A YALSA 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick
Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor's fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.
But today Cate got out. And now she's coming back for Jamie.
Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she's kept hidden for years. A truth she's not supposed to tell. Trust nothing and no one as you race toward the explosive conclusion of the gripping psychological thriller Complicit from Stephanie Kuehn, the William C. Morris Award--winning author of Charm&Strange.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||496 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
STEPHANIE KUEHN holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, and is currently working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology. Charm&Strange is her debut novel. She lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets. When she’s not writing, she’s running. Or reading. Or dreaming.
Read an Excerpt
By Stephanie Kuehn
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Stephanie Kuehn
All rights reserved.
My phone is ringing.
In the morning.
The phone keeps ringing. Or not ringing really — the Monk song I have programmed is what's playing, and the notes, the beat, sound sort of sad, sort of mournful, against the bleak-black December night. I groan and fumble around in the sheets. I like to be prepared, so I sleep with my phone beneath my pillow just in case someone calls. No one ever does, of course.
Except for now.
More fumbling, but my fingers find the phone at last. I slide it out and hold it in front of my face. My eyes are bleary and my brain slow, but what I'm seeing on the touch screen finally registers:
"Hello?" I say.
Nothing. I hear nothing.
"Who is this?"
No response, but I press the phone closer to my ear. No one speaks, but I hear something. I do. Short feral bursts of noise. Organic. Like a faint sobbing.
"Hey," I say, a little louder than before. I want to make sure that I'm heard. "I know you're there. Who're you trying to reach?"
Still no answer, and nothing keeps happening, the way nothing sometimes does. The phone line remains open, and I remain listening. The human sounds fade. They're replaced by a howling wind. The muffled blare of a horn.
I lay my head against my pillow and look up at the ceiling, shadowy and dark. Outside the house, rain falls softly. This is December in California. The phone beeps that its battery is low, but I don't move. Instead I close my eyes, and on the backs of my lids, I picture places where the wind might be blowing.
The ragged edge of the world.
I still don't move.
I fall asleep with the phone against my ear.
* * *
"Jamie," Angie says to me at breakfast the next morning. "We thought you should hear it from us first."
"Hear what, Mom?" I ask. I call Angie Mom because that's what she likes and because it's so rarely the thought that counts. That's dishonest on my part, I know, but if I had to pick one quality to define me, it's this — I can't stand to hurt other people's feelings. Not saying what I mean is sometimes the best way I know how to be kind.
From the other side of the kitchen, Angie's husband Malcolm straightens his silk tie and pours coffee into his stainless-steel travel mug. He only drinks the organic free trade stuff, which is expensive as hell, but, hey, Malcolm can definitely afford it. He even grinds the beans at home. Like it's some kind of virtue.
"It's your sister," he says.
I stiffen. "My sister?"
"What about her?"
"She's been released."
My hands go ice-cold the way they always do when I'm taken by surprise.
This is not a good thing.
"Are you okay?" Angie asks as my fork clatters to the hardwood floor. Maple syrup dots the front of my T-shirt and jeans on the way down.
"But I thought —"
"We thought the same thing." Malcolm fits the lid just right onto his mug. Click. He hasn't noticed my hands yet. They're completely numb now and useless. I look down at my food, cut-up whole-grain waffles that I can no longer eat, and sort of jam my arms into my lap. It can take hours to get feeling back, a whole day even — some kind of nerve thing that even the big-shot doctors down at Stanford can't figure out after years of rigorous and invasive testing. I shake my head and try to keep breathing. This is so not what I needed.
Not when I have a full day of classes, including AP physics and digital arts.
Not when I play piano in the school jazz band and we have our winter performance tonight at the civic auditorium in downtown Danville.
Not when Jenny Lacouture and I are supposed to hang out together at lunch and I've been trying for weeks to get up the nerve to ask her out on a real date.
Just not ... not Cate.
My throat goes dry.
Is she the one who called last night?
"She wasn't supposed to get out until June," I say, and I instantly regret my tone. This isn't Angie and Malcolm's fault. This is not what they want, either. God knows.
"Your hands," Angie says. "I'll call your doctor."
"No, don't. Please. I can do that myself."
Her lips tighten to a line. "I'll get your gloves, then."
I give what I hope is a grateful nod, and as Angie hustles from the room, there's still a spring in her step. Taking care of me is what she does best.
I turn and look back at Malcolm. His gray hair. His stoic face. That damn silk tie.
"She got out early," he says, and I can sense he feels just as helpless as I do. "Two weeks ago. Good behavior or overcrowding or something."
"Why didn't someone tell us?"
"Cate's nineteen now. No one has to tell us anything."
"Then how'd you find out?"
Angie sweeps back in. She's preceded by the smell of gardenias, which is the perfume she always wears and the one that always gives me a headache. She's waving a pair of my dumb gloves around, but there's a look that passes between her and Malcolm — one forged from wide eyes and knowing nods. It's the one they share when they think I can't handle things and the one that means they're keeping secrets. I feel the urge to call them on it, to demand an answer, but I don't want to upset them, either. Not upsetting people is sort of the modus operandi around here.
After Cate, it's a welcome change.
"Where is she?" I ask.
"Far away," Angie says. She picks up my left hand and forces on the first leather shearling-lined glove. My fingers bend every which way with the effort. It's sort of sickening to watch, but I let her do it. Everyone says heat is good for circulation, only I've never been able to tell that it helps any.
"Far away," I echo, as Angie straightens up and brushes hair from my eyes. It used to be blond, my hair, but now it's aged into the same light brown as hers. Like a chameleon's trick — familial camouflage.
"She's got no reason to come back here, James. None. We've seen the last of her."
I nod again. This is a sentiment I'd like to believe, but I don't. There are things I know about my sister that no one else does. Bad things. Things I can't say. Not without hurting Angie and Malcolm or causing them grief, and I don't have it in me to do that. So instead, I lift my chin and smile warmly at my adoptive parents. This is good, reassuring. My actions send the message that I'm fine, totally fine.
I'm not fine, of course. Not even close.
But like I said, it's so rarely the thought that counts.CHAPTER 2
The last night I saw Cate, she was drunk. Or on drugs. Or just plain crazy.
Take your pick.
I snuck into her room on the eve of her sentencing. It was close to midnight. None of her lights were on, but a full moon spilled a silvery wash across the floorboards, the far wall.
I huddled at the foot of her bed, like a rodent in sawdust.
I was scared.
"You shouldn't be here," she told me.
My chest hiccupped, once, twice. I was filled not only with fear, but that unbearable sting of sadness and grief: I was losing my sister. In truth, she'd been lost for some time now, but I didn't want her to go. Only she'd caused so much pain, she didn't deserve to stay.
I knew that.
And it made me sad.
Forcing down the lump rising in my throat, I whispered, "Why'd you do it?"
Cate snorted. "Oh, so you think I did it now, do you? You think I'm guilty?"
"Well, I guess ... well, you pleaded guilty, didn't you? That's what the judge said."
"Fuck you, Jamie! Just fuck you! You're like all the rest of them!"
"Shhh!" Her anger scraped my nerves. "Stop screaming, all right!"
My sister leaped from her bed and spun herself toward the window. She wore hardly anything the way she always did. Just panties and some sheer top. I turned away and didn't look. I didn't dare. I was fourteen. She was sixteen. I knew better.
"If you didn't do it, then who did?" I asked, my face still staring at the wall. Actually I was staring at a poster of Anne Parillaud from La Femme Nikita. It was hard not to. Those lips. Those eyes.
From across the room, I heard the sharp flick-whoosh and hiss of a butane lighter. The sound chilled me. It set my hands tingling. It reminded me of my own secret. The one I'd vowed not to tell, but knew I'd never forget. Cate took a deep inhale of whatever it was she was smoking, then blew it all back into the night like a promise. "Oh, right, little brother. You're real good, you know that?"
"Good at what?" I asked.
She laughed loudly, her throaty voice deeper and more cutting than it'd ever been. "Acting like you don't know anything."CHAPTER 3
After breakfast, Angie drops me off at school. I hate it. The being dropped off, that is, not school. I got my real license last month when I turned seventeen, no more provisional, and the Henrys gave me my own car to mark the occasion. That's nice, I know. Beyond nice. I have a good life with them, and I try to remember that.
The car they bought me is a Jeep, black, this year's model, and I'm kind of in love with it. It's got a moon roof. Satellite radio. Leather seats and trim. Way more than I ever could've dreamed of. So much so, I feel a little like an impostor behind the wheel. But I've taken to calling the Jeep Dr. No, which pleases me in ways I wouldn't confess to under torture. The only thing I worry about is having one of my nerve attacks while driving. I'd probably fly off the road and into a tree if that happened. None of my doctors seem particularly concerned, though. I haven't had an episode this bad in over a year, and they signed off on my papers for the DMV and everything. Maybe that'll change now. I don't know. Maybe I just worry more than other people.
Today, obviously, Dr. No's been left sleeping in the Henrys' three-car garage on the other side of town, and instead of parking myself in the student lot and walking to class like everyone else, I'm getting helped out of Angie's Volvo and dumped onto the front lawn of Sayrebrook Academy like an invalid. People are staring and everything, which I resent, but what can you do?
Somehow we're running late, and I have to sprint through the halls to get to first period English on time. Angie heads to the main office to explain what's going on with my hands. She'll also let them know I'm going to need an aide for the day, which won't be too big a deal. Sayrebrook's an elite school. It costs like twenty grand a year to go here, so they're usually pretty accommodating when I need extra help. But I always feel awful for asking. Even though it doesn't have anything to do with me, my family doesn't have the greatest reputation around here.
I make it, barely, sliding my ass into my first-row seat at the exact moment the tardy bell rings. Mr. O'Meara nods at the class, and everyone takes out their laptops.
"I'll need to use the voice recognition today," I say in my most apologetic voice, and if anyone's rolling their eyes behind my back or flipping me off, well, I wouldn't know because I've gotten used to tuning that kind of thing out. It's all about tunnel vision.
"That's fine, Jamie." Mr. O'Meara gestures toward the opposite side of the room. "Why don't you sit in the back where you won't disturb the other students. We'll be working on the theory papers this morning. You'll find a graded first draft in your folder."
"Sure thing," I say. One of the OT aides from the disability office comes in and helps me get set up. I relax a little. This is good. I need to work on this paper. It's the one I want to use so that I can apply to the cognitive science program over at Berkeley next summer. A whole four-week session, and I'd get to live in the dorms and everything. It'd sure be a nice escape from reality (and no, the irony of that thought is not lost on me), but to get in, I first have to write an essay on a philosophical issue. The one I've chosen to write about is fate, because it's something I believe in. You know, that our destiny lives inside of us. I think we're born with it, what we're meant to do with our lives. It's just up to us to find out what that is.
I look over Mr. O'Meara's notes. They're mostly positive, but he's telling me to go deeper, which is what he always tells us: Go deeper. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Well, I can't do anything with my hands right now, so his figure of speech falls flat for me today. I quickly read over the rest of what he's written. Most of my paper is on Plato and Aristotle, but my teacher's suggested a bunch of other reading, like Emerson. Nietzsche. Sartre. I open the links he's given me and browse the online library. The texts he wants me to read look seriously dense.
I can't deal.
Soon my mind wanders. I let my gaze drift out the window, at tree-dotted hills, at black crows and tule fog. My eyelids droop. That phone call in the middle of the night has exhausted me. Not only that, it's disturbed me.
I have no proof it was Cate who called, but what if? My sister's spent the last two years in a juvenile detention center in Southern California, locked up in a place where the sun always shines and there's not much else worth mentioning. Where would she go? Los Angeles? Vegas? I don't know. But I can definitely see her calling me on a throwaway phone in the dead of night. That'd be Cate all the way. I envision her standing on the side of the road, maybe outside some seedy truck stop in the middle of nowhere, thumb outstretched. Her jeans too tight. Her shirt too low. Her mood too black.
Just asking for trouble.
I take a deep breath. Not that Cate's ever done the right thing, but she wouldn't dare come back here. There's nothing for her in Danville. Well, nothing good. She knows that.
She has to.
My sister Cate and I come from humble beginnings.
Our real mother's name was Amy Nevin, and she grew up in the backwoods of Oregon in a town known for nothing but logging, devout Christianity, and abject poverty. I've never seen a picture of her, but sometimes it feels like I have, as if her memories and life experiences were transferred to me along with her DNA. At times, it's like I can close my eyes and soften my mind and see a tall girl with hollow shoulders and black hair sitting on the steps to a trailer. She's bored. She's restless. She's miserable. Cate told me Amy ran away from home when she was sixteen. This could be true. It could be something Cate made up.
I have no way of knowing.
Amy hitched her way to San Francisco. Cate thinks she got pregnant on the way down here, lifting her skirt as payment for miles, for comfort, for survival, I don't know. For my part, I don't like to think about that. It's just as likely she was already knocked up when she left, or maybe it happened when she got to California and discovered San Francisco was way too expensive for a teenage girl with no diploma and no money. She ended up across the Bay in Richmond's Iron Triangle with some guy named Albert who worked nights cleaning bathrooms at the local junior college. Albert deserted for points unknown on the day Cate was born, which doesn't prove he wasn't her father.
It only proves he didn't want to be.
My own paternity is equally a mystery. I don't like to think about that, either. For almost six years, I lived with my mom and my sister in the basement of a drafty house surrounded on three sides by railroad tracks and not-so-quiet desperation. My memories of my mother are faint and few and far between, but the ones I do have can wake me up at night with their strength. Out of nowhere they come to me, pure sensory overload blowing in like gale-force winds to shatter my bones and break my heart: the sweet, sweet scent of cigarettes on her clothes. The primal warmth of the bed we shared, me on one side of her, Cate snoring on the other. The soft way her long dark hair tickled my face when she wanted me to laugh. It's easier to remember the good than the bad, I guess, but sometimes I can't help but remember other things, too, like the drugs and the men and her moods and being hungry and not having jackets when the weather turned cold. I loved her, though.
She was mine.
What I don't remember is the day she died. We saw it all, I guess, but in an act of mercy, my brain has rejected those moments. Forever. I do know she was shot by an intruder. Multiple times. Blood gurgled out of her, and my twenty-four-year-old mother died slumped against the wall near the bed where we all slept. Cate says she held me in her arms until it was over. She didn't want me to see what she saw.
Then she called 911.
The time right after our mother's death is a blur for me. Malcolm and Angie and Cate have helped me piece it together after the fact, but all I can recall is darkness and sorrow and a deep, deep well of pain.
I wanted her back.
And I wanted her back.
We were placed in emergency foster care. Then we were placed in a group home. We had case managers and new schools and new teachers and people who tried to track down relatives willing to take us. There were none. At the home I pined and ate nothing. I refused to go to school and got sick when I had to. My only attachments were to my sister and a filthy silk blanket square I'd taken to calling Pinky. Cate did what she could, but it wasn't enough. I grew bony and pale and picked up lice and a lisp and a bad habit of pulling out my eyebrows that made me look odd and somewhat slow. When the Henrys agreed to take both of us, no one was more surprised than our social worker.
Excerpted from Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn. Copyright © 2014 Stephanie Kuehn. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
II. Straight, No Chaser,
III. Played Twice,
Also by Stephanie Kuehn,
About the Author,