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Sweet Soul

By´╝ÜTillie Cole

Prologue

Levi


The rain pelted hard. I pulled the collar of my jacket higher on my neck. Reaching the warehouse door, I made to unlock it with the key I’d secretly copied from Axel’s master key, my warm breath ghosting into a white mist as it collided with the cold air.

Thunder rumbled around the distant edge of a dark gray sky. When the lock clicked open, I ducked into the dry building. I flicked on the lights in the ceiling, revealing a mass of covered statues. My eyes scanned the interior of the warehouse, immediately stopping at the back of the large space. A sculpture, shrouded in white cotton, stood higher than the rest. My heart skipped a beat. Even before I moved an inch, my eyes began to sting with the threat of tears.

Inhaling a deep breath, I forced my feet forward. The wooden floorboards creaked below my chucks as I moved slowly to the sculpture. I hadn’t seen it in over nine months. But I’d thought about it every day. I had to think about it: memories of the real woman who had inspired the art were beginning to fade. To my utter horror, I’d started to forget her. She’d started to melt from my mind. Day by day, hour by hour, she was disappearing to dust. And I could do nothing to stop it.

Lifting a hand, I gripped the sheet and ripped it from the white Carrara marble hidden below. Throwing the sheet to the floor, I lifted my head, and there she was; bright and innocent as the angel I knew she had become. I blinked away the moisture from my eyes as I gazed upon her smiling face.

Inching forward, I laid my fingers upon her cold marble cheek, drinking in her features—her eyes and nose—and her long brown hair. I closed my eyes, committing each intricate detail to memory. I never wanted to forget these details. I couldn’t bear to forget again.

This sculpture, this marble face, was all I had left.

The rain outside grew heavier as the sky roiled with storm clouds, the small windows lining the roof of the warehouse were awash with sloughs of water. Then a bright flash of lightning bathed the room. Instinctively I reached into my pocket. My hand wrapped around the string of brown beads, and I pulled out the rosary, lifting it to my mouth to kiss the old silver cross. My jaw clenched as I forced myself to look again at the angel’s face. And just as I did, a crack of thunder roared above.

As though I was a child once more, I reached out and held the angel’s hand in mine. Feeling the fragile fingers so small in my palm, I kept tight hold and dropped to the hard floor.

And I breathed.

I breathed through the pain of loss that I lived with each and every day. I breathed through the fear that, before long, all the memories of her would fade to nothing, leaving me with a black void where her face used to be.

As another bolt of lightning struck ground, I held the angel’s hand tighter; this simple act of wrapping her fingers in mine, calmed the storm inside, even as the storm raged outside in the sky above.

Leaning back against the legs of the angel, I kept hold of her hand and gripped the rosary to my chest. The thunder boomed loud.

Closing my eyes, I let the memories of the angel seep in…

Thunder clapped in the sky and I jerked awake in my bed. The rain pounded the tin roof and walls, and I shook in fear—the drops sounded just like the bullets that the Heighters’ shot outside.

Counting to ten, I quickly pushed the thin comforter off my body and jumped out of bed. A flash of lightning lit up my room, and only seconds later, a loud clap of thunder boomed in the sky, shaking our trailer.

My feet ran forward, my heart beating fast. I ran into the living room, but it was empty. Austin and Axel were still out with the Heighters, but I knew my mamma would be here. She never left me alone. She worked real hard at her three jobs, but when Austin and Axel went out to make some cash, Mamma always stayed close by.

They were my favorite nights, when my mamma would read to me in bed. She’d stroke my hair, and she’d sing—I loved her pretty singing. When she sang, I would smile. I didn’t smile often. In fact, neither of my brothers nor my mamma smiled all that much.

But I did when she sang. When she rocked me in her arms.

Lightning struck again, and I ran down the narrow hallway toward my mamma’s room before the thunder could boom. Reaching the door, I quietly turned the knob. Mamma’s room was real dark, but there was a small candle lit at the side of the room, next to one of the lightning bug jars we’d made yesterday when mamma couldn’t pay to keep the lights on. I crept inside, and behind the door, kneeling beside the bed, was Mamma.

She was praying.

She did that a lot.

When the thunder clapped again, I ran right toward the bed. Mamma lifted her head.

And then she smiled at me.

“Mia luna, vieni qua.” She got to her feet and held out her arms. I ran forward, and the minute I wrapped my arms around her waist, I felt better. Mamma always made me feel better.

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