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|Publisher:||Whitman, Albert & Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Anne Greenwood Brown is an attorney by day and young adult novelist by night. Her works include the Lies Beneath trilogy and Girl Last Seen, which she coauthored with Heather Anastasiu. Anne lives in Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Saturday, March 31
The song ends.
Before the morning DJ can tell me what a grrrreat day it's going to be, I kill the radio and silence him. I'm not ready for words. Not this early. Not today. The parking lot outside Cuppa Cuppa is still cast in deep purple, the sun about as excited to start the day as I am. Which is to say, not at all.
I don't make any effort to unbuckle my seat belt. Instead, I reach into my bag and pull out a pen and small notebook. Purple sifted, sifted light. It's against doctor's orders, but I can't help humming as I scribble across the page. If I don't get the line down now, I'll forget it later. Then I write, Everything's gonna be all right, which will do for a rhyme. For now. I'll come up with something better later.
I toss the notebook onto the passenger seat and face the inevitable. I need to get out of the car. I have to get out of the car. I have to get out of the car. My shift starts in ten minutes, but I do not want to go back inside. Last night was crappy, and the memory of it is still going to hang thick in there, mixed with the smell of roasted beans and scalded milk.
I closed up the place after Kady's show, less than seven hours ago, then never fell asleep. I wonder if it's too late to call in sick. From the parking lot.
I pick up my cell phone and think about that, turning my phone over and over in my hands. The fact that I can think about anything is give-me-a-gold-star amazing because God knows my head is a twisted mess.
I glance up at the coffee shop again, then roll my eyes. This job is all I've got now. It's enough reason to get out of the car. Besides, a hot mug of rejuvenating decaf green tea might do me some good. Detoxify the night and all that.
I roll up the sleeves on my flannel shirt and push my glasses up my nose (too tired for contacts this morning). Stepping out of the car, I adjust the long strap of my bag across my chest. The tassels that hang from the bottom of the bag snag on the thick, black tights I'm wearing under my favorite cutoff shorts. It's not quite April. Still cold, but I'm so ready to be done with long pants.
The closed sign still hangs on Cuppa Cuppa's front window. I knock on the bright green door, and after a few seconds Charlie, my boss, lets me in.
"Good morning," I whisper.
I'm not whispering because of the early hour or because Charlie is hung-over — which he probably is. I've been whispering since Halloween. That's when I got food poisoning so bad I had to go to the hospital, which is where I picked up some lovely throat infection. I haven't been able to talk any louder than a rasping whisper since then.
"What's with the flannel?" Charlie asks. "Where's your uniform shirt?"
So much for trying to detoxify the memories from last night. Bam. Front and center. That didn't take long. "Um, hello? You told me to toss all the old ones out. You said the new ones had come in."
Charlie grimaces. "They have, but when I opened the package this morning, I saw that the logos say Pucca Pucca. I have to send them all back."
When I raise my eyebrows at him, he adds, "Hey. It wasn't my fault."
Ha. He probably screwed up the order. "Fine by me," I croak out.
"Jesus," Charlie says as the phone starts ringing. "How long are you going to talk like that?"
I shrug in response because I don't like going into the details, like how when things didn't get better with my voice right away, I had to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Like how the ENT first put me on total vocal rest for two months and handed me a mini whiteboard and a black marker. So I could continue to communicate.
I remember thinking, This has to be a joke, right? I mean, it had to be a joke. She was so blasé about the fact my life was ending.
But things only got worse when I told Kadence later that night. Or rather, wrote it on my whiteboard.
"But it will get better," she said, looking up from the board to my face. "Right?"
Hopefully, I wrote.
She glanced down at the word, then back up at me. "Hopefully?" Her voice rose, pitch by pitch with each syllable.
They don't know how long it will take. It'll just happen one day.
"That's all the doctor said?" she asked.
I understood Kadence's frustration. I had already bailed on three of our performances by that time, and we hadn't been able to record any new videos for our YouTube channel. She was getting irritated by how long I'd been out of commission. The same anxiety I'd felt when Kadence and I first became friends roiled through my belly.
I'd been on the cusp of Loserdom — with a capital L — when Kadence moved to town in seventh grade. She was popular within five minutes of walking in the front door. Why she picked me to be her best friend I'll never understand. That first year I lived in fear of her dropping me like a lead balloon. When I lost my voice, that fear came roaring back.
That's all, I wrote.
"So what do I do?" She twisted a long bit of magenta hair around her finger.
I sighed and used a tissue to clean off the board. Writing everything out was exhausting. So much went left unsaid. I wrote: What do you mean?
"It's been three weeks since we put out any new music. We have fans," Kadence said. "Fans with expectations. Have you looked at the views on our YouTube videos? We've gone from one-point-three million views on "Twisted" to only three hundred thousand on "Calliope," and the view count on all of them is leveling out. No growth. That's like a death knell. And in the comments, people are starting to ask when we'll have a new song."
They'll have to wait, I guess.
"Have you even tried to sing?"
I could only stare at her. Was she even looking at me? Did she not see this freakin' whiteboard? Tears pricked at the back of my eyes. I opened my mouth to say something but then closed it again. What did she expect of me? I couldn't even talk, for God's sake!
"Things are building for us, Lauren," Kady said, apparently not noticing my distress, "but Internet fame is fickle." She threw up her hands. "We either have to build on our momentum or forget it. It's about number of views. The numbers grow, or they go stagnant. We need new material."
This isn't my fault, I wrote, still fighting back tears. Kady never appreciated tears. She always snapped at me that the Major — her dad — hadn't defended this country for thirty-five years just so we could be crybabies. She only cried when it was useful, to get what she wanted. Like an extension on her math homework.
Kadence rolled her eyes. "I'm not saying you did this to me on purpose."
My eyebrows shot up. What did she mean, to her? I would've thought she'd be more empathetic. Kadence had once been hospitalized with a horrible allergic reaction to peanuts, and I'd visited her every day.
"We need a plan for going forward," she added quickly, so maybe she was empathetic enough that she could easily read my thoughts. I guess that was something.
Well, I can't sing. I'm not even supposed to play guitar. This was the most surprising part of the doctor's orders. I swallowed hard and looked away from Kadence.
"You can't even play guitar? You can't even play backup for me?" Kadence's voice was rising again. Pretty soon only dogs would be able to hear her.
I shook my head. I didn't want to write down the reason. It would take too long to explain how playing our old songs would trigger the muscle memory in my vocal cords, how they'd flex and rub together, and how it would slow down the healing process. So the doctor said anyway.
It was going to be a tough rule to follow. Maybe I could avoid our old music, but how could I walk away from my guitar? My ukulele? I already had new lyrics running through my head. Life sucks and then you die.
Kadence shifted uncomfortably and tucked her hair behind her ear.
What??? I wrote.
"Would you be mad if I put something out on my own?" Or ... in other words ... your life is over. We'll reassess in two months.
My stomach knotted. She was going solo? I scrubbed out the previous messages and wrote, You mean without me???????
"Just this one time," she said.
"Just this one time, Mark," Charlie says into the phone.
My mind snaps back to reality like a rubber band. I recognize the look on Charlie's face, not to mention the name of the person he's talking to. It's the landlord calling again. Cuppa Cuppa is behind on the rent.
"We've got a new plan for bringing in more business. Kadence Mulligan played a show here last night ... Yes, her. My number one barista is Kadence's best friend." Charlie glances over and winks at me. Nervously, I pull my dark brown hair forward over my shoulder and start to work it into a braid.
"Lauren set it all up. The place was packed, and the local news even did a piece. Can't beat free advertising," Charlie says. All last night he'd been practically fangirl-ing over Kadence. It wasn't a good look on a twenty-seven-year-old pre-alcoholic. He'd been bouncing around, making sure Kadence had plenty of water and that the news people got a good shot of the Cuppa Cuppa sign on the back wall.
I'm sure I was the only one not digging the show.
Last night, everyone could see that Kadence had star potential. Only I knew how much went into the act. How choreographed the whole thing was. How I was the one who had written the lyrics that she was singing with such a pang of personal angst.
I mean, come on. I was the word girl. It was the fortunate consequence of being a total bookworm for the first twelve years of my life. Kadence might have brought me into the land of the ridiculously cool and beautiful, but I was still a literary nerd at heart.
We'd argued over the second verse of our song "Twisted." She wanted to change the line that went "I'm twisted up and turning in my own Greek tragedy" to "I'm twisted up and turning cuz you're so super sweet."
God help me. She simply didn't understand the symbolic nuance of my version. I tried to be diplomatic, but she thought I was too clever for my own good. For our own good.
Fortunately I won that battle, though last night Kadence had sung the line as she'd originally wanted to write it. She didn't make eye contact with me, but she had to know that I noticed. You can't just rewrite a song. Not once it's published and out there in the world. I mean, imagine if Dickens retroactively changed the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities to: "It was the best of times, it was the French Revolution times." Come on. Really? But then, it wasn't like I had any control over our music anymore. Maybe I never really had. Maybe I'd been part of the audience all along. Singing harmony to the Kadence Show.
For a long time, I was drawn to the Kadence Show like everybody else. I was so close to her — to that energy that made you feel like your life was amped a few shades brighter than everybody else's. I got so close that I couldn't see what it was doing to me. Like Icarus flying too close to the sun.
There's nothing like a couple of months of enforced silence and losing every-freaking-thing you care about to stimulate a little introspection. Question: Who was I without Kadence Mulligan? And how could the friend who was more like a sister drop me so easily?
"Yeah, two weeks. Two weeks is great, Mark," Charlie says over the phone, sounding relieved. "Thanks. Thanks so much." He hangs up and turns to me. "Last night was great."
"Yeah, it was." He doesn't notice that my smile is the fake kind you plaster on just to be polite. The kind that covers secrets.
Riverview Trailer Park
Saturday, March 31
I slept the sleep of the dead last night. I wake up to the birds chirping. Goddamn birds. I flip onto my back and reach for my iPod. It's an old one, three versions back. Bought it off eBay for twenty bucks. I turn on some System of a Down. "Chop Suey!" blares through my docking speakers. Oh yeah. I nod my head to the hard beat. Screaming lyrics instead of happy birds chirping. Much better.
I sink back into the cheap mattress, a particularly annoying spring digging into my back. Dad's at the other end of the double-wide, no doubt sleeping one off from last night. Nothing will wake him up.
The memory of Mom's voice from last summer echoes in my head. "Why do you want to go back to live with your dad again?"
"Miss my old school."
"I thought you hated that place." She looked away and took a slow drag on her cigarette. Her hand still shook even though she'd been clean for eighteen months.
I turned my back to her and looked out the kitchen window at the little patch of grass that made up her front lawn. It wasn't that it was hard to lie to my mom or that I was bad at it. I just preferred not doing it to her face. "I grew up there, Mom. I want to go back for senior year."
She sighed, a long breath that wheezed through her teeth along with a cloud of smoke. She padded over in her old house slippers and put a hand on my back. "Fine, honey. I'm just going to miss having you here. You've gotten so handsome," she said with a laugh. "All the girls in town will riot now that you're leaving."
Handsome. I scoff at the memory and get out of bed, the springs creaking in protest as I walk to the mirror. This is the same room I spent my childhood in, back when Mom and Dad were still together. The same room of all those angsty, crap-ass junior high years alone and miserable, cursing my stupid face and skin. My dresser is one of those antique kinds, with the mirror attached. I trace my fingers over the spiderweb fractures fanning out from the spot where I'd planted my fist in eighth grade after Lauren DeSanto screwed me over, helped along by her bitch of a new best friend, Kadence Mulligan. All because of my face. No one called me handsome back then.
I had acne. And not "Oh poor kid, he's got some zits" acne. It was the volcanic, painful kind where you have dime-sized lesions that last for a month and leave lifetime scars. Not just on my face either, but on my arms and back too. Christ, even my legs.
And Lauren, who had been my best friend until seventh grade, dropped me like the proverbial hot potato as soon as Kadence Mulligan came to town. Lauren even started calling me freak. Monster. Creep. And then later, stalker. That was the one that stuck. At the time, I couldn't believe Lauren could treat me so badly. I thought it had to be because of Kadence. Kadence, so shiny — that was the word for her — but mean to the core. Who knew so much darkness could hide behind a pretty face?
Oh, wait, I thought, smirking. I do. I know exactly how much a handsome face can hide.
I look at the image reflected back at me in the fractured mirror. There's a particularly powerful drug for the worst cases of acne. My dad, in a random bout of giving a shit, didn't want me to go on it because he did when he was a teenager and it made him depressed. Wanted to kill himself. Almost did. Besides, we couldn't afford it anyway. But then Mom got a job with health insurance. First thing I asked for was the drug. I promised I'd be extra careful about my moods and let her know if I ever felt off.
I felt off. I never told anyone. The medication started working, and for the first time since seventh grade, I could see my face again. I was being reborn.
That was when I first came up with the plan.
Lauren had never known how right she was when she called me a monster. But I was only what she and Kadence had made me. Whenever my moods went dark, I didn't think about harming myself. No, not myself.
I get my video camera — another eBay purchase — from my dresser drawer where I keep it beneath my T-shirts and socks. I tug on some jeans, a sweatshirt, my boots, and then I'm out the door. I leave System of a Down playing on the off chance it will wake up Dad and piss him off. I'm not usually such a dick. Most of the time, I just don't care enough. But if there's a passive way to stick it to him ... well, hell, why not?
I grab my coat and jog down the stairs of our rickety trailer. It's sunny and in the mid-fifties. Warm for Minnesota in late March. I only feel like I can breathe once I'm out in the woods beyond the trailer park. I take the path that only I know and inhale the sharp scent of the towering evergreens. There are the subtler smells of spring too — fresh growth out of last year's rot. It feels clean out here. It's good to clear my head, especially on a day like today when my thoughts are so twisted.
Excerpted from "Girl Last Seen"
Copyright © 2016 Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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