It’s my great pleasure to share Rebekah Lyn’s new book, Jessie, with all of you today!
Thank you, Shanna, for graciously agreeing to be the first host on my New Release Blog Tour. Jessie’s story spans almost a decade, January 31, 1961 to July 2o, 1969.
Here’s an excerpt:
May 5, 1961
The call of a blue jay screeched through the open window, jarring Jessie from a dream. He rolled onto his side, rubbed his eyes, and pushed up on his elbow to look out the window. The sun hadn’t risen above the orange trees yet so he guessed it was about six. Spotting the offender on a limb not forty feet from the window, he wished he had his shotgun nearby.
“Jessie, you awake?” Ricky whispered from the upper bunk.
“Yeah,” Jessie muttered, pushing the thin sheet back and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Ricky dropped down from the bunk above, his eyes glittering.
“You think they’ll really launch that Alan Shepard into space today?”
Jessie nodded, his own excitement growing. How had he forgotten today was the big day? He tugged on a pair of faded red shorts and a t-shirt, its neckline frayed from his nervous habit of chewing on it. Ricky wore similarly faded blue shorts and a t-shirt that had once been white, but was now an aging dirty grey.
“You know Mama isn’t going to let us up on the roof today,” Ricky said.
“That’s why we got to get to the tree house.” Jessie poked his head out the door and listened for any indication that his parents were awake, but the house was quiet. He took a tentative step toward the bedroom shared by Max and Sam. Its door swung open and the boys emerged, each boasting a huge grin. Jessie put a finger to his lips before they could make any noise and tiptoed down the short hall to the kitchen.
When he reached the front door, he turned the knob slowly, his heart stopping when the hinges gave a loud squeak. The three other boys raced out past him, as he stood frozen, waiting for the bellowing call of his father. After a minute that seemed like hours, the house remained silent and so Jessie too stepped outside, pulling the door closed as gently as he could behind him.
His brothers had already disappeared into the woods across from the house and Jessie quickly cleared the small yard and moved expertly through the dense underbrush and trees with barely a sound. In less than five minutes he plopped down next to Ricky in the tree house.
Max and Sam had built it two years before, collecting old boards and even a window from various abandoned buildings and miscellaneous junk tossed into the woods long ago. Built in one of the tallest trees on the edge of the forest, before the vegetation petered out into small scrub palmettos and marsh grasses, one side of the tree house was completely open, providing a clear view of the launch pad.
“How long you think we’ll have to wait for the launch?” Ricky asked, fidgeting with an old conch shell.
“Hard to say since they’re always delayed,” Max replied, “but I managed to sneak Pop’s transistor radio out last night.” With a sly smile, Max pulled an old rag off the radio, dialed in to the local news station and turned the volume so they would be able to hear the launch countdown.
“I’m hungry,” Ricky complained.
Sam smiled and emptied his pockets, producing four oranges, some boiled peanuts, and ten pieces of bubble gum. Max nodded then turned out his own pockets to reveal two apples, more boiled peanuts, and five candy bars.
Ricky eagerly reached for one of the candy bars, but Max swatted his hand away. “Those are for later. Have an orange.”
Ricky frowned, but did as he was told. Sam handed an orange to each of his brothers before poking a hole in the top of his own and squeezing its sweet juice into his mouth. Jessie inhaled the aroma before puncturing his own fruit. When they had sucked them dry, the boys pulled the oranges apart and chewed on the tender meat.
The hum of an engine in the distance drew their attention. Jessie leaned out of the tree house and spotted a plane circling the launch pad. He knew, even at this distance, that it was an UH-19, patrolling the area to make sure no unexpected air traffic interfered with the launch.
The minutes ticked on agonizingly slowly as the boys watched the sun climb higher in the sky. They tossed their orange peels to the ground below and lay on their stomachs to watch a pair of squirrels scurry across the pine needles to investigate. After pawing at the peels and turning them over several times, the squirrels lost interest.
“Mama and Daddy were arguing again last night,” Ricky said, breaking the quiet spell. Jessie rolled onto his back and sat up.
“I heard the government offered ten thousand dollars for our land,” Ricky added. “That’s a bunch of money. How can Daddy say no?”
“He’s just stubborn,” Max growled.
“He doesn’t want to give up the still,” Jessie grumbled, feeling his stomach tighten. “Then he’d have to buy his hooch and we certainly couldn’t afford that, even with ten thousand dollars.”
“You shouldn’t talk about him that way.” Sam gave Max and Jessie a stern look. “We don’t know the whole story, so we don’t have any right to judge the decisions he makes.”
Max snorted. “What more do we need to know? The government letters only went out a couple months ago and already six families are gone. They’re taking the money and moving on while that’s still an option. Pop thinks he can be the last man standing and hold onto our land, which is right smack in the middle of the area the government plans to take over. He is a fool and we’ll all end up paying for that before this is over.”
Jessie listened to his brother’s rant and quietly nodded in agreement. The family had suffered more than their fair share due to their father’s drunkenness. Jessie tried to remember how many times he had been with his mother at the general store and seen other women’s pitying looks directed their way. Mama had always smiled at them and exchanged pleasant words, but when she was behind closed doors he heard her cry.
Sam shook his head. “We don’t know our land is in the middle of the area they want. It may only be on the edge, maybe they don’t even need it.”
“Look out there, Sam,” Max said. “The launch site is ten miles away. Any plans to expand the program are gonna need this land.”
Jessie looked across the expanse stretching between the tree house and the launch pad. He could make out a wild boar rooting in the dirt and a large hawk gliding smoothly in a circle. He knew there were deer bedded down for the day somewhere in the woods, along with the bobcats and panthers that still stalked the island.
For hundreds of years, Merritt Island had been a paradise for hunters and fishermen. The idea that all this land would be cleared and the animals pushed out angered him, but at the same time, the idea of a growing program of space exploration made his pulse race with excitement. Why couldn’t the two things he loved so passionately exist together?
“Sixty seconds and counting.” The voice of the radio announcer cut into Jessie’s thoughts.
“T-minus thirty seconds.”
Jessie stood up, his gaze zooming in on the tower.
“Three-two-one-zero-and ignition. Liftoff at thirty-four minutes after the hour.”
A nearby hawk gave a loud screech, turned out of its whirling pattern and flapped it’s wings in a furious flight away from the launch site.
“Look!” Jessie pointed toward the tower and his brothers all watched as a puff of smoke shot from the rocket.
The tall, needle-nosed rocket pushed off the ground, taking Jessie’s gaze with it as the sleek Redstone climbed higher and higher.
Max turned up the volume of the radio and they all listened to the report as the rocket broke free of the earth’s atmosphere.
“Freedom 7 reports the mission is A-Okay. Three point five g achieved and cabin pressure holding fine.”
Jessie bent his head down and rolled the edge of his t-shirt into his mouth, chewing on the fabric.
“Flight trajectory is still A-Okay, the pilot is in good voice communication with Mercury control.”
“I wish we could hear Shepard talking to control,” Jessie muttered around the t-shirt. He closed his eyes, listening to the reporter sharing Alan Shepard’s observations about the beautiful view and the cloud cover over three to four tenths of the east coast, up to Cape Hatteras.
“I can’t believe he can see the whole coast,” Ricky breathed in awe.
“The mission is now six minutes and forty seconds old. Astronaut Alan B. Shepard is still talking to us, working like a test pilot, reporting facts, figures, reporting procedures in the precise engineering manner of a test pilot,” the reporter spoke in a calm tone. “Freedom 7 is beginning to roll into re-entry attitude.”
“You think we will see it coming back down?” Ricky leaned out of the tree house, his eyes searching the horizon.
“No way.” Max swatted Ricky on the back of the head.
“The Mercury space craft is beginning to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.”
Jessie glanced at his watch, surprised that less than fifteen minutes had passed.
“The main parachute has deployed and the Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7 is now descending on its main parachute. The aircraft carrier Lake Champlain has reported visual contact with the capsule.”
“That’s it?” Jessie asked in disbelief. “That’s what all the fuss was about? Fifteen stinking minutes?” With a disgusted shake of his head he climbed down from the tree house and stalked off.
Jessie ran through the marsh grass, its rough edges tearing at his exposed legs, stopping only when he reached the edge of a creek. He glowered at the launch pad, its metal beams reflecting the morning sun. What was the point of being an astronaut if you were back on earth so soon? He wanted to go out and explore space, to see what lay beyond the blue sky he saw every day. How far away were the sun, the moon, and the stars? Could they be reached in a day? He bent down, found a large stick and hurled it toward the tower. He knew it would never reach it, but it made him feel better all the same.
“I don’t know what Mama is so worried about. This program will never need all this land if they can’t get a man in space for more than a few minutes.” Jessie looked around at the trees he knew so well. He’d grown up in this forest and had no doubt he’d live here forever.
About the Book
The four Cole boys suffer abuse at the hands of an alcoholic father, while largely being left to their own devices by a heartbroken and overworked mother. Their adventures on their island home have become a welcome escape, and one of the only things in life the boys can truly rely on. Jessie, the youngest and a dreamer, becomes enamored with US plans for manned space flight and its race to the moon, stirring his own dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. In a strange twist of fate, it is the space program and the momentum it gains that abruptly brings their beloved island life to an end. The family is forced to move to the city and start anew.
Life in town creates new challenges, financial pressures, news of the Vietnam War and the impending threat of the military draft for Max the eldest of the Cole brothers.
About the Author
Rebekah Lyn is a popular Indie writer with a strong following of loyal readers who enjoy her inspirational novels of Faith, Adventure, and Hope. She is a Christian with a heart for new beginnings, and her desire is to reflect that in each of her books.
Rebekah is a sandal-loving native Floridian, growing up in Titusville, Florida, within sight of the Kennedy Space Center. This was an exciting time to live on the Space Coast, with launches taking place on a regular basis. Growing up, the best place to watch a launch was at the edge of the Indian River, just blocks from Rebekah’s home. Fond memories abound of windows rattling and dogs barking as the big Saturn rockets or the Space Shuttles raced into the heavens. Sonic booms made everyone jump as the astronauts returned from space, and sometimes she could get a glimpse of their return in the skies above her home. She will always be proud of America’s space program.
An eye witness to the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986, she and her fellow classmates watched with horror as the historic event unfolding before them. This event became a personal and lasting memory.
An active participant in social media, Rebekah enjoys interacting with her readers, particularly at her her signature “Tea with the Author” events.
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