The Kitty Committee of Grace’s youth was ostensibly a group of friendship and support. But the friends fell victim to the ringleader’s manipulative personality and recklessness, which set the girls on a course of vigilante justice, culminating in an act that will forever change their lives, an act that becomes their shared secret.
Grace’s silence and guilt has led to over twenty years of disappointing relationships, an inability to commit, and a crisis of morality. And no matter how much Grace has suffered and lost, still it comes every year. The reminder that someone out there wants The Kitty Committee to suffersomeone who won’t forget and won’t forgive.
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|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Kathryn grew up in India, Syria, Europe, and Africa. Her love for experiencing new cultures runs deep, and she gives into it whenever she can. She has been an avid movie buff since childhood, and often sees the movie in her head before she writes the book.
Kathryn graduated from the University of California in Berkeley with a degree in English. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Read an Excerpt
Indian Springs: Twenty-Two Years Earlier
I was born to be the perpetual new girl. I don't mean that I was quick to adapt and loved new situations. On the contrary, change was hard for me, and I didn't have the effervescent personality that could smooth my transitions. So I was born to be the new girl because I met everyone's expectations.
My brother, Luke, was the opposite. He was handsome, yes. He was athletic, yes. Not too much bothered him, and he wasn't even required to have a winning personality. But he did. So while Luke was busy deciding how to fairly distribute himself and his many talents as a senior at Indian Springs High, I was busy trying to disappear as a sophomore.
As the children of missionaries, our education had been carried out mostly through homeschooling and mission schools, wherever they were available, but I was far enough ahead in my studies that my parents, with the school's blessing, decided to skip me ahead a grade. Every five years we were required to spend a year back home, although it didn't feel anything like home to me. But when Dad broke his back falling off a ladder in Guatemala, we returned three months early. My only other experiences living in the states had been when I was eight and we spent a year in rural Georgia where my mother grew up. And another year in that same small town when I was only three. This time, because of my father's medical condition, my parents moved us to Indian Springs, which was close to San Francisco, where Dad grew up, and yet far enough away to be affordable. The main reason, though, was the access to good medical care for Dad and, as always, the church community to ease our transition back into the first world.
And what a transition it would prove to be. Nothing prepared me for this country that claimed me on my passport as one of its own. I was accustomed to dusty roads and stray dogs and people whose smiles bore no evidence of orthodontia; market days and clothes my mother sewed on her old Singer from fabrics dyed in brilliant shades of fruit and sunsets and a jungle that creeped up to your window if you allowed it; the Sunday morning serene but blissful faces of worshippers seated on splintered planks in tiny wooden churches; languages I understood spoken side-by-side with languages I didn't; having the ability to interpret a person's meaning by listening to the cadence of their tongue. The movement of their hands. The crinkle at the corner of their eye. This is what I knew.
In Indian Springs, we arrived at night. And when I woke the following morning, I already suspected what a colossal task lay ahead of me. It was almost impossible for me to believe I belonged there with its delineated properties and paved streets that intersected each other at right angles.
The property manager stopped by with the lease and an extra set of keys. A neighbor returned a garden hose he'd borrowed from the last tenants and kept because the house was unoccupied. The mailman pushed his cart along the sidewalk, pausing at our box where he sorted through his bag before selecting a few items to leave behind. Mail addressed to past occupants. Names we didn't know.
I had imagined a life in the states one day, but I didn't think it would be until I was much older. My vision of that life came from old magazines I managed to salvage in the villages where I grew up. The occasional snippets of television I caught during visits to the central medical clinic or the rare family outing to a restaurant which could claim status beyond glorified street vendor. But the magazines didn't prepare me for an entire new set of social cues. A new way of communicating with strangers who spoke precisely and politely but never gave away anything beyond just their words. How to reconcile this world with the one I'd left behind, one I would come to view as a golden time in my life. That I had to figure out on my own, and there was no time to waste.
In preparation for my new life at a new school, I'd gotten the notion that a pixie cut would favorably frame my round face, making me more appealing to others. I'd come up with the idea by myself, inspired by a very outdated teen magazine. Mom would never have thought to impart fashion advice, which was the furthest thing from her mind. Growing up, my hair hung shoulder length and natural as it dried and was shaped by the tropical humidity. Mom would lop it off with a pair of old scissors whenever it got too long. I sensed this wouldn't be enough for first-world respectability, so using the same old scissors, with one eye on the magazine and the other on a mirror in front of me, I recreated the cut as best as I could. Mom helped with the back, claiming she loved not only the modesty of the cut but the look of it too.
What I hadn't foreseen was that the baby fat which made my face round also made my body round. And without the aid of any makeup to hint at my gender (and no breasts to speak of), my pixie cut had the effect of transforming me into a chubby boy — at least, at first glance. While other girls blossomed, I was stuck in prepubescence. Had I not insisted on wearing a skirt my first day at Indian Springs High, I most likely would have been taken for a boy. I was wholly unprepared to be a modern American teen, and yet that's just what I was about to become.
Mom dropped us off across the street on our first day of school. Luke flew out of the car and melded so seamlessly into the crowd, it seemed he'd done it a thousand times before. First day of school for us was February twenty-third, which was going on the 160day for everyone else.
Still, I felt my chest swell with optimism at the sight of thousands of daffodils lining every conceivable walkway around and leading up to Indian Springs High. Their humble, bowing heads melded into a bright sea of such intense color, I was certain it could shame even the sun. I was Dorothy skipping along the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City and all the adventures awaiting me. Any school of this size was a totally unfamiliar concept to me. Prior to this, the largest school I'd attended numbered thirty students max. Children of missionaries, locals, and the occasional son or daughter of an American diplomat, preferring a religious education.
But somewhere between my mother's car and the intimidating entrance of my new school, my legs grew heavy, my heart sodden with dread. It seemed that pixie cuts were not in style, after all. I didn't see one girl with hair short enough to reveal her ears. Hair was styled, not air-dried like mine which I had lauded for the absolute genius of convenience it would bring to my life. The source of my fashion inspiration had been terribly out of date. I felt deceived by my mother's reassurance.
How had I so badly misjudged this most basic of all teen fashion tenets — the acceptable hairstyle? But it didn't end there because it was soon obvious the pixie cut wasn't my only fashion crime. Blouses tucked into pleated skirts were nowhere to be seen, except on me. The girls wore pants, jeans mostly. Tight-fitting tops revealing developing figures instead of baggy blouses. And if there were skirts, they were unlike any skirt that was part of my wardrobe, which up until that point was a mish-mash of donations of used clothing from strangers, last-minute purchases from Goodwill, and some colorful ethnic fashions picked up on the cheap in countries where we'd lived. I wondered how I was going to convince Mom to let me wear makeup — jeans, I was sure she'd go along with for their modesty. I didn't have a clue as to how to apply makeup and, even if I could convince Mom, she wouldn't be of any help having never touched the stuff herself.
I'd been so proud to learn I would skip a grade in my new school, but now I wondered if that was another huge mistake. It would forever mark me as the girl always at least a year less mature than her peers, and one look around told me that physical maturity mattered here. These kids didn't seem as if they'd be wowed by my intellectual prowess. These kids held themselves as if it was what was on the outside that mattered. That was quite the opposite of what I'd been taught my entire life.
I was just thirteen years old and still playing with dolls.
Somehow, I was either pushed along or managed to push against the throng of students, passing period by passing period. For the most part, I wound up where I was supposed to be, until it came to fourth period English. I'd carefully chosen a seat in the back of each classroom for the strategic purpose of going most unnoticed, but when I heard "take out your books" and saw the images from around the world which adorned our social studies books, I knew I had to make a fast but inconspicuous getaway.
"Miss ..." the teacher halted his instructions to turn his focus on me before I could make it out the door. That one innocuous word succeeded in turning me into the main attraction for everyone else in the room who hadn't, until that moment, been paying attention to the girl fleeing from the room.
"Grace," I said foolishly. "Templeton." I threw in my last name as though it could somehow diffuse the situation. "I, I think I'm in the wrong class."
"And the right class would be?" He arched a pair of superior eyebrows at me.
"Then you most assuredly are in the wrong class," he said kindly. "Let me take a look at your schedule."
And while he was doing that and scratching out an excuse for tardiness for my English teacher, I permitted my gaze to stray from the top of my shoes. Most of the students were chuckling softly, but their eyes shifted compassionately when I looked up. What they must have seen in me that day would be a wonder to them — the strange creature who appeared inexplicably in their midst.
But one girl didn't look away, choosing instead to stare directly at me. She wasn't snickering like the others, she observed me as though taking in my entirety and formulating a conclusion which I immediately wanted and didn't want to know. She was lithe, legs covered in faded denim, cuffed at the hem, and sprawled out from underneath her desk. I noticed flip-flops and painted toenails in spite of the somewhat cool February day. Her shoulder-length, strawberry-blonde hair was perfectly coiffed with bangs that dropped to just above eyes I imagined would be green if I could see them. And then she smiled. Not laughed, but smiled. She held my gaze until I was forced to smile back.
I loved her at that very moment.
"Here's your tardy excuse." The teacher's words ripped me from my reverie. "Good luck, Miss Grace Templeton."
And so began anew the muffled giggles and snorts. I didn't dare turn around to see if the girl was part of it. I wanted the image of her cool acceptance — and yes, validation — to carry me through the difficult twists and turns of that first day.
My next hurdle was health class, which was taught, to boys and girls alike, by the football coach. Health, the way it was meant in class, wasn't a subject discussed much around my house. My parents talked a lot about maintaining a healthy body and mind through contemplation, exercise, a balanced diet, and shunning the obvious vices. But when it came to sex ... well, I knew that somehow my parents had conspired physically to bring me and Luke into the world, but I was short on details and not really keen to get them. I hadn't even begun to menstruate.
Health class in school was about those other things too. Healthy food. Exercise. Staying away from cigarettes, drinking, and drugs. But by February, the teacher had eased into the more personal issue of sex. Girls and boys would be separated for certain classes, Mr. Janke let us know. But there was plenty we could talk about as a group. Premarital sex. Responsibility. How babies can ruin your life when you're not ready for them. Protection if you absolutely must, although abstinence was the preferred method.
My head swam with the details I heard that first day in class. I worried about Luke, who had missed sophomore year in America. How would he ever gain all the knowledge that I would soon possess? I knew my parents wouldn't be much help. From my vantage point in the back of the class, I could see students diffusing the tension with snickers, passing notes, folding paper, spinning pencils, mindlessly thumbing through the textbook, and generally squirming.
But I was fascinated that sex was something which could be discussed so openly and calmly by an adult in front of children. Only my father's calamity had pried me away from my parents' protective cocoon, thrusting me into a world where the words penis and vagina could be uttered with as much indifference as peanut butter and jelly sandwich. From the back of the classroom, I did have the advantage of being protected from the view of most everyone in the class, which allowed me to focus rather than fidget.
As I was furiously taking notes that would have to be hidden deep in my backpack once I got home, I pressed too hard on the pencil in my excitement. The tip splayed helplessly against my paper and no amount of coaxing would anchor it enough to continue to function as a proper pencil. I searched uselessly through my backpack, knowing I'd only grabbed one pencil and no sharpener on my way out the door that morning. To get up and go to the front of the classroom to sharpen my pencil was unthinkable.
"Pssst," a boy sitting next to me hissed.
He reached out to me, a pencil in his hand. When I stared dumbly at him, he jiggled his hand as if to wake me from a deep sleep.
"Thanks," I whispered, taking the pencil and returning to my note-taking, a little less frantically now that I knew I was being observed.
When class was over, I permitted myself a sneak peek at the boy who had offered his pencil. A fuller look than what I'd previously seen from the corner of my eye. He was tall and gangly, his hair cut short but not stylishly from what I could tell. Luke was broad-shouldered and muscular. This boy was paper-thin; if there was a muscle in his body, I failed to see it. His clothes were rumpled and ill-fitting. The sheen of oil on his forehead highlighted several white-tipped red zits. He wore glasses that looked like they could have been borrowed from my dad. In other words — at least physically — he was my kindred spirit.
"Do you want your pencil back?" I asked his back as he was leaving.
"Nah." He turned around. "You can keep it."
"Thanks," I said. "I'll bring you a new one tomorrow."
And then, a burst of confidence I didn't know existed within me. "My name's Grace Templeton."
"I'm Timothy," he said. "Or Tim. Whatever."CHAPTER 2
After Dad's accident, he had surgery in Guatemala to stabilize him before being flown back to the states in an air ambulance. The next two years would mark a long, slow, painful path to recovery, but from my child-centric perspective, I didn't fully understand what that meant for him. I knew that he rarely came out of his bedroom. I knew he slept and read and ate in a special hospital bed, delivered to our home and paid for by insurance. I knew he and Mom lost the ready smiles that had carried me through childhood. I just never considered him as having to adapt in the same way that I was adapting. He was a grown-up, after all.
Although our new house was the nicest one, by objective standards, that I'd ever lived in, I couldn't imagine it ever feeling like a real home. The mail continued to arrive each day, bearing the ghosts of past occupants. Dad's torment was always just yards away, dampening any bright thoughts that might percolate in my brain. Mom was mostly missing, working as a nurse in a hospital thirty miles away where, by necessity, she tended to every patient except the one who needed her most. The neighbors kept to themselves, which was a concept totally unfamiliar to me. On the positive side, we had our first TV, but it was in my parents' room to distract Dad from the pain that was his constant companion.
People travel for miles to visit the daffodils that begin to bloom in Indian Springs each February. The entire town was under orders to display daffodils in every conceivable space. Not exactly official orders, more of a community understanding. If you don't participate, you undermine your community, turn your back on what it stands for — love, acceptance, support during the hard times.
Judgement and ostracism.
Nature's smiles dominate the landscape for a few months, bringing a fleeting fame to an otherwise unremarkable town.
My family was one of the few that didn't live up to our obligation when we first moved to Indian Springs. Couldn't. The bulbs in front of our house were old and hadn't been well-cared for. The plants hadn't been watered properly after blooming season. Mom was too busy taking Dad to his doctors' appointments, and Luke and I were trying to adjust to our new school. Not that we would have known what to do with a daffodil even if we'd had all the time in the world on our hands. Eventually, well-meaning neighbors showed up and replaced bulbs and tended to the ones resilient enough to survive. I'd look out the kitchen window when I was rinsing my breakfast dishes to see an unfamiliar figure, trowel in hand, hunched over the strip of bare earth that edged our front lawn.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kitty Committee"
Copyright © 2018 Kathryn Berla.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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