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Deadly Little Lessons
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Format:ebook $7.99 $9.99 CAD
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At the arts school, she gets caught up in the case of Sasha Beckerman, a local girl who’s gone missing. Even though all signs suggest that the teen ran away, Camelia senses otherwise. Eager to help the girl, she launches her own investigation. While reviewing the details online, she stumbles across a blog by someone named Neal Moche, a fellow psychometric. With Ben away, Camelia feels as if she’s found a kindred spirit in Neal. That sense of connection also makes Camelia realize how much she misses Ben, despite being committed to Adam.
But time is running out for Sasha, and Camelia will have to trust her powers more than ever. Will the lessons she has learned give her the strength to save Sasha before it’s too late?
Copyright © 2012 by Laurie Faria Stolarz
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
THERE’S A STABBING SENSATION in my chest. It pushes through my ribs, making it hard to breathe.
I’ve felt this way since last night. Since the phone rang and I decided to answer it.
The caller ID screen flashed: PRIVATE CALLER.
I wish I had let my parents get it. The last thing I needed was another faceless person on the other end of a phone, especially considering everything I’d already been through during the past year.
But instead I picked it up.
“Camelia?” an unfamiliar female voice asked.
My chest tightened instinctively. “Who is this?”
“It’s your grandmother.”
But it didn’t sound anything like my grandmother. This person’s voice was less cheerful, more distant.
“Your mother’s mother,” she said, to clarify.
It took my brain a beat to make sense of her words, after which my whole body tensed.
“I know it’s been a little while,” she continued, “but I really need to speak to your mother.”
I wanted to ask her why—what she could possibly want. My mother hadn’t seen or spoken to my grandmother in at least twelve years.
“I heard your mother is staying at your home, is that true?” she asked, when I didn’t say anything.
“Staying at my home?” I felt both dazed and confused, like in that Led Zeppelin song from the ’60s.
“Your mother,” she attempted to explain. “I heard that she’s moved in with you. Is she there? Can I speak with her?”
Moved in with me? “My mother lives here,” I told her. “This is her home.”
“Well, then, please,” she insisted (her voice sounded sharp and irritated now), “can you simply put Alexia on the phone for me? This is rather urgent.”
“Alexia?” I said, assuming that she was confused, too. “Aunt Alexia was staying here. A few months ago.” But now she’s locked up in the mental ward at the local hospital. And the way that you treated her as a child—resenting her for having ever been born—is at least partially to blame for her instability.
“Do you want to talk to my mother instead?” I asked.
“Your mother.” There was a tinge of amusement in her voice. “Don’t you know? What have they told you, dear?”
“Alexia is your mother, Camelia. Certainly you must know the truth by now.…”
“What?” I asked, but I’m not even sure the word came out.
“Alexia is your mother,” she repeated, louder, more forcefully, as if I hadn’t quite heard her the first time.
My heart pounded. An array of colors bled in front of my eyes, and the room began to darken and whirl.
The receiver fell from my grip.
I sank to my bed, where I’ve remained ever since, replaying the phone conversation in my head, dissecting each sentence, word, syllable, and letter, hoping that maybe I misunderstood. But no matter how many times I try to pick her words apart, the meaning is still the same.
There’s a knock at my bedroom door. I roll over and bury my head beneath my pillow, hoping that whoever it is will just go away. But a couple of seconds later, the door opens. Footsteps creak across the floorboards.
“Camelia?” Dad asks.
I clutch the ends of the pillow.
“It’s almost noon,” he says. “I thought we’d go out for brunch. Anywhere you want.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Are you not feeling well?” He attempts to pry the pillow from over my head, but he’s no match for me.
“Headache,” I tell him. The knifelike sensation burrows deeper into my chest. Talking feels both labored and painful.
“Well, can I get you anything? Tea, aspirin, something to eat? I could bring you some toast.…”
“Nothing,” I say, wondering if he notices that I’m still in my clothes from yesterday; that I never changed for bed; that the phone receiver is still on the floor; or that my pillow is soiled with tears and day-old makeup.
“Okay, well maybe I’ll make you something anyway,” he says, lingering a moment before he finally leaves.
Alone again, I attempt to let out a breath, but the sharp sensation in my chest keeps it in. I know there are a million things that I should do right now—that I could do—to try to ease this ache: talk to him and/or Mom; call Dr. Tylyn; phone Kimmie; or text Adam at work to come and pick me up. But instead I replay the phone conversation just one more time.
IT’S NOT UNTIL late afternoon that I finally venture out of my room. The light in the hallway stings my eyes. Sun pours in through all of the windows, shocking my senses, because everything inside me feels dark.
In the kitchen, Mom’s yoga bag is gone from the hook. She’s already left for work. Dad’s outside, mowing the lawn. I can see him out the kitchen window, past the growing number of my mother’s prescription bottles on the sill. When she first heard about her sister’s most recent suicide attempt, nine months ago, there was only one bottle. But now she’s up to four medications: one to help her sleep, another to make her wake, one to numb her pain, and another to help deal with the side effects of the pain-numbing pills.
Positioned beside the array of bottles is a supersize jar of almond butter (her edible vice), two sizes up from the one she used to buy.
I head into the living room, feeling my body tremble with each step I take toward the bookcase. You’d think that after everything I’ve been through this past year—after having been stalked, held captive, and almost killed three times, not to mention having questioned my own sanity—I wouldn’t let one measly phone call get my world so off-kilter. I mean, who even knows if what my grandmother said was the truth?
But I fear deep down that it is.
I zero in on the row of photo albums on the top two shelves. Back when life was simpler, before things got too dramatic and complicated for any of us to handle, my parents and I used to go through the albums together, reminiscing about things like my sixth birthday party, the time Mom nursed a baby sparrow back to life after a nearly fatal fall from its nest, and my first lost tooth.
I grab the album that documents my parents’ life before I came along, and start flipping through the pages. For all the time I’ve spent perusing the album, laughing at my dad’s dorky bangs and my mom’s hippie clothes, never once did I think to question the fact that there aren’t any shots of Mom when she was pregnant with me, that there are no photos from a baby shower, nor any ultrasound pictures.
I spend several minutes going through the album yet again, poring over photos of my parents’ wedding shower, photos of the big day itself, and then years’ worth of pictures dedicated to their exotic vacations in places like Fiji, Costa Rica, and Capri, hoping to find even one baby-bumpified picture that would make everything right. But all I find is my mom’s concave stomach in an array of tie-dyed bikinis.
A moment later, my cell phone rings. It’s Kimmie.
“Hey.” I pick up, relieved that it’s her.
“Guess who you’re talking to right now,” she bursts out.
“Excuse me?” I recheck the phone screen.
“Bonnie Jensen’s newest style maven.”
“Three words for you: New. York. City. This summer. Me: interning for Bonnie Genius Jensen. Seriously, can you believe it?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, that’s great.”
“Great doesn’t even cover it, Camelia. This could be life-changing for me.”
“Right. I mean, so great.”
“And so what if I’ll be fetching coffee and dusting clothing racks all day…as my downer of a dad says. It’ll be for Bonnie Freaking J. I mean, I’ll wipe her ass if she wants me to, because I’m sure it’ll be with designer T-paper, right?” She laughs.
“Exactly,” I say, trying my best to sound happy for her. And I am happy for her. She deserves every bit of this. But right now, amid family photos that add up to only one possible conclusion, it’s all I can do to hold the phone to my ear.
“Is everything okay?” she asks.
Part of me wants to tell her about my grandmother’s phone call, but another part doesn’t want to ruin her moment or admit what could be true.
I glance up at the plaque on the mantel. It’s a framed quote from Don Miguel Ruiz, one of my mother’s many earth-crunchy gurus: Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. Mom made a point of putting the plaque here in the center of the room over the fireplace, to remind us always to be true to our word. But what about hers?
“I’m so excited for you,” I say.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“Nothing, I just have to go. My father’s signaling for me to help him outside.” A big fat lie. “Can I call you back?”
“Wait, have you been crying? Your voice sounds all nasal-like.”
“Allergies.” More lies. “My dad’s mowing the lawn.”
“And since when have you been allergic to cut grass?”
“I’ll call you later, okay?”
I hang up without waiting for her answer and hurry up to the attic. I start to go through the cedar chest in which Mom stores what she deems to be of sentimental value, still hoping to find that one scrap of evidence that’ll prove I’m truly theirs.
I pull out my old tutu, a caterpillar costume, and my first-ever teddy bear. At the bottom of the chest is a scrapbook. In it are photos of my mother and Aunt Alexia when they were young. Even then, my aunt looked out of place—either standing in the background looking down at the floor or half concealed behind someone else.
As I start to put the scrapbook away, I spot another photo at the bottom of the chest. I reach in and pluck it out.
“Camelia?” Dad calls from downstairs, startling me.
I take a step back, bumping into a pile of old shoe boxes. It’s a picture of my mother on yet another beach, in yet another tie-dyed bikini, completely bumpless. I turn the photo over, noticing a date printed on the back that falls just three weeks before my birth.
“Are you upstairs?” Dad yells when I don’t answer.
I stuff the photo into my pocket and hurry downstairs, feeling my stomach twist. Entering the bathroom, I slam the door behind me and try to catch my breath, but I can’t seem to get enough air.
I move to the sink to splash water onto my face. My reflection stares back at me in the mirror, but I no longer even recognize it. My eyes are bloodshot. My skin is flushed. There are red spots all over my neck.
“Camelia?” Dad asks, rapping lightly on the door. He opens it and our eyes lock. He appears as surprised as I am by what he sees.
“Who am I?” I ask him; my voice breaks.
“Camelia…?” He appears thoroughly confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, who am I?”
“You’re not making any sense.”
It’s like we’re speaking two different languages, which makes my heart clench tighter and the air in my lungs feel so much sharper.
“Camelia,” he repeats. He sits me down on the corner stool and gets a cold compress for my face. “What is it? Do you still have that headache? Maybe we should call the doctor.”
“I don’t need a doctor!” I shout.
Dad scoots down in front of me and takes my hands. At first I let him. Because Dad’s the one who soothes, who makes everything better, the one person I can always trust.
But then I push him away. Because this time, his touch makes everything colder.
“How could you do this?” I manage to ask. Tears bubble up in my throat, constricting my breath, making me feel like I’m drowning.
“Do what? Camelia, what are you talking about?”
“I mean, who am I?” I ask him again. “Who was I before Camelia?”
“Okay, now, slow down.” His voice goes powdery soft. “Take a deep breath and try to help me understand.”
“Why are there no pictures of Mom when she was pregnant?” I blurt out. “And where is my birth certificate?”
Dad’s lips part and his expression changes, morphing from concerned to horrified.
And suddenly I don’t even need to look at a birth certificate. The look on his face is the only truth I need.
I LEAVE THE BATHROOM, pulling the door shut behind me. Dad emerges not two seconds later. But instead of following me, he heads into the kitchen. I hear him from the door of my bedroom, leaving Mom a voice mail begging her to come home early.
Meanwhile, home is exactly where I don’t want to be.
I phone Adam, even though I know he’s at work. I leave him a message, and then stop myself from dialing Kimmie. I know she’d drop everything in a heartbeat for me, but I don’t want to ruin her moment, so I call Wes on his cell instead.
“Pizza Rita’s,” he answers. “Are you interested in hearing about our cheesy bread special?”
His chipper voice almost makes me regret the call. It’s not that I don’t want him to be upbeat. It’s just that I’m on a completely different emotional page right now, and I’m not sure I have the patience to catch him up.
I glance over at my desk. The emergency number for Dr. Tylyn is just inside the top drawer.
“Are you there?” he continues.
“Sorry,” I say, resisting the urge to slip into old patterns—to keep things a secret instead of asking for a little help. “I’m here.”
“And how are you?”
“Honestly,” I say, still staring at my desk, “I feel like jumping off a ledge.”
“Trust me, it doesn’t work.” He sighs. “You’ll only end up breaking something, which will confine you to bed with your mom’s raw-inspired vegan cuisine, and seriously, when you really stop and think about it, does it get any more torturous than her Italian rawsage or her sprouted bean porridge?”
I bite my lip, feeling it quiver, knowing there’s no way I’ll be able to say the words aloud. To him. To Adam. To Kimmie.
“Tough day?” he asks.
“I think I just need some fresh air. Can I call you later?”
“Will it make you feel any better to know that my day has sucked, too? I feel like I wait around all week for the weekend, but then, once it’s here, I’d rather cheese-grate my face than endure another Friday night dinner with the fam. So, what’s your cheese-grating gripe?”
“Is your father being a bully again?” I ask, much more comfortable focusing on him.
“My father was born to bully. He even had that phrase tattooed to his ass. I’m not joking, by the way. Next time you come over, I’m sure he’d be more than tickled to bend over for you.”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass,” I say, reminded of Wes’s journal. A few months back, he let me read it. It was basically a series of poems that documented his struggles at home, struggles that revolved around his father’s disappointment in him.
In a nutshell, Wes’s dad has always wanted him to be more masculine, less in touch with his feelings. He threatens Wes by saying he’ll enroll him in the Girl Scouts and have his car painted pink. The truth is, as I learned from his poetry, that Wes is gay. Only, aside from me, he hasn’t shared the news—or his personal poems—with anyone. Nor has he wanted to discuss it.
“Are you sure?” Wes asks. “It’d probably make his decade to have a pretty girl take a peek.”
“Well, if that’s the truth, your dad has serious issues.”
“And apparently, so do you, my little ledge-jumper. So, let’s hear it: what’s your motivation for taking the plunge?”
“Would you believe that I’m just PMS-ing?”
“If you’d believe that I’m the sexiest stud in Freetown.”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
“Don’t tease me, Camelia,” he growls.
“I’ll call you later.” I hang up before he can argue and gaze out my bedroom window, thinking about my ex-boyfriend, Ben, of how he used to be able to sense what I was feeling without my ever having to say it. Right now, that would be a blessing.
Like me, Ben has the power of psychometry—the ability to sense the past or future through touch. Ben’s power works best when he touches people—when there’s skin-to-skin contact. But my power works differently, sort of like what happens when my aunt does her finger painting. When I do my pottery, images come rushing through my mind. I sculpt the images in hopes they’ll make sense. And over the past year, since this power emerged, some of the images have indeed made sense—at least they have eventually. With Ben’s help, I’ve been able to save a couple of lives, including my own.
But my power doesn’t work the same way every time. Sometimes when I’m sculpting, I’ll envision something significant. Other times, I won’t envision anything at all. And still other times, the premonition will be so intense that I’ll hear actual voices pertaining to whatever it is I’m sculpting.
“Camelia?” Dad calls from the other room.
Instead of answering, I pocket my cell phone, pull on some shoes, and open my window wide. I know that I should probably call Wes back. He probably suspects there’s something seriously wrong. But right now, I just need to get away. And so I climb out the window and run as fast as I can.
I TURN ONTO A STREET that leads to Regino’s, the restaurant I went to on one of my very first dates with Adam. We sat at a table in the back, and I remember at one point during dinner looking out the window just as a tree branch broke outside, exposing two limbs that stretched out at sharp angles. The image reminded me of Ben—of the scar that runs along his forearm.
I push the door open, surprised to discover that it’s no longer an Italian restaurant. A sign above the front counter says, WELCOME TO HALEY’S TV DINER.
I turn back to gaze at the entrance to see if the exterior has changed as well. Maybe I was too distracted to notice it.
“You can take a seat anywhere,” a waitress tells me.
“Thanks,” I say, looking around. The interior is decorated with posters of new and old TV shows—I Love Lucy, Happy Days, Seinfeld, and Family Guy—and there are flat-screen TVs throughout the place, though only one is currently on. It hangs down over the front counter. A group of older people sit huddled below it.
The waitress hands me a menu; it’s made up to look like a TV Guide with a caricature of Steve Carell on the front. “Is this your first time at TV Diner?”
“Sort of,” I say, noticing that the rest of the place is pretty empty, that the old photographs of Florence, Rome, and Milan are gone, along with the red-and-white-checkered tablecloths.
Despite these changes, the table at the back is still there. I head toward it, as if cosmically (and perhaps pathetically) drawn to the infamous tree branch outside the window. But the leaves are at their peak now—lush, vibrant, green—and so I can barely see it.
I wonder where Ben is right now and what he might be doing. After coming to my rescue a few months ago, he decided to go away for a while. He joined a homeschooling group, with the principal’s approval, only he hasn’t been home in months.
I slide into the booth, suddenly feeling stupid for coming here. Why didn’t I go to Adam’s office? I open the vinyl menu, thinking back to that first date. After the tree branch broke, I remember how distracted I was, despite how sweet Adam was being. I couldn’t seem to stay in the moment, wondering if nature was trying to send me some message.
“What can I get you?” the waitress asks.
I feel a chill, wishing that I had grabbed a sweater on my way out of the house. It may be June, but the air conditioner overhead makes things feel more like late November. I order some food by pointing to the first things I see on the menu: a raspberry muffin, along with a strawberry milk shake, despite knowing I won’t be able to stomach them.
I look up at the front counter. The old people are taking notes as they watch TV, as if keeping score or solving puzzles, and yet it looks to be a news show. A forty-something-year-old woman appears on the screen and starts sobbing into the camera.
“Here we are,” the waitress says as she places my order in front of me, along with a couple of containers each of butter and strawberry jam.
“Thank you,” I say, noticing a man on the TV screen now. The woman’s husband? Her older brother? He’s crying as well, which upsets the woman more. She tries to say something, but I’m too far away to hear.
“Hello; hello,” the waitress says in a singsongy voice.
“What?” I ask. Has she been talking to me?
“You’re addicted, too, aren’t you?” She laughs.
“To Open Cases?” Her pixie haircut reminds me of Kimmie’s, as does her plum purple eye shadow. “It’s one of those unsolved-mystery shows—the kind where they ask the viewers for help. The difference with this show is that the stories are all fairly current, which means that the regulars here are totally obsessed with solving the cases before the police do.” She gestures to the row of note-takers. “Check them out. They come in here daily to watch the show. You’re welcome to join if you like. Just don’t be too insightful, or else you’re apt to piss Rudy off. He likes to think he’s the smartest one of the bunch.”
I recognize the girl from news reports: Sasha Beckerman, a fifteen-year-old girl from Peachtree, Rhode Island. She’s been missing for six weeks. The photo was taken at the end of Sasha’s eighth grade year and shows her with a fishtail braid and full-lipped smile.
I grab my food and head up to the counter, eager for distraction.
“It’s the parents’ fault,” says the guy at the end of the counter to the woman sitting beside him.
The woman pauses in dunking a butter-slathered cracker into her mug of tea. “Don’t tell me you think they’re the ones behind the kidnapping.”
“Who says it was a kidnapping?” another guy says, glaring at her over the rims of his bifocals. “I’m telling you: that girl ran away.”
“Well, I still think people need to cut the parents some slack,” the woman says.
The guy with bifocals shushes her as the host of the show details what the authorities know about the case. Apparently, Sasha told her parents that she was going to a poetry slam with some new friends. But it turned out to be an underground party with no adults present to speak of—except for the one adult she was last seen with: a good-looking guy with a brown leather jacket.
My stomach rumbles; I feel hungry and nauseated at the same time. I take a bite of my muffin, trying to tame the thick lead taste in my mouth. A moment later, my cell phone rings. It’s Dad, but I don’t want to pick up.
“Your phone’s ringing,” the guy with the bifocals says, as if I’d suddenly lost my hearing.
I reluctantly click my phone on and mutter, “Hello.”
“Your mother just got home from work,” Dad says. “Where are you? And since when do you leave the house without checking with me first?”
Since I just found out that for the past seventeen years, you and Mom have been lying to me, I want to tell him. Since I learned that Mom’s long-winded lectures about peace, love, and honesty are all just a pile of BS.
“Look, your mother and I would really like to sit down and talk this out,” he continues. “Now, just tell me where you are.”
He still isn’t denying it. The tightening sensation returns to my chest.
“Camelia?” he asks.
I drop my cell phone. It lands on the floor with a clank. The case breaks. The clip holder goes flying.
“Is she all right?” I hear one of the regulars ask.
I’m breathing hard. The room starts to spin.
“Do you need help?” a female voice asks me.
“Get her a glass of water,” someone else says.
Their voices only make me dizzier, so I cover my ears and do my best to remain composed, wishing this were all a dream, that I could wake up and be the girl I thought I was, rather than this person I no longer know. This person who will never be the same.
I SPEND THE NEXT fifteen minutes in the bathroom, regaining my breath and praying for the spinning to stop. Once I’ve managed to get a grip, I step out of the handicapped stall and return to the dining area.
To my complete and utter shock, Dad is at the front counter, paying my check.
“How did you know where to find me?” I ask him.
“Don’t forget your cell phone,” he says, sliding it down the counter toward me.
- On Sale
- Dec 18, 2012
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers