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By Gail Giles
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 3, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Ames is not the person she was a few months ago. Her father lost his job, and her family is crumbling apart. Now, all she has is Marc. Marc, who loves her more than anything. Marc, who owns a gun collection. And he’ll stop at nothing–even using his guns–to get what he wants. Ames feels her parents have betrayed her with their lies and self-absorption, but is she prepared to make the ultimate betrayal against them?
In this controversial novel about a good-girl-gone-wrong, Gail Giles returns to the fast-paced, chilling writing that attracted so many fans to What Happened to Cass McBride?.
Dark has a sound. A song.
Marc said he heard it when he creeped houses.
The song the predator’s heart sings when it hears the heart of the prey.
I heard it now.
Marc said it had always been in me.
Lurking. Waiting for me to hear.
The breathing from my parents' room was slow and steady.
This was the time of reckoning.
I punched the number into the cell phone and dialed.
"You ready for this?"
I didn’t respond.
"It will be just us when it’s done.
No one will ever hurt you again," he said.
"The kitchen door is open," I said.
"Let’s get it done."
Christmas was near, and Boulder looked like a fairy tale. Seriously. Tons of snow, twinkly lights strung through the aspen downtown and along all the rooflines. Somehow you’d expect Cinderella rather than Santa because it had such a delicate touch.
Our house was a fairy tale, too. Ten-foot tree in our living room that soared two stories. The miniature white lights laced the thick branches like bits of snow caught by the sun and every ornament was a work of art, placed just so. My mom wouldn’t have it any other way. The shiny top of the grand piano reflected the lights and put out a glow, and the array of expensively wrapped presents was a show all of its own. The walls gleamed the color of rich butter whipped with cream and the chandelier was covered with a silk shade. Something Mom’s interior designer insisted was a "must."
I gave Mom a hard time about her obsession with decorating the house, but I had to admit, it was warm and "charming" and felt like home base. What Mom lacked in warmth, she tried to make up for with our snug nest and by doing Mom-type things with us — folding table napkins into swans, creating flower arrangements, that kind of thing.
Today Mom was teaching us to make ratatouille. Chrissy had sorted the veggies and was teaching her bear to color while Mom and I chopped and diced, making sure the vegetable pieces were all the same size, when Dad plowed into the kitchen and spread both arms wide.
"Stop what you’re doing and go pack. Heavy, heavy winter wear and bathing suits. No further clues provided," Dad said. He arched one eyebrow and wiggled it. "Our plane leaves at midnight." He swept Mom and me to the side, pushed all the chopped veggies into a plastic container. "I’m totally serious. We’ll be back in three days; you can finish this" — he eyed the chopped eggplant as he snapped on the lid — "when we get back." He snuggled his chin into the curve of Mom’s neck.
When he pulled back, he surveyed our stunned faces. "Nobody’s moving! Go, go, go! One carry-on bag. Jeans, boots, sweaters, long underwear, flannel PJs. Wear the heavy coat, pack the bathing suit."
He clapped his hands. "Shoo!"
After flying for umpteen hours we landed in Seattle, then Anchorage, Alaska, then Fairbanks, then to a toy plane and a runway made of packed snow in Circle, Alaska. Some man rented us what I think was his own 4Runner and we drove to a hotel and a string of cabins in the middle of THE BIG WHITE NOWHERE. Circle Hot Springs. It was daytime by the clock but dark to the eyeballs. Off to the right of the hotel was a spooky-looking glow and lots of fog.
"This is your Christmas present," Dad said. "It’s minus thirty and we swim in the hot springs and everything is right for the aurora borealis. Can you imagine?"
We clapped. We didn’t have to imagine. Dad did that for us. He was our moon and stars and I guess Mom was our gravity, but right now, she was floating a little, too.
We checked into a cabin. "The hotel is upscale, but it’s booked because of the aurora." Dad glanced at Mom. "Be prepared. The cabins are described as 'rustic.' "
Mom put her hand to her forehead. "Randal."
"I know," Dad said. "That translates as 'primitive.' "
"Roach motel." Mom was a hotel snob.
"The hotel restaurant is first class." He swung open the door, and if the cold weren’t frosting our butts, we wouldn’t have set a toe in the place. Stains on the carpets, sagging mattresses, mismatched furniture that was past due for the Dumpster — or possibly came from the Dumpster. It made summer camp look like Oz.
"In, in, everybody, so I can turn up the heat."
When Dad closed the door I noted the corker. The thing that turned this room from a disaster into a cartoon. Nailed over the top of the door with roofing nails was a flap of shaggy carpet. To keep out the draft.
Mom looked at it. Her eyes got big. Then she started laughing. Full and deep. I don’t think I’d ever heard that sound from her. It was so infectious that soon we were all laughing with her.
"Randal," she said. "This, this, is the perfect vacation." Mom tried to catch her breath. "I always worry, what will go wrong, what can go wrong. At first I thought this is as bad as the places I lived with my mother. It’s… well, look around, this place is totally"— she searched for the words —"disaster-proofed. Like what Garp called his house. The disaster has been and gone."
She was right. But the sheets were clean. The duvets were soft and thick. There was only about two hours of light and those were sunrise followed by sunset, both spectacular in the extreme. The stars were molten intensity in the black sky and felt close enough to grab.
The hot springs were another form of magic, covered with a misty fog from the natural heat hitting the cold air. In the frigid weather my bathing suit had to be buried under my parka and jeans, but I managed to hit the water in record time.
Soon the rest of the Fords were bobbing next to me. Chrissy with her floaties. The heavenly, spa-hot water was misty gray like the fog around us. We were surrounded above and below. Floating in a warm cocoon of the now. No future in sight.
"Everybody under," Dad shouted.
We all ducked under the water, then bobbed back up and within seconds our hair frosted, lighting us with a halo effect.
"We look like those monkeys!" Chrissy shrieked. She’d seen a poster of Japanese monkeys in a mountain hot spring, their ruffs tipped with ice. Dad made monkey hoots and splashed Chrissy, but I pushed away.
"Stop," I urged. "Stop and look up."
And there it was. Green and red and white undulating across the skies. The stars blinking in and out as the colors dipped and then rose and swirled. We pulled together, floating in our cocoon of mist and warmth, watching color as we’d never seen it. Pure, flowing, rippling. It was a thing of wonder. It lasted about twenty minutes and we didn’t say a single word.
As the colors faded and drifted away, Chrissy waved a good-bye. "It’s a nighttime rainbow. So it’s good luck, right?"
"Maybe so, Chrissy," Dad said. "I hope so."
"I want to remember this forever," I said.
But memories don’t always reveal the whole picture.
And some memories lie.
We spent Christmas Day kind of low-key, opening the presents. Mom: diamond bracelet, understated but gorgeous, a small painting by an up-and-coming artist who was all the rage. Dad: yet another watch, an automatic watch winder for six watches, new hiking boots, new cross-country skis, tennis racquet. Chrissy: bears, books, puzzles, a little electric car, hiking boots, half a ton of clothes, a set of watercolors in a cherrywood box and an easel that even I envied, toys on top of more toys. Me: sweaters, jeans, books, a new laptop, more clothes, and new hiking boots.
One of my gifts is my annual post-Christmas, pre–New Year’s slumber party. Since we practice the fine art of table decoration and place setting and have enough china and crystal to seat, well, China, it’s strange that Mom almost never has people to the house. Too chaotic, maybe. So it’s a big honking deal for me to have a party. It’s always the twenty-eighth. Everyone comes at noon and stays until noon the next day. Mom and Carmen, the housekeeper, make a huge brunch and we have fake mimosas in champagne flutes.
We had eaten lunch and were camped out in my room rehashing who got what, who was doing what, who was doing whom. I was never doing whom. I had one date so far on my résumé. With a total nerd to a school party. Misery with music.
Emily Keifer, my best friend, was painting her toenails dark purple. "So let me get this straight. You went to Nowheresville In The Snow? And you loved, loved, loved it? Days in boots and hats with flaps and nothing to see but igloos and penguins? Like we don’t have enough snow here?"
"How could you tell if a guy was ripped or not under all those clothes?" asked Layla Emerson, whose father had to pay big premiums to get his helium-head daughter into our prestigious school.
Em pointed the polish wand at me. "I would never want a family isolation vacation. Nobody wants that."
Reggie Wilcox, who was sprawled near Em, waved a French-tipped nail. "Cooped up in the boonies with your little sister and parents, with no television or Internet. In, like, a creepy hotel? No way."
I looked at anorexic Kim Banks, who was deciding if she would eat half an M&M or a whole peanut. She rolled her eyes. "Girl, you’re my friend and everything, but that’s kind of… mental."
They were right. None of them spent all that much time with their families. Not to mention the other differences. I wasn’t painting my nails. Or cruising the fashion mags. I was kind of the cuckoo’s egg in the sparrow’s nest. I needed to shift their focus away from me and onto themselves.
"All of you have estrogen poisoning," I said.
"Oh. My. God," Kim announced, "Ames is a 'mo!"
I threw a pillow at her. Em flattened out on the floor in mock surrender. "Why does everyone go there first?" she grumbled. "Ames is not a 'mo. She’s just not a girlie girl and so only nerds like her and she thinks nerds are repulso."
"Who doesn’t?" Layla asked.
"Girl nerds," I said.
"Aren’t all girl nerds 'mos?" Layla seemed serious.
Em turned to her. "Layla, look at me and try to concentrate. If there weren’t any hetero female nerds to hook up with the male nerds, how would we ever get baby nerds?"
Layla finally got that we were messing with her. "I still think staying in, like, an igloo with your parents for vacation is lame. It’s as close to being a nerd as it gets."
"Movie time," I said.
As we headed for the home theater room, we passed my dad.
"Hey, ladies, what’s up? Is this Slumber Party time?"
"Too true, Mr. Ford. Weird seeing you home in the middle of the day," Em commented. "If I ever saw my stepdad home in daylight, my vampire theory would go right out the window."
He smiled. "Early New Year’s resolution. Take more time for my family. It’s something I want to do for Mrs. Ford. Spend time at home. Nobody dies wishing they had worked a few more days, right?"
"Earl might," Em said, referring to her stepdad again. She’d never admit it, but she practically worshipped the guy. "We haven’t seen much of him since Christmas Day."
My smooth, unflappable Dad seemed to, I don’t know, "hitch" a little. Like a pained hiccup, or a misfired synapse. Then he was flashing his teeth again. "Why don’t I make you a big batch of popcorn?"
"None for me, sir. But thanks," Kim said.
"I’ll have her share," I said. "Thanks, Dad."
We went to the movie room and argued over chick flick or gore fest. We settled on creepy house story that ended in gore fest. It fit my strange and unidentifiable feeling of unease.
Kim, Layla, Reggie, and, occasionally, Em squealed and hid their eyes when various characters were beheaded, eviscerated, impaled, or otherwise bloodily dispatched during the movie. I watched almost without blinking, eating popcorn more rapidly with each death.
"That was so gross," Layla said.
"You loved it," I told her.
"I didn’t," Reggie insisted. "Those poor cheerleaders were so sweet. And that crazy girl who killed them… she was ugly."
"She was ugly because they ran her off the road and her car caught on fire. She was scarred for life."
"Ames, that was an accident. They only meant to scare her," Kim reminded me. "She stole that blond girl’s boyfriend, after all."
"Em, straighten them out!" I jabbed her with my elbow. "The cheerleaders ruined that girl’s life. They got what they had coming."
Everyone stared. I didn’t realize I had been shouting.
Em finally broke the silence. "I had no idea little ole Ames is a repressed serial killer. Sleep with one eye open, girlfriends."
"Pfft," Reggie whiffed. "Ames would ask her parents for permission before she killed anyone."
"Chick flick?" Em suggested.
Three hands waved.
"Sexbots," I sniffed.
The Christmas break flew by and Dad didn’t go into work. He didn’t take clients to dinner. He did huddle up with the phone a lot with his study doors closed. But he watched Chrissy’s penguin movies and her mermaid movies and played Old Maid and Uno a bazillion times and we smacked each other around with Wii boxing and tennis. He let me win at boxing but never at tennis.
Em called just once. "What’s happening at su casa? Anything out of the ordinary?"
"We went hiking to break in our new boots. We played Monopoly and Scrabble," I said.
"Hiking. I get a visual of flannel and down vests and heinous footwear. I shudder and my skin crawls. Don’t. Speak. Of. It. Again."
"We made Julia Child’s beef stew. Chrissy made pudding. All ordinary. What’s up?"
"There’s buzzy on the buzz front. I was at a party, the one you didn’t go to, and there was a whisper campaign that shut down when I came around. But I caught your dad’s name."
"Too true. Has he been acting weird?"
"Nope. He’s been home the whole break. He’s on the phone a lot so I think he’s checking in at work. You know my dad — if anything was up, I’d know about it."
"You know that’s a crock, right?" Em said.
"I don’t want to argue. The buzz must be about one of your many dads."
"Step. Stepdads. You have a point. So, you’re good?"
"We’re good. The whole family is good," I said.
Mom had a tree-down-before-New-Year’s fetish so we spent a day storing all the lights and ornaments and other decorations into labeled boxes under her supervision. Dad would tease Mom by purposefully putting an item in the wrong box just to get her motor revving. He called her the Commander because all the orders in the house were hers. That was okay. If Mom weren’t a little overcontrolling sometimes — okay, all of the time — our family would’ve been gag-worthy perfect.
When school started again, I piled into the backseat of Em’s mom’s Escalade. "It’s so great to get back to school. Less rules than at home," I said.
"Ames complaining about Mumsy? That must mean the Commandant gave you a long New Year’s list of rules or chores or whatevers," Em said.
"We call her the Commander, and no, she didn’t. She’s not mean, Em, she’s just really, really" — Em and I drew it out singsong-like together — "r-e-a-l-l-y organized." Em and I don’t giggle but we sort of snort, so we snorted.
"You two are disrespectful," Em’s mom said. "I shudder to think what you say about me."
Em’s response was immediate. "We say that you are beautiful and wonderful in the extreme, and you are so sweet that you’re going to give me a credit card with no limit this afternoon. And I’ll swoon with the awesomeness of my mother goddess."
Em didn’t wait for her mother to bat an eyelash and continued in almost the same breath. "Your mom seriously needs to loosen up. Have I mentioned that before?"
"A few too many times," I said. "She does sometimes. We oil up her joints on occasion and it lasts awhile."
To be honest, I needed my joints to be oiled up on occasion, too. That’s why Em and I were such great friends. There was something in me that wanted loose. I didn’t know what it was. Em usually drank and toked without me as her accomplice. One of us had to be straight to find the way home when she was under the influence. Without me, she would’ve shown up buck naked on YouTube a year ago.
Em hopped to some gossip and we rode on to school. We bailed out of the car, and soon as we were out of earshot, Em started plotting. "By the way, Mom’s been way too interested in your Picnic with the Penguins vacation. She’s been quizzing me like a game-show contestant. Let’s cut first hour and hit a coffee shop. We’ve got more important things to discuss."
"Seriously? You think I’m going to cut class? We can talk at lunch."
"Arrrgggh. This is, like, major."
"Geek, Nerd. Dud."
"See you at lunch then," I said. "And penguins are on the other side of the world, Your Dimness."
"I could care," Em retorted, and we parted where the corridors merged.
I headed toward my first class wondering what Em was stressing about this time.
I bumped shoulders with Edwin Myer as I entered the door to our calculus class. He’s the nerd of my famous only date. Having inherited no DNA for tact from my mother, I had refused a second date by telling him that I found him boring. Okay, a little harsh, but if I have to pick between Edwin feeling the sting of rejection and me feeling the horror of death by dreariness, I’m not apologizing.
Now, Edwin wants to prove he’s "dangerous." He does this by baiting our teacher Mr. Bivens.
"Hey, Ames. I’ve got a good one today." He winked at me.
I guess he thought it was a bad-boy wink. He looked like a nerd with a twitch. We took our seats and in no time Edwin was casting his lure.
"Mr. Bivens, we’re studying etymology in our English class and I know this is calculus not algebra, but the root word alg translates to pain. Don’t you think that’s interesting?"
Mr. Bivens, who clearly thought Edwin was a dolt but was more polite than Edwin, sighed. "Algebra is not taken from the Latin but from Arabic. Its name is derived from the Islamic Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Mu¯sa¯ al-Khwa¯rizm¯ı who is considered the father of algebra. The word Al-Jabr means 'reunion.' ''
Edwin’s blush showed he clearly didn’t appreciate being one-upped in the trivia department. "Maybe. Alg means pain. I just don’t think it’s a coincidence."
Edwin got his laughs. Mr. Bivens allowed them with a courtly bow.
Edwin was trumped with old-world graciousness.
Dorks like Edwin don’t understand that you don’t impress anyone, you aren’t the big shot, if you go after your opponent by tweaking him or biting him on the toe.
Get savage and go for the jugular or shut up. Go for it or go down.
At lunchtime I strode into the cafeteria and headed for the table, where Kim studied a stalk of celery and Layla and Reggie leaned heads close, whispering. Em cut me off and herded me off to an empty table in the corner. "Here, I got your lunch. We don’t need to talk to them."
"First, Reggie is telling everyone that your slumber party is straight out of fifth grade. Parents, no alcohol, no dope, no porn, no guys. Popcorn and movies, fake mimosas. Layla thinks all the time you spend with your parents is creepy and Kim thinks the fact that your parents never have adults to the house is Witness Protection Program strange."
"These are my friends?"
"Oh, please," Em said. "We say worse about them. Now, they’re whispering about other stuff, too."
"Oh, don’t tell me they’re that stupid. They do think we’re lesbians?" I was being sarcastic, but the fifth grade comments made me want to kick in a few laser-whitened teeth.
"Sorry, being gay would make you more interesting," Em joked. Then she leaned in and the always-a-smart-remark mask Em wore was gone. "Nope, there’s something in the air. I told you, the Boulder Beehive is buzzing. My mom has been way too friendly over the holidays, pumping me for info about you and your family. 'Ames left town so unexpectedly. Then her dad took such a long time off work. Isn’t that really unusual for him? How does Ames seem? Her mom? Did you see her dad? How was he?' "
I put down the Coke I was sipping. "Why —"
Em put up a finger to stop me from talking. "None of this was all at once and none of it’s direct quotes, but when was the last time my mom was so interested in my friends? I mean she’s all with the good manners to everyone when she sees them, but once they’re out of sight, trust me, out of mind."
"Em!" I put both palms on the table top. "Will you get to the point?"
Em looked around and lowered her voice. "There’s something going on. It’s about your dad and his job. But I don’t know what it is. I know if I ask Mom she won’t tell me. I thought your dad or mom would have told you something if the whisper campaign is already this heavy. The info from Reggie or the Dumbo Duo isn’t to be trusted."
"What info? Em, spit it out."
"I just said." Em appeared to be losing patience with me. "Something about your dad and his job. If people are whispering, it’s not a promotion. There’s something wrong." Her face and tone were filled with concern.
I sat a minute. Then — the first flicker of mistrust.
Dad had been tense. And he’d been on the phone in a closed room. A lot. I shut my eyes. Pushed it away. Away. Gone. I took a swig of my drink and breathed easy again. This was nothing Dad couldn’t explain.
"Nope. If there’s something big going on, there’s one thing I know for sure. Dad doesn’t know about it, or the whisper campaign is wrong. No secrets in our house."
By the time school was out I can honestly say I’d brushed off any uneasiness Em had managed to dangle before me at lunch. I danced my way through the back door, hooked my backpack on the brass hook that waited for it like a quiet butler, and stopped short to see Dad sitting at the kitchen table.
"Hey, big guy," I said. "What are you doing home?" I kissed his cheek. His breath already smelled of his Happy-to-Be-Home-Jack-Attack. That’s the one glass of Jack Daniel’s Dad has when he gets home and loosens his tie and props up his feet. It’s a ritual.
He smiled. Wide smile. Happy, happy. "Playing a little hooky. Took off at noon. You won’t tell?" My dad is the giant clock that keeps my world ticking at just the right speed. He’s tall, lean, and athletic. Makes you feel like he could single-handedly take on a mountain lion to protect you.
"Can I play hooky tomorrow?"
"Nope, you have a test tomorrow."
That’s my family. We’re kind of in each other’s pockets. Know what everybody’s doing all the time. So it felt off to see him home when he hadn’t said anything this morning.
- "Giles is a gifted writer... Her imagery sparkles, her character development is flawless, and this page-turner positively crackles with excitement... Suspense lovers will savor this fast-paced psychological thriller."—VOYA, starred review
- "The queen of YA thrillers does it again with another gripping page-turner in which love and danger meet."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Ames and the rest of the Ford family's fall from grace makes for breathless, chilling reading."—Publishers Weekly
- "This fast-paced psychological thriller will leave readers disturbed, enthralled, and clamoring for more. Fans... will thoroughly enjoy this chilling account of a good girl gone bad."—School Library Journal
- "In this day of investor fraud, mortgage foreclosures, and overnight wealth-to-poverty news stories, this timely, riveting novel will resonate with readers."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Oct 3, 2011
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers