Blood To Blood First Three Chapters
Here are the first three chapters of Blood To Blood. Buy the book here. Enjoy!
1. MOM’S GONNA KILL ME
The Change was starting.
A tingle coursed through my veins like the first flutterings of a new butterfly’s wings, and I distinctly heard the heartbeats of everyone in the room.
Part of me was excited. After all, I’d soon be full-grown Shimshana. But then another part was scared… How exactly would The Change affect me? More importantly, would I still be able to sing afterwards?
The tingling faded into the background, though, as I watched the number of comments explode. Mom’s gonna kill me, I thought.
We (Kat Trio) were about to sign our very first album deal, and somehow word had already gotten out on Facebook. Pivoting the laptop on the table’s smooth surface, I showed my profile page to the others in the sun-filled conference room.
My group mates, Julietta and LaLa; our manager, Nina; and the label’s A&R Director—um, was his name Raj?—were too preoccupied to look up.
“Seven hundred and eighty-four friend requests,” I said. My mouth was suddenly parched, despite the lemon wedge I’d been sucking.
LaLa mumbled something undecipherable while painstakingly inscribing lyrics on her striped sleeve. Julietta popped bubblegum and barely looked up from texting one of her boyfriends. “A step up from the nine friends you have now,” she quipped.
Raj smiled and passed Nina copies of the contract. “Might as well get used to it, ladies,” he responded in his smooth London/East Indian accent. At that moment, he reminded me of an antsy Las Vegas dealer. You know, the type you see in the movies; twitching right before someone at the blackjack table is dragged into the backroom to get beat down for cheating the house. Or maybe the twitch I thought I saw in his grin was just a projection of my own guilt. After all, I was the one cheating the house. I was breaking my family’s number one, all-time rule: stay low-profile. And I was the one who was lying. I gulped down what felt like a cotton ball forming in my throat.
Nina finally looked up from signing the contracts. “Your turn,” she said to us. “Just print your names.” Pens began signing, and papers glided like flattened sharks back and forth across the table amidst a sea of water bottles, cough drops, and hot cups of tea until all the lines were signed. The contracts’ final destination was the notary public at the end of the table who verified the info and stamped them with her seal. Nina and Raj shook hands before she turned and spread her manicured fingers toward us. “Congrats, girls,” she said. “You’ve just signed a deal with House Quake.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream, and obviously, neither did Jules and LaLa. Despite just getting what we had worked for and dreamed of for the past three years, we sat mutely for a moment, staring at one another in the wake of Nina’s words.
None of us girls had typical sixteen year-old lives. Instead of fashion, boys, and reality TV we had writing, rehearsing, and performing wherever we could. Talent shows, festivals, and church were the only dates we had, and over the past year, any gig that I could sneak behind my parents’ backs was another notch in our collective belt. We were on a mission. We wanted to do this as a career. And everybody knew that in order to make it, you had to grab all the opportunities you could while you were still young. In my case, my life was even less typical and there was no point in waiting. Singing was my heart, my soul, and my waking dream. It was the only thing I could ever imagine doing. Forever.
Kat Trio was a hobby until we met Nina, who told us she could take us far if we were serious. Soon, we entered and won NE Rising Stars, an annual showcase of the best talent from across the Northeast. The prize package (photo shoot, demo CD, and potential signing with a mid-sized record company) was so publicized, my parents refused to allow me to interview with the label. They even made me promise to stop performing. I lied and told them I would.
I apologized to the girls, telling them that I couldn’t meet with the label because Mom and Dad wanted me to focus on my double English classes at school. Not a total lie, since my parents are really big on education. Between the two of them, they have hundreds of degrees in almost as many languages and or dialects, gathering dust in a secret room in the basement. But to be completely honest, my parents were definitively against any member of the family being in the public spotlight. Even if it was the only yet-to-turn-immortal member. Me. Our peaceful existence depended on the ability to blend into the mortal world. Attracting national attention to myself would defeat the “blending mandate,” so this record deal and sudden fame stuff was a serious no-no.
Even worse, Mom and Dad didn’t know that I’d broken my promise and was still doing gigs. Every night the girls and I spent gigging was a night when my parents thought I was studying at either LaLa or Jules’ house. Now the record deal would expose me as a scheming traitor, and I was sure not even The Change and the immortality it would bring could save me from Mom’s wrath. And if (a very big if) Mom didn’t kill me once the truth came out, she would surely incinerate me into a small gray mound of breathable dust after I gathered up the guts to tell her and Dad that I was considering dropping out of high school to make an album.
So instead of laughing, crying or even screaming, I just sat there, pen still in my hand—slack-jawed with the realization the contract I’d just signed was really my own death warrant.
Julietta snapped me out of my stupor. “Still haven’t told your parents, huh?” she whispered conspiratorially after a quick peek at Nina. Our manager didn’t know the “parental” signature on my contract was forged.
I felt the urge to run like heck. “Bathroom,” I answered.
Once there, I checked out my reflection in the large vanity mirror and wished I would change into an immortal before breaking the news to the family later on that night. I was still in the vulnerable part of my existence—childhood—but my pending maturity might give me a chance at surviving Mom’s red rage.
Immortal kids are identical to mortal kids when it comes to physical development. Then somewhere between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, our aging slows (and according to Mom, eventually stops about a thousand years later) as our immortality, complete with unique abilities, personality, blah, blah, blah come online.
Would The Change make my face look different? My eyes were a brighter brown than usual (but that probably was from the excitement of the record deal), and underneath the surface of my skin (my sister calls it “flawless milk chocolate”) the blood rushed and gave me the usual mortal flush. My hair looked the same, too: a barely controlled mass. Today, I’d managed to weave it into a single braid that swung between my shoulder blades. The T-shirt, jeans, and pink suede boots fit the way they did the day before.
So, okay, I looked the same. But I didn’t feel the same. Something was different. “Your dream’s coming true,” I told my reflection. “Why can’t you just relax for once and enjoy this?” I held my breath. And waited.
As usual, after a moment of silence, my reflection took on a life of its own. It peered from one side of the mirror to the other as if making sure we were alone. I giggled and wondered for the millionth time what the girls would think if they ever saw this.
Reflection, hands on hips, glared at me. “You can’t relax because you’re a dumbass.”
Before I could shoot back a retort, the bathroom door flew open and in walked a no-nonsense-looking exec type. “Hi!” I blurted, praying she wouldn’t spot my errant image in the mirror. Luckily, she looked at me like I was a nutcase and headed straight into a stall.
Exhaling, I snapped my fingers once and Reflection immediately reverted back to an ordinary…reflection. A reflection of a liar, nervously chewing her inner cheek and going against everything her parents taught her.
Back in the conference room, Raj was gone and Julietta was doing a seated happy dance in her chair. Magenta-colored hair and gold hoop earrings bounced around her face. “Girl, guess what’s happening!” she squealed. She stood up to do her signature step: two quick steps to the right, two to the left, small hop forward, finish with outstretched jazz hands. “Starving Artists just canceled their gig at the Garden.” Her fingers still danced in the air. “We might be able to squeeze in there before the other opening acts and do a song!”
Starving Artists was voted one of the “Ones To Watch” in Frunt magazine’s highly touted year-end issue. They were slated to open for international superstar Charmain, whose single “Tell It Like It Was” was number one on the chart for the eighth week in a row and breaking all kinds of download sales records.
“Why would they cancel?” I wondered aloud.
LaLa scratched her head under her Red Sox cap. “Girl, who cares,” she said. “We are sooo in. You know Nina never tells us anything until she’s almost one hundred percent sure.” Her eyebrows threatened to mate with her hairline as she cocked her head in our manager’s direction. “She’s on the phone with them right now.”
Sure enough, Nina, pressed into a corner of the room, spoke urgently into her cell. My stomach flipped with excitement. This was really happening.
“And if that weren’t enough,” Julietta gushed, “we’ll be working with—OMG—Sawyer Creed!”
My smile immediately crashed and burned. “The dude who did that Swedish Moreno track? The one that sounds like it was made with a toy keyboard?”
“Duh, Angel.” Jules rolled her eyes. “Only the number one track of the year!”
It may have been number one, but to me the tune was one step above a nursery rhyme. For the millionth time, I wondered how the most simple-minded songs became huge hits and figured it had something to do with the limitations of mortal hearing. Nevertheless, I swallowed my criticism. “If you have nothing nice to say…” Dad always told us.
Eventually, Nina, taking note of the silence and what was probably my dubious expression, set her Blackberry down. “Raj followed you for months,” she said to me. “Trust me, he’s a fan. And he thinks the natural match for your work is Sawyer.”
The skepticism I felt etched on my face was now echoed on LaLa’s. “They say he’s got a bad temper,” she said. “You really think this is a good idea?”
With determination, Nina quickly punched laptop keys and pulled up a Billboard.com feature titled:
“Pop’s Teen Genius”
“Creed’s the future,” she asserted while we scanned the article. His rugged, unsmiling face hosted piercingly green eyes, which seemed to hover in front of the halo of his blond shoulder-length hair.
“Yikes,” Julietta said, “he’s hot.”
Nina ignored the interjection. “He’s riding the wave from that Moreno track. The timing’s right and, as I understand, he’s got stacks and stacks of tracks. I smell a hit.”
The ticking of the huge clock on the wall seemed very loud to me as I swiveled my chair around to gaze out the wall of glass overlooking the Boston skyline. Something didn’t feel right. My eyes were focused on the way the afternoon sun glinted off the tops of cars in the traffic stream below. “Is he the only producer we’re slated to work with?” I asked. Nina’s heartbeat accelerated slightly. Not good.
“That’s something we need to discuss.” Nina pressed the tips of her fingers together until her hands formed a triangle. “You didn’t sign a record deal, per se. What we agreed to was recording one song.”
“What! Only one song?” The words came out in what felt like a growl as the cars, the sunlight, and the skyline disappeared from my view. For a split second, I was one hundred percent my mother’s daughter. I saw nothing but red. Angry, bloody red.
3. A MILLION TINY PIECES
Julietta took a step away from me and LaLa slid to the edge of her seat in the opposite direction. Nina’s heart rate speeded up some more, but she stayed put, her poker face never flinching as my eyes met hers. I kept my voice level and calm. “We have an album’s worth of material. At least forty-five songs.”
“Labels are unwilling to put a lot of money into new acts these days.” Nina’s voice took on the annoyingly soothing tone she reserved for less-than-ideal situations. “Once you prove yourself with a track that has downloading and or ringtones heat, I’ll be empowered to go ahead and negotiate another contract.”
So in other words, everything was riding on hitting the Top 10 with just one measly tune produced by the hotheaded Sawyer Creed. Did I really just throw my family’s traditions under the bus for the sake of one song? Inside of me, an icky tide of resentment rose toward Creed. It was illogical, seeing as he had nothing to do with the decision I’d made to go against my family’s wishes, or the fact that I didn’t read the contract before signing it. But logic didn’t matter. At that moment, Creed represented all that was wrong with the music industry and I was going to hate him anyway.
LaLa, fanning herself, responded first. “Don’t worry. I’m in.” Julietta, swiping sweat from her forehead, nodded in agreement. They both glanced expectantly at me. I nodded.
“Good,” Nina said as she lifted her bone-straight weave off the nape of her neck in an attempt to cool down. “Raj went to get him.”
“He’s coming up here?” Julietta said excitedly.
“Now?” My voice sounded like a squeak.
“His studio’s just around the corner,” Nina answered as LaLa’s head swiveled between the three of us.
Heavens to leotards, it just kept getting worse and worse.
As if on cue, the door opened and in strutted a triumphant-looking Raj followed by…Sawyer Creed. The latter seemed annoyed, and his dark eyebrows were drawn together in a unibrow-inducing frown. He looked the way I felt: ticked off.
“Ladies, meet our resident genius, Sawyer.” Raj—slight, dark, roughly five-foot-seven—was the exact opposite of Sawyer, who stood at what looked like six-foot-four with an athletic build. Julietta immediately jumped up to shake his hand and LaLa and I rolled our eyes at her never-ending boy craziness. Raj continued the intros throughout the endless handshaking before everybody finally sat down.
“Again, welcome to the mill, girls,” Raj said before shooting me a sheepish smile. “Not to say we’ll be grinding you up, but you’ll be grinding even more.” He beamed, seemingly pleased with his use of ‘90s American slang. Sawyer sat sullen, silent and unimpressed. “Sawyer,” Raj continued, “Kat Trio have crazy potential, and I’m confident that together you’ll come up with a slamming number one.”
Four sets of eyes turned toward Sawyer.
His skin was somewhat pale and his hair, almost as long as mine, was pulled back to reveal a square jawline. His Atlanta Braves baseball cap rested on the table next to a pair of black Ray Bans; unusual since most of the industry dudes, at least the ones we’d met, hid underneath caps pulled down as low as possible over black shades and never bothered to remove either whether they were indoors or out.
He sported a midnight-blue tracksuit with gold piping and his goatee was kind of fuzzy, as if he’d been in the studio for the past month and was now stepping out to forage for food. I remembered the article mentioned that he’d produced almost a dozen Top 20 songs before he hit the age of seventeen a little over a year ago. “Incredible Green Eyes” struck me as a cool song title just as his gaze shifted to mine. His frown deepened. Hmm…he wasn’t annoyed; he was concentrating on something. I wondered what… Oops, I was staring at him. Awkward. Mentally insert foot in mouth. Now, tear gaze away…
“Sawyer usually doesn’t leave the studio,” Raj continued. “Had to drag him out. Maybe you guys can all get together tomorrow?” He and Nina quickly made arrangements for our first session before I ran off to my after-school tutoring job.
# # #
Later, while picking up candy wrappers and rearranging the chairs in the empty middle-school classroom where I’d just finished tutoring, I wondered why Mom and Dad insisted I have a job. I was ahead in completing credits for the year, and as a result, my school day ended earlier. But the job was slightly annoying mainly because one of the sixth graders had a crush on me. He always got red in the face when I stood next to him and stammered when I asked him questions. Chuckling, I picked up another wrapper, and remembered how lame life was when I was in sixth grade, before I started singing and before I stopped caring about what the other kids thought of me. Now school didn’t matter at all, and stuff like being popular and the upcoming prom were just a distraction from what really mattered: music.
I grabbed my boots from the corner where they lay drying. They’d gotten soaked when I’d stepped in a slush puddle earlier, and instead of tracking water through the room I’d changed into my track shoes. Thank goodness I decided to bring them home for washday, I thought as I took the sneakers off and stuffed them back into my knapsack.
My cell blared “Madame Butterfly” and Julietta’s smiling face popped up on the screen. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Girl, we’re doing the Garden!” Jules was the group’s broadcaster of good news, and the ever-conservative Nina used that enthusiasm to save time by making one phone call instead of three.
“Wow. That’s over fourteen thousand people!”
“Yep! So…you’re, like, telling your folks tonight, right?”
“Yeah.” Ultimate resign. “Guess so.”
Jules was my best mortal friend, which meant I could tell her everything… except the truth about my family or my pending immortality. Unlike me, she was optimistic. Maybe it was because her mom was super-supportive of her singing in our group. I envied that support. How cool would it be if, after I told them the truth, Mom and Dad came to the Garden gig? But then again, they’d probably question my sanity. After all, why would I put our way of life in jeopardy for a chance to have my voice heard by mortals if I weren’t insane?
“LaLa and I can come over if you need us,” Julietta was saying. “You know. Moral support.”
LaLa and Julietta had been over to the house many times for sleepovers, homework, and writing sessions, but they had no idea my family was immortal and would probably die of fright if they saw Mom’s Shimshana reaction to my news.
“Thanks, girl. I think I’ll be okay though. Maybe you guys can come over tomorrow to scrape what’s left of me off the wall.”
Unaware I was serious, Julietta laughed. “Okay, girl, we’ll be there.” She clicked off.
A movement caught the corner of my eye. Glimmering in one of the classroom’s large windows was Reflection. She was staring at me, but I hadn’t given the usual mental permission that allowed her to take on a life of her own.
“I didn’t call you!” I exclaimed.
“You don’t have to. Now, what was I saying before? Oh yeah, you’re a nut job, attention-freak, doofus.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated, but she was still there, smirking, when I opened them. This couldn’t be happening. Even worse, what if Reflection was right?
What if all the attention from Quake and the Garden gig ended up hurting my family by exposing our true nature? I anxiously paced while imagining the online media blitz; the posts and tweets about the Beacon Hill mom, my mom, who drank the blood of willing donors.
I felt Reflection’s eyes following me as I agonized. “Hmph,” she said, “Jules isn’t the only one who thinks the blond dude’s hot, huh? Mom’s really gonna kill—”
“Enough!” I yelled. I glanced at the window and Reflection was gone. Sigh of relief. Then I heard the front door open. I turned to see her there, three-dimensional and with a hand on the doorknob.
I nearly screamed.
“You have no control—actually, you never had any control over me,” she said in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice. “I’m leaving now. It’s really for the best.” Reflection started changing then. Her skin became a more golden shade of brown. The length of her hair shrunk and got curlier. Her body grew rounder and fuller in certain places…
“What do you think you’re doing?” I said through my teeth. “Get back in that window now!”
But all she did was peer at me with a weird little smile, as if her upper lip was partially stuck to her front teeth, before waving her hand goodbye and softly closing the door behind her.
Racing to the door, I flung it open and scanned the hallway. No one was there. I slammed the door shut, leaned against it, and exhaled. My stomach felt like it had broken into a million tiny pieces, and each little shard of what used to be my lucidity floated around my insides like tiny islands of foreboding. Sweat broke out everywhere I had skin; and my hands shook like they belonged on someone else’s body. I remembered I hadn’t slept for almost two days. I tried to breathe, deep and slowly the way Dad taught me to do when I felt like this; like I, and the world, were both falling apart. His technique didn’t quite work this time.
I need Mr. C., I thought.
With an overwhelming need to escape whatever doom I just knew was gearing up to steamroll me flatter than an oil stain in the middle of the street, I snatched my keys, cell, and knapsack, and ran out of that room like a bat out of you know where.
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