To the world, Best Lightburn is a talented writer rising up the masthead at international style magazine James, girlfriend of a gorgeous up-and-coming actor, and friend to New York City’s fabulous. Then there’s the other Best, the one who has chosen to recast herself as an only child rather than confront the truth.
Ten years ago, on Christmas Eve, Best and her two older brothers took a shortcut over a frozen lake. When the ice cracked, all three went in. Only Best came out. People said she was lucky, but that kind of luck is nothing but a burden. Because Best knows what she had to do to survive. And after years of covering up the past, her guilt is detonating through every facet of her seemingly charmed life. It’s all unraveling so fast: her new boss is undermining and deceitful, her boyfriend is recovering from a breakdown, and a recent investigative story has led to a secret affair with the magazine’s wealthy publisher.
Best is quick-witted and headstrong, but how do you find a way to happiness when you’re sure you haven’t earned it—or embrace a future you feel you don’t deserve? Evocative and emotional, The Thunder Beneath Us is a gripping novel about learning to carry loss without breaking, and to heal and forgive—not least of all, ourselves.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Nicole Blades is a writer and journalist who has been putting her stories on paper since the third grade. Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, by Caribbean parents, Nicole moved to New York City and launched her journalism career working at Essence® magazine. She later co-founded the online magazine SheNetworks, and worked as an editor at ESPN and Women’s Health. Now a freelance writer, her features and essays have appeared in MORE magazine, Cosmopolitan, NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, BuzzFeed, xoJane.com, BlogHer.com, and HuffPost. She also maintains Ms. Mary Mack, a blog that aims to bring compassion and common sense back to parenthood. Visit her online at NicoleBlades.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Thunder Beneath Us
By Nicole Blades
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Nicole Blades
All rights reserved.
New York City October, Ten Years Later.
Coochie. Vajayjay. Box. Beaver. Taco. Vadge. Bajingo. Lady Garden. Call it whatever you want; the goddamn thing just killed my career.
When I get to Trinity's desk, she's squeezed into a corner looking serious, uncomfortable, cagey. This doesn't help. She had a similar cramped-up pose the last time I was called in to meet with JK like this, all vague and abrupt. If I walk in there and see anyone from legal, I'm not going to bother taking a seat. I already figured out which books in my office I'll pack and which ones to leave on the shelf for my replacement.
I'm supposed to be lightning in a bottle. That's what Chalk Board magazine called me in that "Media's Top 25 Under 25" piece last week. Mind you, I'm twenty-seven, but I keep popping up on these industry lists anyway. Honestly, it's just code for Yes, we let the right one in. Check off the diversity box. I'm totally cute, though, so that helps. Mediagenic. That's another word they like pushing up next to my name. Morning-TV producers think I'm hilarious, even when I'm feeding them warmed-over quips I thought up in the shower. You're great. You're so great. I'm not. I'm not great. I'm the opposite. Heinous and horrible, a feral beast capable of atrocious things like that night. Like that night with Benjamin. He didn't deserve that, and had those merciless tables been turned, he would have never done that to me. Benjamin, he would have found a different way, because he was good. I'm not. But people are drawn to me, never wanting to let me go (more from Chalk Board). They don't know any better. None of them. Fools. They've bought into it, this story of me being golden, blessed, lucky. They haven't clued into what I figured out long ago: that luck is nothing more than a burden.
It's that ignorance, blissful and simple, that makes people want me around, want me close in their circle. All of this should ease the choppy pulse behind my eye right now, send my shoulders down. It doesn't. Because I know I don't deserve good things. Getting fired from a fluffed-out women's magazine job: that sounds more up my alley.
I squeeze my hand into the shallow, front pocket of my jeans. They're extra tight, pencil-cut, and the stiff edge of the denim scratches my knuckles. I don't care about that; I need to feel the smoothness of my tokens.
For the last ten years, I've carried these two gold coins, clicking them together — sometimes loudly — like ruby slippers. They're not worth anything; cheap tokens from the winter fair. They were my brother's. You would think, after everything, I would remember which brother. But I don't. I just know that I need them. They're part of my story.
"You good, T?"
She shrugs, then nods and finally shakes her head.
Crap. I'm done. How am I going to look my dad in the face?
None of this is a surprise, though. As soon as I went from writing legitimate women's health stories to becoming the vagina reporter, that was the signpost and I ignored it — on purpose. Giddy at being special, held up to the light for my merit, not some unfair fluke, I pretended that I was worthy, that I deserved this goodness. And now look at me: mowed down by the vagina. At least I know how to get a bump-free bikini line. There's that. There's also:
28 Sex Moves to Wow Your Guy
9 Sexy Steps to Orgasm — Every Time
54 Sex Tips to Blow His Mind
101 BEST SEX TIPS EVER
32 Dirty-Girl Sex Tricks to Drive Him Crazy
The 7 Secrets to Bigger, Bolder Orgasms
All of this is intel that will help me after I get fired today. Clearly.
Fuck this. The vagina will not do me in. It can't. I need to play this thing arrogant, like there's no possible way I could have made another misstep in print.
I pull my posture up, drop the befuddlement, and add some certainty to my voice. "So, it's two o'clock," I say to Trinity. "Just go on in?"
She's moving her head in an almost circular nod. Trinity doesn't want to answer me and she definitely doesn't want to look at me. I try to read her jerky movements anyway. Trinity Windsong Cohen (yes, real) is the worst with secrets. All three of my promotions were spoiled by her; the good news blurted out while she was latched to my forearm, in a red-knuckled grip. I move closer to her, lean in, open my clenched torso for any impromptu choke holds and last-minute reveals, but I hear nothing, just the muffled swish of the year-round space heater at her feet.
"Um. Let me just check with James," she says, finally. Her words are run-together, her voice barely above a whisper.
The churn in my stomach returns, and I brace for what's coming. Maybe they'll skip the meeting; have Trinity walk me to the kitchen for cupcakes and put me down with one bullet to the back of the head, Mafioso-style. I really wasn't supposed to be here this long anyway.
Trinity slams the phone down and looks right at me. "They're ready for you."
"No cupcakes?" It falls out of my mouth before I have a chance to tuck the thing deep under my tongue.
Her face wrinkles.
"Sorry. I'm — I should go in."
JK meets me a few paces outside of her doorway, smiling, her eyes squinting. That's exactly what she did last time too. It's only been three months since I was here, walking toward JK's tight grin and stepping into a roomful of dead-eyed, dark suits. It was my first transgression, but nothing about it feels truly forgiven. I know they're all waiting for me to put my other pump square in the middle of the shit pile once more, and their collective doubt will be realized. No more waiting, suits, because here we go again — me being summoned to the office, again, for some mysterious reason. Again.
All right. So that this doesn't become Chekhov's gun, here are the three things you need to know about what we'll call The Mistake:
1. Wrote a big cover story about a famous yoga instructor with A-list celeb clients, who occasionally taught classes for the Rest of Us out of her impossibly fabulous SoHo loft.
2. The impossibly fabulous SoHo loft, I found out, actually belonged to her married beau. The married beau is also the publisher of your favorite celebrity-gossip mag and blog.
3. I slipped this slimy piece of info into the story. Cut to a threatened defamation suit, a horrifying deposition with legal, and a retraction and apology. The PR girls still spit when they hear my name.
I want to pray or vomit. I can't figure out which will actually help. Instead, I clear my mind and step lively toward JK's giant snow-globe office (seriously, everything is dusted in white). She opens her arms, waving me in like a banking jetliner. As I clear the corner, I see that no one from legal is there. I let my deep breath out, slow and quiet. However, the stranger seated by the window — this gives me pause. Shit. Maybe they found out about the honor-killing story. I've been working on it in ultra-stealth mode for months. It's going to be my golden ticket, my way out of here. Of course, now it will be literally my way out of here. Not golden at all. More like gray, or whatever color goes with insubordination. I'm not technically supposed to be doing this story. But how did they find me out? These people here are barely journalists; there's not a newshound in the bunch. Unless the mailroom guys — my guys — fucked up, and this is what it looks like right before the bus rolls over you.
"Hey, superstar. Glad you could join us," Susie says, as if I had a choice. Her voice is a little shaky, odd. All curly, auburn hair and outsized Clark Kent glasses, Susie is always steady. This right now is the opposite of steady, the opposite of Susie. She's practically warbling. I plant my feet and slide into ready mode. I just decided, this minute, I'm choosing fight over flight. The only thing I don't like is that my back is to the door, not the wall.
I hear JK's voice coming up alongside me. "Yes, come on in, Best. Very excited to have you here."
Stranger Woman, her skin like tempered dark chocolate, barely moves. Only her eyes angle toward me. Already, she's not impressed. She remains seated, even though JK and Susie are standing.
"Make yourself at home," JK says. She gestures to the chair next to the woman. I want to say something strong, unfazed: No, thanks, I'm good here. But it's tense enough. I walk over to the white leather seat to the woman's right, leaving enough space between us for our mutual disapproval to rest. "Best Lightburn, meet Joan Marx," JK says. Her grin is a little too wide, eyes glassy, like she just took a toke.
Finally the woman moves. She stands up, her slim pigeon's body bends at the middle, a smooth, shallow bow toward me. Her hair is in micro-braids and her makeup is too much. She's dressed like the plainclothes detectives I see at the all-hours diner near my brownstone, but instead of a wrinkled silk tie to finish the look, she sports a large broach on her left lapel. It's silver and shiny with raised, colored jewels. The control panel, I presume.
I float my hand out to shake hers. The grip is fine, but her hands are clammy.
JK sidles up next to me and touches my arm, gives it a light squeeze — more a soft pulsing — call it whatever, it's her trademark nurture move, something she perfected in twenty-eight years of running magazines filled with disparate, desperate (and often disordered) personalities. It works; my heart rate is slowing. Her moves always work on me: the arm pulsing, the wink, the random clothing compliment in the hallway, and the masterful combo of all three. It makes Janice "James" Kessler seem approachable (but she's not) and makes you feel considered (but you're not).
Susie, still skittish, interrupts the tired magic trick and I get my arm back. "I'm actually a little nervous," she says. "Maybe we should start. Sooner we do, sooner I can get that martini." We all chuckle and mutter things, light, easy, like it's being recorded for background noise on a movie. Stranger Woman is back in her seat, waxen and stiff. Before anyone has a chance to wipe the tight, cheap smirks from our faces, Susie takes a dramatic breath. "Okay. So, here's the quick and dirty on our wonderful friend Joan here: She is the former deputy editor at Sports World Magazine and before that she was at New York News. And before that, she put in a tour of duty in local network news for a few years. And now here she is, ready to join our team, and we are absolutely thrilled to have her."
I nod in her general direction. JK catches me and her smile dims.
Susie moves through a series of quick, weird tics, the last of which is rubbing the top of her pen. It's annoying and awkward, like everything else about this meeting. If she removes her glasses next and buries them on top of her head, I might as well lean back, expose my neck, give them full access to my carotid artery. Maybe they'll let their New Black One do the honors and have the first cut, although I can't imagine JK being down with bloodstain patterns all over this whiteness. Master move, getting another black woman to do me, though. Who knew JK was so artful?
Another deep breath. "As you know, Best, I love this magazine. It's the child I never had." Susie pauses, looking down at her bouncing knee. "I'm immensely proud of it, and this experience — that's the best word for it, really — it's one for which I remain eternally grateful."
Wait. This is a resignation letter. She's leaving. Susie's leaving and Robot Joan is taking her place. I didn't realize it at first, but I'm shaking my head now as it clicks together. Talk about being clueless. Ten minutes ago, I was positive this meeting was going to be my last day at James. I was sure that The Mistake had somehow resurrected itself and was going to finally bite me in the ass. I had every detail planned too: whom I'd call first (Kendra, then my dad), where we'd go to drink right after (Seeks Same bar, the cornerest booth), and what my parting words would be to the entire edit floor of James magazine (something from either Jay Z or Biggie — this part was totally game time, but it involved the word fuck).
But this time, this whole thing, it isn't even about me. Actually, now I'm pissed. I almost shit my pants, and for what? An intro to Robot Joan? At this point, either tell me how this changes my world here or break out those martinis you mentioned. Make a move, because I'm on deadline. The vagina waits for no one.
"Oh, Susie," JK blurts out. "This is so bittersweet, I know." She turns her head toward me. JK looks legitimately sad. "As you may have already guessed, Susie is leaving us, leaving the company; back to the world of transformative long reads and spellbinding stories in hardcover. We'll be making the official announcement later, but we wanted to let some senior staff in on the news first. And I know you and Susie have such a wonderful relationship, Best, but I'm sure you'd agree that we're all going to miss her."
I should say something. That was my cue.
"Well, I am really surprised and also really excited for you, Suze." I turn my chair away from Robot Joan. Of course, it squeaks. "You've been my mama bird here for so long. JK's right: We're all going to really miss you, miss your spirit, miss your New York crazy anecdotes, and all that warm wisdom you share with us every day. And I'm going to miss our talks — I'll treasure them."
I hit all the right notes. Tears are pooling at the base of Susie's eyes. And JK's face is flushed. They exchange warm looks. The sincerity of it all curbs the weirdness that has been muscling through the room since I stepped in. I steal a glance at Joan. She's still in greetings-people-of-Earth mode.
Oh shit. She looked right at me. I must be smiling because she is trying to do the same now, but hers is crooked.
Clearly, this android is last year's model.CHAPTER 2
Temptation is high tonight. I want to call Grant. All it would take is an easy tap on his little photo — the one I took of him sleeping in my bed — and it'd be ringing. He would answer too. But I can't call him. He needs the space. And honestly, I want to talk about me, not him or the progress of his mental state. I want to tell him about Susie's good-bye party. It was maudlin and tacky, but he always liked Susie Davis-Wright and especially my renditions of her wild Did I ever tell you about the time stories, complete with a spot-on impression of her delicate, lady-baby voice. He'd want to know that she escaped the nuthouse. Though I probably should stay away from talk of cuckoo's nests.
Mainly, I want to tell him about the Robot, with her tacky pinstripe man-suits she seems to fancy and those loose braids and nonexistent hairline. And I want to laugh at her, with him. I want him to help me plot out exactly how to destroy her, before she does me. I want us to come up with vile rumors — just egregious shit — to spread about her. Grant would be so game for all of it. His mastery of subversive passive-aggression and other dark arts have left me in awe of him countless times. But before we could even get to all the Robot fun, we'd have to trudge through the other woolly parts, the part about him getting better, about when he thinks he might come back to New York. We'd have to get through the us part, which would end up being a wrestling match, with Grant left bloodied and further bruised.
After the accident, I saw a family therapist here and there. Dr. Monfries was able to ferret through all my shit, through my anguish, and string together a theory. He said it was a pattern, my behavior — a glaring one. He even had some heavy, hyphenated word for it, though I never committed it to memory. Knowing what to call it didn't matter much then anyway. It wasn't quite manic, he said, and calling it a phase or acting out was dismissive. After the tragic disconnect (also Dr. M's words), I'd have these desperate moments — urges, really — where I wanted and needed to be physically close to someone, preferably a stranger and male — any category, color or creed. It wasn't always about sex. Sometimes it meant sitting close, like creepy-close to some man on the Metro or practically pressing myself up on him in an already-crammed elevator. The men never objected, but I knew how to pick them.
Excerpted from The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades. Copyright © 2016 Nicole Blades. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Thunder Beneath Us is a compelling women's fiction story that easily draws the reader into the drama and emotions that come with the complexity of life, the dynamics of relationships, and learning to confront one's past, heal, and move forward. Set in New York, the reader can't help but get drawn into magazine writer Best Lightburn's story as she discovers that the perfect life that she has been living may not be so perfect after all, especially when her traumatic hidden past comes to the surface, and threatens her carefully reinvented life. Author Nicole Blades weaves an intriguing and complex women's fiction story that will easily keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. This dramatic story provides much food for thought as Best's life begins to crumble, and is forced to confront her painful past in order to embrace happiness in life. Best's traumatic back story is heartbreaking and pulls at the heartstrings, but her journey of personal discovery and healing is realistic, compelling, and empowering. The Thunder Beneath Us is an emotional story about loss, forgiveness, healing, and learning to move forward in one's life. Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review.