This review will not be one of my typical reviews because this is not your typical book. Hopeless is a book that has left in its wake a myriad of emotions within me that I have a hard time describing. I did a brief review of Hopeless on Amazon and I did an e-book giveaway here on my blog in celebration of its release and gave it high praise. But it has taken me some time to decide how I wanted to officially review this book on my blog. Forgive me for taking the serious route for a moment but I feel it's necessary for several reasons.
The issue that's addressed in this book affects thousands of our children every day. It is a delicate subject but it needs to be talked about, brought to the surface and should no longer be a dirty secret. I feel that it was very brave of the author to take on such heavy subject matter and she did it with respect and class.
Hopeless isn't just a love story it's a life story...
Sky is a resilient girl who has survived a difficult past but she comes through shining. Sky's character is such a wonderful role model for young girls that have been through similar situations. Colleen Hoover developed a character within Sky that has great depth. You laugh with her, you hurt with her, you love with her then by the time you finish the last page you stand tall beside her. Sky is my new book hero!
Quotes from Sky:
“And while I could sit here and feel sorry for myself, wondering why all of this happened to me..I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to wish for a perfect life. The things that knock you down in life are tests, forcing you to make a choice between giving in and remaining on the ground or wiping the dirt off and standing up even taller than you did before you were knocked down. I'm choosing to stand taller. I'll probably get kicked down a few more times before this life is through with me, but I can guarantee you I'll never stay on the ground.”
“Not everything is going to go my way and not everyone gets a happily ever after. Life is real and sometimes it’s ugly and you just have to learn how to cope.”
“This isn’t me saying yes, Holder. This is me saying please.”
Six and Breckin bring the pages to life and fill your heart with laughter and they make you wish you had a window hopper and Mormon for best friends! The depth of their friendships with Sky was warm hearted and laugh out loud funny at times. Six and Breckin are my new favorite book sidekicks!
Quote from Breckin:
“Breckin shrugs. “I’m new here. And if you haven’t deducted from my impeccable fashion sense, I think it’s safe to say that I’m…” he leans forward and cups his hand to his mouth in secrecy. “Mormon,” he whispers.”
Karen...this woman is in close competition with Julia from Slammed for my most favorite book mom ever. That.Is.All. I will say about her. Read for yourself. You'll see what I mean. She is the most selfless amazing parental character I've read in a long time. Love her <3
Dean Holder... Just typing the name gives me goose bumps. This character came along in this book like a tornado and scrambled up my insides like an egg beater. Colleen Hoover has written a main male character that embodies the kind of guy every girl/woman wants in their life. The love he has for Sky is boundless. He is strong willed, stubborn, beautiful on the inside and out and he loves her in a way that will grip onto your heart strings and never let them go. You can literally feel how this guy feels as you read every single word. Almost as if it were his POV. The writing is that good. Even though we are hearing it from Sky's POV you always know how Holder is feeling. Some would say Holder was the savior in the story but I disagree. He was very important in helping Sky navigate hard times but I think Sky saved him just as much as he saved her.
They saved each other...
Quotes from Holder:
“Just because you blocked the memory of me out of your mind doesn't mean you blocked the memory of me out of your heart.”
“F#%k all the firsts, Sky. The only thing that matters to me with you are the forevers.”
“The moment my lips touch yours, it will be your first kiss. Because if you've never felt anything when someone's kissed you, then no one's ever really kissed you. Not the way I
plan on kissing you.”
Not all books can be unicorns and rainbows. I personally don't even want them to be. I love a story that can jumble me all up inside, make me think and set off every emotion possible.
Hopeless did that for me.
Colleen Hoover wrote about an extremely difficult subject but treated it with immense respect and delicacy that equaled a meaningful experience for the reader whether this thing has
touched their life or not.
I think the lesson that I came away with after reading this story was, you can't let your past steal your future. We need to write our own story and live it to the fullest even if you have to take a chapter break from time to time!
"There is a great deal of ugliness in this world, and there’s beauty hiding in plain sight. Don’t be afraid to grasp happiness when it’s
dangled in front of you."
For years, Cheyenne Carson clawed her way up from her meager upbringing and strove to distance herself from the skeletons of her past. Finally success is within her grasp. A journalist for the music magazine, The Sound Wave, the assignment of a lifetime just landed in her lap. An all access pass to tour with the British rock band, Fury. Their latest album went triple platinum and they've never granted interviews.
Once her assignment begins, Fury's tour explodes in a Molotov cocktail of sex, scandal, and violence that threatens to ruin Fury's quest for worldwide success. Can Cheyenne navigate her treacherous path unscathed, or will the demons of her past poison her blossoming career?
I'm not sure where to start here...there's a lot going on in this book.
Cheyenne's story is just the tip of the iceberg in this book. There are so many sub stories going on that you feel sometimes like you're reading several books in one.
Steph brought the book to life and Phillip.....oh how I love Phillip! A cocky, arrogant alpha male after my own heart!
You will laugh, you will wince and sometimes drop your jaw while reading this book. I don't typically go for the rock and roll type stories but this one worked for me.
If you enjoy rock and roll romance mixed with mystery and suspense then you'll want to check out Fury! Go >>>>>HERE to buy it now while it's still on sale for the amazing price of only 1.99!
There are those who don’t get luck handed to them on a shiny platter, who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, who don’t get saved.
Luck was not on Callie’s side the day of her twelfth birthday when everything was stolen from her. After it’s all over, she locks up her feelings and vows never to tell anyone what happened. Six years later her painful past consumes her life and most days it’s a struggle just to breathe.
For as long as Kayden can remember, suffering in silence was the only way to survive life. As long as he did what he was told, everything was okay. One night, after making a terrible mistake, it seems like his life might be over. Luck was on his side, though, when Callie coincidentally is in the right place at the right time and saves him.
Now he can’t stop thinking about the girl he saw at school, but never really knew. When he ends up at the same college as Callie, he does everything he can to try to get to know her. But Callie is reserved and closed off. The more he tries to be part of her life, the more he realizes Callie might need to be saved.
(New Adult Contemporary)*Mature Content** Recommended for ages 17+ due to sexual situations and language.
Okay, so this is one of THOSE books that stick with you!
Callie is closed off, shut down and feels as if she's forever damaged. Kayden is strong willed, courageous but has lived a painful life. When the two collide these characters will make your heart explode.
Breathtakingly Beautiful Sexy Raw and Deep
The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden will steal your heart and keep it under lock and key!
“When he inches into me, I feel the pain, but I also feel the invisible chains around my wrists break and shatter.”
I really don't want to say more because you have to experience this book for yourself to feel the amazingness that it is!
I highly recommend this book and right now it is on sale for only .99! RUN.GO.NOW>>>>>>>>>HERE and see for yourself!
To celebrate the release of Hopeless I want to give a lucky someone a free digital copy of this awesome book!
Colleen Hoover wrote about an extremely difficult subject but
treated it with immense respect and delicacy that equaled a meaningful
experience for the reader whether this thing has touched their life or not. I
felt everything Sky felt and everything Holder felt. He was the most amazing
character ever. The sex scenes were perfectly balanced and were also written
with an eloquent amount of class and respect which provided the reader with a
deeper respect for the characters intimate connection.
The two most
poignant lessons for me from the book were these two quotes: "Sometimes
you have to choose between a bunch of wrong choices and no right ones. You just
have to choose which wrong choice feels the least wrong."
"While I could
sit here and feel sorry for myself, wondering why all of this happened to
me...I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to wish for a perfect life. The
things that knock you down in life are tests, forcing you to make a choice
between giving in and remaining on the ground or wiping the dirt off and
standing up even taller than you did before you were knocked down. I'm choosing
to stand up taller. I'll probably get knocked down a few more times before this
life is through with me, but I can guarantee you I'll never stay on the
ground." I never thought I could love a book as equally as I did Slammed
but now I think I do. I "LIVE" HOPELESS!
“Wake up Nicole! How many times are you going to hit the snooze button this morning?” Mom flipped on the bright light in my room and began shuffling around the room, picking up the cap and gown Ileft on the floor the night before. Last night Ipractically collapsed from exhaustion due to allthe festivities that my family feltnecessary for my graduation celebration. You would think I had just graduated from Harvard Law or something. After all, it was just high school graduation. But all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents came in for the occasion. Mommade a huge spreadand threw an elaborate party. Whilemy friends wereatafter-graduation partiescelebrating around bonfires and drinking from kegs, I was here with my family, drinking punch and listening to Gran talk about how fast time has flown by.
I may have beendisinterested in this party, but I always loved whenGran visited. Ever since I was a little girl,I was alwaysmesmerized by her. It seemed as though she could do anything, and she always did things well. She could plant the best flower beds and vegetable gardens, and had the most well-manicured lawn on the block. She had been divorced three times, and always told me, “a strong woman doesn’t need a man for anything, but if a good one comes along hold on tight Nicole Ray.”
She always called me Nicole Ray orHoney Bunch. She loved the outdoors and she lived on a gorgeous piece of Texas lakefront property. She taught me how to water ski,fish andswim. She drove a sportscar andalways dressed to the nines. I was fully convinced that my Gran was invincible, and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Listening to her talk last night about my love of Texas horny toads, frogs, and lizards made me smile, because I remembered how much my Dad hated me touching all of those things. But my Gran would always just wink and smile.
All of that had changednow. I was all grown up, so searching for critters under rocks wasin the distant past. I spent the last four years playing thegood girl;always walking the straight and narrow, spending mytime studying or atthe local dance studio. I’ve been dancing since I was two years old. My Dad got me started. He called me his “princess ballerina”. I loved itand used to screamwhen it was time to take off my tutu. I wore it so often my Mom used tohide it from me.
I grew to love dance and music. It became part of me. I branched out and took many styles of dance through the years, even though my teachers andfather insistedI focus on ballet. To tell the truth, ballet was not my favorite, but Inever toldanyone. I loved contemporary dance and jazz was such a thrill. I could get lost in contemporary dance, feeling the lyricsand pouring my emotions into my movements, with the music as my guide. Jazz was electrifying,and I lovedjust letting go. Ballet was so reserved by comparison, so controlled. It was just like my life; I wanted to be free, I wanted tolet go, but that was notacceptable for me or my family. I spent my nights and weekends in the studio, and fit in myhomework whenever possible. My friends came intoclass on Monday morningstalking about shopping at the mall, and the hot guys they saw atweekend parties. I always felt like an outsider.I wasn’tunpopular and I had friends,but my life revolved aroundschool and dance.I loved my teachers especially in home economics class and school was somewhere I loved to be unlike most other students. My friend, Annie,was the only person that really knew me outside of school or the studio, and we had been friends since preschool. Growing up in our tiny east Texas town ,you were certain to endup graduating with the same people you used to play puzzles with in Miss Janine’s preschool class. Everyone knew everyone, whichmade for some good gossip, that’s for sure. Annie was upset, but not surprised that I wouldbe skipping all of the after-graduation parties.
It was 7 am on Saturday morning the day after graduation,and I had togo into the studio forfive hours. Unlike my peers, who were probably hungoverand asleep, I was eating a banana and drinking a protein shake, listening to my Mom go on about how old she felt having a high school graduate for a daughter.
“Ican’t believe it, Nic. You’re a high school graduate. It’s hard to believe that just eighteen years ago you were a tiny baby in my arms.”
Ididn’tsee what the big deal was.
“Mom, you’re not old. You still look great and you did a good job raising me. Isn’t that the upside?”
“Nic, you’re too sweet, even though I don’t agree with the still looking great part..”
Ever since my parentsdivorced last year she was totally self-depreciating. Dad came to my graduation ceremony andgave me a gift, but that was it. I was headedto his house tonight to stay for the remainder of the weekend. But I rarely sawhim since the divorce. I was dumbfounded when I heard they were divorcing. Twenty years of marriage thrown away for no reason. Theymoved on soeffortlessly that I wasconfused. This wasn’t how my friends described their parents’ divorces. It seemednormal for Mom and Dad, so painless. Other than Mom making a few commentshere and there, she went on like everything was fine. All the while, I was feeling like I lost my whole family.
Ithrew my banana peel away, ran to bathroom, and swept my long, thick brown hairinto atight bun. I threw on a leotard and tights, a pair of sweats, and my dance jacket. There was no need for makeup; I would justsweat it offafter five hours of dancing. I wasn’ttrying to impress anyone. I never thought about guys. My parents’ divorcesolidified my opinion of love, and I wanted nothing to do with falling in or out of it. Their divorceconvinced me that theidea of true love was abunch of crap. I still didn’t know howtwo people who weretogether for twenty years could just move on, like all that time never happened. I didn’t have time for boys anyway. Dance took up allmy time, and relationships were time-consuming. Iwatched many friendsbe overtakenby a relationship, and it was nauseating.
I put on my shoes and opened the front door.
“Bye, Mom,” I hollered. “I’m headed to the studio and I’m going to stay at Dad’s. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Have a good practice,” she yelled back. “Say hello to your father.” It was too weird! It was like they were buddies or something. She always said to say hello, and I never did.
The studio was alive with people rustling around and getting ready forclass. The crazy dance momsstood huddled together, prattling quietly, likely gossiping. They were the one drawback about class – catty moms.Another group of dance moms were reading books or quietly talking. They were the normal moms of the studio. They were genuinely nice to each other andsupportive of their kids. My Mom was in neither group, because she never came to the studiosince the divorce.
I changed out of my sweats and jacket, put on my jazz shoes, and headed into Studio A where my teacher, Ms. Jenny,stood waiting for me to show up for my private.
“Hey, Nicole,” she asked.“How was graduation?” She was in yoga pants and a studio logo t-shirt wearing her always bright and energetic smile.
“I’m good and it was okay. Nothing spectacular.”
“Only youwould be unenthusiastic about high school graduation,” she said, laughing.
I shruggedand started warming up. Ididn’t know what she meant.
“Nicole, did you even go to any after graduation parties?” Here we go,I thought. She sounded just like Annie, who was probably hungover.
“No, Ms. Jenny. I didn’t go to anyparties. I had to be up early, and I knew it was best to stay in. Plus Mom and the family had a party for me at home.”
“You know, you could have scheduled your private for another day. I was confused when I saw it on the books.”
I knew she meant well, but it really didn’t matter to me what day it was. This was my routine, and I always stuck to it, whether it wasgraduation or not.
“It’s fine. Really, Ms. Jenny. You know this is where I would rather be anyway. This is my second home.”
She smiledand pressed play on the stereo.Alicia Keys’s velvety voice flowed throughout the room and my heart smiled. I loved everything about the studio: the music and the mirrored walls staring back at me, showing me all I can be. We warmed up andthe hard work began. My privatesessions were to be sure I could concentrate on my technique and improve on any weaknesses. My Dad always pushed me to be the best, and told me never to settlefor less.
“Perfection is not attainable,” he used to say, quoting Vince Lombardi.“But if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”So I have always strived to catch excellence in every competition and every recital.
As I stretched, I suddenly rememberedthat this was my last weekat the studio. It has been my second home for so long and Iwas going to miss it dearly. I wasleaving for Japan in a week, butI forgot how fast that day was approaching. Of course, everyone expected me to go to Julliard or some other prestigious performing arts school, but for once I decided to think outside the box.
I was born in Okinawa, Japan. My Dad was a government contractor, and heworkedoverseas on the Japanese island, where I was born at a Naval Hospital. I was only six months old when we moved back to the States, but I alwayswanted to visit the place where I was born. At the beginning of my senior year,I began researching dance academiesand host family programs overseas. Annie thought I hadfallen offthe deep end. She was the first person I told.
“Holy Santa Claus shit,Nic,” she screamed. “Japan?What the hell for?”
I loved Annie. She was funny as hell and could always make me laugh. She had a heart the size of Texas, and I could always count on her.
“I was born there and I want to see the place where I was born. I’ve read a lot about it and you should see this place. It’s magnificent, truly beautiful.”
“Nic, there are plenty of fucking beautiful places right here in America. You don’t have to go traipsing off to Tokyo. You were only a baby when you were there. All you did was eat, cry and shit there for six months. It’s not like you’re going to go back and reminisce about your
childhood.Oh wow look over there, that’s
where I was born in that hospital and look there it is, the nursery where me
and a bunch of other screaming, crying, eating and shitting babies were kept
until our parents took us home!”
I looked at her andshook my head. Annie was never afraid tosay what was on her mind. Welaughed and I continued pleading my case to her.
“First of all, it’s Okinawa, not Tokyo. And yes, you’re right, I was just a baby. But it’s still my birthplace. Plus it’s exotic,and the culture thereis amazing. I’ve lived my entire life in aperfectly wrapped little box. I’m ready to rip that shit off and go outin the world to see new things and meet new people. I want tofind myself.”
“Okay, I can see that you’re set on this crazy adventure. You want to go Eat Love Pray, I can follow that. But for the love of baby Jesus, pleaseget laid while you’re there. Then as soon as you do, I want a full report. Those military guys over there are everywhere. It’s probably like a hot guy convention on a daily basis, and you know those Marines are just dripping with sex appeal. Actually, the more I think about it the more jealous I am that you and your fine ass will be over there for a year soaking up the sand and sun withThe Few and The Proud.”
Here we go again, I thought.Annie was always trying to push me into having sex. Not that she had much experience in that area. She had sex with one guy, and she acted likeDr. Ruth.
“Really,I’m not going there to have sex with a bunch of jarheads. I’m going there to learn about a new culture and to dance. That’s it.”
“Nic, you don’t have to get married to have sex with someone. I mean, it’s not the end of the world to like a guy. If you tried it, you might actually enjoy the company of the opposite sex.”
“Maybe one day,” I said, but that was the last thing onmy mind. Once I started reading about Japan, I knew it was what I wanted. Myparentswere stunned when I told them.
“If you think that I’m allowing my 18-year-old daughter tolive overseas,” my Dad said,“you’re out of your ever-loving mind.”
For her part, my Mom shook her head silently.
“Dad, Mom. I love you both, but this is my decision.I’ve never given you any reason to not trust me. I’ve earned this and I want this.”
“Nicole, I know you’re responsible and I know you’re trustworthy,” my Dad said. “What you don’t understand is that this world is unsafe, and you’re a beautiful young woman who’svulnerable to the crazy people out there.”
I knew right away this was going to be a tough sell, but the look on my Dad’s face told me it was going to be harder than I originally thought.
“Dad,I’m not going to be alone. I’ll live with a host family. People do it all of the time. Just like exchange students.”
His brow creased and he rubbed his temples. “Nic, I just–”
“Bradley, I think we should let her do this,” my Mom interjected. “She’s apparently thought a lot about this and she has her mind made up. She is a good girl and we shouldn’t stand in her way. As long as we ensure that she’s placed with astable host family, I think we should let her go.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief.
“Lara, Idon’t believeyou’re gonnaundermine me in front of Nicole,” he said, shaking his head. “You never cease to amaze me lately, you know that?” I had seen this look before. He stormed out the front door and we heardhis truck’s tires squeal out of the driveway.
“Mom, what’s going on with you and Dad?” I asked.“You’ve been weird lately and I’ve never heard him yell at you like that before.” Tears started running down my face. She got up and put her arms around me.
“Honey, your father and I are going through some stuff right now. It’s not your fault in the least.” I looked up at her eyes and could see that she was distraught.
“What do you mean, Mom?”
“Nicole, your father and I are getting a divorce. We were trying to wait until after your big dance competition to tell you, because we didn’t want you to be distracted.”
I stared into my lap. I couldn’t look at her anymore. It wasn’t her fault, but that was the daymy idea of true love changed. It wasthe daymy family cracked in half. In the end, my Dad relented. But I think he felt like he had no choice,because my Mom had already agreed to it. Allthe wheelswere already set in motion, and he was powerless to stop it.
“Nicole, Ican’t believeyou’re flying off to fucking China,” Annie said.“Just like that, to live with strangers, meditate, drink gallons ofshittygreen tea, and eat rice, noodles and raw fish every day.”
I laughed.“Annie, I’m going to Japan, not China. And they don’t just eat sushi and ramen noodles there, you know. How stereotypical can you be?”
I rolled my eyes and continued packing. Annie sat in my wicker chair with her legs crossed, watching me pack.
“Well, it’s just weird. I mean, what if you don’t like these people? Then you’re stuck living with them for a freaking year. I mean, you’ve got to have some reservations about this. Not to sound like a shitty friend, but you’re notthe most experienced person. You’ve lived a pretty damn sheltered existence. Now you’re getting on a plane and flying off to China or Japan or whatever. I mean, how are you going to manage yourself over there?”
I looked at her and smiled. Annie was the best friend I ever had, but she could really get on my nerves. Still, I appreciated her concern.
“I’ve researched my host family well and video chatted with them several times. I found a great website called Okinawa Hai that provided tons of useful information about the island. I also started studyingJapaneseand Ifeel good about my decision. I feel comfortable with the host family, and their 17-year-old daughter is so excited to have an American coming to live with them. She wants to learn more about American culture and she said shealways wanted a sister. To tell you the truth, Ialways wished I had siblings too. I’m stoked to know that I will have a sister for a year. Her parents are both fluent in English as the mother is an English teacher at a local high school so I know communication won’t be a problem.”
I foldeda shirtand shoved itinto my suitcase. I grabbed another shirt and folded it hastily.Annie was always telling me to loosen up and be more outgoing. Now that I was trying something new she was hyper-critical.She got up from the chair and grabbed my arm.
“Nicole, I love you. You know that. You’re my best friend. I guess I was just hoping you’d change your mind. I want to support you in this. I really do. I’m just going to miss the shit out of you, that’s all. How am I going survive without seeing your face every day?”
She sniffled and wiped her eyes and I stared at her.
“Okay, none of this,” I said. “You cannot cry. Because if you cry, then I’m required to cry too. So dry it up and help me pack because I’m trying to fit an entire wardrobe into three mid-sized suitcases.” Welaughed and she picked up a shirt and started folding it. I was grateful for the help. The onlythingI loved as much asdance and music was clothes. Even though I did most of my shopping online, I had tons of clothes and shoes. I had no idea how to fit everything in my suitcases, butI was sure going to try.
“Nicole Harrison.” Annie gasped andheld up a pair of my panties. “Why in the name of God do you wear these ugly ass granny panties? I swear, it looks like you could parachute from the Dallas Lincoln Plaza with these. Why don’t you get onlineand purchase some panties that don’t look like they came from your Gran’s drawer?”
I shook my head again. She could be so stubborn. “Annie, I’m sorry if the idea of walking around with a tiny strip of dental floss up my ass is not appealing to me. They’re comfortable. Why does it matter? No one but me sees them anyway. Seems like a waste of money.”
She didn’t say anythingand Iwas thankful.We finished packing and I checked my phone. Dad knew Iwas leaving today but he wasn’triding with us. I realized I had to texthim.
Me: Dad I am all packed up and we are heading out soon to the airport. Make sure you get there in time forme to say bye to u. K luv u!
He texted me back a minute later.
Dad: Yes, honey I will be there. Make sure you packed that mace and keychain alarm that I got you!
Me: Dad I did not forget to pack them. Please stop worrying so much. I am going to be fine.
We pulled into the DFW airport parking garage after the hour and a half drive. Mom and Annie were silent as they got out.
“Listen, you two,” I said. “You’re not going to get all emotionalon me. You know my cry rule. I don’t want to show up to my host family’s house looking likesome washed-up raccoon.” I laughed, trying to keep the mood light but I was really nervous. I took a deep breath and put on my brave face. I looked at Mom and Annie cheerfully. “Let’s get going. You know they say you have to be really early for these international flights.”
We headed insideand I immediatelyscanned the terminal for my Dad. He promisedhe would be here to see me off, even though I knew it would be weird for him and Mom tobe together.
“Nic!” I turned my head, hearing his voice. He was sitting on a bench in from of the ticket counter. He rose, shoved his hands into his pockets, androcked back and forth on his feet, looking anxious.
“Daddy! You made it.” He hugged metight. “Are you all set for your big adventure around the world?” he asked.
“Dad, I’m not sailing the seven seas. I’m just going to Japan.” He laughed and I heard my Mom clear her throat.
“Lara,” My Dad said.
“Bradley,” She replied. The situation was awkward.They were married foreverand now they couldn’t muster more than each other’s name.
“Okay, Mom, Dad. Let’s not make this awkward. Right now, I would like for us to just be family.” Annie gave me an uncertain look and I smiled, putting my brave faceon.
“Mr. Harrison, how are you?” Annie asked.“I haven’t seen you for awhile.”
“I’m good, Annie Banannie. How are you, kiddo?” Dadpulled her in for a hug.
“Oh my gosh, Mr. Harrison. You cannot still be calling me that.”
“Annie, I’ve called you that since you were two years old, when Lara used to babysit you on the weekends. Why stop now?”
We all laughed, and it felt nice to just….be normal again with them.
The small talk faded and it was timeto go through the security checkpoint. I huggedMom and told her I’dtext herwhen I got on the plane and call from my first layoverin Taiwan. Dad gave me a tight squeeze and started in with his lecture about safety, human trafficking, and allthe dangers of traveling abroad.
“God, Dad. Are you trying to scare the crap out of me at the last minute?”
He frowned. “Nicole,I just want you to be careful and know what to look out for.” He hugged me again and I assured him I would be careful.
“Okay, I guess this is it,” I said confidently. Igrabbed my carry-on and smiled. Annie ran over and practically tackled me.
“Geez, Annie I know we’re in Dallas, but you’re not a Cowboy linebacker and I’m not Tony Romo.” Mom and Dad burstinto laughter and she smacked me on the shoulder.
“Don’t make fun of Romo. You know it’s all Jessica Simpson’s fault that he started sucking in the first place.”
My Dad laughed some more and I knew I had to get through securitybefore the football talk started.
“You call me as soon as you can,Nic,” Annie said. “I hear there are a lot of hot military guys over there on Okinawa. I can’t wait to see your Facebook blow up with pics.” I shook my head and looked at Dad. I wasn’t into hot guysor Facebook. Going to Okinawa was not going to change thateither.
No one warned me about how tiring and uncomfortable a flight that spanned 7,422 miles was going to be. My butt hurtfrom sitting for so long, and my iPod had played through my lengthymusic library multiple times. I read a book from front to back and I nowwas growing antsy. Iwas also fairly certain that small children should neverbe allowed to fly internationally. The kids sitting behind me had cried, screamed, thrown food, and kicked my seat relentlessly across the Pacific Ocean. Idecided I was never having kids.The movie on the video screens stopped and an exercise program resumed. The videos gave me a good excuse to get up and stretch.
I fell back asleep and awoke to the sound of Japanese coming through the speakers. I waited for the English translation and learned that we were about to land in Naha City on Okinawa. My layover was a blip.The descent feltlike it took forever, but I had a window seat and the view was breathtaking. The water surrounding the island was an amazingsea-green. I saw pictures online butthis was completely different. My heart racedand I got goose bumps. This was it! Iwas really here, really doing it. I wasn’t nervous at all;justextremely excited. Jeff Buckleywas singing Calling You into my ears and I was transfixed by the incredible view below me. No turning back, no regrets, and no second guessing. I knew at that moment, gazing into the sea-green oceanthat my life was about to begin.
We approached the runway and I lost sight of the beautiful sea-greenblanket. The city emerged in front of the airport. It was the city that I would call home for the next twelve months. I saw cement, huge buildings, and throngs of people. Itwas like Dallas, but without the greenery. There were so many people walking, and taxis everywhere. I blinked and sawclusters of mopeds and scooters on the roads. Our landing was smooth and Iwas thrilledto be off of this plane. My butt hurt and my joints were stiff. My feet felt like theycongealed to my Adidas, and Iwas dying to eat some real food.
I slowly made my way to baggage claim and was relieved to see thatmy luggage arrived safely.My host family had to work today but theyarranged for a driver to pick me up. I saw a tiny Japanese man wearing an old fedora andholding a sign with my name. I approached him and smiled.
“Hi, I’m Nicole.” He smiled and bowed slightly.
“Hello, Ms. Harrison. My name is Yuki, and I will be driving you to the Nakamura home.”
I dropped my handand bowed back. ”Thank you, Mr. Yuki. It’s so great to meet you. I’m looking forward to meeting my host family. Please call me Nicole. How far is the drive from here? I’m starved and cannot wait to get a shower. That flight was something else.”
Yuki smiled at my ramble. “It’s only about thirty to fortyminutes away, depending on traffic. We can go through the McDonald’s drive-thruto get you a bite to eat on the way if you’d like.”
I couldn’t believe it. I just flew over seven thousand miles to an exotic tropical island and here he was offering McDonald’s. I hated fast food at home,and I was pretty sure I wouldn’tlike it here either.
“Mr. Yuki, that’s thoughtful, but I really don’t like McDonald’s.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You’re American and you don’t like McDonald’s?”
“No, Mr. Yuki. I don’t really like fast food.I’m a dancer and I tryto watch what I eat.” He smiled and said he knewjust the thing for me. He loaded the suitcases into the trunkandopened the passengerdoor. We buckled up and were on our way. I ravenouslyscannedthrough the window, taking it all in. Riding on the left side of the road felt strange and left me feelingdisoriented.After driving for about fifeenminutes, we pulled into a store parking lot. I looked up and the blue-and-white sign read LAWSON in all caps. I wanted to text Annie to tell her everything wasn’tin Japanese symbols.
Mr. Yuki walked around and opened my door for me. I grabbed my backpack and we went inside. I looked around and nothing was familiar, except for Coca-Cola and a few other American drinks. Some of the candy was familiar, but for the most part everything was in Japanese script. Mr. Yuki walked over to one of the refrigerated aisles and grabbed two triangular rice-looking snacks. He offered them to me, and said they were healthy.It didn’t look appetizing, but Iwas here to try new things. I started to pull out my wallet, but Mr. Yuki stopped me.
“Welcome to Okinawa, Nicole san. This is onigiri and itis oishi.”
I didn’t know what oishimeant but I hoped itwas good. I grabbed a bottledwater andwe got back on the road. I peeled the plastic wrapping off and tried the onigiri. Iwas immediately surprised. The rice was perfect and the salmon tasted fresh. The seaweed added a pinch of saltiness, and Iinhaledit.
“I was hungrier than I thought,” I said to Mr. Yuki.
He chuckled and handed over the onigiri that hegot for himself. “Here, Nicole san. You can have mine. I’m not too hungry. Plus my wife puts them into my obento daily.”
Iate the second one quickly. I gulped down some water and turnedback to lookingthrough the window. We passed the Marine Corps Air Base, Futenma, and I laughed at whatAnniesaid about allthe military guys that would be here.
We pulled into a side street that was so small that I wondered how two cars couldpass through at the same time. The buildings were allmulti-story concrete boxes. I wondered if these were apartments or houses. Mr. Yuki slowedto a stop and I saw the name Nakamura on the outside of the house by the mailbox. I looked up and saw that the house was a huge, gated three-story. There was a chest-level concrete barrier that wrapped around the house. Mr. Yuki got out of the car andretrieved my luggagefrom the trunk. I followed him to the front entrance and noticed the Shisadogs perched on top of each side of the entrance. I knew these dogsfromstudyingOkinawan culture. They resembled a cross between a lion and a dog, from Okinawan mythology. I knew that people placed pairs of Shisa on their rooftops or flanking the gates to their houses. They’re considered to be wards, believed to protect from certain evils. When in pairs, the left shisa traditionally has a closed mouth, and the right one an open mouth. The open mouth wards off evil spirits, and the closed mouth keeps good spirits in.
Asweet, elderly Japanese woman opened the door wearing an apron.I assumed thiswas the housekeeper.
“Ohayougozaimasu,Nicole san,” she said. I recognized the words for good morning as she bowed.
“Ohayo gozaimasu,” I said, bowing.She patted her chest. “Nobuko san.”
“It is nice to meet you, Ms. Nobuko.” I said. She turned and swept her hand, motioning for us to come in. I walked in and quickly she started speaking in Japanese, pointing to my feet. Mr. Yuki looked at me and explained that it was improper to wear outdoor shoes indoors. I glancedat Ms. Nobuko, who wasopening a cabinetfilled with slippers.
“Nicole San, you just grab a pair of the indoor shoes and replace them with your outdoor shoes. This is a tansu. It’s a cabinet for shoes.”
I didn’t know this from my studies, and felt embarrassed. I learned laterthat before entering their homes, Japanese people remove their shoes to avoidsoiling the floor. This tradition stems from the fact that traditional Japanese homes featured tatami mats that were used to sit on while eating. I also learned that the Japanese pay closeattention to differences in space. The outside world was clearly delineated from the home or inside space. Taking off shoes wasalso a sign of leaving the outside world behind, along with its troubles and worries. Iwas fascinated with this culture andlooking forward to immersing myself in it.
Ms. Nobuko escorted meacross the most beautiful and pristine dark wood flooringI had ever seen. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and I fell in love. The floor of the guest room was tatami mat, the walls were natural-toned, and a beautiful teak wood armoire and dresser were on the far wall. There was a giant window that gave the room natural lightleading out onto a balcony, and my bed was a Japanese-style platform bed. It waslow to the ground, and the frame was the same teak wood. A fluffy, solid white cover andpillows lay on top. Aperfect orchid sat on the nightstand. Atallglass vase sat in one corner, partially filled with pebbles, and holding tall, green bamboo shoots. Everything was so clean,crisp, andearthy. Mr. Yuki placed my luggage on the floor near the dresser and wished me well. He spoke brieftly with Ms. Nobuko and left, and I suddenly felt uneasy standing alonewithMs. Nobuko. She spoke almostno English and Iwasn’t sure how long it would be before my host family got home. I remembered learning via email that Ms. Nobuko was the house Mama san, which was somethinglike a nanny. She was responsible for maintaining the home in whatever way it needs.
I decided to start unpacking and take a shower. I opened the door that I assumed wasa bathroom. As I walked in and looked around, I quickly realizedthis wasn’t a typical bathroom. Itlooked like a great shower room. The shower head was perched to my right next to a sink that lookedlike a large, hammered silver bowl, with a beautiful silver oval mirror hanging above it. There was a drainin the middle of the floor, which wasstrange. But there was no door separating the shower area from the toilet and sink. The walls and floor were coverd with a sea-foamtile, andacross from the shower was atiny half-bathtub.There was no way for me to fit inside it. I knew the Japanese people were small, but thisseemed too strange. After a quick Google search, I learned that Japanese bathtubs are generally shorter and deeper. The common position in such tubs is sitting up, with your knees pressed to your chest. Theidea was to have water covering your shoulders. Although it seemed foreign, the pointwas to soak as much of your body as possible.Generally speaking, most Japanese people showered before entering their soaking bathtub, to keep the waterclean.The more I thought about this, the more it made sense.
I got undressed and turned the shower on. It wasa rainfall-style shower head,and I couldn’t wait to wash away the grimy feeling from thelong flight. The shower felt heavenly and the jetlag overwhelmed me as soon as the water hit my shoulders. My heavy eyes popped open when I realized that I forgot totext my parents or Annie to let them know that I arrived safely. I quickly finish showering, rung out my hair, and grabbed a towel from the towel rack. I wrapped the towel around myself and ran into my room to reach for my phone.
Me: Mom I am so sorry that I have not texted you sooner. I got swept up in the excitement ofeverything and forgot. I am doing great. The island is beautiful from what part I have seen and the host family has an awesome home. My room is amazing and I love it here already!
I texted the same message to Dad and Annie, andhoped to hear back from them soon. I was nearly a day ahead of them now with the time change, but I knew they were probably glued to their phones waiting to hear from me. Suddenly, my phone chimed and it was Dad saying he was happy to hear from me. Mom and Annie texted a moment later to say they were happy I made it safely.
NowI needed to hurry and get myself together. I opened up my suitcases and started digging for something to wear. Surprisingly, my clothes were not as wrinkled as I expected. But Iwas going to need an iron, because the navy pencil skirt and white peplum top I wanted to wear had a few creases in them. I put on a pair of sweats and a tank top and wandered down stairs to ask Ms. Nobuko for an iron. I realized only at the bottom of the stairs thatI had no idea how to say iron.I ran back up to my room and grabbed my electronic translator. I saw that iron is airon in Japanese,pronounced nearly the same way but with the R sounding more like an L. I found Ms. Nobuko in the kitchen andsmelled something wonderful.
“Sumimansen,” I said. She turned and smiled, clearly impressed at my use of the Japanese language. I made a motion with my handand said “airon?”.
She stopped choppingvegetablesguided meupstairs. She slid open a large closet in the hallway and rolled out a clothing steamer. She motioned to it. “Okay, this Nicole san?“
It was more than okay. I had a steamer at home and loved it. I thanked her and walked back to my room to get ready.
I awoke to a sudden knock at the door and realized I haddozed off.Iwas surprised to see that it was 4:18pm. I shot up,flattened my skirt, andopened the door. Standing in front of me was the entire Nakamura family, smiling wide-eyed. Mr. Nakamura wasslender, withsalt-and-pepper colored hair. He wore glasses anda charcoal business suit. Mrs. Nakamura was dressed in a dark blue mid-length skirt, with a matching tailored jacket and a white button-up underneath. Her dark hair was swept back in a twist with not one hair out of place. She wore light makeup over flawless skin, and her high cheek bones gave heran exotic look.
I put my arms out to hug them but they seemedunsure.I read thathugging wasn’t customary upon meeting someone in Japan, but I couldn’t resist. They paused a moment and hugged me back, andEmiko squeezed me the hardest.
“Nicole san, it’s so joyful to see you,” Mrs. Nakamura said. “How are you? Is your room to your satisfaction?”
“Ohyes, Mrs. Nakamura. It’s lovely, very earthy andpeaceful.”
“Nicole san, in Japan we say ‘experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so learn more about yourself.' I’m glad you’re pleased with your room.” He stood the same height as me, and had lively dark eyes.“You’ll enjoy our karesansuigarden out backif you enjoy peace and beauty of earthiness.”
I couldn’t believe it. Azengarden! I had onlyseen thoseon television.
“Yes, Mr. Nakamura. That sounds wonderful. I love to read, and that sounds like a perfect place for doing so. Thank you somuch for your kind hospitality.”
Emiko kept tugging at her mother’s arm and speaking rapidly in Japanese. Finally, Mrs. Nakamura acknowledged her.
“Nicole san, Emiko is very anxious to spend some time with you, but she’snervous about her English. Though I assure you her English is very acceptable. She’s been taking private English lessons since she was five years old. She’sa perfectionist and worries too much.”
I lookedat Emiko and smiled.“Emiko, please don’t worry. Your letters all year werewell-written. If you speak as well as you write,I’m positivewe’re going to have no language barrier at all. I’ve always wanted a sister and I really look forward to spending a lot of time with you.”
Emiko smiled warmly. “Nicole san, me too. I’m very happy. We’ll be like sisters.” She worea dark blue plaid skirt and a short-sleeve collared white button-up, above knee-high white socks and black loafers.Her shiny, bone-straight black hair was long and luxuriant. Her skin was like porcelain and looked as if it had never been touched by the sun. I realized I was staring at her, but she was beautiful. “Come, Nicole san,” Mrs. Nakamura said. “We will have dinner soon.”
We went downstairs into the dining room area, where a long coffee table sat. It looked likea long coffee table, but it was actually the dinner table. It sat low to the floorupon the tatami mat. Flowered square pads were situated on the floor around it. The tatami mat dining area was slightly raised from the wood flooring. The Nakamurasknelt onto the square pads and I followed suit, kneeling beside Emiko. The table was already set with more food than I couldfathom the four us being able to eat.
“Ms. Nobuko has prepared some of our favorite traditional Okinawan foods for welcoming you to our home.” Mr. Nakamura said.
All of the serving plates and platters were beautiful, and the ceramic disheslooked like pieces of art. I ran my finger along the intricate designs of my dish.
“For this special occasion,” Mr. Nakamura said,“we are using ourJoyaki dinnerware. Ceramic pottery is an ancient pastime here in Okinawa.”
“These are breathtaking, Mr. Nakamura,” I said. “The artistry of the intricate detail is very beautiful.”
Ms. Nobuko approached the tableand served us tea.
“Like they say in America, let’s dig in.” Mrs. Nakamura said. Ichuckled and everyone laughed. “Itatakimasu!” theysaid in unison, and began passing around the serving dishes of food. The food was amazing, even though I didn’t know what most of it was. The tempura was perfect and I loved the miso soup.
There were no noodles or sushi, and I wanted to text Annie to rub it in.
After dinner, we resigned to the living roomwhere the family asked meabout Texas andmy plans for the year. Emiko said that she and her friends wanted to show me around the island this weekend. I smiled and nodded.
“Emiko, I know you’re excited to have Nicole here but you have school all day and Juku at night,” Mrs. Nakamura said. “You will have to wait until the weekend to take her sightseeing.”
The Japanese people were serious about education, and if I thought I had always been a busy teenager with a lot of pressure on my shoulders, I learned quicklythat Inever really knew pressure. Emiko had to go to night school four nights a week after being in high school classes all day. Then she had piano and English lessons on Saturday mornings. At least with my dance practice every night back home, I was doing something I loved and it was my choice. I feel a little bit sorry for Emiko.
I thanked everyone and walked upstairsto my room. I changed into a pair of yoga pants and a white tank top.I grabbed my e-reader and walked out on my balcony to read.I sat down and started my new book, which was about a teenaged girl who had a crush on her neighbor that she realized was actually her teacher. I got lost in the story but was interrupted by the sound of an exercise class. I wondered where it was coming from, but couldn’t see anything when I stood up to investigate. I heard loud men’s voices and realizedit sounded like martial arts.
“Hai Sensei! Hai Sensei!” I heard. I saw someone in a white Karate gi jogging in flip flops in the direction ofthe ruckus. He glanced up in my direction and slowed down. I stepped back, feeling embarrassed. He stopped just under the street light and smiled up to me. He waved and my stomach clenched. He was beautiful, and his smile was insane.His lips were the most gorgeous lips I had ever seen on a guy. The v-neck of the gi revealed tan skin and masculinity was radiating off of him. My heart stopped momentarily as I looked back at himwith a blank expression on my face. I didn't wave or smile. I stood there like an idiot, doingnothing. Something unexplainable transpired between us in this short lived moment. I felt breathless staring down at him.
He shook his head andwinked beforecontinuing down the street, jogging in his flip flops toclass. I fell back in my chair, with my heart racing andwondered whatjust happened.
Boys never affected me. Theydidn’t make my heart stop ormy insides feel like I was on a rollercoaster. There were plenty of good-looking guys in Texas, and they had never fazed me. Whywas I fazed now?
I continuedlistening to the class echoing through the quiet streets of thisquaint Okinawan neighborhood. I wondered who was that guy and why did he look American?But all I heard from the class wasJapanese. I wondered if he signed up for an academy like I did, and had travelled from the States.
I obsessed for moments before realizing that the jetlag must have really done a number on me. That was the only explanation for the thoughtsplowing through my psyche at the moment. I went inside shaking my head, thinkingI needed tosleep this off and start fresh in the morning. I lied down andclosed my eyes, but the last image in my mind beforedrifting off to sleep was the thought ofhis smile.