The Kingmaker (All the King's Men Duet #1) - Kennedy Ryan

Part I

“My mother was my first country.

The first place I ever lived.”

– “lands” by Nayyirah Waheed, Poet & Activist


Lennix – Thirteen Years Old

My face remains unchanged in the mirror, but my eyes are older.

Older than the last time I stood in my bedroom with its pink canopy bed and the Princess Barbies shoved to the back of my closet. Posters of NSYNC and Britney Spears still plaster the walls, but right now I can’t recall one lyric. The songs of my forefathers, and their fathers before them, fill my head. Ancient songs with words only we know—the songs we had to reclaim, cling to my memory. They ring in my ears and hum through my blood. The ceremonial drum still beats in place of my heart. A woman’s spirit occupies this girl’s body with my barely budding breasts and baby-fat cheeks. I’m still only thirteen years old, but in the four days of my Sunrise Dance, the rite of passage that carried me from girl to woman, it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime.

I am not the same.

“How ya doing, kiddo?” my father asks as he and my mother walk into my bedroom. Seeing them together has been a rare occurrence lately. Actually seeing them together has been rare for a long time.

“I’m fine.” I divide my smile between them into equal portions, like I do with holidays and my affection. Split right down the middle. “Tired.”

Mama sits on the bed and pushes my hair back with long, graceful fingers.

“The last few days have been hard for you,” she says, offering a rueful smile. “Not to mention the last year.”

We started planning the Sunrise Dance months ago. With enough food to feed everyone involved for days, gifts, getting the traditional dress made, and paying the medicine man and the ceremonial dancers, it’s a long process that is not only exhausting, but expensive.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” I reply. My knees ache from the kneeling, from dancing on my knees and on my feet. I danced and I sang for hours, led through the words by the medicine man. And the running. I’ve never run so much in my life, but when I ran in the four directions, I gathered the elements—earth, wind, fire, and air—to myself. I’ve absorbed them. They’re part of me and will guide me the rest of my days.

“I know you’re exhausted,” Mama says. “But are you up to seeing a few people? They’ve walked with you the last four days, and are all so proud.”

Despite the fatigue, I smile. My friends and family rallied around me, not just during the last four days, but for the months leading up to my Sunrise Dance. It is a huge deal, not only for me, but for the entire community.

“Sure.” I run my hands over the supple buckskin of my ceremonial dress and moccasins. “Do I have time for a quick shower?”

The medicine man dusted my face with cattail pollen as part of the blessing near the end of the ceremony. Even though it was rinsed away, I still feel the traces of it and the last four days on my skin and in my hair.

“Of course,” my father says. There’s pride in his gray eyes. Though not Apache, he was involved with the ceremony and observed every step. As a professor of Native American Studies at Arizona State, though the traditions don’t belong to him, he understands and deeply respects them.

“Everyone’s eating out front and enjoying themselves,” Mama says. “They’ll keep while you get clean.”

My parents exchange a quick look, seeming to hesitate together. It catches my attention because they’re rarely in sync, despite having once been passionately in love. My father had been a student studying reservation life. My mom lived on the rez in the same modest house we’re in right now. It was fireworks for a while. Long enough to make me.

Maybe the fireworks sputtered. Maybe my parents were too different, my mother wanting to remain on the reservation, connected to her tribe and this community. My father, a rising star in the department when he completed his doctorate, needed to be at the university. They drifted so far apart they broke. Now, I’m their only connection. Things haven’t been exactly contentious between them, but they have disagreed a lot lately, mostly about me.

“Today was a landmark for you,” Mama says carefully, again sharing that quick look with my father as if she needs reassurance. “You’re a woman now. The spirit of Changing Woman has made