Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Grace in the Mirror

I wrote this book a while ago, but hesitated to publish it. I'm so glad I did! Because now I have a book to enter in the Amazon Storyteller Competition. You can read about it here.

I love this cover and this book. Here's the first chapter.


Brock’s mom bustled in the door. She’d been gone for days. She’d traveled as she always did—without luggage, preamble, or fair warning. Brock closed his World History text book, knowing his mom would always be more interesting than most people—even ancient despots. She carried a giant package in her hand and kicked the door closed behind her. Beaming, she propped the package in the chair beside him and began unwrapping it.
“You’re going to love this!” Cordelia’s eyes twinkled as she cut away string and paper.
It was a painting of someone wearing a frou-frou collar, tights, and Brock’s face. The Brock look-alike sat on a horse with a castle in the background in some faraway country. Centuries of dust and grime had gathered in the nooks and crannies of the heavily carved wooden frame.
“Doppelganger,” Cordelia said, smiling at her purchase.
“A what?”
“Doppelganger,” Cordelia repeated. “It’s someone who looks the exact same as another person yet is not a twin. The direct translation from German is double-goer.”
“This is not a real person.”
“Perhaps it was,” Cordelia argued. “It could be a ghost.” She laughed. “Or maybe you’re the ghost of this person.”
Like the incy-wincy spider scaling the waterspout, a chill crawled down Brock’s back. “You can’t hang that anywhere my friends can see it.”
Cordelia smiled at his identical twin. “I’ll keep it in the shop.”
“You’re going to sell it?” Maybe he could keep his friends out of there until it disappeared. Assuming, of course, it actually sold. Until that happy day, Brock wondered where she would put it since the antiques shop was already overflowing with her finds. “It looks old.”
“Oh, it is.” She carried the picture into the workroom and set it down on her table. She pulled out a rag and a bottle of lemon oil and began to polish the frame.
With his textbook tucked under his arm, Brock headed upstairs, but as he did, he caught sight of the painting and though he saw the same castle in the background, this time, instead of his double-whatever, he saw a blonde woman who looked a lot like his mom sitting on a white stallion. Transfixed, he paused in the doorway.
Cordelia looked up and turned the painting to face him. His double-what’s-it returned in a shifting haze of color.
Brock lost all interest in Attila the Hun and his World History homework. In his room, he dropped his texts on his bed, booted up his laptop and googled, “doppelganger.”
In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions as a harbinger of bad luck. Other traditions and stories recognize your 'double-goer' as an evil twin.
Grace stood on the street corner of Santa Magdalena Parkway and Teresa Creek Road searching for her little brother. Her gaze landed on the circus tent propped up at the end of Antonio Parkway. It sat at the edge of the canyon, surrounded by a field of poppies. Toby wouldn’t have gone on to the grounds without her, would he?
The circus didn’t make Santa Magdalena weird. It was weird all by itself. It didn’t need a multi-colored tent, a cast of clowns, acrobats, and carnies, and the overpowering stench of animals mingled with popcorn to make it strange. Although that all certainly helped.
Of course, the Santa Magdalenains would claim Grace was the outlier, the misfit, the girl in boots and Levis in a city of flip-flops and short skirts. The girl from Salmon Dale, Oregon. A green place. A town hugging the Columbia River with views of Mount Adams to the north and Mount Hood to the south. Santa Magdalena had golf course views, manmade lake views, and lots of girls-in-barely-clad-bootie views.
But just then, Grace spotted Toby flailing down Santa Magdalena Parkway’s sidewalk, holding a waffle cone devoid of ice cream in his hand like a lantern. Panic filled his eyes. His breath puffed raggedly as he skirted an old lady and her Schnauzer and a mother pushing a baby stroller.
Grace caught up to him in seconds and wondered about his inhaler because, from the look on his face, she knew he was going to need it. Soon.
“Chasing me,” he gulped, casting a rabbit-eyed look over his shoulder. “Dropped my ice cream!”
Grace drew him into an open doorway. The sights and smells of the store barely registered as she knelt in front of Toby, grabbed his arms, and willed him to breathe. She looked over the top of his head and saw two guys about her age, probably juniors or seniors, running by. The honey-blond one looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, while the other one, dark-haired, tanned, and carrying a lacrosse stick, could have stepped out of a J.Crew catalog.
Anger and questions flashed through her—why would they chase a little kid? Did he have something they wanted? Or were they bullies, picking on the weak and asthmatic for the pleasure of making someone wheeze? But Toby’s ragged gasping made her push anger aside and focus on his next breath.
Grace pulled him further into the store, behind a display of teapots and platters, and out of the doorway. “Take deep, slow breaths,” she said, locking her gaze with his.
He swallowed hard, met her eyes, and panted.
“Your inhaler—where is it?” she asked, patting his pockets.
He shook his head, his eyes growing wider, his puffing growing more and more labored.
“Your phone?” Grace grabbed his backpack, pulled it off him, unzipped it, and rifled through it.
Of course, until this moment, it had seemed wildly unfair and twisted that Toby got to have a cell phone and not her because he was eleven and she was sixteen. No one cares if an eleven-year-old has a phone, but a teen without a phone is like a fish without water—socially dead.
But being socially dead is better than being literally dead. Fumbling through his bag, feeling her way through the collection of Star Wars action figures, dog-eared comic books, an empty juice box, and a half-eaten bag of Doritos, Grace found the phone and tapped the second number in his contact list.
Sinking to the floor, she pulled Toby onto her lap and cradled him in her arms while she waited for Heather to answer the phone. The tension in Toby began to relax as his breathing slowed.
Come on, come on, pick up, pick up.
“Hello?” Grandpa Hank answered.
“Grandpa! It’s me, Grace.”
“Who’s this? What d’you want?”
“Grandpa?” Talking to a hard-of-hearing ninety-year-old was never easy and almost always frustrating.
“Hello?” Grandma Dorothy picked up another line.
Talking to one ninety-year-old was bad, and talking to two at once was almost impossible.
Grace raised her voice. “I need Heather. Can you put her on?”
“Your mom is at school,” Dorothy croaked.
“I know. I want to talk to Heather.”
“Are you calling on that mobile thing?” Grandpa Hank asked. “How much is it costing you? Doesn’t it charge by the minute?”
“Grandpa, please, just get Heather for me.”
A hand holding water bottles appeared in front of her face. Glancing up, Grace met the green-eyed gaze of a movie-star beautiful woman. She had flawless tanned skin, thick honey-blonde hair, and smiling lips. She gave one bottle of water to Toby and extended the other to Grace.
Toby unscrewed the lid with shaking hands.
Grace mouthed thank you to the woman.
She smiled in return, flashing a set of gleaming white, perfectly straight teeth. “Can I help you? Want me to call someone?” she whispered.
Grace shook her head.
The woman gave Toby a worried yet straining to be reassuring smile, before returning to her place behind the sales counter.
“Heather’s gone to the store,” Grandma Dorothy told Grace.
“I don’t know why she goes to Gelson’s,” Grandpa grumbled. “She should go to Ralph’s. Gelson’s is just trying to upsell—”
“Do you think she’s at Gelson’s now?” Grace glanced out the window at the cars zooming along the parkway. Santa Magdalena only had a few major shopping centers. Maybe she could spot the fifteen-year-old Jeep Cherokee with a rusted bumper in one of the parking lots. It had to be the only rusty fifteen-year-old car in all of Santa Magdalena.
“Now how would I know where she gets to?” Grandpa Hank asked.
“Remember, you sent her to Rite Aid to pick up your prescription,” Grandma Dorothy cut in.
“Oh. That’s right,” Grandpa Hank said. “Well, she’s taking her time about it.”
Rite Aid was on the far side of the lake, and Grace couldn’t drag Toby across town. Sticking to the original plan of meeting Heather at the library seemed like the best idea. “Never mind,” she said. “I’ll catch up with her.”
“Ketchup? We don’t need ketchup!” Grandma Dorothy exclaimed.
“Not ketchup,” Grace said.
“Absolutely not,” Grandma Dorothy said. “We have plenty of condiments. We get all those little packets every time we go to McDonald’s.”
“They throw those things around like confetti!” Grandpa Hank said. “Why I heard that American Airlines saved themselves a million dollars by cutting back one tomato on their dinner salads. McDonald’s could learn a thing or two from American Airlines.”
Grace didn’t want to talk about McDonald’s or American Airlines. She wanted nothing more than for Toby to breathe. “I have to go,” she told her grandparents.
“Make sure you tell Heather not to get us any more ketchup!” Grandma Dorothy said.
“Not unless it’s on sale, of course,” Grandpa Hank added.
Grace ended the call, slipped the phone back into Toby’s backpack, and ran her fingers over the top of his buzz cut, loving the feel of his prickly head. “You okay now?”
He sniffed.
“Why were those guys chasing you?”
He shrugged.
Grace gave him a quick hug and pushed to her feet. “Come on, let’s go to the library.”
“Do you think,” wheeze, “they have,” wheeze, “comic books there?”
“Of course they do. All libraries have comic books. It’s in the national rulebook for libraries. And did you see the size of it? It’s like three times the size of the Salmon Dale library!”
Toby’s eyes lit up and his breathing sounded almost normal.
“Would you like a ride?” the woman behind the counter asked.
Grace flashed her a grateful smile. “We’ll be okay. Huh, Tobs? Thanks, though. And thanks for the water.”
The woman pulled away from the counter. “I don’t mind driving you.”
“Are you here alone?” Grace asked.
“Yes, but the owner won’t mind if I close the shop for a moment.” Her eyes sparkled. “I know her well. She can be a witch, at times…”
“Well, then you don’t want to risk making her mad.”
Toby agreed. “Witches can be scary.”
The woman’s face sobered. “You have no idea. Still, for you two, I’d risk it.” She swept her green eyes over them, her gaze lingering on Grace’s boots and tattered jeans. “What’s your name?”
“Grace James. This is my little brother, Toby.”
“I’m Cordelia Brockbank.” She stuck out a hand with five perfectly manicured nails for them to shake. “It’s nice to meet you. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Her cool skin felt shivery in Grace’s grasp.
“We’re from Salmon Dale,” Toby told her.
“Salmon Dale?” Her lips quirked.
“It’s a real place,” Grace told her. “In Oregon, near the Washington border,” she added as if that explained everything from the stupidity of the name to her grunge clothes.
“And what brought you here, the circus?”
“No.” Grace flushed with humiliation tinged with anger.
“My grandma’s sick and needs our help.” Toby handed out their mom’s excuse.
“There’s more to it than that,” Grace muttered.
“So you’re new here. Not just passing through?”
Toby and Grace both nodded.
“How old are you?”
“Eleven,” Toby said.
“And you?”
“And starting a new school? That’s rough.”
A wave of homesickness washed through Grace.
“Are you going to Mission High?”
Grace shook her head. “Santa Magdalena.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened in surprise.
“My mom’s teaching there,” Grace said. “She has an old friend who got her the job.” Grace didn’t add that her mom’s salary would barely cover Grace’s tuition.
“You know, it’s silly that I work here by myself.” Cordelia cocked her head, sending a lock of golden hair across her forehead. “This will sound spur of the moment and crazy, but would you like a job? I could use some help, and you just moved here so no one has snatched you up yet…” She paused and fingered the gold pendant hanging around her neck. “But maybe you don’t need a job.”
Grace glanced around. A pink and purple paisley rug lay on the floor. A table beside wrought-iron shelves overflowed with an eclectic collection of china pieces, antique books, etchings, and prints. An eighteenth-century flow blue teapot shared a shelf with a silver flying saucer and a wooden burl box. It all looked expensive, frilly, and totally useless.
“No! I do. I would love to work here.” What sort of store was this? An antiques shop? A gift store? It seemed to sell everything from books to hats to purses to clothes. The only things that each of the items had in common were beauty and frivolity. Everything in the store was almost as lovely as Cordelia. Grace didn’t think she would fit in. Besides, her only other work experience had been at the Wilsons’ dairy where she’d mucked out cow stalls. She knew nothing about antiques.
“What about the witch?” Toby asked. “Wouldn’t Grace have to work with her?”
Cordelia’s lips twitched. “Oh, she’s really not that bad.”
“But won’t she mind? Shouldn’t you talk to her before you hire me?” Grace asked.
Cordelia leaned forward as if confiding a great secret and whispered, “I’m the witch.”

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