The Art of Losing

The Art of Losing

by Lizzy Mason

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616959883
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Lizzy Mason grew up in northern Virginia before moving to New York City for college and a career in publishing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband and cat in an apartment full of books. The Art of Losing is her first novel. Visit her online at www.LizzyMasonBooks.com.

Read an Excerpt

Sixteen Months Ago
When my little sister started high school, my family held its breath. With her late birthday, Audrey was always one of the youngest kids in her class. Her maturity level was never quite the same as that of her classmates.
     But she had an unnerving ability to assume the best of people. It was annoying, really, the way she looked past people’s outwardly obnoxious traits and found the good in them. I’d be bitching about someone, a teacher or a neighbor or whoever, and Audrey always, infuriatingly, had to point out something nice about them.
     So none of us were surprised when she declared that she’d made valentines for all of her classmates in the ninth grade. But we were worried. I could practically hear the comments some of the girls would make. I could imagine the assumptions many of the guys would make. But Audrey wouldn’t be deterred, no matter what I said.
     “She’s in high school now,” Mom finally said to Dad and me while Audrey was upstairs gluing and cutting. “She can make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.”
     Dad and I disagreed.
    “What if instead of cards, she gave out lattes?” Dad said, waiting expectantly.
     Mom and I shared an eye roll and then she dutifully asked,
“Why?”
     “Because then they’d know she likes them a latte!”
     I groaned. His puns made even Obama’s “dad jokes” seem funny.
     I think Mom had as much faith in the valentines as I did, but as usual, she pasted on a smile and busied herself with a crossword puzzle.
     On Valentine’s Day, I watched from my locker as Audrey passed out her cards. And, to be fair, they were pretty adorable, despite the glitter that showered down on her shoes with each one she pulled out of her backpack. She slipped some in people’s lockers, and others she handed to the recipient directly.
     People loved them, and not just her friends. I was stunned. If I’d done something like this, my classmates would have thought I was trying too hard or sucking up. But no one could accuse Audrey of being disingenuous. Her smile was too sincere, her delight in their reactions too contagious.
     But I saw the nervousness on her face when she pulled out a slightly larger heart-shaped card that was more intricately decorated than the others. I watched as she slid it through the slats into a locker not far from mine. I’d never noticed who the locker belonged to, so I lingered for a little while before the first bell rang, hoping to catch a glimpse, wondering if all the other valentines were just to distract from the one person she really wanted to give one to.
     My jaw went slack when Jason Raymond opened the locker and the heart-shaped card fell out and landed at his feet. He was a freshman who had been in my class the year before but was held back. When he smiled at the card, I couldn’t help noticing the stubble on his chin. He was practically a man. Audrey had only quit sleeping with her favorite stuffed animal a year ago.
     It felt like my sisterly duty to protect her.
     So when Audrey told us about her crush matter-of-factly at dinner that night—something that I would never have even considered doing—I wasn’t surprised. I was ready with about ten reasons why Jason was the wrong choice for her first date.
     “He’s so dumb,” I interrupted her mid-sentence. “He got held back last year! You can’t go out with a guy who’s my age and still a freshman. That’s just embarrassing.”
     Audrey’s face turned red. Her eyes were glassy with rage.
“You don’t know him,” she said. “None of you do. You just don’t see what I see in him.”
     “Like what, honey?” Mom said patiently, cutting me off with a sharp look.
     “Last week, at lunch, I saw him give his sandwich to a kid whose lunch money was stolen. And the week before that, he volunteered to be my partner in class when everyone else had already picked groups and left me out.”
     “Did he volunteer because no one else had picked him, either?” I asked. “Because he’s an idiot and no one wants to do his work for him?”
     “Harley!” Mom scolded me.
     I slouched against the back of my chair and offered a halfhearted apology.
     “If you’re saying he’s dumb, then you’re calling me dumb.” Audrey’s voice wobbled. “Because we’re in the same classes.”
     “Yeah, but you’ve only had to take the classes once,” I muttered. But I felt guilty before the words even left my mouth. Her grades were a sensitive subject, but no one was more frustrated than Audrey.
     “So far,” she said quietly.
     I felt even worse when Jason asked her out a few days later and Mom and Dad wouldn’t let her go. It was my fault, even though they said it was because of the D she’d gotten on her history test. I could still picture her smile as she told Mom about how Jason had asked her to the winter dance, and how it fell as Mom said no.
     Audrey didn’t speak to me for almost a full week after that. I couldn’t blame her.
 
 

CHAPTER ONE The atmosphere in the hospital waiting room felt as thick as the summer night outside. My parents’ silent questions and accusations competed for space in the air with tension and worry.
     Why didn’t I drive Audrey home from the party we went to? Who was driving the car that she was in? Why didn’t I make sure she had a way home? How could I have let this happen?
     Guilt warred with anger until an anxious, bitter stew simmered in my stomach. Audrey shouldn’t get to be the victim when I was the one who’d been betrayed.
     I hadn’t even wanted to go to the party. If my best friend hadn’t been hosting, if my boyfriend hadn’t wanted to go, I wouldn’t have been there . . . and I wouldn’t have brought Audrey. And maybe what happened would have stayed an unspoken fear buried in my subconscious.
     The vinyl chair squeaked beneath me as I shifted restlessly. Dad’s shoes scuffed the linoleum as he paced. Mom cleared her throat and sniffed. We were a symphony of anxiety.
     Most parents are left waiting and wondering alone while their child is in surgery, but because Dad was an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, every few minutes someone would come in and tell us how sorry they were. But no one could tell us what was going on. Or maybe no one wanted to be the bearer of bad news.
     I wondered if they’d start bringing us Jell-O cups, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat one anyway. It would bring back the memories I’d been pushing away: of the party that night where I had left my sister, of the gelatinous shots my boyfriend had been taking, of the two of them together in my best friend’s bedroom.
     Dad suddenly turned mid-stride and pushed through the swinging door. I could only assume he’d lost patience and gone to check on Audrey’s surgery. A few nurses trailed after him like sympathetic baby ducks.
     I stood and traced Dad’s path across the small room. When he pushed back through the door a few minutes later, I froze.
      “I finally got an update,” he said. He spoke in a monotone. “Audrey is still in the OR. She’s got swelling in her brain and it’s pressing against her skull. They’re draining some of the fluid so they can see what kind of damage there may be. She also has a broken arm that needs to be set and a fractured sternum and cracked ribs from the seat belt, but that will heal.”
     That all sounded like good news, relatively speaking. The tightness in my chest eased slightly. But then he turned to me.
     “Harley, there’s something I have to tell you,” he said softly, putting both hands on my shoulders in a classic I’ve-got-bad-news stance. Or maybe he was trying to restrain me in case I tried to run.
     “Mike was driving Audrey home tonight. The police said he was drunk, well over the limit.”
     My knees wobbled. I dropped back into the chair.
     “He ran a red light,” Dad continued, “and another car hit the passenger side where Audrey was sitting.” He squatted down to look me in the eye for this last part. He was too preoccupied to remember that he had no cartilage in one of his knees from a college baseball injury. I heard it crack as he went down.
     “Is Mike okay?” I asked. For a hateful second, I hoped that the answer would be no.
     Dad nodded. “I just checked on him. He’s in the ER, conscious but still drunk.” His voice hardened. “He has a few bruises, a possible concussion and whiplash, but he’ll be fine. He won’t even have much of a hangover after the IV fluids he’s getting.”
     I glanced at Mom, who met my gaze over the magazine she held in one hand, a ballpoint BIC in the other. She was doing the crossword puzzle in pen. And it wasn’t even an easy, celebrity-centric People crossword.
     Mom loved a good puzzle. She was always so satisfied when numbers added up, whether in a spreadsheet or sudoku. You could see the joy on her face when she filled in the last letter of a crossword or snapped the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into its place. Puzzling was where she found peace, she said.
     It was half of the reason she loved her job as an accountant so much. Her main clients were a handful of local businesses—boutique stores, mostly, which was perfect for her. She did the books from home, but she got serious discounts in the stores. She had this amazing talent where she could take one expensive piece from a boutique, add some cheap basics and accessories from T.J. Maxx, and end up looking like she should be in a glossy magazine spread about chic suburban moms.
     Even now, with minutes to get dressed in the middle of the night, her long-sleeved striped cotton shirt and pressed khakis would look completely appropriate if she was posed on the deck of a sailboat. Not in the waiting room of a hospital while her youngest daughter fought for her life.
     But her face was white with rage, her lips a tight, pale line across her face. For the first time I could remember, it was a reflection of mine.
     Mike had called my phone that night just as the police called the landline. I ignored it because I thought he was calling to apologize—and I didn’t want to hear it—but also because just after my phone went silent, Dad tore into my room and told me to get in the car. Now I had to wonder what Mike would have said if I’d answered.
     I turned back to Dad. “So Audrey is in surgery, possibly brain-damaged, because my boyfriend drove drunk and nearly got her killed?” I asked him.
     My hands were suddenly fists. My heart throbbed so hard that a rushing noise filled my ears. How dare Mike even think of getting into a car with my sister when he’d been drinking? Like he hadn’t done enough damage for one night?
     Dad nodded once, his jaw clenched.
     “And he’s going to be fine?” I didn’t wait for his response. “That asshole,” I said. My fingernails pressed into the palms of my hands. “How drunk is he right now?”
     “Why?” Dad asked warily.
     “Because I want to scream at him. I want to punch him in the fucking teeth,” I said. “But I want him to remember it.”
     “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Dad said, even though he looked like he wanted to do the same. “The police are there now, talking to him about the accident.”
     Even through my anger, I couldn’t suppress an innate flicker of worry. I hated Mike even more for that.
     Just then, Aunt Tilly shoved through the door to the waiting room. Before she could say anything, my mom stood to meet her and collapsed into her arms, sobbing. She’d been keeping it together as much as she could up until that point, but somehow seeing her older sister gave Mom the permission to release her fear and worry and rage.
     Aunt Tilly was a therapist who specialized in patients with agoraphobia, so unlike my mom, who was constantly pushing me to get out of the house and take an “active role in society,” Tilly let me be who I was: a comics-obsessed girl who rarely left the comfort of her bedroom.
     I felt sorry for my thirteen-year-old cousin Spencer, though. Aunt Tilly could spot a lie before it even came out of my mouth. His teen years were going to be hell.
     But she was handy in a crisis, especially when my mom—and I—needed her.
     It was Mom’s sobs that finally cracked my shell of anger. I choked on the words I wanted to scream. Tilly reached out for me and smoothed my hair, brushing my overgrown bangs out of my eyes with one hand while rubbing Mom’s back with the other.
     “Let it out, chicken,” she said.
     I was gulping air like it was water and I’d just run through the desert as Aunt Tilly pulled me into the hug. Mom wrapped her arm around me. Inside the huddle, the therapist replaced the grieving aunt.
     “Try to breathe,” Aunt Tilly said. Her temple pressed against mine, and her hand was a reassuring pressure on the middle of my back. “In through your nose, okay?”
     I took a shuddering breath in and Mom followed. Aunt Tilly counted to four.
     “Good, now out through your mouth.”
     We followed orders, breathing in and out for eight seconds several more times. My tears wouldn’t stop, but my heartbeat slowed a little, and I didn’t feel like I was running anymore. Aunt Tilly finally released us from her grip, and we sat down in a soggy, red-faced row, passing a box of tissues.
     Dad had slipped out the door, but by the time he came back from wherever he had gone, we’d dried our tears. I wondered briefly if he had been waiting outside the door to avoid us—or me.
     “Is the other driver okay?” I asked him.
     Dad nodded. “He’s fine. He was wearing his seat belt and his airbags deployed. He’s lucky.”
     I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, relieved that at least one person’s life hadn’t been destroyed by this. But as Dad pulled me into a hug, I felt sick. I knew I didn’t deserve to be comforted by my father, who may have lost his baby daughter tonight and instead had his long arms wrapped around me.
     I should have brought Audrey home with me. She’s my sister. No matter what she did, I should have watched out for her.
     When I opened my eyes, Aunt Tilly was looking at me.
     “Harley, why don’t we go get some coffee downstairs?” she said.
     I nodded, even though I knew what was coming. She wanted to know what had happened.