn. Careful not to disturb her
sleeping husband, she climbed out of bed, dressed in her running
clothes, pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail, and went outside.
It was a beautiful, blue-skied spring day. The plum trees that lined
her driveway were in full bloom. Tiny pink blossoms floated across the
green, green field. Across the street, the Sound was a deep and vibrant
blue. The soaring, snow-covered Olympic mountains rose majestically
into the sky.
She ran along the beach road for exactly three and a half miles and then turned for home. By the time she returned to her driveway, she was red-faced and breathing hard. On her porch, she picked her way past the mismatched wood and wicker furniture and went into the house, where the rich, tantalizing scent of French roast coffee mingled with the acrid tinge of wood smoke.
The first thing she did was to turn on the TV in the kitchen; it was already set on CNN. As she poured her coffee, she waited impatiently for news on the Iraq war.
No heavy fighting was being reported this morning. No soldiers or friends had been killed in the night.
Excerpted from Home Front by Sarah Hannah. Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Hannah. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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