Blood Wounds isn't going to come out until fall 2011, which feels like a very long time from now, and the first two chapters only set things up. The Big Bad Thing that propels the story happens in Chapter 3, and I'm not telling anyone about it.
So on a what the hey basis, I figured I'd put the first two chapters here. At some point, my publisher will tell me to take them down, and I will. And people who don't want to know anything more than the title, certainly don't have to read it.
But if you're curious, here they come:
I think even if nothing had happened the next day, even if my life had stayed just as it was that night at supper, I’d still remember what Jack said. He has that way of startling me, saying something totally unexpected, but then, when I think about it, something that makes perfect sense, something I should have known all along.
We were all at the supper table. It was Wednesday night, and Wednesday nights we eat together. Jack has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, but we could never manage two nights in a row. Mom’s committed to completing her bachelor’s degree, so she takes a couple of classes during the day and one or two at night. Brooke always has something, lacrosse, dressage, violin, not to mention her dozens of friends. Alyssa has tennis plus the swimming and yoga she uses for cross training. And I keep busy enough too, with choir and the occasional school play.
But Wednesday nights we eat together. Jack does the shopping and the cooking, while whoever is around pitches in to help. Alyssa made the salad and Brooke set the table. I had a choir rehearsal, and got home only a few minutes before suppertime.
I wouldn’t remember any of that if everything hadn’t changed the next day. But I’m sure I would remember what Jack said.
Mom was telling us about her Nineteenth Century Literature class. Mom wants to be a fourth grade teacher, and fourth grade teachers don’t need to know much about nineteenth century literature, but it’s always bothered her that Jack’s so well read and she isn’t. And Val, Brooke and Alyssa’s mother who lives in Orlando, sends them lots of books, current best sellers mostly, but sometimes a classic she thinks they should read.
“Have you decided what you’re going to do your paper on, Terri?” Brooke asked Mom.
Mom took a bite of the tilapia and shook her head. “I’d like to do it on Jane Eyre,” she said. “But my professor said she’s read too many papers on Jane Eyre and we have to pick something else. She said not enough students write papers on War And Peace, but I’m not even sure I’ll finish it before the final. War And Peace is awfully long.”
“I don’t like long books,” Alyssa said. “I think there should be a rule that books can’t be more than 200 pages.”
“There’d be a lot fewer good books with that rule,” Brooke said.
“Yeah,” I said. “But there’d be a lot more trees.”
“You know something,” Jack said, as we sat at the table, eating and laughing, “Tolstoy was wrong.”
“About what?” Brooke asked, helping herself to the string beans.
“Who’s Tolstoy?” Alyssa asked.
“He wrote War And Peace,” Mom said. “And a lot of other very long books. What was Tolstoy wrong about, darling?”
“He said all happy families are alike,” Jack replied. “Unhappy families are all different.”
“What’s wrong about that?” I asked.
“Well, look at us,” Jack said. “We’re a happy family. But we’re not identical to other happy families. Happy families come in their own shapes and varieties, same as the unhappy ones.”
“Are we going to stay a happy family if I go to USC?” Brooke asked.
“I thought you were going to North Carolina,” I said “And take that lacrosse scholarship.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Brooke said. “So Dad, how happy will we be if I pick USC instead?”
“North Carolina’s kind of equidistant, between us and Orlando,” I persisted. “If you go to USC, none of us will ever see you.”
“Brooke said she hasn’t decided yet,” Mom said to me.
“I know,” I said. “I heard her.”
Jack looked straight at Brooke. “Have you talked to your mother about it?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Brooke said. “We’ve both been too busy to talk.”
“Speaking of your mother, she called today,” Jack said. “There are some changes in plans for your spring vacation.”
“What changes?” Alyssa asked. “She’s taking me to Brussels, right? For the tournament?”
“Dad, it was all set,” Brooke said. “Terri and I were meeting Mom in Maryland for my dressage test. Then she was coming back here to take Lyss to Brussels. What happened this time?”
“First of all, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that tone of voice when you’re talking about your mother,” Jack said.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Brooke said. “But I know I’m not going to like what’s coming.”
“No, it isn’t that bad,” Jack said. “Your mother’s trip to Munich was postponed, so she won’t be able to come here.”
“But I can still go to Brussels,” Alyssa said, and I could hear the panic in her voice. “Daddy, it’s my first international tournament. I’ve got to go.”
“Your mother understands that,” Jack said. “So she asked her parents to fly here. Gram will go with you and Terri to the dressage test, Brooke, and Grandy will take Alyssa to Brussels.” He smiled at his daughters. “Monday, Gram and Brooke will fly to Switzerland for a few days of skiing, then go onto Brussels, and you’ll fly back together.”
“Mom was going to see me play,” Alyssa said. “I want her to see how good I’ve gotten.”
“She wants to see it too,” Jack said. “She’s hoping to get to Brussels for the quarterfinals.”
None of us asked what would happen if Alyssa didn’t make it to the quarters. She always did.
“Lauren’s in Europe, isn’t she?” Alyssa asked me.
Lauren is my best friend, my only real friend outside of the kids in choir. She’s spending her junior year abroad.
“Spain,” I said. “Madrid.”
“I was looking forward to being home for the week,” Brooke said. “Have a do-nothing vacation, like Willa.”
“Willa’s going to keep busy enough,” Mom said. “She’ll be working on turning her ‘B’s into ‘A’s.”
“Willa’s grades are fine,” Jack said. He smiled at me. “Maybe we’ll take an overnight trip to Washington,” he said. “Go to the Smithsonian. Tour the White House. What do you say, Terri? Think we could swing that?”
Mom nodded. “That sounds nice,” she said.
“Good,” Jack said. “It’s settled. Brooke and Alyssa with their mom and grandparents. You and Willa and me with the President.”
Once, when I was eleven, before we moved so Brooke and Alyssa could live with us, Jack found me sitting on the kitchen floor, crying. He asked me what was the matter, and I told him that all the girls in sixth grade were prettier than me.
“Oh, pumpkin,” Jack said. “You don’t want to waste your pretty years in middle school. Not on middle school boys. Wait until they’re ready to see how beautiful you are. High school, or even college. You can hold off until then, can’t you?”
“Will I really be pretty then?” I asked him.
Jack helped me up off the floor and hugged me. “You’ll be as pretty as you want to be,” he said. “And all the boys will notice.”
I’m sixteen now, and a long way from beautiful, but I’ve noticed on days when I feel pretty, the boys in my school do seem to notice. And I’m glad I didn’t waste my pretty years on middle school.
That night, at supper, I knew we really were a happy family. Happy didn’t mean all singing and dancing. Brooke and Alyssa weren’t shy about letting Mom or Jack know when they were unhappy about something. There were battles of will, flashes of temper.
But I knew enough about stepfathers and stepsisters to understand how lucky we were, how hard Jack and Mom worked to make sure we knew we were part of the same family, equally loved by both of them.
It couldn’t have been easy for either of them. Jack already shared custody with Val when Mom met him. The first few years after they got married, the three of us lived in a house about an hour away from Val’s. Brooke and Alyssa spent practically every weekend with us, and Christmas vacation, and summer when they weren’t at camp or visiting their grandparents. Jack was a sports reporter for the Union Gazette, so he worked on weekends, but that didn’t matter. Brooke was busy with dressage, and Alyssa with tennis lessons, so Mom did the chauffeuring, and either I’d tag along with her, or I’d go to football or basketball games with Jack. I liked it best when Brooke came with us. She’s a year older than me, and I worshipped her. Alyssa is two years younger than me, but she only worships other tennis players.
We were a happy family then too. We even stayed a happy family when Val got transferred for three years to Shanghai. Alyssa refused to go with her, and Brooke admitted she didn’t want to.
Jack and Mom had a lot of discussions about the situation, none of which I was supposed to hear, but I did anyway. Val came over a few times when Alyssa was at tennis practice and Brooke was taking her violin lesson. I made sure to eavesdrop then.
But even with all my spying, I was still shocked when Jack and Mom and Val sat us down together and explained what was going to happen. Jack and Mom were going to sell our house and buy one in Westbridge, where Brooke and Alyssa lived. That way they could continue to go to Fairhaven Academy, and Alyssa could keep her tennis coach, and Brooke her violin teacher and riding academy. Mom would quit her job, so that she’d be available to take Brooke and Alyssa where they needed to go (Val’s housekeeper used to do that). Jack’s commute would be a little longer, and I’d transfer to the middle school in Westbridge. It was easier for us to move than for Brooke and Alyssa’s lives to be disrupted.
I’d grown up with Brooke and Alyssa, and they were as close as sisters to me, but that didn’t keep me from crying that night. Mom came into my room, sat on my bed, and held my hand.
“I know this isn’t easy for you, Willa,” she said. “But it would break Jack’s heart if Brooke and Alyssa went with Val to Shanghai.”
“But why can’t they move here?” I cried. “Why do we have to give up everything?”
“We’re not giving up everything,” Mom said. “We’re moving from one nice house to another one, and you’re changing schools. I’ll get to be a stay-at-home mom, for you and Brooke and Alyssa. Think of what the girls are giving up. They’ll only get to see Val once or twice a year for the next three years. You’ll still have Jack and me and our home together.”
“But I don’t want to start a new school in February,” I said. “It’s not fair.”
Mom kissed me on my cheek. “Shush,” she said. “You don’t want Jack to hear you, honey. He has to do what’s best for the girls. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
I wanted to ask Mom if Jack would still love me, but even though I knew her answer would be yes, of course he would, I was too frightened to ask. Instead I did everything I could to make the move easier, and even when we all settled in together, and Mom told us that Brooke would have her own room, since she was the oldest, and Alyssa and I would share, I didn’t complain. Alyssa did, loud and long, but she didn’t have to worry about losing Jack, and she didn’t seem to care if she lost Mom.
But Jack and Mom made it work. Jack flew with Brooke and Alyssa to Shanghai every Christmas, and Val stopped by each summer and took her daughters on vacation trips to London and Paris and Rome. Brooke left Fairhaven Academy for Westbridge High, and added lacrosse to her activities. Alyssa stayed on at Fairhaven, continued with her tennis, and was ranked 16th nationally in her age group.
Because Jack had never adopted me, my name hadn’t been changed to McDougal. Everyone at school knew Brooke McDougal, but only those kids who knew her or me well knew we were stepsisters. To everyone else, I was just Willa Coffey, reasonably pretty, with a nice voice, good grades, and a handful of friends.
I remember something else that happened that night, something I might not have remembered if things had stayed the same.
It was after supper. Alyssa and I were in our room. I was studying for my French test. Alyssa, who should have been studying, was on her laptop. Brooke knocked on the door and came in carrying three red sweaters. Two were bright red and one was burgundy, but they were all red sweaters.
“Mom’s been going crazy since she came back,” Brooke said. “I didn’t even know they sold sweaters in Orlando.”
Val had been transferred to Orlando in August. Brooke didn’t want to start a new high school senior year, and although Alyssa had been willing to move to Florida, it was only to go to a tennis academy and Jack had said she was too young. Val had taken to sending the girls packages two or three times a week, clothes mostly, but also books and jewelry and whatever was newest in electronics.
“What are you going to do with all those sweaters?” Alyssa asked.
“There’s no point keeping them,” Brooke said. “There’re another three in my bedroom. Willa, would you like a red sweater? Or two? Or five?”
This was a ritual we had. Brooke always asked me first if I wanted what she was discarding. And I always said no, since I was uncomfortable taking things that her mother had paid for.
“How about you, Lyss?” Brooke asked. “Could I interest you in a red sweater or two? Or five?”
“No thanks,” Alyssa said. “Mom’s sent me a half dozen too.”
“I’ll give mine to the St. James rummage sale then,” Brooke said. “Someone might as well get use out of them.”
The St. James rummage sale has made a fortune from Brooke’s donations over the years. I’ve bought a few things there myself, but never anything Brooke donated.
“Do you really think you’ll go to USC?” I asked.
“If I can convince Mom,” Brooke replied. “She’s the one who’ll be paying.”
“Would you take Sweetbriar with you?” Alyssa asked.
“She’s not worth transporting,” Brooke said. “I’ve wanted a better horse for a while now anyway. Someone will buy her.”
Val had given Brooke Sweetbriar for her ninth birthday. I still remembered how astounded I’d been that someone could actually own a horse.
Brooke looked thoughtful. “Maybe this vacation thing will work out,” she said. “If Gram sees me on Sweetbriar, she’ll see why I need a new horse. And if I’m at USC, she and Grandy can come over from Palm Springs to see me ride. I’ll ask them for a horse for my birthday, and Mom can give me a car, and Daddy won’t be able to say a thing.”
Brooke had been complaining since she got her license that all her friends had cars and she didn’t. But this was the first time I’d heard her say she wanted a new horse. “I’ll miss Sweetbriar,” I said.
“That’s because you don’t have to ride her,” Brooke said. “Okay, it’s set. Dressage in Maryland, a nice long flight to talk about horses, then a few days skiing.”
“How about coming with us, Willa?” Alyssa asked.
“With you where?” I asked.
“To Brussels,” Alyssa said. “I’ve been looking it up and there are plenty of flights from Brussels to Madrid. You could fly with us, and visit Lauren and then come back and see me in the quarters. You have a passport, don’t you?”
I did. Mom had gotten me one a few years ago, just so I’d have one, like Brooke and Alyssa. Only they used theirs.
“I can’t afford a trip to Europe,” I said, which was something Alyssa knew perfectly well.
“Gram and Grandy would pay if we asked them,” Alyssa said. “They like you, Willa. They’re always telling me you’re a good influence, because you’re so quiet and well behaved. You’d only have to pay for roundtrip between Brussels to Madrid. You have money saved up from your job last summer. Spend it on plane fare.”
There were so many reasons why Alyssa’s plan wouldn’t work that I couldn’t figure out where to begin. Asking Val’s parents for an expensive present. Spending money I’d saved for college on a trip to Europe.
But what held me back from even fantasizing was my doubts that Lauren wanted to see me. When she first got to Spain, we emailed all the time. But I hadn’t heard from her in over a month, and that was after I’d emailed her three times, telling her what was going on in school. And all she wrote back was she loved Madrid, and her host family had asked if she could stay on with them through the summer and her parents had said yes. None of which sounded to me like she was in the mood for a drop in visit from me.
“I’d better not,” I said. “Mom’ll be mad if I don’t study during vacation.”
“You could study on the plane,” Alyssa said. “I do all the time.”
“You don’t study anywhere,” Brooke said. “Besides, I have a better idea. Come with me to Maryland, Willa, for the dressage test. Alyssa’s right about one thing. Gram’s always saying what a nice girl you are. She’ll listen if you tell her how I’m longing for a new horse.”
“Longing?” I said.
Brooke laughed. “Gram likes a little drama,” she replied. “Come on, Willa. Say yes. You and Terri and Gram and me for the weekend. It won’t be Madrid, but it’ll still be fun.”
Brooke, I knew, would be having fun, since she’d be hanging out with her riding friends. But Mom would probably appreciate having me along, since it was hard for her to socialize with Val’s parents.
“I’ll ask Mom,” I said.
Brooke hugged me. “Remember,” she said. “I’m longing for that new horse. I won’t survive freshman year without one.”
“I’ll remember,” I said. “But I’ll still miss Sweetbriar.”
“Well, I’m not going to miss these sweaters,” Brooke said. “I’ll take them downstairs now. See you in the morning. Lyss, you be nice to Willa. I need her!”
Brooke left the room, waving the sweaters over her head. Alyssa went back to her laptop, and I tried to concentrate on my French.
Alyssa fell asleep first. She always did, exhausted from her tennis practices, her workouts, and her running. She didn’t set the alarm, but I knew she’d wake up around 5. She liked to jog for an hour before school. Maybe she’d get her homework done, and maybe not.
I laid in bed. I usually had trouble falling asleep. That night, like most others, I tried to synchronize my breathing with Alyssa‘s. Sometimes that worked. That night it didn’t.
I was still awake when Jack and Mom came upstairs. I heard them knock softly on Brooke’s door and whisper goodnight to her. They peeked in on Alyssa and me. I pretended, as I always did, to be asleep, so they wouldn’t worry.
The lights went out, first in Mom and Jack’s bedroom, then in Brooke’s. I was alone, as I was so many nights, surrounded by my family, but alone in my thoughts.
My family. My happy family.
We were happy. I knew how happy we were, how hard we all worked at being happy. Mon famile heureuse.
Everyone was asleep. I was alone. I could get out of bed, leave my bedroom, walk quietly downstairs to the kitchen, then down to the basement, and go to my spot, my private spot by the furnace, where I kept my razor blades and peroxide and bandages, all hidden where no one could find them.
Only a little cut, I told myself. A quick one on my left calf. A half inch long. Just enough to get me through the night.
Sometimes when I cut, I can’t explain to myself why I need to. But that last time, five day ago, I understood exactly what was going on.
I’d come home from choir practice to find the house was empty. Mom had left a note saying Alyssa was at tennis practice, and Brooke had needed a lift to the riding academy.
I was glad to be alone. I had known as soon as I entered the house, that I wasn’t going to make it through the rest of the day without cutting.
Mrs. Chen, the choirmaster, had assigned solos for the spring concert. To my astonishment and delight, I’d been given one.
I thought about how excited Mom would be when I told her, and then I decided not to, to keep it secret until the concert itself. Jack loves surprises, and Mom would be thrilled, and Brooke and Alyssa would get a big kick out of it too.
Just picturing it, the solo and how my family would react, made me happier than I could ever remember being.
But after practice ended, Mrs. Chen drew me aside. “You know I reserve the big solos for seniors at the spring concert,” she said. “But you have a very special gift, Willa. I don’t think you understand how good you could be.”
“I love singing,” I said. “Just being in the choir is wonderful.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m pushing you,” Mrs. Chen said, with a laugh. “All right. Maybe I am pushing a little. But I hate to see a talent like yours go to waste. Have you thought about getting a voice coach?”
I shook my head.
“There are so many excellent ones in Philadelphia,” she said. “Where does Brooke get her violin lessons? Locally or in Philly?”
Brooke is first violinist for the school orchestra, so there was no way Mrs. Chen was unfamiliar with her. Still, her question surprised me.
“Locally,” I said. “She’s had the same teacher for years.”
“I’m sure there are good local voice coaches,” Mrs. Chen said. “But I really think you’d be in better hands with one in Philly. I can come up with a few recommendations if you’d like. How about if I talk to your parents about it?”
Westbridge High may not be a private school, but the kids here are rich. Their parents, like Val, earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the kids, like Brooke and Alyssa, take tennis and golf and dressage and music lessons.
But Jack earns maybe ten percent of that, and Mom doesn’t get paid for looking after us. The money I’d earned last summer as an au pair was going to help pay for college.
I could understand why Mrs. Chen figured if there was money for Brooke’s lessons, there would be money for mine, but she was wrong, and I certainly didn’t want to put Mom in the position of having to explain that.
“I’ll ask my mother,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t. I’d learned a long time ago not to ask for the things I couldn’t have.
I had never thought about voice lessons before Mrs. Chen suggested them. I should have been happy Mrs. Chen complimented me, excited to have the solo. I was lucky to go to a school with such a great choir.
I knew all of that, but I’d run to my private space in the basement anyway, and cut my right thigh. I’d cut deeper than I’d intended, so it was a relief no one was home to hear when I cried out in pain. The kind of pain I needed to keep me from thinking about all the things I wanted and could never have.
Five days. My rule was never cut more than once a week, and better still to wait ten days or even two weeks. Last year there’d been a stretch when I’d gone seventeen days without cutting. I hadn’t told myself I couldn’t. I just hadn’t felt the need.
I felt the need then though, as I lay on my bed, listening to Alyssa’s steady breathing. I felt the need as I thought about my happy family. But it had only been five days.
I closed my hands into the tightest fists possible, my fingernails pressing into my palms. It wasn’t as good as cutting, but it was all I allowed myself.
That’s what I remember from that night. The sweaters, the planning, the laughter, the invitations, the need.