Prologue: Reach Up
You're almost there.
I'm trapped. The cold metal closes in on me. The voice from above fades into a whisper. A whisper that pleads for me to look up. Reach up—up toward the light. The light grows dim with the moment. I can't see. I can't breathe. How long have I been here? When all seems lost, I hear the whisper followed by two strong hands pushing up from below.
Reach up, Lil.
REACH UP, I whisper while gazing out toward the Manhattan skyline. I can't dodge the feeling from the dream that woke me up at 3:11 that morning.
I've always felt trapped; trapped by the weight of my life. Isolated and alone. Wasn't that my choice? Didn't I choose to be alone? I'm trapped by the weight of the past. Years of anger and judgment pushed down below the surface. Anger and judgment toward others and myself. Who am I? Do I even know anymore?
I can't see the light. I can't see the way up. I've been climbing my whole life. Climbing to where? What is my destination? How will I know I've arrived?
Reach up. Reach up to whom? Is there anyone waiting? Will they pull me up from the abyss—the weight of my own story?
Chapter 1: My Restless Soul
IT'S TIME TO NOTICE YOUR LIFE, LIL.
Those were Lazlo's final words before he dashed out of my life, seven years ago. They're only words, right? Words that haunt my soul in the darkness of the night. Words that grip my heart like a vice. Words that have me questioning everything. Why can't I feel my life?
IN THE BLINK of an eye, the years drifted across the sea. The daily routine of guilt, fear and longing anchored me like a ship in port. I've been unable to truly experience my life. What happened to me? I used to seek out adventure like a kid at a county fair. Lazlo's words rooted themselves like a heat-seeking missile, drilled deep into my subconscious. Target acquired.
The signs I didn't see,
the miracles I didn't embrace,
the life I didn't notice.
Never stand still. That was my way of dodging missiles. A life of continuous motion. The moment I paused to look back, it was over baby. Boom—target destroyed! So, I chose to move on. Well, that's the story I told myself. Let's get real. It was more like two steps forward and seven steps back. Still, with every goal pursued, I found myself growing numb, with a false sense of control.
I FOUND COMFORT isolating myself on the top floor of my Manhattan penthouse. I felt guarded. Protected from the elements. Alone. I avoided swimming too far below the surface—drowning in life's bigger questions. It felt safer treading in the shallow end of life and clinging to the edge. Clinging to what I thought mattered most—a Mercedes, a marriage, a man.
This delusional existence satisfied me. I didn't need anyone or anything to nourish my soul—or so I thought. I sensed my wise inner ninja rising to the surface. So, why do you feel so restless and unfulfilled, Lil? More and more, she's been calling me out on my own shit.
The further I peered out toward the Manhattan skyline, the more my office felt like a cold metal cage, closing me off from seeing the brilliance of my life. Lazlo's words scorched my chest like fireworks. I found myself missing the signs—the miracles. The gift of being alive. What am I seeking—is it even attainable?
AN IRRITATING SOUND thumped in the background. Everything irritated me these days. Especially a cocky twenty something like my personal assistant, Susan hovering over me like a prison guard.
I remember how free life was at her age. God, I miss Tuscany! What does she have to worry about, anyway? I'm no better, treading in the past.
Susan shuffled into my office. “Hey, Boss you're going to miss your flight.”
I gazed aimlessly at the horizon, completely unaware of her presence.
“EARTH TO LILLY—”
“What? Oh, Susan. I must have drifted.” Don't tell me, more photos of your little ankle biter. I don't think I can take it.
She grinned annoyingly. “Your plane leaves in a couple of hours, Boss. Better get moving.” Shecan't wait for me to break free of this place.
I lifted my head and raised a half-smile. “I didn't even notice the time.” There's not enough time in a day.
“What was that, Boss?”
“Nothing Susan. Just a lot on my mind. I'm racing as fast as I can.” She turned and walked away. I reached over to my satchel resting on the window ledge. Focus. I need a win, especially on my birthday. I peered over at Lazlo's bookcase. It lined the far wall of his former office.
I loved his corner of the world. His office had the best views. At least something positive surfaced from his unforeseen departure. His red chair invited me to take a seat. I gazed out the window. The horizon shifted with the morning light. I contemplated the years that raced by in a blink of an eye. Forty-nine, it's inconceivable. My inner ninja peers amusingly back at me. What did you think Lil, you could defy time?
I turned my gaze toward the old bookcase. It stood watch like a sentinel. Among the many well-viewed why books stood a trilogy of transformational novels. I searched the dusty shelves. My finger tips dancing along the skirts of curled up covers. I need a distraction. Maybe there's a good read that'll get me back on course. God, I used to love reading. I felt my inner ninja rumbling. It's called remembering the things that matter, Lil.
A lavender-coloured journal, caught my eye. I snatched it with a deep sense of reverence. It was old and tattered. I pressed it up to my nose. It carried a familiar scent of olive trees and red wine. It sparked a Tuscan memory.
I opened the cover. A few rings of red wine stained the edges. I flipped through the journal entries. A Polaroid of young lovers nestled in the middle of the spine. I grinned. Tuscany. Lazlo and I standing on the edge of an old abandoned railway track. I gripped the tattered photograph. An inscription pierced my side like a pointed arrow.
Taste the beauty of your life, Lil.
Shit! I felt Lazlo's missile closing in. I didn't anticipate the swale of anger. My jaw rigid. The memory swirled dizzily like a carousel.
Roaming the edges of a track,
losing ourselves in the Tuscan hills,
soft kisses—soulful sunsets.
Now you've gone and done it, Lil. Target eliminated!
Why do I feel so numb? I navigated the pages like an investigative journalist. Another inscription weighed heavily on my chest.
For you, Lil. Time to start noticing the bigger picture of your life.
I slammed the journal. It sprung the scarred Polaroid onto the floor. I glanced down. I sensed the deep-rooted missile drilling through my skull. My inner ninja slams in. What did he want you to see, Lil? I swallowed. How the fuck should I know?
MOMENTS LATER, Susan blasted into my office with her cellphone surgically attached to her palm. She can't live without that bloody thing. I tossed the journal onto the floor. It made a thud.
“The airport limo is here, Boss.”
“You scared the shit out of me.”
“Hey, what's this?” She scooped up the stretched out journal.
“It's nothing. I found it on Lazlo's old bookcase.”
“Feels pretty old.” She stroked it like a lazy cat. “You ever hear from the old lion?”
“Nope, not a word.”
“Do you miss him?”
I turned in frustration. “It's ancient history, Susan. Don't go there.” Would anyone notice if I just pushed her out the window? News at eleven—annoying assistant, probes into matters best left in the past.
“Sorry, Boss. I forgot, you don't like looking back.” Susan scooped up the old Polaroid, purring on the floor. “Is this you?” She continued, hoping to brighten the mood.
“Yeah. It was taken ages ago, before you were born.”
She glanced down. “You two look so happy.”
What does she know about happiness? “Yeah well, things change and so do people, I guess.”
Susan squinted at the scarred photograph. “Where were you? What's that building in the background?”
Flashes of strolling freely along the edges of a railway track, derailed my mind. “Just some old ruins—a hidden villa in Tuscany.”
She smiled. “Sounds like a wild adventure. How did you find it?”
“It just sprung up at the end of the track.” My voice heavy. My paradise. My Heaven.
“You look like a completely different person.”
“You'll soon discover that nothing stays the same, Susan.” God, I detest this version of myself. What the hell am I doing with my life? Lazlo's missile drilled its way toward unchartered targets. A sense of blushed anger bubbled to the surface.
“Don't you have something better to do with your time, Susan?” I snatched the Polaroid and journal from her hands. I tossed them into the leather satchel. “Just tell the driver I'll be down in a few minutes.”
I glanced over for a final look at the Manhattan skyline. Grey clouds hovered and the wind howled through the skyscrapers. A streak of lightning cracked the horizon. Hopefully, I'll have brighter skies ahead.