Monday, May 23, 2016

Excerpt: Life Before by Michele Bacon


Life Before by Michele Bacon
Life Before
by Michele Bacon
June 7, 2016
288 pages


Goodreads Summary:
Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, so Xander Fife is very good at it: everyone believes he has a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he'll start his real life in college with a clean slate--no risk, no drama, no fear.

Xander’s summer plans include pick-up soccer, regular hijinks with friends, an epic road trip, and—quite possibly— the company of his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family's secrets are thrust out into the open, forcing Xander to confront his greatest fear. Or run from it.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. In danger hundreds of miles from home, one thing is clear: Xander's real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn't enough.


 
Excerpt

One
(Three Weeks Prior)
 
“Are you naked under there, Xander?”

Jill is the world’s most annoying alarm clock. Every morning, she calls my phone ten times over the course of four minutes. She bangs on my front door for a few more before things escalate to a critical state of Get Xander To School. This heightened state of emergency involves her ripping off my covers.

After two solid years of early mornings, I’m just about done.

Jill’s patience is thin. “I asked whether you’re sleeping naked again.”

“Nope.” I haven’t slept naked since my unfortunate exposure last September. Cringing, I await the inevitable.

Jill whips off my sheet. “Boxer briefs. Figures. You have three minutes. I’ll find breakfast.”

Jill is a great friend—my best friend, truly—but I strongly suspect sadist tendencies.

On my way to the john, I wish for the millionth time for a normal family. Mom finally gets by with just one job, but apparently a nine-to-five is too much to ask for. I get it—Mom needs all the help she can get, and encouraging Jill to prod me to school probably seemed practical to her. But giving Jill a key to our house and authorizing her to kick me out of bed? That’s unforgivable.

Exactly three minutes after the rude awakening, I stumble out of the house in clothes that smell fine. For the last time, I run across the lawn between our houses and slide into Jill’s vintage brown Beetle.

The free ride is not without sacrifice: the front seat’s faux white leather has been baking in full sun for an hour. Perching on the seat edge to spare my skin isn’t remotely comfortable, but it’s better than the crusty pink faux fur Jill used on the back seat. We call the car Neapolitan, but it’s only cool in winter.

I shouldn’t complain. When I turned sixteen, I got a used ten-speed, so a blistering car seat is still a pretty good deal.

Jill tosses an off-brand diet granola bar in my lap. “Sorry. I couldn’t find anything good in your kitchen.”

My mom still shops like we’re totally broke.

Jill peels out between a Dodge SUV and an ancient blue Oldsmobile. “You missed a great lecture last night. Evolution of the human brain? The discussion lasted past my curfew.”

And yet, still, she was at my house at the crack of dawn.

Jill sings along with the radio and asks, “You awake yet?”

“Yes, thanks to you.”

“Super. I’ve been thinking. We should go somewhere for Infinite Summer.”

She says this as if Infinite Summer is a celebrated tradition and not a moniker of her own invention. Jill sincerely believes this summer—the one between high school and college—will bring the best months of our lives: no AP homework, no college obligations yet, and no responsibility (unless you count my part-time job at the batting cages, which I don’t).

Personally, I think the best time of my life will start in August, when I trade my current, messy life for my real life, at college.

I would like one big adventure under my belt before then. Well, I want a dozen, but one would be great. For all my dreaming of a cross-country tour, I’ve never actually left Ohio (unless you count numerous trips over the Pennsylvania border for chicken wings, which I don’t).

Infinite Summer or not, a road trip sounds awesome. Somewhere sunny with a beach and no parental guidance would be perfect.

Jill has other plans. “Before I go off to swim camp—I still can’t believe I got in as a counselor, can you?”

“No.” I have a sneaking suspicion they hired counselors with experience sneaking out or sneaking contraband in, but I can’t tell her that. “Focus, Jill. Where are we going before your swim camp?”

“Oh! I think we should all take a camping trip—a real one, with tents and backpacks and stuff—all together for one last hurrah . . . in the Adirondacks!”

No.

Jill is the champion of The Big Plan. Last July, she bent a lot of rules to scope out a funky Cincinnati dance club. We had plenty of cash and made the trek without raising parental suspicions. Everything was great, except Jill hadn’t anticipated the enormous sign that read 18 and over ONLY. (Their emphasis.) Jill and two of our friends got in on fake IDs. Tucker and I were left outside for two whole hours before the threesome emerged from the club soaking with sweat and stinking of stale marijuana.

To Jill’s credit, she did buy me a fake ID after that. Since I’m Alexander, she chose the name Graham Bell as a joke. Except the guy who made the fake misspelled it. Graham Bel is nineteen, and he’s been helping me see obscure bands in tiny venues all over northeastern Ohio for nearly a year. I don’t feel guilty using it, either, because a club’s entry age is an arbitrary rule, not an actual law. When I turn eighteen in August, I’ll pitch it.

Jill’s fake uses her full name—Jillian Bernard—and makes her twenty-one so she can drink in public.

But I digress.

At seventeen, or eighteen, or twenty-one, roughing it in the Adirondacks does not appeal. I prefer a real bed and a roof. Not to mention my somewhat irrational yet totally genuine fear of being dismembered by bears. I absolutely will not be camping in the Adirondacks.

“You’re remembering that grizzly bear annihilating a housecat at Cleveland Zoo, aren’t you?” Jill says. “There are no grizzlies in upstate New York, you know. This would be fun! You, me, Tucker. A few others, including Gretchen.”

She has me there.

“Gretchen.” She stretches it to three syllables: Guh-ret-chen.

Gretchen Taylor could scale anything the Adirondacks have to offer. She’s lean and strong and somehow, even in Ohio’s darkest January days, she’s tan. Not in a leather type of way, but in a healthy kissed-by-the-sun kind of way that suggests she belongs outdoors. Since the day she showed up in Laurel Woods—wearing an I ♥ NY T-shirt on April 8 in the seventh grade—I have wanted to date her. She’s brilliant. And funny. And hot.

Gretchen is everything. Amazing. Her stories about exploring Europe and New York City excite me at every turn. And even though she’s practically a junior chef, she loves cheap Dairy Queen treats as much as I do. And she reads a book a week for fun.

I guess I can risk my life camping if it means a long weekend with Gretchen. I’m a fast runner, and I’ll pack light.

I’ll even let her share my tent if she also is scared of bears.

To Jill, I say, “I guess I would rough it for you.”

“For me.” Jill’s sarcasm is part of her charm. Her many charms, actually. She taught me how to braid hair, gave me a list of phrases never to say to girls, and occasionally forces me to watch a tearjerker—all of which helps with girls I actually want to date. Or it will someday.

“Is that Gary?” Jill waggles a finger toward the school visitors’ parking lot, where a bright blue Mustang shines in the morning sun. Red fringe, which may or may not be a nipple tassel, hangs from the antenna. As we round the corner, we can read the plate: hack u.

I can’t handle all the saliva flooding into my mouth. Gary—I can’t stomach the thought of calling him Dad— is my father. Or he used to be. I guess he still is, but we don’t exactly have a normal relationship. He used to beat on my mom, but then they separated, and now they’re divorced. Ever since Mom forfeited child support—to our own financial detriment, it should be known—he has left us in peace.

My whole past—the horrible family life, Gary’s dual personalities, the abuse—starts churning around in my brain. Gary does not have a single reason to be at my school.

He lives way on the other side of town, maybe twenty minutes away, and I haven’t seen him in ages. Mostly, I try to forget he exists.

In this parking lot right this second, he actually doesn’t exist, so we’re okay. Jill and I hustle into the school to avoid a confrontation.

Tucker hops down from his radiator perch when he sees us. “Morning Jilly.”

“Hey, Tucker. Everything ready for the party?”

“Not hardly.”

“We’ll be ready, I promise.” Jill disappears into a sea of backpacks and bare legs.

Teachers come down hard on anyone wearing shorts above the knee. To make a point, the girls have—blessedly— rebelled in their shortest miniskirts. Some arbitrary rules are okay in my book.

Tucker and I wend through nuzzling couples on our way to my locker. I half expect to see Gary around the corner, but he’s not in here, either.

“Jill tell you about camping?” Tucker says.

“She did.”

“I told her black people don’t camp.”

Shuffling books between my locker and messenger bag, I have to ask. “How’d that work out for you?”

“She didn’t buy it. Worse, Mom heard me say it, and she smacked me upside the head. She even promised Jilly she’d pack my bags and kick my ass out the door on the appointed date.”

“She would, too,” I say.

Tucker heads to first period, shouting over his shoulder, “See you for lunch.”

I turn toward the science wing and run smack into Gretchen.

“Morning, Xander!” The hair she used to wear in braids now cascades over her shoulders in waves.

I try to force my heart back down my throat but, as with the rest of my body, it refuses to obey orders in the presence of this one particular person. My attempt at a nonchalant smile feels giddy.

Gretchen doesn’t notice, or is kind enough to overlook it. “It’s ridiculous that we’re here today at all. We could have turned in our books during exams. It’s like blow-off day for seniors. They’re just trying to imprison us as long as humanly possible.”

Mouth open, I nod instead of speaking. I imagine her words in a comic’s dialogue bubble, and I want to hold the bubble—her voice—in my hands. How do those words feel in that instant, coming up from her lungs, dancing over her tongue, and darting out through her lips?

“Tongue tied, Xander?” My own name slips between those pink lips. “Something Tucker said, no doubt. Or I have a yogurt mustache?” She brushes her fingers over her lips.

This is going horribly wrong. “No, your mouth is perfect. It’s—you’re fine.”

“Are you genuinely ill?” Everything goes in slow motion as Gretchen reaches toward my forehead. She gauges my temperature, first with the back of her hand, then the pads of her fingers.

I pull back before she detects the nervous sweat oozing from my pores. “I’m fine, Gretchen, I swear. I have a lot on my mind this morning, what with the speech and all.”

It’s a lawyer’s answer: true, if not relevant. Our school has two speakers at graduation: the valedictorian and the kid voted by his peers to address the class. The latter would be me.

I sort of know how it happened. My soccer captain thought it would be hilarious to start a social media campaign to get me behind the podium. And it was funny, but then people started taking it seriously. Jill convinced the rest of the swim team to get on board, then the emo kids from her art class. Tucker’s trumpet section and the rest of the marching band got behind it. My fellow physics Olympians. Everyone else who sat for AP exams.

I have too many interests. And friends. Friends who are eager to watch me make an ass of myself in front of the whole town.

So Saturday night—in two days—I have to speak in front of hundreds or thousands of people in an enormous music hall. Public speaking? Not one of my interests. But also nowhere near front of mind when Gretchen is in front of me.

“We’re all behind you, so relax,” Gretchen says. “No one is going to remember any of this, anyway. It’s just high school graduation.”

Easy for her to say. She still has at least two college graduations ahead of her, but high school graduation is a really big deal for some people—the ones whose parents didn’t finish high school, or the ones who are banking on that diploma to open a few doors.

For me, graduating was never a question. My mom didn’t go to college, so you bet your ass her kid will. When Tulane awarded me three scholarships, she threw me a party. Well, a small one: she, Jill, Tucker, and I got Royal Treats at Dairy Queen. After I wolfed down my banana split, I ate all but the bottom layer of a Peanut Buster Parfait. That was a party.

“Hey, I was thinking of heading to Pizza Works for lunch today. You interested?” Gretchen’s voice sounds pinched.

I definitely am, except my wallet is pretty much empty. And Jill will never forgive me if I cancel our last high school lunch for some girl . . . even for the girl.

“I already have plans, thanks.” Besides, I want a date, not a casual lunch. I am so tired of being every girl’s Great Friend Xander Fife.

“But you’re definitely going to Tucker’s party tonight, right?”

“Yep.”

“I promised my mom we’d get a jump on college classes,” Gretchen says. “So I’m bringing my calc book.”

“You’re joking.”

“Of course I’m joking. You can’t drink and derive.”

I want to freeze time right here, the two of us grinning at each other. I love that Gretchen always has a pun on the tip of her tongue. She looks at me, expecting something, but I don’t know what.

Brushing past me, she shouts over the warning bell, “See you in German!” I turn to watch her walk away. Who wears jeans when it’s ninety-three degrees outside? Gretchen does, but they hug her butt, so I’m okay with that.

I swear she had more than pizza on her mind just now but that doesn’t make sense. She and Jameson have been dating nearly two years. They’re the most irresistibly perfect couple. But . . . it almost felt like she was asking me out.

Only Jill can make sense of this.

My mother will kill me if I go over my monthly text limit again. Instead, I go old school, dashing toward the lit wing, where I scrawl a note to Jill: Urgent Question: Status of Gretchen’s relationship with Jameson?

I find her deep in discussion, sandwiched between Grant Blakely and her locker. On paper, Grant could be my twin: taller than average, skinny build, scraggly brown hair, brown eyes. The similarities end there, though. Jill says Grant is mainstream cute to my quirky cute.

I think that means you have to be weird to find me attractive.

Maybe that’s my problem.
 
 
Michele BaconAuthor Bio
Michele Bacon writes contemporary fiction for adults and young adults. Most of her stories begin as ideas scrawled on random scraps of paper, stuffed into pockets or joining her computer-bag detritus. Life Before is her debut novel. Michele lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three small children.
 
 

10 comments:

  1. This sounds really good and I really liked the excerpt. Thanks for sharing it!

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  2. This sounds pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing the excerpt!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you pick up the rest of the book :D

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  3. Ooh, I want to know what the secret is..

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  4. I don't love Contemporary YA, but the excerpt has me hooked. And the author wasn't using the F word once a paragraph! I like that. :)

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad this has caught your eye ;)

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  5. This doesn't look so bad! I requested a copy from the publisher, so hopefully I'll be reading it soon. Thanks for sharing, Eileen :D

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    1. Ohh! I'll be looking forward to hear your thoughts!

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