BUT I LOVE HIM, my next release, is now shipping from Amazon and B&N.com! Almost a full month early.
BUT I LOVE HIM is a very dark, voice-driven YA about a girl's year with an abusive boyfriend, told in reverse chronological order. It starts at the end, so to speak, and unwinds.
So, I thought I'd share the first two chapters here-- I hope you like it!
I lie in pieces on the floor. A hundred different things surround me: shards of a destroyed wooden jewelry box, some cracked CDs, a few ripped books, a shredded picture of Connor and me. I think my insides must look like they do, all churned up and cracked and unrecognizable.
My lip bleeds, staining my sleeve every time I wipe my mouth. My chest is hollow and empty, as if he ripped out my heart and took it with him when he left, the door slamming so hard the picture frames crashed to the floor.
All I feel is pain, one big wave of it crashing over me again and again, relentless. I ease back on my elbows, until I am laying flat on the ground, staring upward at the shadowy ceiling.
It is nearly dark. How long have I been lying here? The blackness reaches the corners of the room and fills everything. Once that darkness was a cocoon, enveloping us and protecting us from everything outside the door. Together, we hid in the dark, hoping the world would leave well enough alone and we could find peace.
But nothing can protect me now, least of all the darkness.
No one can protect me now. I pushed them all away. I lost everything. I gave it to him, and he gave me this.
I think my wrist is broken, because every time I move it, pain tears up my arm and steals my breath away.
Tonight was so much worse than anything before it. Tonight he didn’t stop after the first slap. His rage spilled and bubbled and grew, and he destroyed everything he could find, and still it didn’t stop.
I don’t know if he left in order to find more things to destroy, or if it was the only thing he could do to stop it.
I don’t understand how so much changed in a year, how I lost myself.
Eleven Months, Twenty-three days
Even with all the things he’d told me about his father, I’d never actually seen the monster. Sure, I’d met him many times before, but he seemed oddly human, too normal to do the things Connor told me about. The monster was a mythical thing, the villain in a twisted fairy tale.
I know right now, as I watch the flames dance and lick at that pretty white lattice, that I never fully understood it. I never really believed it.
I do now. It is real. And all of Connor’s stories have come to life. My doubt is gone.
His father has lost his mind. His mom is sobbing, curled in a ball in the middle of their front lawn. I am glad they live in the country, where people can’t see this from the street. Otherwise I think we might all be arrested.
“I paid for this and I can tear it down!” He rips another piece of lattice off the porch. It cracks and splinters and pieces of it shower down on the flower beds. Nancy’s pot of roses falls too, shattering on the cement walkway. It is just another thing he will take from her and never apologize for.
The splintered lattice goes on the roaring pile with the rest of it. The flames grow, ever skyward, gobbling everything he gives it.
Connor and I are at the edge of the yard, hidden in the shadows of the big oak tree. Jack knows we are there but he’s so lost in his own fury I think he may have forgotten. I want to grab Nancy and pull her into the shadows with us, but she is so close to him. She is begging him to stop. I don’t know how she can do that; I am afraid of him.
He seems bigger today: taller, thicker and stronger. There’s something almost inhuman about him.
He has to be drunk, though he’s not stumbling. A sober person wouldn’t burn down their own front porch. A porch he just built a month ago. Nancy spent a whole weekend painting it, and they sat on it in lawn chairs and admired their work.
And now it is in shambles.
“Ann, you don’t have to be here,” Connor says, as he leans against the tree and pulls me into him. I don’t reply. I just bury my face in his chest as his arms wrap around me. I can hear the wood crack and splinter as his father rips another piece from the porch. It is half gone already.
“Why is he doing this?” I ask.
“Why does he do anything he does?” Connor says. His voice is dull, empty. To Connor, this is an inevitable part of life, something to be endured so that he can get to the better stuff.
It was supposed to be Nancy’s birthday dinner. Connor hadn’t wanted to go. He doesn’t like to see his father at all anymore. That was the purpose of getting his own apartment. The further he is from his father, the better.
But for his mother, he would do anything. His mother has nothing left. I don’t see her often. She is invisible most of the time. But when I do see her, I don’t look her in the eyes, because they are empty. She is not yet fifty, but her hair is grey and there are deep lines in her face. There is a sadness about her that never leaves. An intensity of such deep sorrow I can’t stand to be in the same room as her. She is haunted by her life, and I wonder what she is waiting for, if she will live this way forever.
If I look her in the eyes I am afraid I will see myself. I’m afraid I will see my future. I’m afraid of the camaraderie we may develop because of Connor and his father. And if she sees herself in me, then this is hopeless. If she looks at me and pats me on the back and just knows how I feel, than I will know this is all wrong.
I will just know.
But Connor will not become this. Connor knows what he does is wrong. He’s getting help. He promised me. We talked about it for so long, and he’s going to do it now. He even brought home some information on counselors in the area. We will work through it together, and break this cycle, and it will be because of me and because I believed in him. He’s never had that before. He’s never had support like I give him, and it changes him. It makes him believe in himself, too.
I won’t be like everyone else. I won’t abandon him when things get rough. We’re both adults now—Me, eighteen, him, nineteen. If we work together, the world can be ours. We won’t need anyone else.
I pull away from him and look across the yard again. Darkness is falling but the blaze is growing. My little Mazda is only twenty feet away. The lawn is so dry. It could grow. It could burn everything.
“Do you think my car is okay?”
His cheek is cool against my temple. I feel safe, wrapped up like this, even though a maniac is burning the house down one piece at a time, just a few feet away. I wonder how far he will go. Would he burn the whole house? Will he turn everything into ashes?
I know Connor is not afraid of him anymore. He told me it’s been three years since his father last tried to hit him, and Connor swung back for the first time. That was the last time anything got physical between them. Connor is now three inches taller than his dad, with thicker arms and wider shoulders.
And yet his father seems so big right now.
“Do you think we should leave?”
“You can, if you want. I won’t leave her.”
I knew he would say that.
“He’ll get bored of the porch and turn on her. But he won’t do it if I’m here.”
I nod. “Maybe she’ll go with us.”
And I knew that too. She cares more about him than herself.
I don’t know what made him snap like this. The fire was already raging when we arrived, and there’s too much chaos to find out what set it off.
He probably doesn’t remember anyway. Rage like this doesn’t answer to reason.
I can’t shake the fear I feel of Jack. This isn’t right. I don’t think his mind is even functioning; he’s just running on senseless rage. Dangerous, scary, senseless rage. It makes me anxious with fear. The tremors run up and down my legs, wills me to leave this yard. I’m torn between wanting to save myself and wanting to be here for Connor.
“I think we should go,” I whisper. No matter how close I get to Connor, it’s not enough. I can’t disappear.
“I think you should go. You don’t need to be here for this. You don’t need to see him like this. I can handle it,” he says.
I nod. I know I should stay for Connor but I am itching to get away from here, to leave this scene behind. I know it’s going to haunt my dreams tonight: the hysterical sound of Nancy’s sobs, the manical gleam in Jack’s eyes, the rigid, solemn look on Connor’s face. He’s not shocked by what he sees.
And that’s the worst part. It’s the realization that this is normal to him. That it’s just another day in his fucked-up life. Jack is guilty of everything Connor accuses him of. And it’s making me sick. I need to get out of here. I need to lie down.
I turn away from Connor, toward my car, just as Jack yanks another chunk of lattice off the porch and flings it in the fire. The wood crackles and I jump back from a barrage of sparks, stumbling on a rock.
Jack takes offense to this. In three steps he’s in front of me, his face flaming with anger, and I back up so quickly I slam into my car with a loud bang.
Connor is between us like a bolt of lightning, shouldering his dad away from me. “Don’t you touch her,” he says, his voice so low and menacing it makes my stomach twist into knots of dread. Connor’s anger has ignited to match his father’s. “Don’t you ever touch her.”
Their faces are inches apart. Time has stopped; everything is frozen. My breath has left me and I wait for it. I wait for the fists to fly and the blood to pour.
But Jack just tears his gaze away from Connor, looks over at me, and then turns back to the porch. With renewed vigor, he rips another piece loose.
It is over and I am gone. Connor kisses me quickly and then I tear out the driveway, gravel flying behind me, before I can change my mind.
It is nearly pitch-black in his room. The only light comes from the tiny night-light that shines into the glass heart.
I stare at it, from my place in bed. I stare until my sight blurs, and all the blues and greens and amber colors blend into one mosaic.
Sometimes at night, I wake up and stare at the heart for hours, thinking of all it means to me, and to him. I think of how I worked for so long to give it to him. How I collected each piece from the beach, how I glued it all together into one big sculpture.
I wonder if he stares at it like I do. I wonder if he realizes what it means, that he’ll always have a piece of me no matter what happens. Each piece of glass is another piece of myself I gave to him.
It’s too bad I didn’t keep any pieces for myself.
I have been laying here for hours, waiting. I know he will come back when she is safe and his father has left, and not before.
It is four A.M. when he climbs into bed beside me, and I haven’t closed my eyes yet, even though they’ve grown so heavy it’s like they’re filled with sand.
I’m wearing his ratty t-shirt and boxers, and he wraps an arm around my waist once he is beside me. I pull the quilt higher, so that half our faces are covered, only the tops of our heads poking out.
“I hate days like this,” he says, his voice hardly above a whisper. Sometimes, when he does this, I think he is still afraid his father will hear his words. He doesn’t remember that we are in his new apartment. He doesn’t remember that his dad is miles away.
“I know,” I say, because there are no other words.
“I wish she would just leave him.”
“Me too.” And I do. I wish it more than anything. It would fix everything for us. All these issues would melt away if she would just get away from him and live in peace. All the stress in Connor’s life would evaporate, and then he’d be truly happy.
Silence fills the room until it is heavy. It bears down on us. It suffocates me.
“I’m sorry.” The words are empty but I have to say them anyway.
“It’s been a long time since he’s done anything like that.”
“I’d never let him hurt you, you know.”
I know that. Just as I know Jack does hurt me. He just does it through Connor’s hands.
“He’s held a gun to my head before,” Connor says.
I’ve heard this story. A dozen times. But I know he will tell me again, because it is his way of getting past it. He’ll talk until there is nothing else to say, and I’ll listen until he falls asleep. And then it will be my turn to be haunted, my turn to toss and twist all night as I try to forget the stories and the images, to forget the way his voice will crack during the hardest parts of the story.
But the worst part of all is that I will imagine a little boy in these stories, a helpless little boy that still lives inside Connor.
“I was sitting in his truck. He went inside a Seven-Eleven. For ice cream, he said. Said he’d get me a choco-taco, my favorite.”
The worst stories always come in the darkness, when I can’t see his face. I can feel his breath on my neck and his arms wrapped tightly around me, like I’m his anchor. But I can never see his face.
I don’t want to.
“I changed my mind. I wanted an ice cream sandwich. A fucking ice cream sandwich.”
There’s blame in his voice. But not for Jack. For himself. As if it’s his fault, as if his dad would be someone else if only Connor didn’t do things the wrong way.
“I was eight. So I got out of the truck. I pushed through the doors and the bell jingled. And my dad was standing there, a gun pointed at the clerk. When he looked over at me the guy took his chance and swung a bat at my dad, but he missed.
“So I became his hostage. He pointed the gun at my head and told the guy to give him the money or he’d shoot me.”
This is the part where he stops, where his voice cracks a little.
Tonight the story is different to me. Tonight I believe it. All these stories he’s told me before, they seemed like tall tales. Exaggerations. It’s not that I thought Connor would lie, it’s just that I’d met Jack. And he was just a regular guy. It just didn’t like one man could have evil like Connor tells. That one man could cause so much pain.
But tonight I saw it, saw the monster unleashed, the one who had been there all along, and I know it is real. I know he is capable of what Connor says he is. And tonight the story comes to life in my mind, and I know the look that would have been in Jack’s eyes when he did this.
“But the guy had already hit the silent alarm. The cops pulled up outside while he was standing there, jabbing at my head with the gun. It wasn’t loaded, but I didn’t know that.”
He shifts a little. The bed creaks. He knows he doesn’t have to continue, that I know the rest, but he does anyway. “It took an hour for the police to get him to drop the gun. A fucking hour.
“I was eight,” he says again. “What kind of fucked up person does it take to hold a gun to your own kid’s head? They only gave him two years for it because he didn’t put bullets in it. Plus parole. With good behavior he was out before I was ten.”
I never have words to say, so I’m always silent. There are no words for this.
“Sometimes I wish he would have loaded it and pulled the trigger,” he says.
I stiffen. I don’t want our conversation to turn that direction. His anger I can handle. I can smooth out the bitter memories and hold him, and he will forget for these moments. I can do that for him; I can make the anger go away.
But his sorrow is harder. He drowns in it and I can’t pull him free.
“No. I love you. Don’t wish that.”
And yet as I say it, the fight has gone out of me. I used to try so hard. I used to vehemently fight him. I used to struggle with everything I had to get him to stop the wars he waged with himself. I’d wipe his tears and talk to him for hours, until my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could hardly speak, and I’d fall into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
But I don’t have it in me anymore. I am losing him to it.
The long silence stretches between us and I wait for it. Wait to discover which way he is tipping.
“I love you too,” he says and kisses my neck.
I sigh in relief. For tonight we have won.
I turn back towards him and kiss him, and he rolls into me, kissing my cheeks and lips and chin and neck, and in seconds we are lost to it.
These are the only moments we have left. These precious seconds where the passion blots out everything else, and it is just us. The rest is a war neither of us can ever win.
But I have already waved my white flag.
I have already surrendered.