Saturday, March 15, 2008
It is March 15th, but no need to worry about the Ides of March when we have a special blog tour for one of our FIRST members! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) Normally, on the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter! As this is a special tour, we are featuring it on a special day!
and her book:
Zondervan (March 2008)
Camy Tang is a member of FIRST and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.
Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) is now available. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) will be coming out in September 2008!
Visit her at her website.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Trish Sakai walked through the door and the entire room hushed.
Well, not exactly pin-drop hushed. More like a handful of the several dozen people in her aunty’s enormous living room paused their conversations to glance her way. Maybe Trish had simply expected them to laugh and point.
She shouldn’t have worn white. She’d chosen the Bebe dress from her closet in a rebellious mood, which abandoned her at her aunt’s doorstep. Maybe because the explosion of red, orange, or gold outfits made her head swim.
At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure curvier and more slender at the same time. She loved how well-tailored clothes ensured she didn’t have to work as hard to look good.
Trish kicked off her sandals, and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.
No, that’ll make your hips look huge.
She clenched her hands in front.
Sure, show all the relatives that you’re nervous.
She clasped them loosely at her waist and tried to adopt a regal expression.
“Trish, you okay? You look constipated.”
Her cousin Bobby snickered while she sneered at him. “Oh, you’re so funny I could puke.”
“May as well do it now before Grandma gets here.”
“She’s not here yet?” Oops, that came out sounding a little too relieved. She cleared her throat and modulated her voice to less-than-ecstatic levels. “When’s she coming?”
“Uncle picked her up, but he called Aunty and said Grandma forgot something, so he had to go back.”
Thank goodness for little favors. “Is Lex here?”
“By the food.”
Where else would she be? Last week, her cousin Lex had mentioned that her knee surgeon let her go back to playing volleyball three nights a week and coaching the other two nights, so her metabolism had revved up again. She would be eating like a horse.
Sometimes Trish could just kill her.
She tugged at her skirt—a little tight tonight. She should’ve had more self-control than to eat that birthday cake at work. She’d have to run an extra day this week … maybe.
She bounced like a pinball between relatives. The sharp scent of ginger grew more pungent as she headed toward the large airy kitchen. Aunty Sue must have made cold ginger chicken again. Mmmm. The smell mixed with the tang of black bean sauce (Aunty Rachel’s shrimp?), stir-fried garlic (any dish Uncle Barry made contained at least two bulbs), and fishy scallions (probably her cousin Linda’s Chinese-style sea bass).
A three-foot-tall red streak slammed into her and squashed her big toe.
“Ow!” Good thing the kid hadn’t been wearing shoes or she might have broken her foot. Trish hopped backward and her hand fumbled with a low side table. Waxed paper and cornstarch slid under her fingers before the little table fell, dropping the kagami mochi decoration. The sheet of printed paper, the tangerine, and rubbery-hard mochi dumplings dropped to the cream-colored carpet. Well, at least the cornstarch covering the mochi blended in.
The other relatives continued milling around her, oblivious to the minor desecration to the New Year’s decoration. Thank goodness for small—
A childish gasp made her turn. The human bullet who caused the whole mess, her little cousin Allison, stood with a hand up to her round lips that were stained cherry-red, probably from the sherbet punch. Allison lifted wide brown eyes up to Trish—hanaokolele-you’re-in-trouble—while the other hand pointed to the mochi on the floor.
Trish didn’t buy it for a second. “Want to help?” She tried to infuse some leftover Christmas cheer into her voice.
Allison’s disdainful look could have come from a teenager rather than a seven-year-old. “You made the mess.”
Trish sighed as she bent to pick up the mochi rice dumplings—one large like a hockey puck, the other slightly smaller—and the shihobeni paper they’d been sitting on. She wondered if the shihobeni wouldn’t protect the house from fires this next year since she’d dropped it.
“Aunty spent so long putting those together.”
Yeah, right. “Is that so?” She laid the paper on the table so it draped off the edge, then stuck the waxed paper on top. She anchored them with the larger mochi.
“Since you busted it, does it mean that Aunty won’t have any good luck this year?”
“It’s just a tradition. The mochi doesn’t really bring prosperity, and the tangerine only symbolizes the family generations.” Trish tried to artfully stack the smaller mochi on top of the bottom one, but it wouldn’t balance and kept dropping back onto the table.
“That’s not what Aunty said.”
“She’s trying to pass on a New Year’s tradition.” The smaller mochi dropped to the floor again. “One day you’ll have one of these in your own house.” Trish picked up the mochi. Stupid Japanese New Year tradition. Last year, she’d glued hers together until Mom found out and brought a new set to her apartment, sans-glue. Trish wasn’t even Shinto. Neither was anyone else in her family—most of them were Buddhists—but it was something they did because their family had always done it.
“No, I’m going to live at home and take care of Mommy.”
Thank goodness, the kid finally switched topics. “That’s wonderful.” Trish tried to smash the tangerine on top of the teetering stack of mochi. Nope, not going to fly. “You’re such a good daughter.”
Allison sighed happily. “I am.”
Your ego’s going to be too big for this living room, toots. “Um … let’s go to the kitchen.” She crammed the tangerine on the mochi stack, then turned to hustle Allison away before she saw them fall back down onto the floor.
She almost ran over the kid, who had whirled around and halted in her path like a guardian lion. Preventing Trish’s entry into the kitchen. And blocking the way to the food. She tried to sidestep, but the other relatives in their conversational clusters, oblivious to her, hemmed her in on each side.
Allison sidled closer. “Happy New Year!”
“Uh … Happy New Year.” What was she up to? Trish wouldn’t put anything past her devious little brain.
“We get red envelopes at New Year’s.” Her smile took on a predatory gleam.
“Yes, we do.” One tradition she totally didn’t mind. Even the older cousins like Trish and Lex got some money from the older relatives, because they weren’t married yet.
Allison beamed. “So did you bring me a red envelope?”
What? Wait a minute. Was she supposed to bring red envelopes for the younger kids? No, that couldn’t be. “No, only the married people do that.” And only for the great-cousins, not their first cousins, right? Or was that great-cousins, too? She couldn’t remember.
Allison’s face darkened to purple. “That’s not true. Aunty gives me a red envelope and she’s not married.”
“She used to be married. Uncle died.”
“She’s not married now. So you’re supposed to give me a red envelope, too.”
Yeah, right. “If I gave out a red envelope to every cousin and great-cousin, I’d go bankrupt.”
“You’re lying. I’m going to tell Mommy.” Allison pouted, but her sly eyes gave her away.
A slow, steady burn crept through her body. This little extortionist wasn’t going to threaten her, not tonight of all nights.
She crouched down to meet Allison at eye level and forced a smile. “That’s not very nice. That’s spreading lies.”
Allison bared her teeth in something faintly like a grin.
“It’s not good to be a liar.” Trish smoothed the girl’s red velvet dress, trimmed in white lace.
“You’re the liar. You said you’re not supposed to give me a red envelope, and that’s a lie.”
The brat had a one-track mind. “It’s not a lie.”
“Then I’ll ask Mommy.” The grin turned sickeningly sweet.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Trish tweaked one of Allison’s curling-iron-manufactured corkscrews, standing out amongst the rest of her straight hair.
“I can do whatever I want.” An ugly streak marred the angelic mask.
“Of course you can.”
“But if you do, I’ll tell Grandma that I found her missing jade bracelet in your bedroom.” Gotcha.
“What were you doing in my bedroom?” Allison’s face matched her dress.
Trish widened her eyes. “Well, you left it open when your mom hosted the family Christmas party …”
Allison’s lips disappeared in her face, and her nostrils flared. “You’re lying—”
“And you know Grandma will ask your mommy to search your room.”
Her face whitened.
“So why don’t we forget about this little red envelope thing, hmm?” Trish straightened the gold heart pendant on Allison’s necklace and gave her a bland smile.
A long, loud inhale filled Allison’s lungs. For a second, Trish panicked, worried that she’d scream or something, but the air left her noiselessly.
Trish stood. “See ya.” She muscled her way past the human traffic cone.
She zeroed in on the kitchen counters like a heat-seeking missile. “Hey, guys.”
Her cousins Venus, Lex, and Jenn turned to greet her.
“You’re even later than Lex.” Venus leaned her sexy-enough-to-make-Trish-sick curves against a countertop as she crunched on a celery stick.
“Hey!” Lex nudged her with a bony elbow, then spoke to Trish. “Grandma’s not here yet, but your mom—”
“Trish, there you are.” Mom flittered up. “Did you eat yet? Let me fill you a plate. Make sure you eat the kuromame for good luck. I know you don’t like chestnuts and black beans, but just eat one. Did you want any konbu? Seaweed is very good for you.”
“How about Aunty Eileen’s soup? I’m not sure what’s in it this year, but it doesn’t look like tripe this time—”
“Mom, I can get my own food.”
“Of course you can, dear.” Mom handed her a mondo-sized plate.
Trish grabbed it, then eyed Venus’s miniscule plate filled sparingly with meat, fish, and veggies. Aw, phooey. Why did Venus have to always be watching her hourglass figure—with inhuman self-control over her calorie intake—making Trish feel dumpy just for eating a potsticker? She replaced her plate with a smaller one.
Lex had a platter loaded with chicken and lo mein, which she shoveled into her mouth. “The noodles are good.”
“Why are you eating so much today?”
“Aiden’s got me in intensive training for the volleyball tournament coming up.”
Trish turned toward the groaning sideboard to hide the pang in her gut at mention of Lex’s boyfriend. Who had been Trish’s physical therapist. Aiden hadn’t met Lex yet when Trish had hit on him, but he’d rebuffed her—rather harshly, she thought—then became Christian and now was living a happily-ever-after with Lex.
Trish wasn’t jealous at all.
Why did she always seem to chase away the good ones and keep the bad ones? Story of her life. Her taste in men matched Lex’s horrendous taste in clothes—Lex wore nothing but ugly, loose workout clothes, while Trish dated nothing but ugly (well, in character, at least) losers.
Next to her, Jennifer inhaled as if she were in pain. “Grandma’s here.”
“No, not now. This is so not fair. I haven’t eaten yet.”
“It’ll still be here.” Venus’s caustic tone cut through the air at the same time her hand grabbed Trish’s plate. “Besides, you’re eating too much fat.”
Trish glared. “I am not fat—”
Venus gave a long-suffering sigh. “I didn’t say you were fat. I said you’re eating unhealthily.”
“You wouldn’t say that to Lex.” She stabbed a finger at her athletic cousin, who was shoveling chicken long rice into her mouth.
Lex paused. “She already did.” She slurped up a rice noodle.
Venus rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “All of you eat terribly. You need to stop putting so much junk into your bodies.”
“I will when Jenn stops giving us to-die-for homemade chocolate truffles.” Trish traded a high-five with Jenn, their resident culinary genius.
“Besides, chocolate’s good for you.” Lex spoke through a mouthful of black bean shrimp.
Venus, who seemed to know she was losing the battle, brandished a celery stick. “You all should eat more fiber—”
Trish snatched at a deep-fried chicken wing and made a face at her. “It’s low carb.” Although she’d love to indulge in just a little of those Chinese noodles later when Venus wasn’t looking …
She only had time to take a couple bites before she had to drop the chicken in a napkin and wipe her fingers. She skirted the edge of the crowd of relatives who collected around Grandma, wishing her Happy New Year.
Grandma picked up one of Trish’s cousin’s babies and somehow managed to keep the sticky red film coating his hands from her expensive Chanel suit. How did Grandma do that? It must be a gift. The same way her elegant salt-and-pepper ’do never had a hair out of place.
Then Grandma grabbed someone who had been hovering at her shoulder and thrust him forward.
What was Kazuo doing here?
Her breath caught as the familiar fluttering started in her ribcage. No, no, no, no, no. She couldn’t react this way to him again. That’s what got her in trouble the last time.
Trish grabbed Jenn’s arm and pulled her back toward the kitchen. “I have to hide.”
Jenn’s brow wrinkled. “Why?”
Jenn’s eyes popped bigger than the moon cakes on the sideboard. “Really? I never met him.” She twisted her head.
“Don’t look. Hide me.”
Jenn sighed. “Isn’t that a little silly? He’s here for the New Year’s party.”
Trish darted her gaze around the kitchen, through the doorway to the smaller TV room. “There are over a hundred people here. There’s a good chance I can avoid him.”
“He probably came to see you.” A dreamy smile lit Jenn’s lips. “How romantic …”
A mochi-pounding mallet thumped in the pit of Trish’s stomach. Romantic this was not.
“What’s wrong?” Venus and Lex separated from the crowd to circle around her.
“Really?” Lex whirled around and started to peer through the doorway into the front room. “We never met him—”
“Don’t look now! Hide me!”
Venus lifted a sculpted eyebrow. “Oh, come on.”
“How does Grandma know him?” Jennifer’s soothing voice fizzled Venus’s sarcasm.
“She met him when we were dating.”
“Grandma loves Kazuo.” Lex tossed the comment over her shoulder as she stood at the doorway and strained to see Kazuo past the milling relatives.
Venus’s brow wrinkled. “Loves him? Why?”
Trish threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a Japanese national. He spoke Japanese to her. Of course she’d love him.”
Jennifer chewed her lip. “Grandma’s not racist—”
Venus snorted. “Of course she’s not racist, but she’s certainly biased.”
“That’s not a good enough reason. Don’t you think there’s something fishy about why she wants Trish to get back together with him?”
Venus opened her mouth, but nothing came out. After a moment, she closed it. “Maybe you’re right.”
Trish flung her arms out. “But I have no idea what that reason is.”
“So is she matchmaking? Now?”
“What better place?” Trish pointed to the piles of food. “Fatten me up and serve me back to him on a platter.”
Venus rolled her eyes. “Trish—”
“I’m serious. No way am I going to let her do that. Not with him.” The last man on earth she wanted to see. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Her carnal body certainly wanted to see him, even though her brain and spirit screamed, Run away! Run away!
“Was it that bad a breakup?” Lex looked over her shoulder at them.
Trish squirmed. “I, uh … I don’t think he thinks we’re broken up.”
“What do you mean? It happened six months ago.” Venus’s gaze seemed to slice right through her.
“Well … I saw him a couple days ago.”
Venus’s eyes flattened. “And …?”
Trish blinked rapidly. “We … got along really well.”
Venus crossed her arms and glared.
How did Venus do that? Trish barely had to open her mouth and Venus knew when she was lying. “We, um … got along really well.”
Jennifer figured it out first. She gasped so hard, Trish worried she’d pass out from lack of oxygen.
Venus cast a sharp look at her, then back at Trish. Her mouth sprang open. “You didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” Lex rejoined the circle and the drama unfolding. She peered at Jenn and Venus—one frozen in shock, the other white with anger.
Trish’s heart shrank in her chest. She bit her lip and tasted blood. She couldn’t look at her cousins. She couldn’t even say it.
Venus said it for her. “You slept with him again.”
Lex’s jaw dropped. “Tell me you didn’t.” The hurt in her eyes stabbed at Trish’s heart like Norman Bates in Psycho.
Well, it was true that Trish’s obsessive relationship with Kazuo had made her sort of completely and utterly abandon Lex last year when she tore her ACL. Lex probably felt like Trish was priming to betray her again. “It was only once. I couldn’t help myself—”
“After everything you told me last year about how you never asked God about your relationship with Kazuo and now you were free.” Lex’s eyes grew dark and heavy, and Trish remembered the night Lex had first torn her ACL. Trish had been too selfish, wanting to spend time with Kazuo instead of helping Lex home from one of the most devastating things that had ever happened to her.
“I just couldn’t help myself—” Trish couldn’t seem to say anything else.
“So is Kazuo more important to you than me, after all?” Lex’s face had turned into cold, pale marble, making her eyes stand out in their intensity.
A sickening ache gnawed in Trish’s stomach. She hunched her shoulders, feeling the muscles tighten and knot.
Her cousins had always been compassionate whenever she hurt them, betrayed them, or caused them hassle and stress by the things she did. She knew she had a tendency to be thoughtless, but she had always counted on their instant hugs and “That’s okay, Trish, we’ll fix it for you.” But now she realized—although they forgave her, they were still hurt each and every time. Maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Where’s Trish?” Grandma’s refined voice managed to carry above the conversations. “I’m sure she wants to see you.” She was coming closer to the kitchen.
“I can’t face him.” Trish barely recognized her own voice, as thready as old cobwebs. “I can’t face Grandma, either.” A tremor rippled through her body.
Venus’s eyes softened in understanding. “I’ll stall them for you.”
Out the other doorway into the living room. She dodged around a few relatives who were watching sports highlights on the big-screen TV. She spied the short hallway to Aunty’s bedroom. She could hide. Recoup. Or panic.
She slipped down the hallway and saw the closed door at the end. A narrow beam of faint light from under it cast a glow over the carpet. Her heart started to slow.
Maybe she could lie down, pretend she was sick? No, Grandma might suggest Kazuo take her home.
She could pretend she got a phone call, an emergency at work. Would Grandma know there weren’t many emergencies with cell biology research on New Year’s Eve?
The worst part was, Trish hadn’t even gotten to eat yet.
She turned the doorknob, but it stuck. Must be the damp weather. She applied her shoulder and nudged. The door clicked open. She slipped into the bedroom.
A couple stood in the dim lamplight, locked in a passionate embrace straight out of Star magazine. Trish’s heart lodged in her throat. Doh! Leave now! She whirled.
Wait a minute.
The man had dark wavy hair, full and thick. His back was turned to her, but something about his stance …
The couple sprang apart. Looked at her.
Kissing a woman who wasn’t her mother.
Taken from Only Uni, Copyright © 2008 by Camy Tang. Used by permission of Zondervan.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Saturday, March 01, 2008
It is March FIRST, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!
and her book:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sharon Hinck holds a BA in education, and she earned an MA in communication from Regent University in 1986. She spent ten years as the artistic director of a Christian performing arts group, CrossCurrent. That ministry included three short-term mission trips to Hong Kong. She has been a church youth worker, a choreographer and ballet teacher, a homeschool mom, a church organist, and a bookstore clerk. One day she’ll figure out what to be when she grows up, but in the meantime, she’s pouring her imagination into writing. Her stories focus on characters who confront the challenges of a life of faith. She’s published dozens of articles in magazines and book compilations, and released her first novel, The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House), in 2006. In April 2007, she was named “Writer of the Year” at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. When she isn’t wrestling with words, Sharon enjoys speaking at conferences and retreats. She and her family make their home in Minnesota. She loves to hear from readers, so send a message through the portal into her writing attic on the “Contact Sharon” page of her website, http://www.sharonhinck.com/. She is also an avid blogger...visit Stories for the Hero in All of Us.
The first and second books in The Sword of Lyric series are The Restorer and The Restorer’s Son. The FIRST chapter shown here is from the third book, The Restorer's Journey. Enjoy!
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Chapter One - JAKE
My mom was freaking out.
She stared out the dining room window as if major-league monsters were hiding in the darkness beyond the glass. Give me a break. Our neighborhood was as boring as they came. Ridgeview Drive’s square lawns and generic houses held nothing more menacing than basketball hoops and tire swings. Still, Mom’s back was tight, and in the shadowed reflection on the pane, I could see her biting her lip. I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.
I ducked back into the kitchen and used a wet rag to wipe off the counters. Clumps of flour turned to paste and smeared in gunky white arcs across the surface. I shook the rag over the garbage can, the mess raining down on the other debris we’d swept up. Broken jars of pasta and rice filled the bag. I stomped it down, twist-tied the bag and jogged it out to the trashcan by the garage. Usually, I hated the chore of taking out the trash. Not tonight. Maybe if I erased the signs of our intruders, Mom would relax a little.
So Cameron and Medea dropped a few things when they were looking for supplies. No biggie. Why did my folks have such a problem with those two anyway? They’d been great to me. I trudged back into the house, rubbing my forehead. Wait. That wasn’t right. A shiver snaked through my spine. Never mind. They were probably long gone by now.
“Kitchen’s done.” I carried the broom into the dining room, hoping Mom had finished in there. But she was still hugging her arms and staring out the window.
She turned and looked at the china cabinet, then squeezed her eyes shut as if they were hurting. “Why?” she whispered.
Glass shards jutted from one cabinet door, and the other hung crooked with wood splinters poking out. Broken china covered the floor. Mom and Dad had been collecting those goofy teacups ever since they got married.
I pushed the broom against the edge of the fragments, but the chinking sound made her wince, so I stopped.
Dad strode past with an empty garbage bag from the hall closet and stopped to give my mom a squeeze. He nodded toward me. “Honey, Jake’s alive. Nothing else matters. We all got back safe.” He leaned his head against hers, and I edged toward the kitchen in case they started kissing. For an old married couple, they were a little too free with their public displays of affection. No guy wants to watch his parents act mushy.
But my mom didn’t look like she was in a kissing mood. She pressed her lips together. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was more freaked out about what had happened to my hand than our house. Like when I had cancer as a kid. She’d gotten really stressed about the details of a church fundraiser and cranky about everything that went wrong—stuff that wasn’t even important. It gave her a place to be angry when she was trying to be brave about a bigger problem.
“It’s only a piece of furniture.” Dad was doing his soothing voice. When would he catch on that only made things worse?
“Only a piece of furniture we bought as a wedding gift to each other.” She swiped at some wet spots on her face. “Only twenty years’ worth of poking around garage sales and thrift stores together. Don’t tell me what it’s only! Okay?”
“Okay.” Dad backed away from her prickles.
I made another ineffectual push with the broom. My folks didn’t argue much, but when they did, it grated like a clutch struggling to find third gear. Typical over-responsible firstborn, I wanted to fix it but didn’t know how.
Mom picked up a Delft saucer, smashed beyond repair, and laid the pieces gently into the garbage bag. Dad folded his arms and leaned against the high back of one of the chairs. “I can fix the cabinet. That splintered door will need to be replaced, but the other one just needs new hinges. I can put in new glass.” His eyes always lit up when he talked about a woodworking project. The man loved his tools.
Mom smiled at him. Her tension faded, and she got all moony-eyed, so I ducked into the kitchen just as the doorbell rang. Thank heaven. “Pizza’s here!” I yelled.
Dad paid the delivery guy, and I carried the cartons into the living room. Flopping onto one end of the couch, I pried open the lid. “Hey, who ordered green peppers? Mom, you’ve gotta quit ruining good pizza with veggies.”
That made her laugh. “We’d better save a few pieces for the other kids.” She cleared the Legos off the coffee table and handed me a napkin.
I gladly surrendered the top pizza box, along with its green pepper, and dove into the pepperoni below. “Where is everyone?”
“Karen’s spending the night at Amanda’s—trying out her new driver’s license. Jon and Anne are at Grandma’s. But if they see the pizza boxes when they get home tomorrow . . . ”
I nodded. “Yep. Pure outrage. I can hear it now. ‘It’s not fair. Jake always gets to have extra fun.’” I did a pretty good impression of the rug rats. What would the kids think if they found out what else they had missed? This had been the strangest Saturday the Mitchell family had ever seen.
I popped open a can of Dr. Pepper. My third. Hey, I’d earned some extra caffeine. “So, what do we tell the kids?”
Mom smiled and looked me up and down, probably thinking I was one of the kids. When would it sink in that I was an adult now? I guzzled a third of my pop and set it down with a thump. “We could tell them there was a burglar, but then they’d want to help the police solve the case, and they’d never stop asking questions.”
“Good point.” Mom licked sauce from her finger. “Jon and Anne would break out the detective kit you gave them for Christmas.”
Dad tore a piece of crust from his slice of pepperoni. “If we finish cleaning everything, I don’t think they’ll pay much attention. The cabinet is the only obvious damage. If they ask, we’ll just say it got bumped and fell.”
Dad wanted us to lie? So not like him. Then again, when Kieran told me Dad wasn’t originally from our world, I realized there were a lot of things he’d never been honest about. Now I was part of the family secret, too.
He rested his piece of pizza on the cardboard box and looked at Mom. “Do we need to warn them?”
“Warn them?” She mumbled around a mouth full of melted cheese.
“In case Cameron and Medea come back.” His voice was calm, but I suddenly had a hard time swallowing. Something cold twisted in me when he said their names. The same cold that had numbed my bones when I’d woken up in the attic. Why? They’d taken care of me. No, they’d threatened me. Confusing images warred inside my brain.
“You think they’ll come back?” My baritone went up in pitch, and I quickly took another sip of pop.
Dad didn’t answer for a moment. “It depends on why they came. If they plan to stay in our world, we need to find them—stop them. But my guess is that Cameron wants to return to Lyric with something from our world that he can use there. That means they’ll be back to go through the portal.”
Mom sank deeper into the couch and looked out the living room windows. At the curb, our family van shimmered beneath a streetlight.
They might be out there, too. They could be watching us right this second.
“Maybe we should call the police.” Mom’s voice sounded thin. I’d suggested that earlier. After all, someone had broken in—well, broken out.
Dad snorted. “And tell them what?”
He had a point, but it’s not like there was a rulebook for dealing with visitors from other universes. Unless you attended Star Trek conventions. “So what’s your plan?” I asked.
“I’ll get extra locks tomorrow. Maybe look into an alarm system.” Dad believed every problem could be solved with his Home Depot credit card. He turned to me. “Can you remember more about your conversations with Cameron? What did he ask you about? What did he seem interested in?”
A shudder moved through me, and pain began pulsing behind my eyes.
Mom gave Dad a worried glance, then rested a hand on my arm. “It’s okay, honey. We don’t have to talk about it right now.” She smoothed my hair back from my face.
“No problem.” I brushed her hand away, sprawled back on the couch, and studied the ceiling. “It just seems like it was all a dream.”
“What’s the last thing you remember clearly?” Dad pulled his chair closer and watched me.
“Braide Wood.” I closed my eyes and smiled. “It reminded me of summer camp. And I was so tired of running and hiding in caves. I finally felt safe. Tara fussed over me, and I taught Dustin and Aubrey how to play soccer. It felt like home.”
I struggled to remember the rest. For some reason my memories were tangled up, like the time I had a major fever and took too much Nyquil. Mom and Dad waited.
“I went to see Morsal Plains with Tara. Brutal. The grain was all black and it smelled weird. Tara told me about the attack. How Hazor poisoned it on purpose and how Susan the Restorer led the army to protect Braide Wood.” I squinted my eyes open and looked sideways at my mom. They’d told me she had ridden into battle with a sword. “Unbelievable.”
Even though she was watching me with a worried pinch to her eyes, she smiled. “I know. I lived it, and it’s hard for me to believe.”
“Anyway, I hiked back to Tara’s house, and some guys came to take me to Cameron. He made a big fuss over me. Said it was his job to welcome guests to the clans. Said I’d run into bad company but he’d make it up to me. He gave me something to drink, and there was this lady. She was amazing.” No matter how fuzzy my memories were, Medea was easy to remember. The long curly hair, the sparkling eyes, the dress that clung to all the right places. My cheeks heated. “I can’t remember everything we talked about. She made me feel important, like I wasn’t just some teenage kid. It was . . . ” I sat taller and angled away from my parents, my jaw tightening. “She helped me realize that no one else had ever really understood me. I wanted to become a guardian. I had an important job to do.”
“Jake.” Dad’s voice was sharp, and I flinched. “The woman you met was a Rhusican. They poison minds. Don’t trust everything you’re feeling right now.”
A pulsing ache grabbed the base of my neck. I pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes. Mom’s hand settled on my shoulder, and I stiffened. Weird static was messing with my head.
“Jake, they used you to find the portal. She doesn’t really understand you.” Mom’s voice was quiet and sounded far away. I felt like I was falling away inside myself. She squeezed my shoulder. “Remember my favorite psalm?”
I managed a tight smile. “How could I forget? You made us learn the whole thing one summer. ‘O Lord, you have searched me and you know me…’ blah, blah, blah.”
Despite my smart aleck tone, the words took hold and some of the static in my brain quieted.
“What’s the rest?” Dad pressed me.
What was he trying to prove? That I couldn’t think straight? I could have told him that. I struggled to form the words.
“‘You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.’” Once I got started, I rattled off the verses by rote. In some strange way, the words actually stopped the sensation of falling away inside myself.
“Sounds like there’s someone who understands you a lot better than Cameron and Medea. Remember that.” Dad stood up and tousled my hair. Then he yawned. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Mom didn’t move. She was still watching me. “How’s the hand?”
I rubbed my palm. “Still fine. Weird, huh?” I held it out.
A scar, faint as a white thread, marked the skin where broken glass had cut a deep gash an hour earlier. My lungs tightened. What did it mean?
Dad shook his head. “Come on. Bedtime.”
Mom hesitated, but then stood and gave me a quick kiss on the forehead. “Good night, Jake. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
Oh, great. She sure loved talking. I looked at Dad. His mouth twitched. “I’ll get us signed up for some practice space at the fencing club.”
Good. He hadn’t forgotten his promise. I couldn’t make sense of my trip through the portal, or the sudden-healing thing, but I knew I wanted to learn to use a sword.
My parents gathered up the pizza stuff and carried it to the kitchen, out of sight, but not out of earshot.
“If we hide the portal stones Cameron and Medea won’t be able to go back,” Dad said over the crinkling of a sheet of aluminum foil.
Someone slammed the fridge door shut hard enough to make the salad dressing bottles rattle. “We don’t want them running around our world. They don’t belong here.” Mom sounded tense.
“I know. We have to send them back. But on our terms. Without anything that would hurt the People of the Verses. And what about Jake?”
Silence crackled, and I leaned forward from my spot on the couch.
When Mom refused to answer, Dad spoke again, so quiet I almost couldn’t hear. “We need to keep the portal available in case he’s needed there. But how will we know?”
Needed there? Did he really think . . .?
I waited for them to head back to their bedroom, then slipped down the steps from the kitchen to the basement. Most of the basement was still unfinished – except for my corner bedroom and Dad’s workbench.
I hurried into my room and shut out the world behind me. Tonight everything looked different. The movie posters, the bookshelves, the soccer team trophy. Smaller, foreign, unfamiliar.
I pulled a thumbtack from my bulletin board and scratched it across my thumb. A line of blood appeared, but in a microsecond the tiny scrape healed completely. I had assumed the healing power was some heebie-jeebie thing that Medea had given me, or that had transferred over from my interactions with Kieran.
But now that my head had stopped throbbing, I could put the pieces together. Excitement stronger than caffeine zipped around my nerve endings. My folks thought this was more than a weird effect left over from my travels through the portal. They thought I might be the next Restorer.