"The Grief Book"
My latest YA, which my agent has on submissions to editors now, isn't actually called "The Grief Book," I'm just superstitious and won't share my titles until the book is sold, so instead I describe it thematically. This story is about a girl named Meredith who is grieving her older brother and clinging desperately to a destructive relationship in order to cope. And, for BALLADS OF SUBURBIA fans, it also features Cass, who is all grown-up and leads Meredith's grief counseling group. You can find out a little bit about it through the soundtrack I shared on my blog. And here is your sneak peek of the beginning of the novel:
He never hit me, but sometimes I wish he had.
Actually I wish he would do it right now.
Thatís a sick thing to wish for, isnít it? But if he took a swing at meóespecially here, in the middle of our high school hallway when itís at max capacity moments before the first bellóit would all be out in the open for everyone to see and I would be able to stop questioning if the things he does are wrong because hitting someone definitely is.
Black-and-blue is black-and-white. Itís not a misunderstanding or a signal I misread. No one would be able to say, ďMeredith, itís all in your head.Ē Not him, not Abby, not even me.
Thatís not how he operates, though.
Iím frozen in place, my empty stomach knotting up as I watch him through the gaps in the herd. It unfolds like a slideshow. He unzips his backpack. Click. Heís blotted out by a girl waving to a friend. Click. He reaches into the backpack. Click. A boy jumps up and down in front of him. Click. He thrusts something at Abby. Click. I close my eyes because I donít want to see it. Why did I keep asking for it back? Why didnít I let it go? Click. I force my eyes open just in time for a clear sight of him leaning up against his locker, left sneaker planted against the metal slats at the bottom, wearing that wicked grin that caused us to swoon over him two years ago. Click. Flashback:
Abby picked him out of the crowd on the first day of our freshman year. She nudged me in the ribs, squealing, ďMere, you got the best locker assignment ever! Look directly behind you when you turn around.Ē And there he was, the lanky boy whose black bangs were always falling into his brown eyes. He became Number Five in the notes that Abby and I handed off to each other between classes.
Back then we didnít know his name. Now I do. First, middle, and last. I even know how it feels to whisper them all together with the taste of him on my lips. But thinking of that makes the pain in my stomach spread to my lungs.
I want to pretend that this is happening to someone else. He is still Number Five and Iím just an observer, never mind that I donít have anybody to write notes to about him anymore. Abby is his messenger now.
Click. My flashback ends and three cheerleaders who are walking arm-in-arm bounce out of the way to reveal Abby shaking her head. Number Five scowls and shakes his. Abby should know from my experiences that Number Five doesnít like ĎNo.í Number Five makes ĎNoí disappear.
Click. Another cheerleader speeds by, rushing to catch up with her friends.
Click. Abby takes a deep breath, throws her shoulders back, and marches toward me like a brazen jaywalker crossing a busy road against the light in the middle of rush hour. Click. Click. Click. She has several near collisions, but makes it to my side of the hall. Weaving around the last person that separates us, Abbyís face falters.
Her lips part and she almost apologizes, but Number Five probably told her not to and even with the high school equivalent of an expressway between them, he would hear. He would know and when Number Five knows that you havenít followed his orders, heís not very fun to be around.
Abbyís ďIím ssssóĒ sputters out like one of those lame firework snakes. Instead she whispers, ďYou know everything would be fine if you hadnít kissed Riley.Ē
Her words are just a harmless puff of black smoke, but then she pushes the doll into my arms.
I will not let Number Five or Abby see me cry, so I take a deep breath to release the pressure in my chest and blink a few times. Though it only takes a second for my vision to clear, Abby is already gone.
If I scan the crowd for her, I might accidentally make eye contact with him again and I donít want to see him laughing. I also donít want anyone nearby to notice what Iím holding, so I spin around to face my open locker.
The black duffel that contains my cross-country gear sits at the bottom. Kneeling, I unzip it and set the doll inside like a corpse in a body bag.
No, itís not that bad.
Yeah, it kinda is.
He melted her nose flat and her fingers together so they look webbed. He bashed in the back of her plastic skull. He Xed out her wide blue eyes with a black Sharpie, which he also used to write on her face. ďWah, Wah, Wah,Ē it says across her cheeks. ďBitch, Bitch, Moan, Moan,Ē arches over the top of her bald head like a Mohawk. Her yellow dress has been slashed to shreds and sheís been stabbed repeatedly. Though her hands and head are plastic, the rest of her is made of fabric the color of skin that hasnít seen the sun in years. Her pasty cotton doll flesh leaks white fluff instead of blood.
A sharp tone rings out in the noisy hallway. One-minute warning. Lockers slam, and behind me, the herdís leisurely trot becomes a gallop. I zip my gym bag and leave it at the bottom of my locker.
Thereís a mirror glued to the inside of my locker door by a previous, more self-conscious tenant and I catch a glimpse of myself in it as I shove the books I need for my first few classes into my backpack.
I have purplish bags under my blue eyes from lack of sleep and my lips are chapped because I canít stop gnawing on them, but thatís it. No visible wounds even though it feels like there should be a black eye, a split lip.
When someone destroys something that really matters to you itís worse than a punch in the face.
I can hear him saying, ďIf youíre this broken up over a stupid doll, you really need help, Meredith. This isnít about me. You had problems before we started dating and you never let me help you deal withóĒ
I kick my locker door shut with a loud bang, silencing my ex-boyfriendís voice in my head before he can speak my brotherís name. Whatís left of the herd is stampeding now and I join them, racing toward my first period classroom.