I'm sorry for not being around. I've been a little bit pre-occupied with Reaper's edits. The ARCs are meant to go out by 12th December to the wonderful bloggers who will be taking part in the blog tour starting from January 21st-26th, so I was/am scrambling to tie up everything. I'm almost there, though. :) I'm really excited about the upcoming release --January 10th, 2013 and look forward to welcoming you to Ana's world full of intrigue, romance and danger and of course, fun.
So, today I'd really like to share with you the first chapter of the book. I will post the second chapter on Tuesday, 11th December. Hope you enjoy reading the beginning of Ana's story.
It takes all of ten minutes before tonight’s dinner spirals and plunges into hell. It’s no surprise, though. My life has been stumbling down that road for the last two years. Lately, Dad and Mom’s fights stray from their bedroom to enhance the quality of our family dinners.
I clutch my chest to ease the needles stabbing my heart, while the other hand grips my fork, poking at my dinner, long gone cold. Lifting my head, I glance at Mom, then Dad. They’re still glaring at each other to the point that the air snaps with tiny sparks of anger.
I should take my brother and sister, go upstairs, lock the door, and shut out their voices. My eyes zoom in on the cutlery, glinting slyly under the four-bulb dining room chandelier, inviting and lethal. The thought of leaving the room flees my mind. Not when they look like two fighters in a ring about to charge at each other.
My gaze shifts to Anton, his shoulders hunched, as if to ward off the words cracking the air like a whip. Lucy’s tiny shoulders tremble as she lifts a small, slender hand and wipes her nose.
Our family therapist was wrong. Mom and Dad’s relationship isn’t on the mend. It’s rushing downhill with the speed of a truck heading for a collision. Good thing my family-bonding plan is already in motion. Hopefully, they’ll recover the love they seem to have forgotten between getting married and having three children.
Mom’s voice bursts from her lips like bullets in a quiet forest, jerking my attention back to her and Dad. “You should’ve told me. You didn’t bother because you don’t respect my decisions.”
Dad runs a hand down his face, squeezes his eyes shut, and exhales. His eyes snap open and narrow at Mom. “Katya, discussing anything with you is like pulling teeth.” His hand is clenched so tight the knuckles look pale against his brown skin.
Mom pushes her honey blonde hair off her face, her lips quivering. She looks like she’s fighting the urge to leap from the seat. “Now I’m to blame? Come on, Peter. Really?” She faces me and sighs. “Ana, take your brother and sister upstairs.”
Before I can move, a chair scrapes the wooden floor. Anton dashes past me and upstairs. Seconds later, his bedroom door bangs shuts. Lucy, pretty little Lucy, hops down from her seat, scrambles onto my lap, and buries her curly head in my shoulder, sucking her thumb.
Mom rounds the table, holding her arms out for Lucy. Lucy burrows her face deeper into my neck. Mom drops her hand, and blinks fast, before averting her face. Heartbroken.
I hate this. I hate this place where the fate of my family hangs by a mere wisp of thread pulled taut, waiting, holding its breath. Watching my family disintegrate right before my eyes brings everything into high definition.
Thing is, I don’t understand what went wrong. Even they don’t seem to know what went wrong. A while back I got frustrated and asked Mom. She told me sometimes love fizzles out.
How does love fizzle out? Can’t they try to work things out for the sakes of their children?
Close your eyes, Ana. Breathe.
I wrap my arms tightly around my little sister and clamp my hands on her ears. When I open my eyes, I glance around the dining room, and straight to the vase holding the roses Mom brought from her flower shop. Instead of softening the atmosphere, they make it heavier. I shift my gaze to our family portrait mounted on the lime-green living room wall above the red sofa. Smiling faces and happy eyes and intertwined fingers. I’m sure we could go back to being that happy. Mom and Dad just have to try. I turn my head and open my mouth to speak.
Mom cuts me off with a glare. “Silvana Maria Tei, I asked you to leave.” Her gaze shifts to Lucy’s curled head, with a look of longing, then back at me pleading, insistent.
Forcing myself to think of tomorrow, I stand and swing Lucy on my back. Her slender seven-year-old arms tighten around my neck, trembling. Once I clear the table of anything that would work as potential weapons, I plod upstairs to Anton’s room to check if he’s okay. I close the door, shutting our parents’ voices out. My chest deflates as I exhale, glad and anxious at the same time. We crawl into Anton’s bed and huddle together. Like every other night after one of our parents’ fight, we don’t talk. Just cuddle. There’s so much to say, yet nothing to say. I wish my body was large enough to encompass them both, to keep them safe from everything.
“Everything’s going to be all right,” I whisper, placing a kiss on each of their foreheads. “I promise.”
I stay awake long after my sister and brother have fallen asleep. For seventeen years, my parents have always been there. What will it be like living as a broken family? Will my siblings survive it? Will they have to choose which parent to live with, therefore hurting the other?
Angry footfalls sweep past Anton’s bedroom. Moments later, the door down the hall slams shut. I brush a hand over my eyes and take a deep breath, releasing it. But the pain is still there, devouring me inside and out.
Whoever said “Time mends all wounds” was wrong. It never does.
Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my attempt to glue my family back together. If my plan works.
Today, things look much brighter—and not only because it’s Wednesday. It’s the day my family and I leave for Tuscany for our bonding trip. Tomorrow is Christi Himmelfahrt—Ascension Day. Schools are closed until Monday. After insisting Mom and Dad free up their schedule for these four days, they had grudgingly agreed. Mom closed her flower shop, but Dad left his assistant in charge of his bio foods company.
Hopefully when we return to Vienna, things will be better between them.
My stomach flutters, and my pulse races, eager to put my plan in motion.
With my chin propped on my hands, I shift my weight on the seat. My eyes bounce to the clock perched above our classroom door. Five minutes to midday. Five minutes before this excruciating biology lesson comes to an end and saves our teacher, Herr Schuster, from a class busting with a shifty, restless bunch of energetic teens. Five minutes and I’ll be sitting in our Opel with my family.
My gaze swoops to Herr Schuster, shifting from one Reebok foot to the other. Using his index finger, he pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. For the fifth time in a row, he tries to explain the evolution of a creature on the board that closely resembles a dinosaur to a class full of yawning mouths and wandering eyes. I’m no great artist, but whoever drew that needs some serious sketching lessons.
A warm mid-May breeze blows through the gaping windows. The temperature in the room shoots higher. Herr Schuster pauses, lips pressed into a thin, straight line, his gangly body surprisingly erect for a man his age. He brushes the back of his hand over his sweating face, his green eyes roving around the class. His shoulders slump as he takes a deep breath, probably thinking we’re a lost cause. I would say he’s past retirement. Why he keeps coming back year after year, I’ll never understand.
The bell rings, cutting off whatever Schuster wanted to say. We all shoot from our seats as if our behinds are on fire, the scrapping of desks and chairs drowning out Schuster’s warning about the finals.
I shove my books inside my rucksack. After twisting my curly hair into a knot, I swing my rucksack over my shoulder and grab my violin from under the desk. My best friend, Lea, steps beside me, slinging her arm over my shoulder.
“I can’t believe you won’t be around for four days, Ana. Four whole days.” She holds up four fingers, her full lips pulled down in displeasure.
I roll my eyes. “It’s not like we’re leaving for Iceland to enrol as Vikings or something. Vienna and Tuscany aren’t so far. You could visit your grandparents in Venice. We could meet up then.”
She exhales, the air lifting the bangs on her forehead. “I wish. Mom has to work at the hospital, and Dad said he’d lose customers if he closed the restaurant for even one day. So I have to babysit Gia. And I want to make up for the time Rein and I won’t see each other in the summer. Oh, and you’d make a great Viking woman.” She roars in what I’m sure a Viking battle cry would sound like. I laugh, feeling somewhat lighter.
Just as Lea and I are about to step out the door, Herr Schuster motions to me with his hand. Lea excuses herself and strolls out of class, hovering by the door. I force my feet a few steps toward him. I know what he’s going to ask me. The same thing he has been asking me for the last year.
He pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and squints at me. “How is everything going, Frau Tei? You seemed more distracted today.”
Herr Schuster has a tendency of inquiring about students’ wellbeing. He is the most perceptive person I’ve ever met, other than my other best friend, Reiner.
As usual, I nod and smile wide, making a point of displaying a vast amount of teeth in what I hope is a friendly manner. “Never been better. Thank you for asking, sir.” If only you knew.
He studies me, his eyebrows pulled downward. Three tiny line scars on his right cheek deepen on his skin. I shift from one foot to the other, itching to avoid his gaze. It is as though his green eyes try to peel away layers inside me.
He opens his mouth as if to say something, snaps it shut, and nods. “If you say so.” I lift my free hand to brush hair off my forehead. His eyes follow the movement, but remain trained on my hand as I lower it to my side. I hate when people look at my hands. It’s the reason I got the henna tattoos in the first place. To hide the ugliness marring my skin. As though he realises I’m uncomfortable, he looks at me, lips pursed.
“Beauty comes in many forms, Frau Tei. Even scars are a sign of beauty. Some might even say achievement. A welcome source of pride.”
Source of pride? Is he serious? Who’d want to strut around with tiny scars that raise questions and odd looks?
I shudder, as images of me at fourteen flood my mind. The marks were like a chain around my neck, strangling me with every look and whisper. As usual people tend to ignore the truth; assumptions are much juicier. No one believed me when I told them what happened. An innocent skin rash. After several tests, the cause was inconclusive. One month after its appearance, the rash vanished and left the skin on the back of my fingers and wrist scarred. Tiny, ugly slashes. Mom searched for a henna tattooist. She figured it’d be better than me going to therapy for depression after rumours spread that I was trying to end my life, which was far from the truth.Every two to three weeks, depending on how fast they faded, I’d visit Zaynab, my tattooist, for a touch-up, which were sometimes messy since the patterns below hadn’t completely faded. If it weren’t for Lea and Rein standing by me in middle school…
I shudder again. Schuster clears his throat, jerking my attention back to him. His eyebrows shoot up. How did he know about the scars? Unless he can see through tattoos. Sure the tattoo is fading, but the scars are hardly visible.
My heart trembles. If he knows, the whole staff knows. Or will soon. I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine my favourite teachers cringing in disgust. Wiping a clammy hand on my jeans, I lean forward and whisper, “I’m sorry, sir, but how can you see them?” Other than Lea and Reiner, no one knows. Not even my boyfriend, Rolf.
“Not so many things stay hidden from me.” He begins piling fat, leather covered books, and hitches them on the crook of his arm. He looks like he could topple over carrying them but surprises me by taking a solid step forward. Apparently, he’s stronger than he looks.
“Have a wonderful weekend, Herr Schuster,” I say.
His eyes widen as if he’s surprised I’m still there. His lips stretch into a broad, grandfatherly smile. “And a great one to you too, Frau Tei.”
I nod, smiling, and walk out of the room, feeling as if I’ve been interrogated and left without knowing the verdict. Shaking my head, I join Lea outside the classroom. She raises her eyebrows in question.
“He just wanted to know how I’m doing.” No need to tell her about the scars talk. Knowing Lea, we’d end up discussing the whys, dissecting everything to tiny pieces. Besides, Tuscany is waiting for me and my family. My pulse jolts at the thought.
“That man scares me, but in a respectful way. He reminds me of Einstein—well a taller version with ponytail,” she says.
He scares me, too.
“I’m meeting Rein. He owes me a shopping trip to the mall after he lost our fight.”
I laugh, trying to shake off the uneasiness Schuster blasted me with. At times Lea and Reiner squabble like a pair of haggling fishmongers. Their makeup sessions are as passionate as their arguments. I imagine that’s how Romeo and Juliet kissed—pure, unsaturated passion.
“What happened with you and Ro yesterday? You just poofed.” She splays her fingers for effect and bumps her shoulder to mine, smiling slyly.
Heat sweeps over my face. “God, Lea. Nothing happened. And if it does, you’ll be the first to know. I had to get home early. Mom and Dad issues.”
“Oh, can I request a full report? Ro is smoking hot.” She does a shivering impression and closes her eyes, sighing dreamily. “I’m sure he’d make your world spin like you’re riding on The Blitz at the amusement park.”
“Talking of hotness, wait until Rein hears you blowing other people’s trumpet, Lea.” This talk about world spinning is making me uncomfortable.
She wrinkles her nose. “Rein is just as hot, maybe hotter, and totally rocks my world.”
“As much as I’d like to discuss the merits of our boyfriends, I have to leave.” Saving my parents from splitting right now is as vital as breathing. Anton and Lucy need them. I need them.
She throws her arms around me, squeezing tight. “Do what you have to do, Ana. Call me if you need me. Well, I’m sure you won’t call, so I’m ordering you to call me, text me… anything. Let me know everything’s okay.”
I pull back and chuckle. “When you put it that way, how can I not comply with your orders?”
Thanks for stopping by and reading this first chapter. :)