Lennon Davis doesn't believe in much, but she does believe in the security of the number five. If she flicks the bedroom light switch five times, maybe her new LA school won't suck. But that doesn't feel right, so she flicks the switch again. And again. Ten more flicks of the switch and maybe her new stepfamily will accept her. Twenty-five more flicks and maybe she won't cause any more of her loved ones to die. Fifty more and then she can finally go to sleep. Kyler Benton witnesses this pattern of lights from the safety of his tree house in the yard next door. It is only there, hidden from the unwanted stares of his peers, that Kyler can fill his notebooks with lyrics that reveal the true scars of the boy behind the oversize hoodies and caustic humor. But Kyler finds that descriptions of blond hair, sad eyes, and tapping fingers are beginning to fill the pages of his notebooks. Lennon, the lonely girl next door his father has warned him about, infiltrates his mind. Even though he has enough to deal with without Lennon's rumored tragic past in his life, Kyler can't help but want to know the truth about his new muse.
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|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
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"LEAVE IT UP TO ME, OLD MAN, BURY ALL YOUR SINS, CLOSE YOUR EYES AND I'LL DISGUISE THE SHAME THAT'S ON MY SKIN."
Fire to Dust, EP Life Defining Moments, "Scarred"
GOALS. EVERYONE'S GOT TO HAVE them; at least that's what my dad says. For the last two years, it's been my mission, no, my goal, to make our front lawn resemble a football field for no other reason than to piss my father off. Don't get me wrong — guys like him don't mind having lawns that resemble football fields. Therein lies the problem. He'd love it. He'd admire it. He'd bask in its undeniable glory with unshakable pride. More than that, he'd rage. The sort of red-faced-vein-throbbing-style pissed because accepting the perfect lawn means I mastered something he never could. I've come close before, alternating the height of the grass in patches, but I still haven't perfected it. That is my goal.
Here's my theory: He likes to make me work. Thinks it'll teach me to be a real man. Maybe that's true, and hey, if the art of lawn maintenance is his vision for my future, then who am I to argue? The truth is it isn't like that at all. He wants me to be a yuppie attorney, just like him. Guy doesn't want a kid; he wants a clone. Better luck next time, old man. I'd rather die.
I survey my work, nodding, pleased with the shifting pattern and alternating shades of light and dark green. Today is the closest I've ever come to achieving greatness. I give myself a mental high five. I should call the guys, have a good old-fashioned game of rugby in the backyard. Dad coming home to a bunch of riffraff, as it he calls it, might make his head explode. Not the worst idea I've ever had.
I let myself in the back door and go straight to the kitchen. The scent of garlic floats through the house, courtesy of whatever simmers on the stove, but Mom or Macy are nowhere in sight, so I ignore the growling in my stomach and grab a Coke, sliding it into the pocket of my hoodie before U-turning back outside, sidestepping the pool and crossing my immaculate lawn until I reach the ladder to the tree house.
Yeah, a tree house. Go ahead. Laugh. Let me find the fucks I give.
That is correct. I do not give a single solitary fuck about how absurd it is. I'm seventeen. Six foot one and growing, and I still prefer to remain hidden in the trees. It's rad and if anyone knocks it, I'll knock their teeth clean out of their face, no joke.
Two wooden rungs are affixed to the tree stump near the bottom, and they're the only steps I use to enter the door. It's not a big effort for a guy my size, because during its construction, my father wanted to make sure he would fit, too, and he's not what I would call a slight man. I was six. We'd gone for a family dinner at the home of a client of my father's, who like all his A-list clients shall remain unnamed. The guy had built a tree house for his kid. A standard, run-of-the-mill kind. A few pieces of wood, a floor, and a roof.
My dad got one glimpse of it and decided that I needed one, too. But mine had to be higher, bigger, and better, so he hired contractors to build me the Taj Ma-freakin-hal of tree houses. He promised me the world that summer and I got this. My kid sister, Macy, got a motorized pink jeep. The only reason I got the better end of the deal is because Macy outgrew her SUV in a year. Dad and I planned to spend time up here, doing all kinds of father and son things. He's been twice, both times before the accident.
For this reason alone, I should hate it. I should loathe the thing with the burning fire of a thousand suns, but I don't. I can't. It's my only escape. I write music up here because it reminds me of a time when life wasn't so messed up.
I pull my hoodie up and over my head, discarding it on the wooden floorboards, grateful for the relief from the oppressive heat. It's the first day of spring and sweltering already. In a week it'll be hot enough to cook eggs on the sidewalk and for me, a serial overdresser, that sucks. Cracking the can of soda, I shove my earbuds in and scroll through my playlist until I find it. Nirvana. R.I.P. Kurt, you were a musical genius. I lay back and stretch my legs on the small mattress tucked against the wall. A slight breeze blows in and I watch the steel-gray curtains, sewn by my mother, catch on the wind.
I turn down the music, not because Kurt's vocals should ever be silenced, but it seems like a nice day to catch a catnap before dinner. My eyes close and seconds before the pull of sleep takes hold, a car with a destitute muffler rumbles not so far in the distance.
I sit up and inch closer to the small window, getting a face full of curtain as the wind's direction shifts. A cab ambles up the drive at the house next door and parks, its muffler chugging with relief as the sputtering stops. An interesting phenomenon in a place like Bel Air. It's the kind of neighborhood infested with sports cars like mine, Range Rovers, Hummers. Status symbols on wheels. Yellow checkered taxicabs screaming for a little maintenance stick out like sore thumbs. Josh, our next-door neighbor, and proud owner of both a Corvette and Porsche's version of an SUV, steps out of the cab, reaches into his coat pocket, and whips out a pile of cash.
The driver exits the vehicle, too, and moves to the rear of the car, removing large bags of luggage and a trunk. By the looks of the trunk, they're transporting a body. I sit up straighter.
Ever see a TV show or movie and wonder how they find such good music? Well, there's a guy for that. Josh. He's a music supervisor. That's a legit job, and since we live in LA, he doesn't have to travel much and when he does, I'm certain it's not with purple polka-dotted luggage.
The back door of the cab swings open and a female silhouette emerges. I squint and lean forward as if either of those things will give me a better view of the newcomer, but all I can make out are legs and long blond waves. She shuts the door to the cab and turns away from my line of sight.
Josh and the cabbie stand side by side, Josh holding the polka-dotted luggage pull in one hand, the body-hiding trunk sitting on the ground at their feet.
I return my attention to her. Turn. Around. I want to see your face.
Macy's voice pierces through my thoughts like a needle pop-ping a balloon. "Kyler! Dinner!"
I don't respond.
"Kyler!" she shouts again. "Mom wants you to come in for supper!"
The shrill pitch of my sister hollering is surely enough to cause someone to turn to see the commotion. But no. Newcomer doesn't move.
"I'm coming. Don't get your leotard in a knot." I poke my head through the door to see Macy, standing at the bottom of the tree in her full dance gear, with one hand on her hip, the other raised high flipping me off. I descend the ladder, hesitant to leave my can of Coke, and the view of the first interesting thing to happen on this street in a while. There hasn't been this much action since last year when Tim Bowman got chased around the neighborhood in his underwear after being caught making out with his brother's girlfriend.
Macy spins on her heels and stomps across the yard in front of me. I cringe as I watch her walk. She's so rigid in her posture, her skull looks like it's anchored to the sky with invisible string; her shoulders, muscled and strong, pulled back into a prefect arch. Years of conditioning from ballet, I guess, but I can't help but think my little sister needs to take a play from my book and chill out.
Mom stands at the back door, a smile plastered to her face. I wonder how much she forces that smile when she looks at me. She tilts her head and brings her fingers to brush across the left side of my cheek. She's the only person in the world permitted to do this.
"How was your day, honey?"
She holds out a wicker basket decorated with a blue ribbon on the side. A Pinterest endeavor for sure. Without hesitation, I reach into the pocket of my jeans, remove my cell phone, and drop it next to Macy's bedazzled one. No electronic devices at dinner. No exceptions. Mom instituted this rule a year ago. I'm happy to do it for her even though it means that every single night, for an hour, my family is technology free and forced to endure all the things my dad knows everything about.
When I sit at the table, Dad's drinking a glass of red wine. His beverage choice tells me one thing. He was mitigating a star-studded divorce and didn't get the cheating husband whatever settlement he was after. Mom scoops a mound of seafood pasta onto his plate. Dad gives her a curt nod, the kind you'd give to the guy who bags groceries at the store.
Macy is next and places a card-sized amount on her plate.
"Mae, that's two bites. Eat something. I can see your ribs."
She shakes her head and holds up a glass of water. "Tryouts for our production of Swan Lake are in a few weeks. Gotta keep it trim."
"Trim is one thing. You're skeletal." She kicks my shin under the table. I take a drink of water and grin at her. "Kicking someone is much more effective when there's muscle behind it. Eat a sandwich."
She glares. "Shut up."
"That's enough," Dad says, pointing the tip of his fork at me. "If Macy needs to cut down on her intake to reach her goal, no need to chastise her for it."
I place a heaping mound of pasta on my plate. "If Macy wants to starve to death for the sake of appearances, then so be it, right, Dad? So long as she looks good."
"That's not what I said."
It's what he meant. I can't bother myself to argue though, I'm too hungry. My mother is a phenomenal chef. It's how she met my dad. He'd been at Haute, this five-star restaurant where she worked. He ordered overpriced beef Wellington that was so good, he'd insisted on delivering compliments to the chef, and the rest, as they say, is history. If you ask me, she could have done better.
"I'm not starving, Kyler," Macy says. "I'm just trying to stay slim. There are a lot of lifts in the performance, I'm going after the lead role."
I shake my head. Ridiculous.
Dad sips his wine. "At least one child has goals."
And there it is. I think about the lawn. "I have goals." Dad shakes his head. "Music is a tough industry."
Proof he knows nothing about me. Do I like my band? Yeah. Do I like making music? Yep. Do I want to do it for a living, become rich and famous and end up one of his hipster clients? A colossal-sized no. I don't tell him this, though; let him think what he wants. I keep my head down and eat, hoping he'll shut up. But he doesn't.
"You're getting older now, son, it's time to take life more seriously."
"Fire to Dust is good, Dad," Macy says, coming to my defense. "They'd have a real chance if Kyler would stop being so scared."
"I'm not scared, Mae, but I'm not stupid, either." My stomach churned the second this conversation began, and now I've lost my appetite altogether. My focus darts to my mother. Her own eyes are sad, like mine. "Mom, thanks for dinner. May I be excused?"
She swipes her napkin at the side of her mouth, taking special care with the corners of her lips before nodding.
I know what my dad thinks. Even if he entertains the idea that we're good enough, which he doesn't, he's spent enough time around famous people and their entourages to know full well I could never make it for one reason and one reason alone. Celebrity. Los Angeles is a crazy place that favors beauty, not the beast.CHAPTER 2
FACT: 1.3 MILLION PEOPLE DIE IN CAR WRECKS EVERY SINGLE YEAR. THAT AVERAGES TO 3,287 DEATHS PER DAY.
LOS ANGELES. CITY OF ANGELS. City of Eternal Damnation. It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. Considering my life is cursed, I'm placing all my figurative chips on a solid bet that it is eternal damnation. Since the air is hot, sticky, and humid here, it's fair to say I'm surrounded by hellfire. It clings to my skin and smothers me like plastic wrap.
I'd rather be back in the mental hospital.
My father hails a taxi and holds the door open.
Miserable, I roll my eyes at him. I haven't seen him in almost three years. Not because he didn't try. He did. Every winter, spring, and summer, he'd welcome me to stay with him and his family in Los Angeles. And every winter, spring, and summer, I'd refuse. I'd refuse because by then, every day of my life had become a nightmare. A constant, ruthless, and grueling battle I'll never be free of.
I've never felt safe in cars, but now that fear is paralyzing. I almost didn't make the twenty-minute drive to the airport in Portland without a massive panic attack. Panic attacks lead to the part of myself I can't control, and my dad will do everything in his power to make sure that doesn't happen.
Watching me must be like having a front-row view to a ticking time bomb.
His shoulders draw inward — burdened by the weight of having to deal with me. "I'm trying here. I have to get you from the airport to home, that means you must suffer for the next forty-eight minutes in this car, but you're free and clear after that." He looks at his watch. "It's three o'clock now, traffic might be light."
"I'd rather walk."
"Not an option. Sorry, Bug."
Bug. Ridiculous. Perhaps once upon a time it was cute, but now I could think of a million other nicknames I'd rather have, yet there's no escaping the one gifted by my father. Lennon Rae Davis, after none other than the most famous Lennon of all, who also was a Beatle. Clever. Thanks for the stellar nickname, John.
In fact, it seems kind of ominous now. Lennon died tragically. The statistic probability of dying in a car is staggering, tragic, almost. I've never been a fan of driving — or passenger-ing, to be more accurate — but since my sixteenth birthday, all I can see is a coffin with four wheels and a blinker. Like right now.
Circulating around a nauseating mental carousel is an image of my dad, the man standing next to me, the same man pleading with me to be reasonable as he lay on the pavement bloody and dying, because it's a fact:
People. Die. In. Cars.
His arms fanned above him, his body on display in a crumpled heap of steel and glass ...
His limbs, pretzeled and folded grotesquely ... twisted, shredded metal.
His lungs ragged with each pull, desperate to cling to breath.
Even if it's his last.
And then. It is.
A cold, dead, and lifeless stare shadows his face. Just like that, he's someone who simply ceases to exist.
My father will die if he gets in that car because people die in cars.
My heart rate quickens, pumping blood quicker, faster, until it careens straight through my veins in a race to the finish where my heart will surely seize or burst. The hammer of each pulse shatters my rib cage, as if my heart is screaming to escape. I struggle to catch the air, to hold on to it for more than a milli-second, and pull it deep and slow into my lungs. But my heart, the beast, hammers harder, determined to rip through my chest wall. That'll be it. It'll be over.
I reach two fingers into the pocket of my jeans, gathering the small sphere between my fingertips — the little magic pill that will help me survive this trip, or at the least, this hour.
Ativan. Breakfast of champions. My hands shake as I pop it underneath my tongue, close my eyes, and wait for it to dissolve.
My father reaches into the pocket of his worn jeans to retrieve the sheet of paper that's been his bible for the last week. It's a list, provided to him by the hospital when they released me, of my medications, what they do, when I should take them, and potential side effects. He doesn't need the list — I'm a far more valuable resource than his sheet of paper — but I think he feels empowered with it — as if facts on paper wrap around him like a security blanket. "Lennon, didn't you take a pill already, honey?"
I keep my eyes closed and hold my pointer finger up. One minute. Give me one more minute.
He speaks in hushed tones to the cab driver as the two of them wrestle with my trunk and two suitcases. I'd tried convincing my dad to let me bring my mom's greatest treasure — her record collection. He said there were too many. He's right. There are hundreds of them, but now they aren't within my reach, and I'm scared they won't make the trip from Maine to Los Angeles unscathed. It's entered my mind no less than fifteen times so far.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All Our Broken Pieces"
Copyright © 2019 L. D. Crichton.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
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