To all of you who have pre-ordered DAMAGE, thank you so much. To all of you considering picking up a copy, I would urge you toward the online outlets. Unfortunately, Barnes and Noble elected not to stock the book in stores. They are, however, carrying it online. As is Amazon and Book Depository. (Yes. This is bad news. But what can be done? Chin up and all that. I'm very proud of this book, and I hope those who enjoy it will spread the word.)
And so, In honor of Damage's book birthday, I give you a nice juicy excerpt from the end of Chapter One.
As far as I can tell, touching, hugging—closeness in general—is overrated. I prefer to be inviolate, alone in my body, without anyone trying to bridge the gap between one person and another. Skin was created for a reason, to keep us from getting too close. I don’t see a reason to force something that seems unnatural.
I had enough forced closeness when I was little, when dozens of doctors and nurses with their cold tools and colder hands took for granted the fact that they could touch me however they liked.
“Oh really?” Mina leans a hip against the seat. Her skirt inches up, revealing even more of her thigh.
“So I get to watch you sleep all the way to New York? Sounds fun.”
Oh no. She wouldn’t. Would she?
Nate smiles. “I’m cute when I sleep.”
“Who told you that?” Mina shifts closer. My teeth grind together. She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t leave me to sit by myself. She knows I don’t have anyone else.
“My mom.” Nate blinks big brown eyes, eyes that spark, wondering if Mina will get the joke.
Low laughter—a purr of approval—slips from Mina’s lips and curls on the seat next to Nate. Mina follows it a second later. “Fine, but if you snore and drool I’m recording it and posting it on Youtube.”
Panic dumps into my blood stream and goes swimming through my veins, tightening my throat, curling my fingers, making my bladder ache even though I used the bathroom just before getting on the bus. The few feet of emptiness in front of me where Mina and Nate had been standing a second ago stretches on for miles.
The girl behind me shoves at my shoulders with her hot breath.
I have to go, find another seat, but I can’t get my feet to move.
“You don’t mind do you, Dani?” Mina’s blue eyes meet mine. They spark too, wondering if I get the message. I do. I’m not nearly as oblivious as she thinks I am. She’s angry that I didn’t give Penny that letter, frustrated by the fact that I’m making her go see the Rockettes for the third year in a row.
This is my punishment.
I shake my head, tongue too thick to form words. Thankfully, my feet begin to move on their own, shuffling down the aisle. I reach the web of senior girl wires and have to focus on stepping up and over, guiding my large feet safely down on the other side. The action calms me. Dance steps, it’s just like choreographed dance steps, a series of organized movements that will take me where I need to go, to the prearranged place on stage. There is no uncertainty, no need to be afraid.
I pretend I’m back in the theater, inhaling the scent of old plaster and aging wood, scuffing my toe shoes through the chalk near the curtain to keep me from slipping on the slick, worn planks of the stage. I move smoothly along in line with the other dancers of the corps de ballet in front of me, each one of us dressed for practice in identical pink tights and black leotards, each one with hair slicked tight into a bun, virtually indistinguishable except for our varying heights.
When I’m a Rockette, even that will fade away. Rockettes all have to be between five six and five ten and a half and are arranged on stage in such a way that the audience barely notices the slight difference. They are costumed alike, make-upped alike, trained and creatively padded so that even their bodies seem identical.
And when they dance, they dance as one entity, in harmony, consuming the attention of every last person in their world while still remaining individually invisible.
Invisible, but seen. Anonymous, but beloved.
Sometimes my dream seems the stupidest thing in the world. Sometimes it is a secret treasure in my pocket.
My hands tremble on the worn leather of the seats on either side of the aisle, my eyes stare at the back window and the red emergency handle underneath. I’ve reached the end of the line.
I turn toward the voice. It belongs to a boy, one I recognize, but not one of Mina’s conquests. Mina only pretends to be bad. In reality she has to be in by eleven, goes to mass every Sunday with her family, and babysits her two little half brothers every Wednesday night so her mom and stepdad can have their “date night.”
She’s never written a letter telling her stepdad she hates the way he says mean things about her biological father, she’s never snuck out of her ground floor window, she’s never talked back to a teacher or turned in her homework a day late or worn her hair down to ballet class.
Her biggest act of defiance is perpetrated with an eyeliner pencil.
Not so with this boy. He is genuinely Bad. He was suspended twice last year, once for punching an assistant coach during La Crosse practice last spring. At the time, everyone was certain he would be expelled for good. He’s a scholarship student. They’re expected to be on their best behavior, grateful for the gift they’ve been given. And even if his family was a top contributor to Madisonville Prep, there’s a strict “no violence” policy. We aren’t allowed to hit each other, let alone a teacher—even if he is just an assistant coach.
But come August, there he was, Jesse Vance, in the flesh, hunched over the extracurricular activities registration table, signing up for the fall after school sports programs. His short black hair stuck straight in the air the way it always had, his bright blue eyes were sharp and watchful, alien in a room full of people who had never considered whether they were predators or prey.
Well…most hadn’t considered it. If I let myself, I could remember. There’s a reason I play the diabetes card to get out of anything resembling a competitive sport in gym class.
Not so with Jesse. He plays every sport known to man and is extraordinary at every one. He’s six feet tall and built like a grown man, strong and solid and terrifying. I’ve seen what his body can do to other boys on the wrestling team, watched the contained violence in the way he wields his La Crosse stick.
We all suspect that athletic promise is the reason he was allowed to stay, though he’s probably dangerous and undoubtedly scary.
Jesse doesn’t have a single friend at Madisonville Prep. He’s the only boy I’ve ever seen who can play with a team, but not seem a part of it. He doesn’t joke or smile with the other boys, he doesn’t date any of the girls. He’s an outsider in every sense of the word. I see him on the town commons at least once a week, but he’s always alone. Not even the rougher, cooler, townie kids will come anywhere near him.
He might as well have yellow caution tape floating around his body.
“Are you okay?”
And he’s asking if I’m okay.
And he knows my name.
His eyes slide to the front of the bus then back to me. “Sit down.” His hand closes around my wrist, completely encircling the bone. I have small bones, but his hands are huge. His fingers and thumb overlap, beginning a second journey around my arm. My diabetic bracelet slips down to brush against his skin, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
Good. I don’t like people to know if I can help it. My diabetes is mild compared to what it was when I was a kid, but still…it’s something I like to keep secret. To ignore. Even as I make a mental note to eat the muffin in my backpack before too much longer, before the insulin shot I gave myself a few minutes ago in the bathroom kicks in, I manage to largely ignore the mental processes associated with diabetes management.
There is no ignoring the fact that Jesse is touching me, however. He’s looking up into my eyes, expecting some sort of answer. Some kind of action.
If someone had told me this was going happen, I would have been terrified. My panic attack after Mina’s dismissal would have faded to a tiny tremor on my radar in comparison to the earthquake of this interaction. A boy is touching me, and not just any boy, but Jesse Vance.
But this crept up on me unaware, this moment of being tugged down into the empty seat next to Jesse. His hand is warm and firm, but strangely gentle. It’s as if he knows how ridiculously hard the solo dance to the back of the bus was for me, as if he understands what it feels like to be breakable.
“It’s the last empty seat.” His tone is dismissive, but his fingers linger on my wrist before pulling away. He crosses his arms and turns toward the window, but his shoulders are so broad that his body still brushes against mine.
The place where we touch has a mini panic attack of its own. The skin beneath my sweater burns hot then cold, the nerve endings shredding and reforming themselves in the wake of this shocking new discovery.
The discovery that maybe separation isn’t as desirable as I’d thought, that maybe, just maybe, the gaps between people are meant to be bridged.