The giveaway for one (1) of two (2) signed proof copies of my latest novel, Love Over Matter, has ended! A big thank you to everyone who entered!
Without further ado–drum roll, please–I give you the winners:
Notification emails will be going out to the winners later today. Congrats to them, and thanks again to all who entered!
[P.S. I am roughly halfway through writing a new novel (untitled, as of yet) with an older protag (early 20s) who is struggling to get her life off the ground after college. It's a light romantic comedy with a heart. Look for excerpts here in early December!]
… and that number is 2!
As promised, I am giving away 2 signed paperback proof copies of my new YA novel, Love Over Matter! The giveaway will be hosted by Rafflecopter (link below) and the winners will be chosen at random on October 31, 2013. (Happy Halloween!)
Follow the link provided and log in to Rafflecopter with Facebook or by entering your name + email address.
Click “+1″ beside “invent your own option.”
Type the word “love” in the empty box.
Congratulations, you’re done!
Here’s a look at the cover of the novel winners will be receiving:
And here’s the giveaway link:
And here are the Terms & Conditions:
This contest is open to residents of the United States and the United Kingdom only. Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) signed paperback proof copy of Love Over Matter. You may enter to win at the link provided above. Rafflecopter is solely responsible for the administration of this giveaway. Any technical difficulties with entries should be directed at them. At the time of entry, you must provide a valid email address (entrants who choose to log in using Facebook should make sure their Facebook profiles contain a valid, active email address). Winners will be selected at random and notified by email, at which time they must also provide a valid shipping address in the US or the UK. If a winner fails to provide a valid US or UK shipping address, an alternate winner will be selected.
Good luck & thanks for entering! I hope you win.
Posted by maggiebloomwrites in Uncategorized Tags: arc, autographed, autographed book, book, book giveaway, contest, free, free book, giveaway, Maggie Bloom, novel, romance, signed, signed book, teen, win, young adult
Being an indie author has lots of pluses (and some minuses too, but that’s a post for another day). The best thing about going it alone in this brave new publishing world is the level of control you maintain over your work. I develop the concepts for my novels, write them, edit them (with help from some lovely beta readers), format them for e-book and print, coordinate the marketing (blurbs, giveaways, etc.), and, last but not least, work with designers to produce attractive covers. (Despite the old adage, books are absolutely judged by their covers. Ignore them at your peril.)
This brings me to the reason for today’s post: after much searching, I found a fantastic cover designer for my latest novel, Love Over Matter. She is so fantastic that she was booked solid with freelance work for nearly three months. But I waited patiently, counting down the days until my baby would get the shiny new coat of paint that would allow her to sit proudly on any bookstore shelf.
Today is that day!
To say that I am ecstatic would be like saying the sun is hot. It’s true, but it doesn’t quite capture the intensity. So thank you Karri Klawiter for being so awesome (and for charging a reasonable fee, so indies like me can afford such outstanding work!). Rest assured, I will be banging down your door again in the near future.
Without further adieu, behold:
The good news for readers? Once I finalize the interior formatting of the print book, I will be giving away a number of autographed copies! Visit me here in 2-3 weeks for details on how to win one! As always, thanks for reading …
I’m happy to report that I have wrapped up editing on my new YA novel, Love Over Matter, and pressed the publish button! The book is currently FREE at Smashwords in multiple e-book formats! The paperback will follow in a few months, when my cover artist is finished with the design work.
Here’s the blurb for the book, for those who may wish to download:
George is dead. Now Cassie must learn to live without him.
Sixteen-year-old Cassie McCoy would do anything to contact George—her best friend and secret crush—beyond the grave, including dabbling in dark magic. But her “powers” are stuck in neutral. Everyone is on her case to move on with her life. And there’s a lot she never knew about George—or so says a mysterious, familiar-looking stranger who may not only be the key to George’s hidden past but, if the storm clouds align just right, the means of delivering Cassie’s bittersweet goodbye.
And the e-book cover …
As always, I hope you enjoy reading! Reviews are also welcome.
Thanks for stopping by.
…for another installment of my work-in-progress.
Before we blast off, though, I hereby beg the writing gods to pick up the pace on this manuscript. I mean, I’m not Methuselah here. Time’s a-tickin’.
That said, I hope you enjoy.
Copyright 2012 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.
chapter 4 (First Draft)
Opal Madden lives in a converted church (formerly Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian) with her golf-pro stepfather and fragile (often intoxicated) mother, a washed-up soap opera actress.
“You’re lucky it’s Monday,” I tell Haley as we coast to a stop in Mom’s Prius, my lack of a driver’s license endowing me with a paranoid eye-twitch, “and the restaurant’s closed.” I pop the shifter into park. “If we get caught,” I add, channeling a last-minute surge of adrenaline, “your head’s on the chopping block, not mine.”
Haley wiggles a hand under her cape (on top of everything else, she’s in Dracula mode) and withdraws a small bottle of clear liquid. I don’t recognize it until she spins it around, revealing the half-peeled bourbon label. “Here you go,” she says, tossing the holy water into my lap. “I thought this might help.”
I power the car down. “How did you…?”
She smirks. “I have powers too, you know.”
“Remember when you used that stuff on Dad?” she asks with a twirl of her dye-damaged split ends. “And he thought the coffee maker was on the fritz?”
I fight a smile. “That was pretty funny,” I say. “But it got him in for a physical, didn’t it? And once his lab work came back, Mom stopped moping around about the possibility of him dying. So it was a win-win.”
“That’s true,” Haley allows, her gaze locked on the inconspicuous front door of Madden’s House of Worship.
I sense something moving inside and –sure enough—Opal’s svelte, pale face appears, framed in a stained glass-bordered window as if she’s a religious icon or one of the living portraits from Harry Potter.
“Action!” I spout, a performance on the horizon (at least on the part of Opal’s mother).
Haley unbuckles, and I stifle a laugh; my sister is a knot of contradictions: head-banger music and death gear, safety belts and white-light altruism.
We traipse up to the church’s entrance, Opal’s knobby arm—followed by her slim-to-nonexistent profile—slipping out to greet us. “Sorry,” she begins, her eyes sandpapered- and puffy-looking, “but I didn’t know who else to call.” She gives a faint snort-sniffle.
“Where is she?” I inquire, as if I’m an old-timey doctor making a house call, which I sort of am.
“The bathtub,” she says with a resigned shake of her head.
“Anyone else home?”
“What’re you gonna do?” wonders Haley.
“Fix her,” I say, surprised by the certainty in my voice.
Opal kicks the base of the door to nudge it open. “Come on in.”
The interior of the Madden house is the demented love child of a souvenir shop, a disco, and a bag of cotton candy (think psychedelic pastel colors, swarms of fringe and beads, and herds of ceramic elephants, poised to stampede).
I step over a pile of tattered People magazines and trail Opal and Haley into the bathroom, a voluminous space with two stalls (left over from the Saint Andrew’s days) and, behind a translucent screen, a Jacuzzi tub. “Mom?” Opal says softly as we approach. “You up?”
A garbled string of nonsense fills the air, the best translation of which, by my ear, is: What do you want? Just go away.
“I brought someone to see you,” coos Opal. She gives Haley and me the stop sign with her palm, then slinks behind the screen.
More gurgled syllables: Get out of here. I hate you.
I clear my throat. “Mrs. Madden? It’s me, Cassandra McCoy. Can I come in? I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”
Opal’s mother and I (and George, too) worked on an Easter production of Alice in Wonderland at the Milford Community Theater three years ago. George did set design and construction; I was in the wardrobe department; Mrs. Madden played the Queen of Hearts (I even sewed the skirt for one of her costumes!) “Stupid people, always botherin’ me,” her slurred voice snipes.
Geez, and I thought she’d taken a shine to me.
“Mom,” whines Opal, her voice veering into panicked territory, “you don’t feel good. Cassie’s going to help you.”
I elbow Haley and mouth: Is she naked?
My sister shrugs, wrinkles her face in disgust: I don’t know.
I clutch her shoulders and deliver an encouraging little shove. “Check for me.”
She skids to a stop, shoots me a glare and whispers, “Jerk.”
“Just do it,” I reply, even softer. I flick my wrist to shoo her off.
She shakes her head and sighs, twists around the edge of the screen with her eyelids pinched to slits. Her torso freezes, as if she’s stopped breathing.
“So…?” I murmur.
“Is it that bad?” I ask, tiptoeing up behind her.
“See for yourself.” She whips backwards and heads for one of the stalls. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
I don’t really have much of a choice. As my head rounds the screen, a noxious whiff of…decay overwhelms me. “What’s that smell?” I can’t help muttering, even though the question is ultra-rude.
Before anyone answers, I glimpse the source of the stench for myself: three days’ worth (give or take) of rotten, half-eaten snack foods—melted cookie-dough ice cream, oozing out of a bloated container; a bouquet of disposable cups, each holding an inch of spoiled milk and the remains of a nibbled peanut butter cup or peppermint patty; a brick of Swiss cheese, hacked off at weird angles and balanced—exposed—on the edge of the tub, gobs of dried body wash (or shampoo) acting as support beams.
Inside the tub—which is dry, thank God—Mrs. Madden is scrunched in a ball, her mouth gaping and a muffled snore pulsing through her airways.
Opal recognizes the disgust on my face and, once again, says, “Sorry.”
I pat her arm and smile. “Don’t worry about it. The Moondancer looks like this every night.” (Not really, but it does get pretty messy sometimes. And if it makes Opal feel better…)
“Wake up,” Opals says, poking delicately at her mother’s shoulder.
Mrs. Madden’s lips clamp together and she bolts upright, a dazed look clouding her eyes. “Erm..ur…grrm…”
In the distance, a sloppy spitting sound is followed by the whooshing flush of a toilet. I chance two small steps toward the Jacuzzi, where I hover a few feet over Mrs. Madden’s head and observe her aura, which is a striking combination of black and gold—and the black is winning, a fact that doesn’t surprise me given the state of this bathroom (not to mention Mrs. Madden’s hair, which is snarled into such a bleached-blond nest that a family of sparrows could take up permanent residence). “Hey there,” I say in a smooth, breathy voice.
She hangs both arms sloppily over the side of the tub. “What do you want?”
“Mom!” squeals Opal. “Cut it out!”
My vision is dazzled by a machine-gun spray of gold in Mrs. Madden’s darkening aura. I blink away ghostly spots from behind my eyelids and fix my gaze on her papery-looking fingers, which are cracked and red, raw to the point of bleeding. “I heard you were sad,” I say, the statement a lie only in the strictest sense, “and that you needed someone to talk to.”
“He left me!” she declares in her on-camera Hollywood voice. “And he ain’t never comin’ back!”
Opal gives a dismissive shake of her head. “It’s a fight, that’s all. Happens once a week.”
I argued with George too, I think. The brother-sister kind of needling. What I wouldn’t give to have a real grown-up fight with him right now.
“Would you guys mind, uh, leaving us alone?” I ask Haley (who’s a little shaky post-retch) and Opal.
Mrs. Madden grimaces. “I don’t know you.”
“Yes, you do. I made your costumes for Alice in Wonderland.”
From the corner of my eye, I notice Haley grabbing Opal’s forearm and tugging her out the door. Under her breath, my sister mutters, “Luck o’ the Irish to ya.”
I squat beside the tub, my feet sinking into a mound of damp, musty towels. For maybe a whole minute, I don’t say a word. Instead, I study the worry lines—deep, sorry furrows—that crack Mrs. Madden’s face like faults through an earthquake zone. “How long have you been in here?” I ask eventually, my gaze stuck on the flowy arms of her sheer housedress, which resembles a cross between a genie’s costume and an angel’s robe.
She shifts to a kneeling position and drops back against the tub surround, a tendril of stray hair matted to her lipstick-caked mouth. “What time is it?” she asks with a squint.
I search the walls for a clock but come up empty. “Three-thirty?”
“Uh-uh.” I give a nonchalant shrug. “Monday.”
“Oh.” She peels the hair away from her mouth. “So what do I have to do to get rid of you?”
I flash my cheerleader smile (though, sadly, I’ve never shaken a pom-pom in my life). “Come out of there,” I say, extending a hand to help her over the side of the tub.
Clumsily, she latches on to me, her bony fingertips (thank God her nails are stubby and ragged, or I’d be donating blood) poking into my bicep. “Good,” I say, once she’s steadied on her feet beside me.
She loosens her grip on my arm but doesn’t let go. “You’re Cassandra McCoy,” she says, studying me with violet eyes that have suddenly gone clear.
I baby-step to the scalloped mother-of-pearl sink. “The one and only.”
An encore of the cheerleader grin.
“He feels bad about it, you know,” she tells me, a mystic, far-off tone to her otherwise scratchy voice.
I locate a plastic cup that’s as close to clean as we’re going to get, rinse it under the tap and fill it with cool water. “Where did he go?” I ask, trying to take an interest in Mr. Madden’s Houdini act.
“The astral plane.”
“Huh?” I hold the cup out, to suggest she should take a drink, but she stares right through it.
“Limbo,” she says. “The space between.”
Why am I here again? Oh, yeah. “Okay…uh, do you have a phone number? Maybe I can call him and…?”
She releases my arm, takes the cup and sets it back on the sink, amongst the spent toilet paper rolls, crumpled tissues and tipped-over bottles of makeup. Below a whisper, she intones, “Guilt is toxic.”
I finger the bourbon bottle in my pocket, work out how I’m going to get the holy water into that cup—and then into her. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”
She jerks out a wild cackle. “Forgive me?”
“I just mean that…well, everyone makes mistakes. You shouldn’t feel bad. It’ll probably blow over by tomorrow.” I sneak the nip bottle into my palm and carefully uncap it. When she’s not looking: drip, drip, drip—right into the cup.
“There’s no such thing as time in the astral plane.” A dizzy, fuzzy look comes over her.
I give the cup another try. “Aren’t you thirsty?”
She lets me slip the cup into her hand, then takes a long, slow gulp. “Suppose I was.”
I have no proof of this, but holy water seems to mellow people out, smooth their rough edges (at least that’s what it did for my dad). “Drink it all,” I prod. “In case you’re dehydrated.”
“He loves you,” she tells me, as the cup swings back toward her garishly outlined lips.
“Of course not.” She shakes her head, he gaze floating toward the ceiling. “It’s the boy,” she mumbles. “George.”
“You’re gonna have to drive,” I tell Haley as we hustle to the Prius after an unsettling tea party with Opal and her mother. I toss the keys in my sister’s direction, but she lets them drop into the street, where they clatter across a manhole cover and skid under the car.
She looks at me like I’ve suggested sacrificing a goat. “Are you crazy?”
I hold my arms out, zombie-style. “You trust me?” I ask, watching my chipped blue fingernails tremble.
She crouches for the keys, fishes them out and gives them a doubtful stare-down. “Why don’t we just call Dad?”
It’s not a bad idea, since our father is the understanding—and forgiving—type. If Mom finds out we’ve kidnapped her baby (I swear sometimes that she loves this eco-friendly cruiser more than she does us) we’ll be headed for the guillotine. I check my cell phone for the time. “I doubt they’re back,” I say, referencing our parents’ weekly jaunt to Boston to nab supplies for the restaurant.
“Well, I’m not getting behind the wheel,” declares Haley, “and you can’t make me.”
Did she really just say that, or was it an echo from 2002? I wrench the keys from her hand. “Fine. If you’re going to be so…immature.”
Neither of us bothers speaking until the Prius hums into our garage at home, the ride an empty blur (which proves I had no business warming the driver’s seat in the first place). “Does this look right?” I ask as we exit the car, a wave of panic washing over me.
Haley studies the way I’ve parked, checks the concrete for chalk marks we’ve left behind as a guide. “You’re off by six inches,” she tells me flatly.
“Should I fix it?” I spin back toward the car. “I should fix it.”
“Lighten up,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “You’ll never get it perfect.” She snatches a whisk broom from a utility bench, where our father has stashed a jug of motor oil in hopes of becoming a do-it-yourself mechanic. “There,” she says, brushing away the first mark. “Good as new.” She taps me on the shoulder with the broom.
“She knew about George,” I mutter as I whisk the next chalk line out of existence. “Weird things. Personal things. Things she had no way of…”
“Is that why you’re acting so freaky?”
I guess she assumed I was rattled from the intervention, which went off swimmingly, all things considered. “Why won’t he talk to me?” I ask, not expecting an answer. “I was…” I finish the cover-up and return the broom to its slot. “We were…”
“You should have told him.”
A dagger to my heart. “Now you’re a relationship guru? How many boyfriends have you had?”
She grins. “Maybe I don’t like boys. Maybe I have a different preference.”
“Touché.” I give her a snappy nod. “Do you? Like boys, I mean?”
“They’re all right. Some of ‘em, anyway.”
“There’s none like George,” I say. “Not that I’ve seen.”
Haley shakes her head, a look of pity coloring her face. “Don’t you think it’s time,” she says gently, “to let it go?”
I am so sick of this conversation. For two years, I’ve heard nothing but: It’s not your fault, Cassie. George wouldn’t blame you. Remember the good times. Celebrate his life by living yours.
It’s not like I don’t want to move on; I do. But I can’t. Not without George. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. “Message received. Again.” I duck into the Prius for my English books (we’re simultaneously reading 1984 and Brave New World—sort of a compare and contrast assignment), which have been absorbing space in the backseat all weekend. As I wiggle the Orwell text—which has somehow become lodged in the seat crevice—to liberation, a startling sight catches my eye. “Haley, come here!” I shout, my voice shrill with alarm as it rebounds off my eardrums. She’s not moving fast enough. “Haley! Help!”
I sense her behind me. “What?”
All I can do is point.
“Oh…my…God,” she drawls, three measly syllables stretching the length of the alphabet song. She pushes in front of me and stares at the seat cushion, where, tied into a compact little knot, lies an empty Funyuns bag. “Omigod, omigod, omigod,” she spouts, shifting to staccato rhythm.
I poke absently at her spine. “When did Mom get this car?”
“Think!” I demand. She goes for the chip bag, which, to any normal person, would look like trash. But we know better. “Don’t,” I warn. “Don’t touch it.” Disturbing this relic would be akin to defacing George’s grave.
Haley shimmies back out of the car, her face ashen. “It can’t be…” she says warily. “Can it?”
“When did Mom get this car?” I repeat, doing some mental math—although it’s all but impossible that the Funyuns bag has been kicking around the Prius since before George died.
Haley nibbles her lip. “July, I think. Or Maybe August.” She stares me dead in the eyes. “But it was definitely after seventh grade. I remember, because Mom and Dad had the station wagon when they took us to Six Flags.”
My sister is right, which leaves only one explanation: the hungry ghost of George Alfred Brooks has been noshing on delicious onion-flavored snacks, twisting the empty wrappers into his trademark bowtie knots (when he was alive, he claimed the packaging took up less space in landfills this way), and planting the evidence for me to find.
I want to say something, but my jaw just drops and hangs there, slack and dopey-looking.
“What’re you gonna do?” asks Haley.
There is no protocol for how to act when the dead best friend you secretly loved suddenly resurfaces—or at least his garbage does. “I don’t know.”
Well, Blog, don’t get nervous, but I’m posting to you TWO DAYS IN A ROW! (But only due to extraordinary circumstances.)
The results of the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest are in, and guess what? My alter ego (Greta Nelsen, but you knew that ) must have been sprinkled with fairy dust, because her novel, SHATTER MY ROCK, has advanced!
Oh, happy day!
Congrats to my fellow competitors who also made the cut! (And sympathies to those who didn’t. My psyche is still bruised from last year’s rejection.)
Love to all writers! You rock!
Now back to regularly scheduled programming…
So I’ve been thinking (I know, gasp!) about this whole “writing career” thing, and I’ve come up with some rules (for me) to write by. They are sort of wonky and of questionable value to anyone beyond my doorstep. Nevertheless, I am compelled to scratch them into the collective psyche.
1. THE MUSES DICTATE; I JUST TRANSCRIBE.
This idea may sound ludicrous to non-writers (I get the funniest looks when I explain that a certain vulgar phrase cannot be deleted, because the way it’s written is the way the narrator expressed it to me), but I consider myself more of a medium than an author: stories come THROUGH me, not FROM me. This is as it should be, and I have no intention of strong-arming my imaginary friends into speaking/acting/thinking as I’d like them to. They are who they are, and I accept them unconditionally.
2. THE CHARACTERS SPEAK; IT’S MY JOB TO LISTEN.
See #1. Characters have free rein. They can (and should) be funny, annoying, heartwarming, outrageous, diabolical, full of themselves, shy, sassy, immoral, stuck-up, lovable, and, most importantly, REAL.
3. REALITY IS NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT.
I hereby vow to never create a prettied-up, rose-colored (per)version of reality. Life is messy and I intend to tell the truth about it even–scratch that, especially–concerning the hard (and sometimes offensive) stuff.
4. HONOR THY READER.
There’s not much point in writing if the reader is not PRIORITY #1. Duh. (This translates into young adult novels that, I hope, teens will enjoy. Parents may differ.)
5. APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE.
My muses are naughty, I admit. I have little or no control over them. If I could invite only chaste, respectful, nicey-nice characters to populate my imagination, maybe I would (though I doubt it, because I would be BORED. TO. TEARS).
To those who find my muses childish, frustrating, obscene, etc. (?), I can only say: thank you for your opinions. You are entitled to them, and I respect that.
Pleas re-read #1 through #3.
As you can see, my hands are tied.
*** END OF CRAZY-WRITER RANT ***
Your reward for suffering through my psychoses? A new installment of my work-in-progress: Cassandra McCoy, Voodoo Princess Extraordinaire. I hope it makes you smile.
Copyright 2012 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.
chapter 3 (FIRST DRAFT)
I didn’t expect Mr. Smith to look so frail, so when Ian wheeled him to the head of the guest-of-honor table, I did a double-take.
“That’s him?” I ask Haley, elbowing her in the ribs as we slosh plastic pitchers full of ice water at the prep sink.
“Yep,” she replies without looking up.
“Didn’t he used to be…taller?”
“He’s in a wheelchair. What’d you expect? You said yourself that he was gonna die soon.”
I hoist a number of pitchers onto a serving tray and steel my shaky grip to avoid taking an unintended bath. “I said he could die,” I clarify. “He might die. I’m not in the business of predicting tragedy.”
Haley opens her mouth to say something, but before she gets it out, our mother floats in between us and starts lathering her hands with antibacterial soap. “You girls doin’ okay?” she asks. “Everything under control?”
It’s weird to see Mom at the restaurant, since she usually works behind-the-scenes at home, keeping the books, cutting the checks, paying the bills, and engaging in screaming phone fights with vendors over late deliveries and spoiled product. “Should I put the donation box out now?” I ask. “It’s getting busy.”
The cover charge for this shindig is ten bucks a head, every cent of which goes directly into Mr. Smith’s pocket. Beyond that, guests are encouraged to give what they can to help ease his physical and financial pain. From the looks of the yellow-green raccoon mask around his eyes and the grayish tint of his lips and fingertips, though, it’s going to take quite a wad of cash to put Ian’s dad back in ship-shape.
Mom offers to set up the donation box—or basket, as it were—in a special spot by the entrance that is decorated with a spray of red and white streamers left over from Milford High’s victory in the state football championships, leaving Haley and me on waitress duty.
As Haley weaves through the dining room with her tray of water, Ian catches my eye with a nonchalant wave. I unload three of my four pitchers en route to his side. “So…?” I say, feeling a self-satisfied rush as I top off Mr. Smith’s glass. “What do you think?”
Ian appraises the crowd and nods. “Sweet,” he says. “You really came through.”
I take a goofy bow, the serving tray tucked behind me like a tail-feather. “My pleasure.” I stare at Ian’s dad—who looks even worse up close—for a long moment, then turn my head and whisper, “Is he—uh—up to this?” I mean, it’s not like the man has to dance a jig, but for his sake, it would be best if he could remain upright.
“I tried to talk him out of coming,” Ian tells me with a shrug, “but he insisted. He said it wouldn’t be proper to have a benefit without him making an appearance.”
“You guys want some more bread?” I ask, noticing that the wicker plate one of the real waitresses has brought is now empty.
An elderly woman seated across from Mr. Smith pipes up. “Would you, dear?”
“Sure thing.” I give Ian a happy pat on the shoulder, snatch the plate and flit back to the kitchen.
As I enter, Mom presses a bouquet of wildflowers at me. “Here,” she says. “I forgot about these. Drop ‘em at the Smiths’ table for me?”
I got my platinum hair and ghostly blue-grey eyes from my mother, a fact that, had she lost the heart attack battle, would’ve haunted me in the mirror. “Yeah,” I say, pushing the vase back, “just gimme a sec.” I twirl around and deposit the tray on the counter, refill the bread plate and then collect the flowers with a smile.
With a bump of my knee, I swing the kitchen door open. This is awesome, I think, surveying the crowd. Ian’s dad will be okay now; Ian will be able to relax.
Then the chaos starts.
“Quick! Help!” a chorus of voices shouts. There’s a rush of movement through the dining room, in the direction of the Smiths’ table. “Call an ambulance!”
I slide the vase onto a vacant chair, bob my head around to catch a glimpse of the commotion. But I can’t make out what’s happening.
A husky gentleman in a brown tweed suit steps out of my line of sight, revealing Mr. Smith, slumped forward in his wheelchair, his milky eyes tacked open as he tries—but fails—to draw a breath. Oh, God, I think. Don’t let it be his heart. Mom was lucky. Most people don’t survive.
“He’s choking!” a muffled voice proclaims.
I make momentary eye contact with Ian, who looks crushed with panic. “Not on my watch,” I murmur. Even though my powers are limited (and, in most cases, spotty in their reliability), they do exist. The proof? Something told me to bring the voodoo doll—which is currently tucked in my apron pocket, behind my ticket pad—with me today.
But I’m running out of time.
As a trio of helpful guests, including a buff, twenty-something-year-old guy who may very well be a paramedic, struggles to deliver the Heimlich maneuver to a wheelchair-bound liver patient already on death’s door, I drop to the floor, abandon the bread plate in a sea of sensible shoes and clutch around the ticket pad until I get a pinch of my fuzzy little friend (not to mention a bunch of dastardly paper cuts).
I pull the doll out and give it a once-over, flashes of my marathon knitting session racing through my mind. When I made this thing, I was hoping to raise George from the dead just long enough to bare my soul (because a zombie boyfriend is not exactly on my bucket list). Now I’m praying that it might stop Mr. Smith from bumping up against George in the great beyond.
I’ve only successfully employed this tchotchke once, and that was to rouse Haley from a Robitussin coma (okay, so maybe she was just extra tired) when she had the flu. And I’ve never tried it on a virtual stranger.
I lock my gaze on Mr. Smith’s head—or slightly above it, to be precise—at the spot where, if he were an angel, his halo would hover. This is where I get the best read of a person’s aura, a.k.a. the wiggly field of energy surrounding all living things.
Mr. Smith’s aura is even sicker than his complexion lets on: a pool of dusky grey, flecked with bursts of twinkling, snow-white light—the sign of imminent death.
The buff guest hoists Mr. Smith from his wheelchair with an overgrown meat-hook of an arm; meanwhile, I begin pinching the doll’s midsection betwixt my thumb and forefinger, making it perform fast-motion sit-ups. Come on, come on, come on, I plead. Cough it up.
“They’re on the way!” someone squeals, referring to the emergency personnel.
Ian paces by the doorway, his palm clamped over his temple, his eyes searching the lot for the ambulance.
The lump in the center of my forehead, which has been sinking toward my skull since the day after our treasure hunt, suddenly starts stinging. I ignore the pain—and the unsettling burning—and keep pumping away at the voodoo doll’s stomach.
Twenty feet off, the maybe-paramedic grasps Mr. Smith from behind, plants a serious fist in his abdomen and thrusts.
My head stings.
The doll’s midsection goes soft, and Mr. Smith chokes a ragged breath. By the door, Ian’s posture turns rubbery.
“What’re you doing?” Haley demands from my side.
I slip the doll into my apron and struggle to my feet. “Huh?”
“I saw you, you know.”
She throws an arm around my shoulder. “You think it worked?”
“He’s breathing, isn’t he?”
Mom blows by us and rushes the entrance, props the door open for the paramedics, who are just wheeling up out front, ambulance lights blazing and sirens whining. The frantic twittering of voices, which had blurred into a stream of white noise during my “intervention,” seems to escalate. A wave of exhaustion washes over me, and I drop cockeyed into a chair.
Haley flops down beside me, a ghost of a smile on her blackened lips. “It’s kind of ironic, huh?” she says, jerking her head toward Mr. Smith.
I think she means his almost dying at a benefit to save his life. “I guess.”
A female paramedic storms into the restaurant, a walkie-talkie barking from her hip. In her wake scurry her trim, bearded partner and Mom, literally wringing her hands. “That’s right,” Mom chirps, directing the trek from the rear. “He’s over there.” She wags her arm through the air. “Just past my…my banana tree.”
Of course, my mother would mention that fake, dusty monstrosity. I roll my eyes and tap Haley on the knee. “We’d better go help.”
Her eyebrows pinch together. “What for?”
Maybe she’s right: The paramedics seem to have things under control. Then again, Ian looks like he could use a shoulder to lean on. “I’m gonna go…” I say. Haley shoos me off, her mouth twisted into a smirk. I don’t like him, I want to tell her. Not that way. Instead, I say, “Why don’t you check on the guests? Try to calm them down?” I rise and start heading for the guest-of-honor, but then I catch Dad summoning me to the kitchen with a nervous head-bob.
I abruptly change course, nearly spinning out as I shift sideways around Mom’s silk ficus. “What’s up?” I say when I get within my father’s orbit.
“Is he okay?” he asks about Mr. Smith, his nose twitching and eyes darting.
My heart clenches like it did when Mom got sweaty and collapsed on the lawn. “Sure,” I say with a nod. “Disaster averted.” I give him a reassuring grin.
He puffs out a tense breath. “Thank God.”
I met George Brooks by a puddle behind the rear wheel of a box truck, the day his family moved into Willow Crest, the up-and-coming neighborhood to which my parents had—two years earlier—scrimped and saved enough money to relocate Haley and me.
“What’re you doin’?” I asked him through the gap in my six-year-old teeth, the bottom two of which had just fallen out.
He pushed a stone around the puddle with a twig, paused to fix his ponderous brown eyes on me. “None of your beeswax.”
I rose a few inches from my crouched position and glanced over my shoulder, my mother’s watchful form still in sight. “Can I try?”
A doubtful tsking sound burst from his lips. “You don’t know how.”
I rocked on my heels, folded my arms over my knees. “I do so.”
The freckles seemed to rearrange on his face. “You can’t,” he told me flatly. “I made it up.”
We went silent for a while, the way old married folks sometimes do. “I’m good at stories,” I said eventually, his game of stone maneuvering—which was starting to resemble a strategic military exercise (though I couldn’t have voiced such a thing at the time)—entrancing me.
“Oh, yeah?” he replied, sounding intrigued but skeptical.
I shot him my know-it-all nod. “Uh-huh.”
“How old are you?”
My first lie: “Seven.”
He grimaced. “Nuh-uh. You’re too small.” He gave me an appraising once-over. “I bet you’re five, at the most.”
“Well, you only look four,” I said (my second lie), my face flushing and my eyes starting to sting.
“Don’t cry,” he told me, the confrontational tone disappearing from his voice. He tapped my shin with the twig, then held it up as a peace offering. As I accepted, he said, “I’m George, by the way. And I’m eight, not four.”
I twigged three stones to the edge of the puddle, where I strung them together like pearls. “I’m Cassandra,” I informed him. “But people call me Cassie. Or Cass, for short. I have a baby sister, Haley.” I waited for him to dish the dirt on his siblings, but he just fell back onto his palms like a crab and started kicking at the truck’s enormous tire. “You got a sister? Or a brother?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I’m adopted.”
I probably wouldn’t have known what adopted meant, except that six months earlier, my parents had deposited Haley with a babysitter and trucked me to a matinee showing of Annie at the discount movie theater. For weeks afterward, I was convinced (and terrified) that Mom and Dad would die, leaving me to scrub floors and starch sheets at the knee of the devious Miss Hannigan. “Since when?” I asked, thinking of Annie, who was older than George when she found her “daddy.”
“Same as you,” he said with a shrug. “Since I was born.”
I wanted to tell George it was okay that he was adopted; it didn’t matter to me. In fact, it was more than okay. It was neat and cool, and it gave him something in common with a movie star. But I couldn’t put this into words, so instead I asked, “Wanna play jump rope?”
He crinkled his brow, then shrugged. “Jump rope?”
“Yeah,” I said with a shy smile. “You can be the swinger, and I’ll jump.”
“Got a rope?”
A wild squawk from Clive jolts me back to the task at hand: cleaning his cage—a job made harder by the fact that I’ve pimped his nest. “Oh, behave!” I chastise, as my bird-friend hops and pecks around the carpet (and occasionally dips under my bed). I withdraw the last branch of his forest, run a feather duster (ironic, I know) over it and set it aside. Most people probably wouldn’t devote so much attention to a rescue-crow, but I can’t help feeling obligated to make Clive’s life as comfortable and pleasant as possible, especially after what happened to Clive-ina (that’s what I call Clive’s poor, deceased mate—God bless her feathered soul).
It takes me another ten minutes to pry the wood chip-covered newspaper from the bottom of the cage, Windex the bare plastic to a scratchy sheen, and re-line the thing with comics (I like to think that one day Clive will learn how to read and appreciate my sense of humor).
I’m in the midst of sprinkling cedar over Snoopy’s profile when bang! bang! bang! goes my door, heralding Haley’s arrival. (I’m not sure why she bothers knocking—or pounding, as it were—since she’s prone to barging in uninvited.)
I shoo Clive into his barren hovel and latch the door behind him. “What?” I say to Haley, agitation rising in my voice as she whips up beside me. I stare past her at the gaping door, unable to stop myself from sighing.
“What’re you doing?” she demands, matching my irritation. She taps her foot and nibbles at her pinkie, her fingernail squeaking as she gnashes it between her teeth.
I freeze her with a serious glare. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
My sister would do well to lose the Elvira hairdo, G.I. Joe footwear, and Marilyn Manson wardrobe (because, honestly, she’s a walking cliché). “Huh?” she says blankly.
“What do you want?” I grouse, my head involuntarily cocking.
She drops onto my bed, bunches my pillow into a ball and tucks it under her chin. “Opal, uh…” she says, trailing off for a few beats, “…she, um, needs you to…”
I roll my eyes. “When?” I ask, knowing what my sister’s friend wants: a supernatural favor.
“Five minutes ago?” she says with a sheepish grin.