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Saving Chloe by Ellen Lane (1)

Prologue

 

“Chloe? Chloe, you awake, honey?”

She had a hard decision to make. It was close to two in the morning, and Chloe knew she had no business being awake at such a godawful hour. If she pretended not to hear her mother then, perhaps, she would be allowed to keep sleeping. But then she would probably run the risk of irritating her father.

After all, she knew exactly why her parents were looking for her.

“Chloe?” The young woman squeezed her eyes tightly shut, turning her face even more flush against the pillow. It was Saturday. People usually slept in on Saturdays. She wanted to sleep in, that was for sure.

Unfortunately, it didn’t look like it was meant to be.

“Chloe Sanukh-Trellis, I know you can hear me. You just moved.” Chloe cracked open one eye to see her mother looking down at her with a thinly veiled smile of amusement.  “Come on now. I’ve made potato pancakes with honey. Your favorite.”

That was enough to perk her up almost immediately. If anything, Chloe could say that her parents always gave her decent recompense when they woke her up at the butt crack of dawn.  A hot meal and some encouragement went a long way. Slowly, she dragged herself into a sitting position. Though her bed was only a queen, she was dwarfed by the coverlets and pillows. Chloe had always been a small girl, and though she had thrown a tantrum when her mother told her she would likely never reach five feet, by the age of thirteen, she’d come to accept her lot.

“Come on, darling. Your father is waiting.” Marian Trellis was just as diminutive as her daughter, making it easy to kiss her on the cheek in encouragement.

By then, the smell of the meal her mother had cooked had begun to waft down the hall. It provided enough impetus to get her dressed and to the kitchen in her bare feet. Thankfully, the summer night was mild enough that she could get away with shorts and a t-shirt - anything more might have stifled her.

Her father was already at the table  - as imposing and dark-skinned as her mother was light and pale. Charlie Sanukh was one of the last in a long line of Apache chiefs, and one of the only remaining native Apache Indians left in Texas. Chloe, born of the union between her Apache father and Caucasian schoolteacher mother, was half-Native American.

But that didn’t mean that her father expected her to know any less of their traditions. He was already wearing his ceremonial vest and the doeskin pants his own mother, Chloe’s grandmother, had made for him before she passed away the year before.

Chloe wasn’t yet old enough to wear the ceremonial clothes that lie, fastidiously wrapped, at the bottom of a trunk in her closet. For now, her shorts and t-shirt would do. 

“You awake, hanil?” Chloe’s father had called her the Apache word for mouse since she was born, and it always made her smile. Everyone in town was wary of his stern, deeply lined face and black eyes, but to her, he was simply her father - and his outer brusqueness was just a shield to protect the warmth he carried within.

“I’m awake.” Her lips curved upwards into a smile as she reached for the plate her mother served her.       

“I know you’re tired. And that it’s Saturday.” It was as if her father could read her mind, and that was one of the things Chloe loved most about him. “But this is important, hanil. And I want to share it with you.”

Chloe, whose mouth was full of potato pancake, only nodded in compliance. Now that she was fully awake and stuffing her face, her two am wakeup call didn’t seem too horribly rash. The summertime moonlight was oddly invigorating, and she found herself itching to feel the forest soil under her feet.

The moment she was finished, she was up and headed for the door, hardly waiting for her mother to provide her with a large bottle of water for the trek ahead of them. The young woman lingered only a moment while her mother kissed her father lingeringly and then they were off, through the still and silent woods.

This, Chloe had long decided, was far cooler than anything her peers were doing. They were so concerned about who was going with who to the school dance or so and so’s new car...she doubted any of them had ever just stopped to appreciate the world around them.

And what a magnificent world it was.

The leaves above her head were thick, but not quite thick enough to block out the moon entirely. Instead, they cast dark patches of shadow that contrasted beautifully with the silvery splotches that surrounded them. Evergreen, oak and beech - each tree had its own pattern; and thanks to her father, Chloe knew them all.

She could tell how old a tree was from counting the grooves in its trunk, track small animals by the minute trails they left behind and even tell the weather for the next few days by the quality of the air. This, her father had always stressed, was good land - some of the last land of their people.

And they had to appreciate it.

Tonight’s full moon brought with it a monthly ritual. Chloe and her father were looking for small, bright Amaris flowers. The petals produced a particularly potent dye which her father used to color thread that he wove into bolts of cloth that always caught the eye of tourists. The land, thankfully, provided enough for him to supplement his wife’s minute income, and he had every intention of passing the tradition down to his only daughter.

They didn’t speak. There was really no need to. Instead, Chloe merely followed her father through the trees, each of her treads perhaps half of his. The man had been bringing her out here since she could barely walk - had fought when his wife pleaded that she wait. Only the profession that Apache girls half her age were out with their parents finally made her relent.

And now, Chloe’s mother never questioned the rightness of what she learned. There was no longer any need to.

Chloe’s eyes lit on two raccoons scampering up a nearby tree. They were far too absorbed in their own lives to wonder at the two intruders in their domain - and that was how she preferred it. Chloe preferred the forest undisturbed and natural - just as her father taught her.

Without a word, she curled her small, chestnut brown hand around his larger one. It was times like these that she felt closest to her father. She didn’t worry about what her fellow students in school said about him, or the insults they spat about her family. She didn’t have to care how the townspeople looked at her when she went with her mother to buy groceries or visit the doctor. Here, there was no one to judge them but the trees and the wind.

And life was absolutely perfect.