One afternoon, single mother Sara Weston says that she's going to the storeand never returns. In her absence, she leaves her teenage son alone with his damaged past and a legacy of secrets.
Keith Weston nearly lost his life in an act of arson. He survivedbut with devastating physical and emotional scars. Without his mother, he has no one to help him heal, no money, nothing to live for but the medications that numb his pain. Isolated and angry, his hatred has one tight focus: his half sister, Maggie Lockwood.
Nineteen-year-old Maggie Lockwood spent a year in prison for the acts that led up to the fire. Now she's back home. But her release cannot free her from the burden of guilt she carries. She grew up with Keith Weston, played with him as a child and recently learned they share the same father.
Now the person Keith despises most is the closest thing he has to familyuntil Sara returns. If Sara returns .
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About the Author
She also lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. Diane received her master's degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker and a psychotherapist in private practice, working primarily with adolescents. Diane's background in psychology and her work in hospitals have given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create real, living, breathing characters.
More than a decade ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She sometimes types using voice recognition software. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she is able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy work and travel schedule. Diane has three married stepdaughters, three grandchildren, and two shelties. She lives with photographer John Pagliuca in North Carolina where she's at work on her 21st novel.
Read an Excerpt
I sat on Miss Sara's couch and killed all the mega Warriors. I could usually kill them better, but her TV was way littler than ours and I was sick. That's why I was in Miss Sara's trailer. Only I wasn't supposed to call it a trailer. "It's a mobile home," Mom reminded me when she brought me here this morning. Even though she sometimes called it a trailer, too.
Things were different since the fire. Mom said I should call Sara "Miss Sara" like I did when I was little. It's politer. Miss Sara used to hug me and be real nice and Mom's best friend. Since the fire, Mom and her hardly even talk. The only reason I was in the mobile home was because Mom was desperate. That's what she said to Uncle Marcus this morning.
I was still in bed, tired from getting sick from both ends all night long. Uncle Marcus slept over, like he does a lot. I heard Mom say, "I've tried everybody. I'm desperate. I'll have to ask Sara." Uncle Marcus said he could stay home with me and Mom said, "No! Please, Marcus. I need you with me."
"I can stay alone," I called, but it came out quiet on account of being sick. I was sixteen; I didn't need a babysitter. I was sure I was done barfing, too. I couldn't be sick anymore because Maggie was coming home today. I wanted to jump up and down and yell "Maggie's coming home!" but I was too tired. I could only jump up and down in my imagination.
I heard Mom on the phone with Miss Sara. "Please, Sara. I'm sure it's just a twenty-four-hour bug. I know it's a huge favor to ask, but I can't leave him alone. It'll only be for a few hours." In the before-the-fire days, Mom would say, "Can you watch Andy today?" and Miss Sara would say, "Sure! No problem!" But this wasn't those days anymore.
After a minute, Mom said, "Thank you! Oh, thank you so much! We'll drop him at your house about ten-thirty."
I pulled the blanket over my head. I didn't want to get up and get dressed and go to Miss Sara's trailer. I just wanted to go back to sleep till Maggie got home.
I brought my own pillow with me to the trailer. In the car, I leaned against the window with my head on it. Mom kept turning around from her seat. "Are you okay, Andy?"
"Mmm," I said. That meant yes, but I was too tired to open my mouth. I knew she wanted to reach back and touch my forehead. She was a nurse and she could tell if you had a fever by touching your forehead. Nurses are very smart like that.
"Just think, Andy," Uncle Marcus said. "When we pick you up at Sara Miss Sara's this afternoon, Maggie will be with us."
Free, I thought. Maggie would finally be free. I hated visiting her at that stupid prison.
At the trailer, I laid down on Miss Sara's couch with my pillow. Miss Sara got a blanket and Mom covered me over. She got to put her hand on my forehead then. She gave Miss Sara ginger ale and crackers for me. I started falling asleep as Mom said, "I can't thank you enough, Sara," and things like that.
Then she left and I fell asleep for a long time. I woke up and Miss Sara was walking across the living room. She looked right at me. She was carrying a big box with a picture of a pot on it. She stopped walking and put it on the floor.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. She had some lines on her forehead and by her eyes. So did Mom, but not as many.
"'Kay," I said. My mouth tasted icky.
"You ready for some ginger ale and crackers? Think you can keep them down?"
I nodded. Except for feeling tired and kind of shaky, I was fine. I could've stayed home alone, no problem.
I sat up and Miss Sara brought me ginger ale in a glass with ice and crackers on a plate. Her eyes looked like she'd been crying. They were red how your eyes got. She smiled a funny smile at me. I smiled one back at her. People sometimes cried when they were happy and I knew that's what was going on. Mom had red eyes all week. Miss Sara was probably as happy about Maggie coming home as we all were.
I drank some ginger ale, which tasted good. Miss Sara carried the box outside. When she came back in, she said, "Do you want to play some of Keith's video games?" Which is how I started playing Mega Warrior.
Now I shot another Mega Warrior and then a Super Mega Warrior, which are the ones with the arrow things on their heads. At least it was a school day and Keith wasn't home. Keith was one of the people I couldn't save at the fire. Mom said he could actually die at first, but he didn't. He got scars, though. His hands and his arms look like they have maps on them, only without the country names. One of his hands is scrunched up, kind of. Part of his face has that map look on it, too. He got held back and now we're both juniors. He hated me even before I couldn't save him. I felt sorry for him, though, because of his scars.
The phone rang in the kitchen. I could see Miss Sara pick it up. She made a face.
"You said no later than one-thirty, Laurel!" she said. Laurel was my mom.
One of the regular warriors killed my littlest man. That happened when you forgot to concentrate, like I was doing because I wanted to know what Mom was saying.
"All right," Miss Sara said. She hung up the phone without saying goodbye, which was rude.
I wasn't doing so good at Mega Warriors now, but I had good determination and kept trying.
Miss Sara came in the room again. "Your mom said she won't be back till around four-thirty," she said.
"Okay." I killed two Super Mega Warriors in a row. Bang! Bang! Then one killed me.
"Andy? Look at me."
I looked at her face even though I didn't stop pushing the controller buttons.
"I need to run to the store," she said. "Keith'll be home soon. When he arrives, I need you to give him this envelope, all right?"
She put one of those long white envelopes on the coffee table. It said Keith on it.
She was in my way. I had to move my head to see the TV.
"Andy!" Miss Sara said. "Look at me!"
I stopped pushing the buttons. She was using an I-mean-business voice.
"Did you hear me?" she asked. "What did I just say?"
"Mom won't be here until later." I couldn't remember the time she said.
"And what else?" Miss Sara used to be so nice. She'd turned into another lady this year.
"You're going to the store."
"And this, Andy." She picked up the envelope and kind of shook it in front of my face. "What did I say about this?"
"Give the mail to Keith," I said. "It's very important."
"I'll give it to him."
She looked at her watch. "Oh, never mind. I'll put it where he'll see it."
"Okay," I said.
She walked in the kitchen, then came back again. "All right," she said. "I'm going now."
"Goodbye." I wished she would just go.
I started playing again when she left. Then I got thirsty and my glass was empty. I walked into the kitchen to get more ginger ale. I saw the mail that said Keith on it on the table. She said it was important. What if Keith didn't see it there?
I took the envelope back in the living room and stuck it in my book bag so I couldn't forget to give it to him. Then I sat down again to kill some more warriors.
They moved me from my cell hours later than I'd expected because of some paperwork issue Mom had to straighten out. I was afraid they weren't going to let me go. There'd been some mistake, I thought. A prison official would show up at my cell door and say, Oh, we thought you were in prison for twelve months, but we read the order wrong. It's really twelve years. It's amazing the things you can imagine when you're alone in a cell.
I sat on my skinny bed with my hands folded in my lap and my heart pounding, waiting. An hour. Two hours. I couldn't budge. Couldn't open the book I was reading. Just sat there waiting for them to come tell me how twelve months was a mistake and I couldn't get out today. I deserved the twelve years. Everyone knew that, including me.
But finally, Letitia, my favorite guard, came to get me. I let out my breath like I'd been holding it in for those two hours and started to cry. Outside the bars of my cell, Letitia's face was nothing more than a dark, wavy blur.
She shook her head at me, and I knew she was wearing that half sneer it took me a few months to recognize as a kind of affection.
"You crying?" she asked. "Girl, you cried the day you come in here and now you crying the day you leave. Make up your mind."
I tried laughing but it came out more like a whimper.
"Let's go," she said, unlocking the door, sliding the bars to the left, and I thought, that's the last time I'll ever have to hear that door scrape open. I walked next to Letitia as we started down the broad central hall between the rows of cells, side by side like equals. Two free women. Free. I needed a tissue, but didn't have one. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand.
"You'll be back!" one of the women called to me from her cell. Others hooted and hollered. Cussed and shouted. "Yo, bitch! Gonna burn some more kiddies, huh?" BB they called me. Baby Burner, even though the people who died in the fire were two teenagers and an adult. I didn't fit in. It wasn't just that I was white. There were plenty of white women in the prison. It wasn't that I was young. Sixteen was the age at which you were tried as an adult in North Carolina, so there were plenty younger than me. It was, as Letitia told me the first week I got there, that "they can smell the money on you, girl." I didn't see how. I didn't look any different from them, but I guessed everybody knew my story. How I'd laid a fire around a church to let my firefighter boyfriend shine in the department. How I didn't set the fire when I realized kids would be in the church, but how Keith Weston lit a cigarette, tossing the match on the fuel I'd poured without realizing it was there. How people died and burned and had their lives totally screwed up. They all knew the details, and even though some of them had murdered people, maybe sticking a knife in their best friend's heart, or they sold drugs to junior-high kids or robbed a store or whatever, they stuck together and I was the outcast.
At the beginning of the year I'd thought about Martha Stewart a lot, how even though she was a rich white woman, she made all these friends in prison and they loved her. Adored her, even. How she came out on top. I told myself maybe that's how it could be with me.
As Letitia and I went down the wide corridor between the cells, I remembered the first time I'd made that long walk. The hooting and name-calling. I didn't think of the women as people then. They seemed like wild dogs and I was afraid one of them would break loose and run after me. Now I knew better. They couldn't get out. I learned it wasn't when they were in their cells that they could hurt me, but out in the yard. I was beaten up twice, and for someone like me who'd never even been hit, it was terrible. Both times, it was a girl named Lizard. She was six feet tall with thin, straggly, almost colorless hair. She was skinny and her body seemed out of proportion to the long arms and legs she could wrap around you like strands of wire. She let me have it, for no reason I could think of except that she hated me, like so many of the others hated me. I wasn't good at getting beaten up. I didn't fight back well. I cowered, covering my face with my hands, while she pounded my ribs and tore handfuls of my dark hair out by the roots. I had one thought running through my mind: I deserve this. You see people getting beaten up in the movies and TV all the time. There'll be cuts and some blood, but you don't get to feel the fear while it's happening. The not-knowing-how-bad-it'll-get kind of fear. Or the pain that goes on for days. Letitia saved me both times. Then I was "Letitia's pretty baby." LPB. They had initials for everything. A lot of the initials I never did figure out because I wasn't part of the in crowd. I wasn't the only outsider, though. Not the only one getting picked on. I wasn't the weakest by far. They'd find the ones who were least able to defend themselves and move in for the kill. All I could think was, thank God Andy wasn't the one to land in prison. He would never have survived.
I got over the whole Martha Stewart fantasy real fast. After the first couple of days, I didn't even try to make friends. I kept to myself, reading, thinking about how I was supposed to be in college at UNC Wilmington this year. Maybe a business major, which seemed totally ridiculous to me now. Business? What did that matter, really? Who could I help with a degree in business? What good could I do for anybody but myself and maybe some blood-sucking company? I tried to keep a journal, but I threw it away after a couple of months because I couldn't stand rereading what I'd written in the first few days about Ben and how I still loved him even though he betrayed me. How I did something so stupid out of love for him. How I killed people. I took lives. I wrote those words over and over on four or five pages of the journal like some third-grade punishment. I'd touch the latest cut on my lip from Lizard or the bruises that crisscrossed my legs and think these are nothing.
What People are Saying About This
A fast-paced read that...explores the psychological complexity of a family pushed to its limits." -Booklist