At fifteen, Amanda Grace was abducted on her way home from school. 738 days later, she escaped. Her 20/20 interview is what everyone remembers–Amanda describing the room where she was kept, the torn poster of TV heartthrob Chase Henry on the wall. It reminded her of home.
To revamp his image, Chase Henry’s publicist comes up with a plan: surprise Amanda Grace with the chance to meet her hero. The meeting is a disaster, but out of mutual desperation, Amanda and Chase strike a deal. What starts as a simple arrangement, though, rapidly becomes more complicated when they realize they need each other in more ways than one.
With charm and heart, Stacey Kade takes readers on a journey of redemption and love in 738 Days. Please enjoy this excerpt.
The closet in my bedroom at home is exactly sixty inches long and twenty-four inches wide. The floor is hardwood. Pine, I think.
It’s not quite long enough for me to stretch out completely, about three inches short, but that’s close enough. If I curl up on my side, I’ll have plenty of room.
“Come on, Amanda,” Mia shouts from downstairs, her voice carrying through my partially open bedroom door. “Let’s go!”
“I’ll be right there.” I will my feet to move, to take me out the door and down the stairs, but I am, for the moment, frozen.
I have good days and bad days. And today is definitely one of the latter. Sample Sundays always are.
The third Sunday of every month, Logan’s Grocery offers free bits of cheese, sausage and burrito on toothpicks, and you’d think they were giving away hundred-dollar bills dipped in gold. The store is always swamped with people filling their carts and their mouths. I do all right during the week, when it’s mostly the same faces over and over again, but Sample Sundays are the living embodiment of chaos. And it shreds the last nerve I have. Strangers everywhere, loud noises, unpredictable movements. That’s pretty much the trifecta of crap that kicks my anxiety into high gear.
But staying home isn’t an option, either. Or, at least, not one I’ll allow myself to consider.
“Amma, stop staring at your closet!” Mia bellows. “It’s fucking weird.”
I grit my teeth. Sometimes having sisters, particularly ones who know you too well, really sucks.
“Mia,” my mom snaps sharply. Then her voice drops to a murmur, and I can’t hear her words but I recognize the pleading tone. I know exactly what she’s saying. The same thing she’s been saying for the last two years.
Give her more time. This is a coping mechanism …
Don’t push … she’s been through so much. There are bound to be issues.
We just need to try to understand …
“I don’t care,” Mia says defiantly at full volume. My younger sister has never lacked in confidence or lung power. She wants to be a singer or an actress or both. She’s been a drama queen since birth; now she’s just looking to go pro. “She’s the one who freaks out if I go without her. It’s her choice.”
I close my eyes. That is—or was—true, unfortunately. One of the side effects of surviving the worst possible thing to happen to you is that you’re left with this new awareness of the world. There’s no control, no true safety; it’s all random chance. Anything can happen at any time, to you, to the people you love. The world is full of sharp edges, just waiting to hurt you, one way or another.
The first day Mia went to work at Logan’s, six months ago, no one told me. I had a panic attack when she didn’t come home, and nothing my parents said could calm me down. It was a terrifying, helpless feeling, all this anxiety washing over me and not being able to stop it. I could understand what they were saying, that Mia was fine, that she would be home soon, but I couldn’t stop the alarm shrieking in the back of my mind or the tiny voice that whispered they once thought I’d be home soon, too.
It’s a little better now, especially since I started working at Logan’s, too, and our schedules mostly overlap. Mr. Logan, the owner, has known my parents forever and hired me without hesitation. It’s the epitome of pity employment, if there is such a thing. Still, being there, however difficult, feels more like a triumph than staying home, worrying and wondering.
“It’s been two years,” Mia complains. “How long do we have to live our lives around—”
“Mia! Can you shut up? I’m trying to study, and you’re upsetting Mom.” That’s Liza, emerging from the den, no doubt with a scowl, and escalating this fight to twelve on a scale of one to ten. Mia and Liza have never gotten along; they are polar opposites. And with me in the middle but preoccupied and unable to keep the peace, it’s only gotten worse.
“Butt out, Liza, no one asked you!” Mia shouts. “Amanda, if you’re not down in ten seconds, I’m leaving without you.”
“Mia, no, you can’t,” my mother pleads. “She worries about you.”
Dr. Knaussen, my current shrink, thinks I lack “closure.” I never saw Jakes taken into custody or even his sheet-wrapped remains. So my brain is still trying to protect me by keeping me afraid for myself and Mia, in particular. She’s the same age I was when I was taken. The logic is not hard to follow, even if it’s frustrating to live with.
That, however, does not explain why this lack of closure has presented itself as an obsession with my freaking closet. Then again, this is the same brain that produced Chase Henry as a “coping mechanism.” I didn’t even like his show when it was on, not after the first season, anyway.
“Mom, Amanda isn’t your only kid!” Mia protests.
“I know it’s difficult, but you might try not being a selfish brat for a day, Mia,” Liza drawls.
“How is this my fault?” Mia demands in an outraged shriek. “I didn’t even do anything! I’m just trying to go to work.”
“Girls, stop, please! Your dad—”
“Isn’t here. Is never here,” Mia said. “Nobody will say it, but it’s true. And it’s because of her.”
A loud crack echoes through the foyer. Liza’s hand across Mia’s face, I’m sure. I can see it as clearly as if I’m standing right there.
The sound and the ensuing yelp of pain sends a jolt through me. That never would have happened before. My family is imploding, and it’s my fault. Two years have gone by, and I’m still stuck, still struggling.
I hurry into the hall outside my room and then start down the stairs. “I’m here. It’s fine. I’m ready—let’s go.” I pat my pocket to make sure my plastic name badge is in there.
The three of them look up at me and freeze in place, as if they forgot I was here and able to hear them. My mom is in the middle, but her arms are tight at her sides, as if she doesn’t know who to reach for, to comfort or reprimand. Liza and Mia are facing off, Liza with her arms folded across her chest and her chin tipped up defiantly and Mia holding her cheek, her mouth still an open circle of surprise and pain.
It strikes me again how incomplete they look—my mom without my dad, my sisters without me. And yet, there’s this sense of weary soldiers in the same battle; they’re in this misery together. They are a unit, somehow, formed in my absence, formed by my absence. And I’m on the other side of the divide, and I can’t reach them, no matter what I do. I guess that makes sense. I was the one taken, but my abduction happened to them.
The argument dies, as if my presence has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. But it still smolders beneath the surface, ready to spring to life again with the faintest breath of encouragement.
“Whatever. I’ll be outside.” Mia, blinking back tears, spins around and pushes out through the screen door.
Liza’s gaze sweeps over me from head to toe, taking in the long-sleeved flannel shirt that hides the scar around my left wrist and the loose-fit yoga pants that hide the rest of me. (So far no one at Logan’s has said anything about my very lax adherence to the dress code. Again, I’m sure Mr. Logan has something to do with that.)
Liza’s mouth pinches in, but she doesn’t say anything. Of course not. She can barely look at me. “Are you okay?” she asks me politely. As if we didn’t once share a bathtub, and, according to disgusting family lore, apparently poop in unison.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I respond automatically. What else am I supposed to say?
Having established this fact, for whatever it’s worth, Liza turns on her heel and returns to the den and her stacks of law school textbooks.
“Are you sure, baby?” my mom asks, wringing her hands. “You don’t have to go. We can work on the next section of trigonometry. Help you catch up a little more.”
“No, it’s okay.” My class graduated a little over a year ago, but I still have another six months of home-school high school ahead of me. I tried to go back, tried to reconnect, but my friends had all moved on, finding new friendships, becoming different people, really. Two years is a long time to be gone in high school. It’s a long time no matter what, I guess.
One more Sunday of extra catch-up work isn’t going to make a difference.
“She’s going to work, Ma, not war. She’ll be back in eight hours,” Mia shouts from the porch. “So will I, if you care.”
“I can drive you,” my mom offers to me hopefully.
Mia gives a disgusted sigh and stomps down the steps and the path to the sidewalk without looking back. Her bright red hair, about ten shades brighter than my auburn and Liza’s hint of highlights, flaps behind her like a warning flag.
“It’s okay, Mom. Mia’s right,” I say. “We’ll be back soon.”
Any fear I might have had about venturing outside slides to the background as I rush out the door to catch up with Mia before she disappears around the hedge. Whatever might be happening just out of sight is always worse than whatever is in front of me.
The sky is a perfect seamless blue, a sharp contrast to the red and yellow leaves on the trees, and the late October sun is warm on my shoulders. Too warm for long sleeves, but I don’t wear anything else these days. It’s the kind of day where it feels impossible that anything bad could happen.
Which means I’m on extra-high alert. That’s why, as soon as I clear the hedge, I notice the battered black car idling, motor loud and thrumming, on the other side of the street a few houses down, facing us.
Is that weird, out of place? I’m not sure. It’s not a car I recognize.
“I don’t need a baby-sitter, Amma,” my sister says to me as soon as I reach her.
Apparently she sees no irony in addressing that statement to me using the nickname she gave me because she couldn’t pronounce my name when she was, in fact, a baby.
“I know. It’s not about that, Mia. It’s me, not you.” Which, by the way, is still the suckiest excuse in the book, even when it has nothing to do with rejection.
I steal another glance at the car. It’s a Mustang, I think. The light off the windshield changes suddenly, the movement of someone inside or a passing reflection? I can’t quite tell with the tinted windows.
My stomach grows tight, and the air feels too hot and thick to breathe. My brain produces a vision of the car roaring across the street and a man with a blurry and unidentifiable face pulling Mia inside, while I stand motionless on the sidewalk, unable to do anything.
I swallow hard, try to clear my mind and slow my breathing. Sometimes I can stave off the panic attacks if I catch them fast enough. It’s like stopping a roller coaster right at the peak of the hill: a second or two too late and there’s nothing to be done but ride it out.
The dumb part is, I’ve had enough therapy to know this isn’t really about a strange car. It’s about everything else, my fear about what might happen at the store, what might happen by just being out in the world. I’m fixating on the car simply because it’s here, a symbol of all the unknowns that I can’t control.
“I snuck out last night,” Mia announces, kicking at the dead leaves littering the sidewalk. “Did you know that?”
The shock of her announcement jerks me out of my impending panic attack, dumping me firmly into the present. “No,” I manage.
“Just a party at Sammy’s, no big deal.” She shrugs.
“Sammy who?” It clicks an instant after I ask. “Sammy Lareau?”
She gives me an odd look. “Yeah, Jude’s brother.”
“But Sammy’s my age,” I say. What I don’t say: Why is he holding parties that high school girls attend? “What’s he still doing here?”
“Throwing good parties?” She makes an impatient noise. “Who cares? The point is, Dad caught me coming back in. He’s sleeping on the family room couch most nights, I guess, if you didn’t know.” She shoots an accusing glance at me.
Stung, I pause for a step. No, I didn’t know that, but that’s because someone would have to actually talk to me for that to happen. And my dad, much like Liza, doesn’t seem to know what to say to me or even how to be in the same room with me for more than a few minutes.
“He woke Mom up. And when they both finished yelling at me for being ‘irresponsible and foolish,’ do you know the first thing Mom said to me?” Mia doesn’t wait for me to try to guess. “‘What if Amanda had woken up and found you gone?’” She gives a bitter laugh. “It’s, like, ‘Do whatever you want, Mia, as long as it doesn’t affect Amanda.’ But everything affects you.”
The pure venom in her words burns like acid. This from my sister. The one who once followed me around everywhere, begging to be included in whatever I was doing because Liza was ignoring her, or pleading with me to play Don’t Break the Ice because Liza had declared it to be babyish.
Like I want it to be this way? I want to shout. Like I would ever choose to be afraid forever? I set my teeth against the urge to grab Mia by the shoulders and shake her.
“It’s not fair, you know?” she continues. “And I can’t even get angry about it without looking like a shitty person. I mean, who gets mad at the girl who was … gone for two years?”
Gone. That’s the polite euphemism everyone seems to prefer. Like I was on vacation or at sleep-away camp or something.
A fresh burst of frustration blooms in my chest, at Mia, my malfunctioning brain, and Jonathon Jakes for continuing to mess up my life even two years after his death.
But I keep my mouth shut. Because Mia’s right. It’s not fair. And if her yelling at me makes her look like a shitty person, then my being angry at the quality (or lack thereof) of my life “after” makes me look like an ungrateful one. I mean, I’m the “Miracle Girl,” according to the newspapers; I survived. The two girls they dug up from Jakes’s backyard were not so lucky.
So I understand a little better than Mia gives me credit for. Not that I can say that. Not that I can say anything to make it better. We are all just … stuck.
Right as we pass the car, it revs up and pulls away from the curb.
I stop, every muscle in my body screaming with tension, my hands and feet tingling, and spots flashing in my vision.
But the vehicle moves past us without hesitation.
After a moment, Mia turns around, realizing that I’m no longer with her. When she sees me, her expression softens with pity, which I hate almost as much as, well, her hatred.
“Just because something bad happened once before doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again, Amma,” she says, taking my arm and tugging me forward gently. She sounds weary and world-wise, older than sixteen. “Past performance is no guarantee of future events, right?” She waves her free hand in a breezy gesture.
I wonder if she knows she’s quoting a stock fund commercial instead of some sage philosopher. That is very Mia. She’s the ultimate mimic with little care for her source material.
But I just nod and take a breath, trying to force my lungs to accept oxygen by sheer force of will. That’s easier than trying to explain, easier than pointing out the flaw in her logic and her false sense of security.
Because what has not yet occurred to Mia—or most people, in fact—is that if that concept is true, the reverse must also be.
In other words, just because yesterday went smoothly doesn’t mean today isn’t going to fly off the fucking rails when you least expect it.
But nobody wants to hear that from the Miracle Girl.
Copyright © 2016 by Stacey Kade