When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole a handsome, funny sports star who adores her she can't believe she's finally found her soul mate . . . someone who truly loves and understands her.
At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her close friend Zack, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all her time with another boy? As the months pass, though, Alex can no longer ignore Cole's small put-downs, pinches, and increasingly violent threats.
As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose "love" she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose between her "true love" and herself.
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|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||15 - 18 Years|
About the Author
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By Brown, Jennifer
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Brown, Jennifer
All right reserved.
If I had to describe my best friend, Bethany, in one word, it would be persistent. Or maybe unrelenting. Or, if I were writing her into a poem, I might use importunate, because words like importunate impressed Mrs. Moody, and when I used them she told me I was a born poet, which was kind of cool.
Doesn’t matter; all of those words mean the same thing—determined—and Bethany was nothing if not determined.
It was one of the things I liked best about her. She always had a clear sense of where her life was going, or, more accurately, where she was steering it. For all the ways we were totally alike, that was one of the ways we were different, and it was part of why I liked hanging out with her. I think I kind of hoped her importunateness might rub off on me and someday I’d find myself behind the steering wheel of my own life, certain where I was going to end up.
Sometimes Bethany’s persistence could be a little hard to ignore. It didn’t matter that we were just recovering from lunch rush and that I was busy wiping a mountain of trays taller than myself, or that my manager, Georgia, was standing right next to me. Bethany marched into The Bread Bowl in her untied high-tops, her giganto-purse bouncing against her hip, and sat down at the dirtiest table in the dining room.
“Psst!” she hissed, pulling a handful of papers out of her purse and waving them at me. I ignored her, keeping my eyes glued on the tray I was holding. So she did it again. “Psst!” And then she cleared her throat elaborately.
“I think someone sprang a leak over there,” Georgia said, pulling a wad of twenties out of the cash register drawer and then shutting it with her hip. “Or a lung, from the sound of it.” Bethany’s persistence was no stranger to Georgia, either. Georgia liked Bethany and often joked that Bethany would for sure be the first female president.
I stacked the tray I’d been wiping and dropped the wet rag on the counter. “I think I’ve got a table to clean,” I said.
“Looks like it,” Georgia mumbled. She headed toward the office, turning all of the twenties so they were facing the same direction. “And with her spitting all over it like that, it’s getting dirtier every minute.” Then she added over her shoulder, “And get that customer a drink. Might help her with that throat problem.”
“You’re all about the humanitarianism, Gee,” I responded, grabbing an empty cup on my way.
Cleaning the dining room was probably my least favorite duty at The Bread Bowl. People could leave some really disgusting trash behind. Sometimes, though, if Bethany happened to be hanging out at The Bread Bowl, having cleanup detail wasn’t so bad. That way she and I could talk while I picked up shredded pieces of napkin and half-eaten sandwiches, trying to look a lot busier than I actually was.
“Look at this,” Bethany said as soon as I plunked a Diet Dr Pepper in front of her and got to work on her table. She bumped my leg lightly with her knee. “Hot tub!”
I straightened and grabbed the stapled stack of papers out of her hand and scanned the top one, which included a grainy photo of a twelve-person Jacuzzi.
“Oh, man,” I said, reading down the list of amenities: hot tub, indoor pool, fitness room with cardio machines. It sounded like bliss. Expensive bliss. “This is amazing. No way we can afford it. You think we can actually afford it?”
I flipped the page over and started to read about nearby attractions. Across the room, Georgia cleared her throat. I glanced up. She was stacking take-out menus next to the register. She shifted her eyes meaningfully to Dave, the owner of The Bread Bowl, or Granite-Ass, as he was not-so-lovingly called by some of the line cooks. For some reason Dave had been hanging around lately, which put a real damper on everyone’s mood, not to mention my ability to drool over hot tubs and hotel fitness rooms with Bethany.
I thrust the papers back at her and resumed picking up crumpled sandwich wrappers and stuffing them into a cup.
“Oh, and look!” Bethany was saying, totally ignoring both my question and Georgia’s not-so-subtle warning. “It has a huge fireplace in the lobby. I bet you could get hot cocoa and sit there celebrity-watching all day long. Just think, we could end up making out in the snow with a star.” She gasped, slapping my shoulder with the papers. A handful of napkins fluttered out of the cup and back onto the table. “We could end up in a tabloid!” She held her hands up in the air as if she was envisioning a title. “Who Are the Mystery Beauties on the Slopes Breaking Boy Band Hearts?”
I giggled. “More like, ‘Who Are the Mystery Klutzes Who Broke Boy Band Legs by Falling into Them on a Ski Slope?’ ”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind breaking a leg if it meant a hottie broke my fall.”
“Uh-uh, I get dibs on the broken hottie,” I said.
“No way, I thought of it first.”
Georgia cleared her throat again. Now she was starting to sound like Bethany. Dave had moved into the dining room and was standing with his hands on his hips, assessing it slowly with his eyes. The last thing I needed was to get on Dave’s bad list. I most liked Dave when he pretended I didn’t exist, which was 99 percent of the time. He reminded me of my dad that way. I was used to being ignored by the men in my life. “Listen, can we talk about broken boy bands and tabloids later? I’ve gotta clean this up.”
Bethany sighed. “Work, work, work.”
“Yep. And if I get fired, you’ll be ordering cocoa for one, one, one.”
Bethany eyed Dave and gave a frustrated grunt. “Sure. Okay. Call me, though. I want to see what you think about restaurants. Zack and I’ve been researching.”
Zack. Our other best friend. If I could describe him in one word, it would be… well, you just can’t sum up Zack in one word. He was like an overprotective big brother, pervy uncle, and annoying little cousin all in one. He was a traveling comedy show. A musical genius. An amazing friend. If I was being completely honest, Zack was probably the only reason Bethany and I weren’t relegated to “too nerdy to notice” status at school. The enviro-nut and the poet—invisible and invisible. But it was impossible not to notice Zack. Everybody adored him. However, we adored him best, and we adored him first, so we were okay by association.
If I were to write Zack into a poem, I’d definitely use the word sanguine.
Bethany stood up and tossed her empty cup in the trash before coming back for her things. I knew she was going to go home, flop on the couch with her laptop, and scan every restaurant listing in the state of Colorado until I called. It’s all she’d done since we came up with the idea for this trip.
“Oh!” She snapped her fingers. “I almost forgot. Guess what idea Zack had?”
“I can only imagine,” I said, patting the last of the trash into the cup and straightening the salt and pepper shakers. Bethany picked a piece of lint off the bottom of her shirt.
“Tattoos,” she said.
“Tattoos?” I repeated.
She nodded, biting her lower lip as she smiled. “Yeah, he thinks we should get matching tatts while we’re there. Like a mountain or… or I don’t know… something sexy.”
“You do know what Zack’s interpretation of ‘sexy’ is, don’t you?” I imagined us all leaving Colorado with half-dressed, big-boobed women in stilettos permanently emblazoned on our bodies.
I picked up the cup and headed for the farthest trash bin—the one by the front door—nonchalantly tugging Bethany’s shirtsleeve so she’d follow me.
“Well, yeah, but…” She paused as I leaned over to throw away the trash. “I don’t know. It could be fun.”
“And painful,” I reminded her. “And permanent.”
“And fun,” she repeated.
Dave’s voice cut through the restaurant. He was griping at someone in the kitchen, which reminded me that I needed to get back to work before he turned on me, too.
“I’ll call you,” I said. “We can talk later.”
Bethany dug out her car keys. “You better,” she said, pushing through the glass doors.
Pressing my fingers lightly against the necklace under my shirt, I scurried back behind the counter and resumed wiping trays, daydreaming a little about Colorado.
Bethany and Zack and I had been planning this trip since we were eight years old, back when Zack’s mom still called us the Terrible Three. It started out as my idea—go to the place my mom was headed when she died and see if I could figure out what was there that was so important to her that she would leave her family the way she did.
But it wasn’t long before Bethany and Zack wanted in on the plan. Partly because they were my best friends and they knew how important it was to me. But mainly they wanted in because the trip sounded fun. And glamorous, like something people do in a movie. Best-friend cross-country mystery-solving road trip. Does it get more feature-film than that?
We decided that the trip was going to be our graduation gift to ourselves, and ever since the last day of junior year, Bethany had been practically obsessed with planning it. She talked about it constantly and even instituted a standing Vacay Day, where we’d get together to go over details every Saturday (Bethany’s idea). Rotating between our houses (my idea). Complete with pizza and video games and lots of crude jokes featuring female body parts (Zack’s idea). We’d been meeting all summer, and so far all we’d managed to accomplish was inhaling about fifteen large pepperoni pizzas and beating level nine of some zombie video game Zack had gotten for his birthday.
Truth be told, I didn’t care about hot tubs and ski gear and restaurants. All I cared about was Mom and what happened to her. Which Dad didn’t seem to care about at all. When I told him after our first Vacay Day meeting that I was going to Colorado after graduation, he made a noncommittal noise but didn’t even look up from the newspaper he was reading at the breakfast table.
“I’m going because of Mom,” I said, standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at his back, as usual.
“What’s your mother got to do with it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s part of why I want to go.” I took two steps into the room and then stopped and crossed my arms over my chest. The room always felt lonely when Dad was in it. Lonely and chilly. “I want to know why she was leaving. What was so great about Colorado?”
He stood abruptly, closing the paper with one hand and picking up his coffee mug with the other. “You want to go, that’s fine with me. But we don’t have the money for it. With your sister’s college tuition and no second income…” he said, setting his cup in the sink. But he never finished, and before I could ask another question, he was out the door.
Ever since my mom died, it seemed as if my dad always talked in open-ended sentences like that—especially when she was the subject. “You know what your mom would’ve said…” or “Your mom would’ve thought your behavior right now…” or “If only your mom were here…” He always looked so sad and meek when he said it.
It was the Big Mystery of my life. My mom. My dad. What happened between them and why we didn’t talk about it. Sometimes it seemed as if I was the only one in the house who even cared.
The only time I’d ever heard Dad say anything real about our mom was when I was eight. He drank a six-pack at a block party, and then he came home and sat at the kitchen table, with a shoe box of old photos in front of him. That night he said our mom was “crazier than goosehouse shit,” whatever that meant.
My baby sister, Celia, and I had giggled nervously when he said that, not sure if it was some sort of joke, imagining our mom as a white and goopy puddle, stuck to someone’s windshield or a fence post, eyes rolling around insanely. Neither of us remembered our mom. We were really little when she left.
But Shannin, our older sister, was there when Mom left, and she didn’t laugh.
Dad had gotten up, taken the shoe box, and tossed it into the garbage, muttering something about being an old fool. After he left the mudroom, though, I crept in and pulled the shoe box out, took it up to my bedroom, and hid it under the bed. I didn’t know why, but saving that box just felt like something I had to do.
Later that same night, when we were alone, Shannin took us into her bedroom and told us the Real Story. How she’d awakened one night to the phone ringing. How she’d crept out of her room and into the hallway to look around the corner, crouched against the wall with the skirt of her nightgown pulled over her legs. And then how the phone rang again and how Dad’s voice sounded really upset when he answered it.
“She’s gone off the deep end this time, Jules,” Dad had said. “I don’t know. I don’t know where she’s gone.”
Shannin told us about how, just as Dad hung up the phone, the front door banged open and Mom barged through it, saying something about going to Colorado—to the mountains. Dad had pulled on her elbows, saying she was drunk, and begged her to stay, to “see someone,” and Mom argued that she was already “seeing someone,” just not how he meant it.
And then later, after Mom had left and Dad had disappeared into the kitchen and the smell of coffee started to fill the air, Shannin had gone back to bed. And in the morning Shannin found out that while she slept, the police had come to the door and told Dad that Mom had wrapped her car around a light pole and died. Just like that.
“Knocked her brains out onto the road,” Shannin whispered as Celia and I sat cross-legged on her bed, clutching each other’s hands and shivering. “That’s what Dad told Aunt Jules at the funeral. Mom’s brains were knocked out onto Forty-first Street, and they had to shut it down until they could get a hose and wash it off. And Aunt Jules patted Dad’s shoulder and said she knew he loved Mom a lot and that he should never have had to hear something like that, and Dad cried and said, ‘I know, and now I can’t forget it.’ ”
After Shannin told us the story, I went back to my room and locked the door. I pulled out the box of photos of Mom and Dad and dumped them onto my bed, flipping through them carefully and secretively, as if I were doing something wrong just by looking at them.
I stared at those pictures for hours. I’d look at Mom, so happy and thin and glowing, and would imagine her being drunk and crazy like Shannin said. It didn’t seem to fit.
There were dozens of them. A photo of high school graduation. Two of a birthday party. One of their wedding day.
I had my favorites. Ones I’d look at over and over again.
A photo of them at a party. Dad sitting in a folding chair, Mom in his lap. Her hair was very short, and she was wearing a vest over a button-down shirt. His hands were looped across her belly and clasped together. She had her hands resting on his and a big smile on her face.
Another one, of the two of them sitting in a mossy space between two trees. Each of them was barefoot and cross-legged, facing each other with their knees touching. Their faces were shadows. They looked like they were telling secrets.
And another one, Dad and Mom standing in Grandma Belle’s kitchen, wrapped in a kiss. Dad had Mom in a deep dip toward the floor. Her arms were hanging limply at her sides. The back of the photo read: First day back. Reunited!
One after another, the photos telling a story. Only it was a story with no ending because Mom left and Dad never told us why, and the ending we knew just didn’t make sense when I looked at the photos.
The Mom in the photos looked so gentle. The Mom who left us must have been a whole different person.
When I was little, I’d ask Dad about it. Why was she going to Colorado? We didn’t know anyone out there. We’d never even been there. But Dad would just mumble that Mom “wasn’t in her right mind and didn’t know where she was going.” Once he said something about Mom being “too trusting for her own damn good.” But something in his eyes when he said it told me he wasn’t telling the whole story. There was something more to Colorado for Mom. There was something important there. I wanted to shout at him, You heard about her brains on the road, Dad, and you said you couldn’t forget it, but you have! You have forgotten it!
Eventually Shannin told me to stop asking about it because it upset Dad too much to think about Mom. So I did. But I couldn’t forget the story. It haunted me. Literally.
That year, I had nightmares. Always, they were the same. Dad screaming into a pillow, Mom standing at the top of a mountain cackling, her face soft and sweet, her hair billowing out behind her. In the dream, she dangled me over the jagged mountain edge.
“This mountain is mine,” she said, puffs of smoke billowing out of her mouth. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want you at all, Alexandra.”
She laughed as I kicked and thrashed and begged to be let go.
“Oh, Alexandra,” she jeered. “Stop making such a fuss. Just think, they’ll have to shut down traffic while they find a hose to wash your brains off the street. Isn’t that exciting?”
And always, just as she opened her hand and let me fall, I woke up.
It got so bad I refused to go to bed at night. Dad eventually took me to a therapist, who said some stuff I didn’t understand about “closure” and “healing” and suggested that Dad give me something of my mother’s to help me feel closer to her.
Dad came into my room that night clutching a folded yellow envelope.
He cleared his throat. “Alex, honey, I know you’re having a hard time being without your, um…” His eyes filled up and he swallowed. Then he pushed the envelope into my hands. “This was your mother’s. I bought it for her on our honeymoon…. It was in her purse the day she, um…”
I held the envelope in both hands, looking up at him as he swallowed and swallowed, unable to finish any sentence, it seemed, that had anything to do with my mother. He nodded at me, and I opened the envelope. Inside was a necklace—a thin leather strap with a small hoop on the end of it, a web of flossy clear thread strung inside the circle. Tiny beads dotted the delicate web; two white feathers, so small they might have come from a hummingbird’s tail, dangled from the bottom of it. I gently prodded the beads with my finger.
“That’s called a dream catcher,” he said. “It’s supposed to keep nightmares away.”
He pulled the necklace out of the envelope, held it in midair to straighten it, and then carefully slipped it around my neck. It smelled oddly familiar to me—perfumey and alive, almost like a memory—and instinctively my fingers drifted to it.
Right then, at eight years old, I knew. Just as I knew I’d never take the dream catcher necklace off, I knew that someday I’d get to Colorado, where Mom had been going.
The therapist was wrong. The necklace didn’t give me closure. Instead, not knowing anything more than this about my mom made me feel like a piece of me was missing, and I almost felt as though, just like Dad, I could break if I didn’t fill in that piece. That there would always be a hole in my heart where Mom should have been, and if I didn’t fill it in, I could end up empty and dull, like him. That I might forget hearing about her brains on the street, just as he had.
The next day as Zack and Bethany and I played on the woodpile behind Bethany’s house, I showed them the necklace and told them the whole story. My mom wasn’t just gone, and my dad wasn’t just quiet. I told them about the photos and about Mom going crazy and dying on her way to the mountains and about my plan to go where she was going. And just like that, the trip planning officially began.
I needed to know that she was going toward something, not away from us. Not away from me. She loved me. I needed to know that she loved me.
Whenever Aunt Jules or Bethany’s mom or someone else tried to tell me that my mom was an angel watching down on me from heaven, I never could envision it.
To me, my mom was in the mountains, waiting for me to arrive.
AUTHOR’S NOTE In college, I majored in psychology. I’d always had an intense interest in human thought and behavior. Always wanted answers to why people did what they did, what motivated certain actions or inactions. During my junior year, I took two courses in psychology of women. The first was a classroom course, but the second was an independent study, and I got to choose my own topic for the semester. I chose domestic violence. I wanted to learn about the cycle of abuse, about what happens to a woman emotionally and cognitively when she suffers abuse. My goal was to discover the answer to the ever-popular question, Why doesn’t she just get out? I’ve heard myself say the words “I would never…” plenty of times. “I would never let someone abuse me. Hit me once and I’d be outta there, baby!” In fact, I’ve heard lots of women say something along those lines. “If a man ever hit me…” we like to say, and then we have all kinds of strong and powerful things to follow up that phrase. I wonder how many women stuck in an abusive relationship with no idea where to go or what to do had once said, “I would never…” or “If a man ever hit me…” So I spent the semester learning about the cycle, or pattern, of abuse. I learned about the tension-building stage and the abuse stage and the honeymoon period of an abusive relationship. I learned all about learned helplessness and battered person syndrome. I had it down pat. I knew exactly what went on in a woman’s mind when she stayed with an abuser. But what about her heart? Where is the heart in those textbooks? Because we don’t often enter romantic relationships based on what’s going on in our minds. And we don’t often stay in them for what we’re thinking. We love, and because we love, “I would never…” becomes an incredibly inaccurate prediction. I suspect that Alex is not much different from a lot of women out there, stuck in a relationship with a guy who is really great and would actually be perfect if it weren’t for this one horrible thing he does every so often. She loved Cole, and he gave her lots of reasons to love him. She loved their relationship. She loved the good times. She loved the way he made her feel special. And she was willing to forgive him, to make excuses for him, to feel sorry for him, because she loved him so much. And, also like a lot of women out there, it’s this special ability of Alex’s to love that makes it so important that she get out of the relationship before she loses the capacity to feel much at all. In some ways, I feel like this book, this exploration of the “love” side of abuse, is the completion of a project that I began more than a decade ago in that independent study on domestic violence. And Alex has helped me understand that if you’re not actually in the situation, maybe you have no idea what you would do at all. As always, thank you, reader, for taking this journey with me. —JB
Excerpted from Bitter End by Brown, Jennifer Copyright © 2011 by Brown, Jennifer. Excerpted by permission.
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