Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sunday Sample Reading

From My Cover Art

I hope to take part in the Twitter #SampleSunday listing for Indie authors. Below is the first chapter to a book I completed at the end of 2010. Once it goes through my editor, it should be available at the new Conspiracy of Authors site. I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter One

I spent another Friday night working at the library, looking forward to the weekend -- if it would just stop raining. I put another pile of books on the wide desk by Gian when, by chance, I glanced out the huge glass door. There, through the pouring rain, I saw a flash of unnaturally-blonde hair as someone leapt from a car at the curb and started up the steps. I barely restrained an urge to curse aloud, recognizing Missy by both the hair and the inappropriately short blue skirt and skin tight blouse she wore -- and the fact she left her car in a no parking zone, of course. Rules did not apply to Missy.

If she came out in a rain storm as bad as this one, it wouldn't be for anything good. Missy Murphy was a harbinger of bad things. She gloried in it.

Missy nearly slipped on the top step and I did my best not to smirk. Those spike heels weren't made for this kind of weather, but Missy would never sacrifice style for appropriateness. I glanced down at my baggy shirt, warm sweater and blue jeans. I was not the poster child for good style, that was for sure -- but at least I wasn't going to fall on my ass rather than forgo wearing $200 shoes with spike heels in the rain.

"Missy is coming in," I warned, looking over my shoulder to where Gian sat, his wheelchair rolled up to the desk where he sorted books to be re-shelved.

He frowned and pushed back his hair, craning his neck so he could see around the counter where I stood. He didn't look any happier than I was about the arrival of our high school companion.

Missy pulled the door open, cursing far too loudly as she entered the building. The few people still there turned to stare at the overly-dramatic entrance: Missy always made certain she was the center of attention. I found myself rolling my eyes and finally leaned against the counter, watching as she spotted me and hurried my way.

She didn't come to the library for a friendly chit-chat. Missy didn't have any real friends since she also delighted in tearing everyone down. She'd been that way from grade school: drama queen, gossip and fashinista. She'd have been very lonely, I thought, except people swore her parties were just The Best and she gave at least one a month. I never went to them. I wouldn't have even if she had asked.

Missy paused midway toward the desk and glanced around -- an amusing look when I realized she had probably never been inside the building. She finally spotted Gian behind me and gave a quick nod of relief. She hurried faster, shaking water off her arms, and not giving a damn where it fell: books, the newspaper rack, or on other people. Someone protested, but she didn't seem to hear, she was so intent on reaching the counter where Gian and I were trapped.

Mrs. Berlin looked up from the desk in her little side office and frowned as Missy cursed again, but for no apparent reason. I hoped she might step in and send Missy Murphy on her way before she reached us. Instead, she looked back at her computer and went back to work, leaving the problem to us.

Missy stomped across the marble-tiled floor and the loud tap of her heels made a rude counterpoint to her dripping water. I was already unhappy long before she reached us.

And then I saw her malicious smile and how her eyes looked almost fever bright. That meant she had bad news. Missy was never happy unless she had some dirt to tell about someone else. I wondered what she had that could be of interest to either Gian or me.

I didn't expect it to be something that would interest both of us.

"Damn rain," she said, too loudly. She had a South Carolina drawl, faked since she hadn't been anywhere near Raleigh since she turned five. Apparently she thought it sounded sexy for something. It suited her and her fake nose and boob job. "Going to sue the library," she said, looking at Mrs. Berlin in her little office. "Wrenched my ankle. If I can't walk at graduation --"

"You'd lose the case," Gian said, his soft voice interrupting just as she began her tirade. Missy scowled, her mouth still open, but I thought she'd lost track of what she'd been saying only a moment before. I had always suspected there was no connect between her mouth and her brain. "No one wears heels like that in the rain," Gian finished and frowned.

"I do," she said, as though that's all it took to make it right. Her answer didn't surprise me at all. After all, the universe revolved around Missy.

I glanced at the clock. Time slipped away while Missy stood there, dripping water everywhere, her hand on the counter. I thought I could smell something a little stronger than beer on her breath, and that didn't surprise me much, either.

"Do you want something, Missy?" I finally asked, leaning against the counter. She pulled back a little, as though she expected me to attack. I'd already had more than enough of her theatrics. "Gian and I have some work to finish here."

"Oh, that's right. You volunteer here, don't you?"

"As you well know, since you came here looking for us," I replied and this time didn't hide my smirk. Honestly, how stupid did she think we were?

Her face reddened beneath dangling limp, blonde hair, and her eyes narrowed in anger -- green today, but they were apt to change color, depending on what contacts she grabbed. She stood more than a head taller than me, some of that from the heels. Until the tenth grade she had out-bulked me as well, but she'd turned almost wraith thin for the last couple years. I didn't worry as much about getting into a punching match with her as I had when we were in the fifth grade and she could knock me down and sit on me.

We'd never been friends. We never would be. That made me momentarily happy.

I saw Mrs. Berlin looking our way again, and knew that she wasn't going to stand by and let us gab for very long. She'd laid out the rules the first day -- no socializing at the library. She told us to take the job seriously, even if we were unpaid volunteers. And I did. I found I liked working here, and no one complained about how I looked, even if I was a bit more punk then they were used to.

"You wanted to tell us something, Missy?" Gian finally prompted again. Even he sounded out of sorts by now.

She looked down at him and I saw that look come over her again. This wasn't going to be good. My skin began to prickle and my mouth went a little dry even before she spoke.

"I just heard from my father that Seiji Kimura blew is brains out this afternoon at work," she said.

And then she grinned.

"Damn," I whispered, grateful I had been leaning against the counter after all. The news shocked me. I felt ill. This kind of thing didn't happen in Deervale.

"You know what this means, don't you?" Missy asked. Her voice grew louder, and her right hand waved as though she had no control over it. Was I the only one who suspected she had gotten heavy into speed and God knows what else the last couple years? The woman was out of control. She looked at me, her eyes brightening again and then back to Gian. "You know who's going to show up for the funeral, right? That little bitch, Akio Kimura is going to be here! Bet you can't wait to see her, right Gian?"

My breath caught and my own arm started to move. I wanted to slap her. I wanted to grab her by the arm and throw her out the door and hope that she broke her stupid, petty neck on the steps. Of all the damn, cruel, thoughtless things to say --

I turned away from her to get control of my rage and found myself looking at Gian instead. He had paled, and I could see the little scar on his right cheek, a souvenir from the last time he and Akio had met -- that and the wheelchair he now sat in.

He looked up at Missy as if she were some kind of alien creature who spoke a language he didn't even understand. I don't think she noticed. I would have died if I'd had won a look like that from him.

I knew my reaction, and probably Gian's, only fueled her joy. She smiled brighter. "I can't believe they let her out of the treatment center." She runs you down, and she gets to laze around in a hospital for a year or so, and then she's cured? What kind of justice is that, huh?"

"Missy," I said, hoping my voice remained calm. I had shoved my hands into my sweater pockets, just to make certain I didn't swing at her. My fingers formed fists, the nails dug into the palms, but I still forced myself to speak calmly. "You know, this isn't the place for this kind of discussion."

"What do you care? Or are you upset that we're talking trash about your good friend Akio around you?"

"You couldn't say anything about her that I haven't already thought." I met her vulture look and forced a smile. It had to look fake, but I doubted she would know the difference, especially since Missy kept staring at Gian. Her face had flushed almost a dark red with excitement, her eyes grew wider. This was dirt heaven for her.

"It's time for you to go, Missy. You wouldn't want people to see you spend too much time here," Gian leaned back in his chair and looked deceptively relaxed. "People might think you're actually working on your term paper rather than buying one."

Oh hell. . . .

I thought I would have to throw myself on her to save him. I almost pushed away from the counter, but Missy didn't even take his snipe badly. Instead, she gave a little snicker of a laugh and another wave of her hand. "True. Besides, there are places I got to be. See ya'll Monday in school. Be good."

She spun and sauntered away, her heels sounding like one of those tin drums kids get at Christmas, and the tune tapped out by someone with no sense of rhythm. She headed straight across the room to the door, forcing a woman with her child to sidestep before she shoved them away. I started to protest, but that might stop her. I wanted her away, and in a moment, she threw open the door and headed out into the pouring rain again.

I stared, hoping she'd fall and break her neck. I hated feeling that way, but the anger overwhelmed me. I wanted revenge and justice and Missy Murphy looked like the perfect enemy right now. If I had been any closer, I might have shoved her myself. I took the coward's way out and asked God to do it for me.

But she made it down the steps and into the little Jaguar that she'd left in the no-parking zone. I could hear the wheels spin on the wet pavement as she hit the gas and hurried away to spread the good word.

I stood there by the counter, trying not to gasp as the rage rose inside me, threatening to come out in a scream or a curse -- or worse yet, to make me weep like a little girl. I would not cry, not here, in front of Gian -- the one who had really suffered in this tragedy. I stared out into the rain, trying to count the splatters as the drops hit the steps, like I had done as a child. I wanted anything that would help me to stop thinking about Missy, and all she had told us.

Silence filled the library, and I could hear nothing more than a page turned and Gian breathing behind me. I wanted to be somewhere else. I had buried the nightmare. How dare she --

"We better get these books shelved," Gian said. I looked at him, trying to find the right words to say, as he propelled himself away from the desk.

I watched him head into the maze of book shelves. My breath still came very short, and I hadn't dared push away from the counter because I felt so weak.

Mrs. Berlin left her desk and came toward me, a wad of paper towels in one hand. Great. Not only did I have to put up with Missy's bullshit, now I would have to clean up after her as well.

"You handled that very well, Marisha," Mrs. Berlin said. She wiped the table where Missy had left a hand-sized puddle while she told us the news. "Thank you. You better go help Gian now."

"Thank you," I said, and felt my first true warmth for the woman I had been working with for the last three months. She patted my shoulder the way my mother sometimes did, and nodded toward the place where Gian had disappeared. I thought I saw worry in her face and liked her even better for it

I went as far as the first rows of books, stepped out of sight, and stood there, gasping in the scent of books, ink and dust. My hands were still in my pockets, my fingers still in fists. I tried to push the scene away -- both Missy's announcement and the memory of what had happened on that late fall night over a year ago.

The reports the police finally gave out had said Akio, drugged out of her mind, had been driving her father's car home from a Hollywood Hills party. A witness -- underage and unnamed in anything we got to see -- said she had purposely turned the car toward Gian and hit the gas and ran him over. On purpose. There was no doubt.

I hadn't heard about the accident until the next morning when I came down for breakfast. That same feeling of disconnect came over me again, the cold ice from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head. My arms began to tremble. Not Gian, I thought. No one would hurt Gian. Not on purpose.

Not Gian, whom I had been in love with since probably fifth grade, but who didn't know me as anyone but the girl who lived next door. I was the girl he played baseball with in the summer and who had gone camping with his family when she was twelve.

They hadn't told me for another day that Akio had been the one driving the car. That had been another, different cold shock. Akio had been my best friend. I hadn't wanted to believe she would do such a thing.

It still hurt. God, it hurt, there in the depth of my soul, as the feeling of betrayal rose within me again. I had treated Akio like a sister -- better than I treated my own older sister, probably. We'd been more than friends --

Then, for a brief moment, I remembered Gian the last time I'd seen him walking. It had been earlier the day of the accident, just after school. I was heading home but he was heading to the school gym to work out. He had been head of the dance class at school, and though he was never going to be a Baryshnikov or anything, he'd loved it. Loved to dance, and play baseball, and run track --

And I remembered how I smiled as I saw him jogging away, his hair bouncing at his shoulders. He'd leapt a small wall and headed up the grassy area --


I spun, startled at the sound. Gian sat at the end of the aisle. I wondered how long he'd stared at me. Half the books still sat on the tray in front of him, and I knew those were the ones he couldn't reach to put away.

At least Gian was much better than he had been the first months after the accident. He could stand now with the help of crutches, and I had heard his mother say he might be up to a cane by this time next year.

I wanted that to happen. I wanted it very much.

I followed him through the dusty shelves to put books away, finishing up our little good deed for the day. It felt trite and stupid in the face of everything else, but Gian kept at the work, so I couldn't sulk. We had less than an hour before the library closed and we still had a lot of work to do. Just as well. It kept my mind off everything -- at least until I would see Gian staring out the door into the darkening night, his face bleak and the loss too plain in his dark eyes.

It had been raining that night too. I wondered if he hated the rain now. We never talked about it.

Gian's father came to drive him home after work, the van pulling up where Missy had been parked. Gian rolled down the ramp and I waved goodbye, wondering what Mr. Calabria would say to his son. I wondered if it would help.

I wondered if he could say things to me that would help me, too.

Stupid feeling. I stayed long enough to watch Gian pull himself from the chair to the front seat and his father hastily pack the wheelchair away in the back of the van. I could see Gian, his head bowed a little, and I thought maybe his lips moved, though his father hadn't climbed back into the van yet. Did he pray? What did he ask for on a night like this?

When they pulled away, I hurried to the parking lot beside the library, nearly slipping on the slick pavement. I through myself into my little white Mustang, glad to be out of the rain, and sat in the relative silence for a few moments.

I had to fight back a demon I thought I had tamed a long time ago.

The demon came from guilt. I knew it was not my fault, what had happened to Gian. I hadn't been responsible for what Akio did: I wasn't in the car with her and I hadn't given her the drugs. I hadn't even seen her since English class that morning.


But Akio Kimura had been my best friend. Except for Gian, there had been no one outside my family whom I cared for as much as I did her. She had become my little sister and I'd found delight in helping her learn English and in sharing my world with her. I hadn't laughed with my older sister as much as I had laughed with Akio.

And she had betrayed me. She had tried to kill the boy I loved -- the one she had been getting closer to, as well. Double betrayal. Little Akio, who hardly spoke any English when she had first arrived two years before; who had always been so shy and lost that even Missy showed occasional kindness to her.

She'd barely been in America two months when her father met and married Nadine O'Hara, a wannabe actress with pretensions that put Missy Murphy to shame. We had all felt sorry for Akio.

The question of why it had happened had plagued me for months. School councilors had tried to help. None of it made sense, and in the end that was what I had been forced to accept.

I'd been okay with it, until tonight and Missy's cut that opened the wounds again.

Only Mrs. Berlin's car remained in the parking lot, and I didn't want her to find me here when she came out. Unfortunately, I didn't want to be anywhere else. I would have to go home and deal with my parents. My father worked with Seiji Kimura, and I only now remembered he had died today. Mr. Kimura had seemed almost as lost as his daughter sometimes. And Nadine had left him within a year of the accident. I felt badly that I hadn't even thought about him.

I didn't need a new form of guilt.

I had thought -- well, not that the nightmare was over, because I saw Gian every day, and couldn't just forget about why he sat in the wheelchair. But the pain had died down over the last year and a half. I had seen Gian improve. I had hopes that things would, somehow, get back to normal.

A stupid, childish wish. I knew that now.

The lights went out in the main part of the library, the huge glass front going dark. Only a few circle of lights filled the darkness and I suddenly felt very alone. Mrs. Berlin would be heading for her car, the SUV next to mine. I needed to be away.

I started the car and began to press down on the gas, anxious --

Too anxious. The wheels spun and I almost lost control just backing out. That brought me back to my senses. I didn't want to end up in an accident -- I thought about hurting someone the way Gian had been hurt. The thought made me so ill I almost couldn't move the car at all.

Control. I could handle a little rain. I made myself back up slowly and go carefully out of the water slick parking lot onto the road. Streetlights made to look like old gas lamps lit puddles and emerging flowers. Nearly summer. Graduation and prom were coming soon. Next fall I'd be in college, away from Deervale and everything that had happened here.

Away from Gian.

It was a good thing it was raining. No one would notice my mascara running from the tears.

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