You can't keep two people who are meant to be together apart for long... Lennon Davis doesn't believe in much, but she does believe in the security of the number five. If she flicks the bedroom light switch five times, maybe her new LA school won't suck. But that doesn't feel right, so she flicks the switch again. And again. Ten more flicks of the switch and maybe her new stepfamily will accept her.
Twenty-five more flicks and maybe she won't cause any more of her loved ones to die. Fifty more and then she can finally go to sleep. Kyler Benton witnesses this pattern of lights from the safety of his tree house in the yard next door. It is only there, hidden from the unwanted stares of his peers, that Kyler can fill his notebooks with lyrics that reveal the true scars of the boy behind the oversize hoodies and caustic humor.
But Kyler finds that descriptions of blond hair, sad eyes, and tapping fingers are beginning to fill the pages of his notebooks. Lennon, the lonely girl next door his father has warned him about, infiltrates his mind. Even though he has enough to deal with without Lennon's rumored tragic past in his life, Kyler can't help but want to know the truth about his new muse.
Release date: April 7, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 368
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All Our Broken Pieces
“LEAVE IT UP TO ME, OLD MAN, BURY ALL YOUR SINS, CLOSEYOUR EYES AND I’LL DISGUISE THE SHAME THAT’S ON MY SKIN.”Fire to Dust, Life-Defining Moments EP, “Scarred”
GOALS. EVERYONE’S GOT TO HAVE them, at least that’s what my dad says. For the last two years, it’s been my mission—no, my goal—to make our front lawn resemble a football field for no other reason than to piss my father off. Don’t get me wrong—guys like him don’t mind having lawns that resemble football fields. Therein lies the problem. He’d love it. He’d admire it. He’d bask in its undeniable glory with unshakable pride. More than that, he’d rage. The sort of red-faced-vein-throbbing-style pissed because accepting the perfect lawn means I mastered something he never could. I’ve come close before, alternating the height of the grass in patches, but I still haven’t perfected it. That is my goal.
Here’s my theory: He likes to make me work. Thinks it’ll teach me to be a real man. Maybe that’s true, and hey, if the art of lawn maintenance is his vision for my future, then who am I to argue? The truth is, it isn’t like that at all. He wants me to be a yuppie attorney, just like him. Guy doesn’t want a kid; he wants a clone. Better luck next time, old man. I’d rather die.
I survey my work, nodding, pleased with the shifting pattern and alternating shades of light and dark green. Today is the closest I’ve ever come to achieving greatness. I give myself a mental high five. I should call the guys, have a good old-fashioned game of rugby in the backyard. Dad coming home to a bunch of riffraff, as it he calls it, might make his head explode. Not the worst idea I’ve ever had.
I let myself in the back door and go straight to the kitchen. The scent of garlic floats through the house, courtesy of whatever simmers on the stove, but Mom and Macy are nowhere in sight, so I ignore the growling in my stomach and grab a Coke, sliding it into the pocket of my hoodie before U-turning back outside, sidestepping the pool, and crossing my immaculate lawn until I reach the ladder to the tree house.
Yeah, a tree house. Go ahead. Laugh. Let me find the fucks I give.
That is correct. I do not give a single solitary fuck about how absurd it is. I’m seventeen. Six foot one and growing, and I still prefer to remain hidden in the trees. It’s rad and if anyone knocks it, I’ll knock their teeth clean out of their face, no joke.
Two wooden rungs are affixed to the tree stump near the bottom, and they’re the only steps I use to enter the door. It’s not a big effort for a guy my size, because during its construction, my father wanted to make sure he would fit, too, and he’s not what I would call a slight man. I was six. We’d gone for a family dinner at the home of a client of my father’s, who like all his A-list clients shall remain unnamed. The guy had built a tree house for his kid. A standard, run-of-the-mill kind. A few pieces of wood, a floor, and a roof.
My dad got one glimpse of it and decided that I needed one, too. But mine had to be higher, bigger, and better, so he hired contractors to build me the Taj Ma-freakin-hal of tree houses. He promised me the world that summer and I got this. My kid sister, Macy, got a motorized pink jeep. The only reason I got the better end of the deal is because Macy outgrew her SUV in a year.
Dad and I planned to spend time up here, doing all kinds of father-and-son things. He’s been twice, both times before the accident.
For this reason alone, I should hate it. I should loathe the thing with the burning fire of a thousand suns, but I don’t. I can’t. It’s my only escape. I write music up here because it reminds me of a time when life wasn’t so messed up.
I pull my hoodie up and over my head, discarding it on the wooden floorboards, grateful for the relief from the oppressive heat. It’s the first day of spring and sweltering already. In a week it’ll be hot enough to cook eggs on the sidewalk and for me, a serial overdresser, that sucks. Cracking the can of soda, I shove my earbuds in and scroll through my playlist until I find it. Nirvana. R.I.P., Kurt, you were a musical genius. I lie back and stretch my legs on the small mattress tucked against the wall. A slight breeze blows in, and I watch the steel-gray curtains, sewn by my mother, catch on the wind.
I turn down the music, not because Kurt’s vocals should ever be silenced, but because it seems like a nice day to catch a catnap before dinner. My eyes close, and seconds before the pull of sleep takes hold, a car with a destitute muffler rumbles not so far in the distance.
I sit up and inch closer to the small window, getting a faceful of curtain as the wind’s direction shifts. A cab ambles up the drive at the house next door and parks, its muffler chugging with relief as the sputtering stops. An interesting phenomenon in a place like Bel Air. It’s the kind of neighborhood infested with sports cars like mine, Range Rovers, Hummers. Status symbols on wheels. Yellow checkered taxicabs screaming for a little maintenance stick out like sore thumbs. Josh, our next-door neighbor, and proud owner of both a Corvette and Porsche’s version of an SUV, steps out of the cab, reaches into his coat pocket, and whips out a pile of cash.
The driver exits the vehicle, too, and moves to the rear of the car, removing large bags of luggage and a trunk. By the looks of the trunk, they’re transporting a body. I sit up straighter.
Ever see a TV show or movie and wonder how they find such good music? Well, there’s a guy for that. Josh. He’s a music supervisor. That’s a legit job, and since we live in LA, he doesn’t have to travel much, and when he does, I’m certain it’s not with purple polka-dotted luggage.
The back door of the cab swings open and a female silhouette emerges. I squint and lean forward as if either of those things will give me a better view of the newcomer, but all I can make out are legs and long blond waves. She shuts the door to the cab and turns away from my line of sight.
Josh and the cabbie stand side by side, Josh holding the polka-dotted luggage pull in one hand, the body-hiding trunk sitting on the ground at their feet.
I return my attention to her. Turn. Around. I want to see your face.
Macy’s voice pierces through my thoughts like a needle popping a balloon. “Kyler! Dinner!”
I don’t respond.
“Kyler!” she shouts again. “Mom wants you to come in for supper!”
The shrill pitch of my sister hollering is surely enough to cause someone to turn to see the commotion. But no. Newcomer doesn’t move.
“I’m coming. Don’t get your leotard in a knot.” I poke my head through the door to see Macy, standing at the bottom of the tree in her full dance gear, with one hand on her hip, the other raised high flipping me off. I descend the ladder, hesitant to leave my can of Coke and the view of the first interesting thing to happen on this street in a while. There hasn’t been this much action since last year when Tim Bowman got chased around the neighborhood in his underwear after being caught making out with his brother’s girlfriend.
Macy spins on her heel and stomps across the yard in front of me. I cringe as I watch her walk. She’s so rigid in her posture, her skull looks like it’s anchored to the sky with invisible string; her shoulders, muscled and strong, pulled back into a perfect arch. Years of conditioning from ballet, I guess, but I can’t help but think my little sister needs to take a play from my book and chill out.
Mom stands at the back door, a smile plastered on her face. I wonder how much she forces that smile when she looks at me. She tilts her head and brings her fingers to brush across the left side of my cheek. She’s the only person in the world permitted to do this.
“How was your day, honey?”
She holds out a wicker basket decorated with a blue ribbon on the side. A Pinterest endeavor for sure. Without hesitation, I reach into the pocket of my jeans, remove my cell phone, and drop it next to Macy’s bedazzled one. No electronic devices at dinner. No exceptions. Mom instituted this rule a year ago. I’m happy to do it for her even though it means that every single night, for an hour, my family is technology free and forced to endure all the things my dad knows everything about.
When I sit at the table, Dad’s drinking a glass of red wine. His beverage choice tells me one thing. He was mediating a star-studded divorce and didn’t get the cheating husband whatever settlement he was after. Mom scoops a mound of seafood pasta onto his plate. Dad gives her a curt nod, the kind you’d give to the guy who bags groceries at the store.
Macy is next and places a card-sized amount on her plate.
“Mae, that’s two bites. Eat something. I can see your ribs.”
She shakes her head and holds up a glass of water. “Tryouts for our production of Swan Lake are in a few weeks. Gotta keep it trim.”
“Trim is one thing. You’re skeletal.” She kicks my shin under the table. I take a drink of water and grin at her. “Kicking someone is much more effective when there’s muscle behind it. Eat a sandwich.”
She glares. “Shut up.”
“That’s enough,” Dad says, pointing the tip of his fork at me. “If Macy needs to cut down on her intake to reach her goal, no need to chastise her for it.”
I place a heaping mound of pasta on my plate. “If Macy wants to starve to death for the sake of appearances, then so be it, right, Dad? As long as she looks good.”
“That’s not what I said.”
It’s what he meant. I can’t bother myself to argue, though, I’m too hungry. My mother is a phenomenal chef. It’s how she met my dad. He’d been at Haute, this five-star restaurant where she worked. He ordered overpriced beef Wellington that was so good, he’d insisted on delivering compliments to the chef, and the rest, as they say, is history. If you ask me, she could have done better.
“I’m not starving, Kyler,” Macy says. “I’m just trying to stay slim. There are a lot of lifts in the performance, I’m going after the lead role.”
I shake my head. Ridiculous.
Dad sips his wine. “At least one child has goals.”
And there it is. I think about the lawn. “I have goals.”
Dad shakes his head. “Music is a tough industry.”
Proof he knows nothing about me. Do I like my band? Yeah. Do I like making music? Yep. Do I want to do it for a living, become rich and famous and end up one of his hipster clients? A colossal-sized no. I don’t tell him this, though; let him think what he wants. I keep my head down and eat, hoping he’ll shut up. But he doesn’t.
“You’re getting older now, son, it’s time to take life more seriously.”
“Fire to Dust is good, Dad,” Macy says, coming to my defense. “They’d have a real chance if Kyler would stop being so scared.”
“I’m not scared, Mae, but I’m not stupid, either.” My stomach churned the second this conversation began, and now I’ve lost my appetite altogether. My focus darts to my mother. Her eyes are sad, like mine. “Mom, thanks for dinner. May I be excused?”
She swipes her napkin at the side of her mouth, taking special care with the corners of her lips before nodding.
I know what my dad thinks. Even if he entertains the idea that we’re good enough, which he doesn’t, he’s spent enough time around famous people and their entourages to know full well I could never make it for one reason and one reason alone. Celebrity. Los Angeles is a crazy place that favors beauty, not the beast.
FACT: 1.3 MILLION PEOPLE DIE IN CARWRECKS EVERY SINGLE YEAR.THAT AVERAGES TO 3,287 DEATHS PER DAY.
LOS ANGELES. CITY OF ANGELS. City of Eternal Damnation. It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. Considering my life is cursed, I’m placing all my figurative chips on a solid bet that it is eternal damnation. Since the air is hot, sticky, and humid here, it’s fair to say I’m surrounded by hellfire. It clings to my skin and smothers me like plastic wrap.
I’d rather be back in the mental hospital.
My father hails a taxi and holds the door open.
Miserable, I roll my eyes at him. I haven’t seen him in almost three years. Not because he didn’t try. He did. Every winter, spring, summer, and fall, he’d invite me to stay with him and his family in Los Angeles. And every winter, spring, summer, and fall, I’d refuse. I’d refuse because by then, every day of my life had become a nightmare. A constant, ruthless, and grueling battle I’ll never be free of.
I’ve never felt safe in cars, but now that fear is paralyzing. I almost didn’t make the twenty-minute drive to the airport in Portland without a massive panic attack. Panic attacks lead to the part of myself I can’t control, and my dad will do everything in his power to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Watching me must be like having a front-row view to a ticking time bomb.
His shoulders draw inward—burdened by the weight of having to deal with me. “I’m trying here. I have to get you from the airport to home, that means you must suffer for the next forty-eight minutes in this car, but you’re free and clear after that.” He looks at his watch. “It’s three o’clock now, traffic might be light.”
“I’d rather walk.”
“Not an option. Sorry, Bug.”
Bug. Ridiculous. Perhaps once upon a time it was cute, but now I could think of a million other nicknames I’d rather have, yet there’s no escaping the one gifted by my father. Lennon Rae Davis, after none other than the most famous Lennon of all, who also was a Beatle. Clever. Thanks for the stellar nickname, John.
In fact, it seems kind of ominous now. Lennon died tragically. The statistic probability of dying in a car is staggering, tragic, almost. I’ve never been a fan of driving—or passenger-ing, to be more accurate—but since my sixteenth birthday, all I can see is a coffin with four wheels and a blinker. Like right now.
Circulating around a nauseating mental carousel is an image of my dad, the man standing next to me, the same man pleading with me to be reasonable as he lies on the pavement bloody and dying, because it’s a fact:
People. Die. In. Cars.
His arms fanned above him, his body on display in a crumpled heap of steel and glass…
His limbs pretzeled and folded grotesquely…twisted, shredded metal.
His lungs ragged with each pull, desperate to cling to breath.
Even if it’s his last.
A cold, lifeless stare shadows his face. Just like that, he simply ceases to exist.
My father will die if he gets in that car because people die in cars.
My heart rate quickens, pumping blood quicker, faster, until it careens straight through my veins in a race to the finish where my heart will surely seize or burst. The hammer of each pulse shatters my rib cage, as if my heart is screaming to escape. I struggle to catch the air, to hold on to it for more than a millisecond, and pull it deep and slow into my lungs. But my heart, the beast, hammers harder, determined to rip through my chest wall. That’ll be it. It’ll be over.
I reach two fingers into the pocket of my jeans, gathering the small sphere between my fingertips—the little magic pill that will help me survive this trip, or at the least, this hour.
Ativan. Breakfast of champions. My hands shake as I pop it underneath my tongue, close my eyes, and wait for it to dissolve.
My father reaches into the pocket of his worn jeans to retrieve the sheet of paper that’s been his bible for the last week. It’s a list, provided to him by the hospital when they released me, of my medications, what they do, when I should take them, and potential side effects. He doesn’t need the list—I’m a far more valuable resource than his sheet of paper—but I think he feels empowered by it, as if facts on paper wrap around him like a security blanket. “Lennon, didn’t you take a pill already, honey?”
I keep my eyes closed and hold my pointer finger up. One minute. Give me one more minute.
He speaks in hushed tones to the cabdriver as the two of them wrestle with my trunk and two suitcases. I’d tried convincing my dad to let me bring my mom’s greatest treasure—her record collection. He said there were too many. He’s right. There are hundreds of them, but now they aren’t within my reach, and I’m scared they won’t make the trip from Maine to Los Angeles unscathed. It’s entered my mind no less than fifteen times so far.
I’d been trying to distract myself by reading from my own growing collection of trivia books, filled with the most useless information a person could hope to acquire. Unlike Mom’s records, but much like my trunk, I wouldn’t budge on the issue of my books remaining out of the truck. My life being uprooted was hard enough, but my life being uprooted without something to keep my shattered brain occupied is out of the question, and my father, it seems, was wise enough to pick and choose his battles about a small box of trivia books. Realistically, my nitpicking has been distracting me from the real situation I’m now faced with. A situation where, unfortunately, no amount of obscure knowledge or fact-recollection will help.
When I feel like I can speak, I say, “I took an SSRI earlier. This is Ativan, so I can deal with what’s happening without a panic attack. Because my brain is telling me if I get into that car with you, you’ll die.”
My dad’s face turns ashen. He’s been trying so hard, but he still has a lot to learn.
The cabbie watches in silent fascination as my body slides across the worn leather seat. Beads of sweat collect on the base of my neck and my hand shakes as I swipe at it. Gross. I stick the tips of my fingers underneath my thighs, sitting on my hands. They twitch in protest. I press against them with the weight of my legs and force myself to focus on the discarded gum wrapper on the floor. It’s useless. My muscles tense. All 640 of them. I hate this.
My mouth is parched and dry, and I free one hand long enough to roll down the window before hiding it again.
Pinpricks on my skin go from bad to worse until pain explodes across my chest and tears at my insides because my dad’s about to die. It hurts to breathe. I’m supposed to be stronger than the thoughts, but no one can be strong all the time. I recognize the shift in my brain, and I realize it’s coming. The nerves on my fingers spark and spread like wildfire, licking at my veins, commanding me to move them, begging me to make it stop. By the time my dad flops in the seat beside me, I’ve already begun. A series of fast-paced, timed taps against my leg.
I like the number five. Truth is, I favor all single-digit odd numbers, but five is my sweet spot, always has been.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
We merge onto the interstate, and my tapping takes on a greater sense of urgency, like I’m trying to send Morse code signals into the hemisphere. Help me. Emergency. The taxi surges ahead, going seventy miles an hour only to come to abrupt stops inches from surrounding bumpers. I squeeze my eyes shut and count and tap and count and tap until I lose track of time. I can only imagine what must be going through the driver’s mind. He probably thinks I’ve escaped from an asylum and he’s now aiding and abetting a criminal.
By the time we arrive at my dad’s house, my fingers have bloomed pink with all the blood I’ve sent rushing into them. The car stops and finally, so can I.
My lungs release the air I’ve been holding in as the knots in my muscles switch to a throbbing ache—just enough to remind me that I’m still alive.
Dad opens the door. He says, “See, Bug. Everything’s okay.”
Are any of us ever okay, really?
Since I’ve last visited, Dad and his new family have moved up in the world. Way up. There is no greater proof than the building in front of me, flanked by a forest full of palm trees and lush green hedges. The modest Craftsman I’d shared with my mom in Maine would fit inside this thing, three times or more.
It reminds me of a Jenga tower, rectangle pods stacked upon one another; some architectural masterpiece most people can’t even fathom having enough money for. Part of the house is crafted from fine wood, other sections brick, and some from glass. There may be more windows than walls. It’s at least three stories and jutting out from every glass wall is a balcony that accompanies the room.
I can’t help but stare. Gape. It’s so pretentious.
“Nice, huh?” Dad says.
I shake my head and move to take one suitcase, but Dad grabs it from me. “Go on. I’ll get these.”
I manage a single step before the large front door swings open to reveal Claire, my stepmother, behind it. Her hair falls down her back like mine; it’s also blond, like mine. Only difference is my hair is part of my DNA. Homegrown. I’m certain Claire’s is courtesy of too much time and money spent in a salon plus a few packs of hair extensions. Doesn’t matter, the result is the same, and there is no denying that Claire is stunning. She should be, she plays none other than Katherine Gladstone on Cascade, one of the hottest, most popular soap operas on television.
Yep, Dad is married to a celebrity. She’s not so bad. I’d love to have an evil stepmother story to spin, like poor sweet Cinderella, but Claire just doesn’t fit the bill. Held in the crook of her arm is a small dog that resembles a mop, with two little beady eyes peering up at me. Claire rushes over and wraps me in her arms, squishing my face into her double Ds. “Lennon, welcome, sweetpea. Your daddy treat you well on your way here?” Her Texan accent is still thick, despite having been a Los Angeles transplant for the last fifteen years.
I nod as the dog squirms between us.
She breaks the bear hug seconds before I wonder how long it would take to suffocate in those.
Lennon Rae Davis, age 16, died of accidental asphyxiation by an enthusiastic hugger.
Predeceased by her mother, Anne Desmond, and survived by her biological father, her step-slash-half-family, and one real friend.
The demons won.
“This little rug rat is Oscar,” she informs me. “He is a jealous thing sometimes, don’t mind him. You make yourself right at home.”
“Thanks.” It’s the right thing to say, even though we both know I don’t want to be here. I reach my hand out to pet the top of Oscar’s head. He growls at me, proving he takes his job guarding Claire seriously.
“Hush now, Oscar,” Claire says. “That’s enough from you.” She returns her attention to me. “Lennon, baby, you need anything at all, you go on and tell me or your daddy. Anything.”
“Thanks,” I repeat.
I spot my stepsister, Andrea, standing behind Claire. Her long, thin figure leans against the massive door frame, her arms crossed over her chest, a cell phone clutched in her hand. Her chestnut hair is straight and cropped to her shoulders in a blunt line. The haircut is as sharp as the features on her face.
Andrea has never been my biggest fan. Not since we were kids, and I’d spend my summers here. Dad and Claire would make my stay completely over the top, trying to cram a year’s worth of quality time into a couple of short months. My dad always said he needed to make up for lost time. It was impressive, really—that he and Claire could pull off birthday celebrations, Easter egg hunts, and Christmas in the middle of July. But rather than being excited to have double the holiday fun, Andrea always seemed resentful.
When I was ten, I returned home to Maine and told my mom about it. Andrea’s dislike was clearer with each year that passed, and I just wanted to know why she hated me so much. Mom reasoned that she was probably a little jealous. I wondered what she’d had to be jealous of, but before I could ask, my mom was making me swear that I would be patient with my stepsister—a promise that to this day remains a hard one to keep. I force a tight smile. “Hey, Andrea.”
She glances toward me, her nose wrinkling in disgust as if my greeting has offended her. “Hi.”
Claire grimaces. “Andrea, maybe you could show Lennon around?”
“Hell would have to freeze over first, Mother.”
Dad stops wheeling my luggage and shoots her a deadly warning with his eyes. “Cool it.”
“Fine.” Andrea looks at Claire. “Liam and Jess are waiting for me.”
As she turns to leave, headed to her much more important place to be, my five-year-old half brother, Jacob, almost barrels her over as he comes racing out of the house.
“Watch it, minion,” Andrea says sharply.
Jacob is wearing a white dress shirt with a black tie and a pair of 3-D movie glasses with the lenses cut out. He’s in jeans and rubber boots. A camera is clutched in his grasp, and it swings upward to capture Andrea just in time for her to snap, “Get your camera out of my face, Jake!”
The camera pivots around and lands on me, but only for a moment—he squints because of the sun, and it drops to dangle from his wrist. He shields his eyes with his hand and declares, “Mommy said you’re living with us now.”
“Yep. She’s right.”
“She said your mommy—”
“Jacob Davis.” Claire issues a stern warning. “Mind yourself.”
His gaze sweeps to the ground and settles on his glorious rubber boots before he nods and kicks at nothing with the tip of his toes.
“It’s okay, Jacob, we’re cool.”
His green eyes swing upward and he grins, revealing two missing front teeth. “I told Mommy that I was happy you were moving in because you’re nicer than Andi.”
I want to tell him that a burlap sack is nicer than Andi. That the microbe stuck to the gum affixed to the dirty sole of my shoe is nicer than Andi.
“That’s enough, Jacob,” Dad says. “Let’s get Lennon settled in, yes?”
Jacob ignores our father and aims his camera at my luggage, zooming in on my large trunk. “What’s that?”
“It has my costume design stuff.” The records I parted with, but the trunk was equal to, if not more important than, my books. It holds my one true passion inside. Silly, but when I’m designing stuff, often it’s the only time I feel normal. My attention to detail is meticulous.
“What’s costume design?”
“You know how sometimes in TV shows like your mom works at or in movies people d. . .
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