By Maxine Paetro
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of First Love
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I have a lot to tell you… good and bad.
Today was huge.
It's been three months since I checked myself into Waterside, an exclusive rehab facility for those who are psychologically on the edge—or were, like me. By the time I got dressed this morning, my discharge papers were already signed and I was more or less ready to leave the loony bin and reenter the "real world."
It was early yet, about eight fifteen on a cold winter morning. I was relaxing on a fancy teak bench outside Waterside's grand pillared entrance overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan, waiting for my three brothers and uncle to pick me up. I had dressed appropriately in all black: a Hervé Léger hooded coat, a turtleneck sweater, stretch wool pants, and flat-heeled Louboutin boots. I even wore lipstick and a silver headband in my dark hair, which had grown almost to my jawline in the three months since the three-alarm fire, the fatal car crash, and the total destruction of my innocence. More on that later.
My therapist, Dr. Robosson, had told me after our final morning session, "You sound very good, Tandy. Once you're back in school and settled in your new home, the routines of your New York life will reassert themselves and you'll be better than ever. Let's set up an outpatient schedule soon. I'm here for you, always."
She walked me outside and gave me a pillowy, perfumed hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a card with her cell phone number. My eyes got teary, but I was glad to say good-bye to this place.
When I had first checked myself into Waterside, Dr. Robosson had said to me, "Tandy, you've lived through fire and rain, and weathered more storms in the last year than most people have even heard about in their entire lives. If all that's happened hadn't devastated you, I'd really worry. You've been badly hurt, even if the scars don't show. You just need to talk and heal. Get a good amount of the three Rs: rest, relaxation, and reality check. Am I right?"
She had been indisputably right.
My parents were dead. I'd been accused of killing them, viciously attacked by the press, and even jailed. I'd beaten back the forces of bad, worse, and criminally heinous. I'd solved crimes: my parents' deaths to start with, and then the murders of friends and strangers. All while uncovering mysteries, long-held secrets, and epic lives of blood relatives that surely had a profound and sometimes damaging impact on mine.
Before the events of this year, I had been known as a brainiac, a nerd with a gift for sharp analysis and first-class problem solving. I was completely unemotional, and therefore absolutely clearheaded. Those are the skills that made me a natural detective.
But by the time I turned myself over to the professional care of Waterside's psychiatric staff, I had changed. I felt everything. I cared too much. I was sleepless, jumpy, emotionally ravaged: a ragged tangle of nerves.
Now, after the intense psychotherapeutic intervention that included marathon talk therapy, meditation, steam baths, comfort foods, and dreamless sleep, I had metamorphosed from a traumatized teenager who'd been repeatedly subjected to mortal danger and shocking betrayal into a traumatized teenager who finally understood the truth.
And what was the truth? The truth was that I'd been deceived by so many people I loved, I no longer trusted anyone. It wasn't my fault. I'd been naïve. Accordingly, I'd been crushed but not broken. I was still emotional, but the Sullivanians, Freudians, Jungians, Skinnerians, and Far Eastern disciples among the Waterside staff all agreed. I wasn't insane.
I was mad.
Madder than hell.
My anger was real and justified. But would anger cure me… or destroy me?
That was the question.
The longer I sat on the bench in front of Waterside, staring at the river and the droning highway below, the more agitated I became.
I already regretted tearing myself from my lounge chair in the quiet, fern-filled solarium where my to-do list never had more than two items: Sip tea and listen to good music.
Instead, I was dressed for my first day of school, and despite assurances from the shrinks, my sudden flashes of anger troubled me. I wondered if I was really ready to take on the outside world, which could be crazier than I ever was.
My uncle Jacob had wanted me to check out of Waterside last week and come home to our new apartment for a few days so that I could get my bearings before starting school.
But I hadn't been ready to leave the warm embrace of Waterside, the spa days, the luxury of being treated like a fragile baby chick.
I had put off leaving until the last minute—which was now. I was rubbing my arms against the cold breeze coming off the river when I heard the crunch of tires on gravel and turned to see a long black limo with tinted glass pulling into the semicircular driveway.
A driver got out of the car. He was six feet tall, muscle-bound in black livery. He wore a black driver's hat and had tattoos on his knuckles.
He said, "Ms. Angel? I'm Leo Peavey. I work for your family."
Unsmiling, he picked up my backpack and opened the back door for me. I looked inside, expecting to see my brothers and my uncle Jacob, but only Hugo, my youngest bro, an eleven-year-old master of troublemaking, was there.
"Where is everyone?" I said to Hugo.
"I'm here. Sorry to disappoint."
I opened my arms to the little monster who had been coming to visit me just about every week since my admission to Waterside.
He spoke with his face pressed into my coat. "Have fun at Waterside Penitentiary?"
"Of course," I said, kissing his head. "It was like Christmas and the Cherry Blossom Festival all rolled into one."
"Ha. What did they do to you, Tandy?"
"They forced me to sleep late, drink peppermint tea, read Harry Potter, and listen to Chopin. All at the same time."
"Sounds horrible," Hugo said. He meant it.
I cracked up.
My little bro went on. "Uncle Jake and Matty are setting up your computer. Harry had early practice this morning. I hope we get there in time."
Getting there in time meant arriving at school before the window for enrollment in the second term closed. I couldn't miss that.
Leo had just negotiated the curving on-ramp to the Henry Hudson when, without warning, our wheels failed to grip the slippery highway and we went into a long, slow sideways skid on the ice. I gripped Hugo's hand as we slewed across the lanes. And then I saw a dark SUV behind us, bearing down on us at high speed as we spun around.
Time slowed, and I saw exactly how our car would get T-boned at sixty miles an hour. I was already hearing our screams and the ripping, screeching sound of metal on metal.
I remembered how a black Escalade chased my car not too long ago… and how that pursuit ended in many horrifying deaths.
I grabbed Hugo and braced for the crash.
The last thing I saw was the SUV—windshield tinted impenetrably black—before squeezing my eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable.
Car horns began to blare.
I opened my eyes. Just in time to see the SUV shooting past our still-spinning car, skimming a guardrail, then getting traction and speeding off.
Our driver wrenched back control of the limo, and his eyes shot to the rearview mirror as he shouted, "You kids all right?"
Hugo was as pale as milk, and my heart was still flailing in terror. I exhaled shakily and said, "We're good," but the shock of the narrowly missed accident wouldn't fade.
I was lucky to be alive.
As the limo sped along the highway, I tried to put the accident out of my mind for my sake and Hugo's, and ready myself for the looming reality of high school.
I had always been regarded by my peers as odd, weird, and, at the very least, a peculiar girl. But as odd, weird, and peculiar as I was, my three brothers belonged in the square-peg-round-hole category just as much as me.
There was a reason for this.
I thought back on my session with Dr. Robosson less than an hour ago. We were sitting in her office, wrapping up before my departure from Waterside.
She said, "Tandy, I know how you feel about medication, but I've written you a prescription for a mild tranquilizer. You can take one in the morning before school, and one before bed, if you feel too agitated to sleep. They're very safe."
She tore the prescription from the pad, but I was already shaking my head No, no, no.
"No more pills, Dr. Robosson. I'm done with them, forever."
I was remembering other pills that had brought me and my siblings to this place and time.
Our overachieving parents, Maud and Malcolm Angel, had set impossibly high standards of performance for us. And to help us reach those standards, we were all given a daily regimen of pills produced by the family business, Angel Pharmaceuticals.
We were told the pretty, colorful pills were vitamins. In fact, they were drugs designed to boost certain talents many times over while completely repressing our emotions—which Malcolm and Maud believed are detrimental to success.
Because of the pills, Hugo has the strength of an adult male athlete. Our older brother, Matthew, is a Heisman Trophy–winning football player for the New York Giants.
Their nuclear tempers are also legendary. When Matty or Hugo gets mad, run. Run fast.
My twin brother, Harry, is an artistic and musical genius, but withdrawn and socially inept. I'm also very awkward around people, but like my father, I have a highly scientific mind. I have the ability to look at disparate parts and intuit what the whole will look like. I'm nearly always right.
But until last year when I stopped taking the pills, I had no feelings, no messy emotions, and, like Matty, had been called a sociopath more than once. I had the perfect personality for a corporate CEO, and my parents hoped I would head up the family business one day.
Even then, I thought I'd rather be dead.
The full truth about how the pills changed the regular-smart Angel kids into high-achieving, sociophobic freaks didn't come out until after our parents were gone. But charts of our progress, memos about the experiments, and the pills themselves remained.
The evidence was undeniable.
Maud, Malcolm, and our uncle Peter had willfully experimented on us and on other human lab animals before we were born. Some of those people—a lot of them just kids—had died.
And still, to this day, Angel Pharmaceuticals produces "the pills." Because they are called vitamins, they are not under the purview of the FDA. Our despicable uncle Peter, currently the sole proprietor of the company, is cagey enough not to sell the pills in the United States. Instead, he ships them overseas.
I've grown up fast in the last few months, and I'm still working things out. I don't yet know how, but I'm sure of at least this much: As soon as possible, I'm going to bring Angel Pharmaceuticals down—board up the headquarters, sue the hell out of my uncle Peter, and burn the factory to the ground.
I hated my parents.
But I loved them, too.
Malcolm and Maud were ruthless, never allowing me or my brothers to accept failure or even second best. When we did excel, it was always expected and rarely celebrated. Punishments were severe, involving anything from copying whole books—in perfect calligraphy—to military boot camps. Displays of emotion were strictly forbidden.
Can you imagine being a little kid in that kind of environment? No wonder we all turned out so… peculiar.
But then, there were the other times. I remember snuggling between them in their enormous bed, being read to from gorgeous picture books in Urdu or Japanese. Playing dress-up in Maud's closet, tripping in her stilettos and dragging her furs around the room like a Hollywood star. Watching Malcolm experimenting with a new recipe in the kitchen, taste-testing his always delicious gourmet dishes.
When I found out about the pills and how our parents used us as their personal guinea pigs, I was enraged—but not really surprised.
After all, if the drugs were able to turn people into superhuman genius prodigies, Malcolm and Maud were going to make sure that their children would be first in line to take them.
Side effects be damned.
I watched the highway roll past the car windows. Twenty minutes after leaving Waterside, Leo slowed to approach the old spired church with stained-glass windows on the corner of Seventy-Seventh and Columbus.
This church had been repurposed as All Saints Academy, and during the school year, it was like an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse where students of all grades took their classes together. But far from having lessons in a rickety building on the prairie, we were tutored under the vaulted ceiling of a Gothic cathedral on a beautiful New York City avenue.
Up ahead, I saw a dozen kids I knew sitting together on the wide church steps, kidding one another and laughing.
"We made it," Hugo said to me. "We beat the bell."
Before the car had fully stopped, Hugo bolted out right into traffic. I yelled and Leo braked hard. He ejected himself from the driver's seat, and with horns blowing behind us, he ran around the nose of the limo, grabbed Hugo by the arm, and hoisted him onto the sidewalk.
"You want to get killed, Mr. Hugo? Why? You're the boy with everything."
As I got out on the sidewalk, Leo handed me my book bag—a python Proenza Schouler satchel—and his card, saying, "If you need me, just call."
Then Leo Peavey sped off and disappeared into the morning rush hour traffic.
Standing in front of All Saints, my school since kindergarten, I had a flash of first-day-of-school excitement. I wished Harry was here with me, but he was off at an intensive music workshop that got him permission to be out of All Saints this first week.
Then I heard a familiar voice calling, "Hey, crazy."
I turned and saw C.P.—my former best friend and current worst nightmare—with her hands on her hips and a nasty grin on her face, showing she wasn't kidding. She was taunting me for real.
Memories of the last time I'd seen C.P. hit me with the force of a tsunami. On that unthinkable day, the traitor had been standing in her lacy lingerie, clinging possessively to James, the boy I had loved with my whole heart.
Of course, that meant that he'd betrayed me, too.
When I met Claudia Portman, aka C.P., she was an outcast, like me. She could be bitchy or funny, depending on how you took it. She had her own witchy fashion style, which she mostly pulled off. After her former friends abandoned her for behavior unbefitting a bestie, she and I quickly joined forces as a bonded pair of inseparable oddballs.
But last year, C.P. had deceived me unforgivably by hooking up with James. Even though she apologized way after the fact, saying, "I just couldn't help myself, Tandy," her matter-of-fact apology was so transparently false, I could never trust her again.
There were three sides to this story: hers, his, and mine. But who cares about theirs? My side had been vetted and psychiatrically approved. I was doubly wronged by any standard, and I didn't have the time or grace within me to forgive or forget either one of them.
I understand that if you can't forgive, anger takes over you. And I say, "Bring it on." Remembering pain is how you learn never to let the cause of it happen again.
Now, standing in front of the school, with her taunt still hanging in the air, I faced C.P. head-on.
She looked different now.
She had extensions, good ones that made a cascade of honeyed brunette waves down to her shoulders. She was wearing a tiny Nicole Miller skirt and a tight top with sheer netting from shoulder to shoulder, something I would never dare to wear to school. This was the high-priced-hooker look favored by private school girls, but it really begged the question of who here was the crazy one.
Her insult hung between us like a freeze-frame of a tennis serve. Then the action resumed.
"So the nutcase returns," she said. "Did you escape? Hey, everyone, the House of Psychosis is missing a lunatic."
I took aim at my former friend, shouting, "I could vomit up alphabet soup and make more sense than you."
She said, "Really? I'm right here, psycho. Dazzle me with your wit. If they didn't electroshock it out of you, that is."
With that, Hugo jumped between the two of us, pointed his phone at C.P., and snapped a picture. He examined it and said, "C.P., you ugly."
"Shut up, you little tapeworm," she snarled. Then other voices cut in with more insults, calling me a lunatic, a nutjob, batshit crazy.
C.P. was taunting me again: "Are those your dead mother's clothes, Tandy? I just love the boots."
Instead of walking past her, or laughing in her face, I shot back, "I got them in Paris. Where'd you get your outfit, C.P.? Sluts R Us?"
"Oh, too funny, Tandoori. Look, why don't you just go back to Water-Fried until you're normal? Which will be… oh, exactly never."
I was gathering myself for a sharp comeback when Hugo stepped up to C.P., pulled back his arm, and, before I even had a chance to freak, punched her right in the gut.
This was no joke. Thanks to the pills, Hugo was strong. I saw C.P.'s feet lift off the ground as she fell backward onto the sidewalk and let out a stunned grunt.
Another girl sputtered at Hugo, "You psycho. You can't hit girls!"
Hugo said, "What girl? All I see is a pathetic bitch who asked for what I gave her. Actually, she demanded it."
A whistle blew sharply, and we all turned to see a florid man with flyaway hair and a small mouth that was pinched around a whistle. His little black eyes were like bullets behind his glasses.
He shouted, "Everyone freeze!"
Friend, all this happened within the first ten minutes of my return to All Saints Academy.
Our former headmaster, Mr. Thibodaux, had been a tough disciplinarian, but very caring. It seems that he had left during my absence from All Saints, and his replacement was barring our path to the school.
He introduced himself haughtily. "I'm Dr. Felix Oppenheimer. Who are you?"
"That's Tandoori Angel," said one of C.P.'s posse before I could respond.
"Hugo's sister? I should have guessed."
C.P. was on her feet by then, her eyes watering with either pain or humiliation, but she was standing—which meant that Hugo had held back with his punch. Thank God. He could have killed her.
"Are you all right?" the headmaster asked C.P.
"He hit me," she said, pointing to Hugo, "really hard. Christ, I might not be able to have babies because of him."
"Claudia, skip the blasphemy and go see the nurse," said the headmaster. "You two," he said, pointing at Hugo and me. "Stay right here. Everyone else, go inside—now."
He got on his phone and made a couple of phone calls with his back to us. Then he waited on the sidewalk until Leo reappeared with the car.
Our driver was still applying the brakes when Dr. Oppenheimer delivered both a threat and the biggest insult of all.
"Hugo, the next time you use physical violence, I'll call the police. Effective tomorrow, you will write a letter of apology to Ms. Portman and you will read it out loud in assembly or you will not be allowed to attend All Saints this term. I've been in touch with your guardian.
"Tandoori, because of this ruckus, you've missed your deadline for admission. I'm sorry for you. But you didn't plan appropriately. Right now, both of you must leave."
Hugo sputtered. He was about to launch a retort, but I put my hand on his shoulder and told Dr. Oppenheimer we were both sorry for our behavior.
Hugo wriggled under my hand, but he didn't say a word.
When my brother and I were in the car, the registrar, Mrs. Benardete, bent to the car window and said to me, "You can fill out the registration form online, Tandy. I'll work on the headmaster, but you must send me the paperwork today."
I nodded, then sank so low into the backseat that I was practically lying down. Hugo threw his arms around me and started crying. Despite his strength, he was still just a little kid, and I was the only mom he had. I patted his back and said, "It's okay. Don't cry." But I was scared for him.
I hadn't started this fight with C.P. I hadn't started any of the fights with C.P. But if there had been any question in my mind before, there was none now.
This was war.
The car was silent, a swift projectile, impervious to outside forces, and Leo was taking us "home" to a place that didn't feel like it yet.
Let me explain.
After my mother's hedge fund went bust, she was sued into the next century. She owed fifty million dollars to creditors, which was more than we had or could borrow.
The bankruptcy of Leading Hedge forced the sale of our incredible co-op in the legendary Dakota apartment building. But days before we were to be turned out on the street, Uncle Jacob took me and my brothers to Paris.
This voyage and our time in Paris was a lifeline of the most magnificent kind. Our uncle, whom we had only known for a short time, had pulled some very old strings, and we learned that we were heirs to a large inheritance. Our benefactor was Hilda Angel, our father's glamorous mother, who had died before any of her grandchildren had been born.
But she had planned for us.
Gram Hilda's bequests had conditions and a team of stuffy legal advisors attached. But for the present, her estate paid each of us a generous monthly allowance and bought us a new home in the San Remo Apartments.
The San Remo is a grande dame of an apartment building that was built in 1930. Like the Dakota, the building takes up an entire block on Central Park West. One of the San Remo's unique features is that above the eighteenth floor, the building is topped by two ten-story towers.
We were closing in on Seventy-Fifth Street when Hugo sat up and said, "See that, Tandy? Our apartment, way up on the sixteenth and seventeenth floors, just under the north tower—guess how long it takes for an orange juice balloon to hit the sidewalk from way up there."
"Kidding. Just kidding."
A few minutes later, Leo cruised up to the curb and braked the car outside the stupendous building.
Praise for Confessions of a Murder Suspect:A #1 New York Times Bestseller
"The complex, clever plot keeps the pages turning as it wends its way to a surprising resolution and several cliffhangers."—CommonSenseMedia.org
"A fascinating story of secrets and discovery."—Library Media Connection
"Readers will be drawn inexorably into Tandy's world of paranoia and manipulation as they try to put the pieces together."
- On Sale
- Oct 26, 2015
- Hachette Audio