Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York directoranything but scared and alone.
Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it's too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she's unable to escape.
Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darknessand emerging into the light again.
About the Author
Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I'll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.
Read an Excerpt
By Heather Demetrios
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2017 Heather Demetrios
All rights reserved.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.
That's how long it takes me to start falling out of love with you. One year. Our own season of love. You do know which musical I'm referring to, right, Gavin? Because there's no way you can be my boyfriend and not know that of course, of course, I would bring Rent into this. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of your lips on mine and whispering in the dark and you picking me up and spinning me around and taking my virginity and fucking with my head and telling me I'm worthless, worthless, worthless.
If I were writing a musical about us, I wouldn't start where we're at right now, at the end. I would want the audience to really get how I was able to fall for you hook, line, and sinker. Girls don't fall in love with manipulative assholes who treat them like shit and make them seriously question their life choices. They fall in love with manipulative assholes (who treat them like shit and make them seriously question their life choices) who they think are knights in shining armor. You rode in on your fucking white horse, aka 1969 Mustang, and I was all like, My hero! But I am so tired of being a damsel in distress. In my next life, I'm going to be an ass-kicking ninja warrior queen. And I will hunt shits like you down. Throw your ass in a dungeon and drop the key in my moat and my lady knights will be all, Huzzah! and I will sit on my throne like, Yes.
But I can't daydream too much about my next life because I have to deal with you in this life. Before I break up with you, I want to reflect. I want to go back through us piece by piece. I want to remember why I was so ooey-gooey crazy in love with you. I want to know why it's taken me this long to figure out that you're poison.
So, I'm gonna Sound of Music this shit: Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start ...
There I am, downstage right, finishing my breakfast at the dining room table. It's my junior year. Winter. A Tuesday, which is better than Monday but not nearly as good as Wednesday. We aren't together yet, Gav, but, as my lusciously crass best friend Alyssa says, I am so hard for you. I've just finished my peanut butter toast and I'm thinking about how yesterday I saw you eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and wanted to lick the chocolate off your lips. Because that would be the most amazing kiss — Gavin Davis tasting like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. YES. You are my super happy place and I am there, la la la, trying to ignore my stepfather (who shall hereafter be known as The Giant). He's pounding around in the kitchen and muttering under his breath, and I know he wants me to be all, What's wrong?, but I'm not going to because he is an absolute fuck nut (that's an Alyssa expression, too — she's very linguistically creative) and nobody should have to deal with absolute fuck nuts without caffeine.
The Giant is displeased.
"Where the hell's my lunch?" he growls, louder now, as he paws through the refrigerator.
Today is the day that will change my life. But I don't know that, of course. I have no idea what's in store for me. What you, Gavin, have in store for me. All I know is that The Giant is ruining my Gavin daydreaming buzz and I really want some of that coffee in the pot, but I'm not allowed because they said so. Everything is Because we said so.
The Giant slams his lunch pail on the counter and opens it. It is only then that I remember what I'd forgotten to do last night before I went to bed.
I close my eyes and wish I had a Greek chorus to shake their fists at the sky for me (Oh, woe! Woe!) because this slight infraction could result in me losing my whole weekend.
"I'm sorry," I murmur. "I forgot to make it."
My head hangs in shame. I am the picture of Contrite and Subservient Female because this is what The Giant needs to see at all times. But that's on the outside.
On the inside, which The Giant can't get to no matter how hard he tries: screw you, make your own damn lunch, and while you're at it, clean your own car and do your own laundry, especially your boxers, and can I please stop having to clean your bathroom, because your stray pubic hairs make me nauseous?
I play this role of the beaten-down, cowed girl because I'm scared. Terrified, really. What little freedom I have is like a delicate piece of blown glass. The slightest push can make it shatter into a thousand million pieces. It wasn't always like this. Before my mom married The Giant, there was laughter in our house, random dance parties, adventures. Not anymore. I live in a kingdom ruled by a tyrant bent on my destruction.
The Giant curses under his breath and I want to be like, It won't kill you to make your own fucking sandwich. Seriously. Bread, turkey, mustard, Swiss: boom — you have a sandwich. Christ.
I hear a door open down the hall and then Mom is coming in with her own version of Contrite and Subservient Female on her face. My mom thinks invisible dirt is real, that disasters are around every corner. She thinks the Grim Reaper hides in the cracks between tiles, on top of baseboards, in the toilet bowl. She is unwell.
"What's going on?" she asks, looking from me to The Giant. Her lips pull down as she glances at me, like I'm already a disappointment and it's not even eight in the morning.
"Your daughter didn't make my lunch again and so I'll have to waste money today on getting lunch out again, that's what's going on." He looks at me and I can almost hear the thought in his head: You aren't my child — I wish you would get the hell out of my house forever.
"You better not be expecting to go to the movies on Friday with Natalie and Alyssa," he adds.
Big surprise. Let me guess: babysitting.
Don't get me wrong: even though Sam is half Giant, I love him to death. It's pretty hard to hate on a three-year-old. It's not his fault The Giant's his dad just as much as it's not my fault my dad is a former/possibly current cokehead who lives in another state and forgets my birthday every year.
Mom shoots me an irritated glare and brushes past me into the kitchen without another word. She pats The Giant on the arm, then pulls down a mug for coffee. It says #1 Mom on it, which is ten kinds of ironic. I want mug makers to start keeping it real. Like, why aren't there mugs that say Once Pretty Okay Mom Who Got Remarried and Stopped Caring About Her Kids? I mean, that's a lot of words, but if you use twelve-point font, you could totally rock that on a mug.
The Giant doesn't walk past me on his way out the door, he pushes past me, shouldering like a linebacker so that I'm forced into the entryway, my spine colliding with a corner of the wall. Pain shoots up my back. He doesn't notice. Or maybe he does. Bastard. As soon as he slams the door behind him, Mom turns on me.
"What have I told you about finishing your chores?" she says. "I'm getting tired of this, Grace. First it's not properly rinsing the dishes, then it's Roy's lunch or Sam's toys." She raises a finger in the threatening way of dictators everywhere: "You better get it together, young lady. You're walking on thin ice."
According to her, I'm always walking on thin ice. It's the topography of my life. Cold, about to break, always uncertain.
She doesn't have to tell me what happens if that ice breaks beneath my feet.
My dad promised to help me pay for drama camp this summer at Interlochen, this amazing program in Michigan. I've been saving for it like crazy, working doubles on the weekends at the Honey Pot so that I can help my dad scrape together the hundreds of dollars it costs to be free of suburban hell for a few weeks.
I hang my head even lower this time and become Beaten-Down Daughter.
She's the cousin of Contrite and Subservient Female, but more tired. If this were a musical, Beaten-Down Daughter would turn to the audience and sing something like "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.
"I'm sorry," I say again, my voice soft.
It is an act of will not to let the frustration building inside me slip into my voice, my mouth, my hands. In order to stay Beaten-Down Daughter I keep my eyes on my baby-pink Doc Martens because lowering your eyes broadcasts your worthlessness and makes the other person feel better about themselves and increases the possibility of them being magnanimous. You asked me the story of my boots once and I told you about how I found them in a thrift store on Sunset Boulevard and that I was pretty sure the girl who wore them before me did stuff like write poetry and dance to the Ramones because when I wear them, I totally feel more artistic. Betty and Beatrice are my shoe soul mates, I said, and you asked me if I named all my shoes and I said, No, just these, and you said, Rock on, and then the bell rang and I lived off of that two-second conversation for the rest of the day. So even though my mom's being heinous this morning, my shoes manage to cheer me up a little. I mean, everything is going to be okay as long as there are pink combat boots in the world. Someday I will tell you just that and you will pull me against you and say, I fucking love you so much, and I will feel like five million bucks.
"Sorry." Mom snorts. "If I had a nickel for every time you said that ..." She glances at the clock. "Go or you'll be late."
I grab my bag and a sweater, which is all you really need in Cali winter. I consider slamming the door on my way out, but that won't end well for me, so I quietly shut it and then rush down the walkway before Mom can think of some other reason to be mad at me.
I need to go to my happy place. Now. I can't let this be my day. I have to shake it off, Taylor Swift style.
Roosevelt High is less than a ten-minute walk away, and I spend that time with my earbuds shoved in, listening to the Rent soundtrack, probably the best thing to come out of the nineties. It takes me to New York City, to a group of bohemian friends, to my future. Some people run or meditate when they're stressed, but I go to the Village. I picture myself walking along the streets of the city, past overflowing trash bins and scurrying rats and cool boutiques and coffeehouses. People everywhere. I'm surrounded by brick buildings with fire escapes and I jump on the subway and I'm flowing under the city, on my way to the Nederlander Theater, where I'll be directing a play or musical. Maybe even a Broadway revival of Rent. By the time I get to school, the music is thrumming through me (Viva la vie Bohème!). My mom and The Giant and home splinter and fall away, replaced by my real family, the cast of Rent: Mark, Roger, Mimi, Maureen, Angel, Collins, Joanne. I'm okay.
I keep my eye out for you the moment I'm on campus. You'd be hard to miss.
You're like Maureen from Rent:Ever since puberty, everybody stares at me — boys, girls. I can't help it, baby.
You've got this halo of cool that makes people want to bow at your feet, light a candle. Saint Gavin. You leave stars in your wake. Whenever you walk by, I swear sparks fly off you. The air crackles. Sizzles. You steal all the oxygen so that I'm left gasping for breath, panting. In heat.
I want to steal the leather notebook you carry around all the time. Songs are in there and poetry and maybe sketches. All in your handwriting, which I've never seen but imagine as surprisingly neat. If I could, I'd crawl into your vintage Mustang, your bad-boy car, and curl up in the backseat, waiting for you to maybe ravage me or at least sing me a song. I can't get enough of that sexy, shuffling gait, the way your black hair is perfectly mussed up. The faded Nirvana shirt and the low-slung jeans, the black fedora that I've never seen you without. You have these eyes that are positively arctic, so blue I keep expecting to see waves or maybe glaciers in them. Then there's that impenetrable look, like you have a million secrets locked inside you. I want the key.
I like you best when you're playing guitar, leaning your weight forward, left foot slightly in front of the right, muscled hands strumming magic into the air, intent on the music that bleeds from those long, thin fingers. And your voice: gravel and honey mixed together, a little Jack White, a little Thom Yorke. The songs you write are poetry. You close your eyes and open your mouth and something starts spinning inside me, faster and faster, and I would do anything if you asked me. When you sing, I imagine my lips against yours, your tongue in my mouth, your hands everywhere.
You are the most exotic thing in our crappy excuse for a town. A rock god abandoned by cruel fate to an outpost of suburbia, where it's at least twenty degrees hotter than hell. I like to think that as an LA girl forced to move here I could somehow understand you more than the others. I know what it's like to hear car horns and helicopters and music all hours of the night. I know what it feels like to zip down neon freeways and find street art in the most unlikely places. I know what it's like to feel alive. You want all that, I can tell. You look at everything around us the same way I do: with quiet desperation.
Birch Grove has a newness that only towns in Cali can manage — shopping centers popping up like mushrooms, schools and housing developments where once there'd only been a strawberry patch or cornfield. Even though we have a Target and a Starbucks and all that, it's the kind of place that has an annual rodeo. There is only one vintage store and the mall is the opposite of Disneyland: the Saddest Place on Earth. The worst part is that everything here is the same — the houses, the people, the cars. There's no grit. No wild abandon.
I hate Birch Grove with a passion.
One of the few things I do like about it, though, is our school: the drama program, the dance program, my French teacher, who's half Egyptian and smokes long, thin cigarettes behind the gym. And I actually like the school itself, like, the buildings. It has a certain coziness to it, a human scale that makes it feel like a second home. I love how the open-air campus is drenched in sunshine, the huge grassy lawn in its center, the outdoor arena with its covered cement stage that looks like the Hollywood Bowl in miniature. It's an idyllic California school, although sometimes I wish I were at an East Coast boarding school with bricks covered in ivy. If I were, I'd wear a sweater set and have a boyfriend named Henry, who plays lacrosse and whose father is a world-renowned physician. That's a pumpkin spice latte kind of world I'll never be in, though.
When Miss B chose me to be her stage manager and chose you to be her lead for The Importance of Being Earnest, I ran home and had a dance party in my room. I wanted to cling to you just like the girls in the play and say, Earnest, my own! That's how happy I was to be just a few feet away from you every day after school for six weeks. It was too much, those feet. I wanted them to be inches. Millimeters. You gave me a hug once, laughed at one of my rare attempts at a joke. You accepted pieces of gum I offered you. Smiled at me in the halls. Do you know you are the bestower of the perfect half smile: part smirk, all enigma? Of course you do.
I asked you once why a rock god at night is a drama guy by day and you told me you auditioned for Singin' in the Rain (that was way back in my freshman year) on a dare and then you got the lead and your mom made you take the part. And you loved it. I wonder if rock stars are all secretly mama's boys who like to tap-dance.
I love you, Gavin. And maybe it's in the most superficial way, like how I can't stand it when you take off your fedora and run your fingers through your hair. Or how you keep those hands shoved into your front pockets when you're walking to class. I wonder, if you took them out and placed them on my bare skin, would I feel the calluses from all those hours of you alone in your room, playing guitar? Would your fingers be warm or cool? I want to know what it feels like to have your palm against mine, like Romeo and Juliet: Palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
I still can't believe that when you see me in the halls you say hi. You think it's cool that I want to be a director, so I never had to endure that separation between cast and crew that normally happens. It helped that my best friends were in the show, too. We talk about movies and who my favorite directors are (Julie Taymor and Mike Nichols). We talk about music and who your favorite bands are (Nirvana and Muse). I breathe you in like you're air.
I don't see you on the way to first-period French, which I take because how am I going to speak to my future French lover otherwise (François, Jacques?). Natalie and Alyssa think I'm a weirdo. My best friends are taking Spanish, which, as The Giant says, could be used in the real world (as if France is not part of the real world). I have a bit of trouble concentrating on what Madame Lewis is saying, though, because it's Valentine's Day and even though I dressed up in my Je t'aime shirt, pink poodle skirt, and red tights, I have no valentine and am thus depressed as hell.
Excerpted from Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios. Copyright © 2017 Heather Demetrios. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Resources for Teens in Abusive Relationships,
Also by Heather Demetrios,
About the Author,