My Only Sunshine: A Lakefield Novella
Mary Ann Rivers
The Burnside Series, no. 2.5 • Release Date: July 13, 2015 • EPUB ISBN: 978-1-942083-02-3 • Kindle ISBN: 978-1-942083-07-8
My Only Sunshine is available in an ebook edition. Buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle) and EPUB files, offered without DRM restrictions.
A more-than-persuasive case for the power of adolescent love, and its potential to last far into adulthood.
—Romance Novels for Feminists
A bittersweet but lovely story.
—Straight Shootin Book Reviews
My favorite in the Burnside series . . . masterfully written by this incredible writer who gets me every time.
—Five-star Amazon reviewer
Beautiful, painful, intricately written. A perfect novella.
—Goodreads reviewer London
Another great story, written only as Mary Ann can.
—Five-star Amazon reviewer
Mary Ann Rivers’s Burnside Series returns with My Only Sunshine, a heart-rending and satisfying romantic novella featuring a musician who appeared as a minor character in Laugh.
John Lake owes his label an album—and has for months. Alone in his farmhouse studio outside of Lakefield, Ohio, he hears the music, but he won’t write it down. All the songs remind him of her.
Fifteen years ago, Mallory Evans was a fairy-haired warrior-poet. John couldn’t figure out why no one in high school noticed. He noticed, and he came to her window every evening before darkness came and the private violence of her home life threatened. Then, inevitably, one terrifying night broke the sweet spell between them.
John hasn’t seen Mallory since, but he’s looked for her—in his audiences, in his dreams. Now he decides that if he can’t find the inspiration to finish an album, he can at least find Mallory and finish what has always been between them.
Rivers’s stories have been hailed by New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes as “superbly written” and listed among Library Journal’s best ebooks of the year. With My Only Sunshine, Rivers gives readers another glimpse into the rich contemporary world of Lakefield, Ohio, and the Burnsides.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Ann Rivers has been wearing a groove in her library card since she was old enough for story time. She’s been writing almost as long—her first publication credit was in Highlights magazine. She started writing and reading romance in the fifth grade once she stumbled on the rainbow of romance novel book spines in the library’s fiction stacks.
She was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals, and leading creative writing workshops for at-risk youth. With Ruthie Knox, she is the co-founder of Brain Mill Press.
AN EXCERPT from My Only Sunshine: A Lakefield Novella by Mary Ann Rivers
The Encyclopedia of an Ohio Girl in Love, by Mallory Evans
“B Is for Batman”
John sat next to Mallory on a turned-over half barrel that used to hold flowers. The peeling yellow paint from the back side of her house drifted onto his shoulders every time he changed position.
Tonight, he had brought a ukulele with him. His huge, bony hands were so mysterious against it that it sang exactly like what Mallory imagined the stars sounded like—tinkling but low. Tuneless and heartbreaking. Before this morning, he had never picked up a ukulele in his life.
Mallory tried to make her frustratingly round body small in the grass next to him, resting her chin on her knees drawn to her chest. John’s music made her heart beat faster, like always, and Mallory pretended that it didn’t, like always.
“Tell me something about yourself you haven’t told anyone.” John demanded this between the bars of his star song.
“Like what?” Mallory was glad it was dark and John couldn’t see her hot face.
“Just something no else knows.” He sang the words as an accompaniment to his meandering composition, and he sounded better than any sixteen-year-old boy should have.
Mallory could barely make out John’s profile in the dark. With his head tipped back against the house, his Adam’s apple jutted out almost as far as his nose. He was beautiful. “You already know a bunch of stuff about me no one else knows.”
He rolled his head to look at Mallory and grinned, his hands pausing over the frets. “Yeah, but tell me something good. Like something you don’t want me ever telling anyone.”
Mallory didn’t know why she was putting up this token argument against what he wanted. They both knew he would get what he wanted. “Okay, but you have to tell me something, too.”
“Sure.” He looked back up at the stars, his hands resuming the soft song.
“I don’t sleep very well.” Mallory looked away, for once glad that she had yards of frizzy hair so she could hide behind it.
“I know that already.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t been able to sleep since I was really little.”
“Your stepdad—” John’s voice was mean.
“Yeah, whatever,” Mallory interrupted, swallowing around her tight throat. “So you know how I like Batman?”
John effortlessly abandoned his star song to strum out a few bars of the Batman theme song, nananananananana. “Yeah.”
“Well, the thing I’ve always liked about him is that he’s just a regular person, like not a mutant or anything, just a guy who has a lot of money to spend on the stuff it takes to be a superhero. But I always thought that even with all the tools and the suit and everything, he’d still be human and probably got tired some nights and like, needed a break.”
“And it was just that they didn’t show that part on the show. The part where he takes a break and rests for like an hour or something. But maybe he can’t always get back to the Batcave to rest, and he can’t just walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts. He’s Batman.”
“He can’t put the seat back in the Batmobile and park somewhere?”
“Shh,” Mallory said.
“Right, your story.”
“So I imagined he would need some other person, like in town, to know his secret, someone else no one would ever suspect. Someone he could go to and rest in between saving people and stuff.”
“Well, Mallory, you are good at keeping secrets.”
“So I would be awake in bed, and I would imagine I could hear him crawl in through that big bathroom window that used to be a door. And I would sneak down the hall and meet him in the bathroom.”
“You hung out with Batman in your bathroom?”
“You think this is stupid.”
“No way. I’m just making sure I’ve got this right.”
“It wasn’t like that, not exactly. He’d—”
John had stopped playing, and he was leaning toward her, all pointed elbows on ball-peen knees. She pressed her cheek to her arm, embarrassed and watching John through her wooly curtain of hair. Then he reached forward and lifted the pale hank away from her face, smoothing it back over her shoulder. Mallory felt it all over and shivered.
“Tell me,” he whispered.
“I would sit on that step stool thing by the sink, and Batman would pull his mask off. His face and hair would be all sweaty, and first, he would wash up in the sink. He always used my soap. Then he would climb into the tub and lean back and use my mom’s neck pillow. All the stuff on his utility belt would clank against the empty tub, and I was always afraid someone would hear. He was tall, so he’d hang his feet out the end, and sometimes he would ask me to help him pull his boots off so he could stretch his feet.
“And then, he would just . . . talk. About the mission he was on and what he was worried about, and he would tell me that he was scared. I would tell him that I knew he could do it, and then he would tell me about his new tools and how they worked, and about Alfred and Robin and stuff.”
Mallory suddenly stopped, unable to meet John’s gaze for another second. She hadn’t realized how dumb her secret was until she’d said it out loud like that. She was always saying stupid stuff to John like this. It was a compulsive habit to confess to the blue eyes too big for his face.
But John dipped his head down, catching her eyes again. “Does Batman still come by, Mallory?” His voice was so soft, like it was when he was working out a new song under his breath.
Mallory felt tears burn and took a breath in, slow. “Not exactly . . . but when I can’t sleep I imagine it. Just like that, while I lie in bed. Except now, I talk to him.” Mallory didn’t tell John that sometimes, lately, she and Batman did more than talk.
“What do you tell him?”
“Nothing I’m telling you.”
John laughed, breaking the tension, and Mallory unfolded herself, wincing when her knees popped like she was forty instead of sixteen.
“Now I’m jealous of Batman,” said John, and Mallory let her heart fly away, into the night alongside the notes from the ukulele, even though she knew John didn’t mean it that way. He never meant it that way. Why would he? John was beautiful and some kind of musical prodigy, and he lived in a pretty, decorated house with a long drive way up on the hill, and he would probably go to Juilliard one day and then be famous.
Mallory was everything that was the opposite of John—short, fat, pale, poor, invisible, untalented. John had never noticed her at school. No one did, but everyone noticed John.
He had been walking around one night, cutting through the field at the back of her house when she was sitting in the windowsill of her first-floor bedroom with the window wide open.
She knew it was John because she heard him whistling. He whistled in the hallways at school, too. His whistling was throaty and as versatile as a bird or flute. She didn’t think he’d notice her, and she’d held herself still, but he did, walking right up to her house, next to her window, and saying, “It’s Mallory, right?” She was so shocked he knew her name, she had responded with Um, like she didn’t know her name or didn’t want to admit to it. “I’m John Lake, from school? I live on the house up there on the hill, down the road from you.”
“I know,” she had said, and then, in the dark, they started talking.
That was almost a year ago, at the beginning of school, sophomore year. They never talked at school, but if they passed each other in the hallway he would grin at her, slow and wide, and one rainy and humid day he passed her a note in the cafeteria. When she opened the staff paper he had ripped from his music composition journal, it had only said, “I think your hair is going to need a bigger boat.”
She had been mortified and spent the rest of lunch in the girls’ room trying to wrestle handfuls of crimps into a rubber band, vowing never to wear it down again, but she also carefully refolded the note and taped it into the back of her diary.
“So you won’t tell anyone? About Batman?” Even as she asked this, Mallory knew it was just for show. Who would John tell? To tell anyone anything about Mallory Evans would be to admit to that person that he hung out with her, that they were friends. After a year, she was still his secret. She continued to be surprised when he even recognized her with his smile in the broad illumination of a school day.
“’Course not.” He was already putting his ukulele in its little bag.
“You didn’t tell me anything.” He never did.
He grinned that slow grin. “Next time.”
He shuffled awkwardly and just for a second looked like a regular boy, like all the other sweaty half-growns that shouted at each other up and down the high school hallways. Then he straightened, remembering he was a prince, and whistled a few descending notes, loping off into the night, the stars dropping close to paint his hair. Mallory could hear his star song long after the dark took him away.