Authors: Renee Ericson
More Than Us
Copyright © 2016 by Amber Maxwell
Cover Art by Amber Maxwell
Editor: Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing,
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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A THOUSAND CRANES
Folded once, corner to corner, and then again, with the opposite corners.
So much paper…and to think, I will need so much more.
Next, I fold the blue square sheet in half and then half again, always making sure to get the creases sharp. I’m demanding perfection on this project, more so than I have with any other. Evelyn’s worth the effort.
I continue to bend the blue paper into itself until it finally resembles a proper crane, like the ones I’ve made time and time before, and then I toss it into the box at my feet.
Grabbing the next sheet, I start the process all over again, folding and bending, crafting the decorated squares into bird shapes. In the middle of about the twentieth crane for the night, someone knocks at the door of my new office within the family business. It was given to me not long after I got my master’s degree and moved back to the city. Considering the late hour, I assume it’s one of the cleaning staff, collecting the trash.
“Come in,” I call, concentrating on the final steps of my current origami project. Not looking up, I bend underneath my desk, pull out the small wastebasket for the janitor, and set it aside for better access.
“Working late?” my mother asks. Her voice is not the one I was anticipating. “We can’t have you that busy already, can we? You just got here.”
I finish a final fold of the bird and set it aside. “No, I’m working on a personal project.”
“What kind of project?” She drops her briefcase to the ground and then approaches my desk, eyeing the stack of square papers on one side and the folded bird on the other. “Is this something for your Evelyn? You’ve never been known for arts and crafts.”
“I’m still not.” I lean back in my chair, shuffling the hair over my ear. “And, yes, it’s for Evelyn.”
“Oh. Are you helping her with something?”
“No…I meant to tell you and Dad about it at dinner tonight since Evelyn will be out with her friends, but…” I reach into the briefcase resting at my feet and pull out the small blue box that has taken up so much space in my mind since the moment I decided to purchase it. Setting it on the desk between us, I slide it closer to Mother and then stand up to continue the conversation at eye-level. “Open it.”
“Is this…” She reaches for the box in question with shaky fingertips.
She flips the lid of the velvet container, revealing the ring I plan to present to Evelyn.
“I’m going to ask Evelyn to marry me.”
My mother nods, and her eyes begin to water. “She’s really the one for you, isn’t she?”
“Yes. She’s…everything to me, Mother.”
Sniffling, she attempts to contain her tears, but one falls down her cheek. I offer her a tissue, and she wipes the moisture from her eyes.
“I hope those are happy tears,” I comment.
“They are.” She breaks into a blissful grin. “Oh, Foster.”
“Don’t get too excited. I haven’t asked her yet. In all honesty, I don’t know what she’ll say. She’s not very traditional.”
Mother angles the box in my direction, displaying a brilliant blue diamond with facets of perfection, catching and reflecting even the lowest of lights.
Picking the right ring was a challenge for such a vibrant woman, but the moment I saw this one, I knew it was meant for my Evelyn.
“How could she say no with a ring like this?”
“We shall see.” I collect the ring from my mother, close the box, and return it to my briefcase. “Like I said, she’s a little unconventional.”
“She is, but I think that’s why you two work so well together.”
“That still doesn’t mean that she’ll want to get married.”
“Have you talked about it with her? Even in theory?”
“A little but…not a lot. All theory.”
She beams. “I have a good feeling, Foster. Anyone can see how much she loves you. Your father and I were just talking about that the other day. She follows you. First, to California when you got your master’s degree, and now, here. I think she wants to marry you more than you realize.”
“I hope you’re right.” I seat myself in the chair and reach for another blue square sheet of paper. “I guess I’ll find out soon enough.”
Swooping up a folded bird from my desk, my mother examines the origami creation and then peeks in the box that is half-filled with ones identical to the crane she’s holding.
“What’s the story with the birds?” she wonders aloud.
“It’s part of my proposal.” I make a crease in the paper, like I have done many times before. “Marriage is supposedly a lot of work and a commitment that takes time and patience.”
“It can feel that way sometimes, but if you’re married to the right person, it’s really no work at all, other than that you do it together.”
“Well, it’s a vow, and I want to show Evelyn that I’m devoted to her completely, in a way I think she’ll understand.”
“So, the birds are part of this plan?”
“Yes. I read somewhere that a Japanese legend states that any person who creates a thousand origami cranes will be granted one wish.” I continue to fold the paper. “A life with her is my wish, and I’m willing to do the work needed.”
“You are going to make a thousand of these?”
“Yes. That’s the plan.”
“How many have you made already?”
“About five hundred fifty, give or take. I haven’t done a count in a while.”
My mother shrugs off her jacket, seats herself across from me, and scoots the chair closer to the desk. She then grabs a sheet of paper from the top of the pile and folds it in half.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Helping you,” she replies, folding the square along the diagonal. “You have a long way to go, and I want to make sure your wish comes true. I’m sure you can teach me how to make them, yes?”
I place my palm over her working fingers. “Thank you, but I need to do it myself. It will mean more this way—just
in every way.”
“Are we having a little evening stroll, Fozzie?” Evelyn asks, tucking a recently dyed bright blonde lock behind her ear.
It’s a fair question, seeing how the car is parked in the other direction.
“A stroll? Is this 1933?” I squeeze her hand in mine. “No, I have a destination in mind.”
“Is that right? Where are we going?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a surprise?”
“I’m familiar with them. However, I’ve never strolled to one before.”
I kiss her cheek mid step and continue down the sidewalk toward the center of town on this late Tuesday evening. At the end of the street, the fountain that is the subject of one of my favorite photographs ever taken by Evelyn—a spouting display of illuminated water against formidable stone—comes into view. During our first visit together at this location, she shared with me what life looked like through her eyes, hinted at her truest desires, and allowed me a glimpse of her beyond the sarcasm. It was the first of many turning points to how we became a couple.
“Here we are,” I announce, leading us up the brick staircase toward the streaming water lit in color. “The very place we had our first date.”
She laughs. “You thought my being abandoned for a late-night photo shoot and you escorting me instead was me asking you out?”
“Nobody ever said you knew how to do it right.”
“And your dating technique is superior to mine?”
“Absolutely not. It’s well-known that I completely suck in that department.”
“You sure do, but it’s a good thing. We can suck together.”
Approaching the south side of the fountain, droplets of moisture skim our faces. At my side, Evelyn closes her lids, basking in the serenity of the atmosphere.
“What do you see?” I ask, enamored by the way her mind translates the everyday. We play this game often. “Mermaids?”
“No.” She titters. “Why would you say that?”
“Because, the first time we came here, you told me about how you wanted to dive into the depths of the sea to live forever. Just like a mermaid.”
“I said that?”
“Yes, and that you wanted to grow fins.”
She smiles. “Your memory is to my detriment at times, you know that?”
“Well, not everyone can have as much charm as you. Some of us have to use other strengths,” I tease, wrapping my arm around her lower back and guiding her to the other side of the structure.
At the northern end of the square, the urban backdrop takes on a more natural landscape with low-lying bushes and strategically planted trees.
I point her in the direction of a grouping of arbors shadowed in darkness. “You know, I would grow fins, too, if you really wanted to live in the sea.”
“Aw, you’re being sweet.” She lays her head on my shoulder. “A little corny but sweet.”
When we are about twenty feet from the closest tree, twinkle lights come to life all around us. Among the branches, outlined by the soft luminescence and hung one by one, are one thousand paper cranes in pale and deep hues of blue. At the center of all of them float two larger origami birds, a shade of scarlet.
“What is this?” Evelyn questions, stopping in her tracks.
“They look like birds,” I state coyly.
Tentatively, she proceeds with me at her side toward the arrangement of origami gently swaying in the soft breeze created by the nearby rush of water, and she delicately sweeps the underbellies of the paper birds.
“One thousand cranes,” I tell her as she continues to gape at the small fantasy under the branches. “Did you know that Japanese legend states that any person who creates a thousand origami cranes will be granted one wish?”
“I’ve heard that,” Evelyn says, cupping and lifting one of the crimson-winged creations. “Do you think that’s why these are here?”
Closing the distance between us, I reach into my pocket, pull out the box that’s been taking up space in my jacket and my mind, and lower to one knee. “I’m sure of it.”
“Fozzie,” she gasps, wetness immediately glossing over her eyes. “What are you doing?”
“I’m making my wish. And I’m hoping that you can help make it come true.” Opening the box, I present to her a diamond of color because she holds too many facets for anything traditional. “I would happily drown in the depths with you, just like you dreamed as a child, but I would much rather see you free. I want you to fly, and I was hoping you’d be willing to do so with me at your side.” I take her hand in mine. “Evelyn Cunning, you bring me so much life, and I want to experience that feeling forever and always. I love you with everything I am and more.” I search into the hidden recesses of her soul as blood pumps profoundly in my chest. “Would you do me the honor of marrying me and being my wife?”
She exhales shakily in this suspended moment of time, and my heart refuses to beat again until I hear her reply.
“Yes,” she utters, like she’s testing her ability to speak. “Yes, I’ll fly with you anywhere. Forever.”
I remove the ring from the velvet box, slip it onto her trembling finger, and then rise to take her into my arms, softly kissing her through the silent tears lining her cheeks.
“I love you, Evelyn. Forever.”
“I love you, too.” Wiping under her eye with the newly bejeweled finger, she asks, “Did you really fold all of these birds?”
I chuckle. “I have the paper cuts to prove it.”
ONE YEAR LATER
The heat from the sun feels incredible on my skin, and so does having Evelyn lying next to me, half-naked in a barely there bikini in the midst of our tropical paradise, situated not far from the Hawaiian Islands. The shade of the yellow fabric is damn near perfection against her tan stomach, especially that lower area, enticing me in ways that truly aren’t meant for public knowledge.