I have edited this based on previous suggestions, so I'm wondering if it reads more quickly. I've also taken the liberty of pasting ten pages, because that seems to be what most of the agents I've sent to are requesting. I'd love feedback on all ten, but completely understand if you only want to go through half of it! Thanks in advance!
Basic premise: Two months after a failed suicide attempt, seventeen-year-old Ellie Reid is home from the hospital and tring to deal with the aftermath.
I always had this feeling that I was switched at birth. That there was this big cosmic mix-up, and I ended up here, an alien on Earth, while somewhere at the other end of the universe was another girl, a human girl, who was as lost and alone as I was.
Not being human would explain everything—the things that only I could see; the voices only I could hear. The black squiggles that burrowed into my brain like worms, leaving me exposed and vulnerable. The times where everything was so heavy, and moving was like trying to walk through sludge, and I was stupid and ugly. The other times, when I felt lighter than air, as if I could fly, and the world opened up before me, completely clear, and I could see everything, do anything.
It would explain why everything was so uncomfortable—too hot, too cold, too loud, too many people—as if I’d been born without skin. Why sometimes all I was
was skin, and it hurt like I’d been burnt and my chest was so tight I could barely breathe and I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep. Why I felt like I belonged nowhere.
Most of all, if I were an alien, it would explain why I so desperately wanted to leave.
They’re arguing about something stupid—which way to go home, or something like that. Dad says take the 10, but Mom says there’s too much traffic, so she’ll take Western and then the back streets. Mom’s driving—Mom always drives—so we go her way. I’m in the back, in my usual place, behind the driver’s seat. Behind Mom. Max always sits behind Dad, but he’s not with us this afternoon.
The sun is low in the sky to the west and angled behind us. It comes through the trees in one flash after another and hits me right above my left eye. If it were a noise it would sound like a stick being dragged along a fence.
I’m feeling a little sick, and the saliva in my mouth is thickening. I hate sitting in the back seat. I lean my head against the window, feeling the cool glass against my skin. My head is pounding. I want to open the window, feel the frigid December air blow away the nausea. But Mom has the window lock on.
“Can you turn down the heat?” I say.
No one hears me. Or maybe they’re just ignoring me.
“Mom!” I say.
She looks at me in the rear view mirror. “What honey?”
“Can you turn down the heat? I feel sick.”
“Sure honey,” she says, and Dad fumbles with the temperature controls.
Normally it wouldn’t have been that easy. Normally there would be a speech about how she’s sorry I’m hot, but she’s the driver, and she’s cold, and she needs to be comfortable in order to drive. Not today though. Today I guess I get what I want.
She keeps glancing at me in the rear view mirror. I close my eyes so I don’t have to see her. A little while later, when I open them again, the sun has gone lower in the sky, and the light isn’t flashing in my face anymore.
“Are you hungry Eleanor?” Mom asks.
“No,” I say, leaning my head back and staring out the window. I’m still nauseated. I’m always nauseated, whether I’m in a car or not. Nauseated, and fuzzy in my head.
“I thought we could pick up some Chinese on the way home,” she says.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Or Indian, if you want. Or there’s that new Thai place.”
“I just said I wasn’t hungry,” I say. “Why ask me if you’re just going to ignore what I say?”
I know she wants to say something, tell me not to be disrespectful, to watch my tone. Tone is a big thing with Mom. I don’t like your tone
, she’ll say. Watch your tone. If you don’t change your tone you won’t be going anywhere
. But I see Dad put a hand on her arm to stop her, and in the rear view mirror, I see her mouth clamp tightly shut, her lips purse together, and her forehead crinkle. I feel a surge of blackness at Dad. I want her to yell at me. It would be better than all the eggshells we’re trying not to break.
I know the drive only takes a little more than an hour, but it feels like decades later when we finally turn into our driveway. There are no colored lights on at our house, even though they should have been up by now. They should have been up the weekend after Thanksgiving along with the other Christmas decorations. But I don’t see the tree in the front window, either. Maybe I wasn’t the only thing that got stuck in a grove when I left. Maybe they all did, too, and time forgot to pass at our house, so it’s still only the end of October.
We pull into the garage, and mom turns off the engine. I don’t like the sudden absence of vibration. It makes me feel colder, emptier, and when I step out of the car, my legs feel shorter and walking feels wrong, like it will take forever to get from here to the kitchen.
Max is there, right inside the door, leaning against the wall. He’s fourteen and a few months, almost three years younger than I am. He looks like Mom, sandy blond hair and blue eyes. I’ve always been envious. Mousy brown hair and brown eyes—that’s who I am. Plain. Not even like Dad, whose eyes are brown, but light, with flecks of gold and green.
“Hey Max,” I say.
“Hey Ellie.” He doesn’t know where to look, so he looks at his feet, and I feel bad for him. It’s not his fault his sister is crazy.
Dad ruffles Max’s hair, and Mom squeezes him and kisses his forehead. He pulls away a little and protests. “Mom.” He’s too old for that kind of thing, but she doesn’t see it. She just laughs.
“Did you get dinner?” Max asks.
“We’re going to order something now,” Dad says. “Any requests?”
“Pizza,” Max says. “I’ll call.”
He goes to the hall phone and dials, and I’m left alone with my parents and an awkward silence.
“Well,” Dad says and holds up my suitcase, “I’ll put this in your room.”
Instead, I take it from him. “It’s okay, I’ll do it.” I just want to escape. I’ve lived with them in this house for seventeen years, so why do I feel so uncomfortable? It’s like I’m a stranger. I don’t want them to look at me the way they’re looking at me. Like I’m broken and I’ve only been stuck back together with Elmer’s glue.
“We’ll call you when the pizza gets here,” Mom says.
“Actually, Mom, I’m really tired. I think I’m just going to go to bed.”
Mom hesitates. I see a slight tightening around her eyes, and I know she wants to say that we’re a family and families eat together. As if that will restore order. But Dad intercedes again. “Sure, tiger, we understand.”
Mom nods. I don’t feel irritation with Dad this time. I just feel grateful.
My room is…my room. It’s all the same. A lot tidier than usual, but the same, nevertheless. At least that’s how it looks. Underneath, nothing is the same. It’s hollow, empty, like something or someone is missing. Like it doesn’t really belong to me. Like I’ve stepped into it, but I’m not really there, or that I’m a fraction of a second behind or ahead of the world so I don’t really exist in the present.
In the bathroom, I open the medicine cabinet. Almost everything is still there—make-up, hair supplies, brush. But there are no pills of any kind, not even vitamins. Not that it’s surprising. It’s the same when I look for my razor. It’s not in the shower, and there are none under the sink. Nothing sharp at all, as a matter of fact. Not even eyebrow scissors. Like somehow I might, what, plunge them into my carotid artery?
That’s the first thing I need to do. Buy a razor. At Hedrick they wouldn’t let you shave unless someone was in there watching you, and after two months, I’m pretty hairy. There was no way I was going to do that in front of Anne, or even any of the other nurses. Well, except maybe Mike. I try to smile at this little joke, but I can’t find the strength.
In the shower I move like mud. I really am tired. It wasn’t just an excuse to get away. I’m always tired, like I’m always nauseated, like I’m always partly in the tunnel in my head that makes everything fuzzy, where I’m feeling the world through water, and it’s hard to see and move and hear and think. It’s because of the pills they make me swallow day after day after day.
When I’m finished, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror. I stare at myself, trying to figure out if that’s really me. Trying to match the face I see with who I am inside. But somehow I can’t connect myself with the image in the mirror. And the longer I stare, the less real I become. It’s kind of like when you say a word over and over again until it loses its meaning. That’s how I feel when I look at myself.
I’m alone here, without even my reflection. It’s just me and the ghosts.
BeforeI am completely spent. Nothing left. No tears, no anger, no feeling. Just a dull self-loathing, and the Chorus that tells me I’m stupid, I’m ugly, I’m worthless. I want to shut them up; I want to lash out and hurt them. But I can’t because I’m so tired.
I’m lying on the floor of the bathroom, my bathroom, which you can’t get to except through my room. I’m lucky, because I’m the girl, so this room is mine. Max’s bathroom is across the hall from his room. It’s too open, too close to everything. I would feel as if there were no privacy.
My head hurts. I roll the bottle of ibuprofen around on the floor, listening to the fall of the tablets against each other. Mom buys them from Costco so there are like a billion pills that come in each container, and this one is nearly full. But they’re useless. Not even a billion pills could take away the pain in my head.
I pull into the school parking lot. It’s early still, forty-five minutes before school starts, so I get a parking place right up front. I don’t want to be here today. I don’t want to be here any day. I haven’t talked to anyone since I left. Except for Danielle, a little bit after I was transferred to Hedrick. She called my parents a lot, too. She told me everyone was really worried about me. But no one else called me.
For a moment, I hope no one will remember me. I wish I could start new. Completely anonymous, with no one who’s known me forever. With no one to remember what I’m like, how I’ve been. With a new haircut, new wardrobe, new personality. Maybe then I could actually become that person, different than I am now, pretty, smart, interesting. Happy.
As I walk up from the parking lot and past the quad, something sweeps over me and takes my breath away. I gasp a little and have to stop. Ghosts. Like I just walked through myself where I was one time in the past. Standing with Aaron in the rain, both of us completely soaked and laughing our heads off.
In the mornings, my friends always sit on the low benches outside the library, across from the history classrooms. I see Zach first. His head at least. I can tell it’s him because he’s got the whitest blond hair I’ve ever seen. His eyes are a really, really light blue with almost a purplish tint. Azure, Mom says. I’ve always thought he was really cute, but I met him at the same time I met Aaron, and no one was as cute as Aaron.
I move a little closer and see the rest of the group. My group. My friends, including Danielle and Tayler, whom I have been friends with almost since we were born. They are sitting there just as always, like nothing has changed, like nothing is any different. And really, nothing has changed. Just me, I guess. At first they don’t notice me, lost in the randomness of their conversations. I imagine what they are saying.
Danielle: “Todd called me at ten o’clock last night. And my mom answered my phone.”
Tayler: “Oh my god. Was she pissed?”
Brad: “Does anyone have Lindbergh for differential equations?”
Caroline: “I do.”
Brad: “Did you finish the homework?”
Zach: “Don’t let him copy it, Caroline.”
Brad: “Shut up, Zach. That’s not why I was asking.”
My heart is beating hard. Part of me wants to run back to my car, because what if they think I’m a total freak for doing what I did, and they look down on me for it, and they’re annoyed that I’m back? But another part of me wants to see them all and thinks, hopes, they will be sympathetic and caring and will be there for me. Maybe if they see all the pain they’ll wrap me with their warmth and their friendship and it will be easy coming back, easy falling back into life.
I take a deep breath, clear my throat, and walk right up to them. “Hey guys,” I say.
It all happens kind of at once. They look at me or turn around, kind of like a double take, and then it’s all, “Oh my God, Ellie, where have you been?” and “How are you?” and “We’ve missed you so much.” And they’re hugging me and talking all at the same time, and it’s like I hoped, and it feels really good.
Then I see Aaron. He’s standing up, with his mouth slightly open and one arm slightly forward, like he’s frozen in a moment of trying to say something, and there’s a little crease between his eyes. He looks even paler than usual. I look away quickly, but not before I see Brooke, who is still sitting on the bench next to him, looking at me with a weird expression on her face. Like she wants to frown, but can’t because of her concern.
The first bell rings. I didn’t realize how long I had been sitting in my car, trying to get up the courage to see everyone. How late it had gotten. But I’m beyond relieved, because I can leave. I can’t deal with Aaron and Brooke. Not now. Not on the morning of my first day back. Maybe not ever.
Everyone gathers up their stuff. I have English first period with Danielle. She loops her arm through mine and pulls me away while the others shout their goodbyes and their see-you-at-lunches. Once we’re alone, she stops. “I tried to call you so many times,” she says.
“I know. I’m sorry. I wasn’t really allowed phone calls.” And I just wasn’t up to talking to anyone.
“Yeah, that’s what your mom said. When did you get home?”
“Right before Christmas.” I see her face fall a little, and I know she wonders why I didn’t call her. “We went to my grandparents’ on Christmas day and stayed until yesterday. My parents didn’t want me to talk to anyone but the family. They thought I should just take some time to settle back in.” I roll my eyes. “You know how my mom gets.”
“That’s cool,” she says, but I know she doesn’t think it is, that she’s just saying that because there’s nothing else she can say. There is an edge to her voice, and I glance over at her. She’s watching me strangely, as if she doesn’t quite recognize me. She probably doesn’t. I barely recognize myself. The look passes, and her face falls a little.
“Why didn’t you say anything,” she asks, and I hear the hurt in her voice. “Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”
How do I tell her that I did tell her what was going on, that she just hadn’t been listening. “I just... I don’t know.”
“Don’t ever do that to me again,” she says, and there are tears in her voice.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, and I can feel the tears in my own voice.
She throws her arms around me then, and we clutch at each other. “I was so worried,” she whispers.
“Sorry,” I say again, because what else can I say?
“Are you okay now?”
“Yes,” I say. Except I’m not. It’s been a while since I’ve been okay.
BeforeI haven’t been out in a long time. I just haven’t felt like it. I’ve been tired and feeling stupid and exposed and more like an alien than usual. But tonight is the first dance of the new year, and my friends have insisted. Danielle came over an hour ago and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m happy she did. It feels good to dress up and put on makeup.
We stand together, looking at ourselves in the full-length floor mirror in the corner of my room. She’s about four inches taller than I am, and standing next to me she looks huge. Not cute like me. And for once I’m glad I look like me and not her, even though she has blond hair and blue eyes, and mine are both brown.
“Gorgeous,” she says, looking me up and down. And I have to agree with her.
Danielle is driving and we pick up Tayler, Brooke, and Caroline. They squeal, happy to see me, and they all hug me tightly. I feel a surge of affection for all of them. My friends. I’ve known Tayler and Danielle the longest. Brooke and Caroline went to our middle school, but we really didn’t become good friends with them until last year when we were all sophomores. But now we’re all really tight, and I am so happy that I have them. The affection surges again.
We are all talking really loudly and excitedly and over each other, about who is going to be there, and whom they want to dance with, and what girls are skanky, and which guys are jerks, and who just broke up with whom, and who just started going out. I just lean my head back against the seat and let it pour over me, letting the words seep through my pores until I’m as excited and giggly as they are.
Then we are there, at the school. Dances are held in the theater, where plays and concerts are also held. It’s not like a regular theater, with seats that are in rows that go upward from the stage. Actually, there are no attached seats. The stage is on one end, and there’s like this big, square, sunken place in the middle, two steps down, kind of like a smaller version of the quad.
When we come in they are playing one of my favorite songs. It’s a perfect start to the evening, and I feel electricity all through my body, making me want to laugh and yell and dance.