When James’s boyfriend dies by suicide, a foster kid with a checkered past, no one asks too many questions. “Ash always had problems,” they say. But to James, the so-called facts are just the first of many mysteries. And when the very person who can answer his questions skips town, James wonders what else is being hidden.
A YA novel of suspense and shifting viewpoints, for readers of Adam Silvera and Gone Girl.
|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
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Louise September 2018
"DO YOU KNOW HOW many Elliot Taylors there are in this damn country?"
As soon as those words came out of his mouth, the hot guy in the video had my attention.
I leaned back in my desk chair, turned the sound up on the clip, and called over my shoulder. "Hey. Look what Saras tagged me in."
Elliot Taylor, who was sprawled out on my unmade bed with one headphone in, snapped his head up to watch.
"I've spent most of the last year trying to find him. He's disappeared into nowhere, though. So I thought I'd ask strangers on the internet to help me. I have a message for Elliot Taylor. Dark hair, blue eyes, tall. Anyway, I know that's not super descriptive, but he'll know he's the right one when he sees me. I wanna talk to him about his brother, Ash."
I was too busy watching the clip, narrated by a slim Asian guy sitting crossed-legged on a picnic table, to notice Elliot's reaction to it at first.
It was only when Elliot sucked in his breath that he ended up on my radar. He was clutching his iPhone with white knuckles and staring at my laptop screen like the creepy girl from The Ring had appeared on it.
"I've needed to talk to him for a long time now, but he's conveniently dropped off the face of the earth," the guy in the video went on, fiddling with the drawstrings of his forest green hoodie. Going by his accent, he lived somewhere down south. "Ash was my best friend, and he killed himself last year. I think Elliot and I both know pieces of what happened on Ash's last day. If we collaborate, we might get the full story."
Elliot was breathing too loudly for my liking. He sounded like an emphysemic with a microphone. I raised an eyebrow at him. "You all good?"
In the background, the clip continued. "Elliot disappeared right after Ash's funeral. Nobody knows where he is or how to contact him. But I'd sure as hell like some closure. If you can share this video, or tag any Elliot Taylors, or anyone who might know an Elliot Taylor, you might be able to help me find him. And Elliot, if you're watching this, please. Talk to me. For both our sakes. You know where to find me."
The video cut off. Elliot didn't say a word. And this was Elliot. Silence wasn't really his thing. Plus, he'd barely blinked since the video began. Because that wasn't suspicious at all.
"Is it you?" I asked, spinning my chair around to face him.
He stared at the screen for a few more seconds before crashing back to reality. "No."
"No?" I repeated flatly. I wouldn't have bought that even if he was a good actor. Which, by the way, he was not.
"I've never seen that guy in my life."
Sure thing, Elliot. Totally. "Uh-huh. So why do you look like that?"
"Like what?" he asked. He turned back to his phone and flicked through it so quickly there was no way in hell he could read the screen.
Interesting. "You didn't tell me you had a brother," I said.
"I don't. I didn't."
"What? It's a common name, like the guy said."
"Tall, dark haired, blue eyed, Elliot Taylor — he even has your accent — okay, you're shaking."
"Tall is a stretch. And I'm not shaking. We have to go to work soon."
Oh, masterful subject change there.
Elliot and I worked at the same restaurant — Bruno's. We met there when he first moved to town. Back then, he'd been all quiet, withdrawn, and, in my opinion, mysterious. I'd started following him around like a pre-fame Kim Kardashian clinging to Paris Hilton as soon as I met him. We clicked straight away. Well, I clicked with him. Can clicking be one sided? Anyway, he realised he wasn't going to shake me, so he put up with me. Eventually, that tolerance turned into affection. Over a year later, and he loved me back. At least, I figured he must, because he spent half the week inviting himself over to hang, so.
"No," I said, shooting to my feet and standing to bar my doorway. I was a goalkeeper for three years. He could try getting past. "No, you stay right there."
Elliot gave me a weary look. "Louise, we'll be late." He tried to push his way past me. I stood my ground stubbornly though, and we had a Western film style standoff. At least, we did for three seconds, until Elliot ducked under my arms and darted down the hall. Okay, so maybe my football skills were rusty.
"Elliot," I called out, chasing him through the hall and downstairs, where I almost went tail up on the tiles.
In the lounge room he passed my abuela, who sat perched on the couch by a pedestal fan with one of her Spanish tabloid magazines. Abuela and I shared a borderline obsession with celebrities, only none of the ones she cared about spoke English. "Elliot," she said, lowering the magazine. "No running inside. You break something."
He stopped in his tracks, spun around, and gave her a grin. "Sorry, Chari — Louise is terrorising me." It's a testament to how into Elliot Abuela is that she let him call her Chari instead of Rosario. She thinks he's devastatingly handsome. Eh. To each their own.
She turned to me with large, accusing brown eyes. Oh, hell no. Abuela always took Elliot's side. She fell for charm way too easily. No one ever taught Abuela she didn't need a man when she was a little girl, and it made her weak. "Louisa, eres tan mala que me vas a matar!"
So, I could barely speak any Spanish, and half the time I didn't have the foggiest idea what my grandmother was on about. But in the six months that she'd been living with us, I'd become pretty good at figuring out the difference between her "I'm pretending to be angry" voice and her "I'm seriously pissed off with you" voice. This was one of the former. No big.
"We're going to work now," Elliot said, grabbing my wrist.
Abuela looked crestfallen. "You no stay for dinner?" My Abuela was the epitome of a true Spanish housewife. Refer back to the aforementioned upbringing, if you will. Basically, she derived most of her self-worth from how fat we got off her cooking. The rest from how diligently she could stay on top of the grey hairs that highlighted her shoulder-length mane of thick, dark curls.
Nineteen-forties Spain didn't sound like it led the way in the girl-power movement, put it that way.
Mum, with her superhuman metabolism, scandalised Abuela by failing to get any larger than a size six, no matter how much she fed her. So inconsiderate of her, really. As for me, I lost the genetic lottery by inheriting Abuela's figure instead of Mum's. I put on three pounds if I even looked at croquetasfor too long. A week or so ago, Abuela had pointed out with some sort of sick satisfaction that I'd gone up a dress size since she'd moved in with us. I still hadn't forgiven her for it. She could take her well-meaning compliments and shove them in —
"No time," Elliot said. He tried to pull me outside, but I yanked my hand back.
"I have to get my uniform, you idiot."
He tutted. "I'm not the one who made it halfway out the door before deciding to grab my uniform."
The sheer sass on this guy. I scowled at him and ran upstairs to change. As a general rule, I tried to spend as little time in the Bruno's uniform as possible. I mean, black trousers, closed shoes and a boxy, collared shirt the colour of a sewer rat? Adriana Lima herself couldn't make that work.
By the time I came back down, Elliot was in the middle of a cheerful conversation with Abuela about his flatmate and cousin, Bea, who was busy slugging through her first year of uni. Then, as soon as we left the house, he hijacked the conversation by launching into a story about some rude customer. No way had he conveniently forgotten about the video. Nice try, though.
I decided to give him a break and let it go.
For now, anyway.CHAPTER 2
ASH March 2017
If you ask me, life is like a string of dominos, placed with care to facilitate the journey towards a predetermined destination. Each moment is a single piece, and as it tips, it sets the next moment into motion. So you can't ever pinpoint where something begins. How do you say a story started with any one moment when that moment would never have happened if it weren't for the domino before it?
You might argue that some dominos are more important than others. Like one standing at a slight angle when all the others preceding it are in a ruler straight line. As soon as that domino tips, the course of your life alters.
If you prefer the latter, I suppose the moment that altered the course of my life occurred when I tried to kill myself at fourteen.
That single action changed everything. It collapsed the precarious Jenga tower that I had once called a family. Without it, Elliot would've never ended up in the hospital. Dad would never have lost custody of us. We wouldn't have spent the last two years being shuffled around town, sifting through various foster families.
At the time, I had no way of predicting the true implications of that one, desperate attempt at escape. If someone had warned me that all of the above would follow, I would've thought for certain it was the worst thing that could have happened.
In hindsight, I could see that if that particular domino hadn't tipped, nothing would have changed. The course of my life would've stayed in motion, hurtling towards a reality far worse than the one I lived in now — without it, we'd still be trapped at home. Or worse.
As it was, I still had a house to return to after school, even if it didn't feel like a home. And though I'd lost most of my friends, I still had James. Also, despite the lack of a functional family unit, I had Elliot around to keep me busy, like any good family member should.
And as much as I loved him, Lord, did he ever keep mebusy.
Such as today, for example, towards the end of Maths. It was Tuesday, so Maths was my last class of the day. He attempted to call me twice, even though he knew I'd still be at school and couldn't answer without risking detention. My phone was set to vibrate, but I'd squeezed it into my pocket alongside my house keys, so it sounded less like a gentle notification and more like a chainsaw. On the other side of the room, James laughed at me, his mouth barely hidden behind his textbook. Oh, excellent. If James could hear the commotion all the way over there, I didn't stand a chance of remaining undetected.
Mr. Patricks, the worst teacher to be around while bending the rules — something I managed several times a week despite valiant efforts otherwise — whipped around. I hunched over my desk and acted like I was too lost in quadratic trinomials to notice the racket inside my jeans. Luck was on my side for once however, because, after shooting me a warning look, Mr. Patricks let it go.
On the way out of class, James hung back to talk to a group of guys from his football team. Rather than waiting for him like I usually would, I joined the sea of students as they headed down the hill. I was about to return Elliot's call when footsteps thudded behind me. I smiled to myself. James had caught up.
I slowed my pace, expecting him to fall into step beside me. Instead I was thrown forward with a grunt of surprise as an unexpected weight barrelled onto me. James let out a whoop of laughter from his perch on my back while I stumbled forward, nearly losing my balance on the slanted footpath.
"Get off me," I said, jumping to shake him off.
He wrapped his legs around my middle and pretended to crack a whip in the air. "Giddy-up," he ordered. The movement caused me to lurch forward again and a group of girls dodged sideways to avoid us. I offered them a sheepish grimace, then everything went black.
"James, get your hands off my face or I swear —"
"Follow my voice and thou shalt find the way. Onwards!"
"If I fall, I take no responsibility for —" I was cut off as James's hand slipped over my mouth. He managed to pull it away half a second before I went to bite him. "— injury."
Stumbling sideways beneath his weight, I held my arms out in front of me. One hand bounced against what I thought might've been a girl's chest, and I received a slap on my arm in return.
"I'm sorry, really sorry," I said to whoever was in front of me.
The ground beneath me shifted texture. Grass. I bucked, arching my back, and James removed his hands from my eyes to grab onto my shoulders for balance. Blinking into the sudden light, I glanced behind me to make sure the way was clear, then threw us backwards. James hit the lawn hard beneath me, his school bag only somewhat cushioning his impact. I rolled off him, ripped my bag from my back and brandished it as a weapon.
James raised an arm to ward it off, laughing helplessly. "Stop, Ash, I surrender. I'm at your mercy."
"You idiot; you made me molest someone."
He cackled. "That wasn't a girl; it was just Caleb Crosier."
I threw my bag at his face, and it bounced off his crossed arms. He held out his hands, weak from laughing. "Help me up," he said.
"Help yourself up."
I returned to the crowd of retreating students, and James joined my side seconds later, struggling to hoist his bag on his back. "We need to get you distracted," he announced.
"Is that so?"
"You've been mopey all day," he said, throwing his arm across my shoulders, "and I know it's over Gemma. So I'm staging an intervention."
We veered left after exiting the grounds. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the only evenings James didn't have football or athletics practice, we walked home together. The short way if our schedules were full for the night, the long way if we preferred to extend our time together. We never had to voice the decision out loud; it was always one we appeared to agree on.
"What does an intervention involve?" I asked as James hopped up to balance on the brick trimming that bordered the street. "Are you intending to tie me up in a room of naked women and make me move on?"
James pulled a face. "I'm having shit-all to do with a torture chamber like that," he said. "If that's what you're hoping for, you can ask someone else."
"You're not being very supportive," I said. "I'm aching. An empty shell. And you won't even do one small thing for me?"
"Can I wear a blindfold?" The street came to an end, and James jumped onto the pavement, hitting the ground only inches from me.
"You can do whatever you would like. No judgement."
"We could try anger relief ? Make a Gemma voodoo doll. Stab it, kill it 'til it's dead, burn it?"
"I get the sense you're more upset over this than I am," I said drily. "We broke up on good terms. You do know that, don't you?"
"Only 'cause you're gullible. No one breaks up with their boyfriend because their parents divorce. That's, like, the one time you don't wanna be alone."
If that comment had come from anyone else, it might have occurred to me to be offended. But he wasn't being nasty. He was just being James. And James wasn't one for sugar-coating harsh realities.
"I know it was an excuse," I said. "I don't mind, though. Things were fizzling out anyway."
"Then why are you all sulky?"
"I'm not. Can't I have a quiet day without a torrent of accusations?"
"Nope," James grinned, quickening his step to reach the creek. I hurried to match his pace along the beaten path, ducking under the low hanging branches of a weeping willow. He looked sideways at me, his face striped with alternating shadow and light. "Life's too short to be quiet. It's a waste of a day."
See, James felt that boys who liked girls had an easy time of things. He couldn't for the life of him ascertain why I didn't spend my time hopping from girl to girl like a bee perusing flowers, taking samples from each.
It made sense to an extent. If James had been interested, he would've had no shortage of girls queuing for his attention. He was one of those unfairly good-looking people. Having inherited the best features of both his parents, he'd burst into life with the universe's most mathematically symmetrical face, an adorable smile, and steel metabolism. As it was, he drew the "small town" card in the lottery of life, suffering from a drought of potential partners as a result.
Then there was me. My appearance wasn't an issue, even if I didn't belong in front of a camera the way James did. My standoffishness was the issue. Gemma had been a rarity; she'd snaked her way into my life so gradually I didn't realise what was happening in time to put my guard up. By the time I thought to erect any barriers, she knew me too well to care.
James, frustrated by my refusal to explore every fish in my vast sea when all he had to work with was an empty fish bowl, had adored her at first. Now, it seemed, he couldn't stand her. James might have been loyal, but he prioritised his loyalty. I'd been at the top of his hierarchy of companions since we were kids, so I was safe. With those unlucky enough to have a lower rank, he could be alarmingly fickle. Apparently Gemma was now on the bottom rung of the ladder.
The creek was growing wider now, the water rushing and crashing over the natural slope of the land in an imitation of white rapids. I stood on my tiptoes and grabbed a handful of leaves from the nearest tree, shredding them while we walked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Law of Inertia"
Copyright © 2018 S. Gonzales.
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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