Because It Is My Bloodby Gabrielle Zevin
"Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in." --Michael Corleone, The Godfather
Since her release from Liberty Children's Facility, Anya Balanchine is determined to follow the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, her criminal record is making it hard for her to do that. No high school wants her with a gun possession charge on her rap sheet. Plus, all/i>… See more details below
"Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in." --Michael Corleone, The Godfather
Since her release from Liberty Children's Facility, Anya Balanchine is determined to follow the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, her criminal record is making it hard for her to do that. No high school wants her with a gun possession charge on her rap sheet. Plus, all the people in her life have moved on: Natty has skipped two grades at Holy Trinity, Scarlet and Gable seem closer than ever, and even Win is in a new relationship. But when old friends return demanding that certain debts be paid, Anya is thrown right back into the criminal world that she had been determined to escape. It's a journey that will take her across the ocean and straight into the heart of the birthplace of chocolate where her resolve--and her heart--will be tested as never before.
Because It Is My Blood is the second novel in Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright series.
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Because It is My Blood
By Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Gabrielle Zevin
All rights reserved.
I AM RELEASED INTO SOCIETY
"Come in, Anya, have a seat. We find ourselves in the midst of a situation," Evelyn Cobrawick greeted me, parting her painted red lips to reveal a cheerful sliver of yellow tooth. Was this meant to be a grin? I certainly hoped not. My fellow inmates at Liberty Children's Facility were of the universal opinion that Mrs. Cobrawick was at her most dangerous when smiling.
It was the night before my release, and I had been summoned to the headmistress's chambers. Through careful adherence to rules—all but one, all but once—I had managed to avoid the woman for the entire summer. "A situ—" I began.
Mrs. Cobrawick interrupted me. "Do you know what I like best about my job? It's the girls. Watching them grow up and make better lives for themselves. Knowing that I had some small part in these rehabilitations. I truly feel as if I have thousands of daughters. It almost makes up for the fact that the former Mr. Cobrawick and I were not blessed with any children of our own."
I was not sure how to respond to this information. "You said there was a situation?"
"Be patient, Anya. I'm getting there. I ... You see, I feel very bad about the way we met. I think you may have gotten the wrong impression about me. The measures I took last fall may have seemed harsh to you at the time, but they were only to help you adjust to life at Liberty. And I think you'll agree that my conduct was exactly right, because look what a splendid summer you've had here! You've been submissive, compliant, a model resident in every sense. One would hardly guess that you came from such a criminal background."
This was meant as a compliment so I thanked her. I snuck a glance out Mrs. Cobrawick's window. The night was clear, and I could just make out the tip of Manhattan. Only eighteen hours before I would be home.
"You are most welcome. I feel optimistic that your time here will serve you well in your future endeavors. Which brings us, of course, to our situation."
I turned to look at Mrs. Cobrawick. I very much wished that she would stop referring to it as "our situation."
"In August, you had a visitor," she began. "A young man."
I lied, telling her that I wasn't sure whom she meant.
"The Delacroix boy," she said.
"Yes. He was my boyfriend last year, but that's done now."
"The guard on duty that day claimed that you kissed him." She paused to look me in the eyes. "Twice."
"I shouldn't have done that. He had been injured, as you probably read in my file, and I suppose I was overcome to see him well again. I apologize, Mrs. Cobrawick."
"Yes, you did break the rules," Mrs. Cobrawick replied. "But your infraction is understandable, I think, and human really, and can be overlooked. It probably surprises you to hear an old gorgon like me say that, but I am not without feelings, Anya.
"Before you came to Liberty in June, acting District Attorney Charles Delacroix gave me very specific instructions regarding your treatment here. Would you like me to tell you what they were?"
I wasn't sure, but I nodded anyway.
"There were only three. The first was that I was to avoid any unnecessary personal interaction with Anya Balanchine. I don't think you can disagree that I followed that one to the letter."
That explained why my stay had passed in such relative peace. If I ever saw Charles Delacroix again (and I hoped I'd have no reason to), I'd be certain to thank him.
"The second was that Anya Balanchine was not to be sent to the Cellar under any circumstance."
"And the third?" I asked.
"The third was that I was to contact him immediately if his son came to visit you. Such an event, he said, could possibly necessitate a revision to both the quality and length of Anya Balanchine's stay at Liberty."
I felt myself shudder at the word length. I was well aware of the promise I had made Charles Delacroix regarding his son.
"So, when the guard came to me with the news that the Delacroix boy had been to see Anya Balanchine, do you know what I decided to do?"
She—horrors!—smiled at me.
"I decided to do nothing. 'Evie,' I said to myself, 'at the end of the year, you're leaving Liberty and you don't have to do everything they say anymore—'"
I interrupted the conversation she was having with herself to ask, "You're leaving?"
"Yes, it seems I've been forced into early retirement, Anya. They're making a huge mistake. Not anyone can run this kingdom of mine." She waved her hand by way of changing the subject. "But as I was telling you before ... 'Evie,' I said, 'you don't owe that awful Charles Delacroix a thing. Anya Balanchine is a good girl, albeit one from a very bad family, and she can't help who does or doesn't visit her.'"
I offered cautious thanks.
"You're very welcome," she replied. "Perhaps someday you'll be able to return the favor."
I shivered. "What is it you want, Mrs. Cobrawick?"
She laughed, then took my hand in hers and squeezed it so hard one of my knuckles cracked. "Only ... I suppose I'd like to be able to call you my friend."
Daddy always said that there was no commodity more precious or potentially volatile than friendship. I looked into her dark, red-rimmed eyes. "Mrs. Cobrawick, I can honestly say that I won't ever forget this act of friendship."
She released my hand. "Incidentally, Charles Delacroix is an incredible fool. If my experiences working with troubled girls have taught me anything, it's that no good ever comes from keeping young lovers apart. The more he pulls, the more the two of you will pull back. It's a Chinese finger trap, and the finger trap always triumphs."
Here, Mrs. Cobrawick was wrong. Win had visited me that one time. I had kissed him, then told him that he should never come again. To my great annoyance, he'd actually obeyed me. A little over a month had passed since that encounter, and I hadn't heard from or seen Win since.
"As you're leaving us tomorrow, this will also serve as our exit interview," Mrs. Cobrawick said. She opened up my file on her slate. "Let's see, you were brought here on ..." She scanned the file. "Weapons-possession charges?"
Mrs. Cobrawick put on the reading glasses she wore on a brass chain around her neck. "Really? That's it? I seem to remember you shooting someone."
"In self-defense, yes."
"Well, no matter. I am an educator, not a judge. Are you sorry for your crimes?"
The answer to that was complicated. I did not regret the crime I had been charged with—having my father's gun. I did not regret my actual crime either—shooting Jacks after he shot Win. And I did not regret the deal I had made with Charles Delacroix that had ensured both my siblings' safety. I regretted nothing. Of course, I could sense that saying this would have been frowned upon. "Yes," I replied, "I'm very sorry."
"Good. Then, as of tomorrow"—Mrs. Cobrawick consulted her calendar—"the seventeenth day of September in the year 2083, the city of New York considers Anya Balanchine to be successfully rehabilitated. Best of luck to you, Anya. May the temptations of the world not lead you to recidivism."
* * *
It was lights-out by the time I got back to the dormitory. As I reached the bunk bed I had shared with Mouse these past eighty-nine days, she lit a match and gestured that I should come sit by her in the bottom bunk. She held out her notepad. I need to ask you something before you go, she had written on one of her precious pages. (She was only allotted twenty-five per day.)
They're letting me out early.
I told her that was great news, but she shook her head. She handed me another note.
After Thanksgiving or even sooner. Good behavior, or maybe I use too much paper. Point is, I'd rather be here. My crime makes it so I can't ever go home. When I get out, I'll need a job.
"I wish I could help, but—"
She put her hand over my mouth and handed me yet another prewritten note. Apparently, my responses were just that predictable.
DON'T SAY NO! You can. You're very powerful. I've thought a lot about this, Anya. I want to be a chocolate dealer.
I laughed because I couldn't imagine that she was in earnest. The girl was five feet tall in socks and completely mute! I turned to look at her, and her expression told me that she hadn't been kidding. At that moment, the match burned out, and she lit another one.
"Mouse," I whispered. "I'm not involved in Balanchine Chocolate that way, and even if I was, I don't know why you'd want that kind of a job."
I'm seventeen. Mute. Criminal. I have no people, no $, no real education.
I could see her point. I nodded, and she passed me one last note.
You are the only friend I've made here. I know I'm small, weak, & mousy, but I am not a coward and I can do hard things. If you let me work with you, I will be loyal to you for life. I would die for you, Anya.
I told her that I didn't want anyone to die for me, and I blew out the match.
I climbed out of Mouse's bunk and went up to my own, where I quickly fell asleep.
In the morning when she wrote and I said goodbye, she didn't mention that she had asked me to help her become a chocolate dealer. The last thing she wrote before the guards came for me was See you around, A. My real name is Kate, by the way.
"Kate," I said. "It's nice to meet you."
At eleven a.m., I was taken to change out of the Liberty jumpsuit and back into my street clothes. Despite the fact that I had been booted from the school, I had worn my Trinity uniform the day I had surrendered myself. I was so used to wearing the thing. Even three months later, as I was pulling the skirt over my hips, I could feel my body wanting to go back to school, and specifically to Trinity, where classes had started without me the previous week.
After I'd changed, I was brought to the discharge room. A lifetime ago, I had met Charles Delacroix in this same room, but today, Simon Green and Mr. Kipling, my lawyers, waited for me instead.
"Do I look like a person who has done hard time?" I asked them.
Mr. Kipling considered me before he answered. "No," he said finally. "Though you do look very fit."
I stepped out into the muggy mid-September air and tried not to feel the loss of that summer too much. There would be other summers. There would be other boys, too.
I breathed in, trying to get all that good exterior air into my lungs. I could smell hay, and in the distance, something rotten, sulfurous, maybe even burning. "Freedom smells different than I remember," I commented to my lawyers.
"No, Anya, that's just the Hudson River. It's on fire again," Mr. Kipling said with a yawn.
"What is it this time?" I asked.
"The usual," Mr. Kipling replied. "Something to do with low water levels and chemical contamination."
"Fear not, Anya," Simon Green added. "The city's nearly as run-down as you left it."
* * *
When we arrived back at my apartment, the elevator wasn't working, so I told Mr. Kipling and Simon Green that they needn't see me to the door. Our apartment was on the penthouse level—the thirteenth floor, which the building elevator superstitiously referred to as the fourteenth floor. Thirteenth or fourteenth, it was a long trek up, and Mr. Kipling's heart was still weak. My heart, however, was in terrific shape as I'd spent the summer doing Liberty's strenuous athletic drills three, sometimes four times a day. I was lean and strong and I was able to race up the stairs. (Aside: Is it too much to add that, while my heart the muscle was in terrific shape, my heart the heart had certainly been better? Oh, probably, but there it is. Don't judge me too harshly.)
Having left my keys (and other valuables) at home, I was forced to ring the doorbell.
Imogen, who I had left in charge of my sister, answered it. "Anya, we didn't hear you come up!" She poked her head into the foyer. "Where are Misters Kipling and Green?"
I reported the condition of the elevator.
"Oh dear. That must have just happened. Maybe it'll fix itself?" she said brightly.
What, in my life, had ever fixed itself?
Imogen told me that Scarlet was waiting for me in the living room.
"And Natty?" I asked. She should have been home from genius camp four weeks ago.
"Natty's ..." Imogen hesitated.
"Is something wrong with Natty?" I could feel the thrum of my heart.
"No. She's fine. She's spending the night at a friend's." Imogen shook her head. "A project for school she needs to work on."
I tried very hard not to let my hurt feelings show. "Is she angry with me?"
Imogen pursed her lips. "Yes, a bit, I imagine. She was upset when she found out you'd lied about going to Liberty." Imogen shook her head. "You know teenagers."
"But Natty's not—" I had been about to say that Natty wasn't a teenager, but then I remembered that she was. She had turned thirteen in July. Yet another thing I had missed thanks to my incarceration.
A familiar voice came from down the hallway. "Is that the world famous Anya Balanchine I hear?" Scarlet ran up and threw her arms around me. "Anya, where did your boobs go?"
I pulled away from her. "Must have been that really nourishing Liberty food."
"When I saw you at Liberty, you were always in the navy jumpsuit, but in your old Trinity uniform, it's more obvious to me that you look ..."
"Awful," I filled in.
"No!" Imogen and Scarlet said in unison.
"It's not like the last time you went to Liberty," Scarlet continued. "You don't look sick. You just look ..." Scarlet's eyes drifted to the ceiling. I remembered from my first year of Forensic Science that when a witness looked up that way, it meant that she was in the process of inventing. My very best friend was about to lie. "You look changed," she said gently. Scarlet took me by the arm. "Let's go into the living room. I have to catch you up on everything that's been happening. Also, I hope you don't mind, but Gable's here. He really wanted to see you and he is my boyfriend, Anya."
I did kind of mind, but Scarlet was my best friend, so what could I do.
We went into the living room, where Gable stood by the window. He was leaning on crutches, and there was no wheelchair in sight. In other respects, he was also much improved. His complexion was beyond pale, nearly white, but there was no obvious scarring where the skin grafts had been. Black leather gloves covered his hands so I couldn't see what had become of his mangled fingers.
"Arsley, you're walking again!" I congratulated him.
Scarlet applauded. "I know," she said. "Isn't it great? I'm so proud of him!"
With some difficulty, Gable maneuvered himself toward me. "Yes, isn't it wonderful? After months of physical therapy and countless painful surgeries, I can now accomplish what most two-year-olds manage much better. Aren't I a miracle of modern medicine?"
Scarlet kissed him on the cheek. "Don't go into that dark place, Gable. Stay in the light with Anya and me!"
Gable laughed at Scarlet's joke, and then he kissed her, and then she whispered something in his ear, and he smiled, and she helped him over to the love seat where they both sat down. OMG, as Nana would have said, Scarlet and Gable might actually be in love! For a moment, I almost felt jealous of them. I didn't want to be with Gable again—certainly not! After everything Scarlet had done for my family, I could not begrudge her a boyfriend. The plain truth was, I missed being in a couple.
I curled into the familiar burgundy chair.
"Seriously, Gable," I said. "You look amazingly good."
"You look awful," Gable replied.
"Gable," Scarlet admonished him.
"What? She looks like a little boy or a long-distance runner. Didn't they feed you anything in there?" Gable continued. "And your hair is scary."
My hair was indeed tangled and frizzy. There hadn't been conditioner or gel or even a proper hairbrush at Liberty. As soon as Gable and Scarlet left, I would begin addressing the situation.
"How's Trinity?" I asked by way of changing the subject. Gable was repeating his senior year because of how much of the previous one he'd missed.
"Boring now that you're not there," Gable said with a shrug. "No one's been shot or poisoned for months."
One of Gable's qualities was his sense of humor.
"Gable Arsley," Scarlet said with a furrowed brow, "you are being awful and you are making me regret having brought you today."
"Apologies, Anya, if I caused offense."
I told him that he hadn't, that I was pretty hard to offend these days.
Scarlet stood up. "We should go. Imogen made us promise that we wouldn't stay long." She gave Gable her hand, and he rose somewhat awkwardly to his feet. That was when I remembered the elevator. Gable had trouble walking across the room. He was never going to be able to make it down thirteen flights on crutches.
Upon consulting with Imogen, who then consulted with the building superintendent, it was determined that the elevator wouldn't be repaired until the next morning. Gable would have to spend the night, a scheme that did not thrill me. If Gable was staying, Scarlet's parents wouldn't allow her to, and the last time Gable Arsley had almost spent the night in this apartment, it had not gone well.
I decided that Gable should sleep on the couch. I didn't want him in Leo's old room.
After these arrangements were made, I was finally able to slip away to my bedroom. I had been meaning to clean myself up, but instead I fell asleep on my bed. When I awoke, it was two in the morning, and the apartment was silent. I slipped out of my room and went down the hall to the shower.
Excerpted from Because It is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin. Copyright © 2012 Gabrielle Zevin. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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