Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday period and found plenty of time for reading.
My next novel, Unborn, is due out next month. In the meantime, here’s a short story set in the world of the novel. It stars Cindee, one of the main characters, and explores her story before the book begins.
Cindee is a good girl.
She’s knows she’s a good girl, because everyone tells her so.
Her teachers. The other girls in her class at Disdale High. Even her Mom, when she bothers to speak to Cindee.
He tells her she’s a good girl all the time. The best. His favorite. Sometimes, it makes her glow. Other times, it makes her want to kick him and maim him and scream so hard the whole street comes running.
But she can’t. Our secret, is what he tells her. Every time, she nods. She acquiesces. Like a good girl.
Father McBride is giving his sermon. Almost incanting it, he’s so far gone. Fire and brimstone and Heaven and Hell and reward for the righteous and retribution for the sinful and the all-encompassing love of God for his children.
She’s a good girl. God loves her. Doesn’t he?
She moves her hand to her belly and wonders if God can hear the thoughts she has at night, when she’s on her own. Thoughts of hatred, and disobedience. Thoughts of death. For him. And for his unborn child, floating in her belly.
She bites her lip. Don’t think it, not here. Not now.
She glances sideways at Mom, who’s smiling. She has a special smile she reserves for church: her face glows and her lips pull back. Her eyes seem to get even bluer than they already are. Beyond her, Dad is muttering under his breath, his eyes closed. Cindee lets her gaze slide across him and onto her annoying older sister Suze.
Suze is a tearaway. She’s not the good girl Cindee is. She doesn’t help Mom with the dishes, or do as Dad tells her. She stays out late at night with her hideous friends with their tattoos and piercings. God knows how Mom has managed to scrub her down for church this morning. She almost looks normal.
Cindee lets her gaze rest on Suze for a moment. It’s a risk, she knows; if Suze spotted her staring, there would be hell to pay. But she may need her sister’s help, if this thing doesn’t go away.
The house is quiet. Mom is asleep in her soft bed in the master bedroom. Dad is in the den, watching the game. It’s Sunday, so he’ll go straight to his and Mom’s room after. Sundays are for pleasing the Lord. Sundays are good.
Cindee is in the bathroom that she and Suze share. On the top shelf of Suze’s closet is a blade. Suze used it to make patterns on the skin of her thighs, back in tenth grade. Where no one would see.
In a paper bag on the floor at Cindee’s feet is a bottle of vodka and a jar of pills. She got the pills from a girl who works in Subway, a girl she knows Suze used to hang out with but doesn’t any more. The girl has a reputation.
Approaching her was excruciating. Cindee had no idea if the girl would recognize her, if she’d tell Suze. At first, the girl thought she wanted marijuana. When she told her what she really needed, a pierced eyebrow rose.
“Really?” The girl’s eyes went to Cindee’s stomach and she threw her hands to it defensively. This was hers to deal with, not anyone else’s.
Cindee nodded, mute. The girl dropped her smile.
“I won’t tell anyone.”
Cindee felt herself pale at the implication. They both knew what would happen if word got out.
In the bathroom, she picks up the bag and places it on the counter. She can’t bring herself to look at it. What if the girl misunderstood? What if this cocktail will kill her, instead of the thing growing inside her? His thing. She mustn’t think of it as anything animate, anything human. Killing a fellow human is a sin.
She hears a sound downstairs, a door opening and closing. She freezes. Dad’s route to his bed goes straight past this door, as well as her bedroom door. It’s Sunday. He won’t pause. She knows that. But still.
She drags the two bottles out of the bag. One is large and heavy—she could kill a man with it, if she swung it the right way—and the other is small and light. She shakes it. There are just two pills in there. She must take them both. No second chances.
“You stupid bitch!”
Cindee squeezes her eyes shut. The light is hot and intense on her face. She lifts a hand to shield herself.
Hands are on her shoulders, shaking her. She groans. Her stomach hurts.
Awake now, she drags herself up from the floor and throws herself at the toilet. She pukes into it, loudly and messily. Vomit spatters the floor and the wall.
“Jeez, Cin. What the fuck were you doing?”
Cindee collapses against the bath. It’s cold on the back of her head. Her hair is wet. How did her hair get wet?
She groans again and heaves herself up—it’s a struggle this time—to puke into the pan. She keeps her eyes closed, not wanting to see her own vomit. But she can smell it.
She leans over the bowl, panting. There’s the sound of shuffling feet behind her.
“What is this stuff, Cin? Cheap drugstore liquor. How did you get it?”
There’s a pause. Cindee hears the other bottle against the countertop. Did it have any writing on it? Will her sister know what it was?
“Christ, Cin, were you trying to kill yourself?”
Her sister slumps to the floor behind her and puts a hand on her back. “Cin?”
She shakes her head, then regrets it. Her hand creeps to her belly. Suze doesn’t notice. Good.
They sit like that for a few moments, then there’s a sound outside. Their father, making his way to bed. Cindee feels her stomach constrict.
“Night, girls.” His voice is muffled through the door.
“Night, Dad,” Suze murmurs in reply. Cindee opens her eyes. Suze never responds to him at night. She never answers. Will he know something is wrong?
Her heart is swooshing in her ears. She waits for him to knock on the door. Would Suze have locked it? There are three doors: one from each of their rooms and one from the hallway.
She hears the creak of their parents’ bedroom door opening and forces herself to breathe. Sunday. This is why she picked Sunday.
“It’s his, isn’t it?”
The nausea rises in Cindee’s throat. Her skin feels tight, and her forehead damp. She says nothing.
“Talk to me, Cin. I know what he does.”
Cindee forces herself to breathe.
The thought makes her turn to face Suze. “You too?”
Suze nods. “A while back. I hurt him. Bit him. He stopped. I didn’t think…”
Suze didn’t say anything. But neither did Cindee. And neither did their Mom. Their Mom, who can’t look her daughter in the eye.
“You wanted to kill yourself?” Suze asks. She wipes her cheek.
Cindee shakes her head. Can she say it?
Cindee puts her hand on her stomach again. It’s the most she can manage. The words won’t come.
Suze’s hand goes to her mouth. “Shit, Cin. Oh my God.” She frowns. “That bastard.”
Cindee allows herself the flicker of a smile. She thought that telling her sister would open the floodgates. That it would rain retribution on her somehow, turn her into the sinner she knows she is. But it hasn’t.
“I know a place,” says Suze.
Cindee’s eyes widen.
“Darlene went there. Six months ago.”
“But they all closed down.”
“Not all of them.”
“It’s a crime.”
“And this”—Suze’s hand waves towards the bottles on the countertop—“isn’t?”
Cindee feels her stomach constrict. “It’s too risky, Suze.”
“It’s less risky than you killing yourself.”
The waiting room is dark and grubby. Two lamps on low tables illuminate the space in a way that makes it difficult to see faces. Suze squeezes Cindee’s arm and goes on ahead of her. There’s a desk, set into an alcove, with no one sitting at it.
Suze stands at the desk, looking around her like she’s in a store waiting for service. Cindee grimaces. Keep it lowkey, Suze.
A door behind them opens and a woman emerges. Cindee wonders if she knew they were there. Her eyes go to the ceiling, but there are no cameras. Of course not.
The woman goes behind the desk and checks a screen. Her eyes hit on Cindee’s face, over the top of the screen. Cindee feels herself flush.
“I can’t do it,” she whispers.
Suze’s hand is firm on her arm. “You have to.”
“What he did is wrong.”
Cindee stifles a sob. She just wants it all to be over.
The woman straightens up, a smile on her lips and concern in her eyes. Cindee wonders if she’s a doctor, or just a quack.
“Hey, you must be Cindee.”
“I’m Doctor Saira.”
“Pleased to meet you. You want to come with me?”
Suze pushes Cindee forward.
“Can my sister come too?” Cindee asks.
The doctor looks at Suze. “You sure?”
They all know that if Suze comes with her, she’s committing a crime too.
“Yeah,” says Suze. “Course.”
Cindee swallows the lump in her throat. She wants to puke, but she hasn’t eaten since yesterday morning. Suze told her to starve herself overnight, but she wasn’t hungry anyway.
They pass the desk and the computer. There’s no one else here, but Cindee can hear voices along the corridor where they came in. A man and a woman. The woman sounds shrill.
Dr Saira—is that her first name, or her last?—hesitates. She’s listening.
She turns to Cindee, her smile tight. “One moment, please.”
Cindee waits, her stomach churning. Suze has her hand around Cindee’s wrist, like a handcuff.
Would Cindee run, if Suze wasn’t here? She can’t be sure.
The doctor returns. She’s almost running.
“You need to leave.”
“Here. Come with me.” She pushes a door open and leads them along a corridor. A single fluorescent tube flickers above them. Cindee shivers.
“What’s happening? Is this the way to your office?”
“No.” The doctor is out of breath, still hurrying. “I can’t see you right now. You need to get out of here.”
Suze’s hand tightens on her wrist. “They’ve been busted,” she whispers.
The doctor turns to fix Suze with a wide stare. She doesn’t contradict her.
They pick up pace and crash into a fire exit. Doctor Saira shoves it open and pushes the two girls out.
“Don’t come back,” she says. “Find somewhere else. I’m sorry.”
Cindee wants to cry. How can she find somewhere else? Everywhere closed down, after the Supreme Court made its decision two years ago. She didn’t care at the time; she was twelve, a good girl. It would never affect her.
“It’ll be OK,” says Suze. Her breath is cloudy in the cold night. They’re in a parking lot at the back of the building. Cindee can make out the blocky shapes of cars; there are no lights. She hears sirens.
She stops running. “We can’t.”
“It’s OK.” Suze is panting. “We’re not in there. They can’t prove anything. We could have just been passing.”
“Passing? In this neighborhood.”
“That’s no crime.”
Sure, thinks Cindee. It’s only a crime if you’re here to score drugs. Or to get an abortion.
They run. An alleyway spits them out into the street. None of the streetlights are working. Suze’s car isn’t far away.
Cindee’s blood freezes. A sharp pain stabs at her belly.
“Run!” hisses Suze.
“Hey you, stop!” The voice is behind them; it’s female.
Cindee can barely move her legs.
Cindee turns to her sister. “Go!”
“They don’t have to know you’re here.”
“You neither. We can outrun them.”
Cindee shakes her head. “The doctor had my name on file. Maybe my address. It’s better if they don’t come to the house.”
“I’m not leaving you, Cin.”
Cindee pushes her sister, hard. She’s surprised by how light Suze is; she’s always imagined her as built of steel.
“Ow.” Suze is on the ground, her leg twisted beneath her.
“I’m sorry.” Cindee pulls in a breath. “Stay there.”
She turns toward the voices. They’re getting closer now.
“Don’t be dumb,” Suze hisses. She’s panting. Cindee looks at her, feeling guilty. “Sorry.”
She runs. Away from her sister, toward the cops. She stops when she reaches the next streetlight. It’s fizzing, threatening to turn on.
“Step forward, with your hands above your head.” The same voice. Cindee can make out the shape of the woman in the dark but can’t see her face.
Cindee feels tears roll down her cheeks. She flutters her fingers over her stomach.
She stands in front of the cop, her arms raised. She steps forward.
She’ll be OK. She’s a good girl.
Want to find out what happens to Cindee?
You can pre-order Unborn now and you’ll be the first to receive it when it’s released in February 2019.