Read an Excerpt

We Hear

That life was good

before she


the monster,

but those page flips

went down before

our collective

cognition. Kristina


that chapter of her

history before we

were even whispers

in her womb.

The monster shaped


Lives, without our ever

touching it. Read on

if you dare. This


isn’t pretty.

Hunter Seth Haskins


All about her. Who


really is. (Was?) Why

she swerved off

the high road. Hard


to nowhere,


indifferent to


Hunter Seth Haskins,

her firstborn

son. I’ve been


that down for

nineteen years.

Why did she go


her mindless way,

leaving me spinning

in a whirlwind of

her dust?


Her story, I’ll try

my best to enlighten

you, though I’m not sure

of every word of it myself.

I suppose I should know

more. I mean, it has been

recorded for eternity—

a bestselling fictionalization,

so the world wouldn’t see

precisely who we are—

my mixed-up, messed-

up family, a convoluted

collection of mostly regular

people, somehow strengthened

by indissoluble love, despite

an ever-present undercurrent

of pain. The saga started here:


Kristina Georgia Snow

gave me life in her seventeenth

year. She’s my mother,

but never bothered to be

my mom. That job fell

to her mother, my grandmother,

Marie, whose unfailing love

made her Mom even before

she and Dad (Kristina’s stepfather,

Scott) adopted me. That was

really your decision, Mom claims.

You were three when you started

calling us Mama and Papa.

The other kids in your playgroup

had them. You wanted them too.

We became an official

legal family when I was four.

My memory of that day is hazy

at best, but if I reach way,

way back, I can almost see

the lady judge, perched

like an eagle, way high above

little me. I think she was

sniffling. Crying, maybe?

Her voice was gentle. I want

to thank you, Mr. and Mrs.

Haskins, for loving this child

as he deserves to be loved.

Please accept this small gift,

which represents that love.

I don’t really remember all

those words, but Mom repeats

them sometimes, usually

when she stares at the crystal

heart, catching morning sun

through the kitchen window.

That part of Kristina’s story

always makes Mom sad.

Here’s a little more of the saga.

Chapter one

It started with a court-ordered

summer visit to Kristina’s

druggie dad. Genetically,

that makes him my grandfather,

not that he takes much interest

in the role. Supposedly he stopped

by once or twice when I was still

bopping around in diapers.

Mom says he wandered in late

to my baptism, dragging

Kristina along, both of them

wearing the stench of monster

sweat. Monster, meaning crystal

meth. They’d been up all night,

catching a monstrous buzz.

It wasn’t the first time

they’d partied together. That

was in Albuquerque, where dear

old Gramps lives, and where

Kristina met the guy who popped

her just-say-no-to-drugs cherry.

Our lives were never the same

again, Mom often says. That

was the beginning of six years

of hell. I’m not sure how we all

survived it. Thank God you were

born safe and sound. . . .

All my fingers, toes, and a fully

functional brain. Yadda, yadda . . .

Well, I am glad about the brain.

Except when Mom gives me

the old, What is up with you?

You’re a brilliant kid. Why do

you refuse to perform like one?

A C-plus in English? If you would

just apply yourself . . .

Yeah, yeah. Heard it before.

Apply myself? To what?

And what the hell for?

I KInD of enjoY

My underachiever status.

I’ve found the harder you

work, the more people expect

of you. I’d much rather fly

way low under the radar.

That was one of Kristina’s

biggest mistakes, I think—

insisting on being right-up-

In-your-face irresponsible.

Anyway, your first couple years

of college are supposed to be

about having fun, not about

deciding what you want to do

with the rest of your life. Plenty

of time for all that whenever.

I decided on UNR—University

of Nevada, Reno—not so much

because it was always a goal,

but because Mom and Dad

did this prepaid tuition thing,

and I never had Ivy League

ambitions or the need to venture

too far from home. School is school.

I’ll get my BA in communications,

then figure out what to do with it.

I’ve got a part-time radio gig at

The X, an allowance for incidentals,

and I live at home. What more

could a guy need? Especially

when he’s got a girl like Nikki.

Autumn Rose Shepherd

Sometimes I See Faces

Somehow familiar,

but I don’t know why.

I cannot label them,

no matter how intently

I try. They are nameless.

And yet not strangers.

Like Alamo ghosts, they

emerge from deep

of night, materialize

from darkness, deny

my sleep. I would call them

dreams. But that’s too easy.

I Suspect

One of those faces belongs

to my mother. It is young, not

much older than mine, but weary,

with cheeks like stark coastal

cliffs and hollow blue eyes, framed

with drifts of mink-colored hair.

I don’t look very much like her.

My hair curls, auburn, around

a full, heart-shaped face, and

my eyes are brown. Or, to be

more creative, burnt umber. Nothing

like hers, so maybe I’m mistaken

about her identity. Is she my mother?

Is she the one who christened me

Autumn Rose Shepherd? Pretty

name. Wish I could live up to it.

Aunt Cora Insists

I am pretty. But Aunt Cora

is a one-woman cheering section.

Thank goodness the grandstands

aren’t completely empty.

I’m kind of a lone wolf, except

for Cherie, and she’s what you

might call a part-time friend.

We hang out sometimes, but

only if she’s got nothing better

going on. Meaning no ballet recitals

or play rehearsals or guy-of-the-day

to distract her from those.

But Aunt Cora is always there,

someone I can count on, through

chowder or broth, as Grandfather says.

Old Texas talk for “thick or thin.”


Things feel

about the consistency

of milky oatmeal.

With honey.



Most days,

I wake up relatively

happy. Eat breakfast.

Go to school.

Come home.




Blah, blah, blah.

But sometimes,

for no reason beyond

a loud noise or leather

cleaner smell, I am afraid.

It’s like yanking myself

from a nightmare only,

even wide awake,

I can’t unstick myself

from the fear of the dream.

I don’t want to

leave my room.

Can’t Bear the Thought

Of people staring, I’m sure

they will. Sure they’ll know.

Sure they’ll think I’m crazy.

The only person I can talk to

is Aunt Cora. I can go to her

all freaked out. Can scream,

“What’s the matter with me?”

And she’ll open her arms, let me

cry and rant, and never once

has she called me crazy. One

time she said, Things happened

when you were little. Things you

don’t remember now, and don’t want

to. But they need to escape,

need to worm their way out

of that dark place in your brain

where you keep them stashed.

Summer Lily Kenwood


I learned not to


a long time ago.

Learned to


down hard

against pain,


my little mouth

wedged shut.


back was useless,

anyway. I was


at three, and Zoe

was a hammer.


are stinkier than

boys when they


dirty, she’d say,

scrubbing until I


And if I cried

out, I hurt


I’m Fifteen Now

And though Zoe is no longer

Dad’s lay of the day, I’ll never

forget her or how he closed

his eyes to the ugly things

she did to me regularly.

He never said a word about

the swollen red places. Never

told her to stop. He had to know,

and if he didn’t, she must have

been one magical piece of ass.

Cynical? Me? Yeah, maybe

I am, but then, why wouldn’t

I be? Since the day I was born,

I’ve been passed around. Pushed

around. Drop-kicked around.

The most totally messed-up

part of that is the more it

happens, the less I care. Anyway,

as foster homes go, this one is

okay. Except for the screaming.

Screaming, Again

It’s Darla’s favorite method

of communication, and not

really the best one for a foster

parent. I mean, aren’t they

supposed to guide us gently?

Her shrill falsetto saws through

the hollow-core bedroom door.

Ashante! How many times

do I have to tell you to make

your goddamn bed? It’s a rule!

Jeez, man. Ashante is only seven,

and she hasn’t even

been here a week. Darla

really should get an actual job,

leave the fostering to Phil,

who is patient and kind-eyed

and willing enough to smile.

Plus, he’s not bad-looking

for a guy in his late forties.

And I’ve yet to hear him scream.

Darla Is a Different Story

Here it comes, directed at me.

Summer! Is your homework finished?

Hours ago, but I call, “Almost.”

Well, hurry it up, for God’s sake.

Like God needs to be involved. “Okay.”

I need some help with dinner.

Three other girls live here too.

And turn down that stupid music.

The music belongs to one of them.

I can barely hear myself think.

She thinks? “It’s Erica’s music.”

Well, tell her to turn it down, please.

Whatever. At least she said please.

And would you please stop yelling?


My neck flares, collarbone

to earlobes. Like Erica

couldn’t hear her scream?

I fling myself off the bed,

cross my room and the hall

just beyond in mere seconds.

“Erica!” (Shit, I am yelling.)

“Can’t you . . . ?” But when

I push through the door,

the music on the other side

slams into me hard. No

way could she have heard

the commotion. “Great

song, but Darla wants you

to turn it down. What is it?”

Erica reaches for the volume.

“Bad Girlfriend.” By Theory of a Dead-

man. I just downloaded it today.

She looks at me, and her eyes

repeat a too-familiar story.

Erica is wired. Treed, in fact.

I Totally Know Treed

In sixth grade, the D.A.R.E.

dorks came in, spouting stats

to scare us into staying straight.

But by then, I knew more than

they did about the monster

because of my dad and his women,

including my so-called mom.

Her ex, too, and his sister and cousin.

Plus a whole network of stoners

connecting them all. The funny

thing is, none of them have a fricking

clue that I am so enlightened.

Tweakers always think no one

knows. Just like Erica right now.

“Shit, girl. You go to dinner lit

like that, you’re so busted.

Darla may be a bitch. But she’s

not stupid, and neither is Phil.”

Here comes the denial.

Her shoulders go stiff and

her head starts twisting

side to side. But she doesn’t

dare let her eyes meet mine.

What are you talking about?

“Hey, no prob. I’m not a spy,

and it’s all your life anyway.

I’m just saying you might

as well be wearing a sign

that says ‘I Like Ice.’ If

I were you, I’d skip dinner.”

I turn, start for the door,

and Erica’s voice stops me.

It’s just so hard to feel good,

you know? I do know. And

more than that, it’s just

so incredibly hard to feel.



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