Hello lovely Kaleidoscope subscribers!! This is the special featured content I promised you in the newsletter — I'm so happy to see you made it over here :) Sooooooo, without further ado: this month, I'm going to let y'all read the FIRST CHAPTER of my novel! This is super exciting because very few people have read it and I'm super weird about letting people read my work-in-progress novels (you can ask my mom if you doubt me! Speaking of which — Hi, Mom!). If you want to read more, you can totally email me and ask for the whole thing...you just have to promise to give feedback on it afterwards!
And without further ado: chapter one of SAVING GRACE.
I’ve stumbled into this porta potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat of Tennessee for one express purpose: to take pill after pill after pill. To watch the world fade to black around me. To let my breathing slow, slow, slow, stop.
To die, in short. To erase all mention and memory of Grace Hamrit from this earth. To leave behind the pain and the gaping hole Jackson left.
I rifle through the duffel bag, past my phone, lit up with messages from Mason — my heart clenches at the thought of him — and my fingers close around one of Michael’s pill bottles.
This will do.
I pull the bottle out and unscrew the cap, shake some pills into my hand.
They are pink and peach and purple. They are chalky and shaped like dinosaurs.
A laugh, disbelieving and loud, bursts from my lips. It fills the tiny porta potty space and the sound of it, the ridiculousness of the situation, overcomes me and I laugh harder. I bend over and clutch my knees with white knuckles and hysterical laughter envelopes me, the reverberations of sound chasing away the darkness.
When I can breathe again, I look at the bottle in my hand. The label says it’s a bottle of dinosaur vitamins.
I came here to overdose and was going to kill myself with vitamins for kids, shaped like dinosaurs. Fucking hell.
The hilarity overtakes me again and I’m cracking up some more, sliding down so my butt hovers over the floor and my back is wedged against the side of the bathroom.
And when I’m done laughing, I feel…better. Light, as though somehow laughter is some brand of magic that releases all the sorrow and the hurt and suddenly I feel like tomorrow will be better.
I mean, obviously there’s a reason the pill bottle I pulled out was full of vitamins and not real drugs.
Maybe the universe is saying it’s not my time to die yet.
Maybe it’s saying I do get a second chance.
Someone knocks on the door. “Hello?” a female voice calls, and I push myself to my feet.
“Just a second,” I respond. I stuff everything back in the duffel bag, give myself an appraising glance in the mirror, and turn to leave.
It’s time for Grace Hamrit’s life to start over.
I step out of the bathroom and am temporarily blinded by the amount of bedazzle on the shirt in front of me.
"Holy shit, you're sparkling!" I say, then clamp my mouth shut. The girl in front of me, whose hair is cropped short and blue-black and whose skin is perfectly the color of honey, rears her head back and laughs.
"That's exactly what I was going for," she answers, holding her top out with her fingers so I can really take in the sequins and fake gems attached.
"Really?" I question, and her laugh is rich.
"Nah," she says, "my little sister got ahold of it in the car." Then she does something I don't expect. She holds out her hand to shake mine. "I'm Lizbeth."
That's when I do something I don't expect. I take her hand and squeeze it. "Sarah," I say, shocking myself again with the lie.
"Nice to meet ya, Sarah," she says. "What brings you to Knoxville?"
I shrug and tell her part of the truth. "Spontaneous cross-country adventure, I guess?”
Lizbeth's grin splits her face in two even halves and hits me with as much brightness as her shirt.
“That’s awesome,” she answers. “Where are you staying?”
“Uh,” I answer, thrown. Where am I staying? “Uh,” I repeat, like an idiot.
Lizbeth’s eyes widen. “You don’t have anywhere to stay?” she questions. “You just got on a bus to Knoxville without a plan?”
“I’m feeling judged here,” I think…then realize I’ve gone ahead and said it aloud. I clap a hand over my mouth in horror, but Lizbeth’s grin flashes across her face again.
“Well, we wouldn’t want that, now would we?” she fires back, eyes sparkling. “Listen, if you don’t have anywhere to stay…” she hesitates for a second, glances over her shoulder, and cocks her head to the side. Then she whips back around to face me and her expression is wide open and shining. “You can stay with us for a while.”
“Us?” I ask dumbly.
She rolls her eyes dramatically. “Yes, me and my family, silly Sarah,” she says, and I laugh at myself.
“Um, I mean, are you — I don’t know, I don’t want to impose…” That, and, she could be part of a serial killer family for all I know.
Her laugh surprises me, once again rich and dark and full of flavor. “Please,” she says. “My mom’s got five kids and seven siblings and we’re always having people over. We’re a big Mexican way station for lost souls. We’d love to have you.”
I’m still a little hesitant, mostly because of the serial killer possibilities.
But I take a good look at Lizbeth, at the shirt her sister sequined, at the way her smile slides onto her face so easily, at the way everything about her is so open and honest, and I think…well, maybe I’ll take my chances and hang out at the big Mexican way station.
“I’m definitely a lost soul,” I find myself saying, “so I guess that qualifies me for at least a night or two, right?”
Her grin is blinding when it comes. “Absolutely!” she says. She reaches out and grabs my duffel bag and starts walking away. “Come on, Sarah, come meet the family!”
I follow her, slowly at first, but she’s walking so fast I have to speed up in order to stay even with her.
She walks me to a minivan on the other side of the parking lot that’s overflowing with small kids. A woman, maybe in her mid-forties, sits behind the steering wheel, staring at us, eyes narrowed.
“Hola, Mama!” Lizbeth calls out as we walk up. “I found a stray!”
The woman’s face clears up immediately and a smile, carbon copy of Lizbeth’s, spreads across her face. She steps out of the car and my eyes travel up, up, up. The woman is at least six feet tall, towering over me and her daughter, but her smile is still warm and disarming.
“Hola,” she says to me. “I’m Marina,” she says, extending a hand to me. “Lizbeth’s mother,” she adds, even though I had figured that much out already. Nonetheless, I smile like this is news to me and incline my head.
I’m not sure what’s the most polite way to greet her. Lizbeth said she’s Mexican, and I feel like they probably have different norms and rules and I don’t know what they are.
But the longer I’m silent, the more Lizbeth and Marina stare at me, so I clear my throat and just dive in. “Hola, Marina,” I say, reaching back to ninth grade Spanish to remember what comes next, hoping my attempt to speak Spanish will endear me to them. “Como estas?”
Both Marina and Lizbeth’s grins widen and Marina’s eyes shine. “Muy bien, gracias. Tell me, what’s your name? I assume we can’t just call you ‘stray’ the whole time you’re with us,” she continues, giving Lizbeth a slightly chiding look. Lizbeth looks half bashful, half unconcerned, and says, “This is Sarah, Mama.”
At that moment, a small bundle of speed bowls into my legs. It would have knocked me over, but when I say “small” I mean literally tiny. The girl who’s looking up at me with huge brown eyes, arms wrapped around my legs, can’t be more than three years old, but she’s about half the size of a normal three-year-old.
“Hi, Sarah,” the girl says. “I’m Caroline. I have sequins.” She blinks up at me until Lizbeth giggles and pries her away.
“This is my bedazzling little sister,” she explains. “Caroline, get in the car and give Sarah a break. Maybe you can bedazzle her later.”
Caroline’s grin droops, but she obeys her sister.
Then Lizbeth turns around and, in Spanish too quick for me to understand, says something that immediately sends the other three girls scrambling back into the car. Marina nods and smiles at me. “Shotgun is reserved for guests, Sarah, is that OK?” she asks, and a warmth fills my stomach. It’s a small gesture, but all I ever wanted was to ride in the front seat. Jackson and I used to have screaming matches over who could sit there, and Mom would break us up. Inevitably, she always gave the honor to Jackson.
“That’s great,” I say.
The thirty-minute ride to the family home is honestly one of the loudest things I’ve ever experienced. Not only is there music blasting from the speakers, but each of the five daughters is carrying on her own part of a huge family conversation that I can’t possibly understand. It’s in English, but they speak simultaneously and loudly and I can’t even tell who’s saying what, much less what it relates to.
But I’m not mad. Instead, I just lean my head back, close my eyes, and soak in the noise. It’s the sound of a family that’s happy just to be around each other. At one point, I feel eyes on me and glance over to see Marina observing me. She smiles when she catches my eyes.
“We’re a loud group,” she says, without apology.
“I love it,” I answer. “My family was always so quiet. I like the noise.”
I realize after I say that I don’t want to talk about my family. Fortunately, Marina doesn’t press. She just nods. “Well, you’re lucky,” she says. “My sisters are out of town with their kids until tomorrow, so you’re the only ‘stray’ we’ll have tonight. It’ll give you time to acclimate before they all flood in.”
Her smile is warm and conspiratorial, the kind of look I feel like moms should give their daughters, and I have the wild thought that I should beg this woman to adopt me and make me a part of her family.
But then I remember that I’m lying to her about everything from why I’m here to the most basic thing, my name, and shame floods me, turning the warm feeling in my gut sour.
I’m about to open my mouth to confess my lie when a head pokes up and says, “Mama, can we go to Sonic?”
Immediately, Marina says, “Sit back down, Angelica,” and pushes her daughter’s shoulder. “And put your seatbelt on! We absolutely will not go to Sonic until all of you learn car safety!”
The car gets even louder in an eruption of complaints and whines, most of them directed to Angelica, but I catch a few begging, “Please, Mama, please,” before Marina claps her hands together and the car falls silent.
“Absolutely not, chicas,” she says. “We have a guest in the car and I will not tolerate this behavior from you. Silence.”
It’s like magic. The five daughters fall silent for the rest of the car ride. The first few minutes are tense, the air in the van bubbling with resentment, but after some time I feel it fade away. I dare a glance into the back seats and see four dark heads bent over phones and coloring books. Only one person isn’t reading, and Lizbeth gives me a grin when she catches my eye.
We’ll talk later, she mouths to me, and in that second it’s like the two of us are co-conspirators, friends since childhood.
I like the feeling, and grin back, nodding.