I'd love any and all input. I like the pace of the action in the first chapter. This summer, I plan to continue my search for an agent.
The looming question is, would you read more?
Oh and also, what can I improve?
*In a manuscript, an underline means italics for the agent/publisher. It's easier to read.
Couch surfers actually exist. There’s a whole website devoted to strangers searching for other strangers who own couches and don’t mind subletting them for free. Anyone can create a profile, pick a destination, then boom, they have an instant friend wherever they’re headed. What words come to mind when I hear this, you ask? Suspicious, creepy, and axe murderer, though the website testimonies swear the experiences are fabulous, amazing, and even life-changing. I’m fine sleeping on my own couch, but thanks a billion for the offer.
Since early afternoon I’ve been sleeping on our cozy sofa the way a person does when she’s bored and lazy; drifting in and out, not quite comfortable, mind blending the noises of reality into fuzzy dreams. My mood transitions from peaceful to confused to just plain pissed as a sharp sword slashes through those dreams in the form of a telephone ring. Mom brandishes an iron in her right hand, which really means “I’m away from my head right now; please leave a message.” Not a phone, not an exploding microwave, not even a brick through the window would tear her from her task. I shake off the clinging bits of drowsiness and answer the landline. We need a maid for this.
There is a click, a pause on the other end. Just like that, I fall into their trap. One click without an immediate “Hello” equals a recorded conversation. I could hang up, not wait for the monotone human voice to introduce himself and give his spiel. It’s more amusing to pull out my old-timey British kid accent.
“We’re poor, gov’nah. Not even pennies for the little ‘uns. Sell your goods elsewhere, ‘ey?” As I slam down the receiver with a satisfying thud, Mom remains in Oblivious Central. I wander back to the couch, sprawl out until my toes dangle off the edge of the last cushion, and prepare to die of the boredom that is the 6:00 Sunday news.
“Oh, I left my blouse upstairs on the bed,” Mom says after she finishes her fugly pleated skirt. “Be right back, Sadie. Keep the iron on.” I roll my eyes as she leaps the stairs two at a time. Her life depends on the fact that she has this particular ensemble pressed free of wrinkles in five minutes or less.
I flinch when the phone rings a second time. “No way. Not answering it again!” I yell, loud enough for my words to rise past the ceiling.
It rings again. I turn up the TV. Who dresses these newscasters? Pretty hideous outfits, if you ask me. The anchorwoman stands six feet and they put her in four-inch heels. She dwarfs the weatherman.
Another ring. At 5’9, heels make me feel like an Amazon freak. If I were that woman I’d have fought to wear flats. Not that flats make your calves look good. Why do people enjoy watching this depressing stuff? As if there isn’t enough to worry about in the world, we have to hear how an asylum escapee shot the police chief and hunted down the judge responsible for putting him away. Lock your windows folks, he’s still on the loose.
The phone stops in the middle of the third ring.
Four minutes pass, which equals a lifetime in mom years, at least when the iron’s puffing steam out its top. Finally, stair creaks slow and far apart give away her descent.
Even though she whispers, I detect an eerie quality in the sound of my name. It’s how I’d expect the words exchanged between a Mr. Serious and a Mr. Somber to sound.
I turn around. She focuses her gaze on the carpet fibers, refusing to make eye contact.
My voice squeaks out like a boy’s in puberty. “What happened? Is it Dad? Is he hurt?”
“No, dear.” The second word comes out shaky, but she’s found her voice again. She brushes her bangs back from her eyes, which she does when she’s unsure. My own brown bangs obstruct my view all the time, but I never brush them away. That might make me a little too much like her.
“What happened? Is Tommy okay?” I sit up. “Was he surfing? Did he cut his leg on a coral reef? Was it a jellyfish?” My mind plays worst-case scenarios on fast-forward. I haven’t told my brother I love him in a really long time.
“It’s not family…sorry, I…” She tries to let the words escape, inhaling deeply as two tears form downward trails through her makeup.
The only other person close to me, really and truly close is… No. I shake my head.
I bolt out the door on autopilot, sprinting five blocks west to the
s’ place, my heart flipping the worst kind of somersaults. Kat. It can’t be and it must be all at the same time. Canton
My legs carry me forward at a turtle’s pace. I jump over bushes, dodge cars, trip on a skateboard. Everything out of my direct line of vision blurs like a half erased sketch; still, the minutes stretch out, taunting me. When I run up the porch stairs, I roll my ankle but limp toward the door.
The doorknob twists but refuses to budge against the lock. A solid, high-pitched ringing hums in my ears, some sort of warning. I race to the left side of the house. Dirt jams up my fingernails as I claw through their hanging azalea’s soil, but no key. I resort to pounding with such force that they’ll have to let me in.
Bang, bang, bang.
“Please—Mr. Canton? Jeremy? Anyone?” Beads of perspiration sting my eyes. Tears mingle with sweat until I can’t tell if I’ve cried a flood or lost an insane amount of bodily fluid. I jerk the door back and forth with my right hand. If I pound just a little hole with my fist, I can reach in to unlock the door. I jerk and pound, jerk and pound, screaming who knows what in a voice that can’t be my own.
Dad comes out of nowhere and drags me away from the door. I kick and scream until I realize it’s him. He wraps me in a hug.
“I came when I heard,” he says. The words “car” and “surgery” and “grim” escape in between a whole slew of what sounds like bubble wrap popping in speedy bursts. The details seem meaningless after that one nasty word: “grim.”
Mom, panting from running after me, composes herself enough to repeat, “It’ll be all right, sweetie,” a million times in a row. Those words should be reserved for bruises and cheating boyfriends. Not for whatever this is.
Dad’s rolled down window sucks in unwelcome neighborhood noise during the otherwise silent drive to the hospital. Muffled laughter seeps into every available oxygen pocket in the backseat until a cricket chirp startles my eardrum. The distance to volume ratio is all wrong, my head off balance. I beg Dad to close the window when the A/C cools, but it doesn’t help. My vision is hazy, the dryness in my mouth like cotton.
Mr. and Mrs. Canton pace the ER, foreheads creased and arms crossed. I’ve been in this area of
Regional only once for an emergency appendectomy. The cold metal instruments scared the crap out of me. This trip, however, brings fear to a whole new level. My perfectly safe “Senior Year” roller coaster car has stalled over the crest of a giant drop; the longer I notice the micro-scenery with dots for people, the more I wish the car would race down so I can kiss the earth and soak in its steadiness. Hampton
Kat’s older brothers focus on separate points past my head. Steve’s mouth twists to the left side of his face and Jeremy’s right eye twitches. Every few minutes, Steve straightens his back, hits Jeremy on the shoulder, and they think of some encouraging phrase for their parents that elicits a non-response.
A pair of tired cops tells Kat’s family she went off the sharp curve of Pine Road and hit a tree. A nurse says she broke both legs, cracked four ribs, and has a collapsed right lung. Hushed voices discuss internal hemorrhaging and brain damage. Will Kat get a miracle?
I want to cling onto hope, that invisible belief that some call faith. But the truth? Faith is too hard. Especially right now, the thousands of things that could go wrong zooming through my mind. I hunch over, muscles deflated, from the sheer force of the realization: I have failed my best friend by asking those negative “What if…?” questions. What if she’ll never walk again? What if she won’t make it through?
Guilt washes over me, little waves at first, until a sharp pain tightens around my heart. It’s hard to breathe. Is this what it feels like to hyperventilate? I breathe several times with exaggeration; inhale, exhale, in, out, a yoga instructor encouraging her pupils. Two fingers on my wrist note the steadied thump of my heart. Positivity. That’s the way to conquer doubt.
Her recovery might be long, but soon she’ll return to her vibrant, bubbly self, telling others not to worry. That accidents happen. I picture myself driving her to physical therapy every week, willing my brain to accept the only plausible outcome. My semi-confidence wavers when I imagine her gorgeous sage green Mustang in a tangle of smashed glass and crushed metal. Any one of us could have been in that car with her. Normally I rode shotgun. My eyelids flutter, my shoulders sag. Normally…
My consciousness plays hide-and-seek with me for I don’t know how long. The first time my eyes flash open, I hardly remember taking a seat in one of those sticky yellow bucket seats that are uncomfortable no matter how you sit. The second time I wake to screaming, startled all over again to be in a hospital. My parents flank me on each side, bodies angled, trying to obscure my view. A long knife protrudes from the screamer’s left thigh, only two inches of the blade exposed. Even in the midst of his wailing, Mom’s hand kneads the skin between my neck and shoulder, and I gladly fall asleep. When I jerk awake a third time, Mom hands Mrs. C a steaming cup of coffee and wraps an arm around her. Dad’s beeper buzzes, and he leaves for work with a guilty look. Fire never sleeps, he always says. Did Kat’s car catch fire when it crashed? I shove away the thought.
I need to change my focus—avoid a transformation into the wild, flailing-limb version of myself from the Cantons’ porch. Before I realize what’s happening, I step over the ledge of the present and fall into the past.
A host of ghostly details plays out before my eyes with such clarity that it’s happening all over again. January’s Official Wintry Blitz (so appointed by the mayor) takes out the electricity. Thick ice causes us to miss eight days of school. Kat and I set up a four-man tent and tell scary stories over silver tea light candles. We cartwheel all over my living room, giving each other marks from 7-10, careful to avoid a disqualifying collision with furniture. Kat does them no-handed, practically cheating. When the weather turns nice, we drive to a Royals baseball game. I catch a foul ball in the purse she loaned me. Before I know it, the game’s over and we’re in their locker room. Players step out of the shower, surprised to see us. Kat holds out the ball, eyebrows raised, lips pouted in a “pretty please?” A smile seals the deal. Five players sign it, cotton towels wrapped around tanned muscles that drip with water, hair damp and messy. No one makes us leave, no security detail chases us from the park. Her sparkling eyes speak to me: of course we got away with it.
I look around the waiting room. The place no one comes just for fun. Last week she told me, “You’re full of surprises yourself, Sadie.” I will ask her what she meant as soon as she feels well enough to speak.
The doctor, both super young and exhausted, approaches the Cantons and motions for them to follow him down a hallway. Kat’s parents go, full of questions but waiting to ask. I know they want to hope. I know they’re praying in their heads. The boys shoot up from their seats and trail the trio. Steve glances over his shoulder for two seconds and catches my eye. His expression is glass, frozen over and unreadable. This day, no matter what happens next, has already etched a permanent scar across the Canton family history.
We wait. And wait. My bladder will burst in a few minutes, but I don’t leave. I can’t miss anything. Mom stands, I sit, then we change positions. The boys finally reappear in the waiting room, a staggered distance between them. Jeremy stares at the floor, lips slightly parted. There’s no sigh of relief, no comment to calm our fears, not even an acknowledgement of our presence. Steve looks past me. His right hand grabs a fistful of his hair. He shakes his head and leans against the wall. Mom grabs my arm, the only thing to prevent me from falling backwards. We hear the smash of vending machine glass, Mr. Canton asking, “Why?” in a half-choked breath. A calm voice attached to an invisible nurse tells him in a pitying tone, “Come with me, sir. We need to clean up your hand.”
That’s it then. Kat will never walk through the front door of her house again or kiss her parents on the cheek. She’ll never do another back handspring or decide on a college. The end. Nothing left. In a single instant, she’s become thin air.