I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me.
Then my mom hires a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in. Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear…
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
About the Author
Cindy lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and loves using Colorado towns and cities as inspiration for settings in her stories. She's the mother of three girls, who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels.
Cindy writes speculative fiction and YA fiction, filled with a healthy dose of romance. You'll often find her hiking or listening to any number of playlists while she comes up with her next story idea. https://cindyrwilson.com/
Read an Excerpt
BlackKNIGHT: We've been playing chess for three months now.
Rogue2015: Very astute. Your turn.
BlackKNIGHT: That's a long time in the chess world. In fact, that's a long time in the real world.
Rogue2015: Thank you for pointing that out. Why don't you take your bishop out for a stroll? He can't hide back there all day.
BlackKNIGHT: He likes it back here. It's strategy. Three months, Rogue.
Rogue2015: Why do you keep saying that?
BlackKNIGHT: Because I think after that amount of time, I should know your real name.
Rogue2015: While you were busy reminiscing, I just won the game. Checkmate.
Rogue2015: I told you, you should have taken your bishop out.
BlackKNIGHT: I'll forgive you for beating me if you tell me your name.
Rogue2015: Double no. Do you want to play again or admit defeat?
BlackKNIGHT: I just want your name.CHAPTER 2
Zoe King. That's my name.
Sixty-two inches of seventeen-year-old female living on the thirtieth floor of the Safe Zone, otherwise known as my family's penthouse apartment. It gave me a view of approximately seven of Colorado's peaks over 14,000 feet — none of which I'd seen up close because I hadn't left my house for 392 days.
That's right. I was that kid. The one my parents weren't expecting. The younger sibling, the baby, the one who should have demanded all the attention and made my parents laugh. The one who should have taken the world by storm.
Instead, I built paper art in the study and pretended I cared about my sister's cheerleading squad. I pretended to watch my mother's YouTube videos as she addressed the world like they were all her closest friends. I pretended to want to see my grandparents when they came back from their visits to Japan with Hello Kitty purses, thinking my sister and I were still five years old. I pretended to be able to breathe as the world closed in on me.
When there were two kids in a family and one kid couldn't leave the house without her chest clamping tight in panic like a bear trap, then you really only had 1.5 kids because .5 of one kid was defective.
That was me. Living as half the person I wished I could be.
My therapist claimed it wasn't literal when statistics said the average American family had approximately 1.5 children. I told her, when she came to my house because I couldn't go to her, "Welcome to the average American family."CHAPTER 3
The mobile blood collection bus was parked outside of the Denver Public Library today. They handed out orange juice and chocolate chip cookies once you'd had your blood drawn, but I wasn't eligible until I turned eighteen, and I didn't have parental consent.
Dad wasn't likely to be awake this time of the morning, let alone capable of putting pen to paper to give me permission, so I continued on without juice or snacks, even though the gnawing hunger in my stomach wouldn't go away.
Some things in life are guaranteed, but food isn't one of them.
I walked past the strange rock sculpture that reminded me of a futuristic Stonehenge and around to the entrance of the library, where they had just opened the doors. It was usually the same group of people, most with backpacks or suitcases because they didn't have anywhere to stay during the day. Homeless.
I was more discreet and left my belongings in the trunk of my car. All except for my backpack.
Inside the library, I waved to the guard and went for the holds on the main floor first. I gathered my items from the shelf: an astronomy study guide, three CDs, two sci-fi novels, and a book on chess techniques, because Rogue2015 was kicking my ass.
Then I rode the escalator to the second floor and entered the non-fiction section. My usual spot by the window was open, and I dropped my backpack there before nodding at Dale. He stocked the shelves with a monotonous swish and thud, settling books into place as he had every Saturday for the past year.
He never said anything, only continued the swish-and-thud motion until he reached the end of the shelf. Then he'd walk over, deposit something on my table, and move on to the next aisle.
Today, it was an apple and a book. Free $ for College for Dummies. I glanced up, but he'd moved out of sight.
I was pretty sure Dale knew I was homeless — though not in the traditional sense. Not like those guys who sat at stairwells on the 16th Street Mall to collect what they could from business people as they rushed to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch, or scrounged for leftovers from the groups that stopped to play on the stone chessboards lining the street.
No, I was homeless in the sense that I'd lost everything that symbolized home for me. And the place I had left ... wasn't for me anymore. Dad and I had an agreement. I'd stay out of his hair if he'd let me continue to use his address and mailbox for important things like school and my cell phone bill. Basically so the state didn't shove me into a foster home.
Of course, I wasn't sure how much of that agreement Dad remembered, since he'd made it while working toward an epic high on heroin.
Being homeless was a small price to pay for the peace of uninterrupted sleep. For the consistency of quiet instead of yelling. For my own memories of Mom instead of Dad's.
I sat in the chair next to the window and ate my apple. Outside, I could see my favorite sculpture, one with far more whimsy than futuristic Stonehenge. This one was called Yearling — which was, incidentally, its actual name, not the one I'd given it: Horse on Chair.
It was a twenty-one-foot-high red chair with a tiny horse on it. You could read about the history of the sculpture, right here in the library, by the man who'd created it, but I preferred to think he'd been inspired by the lack of oxygen in our Mile High City and had chosen to build something fun in his air-deprived stupor.
I opened my backpack and shuffled around for my laptop, one I'd gotten secondhand from my friend Robert. I shoved aside the case with the toothbrush, toothpaste, and a bar of soap. I'd find an empty bathroom later and clean up.
My computer connected to the library's wifi, and I brought up Chess Challenge. The scoreboard appeared on the right, a running tally of how many matches each gamer had won. Rogue2015 was still at the top, with BlackKNIGHT settled at the number four position. Damn, that girl didn't give an inch.
I used to play with all sorts of other people, even people in other countries. But once Rogue and I started a running dialogue along with our matches, I rarely played anyone else. According to her profile, she was only a year younger than me. I had no idea where she lived, though, at present, her location said Justin Bieber's house. Last week it had been 1776, NYC. Despite her clear sense of humor, she played the game like her life depended on it and had a penchant for telling it like it was. I admired her focus.
I needed that same kind of focus for college. I knew where I was going, I had a plan, but anxiety filled me every time I realized how easily it could fall apart. I cringed every time I had to lie and write down my dad's address on scholarship applications even though I didn't live there. I only forced myself to go back to check the mail. But it was a choice I'd made over a year ago. No going back now, even though I'd had to lie on my college application, too.
And it wasn't just college stuff. I was lying to every single person in my life — except Rogue. She was the only one I could completely be myself with.
A message box popped up on my screen.
Rogue2015 has initiated a match with you. Would you like to play?
I smiled, feeling my shoulders relax. Right now, playing with Rogue was the best escape I could think of. I needed this. Someone who didn't judge me and someone I could tell my secrets to and never have to worry about the consequences. If I didn't have Rogue, I wouldn't have anyone I could really talk to.
I'd focus on college stuff later. I clicked the Yes box and studied the screen before making my first move. Two months until graduation, which meant I had plenty of time to work my way up the scoreboard.
That and line up a slew of other jobs for the summer so I could pay the college fees for my first semester. I had to do this. Otherwise, I wasn't just letting my mom down; I was losing my dream as well.CHAPTER 4
BlackKNIGHT: That wasn't your best move.
Rogue2015: You won't be saying that when it's checkmate.
BlackKNIGHT: So ... Rogue? Is that an XMen reference?
Rogue2015: You're stalling. It's your move.
BlackKNIGHT: You like comics, don't you?
Rogue2015: Your turn.
BlackKNIGHT: Don't you?
BlackKNIGHT: Comic lover and chess player. Cool. What other awesome things were you born to be?
Rogue2015: I was born to be a lot of things.
BlackKNIGHT: Like what?
Rogue2015: Maybe I didn't phrase that right. I meant I was born to be a person who does a lot of things.
BlackKNIGHT: Sounds like you already do.
Rogue2015: I wish that were real life. In real life ... I'm scared of almost everything. The computer is safe. Chess is safe. The real world? Not so much.
BlackKNIGHT: I get that. You can be yourself when you're anonymous, but in real life you have to answer to who you really are. And sometimes, that's the scariest thing of all.
Rogue2015: Exactly. Now, it's your turn.CHAPTER 5
It was Monday in the Safe Zone, which meant 12,222 steps around our apartment because I needed my exercise and then crappy math makeup homework from my online class before I got to finish creating Saturn.
Before I left my room, I studied the messages on the door of my closet. Red sticky notes went on top because they were the most urgent. Yellow went next, and then blue below that because water was at the bottom.
I wrote on a red sticky note, Remind Mom to get more paper, and stuck it on the top row of my closet door. I was almost out of red and brown, since I just finished making Mars. I'd need both for a few more planets, but especially brown once I got to the asteroid belt.
I left my room at 7:15 a.m. I walked past the door to my sister Mae's bedroom, through the gigantic living room, and toward the kitchen where I'd circle the island. Approximately 143 steps in one circuit through the apartment (passing by my study and my parents' bedroom), which meant close to 89 circuits to reach my goal.
Outside the huge bank of windows in the living room, it was a clear and sunny day. Warm for March. But my choice of leggings and a T-shirt worked for any weather because I wouldn't be going out today.
I glanced in the study as I passed, admiring my paper wall. It took me a week to make Mercury, forty-seven sheets of gray and white copy paper, folded just right to create the planet closest to the sun.
My footsteps slowed as I neared the kitchen again and heard voices. Mom and Mae. My stomach clenched when I heard my name.
Damn. Not going through the kitchen messed up my circuit. I checked my phone, which had an app that catalogued my steps, and walked by the bank of windows in the living room again before heading back to my bedroom.
They were talking about me. I knew it. Another pass through the living room.
My heart raced, even as Dr. Edwards's voice echoed in my head. It's not all about you.
But my next pass by the kitchen confirmed it.
"... but it's only two months away," Mae was saying. "What if she doesn't come?"
"She will," Mom answered, voice low.
My stomach clenched and nausea kicked in. Another circuit down the hall and then to the living room. They were definitely talking about me. Mae was graduating this year. In two months. Mae had school functions and events she invited me to all the time, and I hadn't gone to any of them since I was a sophomore — a whole year ago.
But this was graduation. A huge deal. And I'd already promised her I'd go. Sure, it was back at the beginning of the school year, when I thought I'd have a ton of time to get to where I needed to be. And sure, I figured it was far enough away I wouldn't have to deal with it for a while. But I'd promised.
Graduation. I swallowed, but my throat didn't want to be moistened. Hundreds of people I didn't know. My heart beat faster. Mae's friends. They'd wonder why I even came. They'd look at me the same way they looked at me when they visited our house. Like I was an alien. Like I didn't belong.
It made me want to vomit. Just like all those times Dad had made us star in his Car King commercials. All those eyes on me ... I did another circuit and stopped by my room to write another sticky note and slap it on my door. Remind Mom to get paper.
The next circuit, I wrote the same note and brought it to the study. I added it to the note board by the door, aligning it perfectly at the end of the row.
Mom and Mae were gone from the kitchen. They probably went somewhere else to talk about me. When I walked to my bedroom again, Mae appeared in the hallway with her backpack.
"See ya," she said. She wore her cheerleader uniform, a pleated skirt too cool and cheerful to be friends with my black yoga pants.
Mae made life seem so easy, and school was a breeze for her. Even homeschooling was a challenge for me, and it wasn't what I really wanted. At school, junior year waited for me like a prize I knew I'd never win. That, and maybe Mae's friend Jackson. The same one I used to watch play basketball, willing him to come sit with me on the bleachers and talk like he sometimes did.
I'd love to see him again. Instead, he was just another reminder of all the things I'd lost when I got trapped in my house.
Hadn't I said something to him once about living life to its fullest? And now look at me.
"You have practice after school today?" I asked.
"We have that new routine we're learning. I can help you with your math when I get home."
"I don't need help," I grumbled, though I did.
Just not Mae's help. I swore the answers magically popped into her head without any effort at all. She never had to show her work because it wasn't work for her to get the answers.
"Whatever," she answered, heading down the hall without even glancing back.
Yeah, she had definitely looked at me funny. She was mad at me.
Mom met me in the living room, barefoot, her shiny black hair already combed and styled. "Don't forget Dr. Price is coming today."
Therapist #6. Dr. Edwards asked if I wouldn't mind seeing someone else for the next few weeks, and I'd agreed even though I didn't think seeing another new therapist was going to help.
"Okay," I said to my mom. I wouldn't forget. It was on a yellow sticky note on my bedroom door. And the note board in the study. And my phone. "Mom?"
"When you go to the store, can you get some more paper?"
She ducked back into her bedroom, voice muffled when she said, "Sure, when I get a chance. I have to make a week's worth of freezer meals first."
I did another circuit, convinced Mom was mad at me, too. Hopefully she'd still get my paper, though.
Just to be safe, I wrote her a note. Because without my paper, what else did I have?
Mae's graduation. That's what I was supposed to be working toward. Not more paper planets. And that was the reason for my new therapist. To make progress. But having a new therapist just gave me one more thing to stress about. I'd have to start all over again with someone I didn't know, and someone who didn't understand how terrified the outside world made me. If I couldn't even meet a new therapist, how in the world was I supposed to be able to leave the house for graduation?CHAPTER 6
It sounded like a black hole in here. The washers and dryers made a whirring and whooshing noise that reminded me of those NASA videos I watched on YouTube. Sometimes I could picture myself way out there in space, away from everyone and everything, and I wondered if I'd even miss being here.
I closed my astronomy book when the cycle finished and stood to pull my clothes out of the dryer. This was my favorite laundromat. It was close to school and everywhere else I liked to go. Someone always left their old National Geographic magazines on the counter by the bulletin board. They were good late-night reading material when I hunched down in the back seat of my car and couldn't sleep.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Paper Girl"
Copyright © 2018 Cindy R. Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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