|Publisher:||North Star Editions|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||540 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
S. T. (Susan Thompson) Underdahl is the author of Remember This and No Man's Land. In addition to writing, Underdahl is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of individuals suffering from brain injury or dementia. She is also a clinical supervisor of graduate students at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where she lives with her family.
Read an Excerpt
When I became a teenager, it finally occurred to me that life is a lot like one of those water-filled snow globes. You know the type; the little scene inside is tranquil and serene until someone comes along and gives it a shake, and suddenly that peaceful world becomes chaos.
That's pretty much what happened to me on Thursday, October 1st, the day I found out that everything I'd ever believed about my life, my family, and especially my parents, was a big fat lie. Or maybe I should say that the whole thing began on a sunny day in August, ten years before I was even born. But that would be jumping ahead...
I'd spent the evening studying with my best friends, Sarah and Britt, for the next day's psychology test. We always study together at one of our houses, where we split a big bag of Doritos and drink Diet Coke with lots of ice. After we finish the Doritos, we break out the M&Ms. I pick out the brown ones, Sarah likes the green ones, and Britt eats all the rest. We usually end up feeling sick, but it's a system that works; Sarah and I always get As. Britt, on the other hand, usually gets stuck with a B.
"I don't know why it is," she grumbled to us after the last test in American Government. "We study exactly the same stuff."
"Maybe you're spending too much time studying the Howler for pictures of Brandon Burke," Sarah teased.
Britt made an indignant face at her. "We all do that," she pointed out.
"I'm able to prioritize and divide my time between my studies and my other interests," Sarah replied primly, then broke into a grin at Britt's scowl. "Like lusting after Brandon Burke."
"Alright you two," I said, watching Sarah deflect the punch that Britt had aimed at her shoulder. "Britt, next time we'll just have to work harder to make sure you've really got the material down."
"Hmmph." She tossed her wavy red hair. "All I can say is that it's a good thing that Brandon Burke is more interested in beauty than in brains."
Sarah and I traded looks. "What exactly are you saying?” Sarah challenged.
Britt ignored the question, and struck a pose. "How does this sound to you guys?" she intoned dreamily. "Brandon and Brittany Burke . . . don't you just love the sound of it?" Britt pretended to stare off into space, "And we'll name our children . . . oh, let's see . . . Bethany and Blake. Or maybe Beyonc é and Benjamin. Can't you just picture the Christmas card?"
She looked at us out of the corner of her eye, and a moment later we all burst into laughter. The truth was, none of us had a chance with Brandon Burke, and we all darn well knew it. He was the most popular boy in the junior class, a star on the cross-country team, and the best-looking boy imaginable with his silky golden hair and the sort of skin that flushed to a deep ruddiness when he came in from the outdoors.
"He's so pretty," Sarah had sighed more than once. "Like Prince William." No one argued with her on that one.
Compared to Brandon Burke, we were essentially invisible. I'm not saying we're complete freaks, but we were only sophomores and basically not even in the same stratosphere. Of all of us, Britt probably did have the best chance, with her cute figure, sparkling brown eyes, and pretty, full lips that boys always stared at when she talked.
If I had to say, I'd probably describe myself as average looking; not really striking, like Britt, but not scary either. My eyes are green and my hair is sandy blond, like my dad's, although mine's long and he likes to point out how he's losing his. Sarah and Britt claim that I look a lot like Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I think they're just trying to be nice. My dad says I remind him of Barbara Eden from the old TV show I Dream of Jeannie. I've seen it a few times on Nick at Nite, and I guess I can see what he means.
Sarah is fine-featured and brunette, but her glasses and the ever-present headband make her look serious and bookish, kind of like a young Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, she plans to go to law school.
"Hey, Sarah, what do you get when you cross a lying politician and a crooked lawyer?" my brother, Jake, asked her one day when we were studying at our house. For some reason Jake seems to take particular pleasure in teasing Sarah.
She looked up from her algebra, her face pink. "I don't know, what?"
"Chelsea Clinton!" Jake crowed, clearly enjoying her look of annoyance. As he sauntered out of the room she aimed her most scornful insult at his retreating back.
While Sarah wants to be a lawyer, I, on the other hand, have planned to be a psychologist ever since I can remember I can picture myself sitting in a big office with a nice desk and my diplomas on the wall. I'll have really comfortable leather chairs where people can sit and tell me their problems, to which I will murmur, "Mm-hmm, tell me more . . ." or "How did you feel about that?"
I secretly think I have potential to be a very good psychologist because it already seems like people tend to tell me their problems. Sometimes when I'm listening I let myself imagine that I'm really a therapist listening to my patient. I make a point to show them that I really understand what they're going through. When you know what you want to do with your life, it's a good idea to take every available opportunity to practice.
That's why I wasn't particularly worried about the next day's test in psychology. Our teacher, Mrs. Gasparini, knew I had a special interest in the subject, and had already been giving me extra reading. Jake was in her class when he was a sophomore, and she was always joking that he should be the subject of a research paper. It wasn't really a joke, as far as I was concerned, because my older brother is nuttier than a candy bar. Ever since he took Intro to Spanish in the eighth grade Jake has been completely obsessed. And I don't just mean that he finds Spanish culture interesting; Jake wants to be Latino. It's the most obnoxious thing you've ever seen; any conversation with him is peppered with Spanish words, and it's gotten to the point that he even speaks English with a Spanish accent. Since Language Arts is a requirement in our school, I can usually understand most of what he's saying but it's highly annoying, all the same. My parents think Jake's weird obsession is hilarious, and call him "Juan Taco," which obviously only encourages him. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise, either, if I told you that Jake's girlfriend, Lilja, is Chicana. She still has lots of family in Mexico, so naturally Jake plans to move there as soon as he graduates. As you can see, the whole thing is ridiculous, and sometimes I think he does it just to get on my nerves.
Anyway, after we wrapped up studying and cleaned up our crumbs, Sarah's dad drove me and Britt home. When I got inside, I hung my coat in the closet and left my book bag by the back door. I know my dad hates it when we pile things by the back door for him to trip over in the morning, but the way I see it, there's no point carrying stuff all the way up to my room only to carry it back down again in the morning.
I could hear the television set going in the family room, and guessed that my mom was probably in there, curled up as usual in her recliner with the daily crossword puzzle. When I stuck my head in the door to say goodnight, however, I was surprised to find the television was playing to an empty room. A moment later I bumped right into Mom as I passed through the darkened kitchen on my way upstairs.
"Oh, Josey! You startled me!" she exclaimed, clutching her chest. I was pleased to see she was wearing the soft yellow pajamas I'd given her for Christmas last year.
"Sorry if I scared you," I apologized. "No one was around so I thought you all must've gone to bed early."
"No," she smiled at me in the semi-darkness, reaching over to flip on the kitchen light. "Your dad went to bed and the boys are in their rooms studying."
I mentally rolled my eyes at that idea. Neither Jake nor Julian, my younger brother, are what you'd call great students. They're generally happy if they get Cs, and my parents are completely ecstatic if they bring home a B. I'm definitely considered the "smart one" in the family; if I brought home a C my parents would freak out. I can usually live up to it, but once in awhile I think it might be nice to not have all that pressure.
No, I was willing to bet that Julian was in his room playing Nintendo. Jake, on the other hand, was probably on the Internet hanging out in some Spanish-language chatroom. But parents like to stay in la-la land about stuff like that.
"Josey," Mom said hesitantly, in a way that made me stop admiring her pajamas and take another look at her.
My friends think my mom's really pretty and I guess they're right. She has thick, wavy brown hair and big dark eyes, and she's really thin, so she usually wears simple, classic stuff like khaki pants and sweaters from Eddie Bauer. When she's working, of course, she has to wear her American Airlines navy-blue-and-white combo; my mom's been a ticket agent at O'Hare ever since we kids were all in school. Having a mom who works for a major airline is great, because it means our whole family can fly for free, if we're willing to fly standby. We've been to lots of fun places; Hawaii, Aruba, the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, you name it. And, of course, we've been to Mexico quite a few times.
Anyway, what caught my attention tonight was that my mom had an unusual flush in her cheeks that actually kind of reminded me of Brandon Burke. What's more, I could see that her eyes were dancing in a way that I didn't remember ever seeing before. She definitely looked excited about something.
"What? What is it?" I asked with anticipation. It occurred to me to wonder whether my parents had impulsively decided to plan a family vacation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. If not Thanksgiving, I hoped it wasn't during the Christmas break; I didn't want to miss the Holidazzle dance, even if Sarah, Britt, and I were going as each other's dates, as usual.
"Honey," my mom said, looking almost nervous. "I need to talk to you about something. Would you like something to drink, some cocoa maybe? I was going to pour a cup of coffee for myself."
Most people know better than to drink coffee at ten o'clock at night, but my parents never give it a second thought. They drink it from the moment they get out of bed in the morning; I can't remember a day of my life when I didn't awaken to the smell of coffee already brewing.
"No thanks," I said. "I'm still full from studying."
"Diet Coke and Doritos?" Mom asked, chuckling. She'd bought the supplies for many a study session in the past.
"Yeah, and M&Ms."
"Ugh. I don't know how you girls can concentrate with all those stimulants in your systems."
I raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at the coffee cup she was filling, which made her laugh.
"I know, I know," she sighed. "And then there's the worst vice of all." She reached over to where her pack of Marlboro Light 100s lay on the table, pulling it toward her as she sank into a chair. "Just be glad you don't smoke."
Of course I had tried smoking before, but she didn't have to know that. My dad smokes too, but he's always trying to stop. Every couple of months he decides that he's coughing too much and vows to quit. He stomps around the house for a few days, chewing furiously on toothpicks and snapping at everyone, then decides maybe he's not ready to quit and goes back to smoking, much to everyone’s relief. Mom never makes any pretense about wanting to quit. She says that smoking is like an old friend who's gotten her through some hard times.
"Come on, sit down," she said, pushing a kitchen chair toward me with her foot as she lit up. "I have something I want to tell you . . . big news, and I'm too excited to wait until tomorrow." She smiled at me. "I wanted to tell you before I told the boys."
She knew she had me then, of course. I sank into a chair and watched her take a drag and then expel the smoke in a smooth stream, waving it away absently with her hand in a gesture that's as familiar to me as the deep, warm sound of her laugh. She was smiling in a mysterious way, like she had a big secret.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes with the heels of my hands. They were tired from going over our notes in Sarah's bedroom, and the smoke from her cigarette was making them itch.
"Don't rub your eyes, you'll ruin your vision," Mom said reflexively, setting her cigarette down in the ashtray. I noticed that it was already overflowing with partially smoked butts; Mom must've broken her own record for cigarettes smoked in one evening.
"Well, what's the big news?" I asked. I really wasn't worried that the news was anything bad, since I doubted anything bad put that goofy look on her face.
Mom hesitated, reaching over absently to smooth a loose strand of hair behind one of my ears. She sat back and took another deep drag on her cigarette.
"Mom?" I unhooked my hair from behind my ear nervously. Now I was getting a little worried.
"Well, Josette, it's just that I have something to tell you, and it's something that's probably going to change your opinion of me forever . . . of both me and your father."
She took a deep breath, and set her half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray where it continued to smolder.
"There are some things that we've never discussed with you kids before, things that I'd always planned to tell you eventually, but up until now there didn't seem to be any reason to, and, well, now there is, and . . . oh, it's just such happy news!"
She broke off, grinning at me. I waited expectantly. I decided this definitely wasn't about a family trip.
Mom continued hesitantly, "Josey, I got a phone call tonight, a call from a social worker in North Dakota."
My mind tried to make sense of this information under the heading of "News That Would Make Mom Very Excited." Mom and Dad had both grown up in North Dakota. In fact, Grandma and Grandpa Muller, Dad's parents, still lived there, in Fargo, where we visited them a couple times a year.
"This social worker, her name was Cindy Richardson. She works for Lutheran Social Services in North Dakota, and she was calling on behalf of someone else. Someone who wants to get in touch with me." She stopped, nodding at me as if this was supposed to tell me more than it did.
After a moment's pause, I decided to help her out. "An old friend?" I offered. "Someone from high school?"
Mom swallowed and shook her head. She reached for her cigarette again, then changed her mind and left it in the ashtray where it sat.
I had an exciting thought. "Did someone die and leave you something? A bunch of money?" That would certainly be good news!
Mom shook her head, and tried to continue. "I feel it's important that I say this the right way, Josey, and I'm unsure of how to do that," she sighed. "I've been thinking all evening of how I was going to tell you about this and now here I am, talking in circles. I just want to be sure that you understand it all; what it means to your father and me, and to our family . . ."
Mom paused, still seeming to be at a loss for words. I'd never seen her like this before.
"Okay," she said finally, "I guess maybe I need to explain this in a roundabout way. Do you remember a few months ago, when I came home and caught Jake and Lilja up in his room and I kind of . . . overreacted?"
Did I ever. Jake and Lilja had been dating for almost a year and by now we were all used to seeing them curled up together on the family room couch, watching television. Just before school started, however, my mom had come home from work early one afternoon and found Jake and Lilja upstairs in Jake's room. I don't think they were actually having sex or anything, but Mom had a major meltdown about it. She ranted and raved about trust and maturity and appropriate behavior for a seventeen-year-old boy and his girlfriend, and blah, blah, blah. No one was surat first; Jake had crossed a major line, after all, but when several days had passed and she was still going on and on about it, we all started to wonder what was up with her. Being around mom during that week was like riding a rollercoaster; sometimes she'd be muttering to herself, and sometimes she'd be fuming, and other times she'd just sit there smoking and staring off into space. Twice, I saw her crying. In the end, Jake was actually begging for his punso that the whole mess could be over.
Dad didn't say much, just tiptoed around her like the rest of us, but he, too, seemed to be quieter than usual. Usually when Mom gets worked up about something he can talk her down. This time, though, no one seemed to know what to do.
So I said, yeah, I remembered, and didn't say much more about it. I didn't want to set her off again.
"I want you to understand what I couldn't tell you then, Josey. There was a reason that finding Jake and Lilja upstairs in Jake's room was so upsetting to me. It . . . it brought back memories of a very complicated and painful time in my life and with those memories came a lot of strong feelings. Some of which were probably evident to you."
"So," she said, her voice sounding steadier, "What I'm about to tell you will explain everything, and I really hope that you'll be just as thrilled about it as I am."
My mom drew in her breath as if she was about to dive into the deep end of the pool. She cast one last long glance in the direction of her cigarettes, then turned to look me directly in the eye.
"Josey, the social worker was calling on behalf of a young woman named Audrey, who was looking for me. Audrey is, she's . . . part of our family."
I digested this calmly. A cousin maybe? I tried to think which side of the family she could be attached to. And why was Mom making such a big deal about a long-lost cousin?
Mom had reached over and put her cool hand on top of mine, "I know this is going to be hard for you to understand but Audrey is . . . well, she's your sister. You've got an older sister, sweetie!"