By Kacey Vanderkarr
Publisher: Urban Fey Press
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.
Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.
Divorce. The word burrowed deep in Onna’s chest, barbed like the sharp quills of a porcupine. The sting radiated from her heart into her lungs, her head, her hands. She knew she should stick around and listen to her parents’ stumbling apologies and paper-thin explanations, but she couldn’t.
She burst through the front door into dazzling sunshine. The sky hung endless above her from horizon to horizon—perfect, crisp blue. She glanced back at the windows, rooms hidden by curtains and blinds. Houses were facades, masks to cover pain and heartbreak. She could stare at the glass all day, where cheery vines and flowers spilled from window boxes, and never see past the guise. Even now, her parents were probably sitting in cruel silence, debating how to avoid each other until one of them moved out.
It made her sick.
Sliding into the driver seat of her Grand Am felt like stepping into a sauna. End-of-summer heat collected in the car and made the interior stifling. Onna cranked the windows and cursed her parents for not buying her a car with automatic anything, and the air conditioner was broken. Her dad promised to fix it four months ago. Guess he was too busy planning the divorce to get around to it.
Onna pressed her phone to her ear before she backed out of the driveway. Caleb answered on the first ring.
“Baby sister,” he said, a smile in his voice. The knot around Onna’s heart eased. “What’s shakin’?”
She pictured him on the balcony of his apartment in Traverse City, feet propped on the banister, staring out over Lake Michigan. She stayed with him for two weeks in July, spending her days sprawled on the beach with a book in her hands while Caleb studied for medical boards. At night, they prowled the town and sampled swanky restaurants, and Cora, Caleb’s girlfriend, took Onna dancing at a beachside club.
“Caleb—” Onna said, wondering how to break the news.
“They finally told you.”
Onna nearly dropped the phone. An angry honk sounded from behind her, and she realized she’d stopped at a green light. Muttering, she passed through the intersection and pulled into a parking lot. The convenience store was dead, the lot deserted. The relentless heat drove everyone indoors where there was air conditioning and iced-tea and Saturday afternoon movie marathons. Neon signs advertising beer and cigarettes flickered in the window. The attendant inside leaned over the counter, watching her.
Returning to her conversation with Caleb, she hissed, “You knew?” The pause was long enough to serve as Caleb’s confession.
“Don’t be upset, Leelee.” He fell back on her childhood nickname, even though she’d asked him to stop. Onnie, Leelee, Leigha—her name, Onnaleigh Evelyn Moore, was too easily shortened. “They fell out of love,” Caleb continued. “We can’t expect them to stay together if they’re unhappy.”
“Easy for you to say, you don’t live with them. You didn’t see how Dad looked at Mom. You didn’t see him cry.” Onna closed her eyes. Tears burned behind her lids. She wished she were with Caleb now. He’d tell her a dirty joke or let her drink half his six-pack. He’d make it bearable.
Her parents always laughed about Onna’s devotion to her older brother. Whenever she hurt herself as a child, she ran to Caleb. From the time she could walk, Caleb was the one who kissed her scrapes and chased the boogeyman from beneath her bed. Even now, she called him with breakups and bad grades and for advice about everything. He was the only twenty-five-year-old male Onna knew who would listen to her ramble about boys, makeup, and what color dress she wanted for prom.
During Caleb’s drawn out silence, a vintage, kelly green Mustang pulled into the convenience store lot, all sleek lines and muscle. Onna groaned as the driver, instead of choosing a space near the entrance, pulled in next to her at the far corner. She wiped her eyes and debated rolling up the windows. There was nothing worse than crying in public, except having a witness. In the end, she settled for glowering at the driver as he emerged.
Much like his car, which was a sex-machine with four wheels, the guy was hard lines and hotness. He wore board shorts and a blue t-shirt over dark, olive skin. A longish crop of unruly brown hair hung to his eyebrows. Black aviators perched on a straight nose.
Onna swore she felt his gaze on her face. She sank lower into the seat and her cheeks heated. The guy nodded in her direction before crossing the lot and disappearing into the store. The doorbell’s jangle reached her ears, followed by Caleb’s worried voice.
She swallowed, heart thudding against her ribs in a frantic dash to be free. The Grand Am’s vents blew hot against damp cheeks. She propped her door open and gulped fresh air. Who is that guy?
“I’m here,” she said, peeking over the seat back. She lost sight of the guy between the shelves.
“Cora and I are coming home next weekend. Can you survive until then? I have some time off saved for a special occasion, but I wouldn’t mind spending it on you.” In the background, the excited tone of Cora’s voice rose, and Caleb mumbled, “It’s Onna.”
There was a moment of deafening static, and then Cora was on the line. “We’re engaged!” she yelled.
Onna squealed. “You’vegottabekiddingme!”
“Not kidding. He got me a rock. I can hardly hold my hand up.”
“Lies,” Caleb said, voice far away. Another rumble of static and Caleb spoke again. “She was supposed to wait until next weekend.” His voice distorted as if he covered the mouthpiece with his palm. “You were supposed to wait… You know, wait. Should I spell it for you?”
Cora giggled and Caleb’s voice lifted to full strength. “Keep it to yourself. With everything going on…” he trailed off and suddenly Onna was back in the living room, seeing her mom glare at her dad while tension churned around them.
“Right,” she said, forcing brightness into her words. “Congratulations, Caleb.”
“Thanks. Hang in there. At least school starts soon. Senior year.” He faked a sob. “My baby sister’s growing up. Anyways, call me if you want to talk. Cora and I are headed out to tell her parents. She thinks her dad will chase me with a shovel.”
Onna was horrified. “He wouldn’t.”
“That’s what I said,” Caleb agreed, laughing.
“He’s got a shotgun,” Cora yelled.
She’d just hung up when the guy came out of the store carrying two jumbo blue slushes. Prickles crawled up Onna’s neck. She tossed her phone onto the passenger seat and closed her driver door. When she looked up, he was outside her window, dripping plastic cup held through the opening. A red swirly straw sat atop the melting blue drink.
“You looked like you could use this,” he said, leaning down so his face filled her open window. His mouth curled in a sexy smile that made Onna lose conscious thought. She wished she could see his eyes, but the lenses of his glasses were so opaque she couldn’t guess the color behind them.
“Uh—thanks?” she said, hoping he’d go away.
He pushed the drink closer. The sharp sting of cold condensation falling onto her bare legs jolted her from the stupor. She took the slippery cup, burning fingers brushing his freezing ones. Her stomach tickled.
“See you around, Onna,” he said, standing.
She watched him climb into his car. He rolled down the windows—also manual—giving her a view of an all leather interior and shiny four-speed shifter on the floor. The guy put the straw of his slush—also red swirly—to his lips and drank deeply. Onna thought she would die before that sip ended. Then he smiled, backed neatly around her car, and tore out of the parking lot.
Kacey Vanderkarr is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, and crazy cats. Along with her novels, Reflection Pond and Antithesis, Kacey’s short fiction can be found in Sucker Literary Vol 3, and the upcoming Spark Vol 7, Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, and Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland.
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