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This is an excerpt from the new novel, due out in November. It is Michael and Mary Beth, two children, and the story of how a violent home affects them differently. This excerpt belongs to Mary Beth. This is the second sneak peak for the book; the first was written from Michael’s voice. Enjoy!

***** ***** ******

Mama’s favorite princess is Belle. I think she likes her because Belle likes books. And because her favorite color is yellow, and so is Mama’s. Belle’s ok. She is pretty. But I don’t like the movie. It scares me. I mean, one minute the beast is awful, a real beast, but the next minute he’s nice. It makes me wonder which one he really is: is he really the nice man or the awful beast? Mama says he’s the nice man and that it takes a special person to see that he’s not a mean beast. But I think maybe he’s nice to Belle because she’s pretty or because he has to make somebody love him before he’ll look like a man again. Maybe his niceness is a trick, an April Fool’s, that he’s playing so she’ll love him and he can go back to being a prince.

Daddy gives Mama kites and flowers. And one time he took me and Michael fishing. I didn’t catch anything but it was fun. He was real funny that day. I was a little nervous about going anywhere with him, because what if I did something to make him mad? But he didn’t get mad all day. Michael was so happy. I can’t remember the last time my brother was so happy. Daddy was like the prince that day. But… But then, when he gets mad, he gets really, really mad. The monster takes over and I get real scared. The monster does bad things, things that make me think Mama’s dying. The monster is like the beast in the story and I can’t ever tell which one’s really real: the beast or the man. I’m scared it’s the beast, the monster, because, if it is, one day he might get super, super angry and something really, really bad might happen to us and nobody could stop it.

My favorite princess is Rapunzel. I’ve got the movie and every time I watch it, I laugh so hard. She is really funny. And I love her hair. For Christmas last year, I got a Rapunzel wig and the hair goes way down, past my bottom! It makes me feel so pretty every time I wear it. And I have her dress, the purple one.

I’m pretending I’m her today. I have on the dress and the wig and I am dancing. The only thing I need is a prince.

“Michael, please, will you be the prince? Just for a little bit?”

Michael is playing stupid Transformers. Again. He ignores me. He thinks playing Princesses is a girl game, and a stupid one. But he’s the one who thinks things like aliens and Darth Vader are real, not me.

“I’ll be your prince, my fair lady,” Daddy’s voice is deep. I am surprised. I turn real fast. Daddy is super tall. And his hair is dark, real dark. He’s got a tan too. He eyes are brown and kind of small. And he has a freckle, a big one, on one side of his nose. It’s kind of cute. All the kids in my class think Daddy is cute.

I can’t believe he’s going to play!

He takes my hands in his and starts dancing across the floor with me. He is whistling too and it makes it real easy to pretend I’m at a royal ball. Daddy bends down real low toward me and hops on one foot, then the other. He is silly. Michael looks up and watches for a minute, then smiles a little. Mama walks out of the kitchen, probably because of me laughing and Daddy’s whistling. She laughs when she sees Rapunzel and the prince dancing. Daddy sees her and holds my hand up high in the air. I twirl around. I like twirling, it is fun.

“Come on, son, you dance with your sister.” Daddy said.

“But–”

“There is nothing wrong with a man dancing with a beautiful princess. Come on, now.”
Michael gets up even though he don’t want to and takes my hand. I don’t care who dances with me as long as I can pretend he’s a prince twirling me around the floor. Daddy goes to Mama, who’s standing by the kitchen door. “You too, my fair queen, let’s dance. The royal princess had a good idea.”

“Oh, I don’t know….” But she really wants to. I can tell. So can Daddy because he just pulls her out into the middle of the floor. He starts whistling again and we all dance. Daddy’s the only one really having fun at first. The rest of us are too scared. He’s a prince right now but he might turn into the monster lighting quick. Pretty soon, Daddy and Mama started dancing so close to me and Michael that they bumped into us! At first, me and Michael just looked at each other but then we started laughing. Then Michael started trying to copy Daddy. They both had their legs out to the side like frogs and were hopping from one to the other. It was so funny. Me and Mama were laughing so hard. My sides were starting to hurt from moving around and laughing so much.

“Hey!” Michael cried. “You stepped on my foot!”

“Oh don’t worry, son, your Mama’s been doing that to me since we started,” Daddy said, then he went back to whistling. Mama rolled her eyes and shook her head. Her arms were around Daddy’s neck now, not in his hands. And her smile was bigger. She was really having fun. When my foot stumbled and I almost fell, I let go of Michael’s hand and sat down on the couch. I just wanted to watch Mama and Daddy.

Michael sat next to me and we smiled at each other. I thought he’d go back to playing Transformers but he didn’t. He liked seeing Mama and Daddy happy too. Daddy’s the one that stopped dancing first. He looked at Mama in her jeans and tee shirt, then at me and Michael. “Have you started dinner yet?” he asked Mama. Her smile faded a little. “I–I was fixing to. I was getting everything ready. It won’t take long.”

“No, don’t start. It’s been too long since you had a break from cooking. How bout we all get dressed up, real nice like, like Mary Beth is, and we go out to eat?”

“Yeah!” Me and Michael both jumped at that idea. Mama shrugged and smiled. “Okay. That would be fun.”

“Let’s get to it. Michael, go get dressed up–fancy like. You too,” he added, nodding at Mama. It was a date. The prince made us all smile. My heart was thumping like crazy in my chest, I was so happy. It was hard to see the monster when the prince was so wonderful.

***** ***** *****

We went to Shoney’s. Mainly cause of their hot fudge cake: we all love it. I didn’t know Daddy liked it too, until today. I don’t really know very much about Daddy. Mama’s favorite color is yellow. I don’t know what Daddy’s favorite color is. Mama’s favorite time of year is Spring because she likes seeing the flowers bloom. Mama’s favorite candy bar is Hershey’s. I don’t know what Daddy’s is. I know Daddy gets home at six and so that is when we eat. I know Daddy thinks about money a lot. I know Daddy hates messes; he gets real mad if there’s a mess in the house. I know he always wears his blue pajama pants and a New York Yankees t shirt at night. I know he likes sports because he has friends over to watch them a lot. I know he drinks coffee in the morning and beer at night. But I know all that cause he lives in the same house I do. I don’t know many things about what he’s really like. But now I know he likes Shoney’s hot fudge cake. It makes me feel grown-up when I learn something new about Daddy.

Me and Michael are real excited to be here. We go back to the salad bar three times, just because it’s fun. I can barely reach the red jello and Michael thinks I’ll spill it. Michael’s being real careful. I think he’s not all the way excited: I think he’s a little bit scared too. To make him feel better, I let him get the jello for me, even though I could have done it myself. We tell Daddy about the art class and how Michael might be able to get on the track team: Mama’s going to talk to the coach. Daddy says no, he’ll talk to the coach. He thinks the coach will listen to him better. I don’t care and neither does Michael, cause Daddy’s letting us do it. That’s all we care about. Pretty soon, me and Michael are so happy that everyone is having a good day that even Michael forgets to be scared. He starts talking more and more. I am talking too. Sometimes we even talk at the same time which is usually not allowed but today it seems ok. Today is a special day,

“Where’s our waiter? We’ve been waiting a long time for our food.” Daddy says, looking around. He doesn’t sound mad, so I keep talking. Mama looks up and around, though.

“I can go find him,” she says but Daddy shakes his head. “No. We shouldn’t have to get up, it’s his job to take care of us.”

“Hey, guess what? I made an A on my math test. The hard one. At first, I didn’t get it, and I was worried about the test but I only missed two out of all the questions on the test,” Michael said. I am impressed. Michael almost never talks about tests and school unless he just has to. It must have been a super hard test.

“Wow, Michael, that’s great,” Mama smiles at him. Daddy is still looking around at the other tables.

“Where is that boy? This is the poorest service I’ve ever seen. I’m out of tea, and she almost is.” He nodded at me. I can hear in his voice that he’s not happy. Michael hears the same thing. He kicks my ankle under the table and looks at me. That’s our code. Whenever he taps or kicks me and looks at me like he is now, it means to be quiet. Mama’s head is bent to look at the table too. She knows. But I think that maybe, if the waiter gets here right now, it will be okay. He’s a prince and the prince doesn’t like getting mad. If the waiter gets here now, Daddy won’t get mad, and it’ll be ok. I look around. There are people sitting in the booth across from us and a family sitting at a table behind Mama. They have two kids too. And both the kids are laughing. We were laughing too, a minute ago. But now we’re not. Now it feels like we’re inside a bubble, a bubble that’s not big enough for all of us. There’s just enough room, and we are all afraid to move. We don’t want to bust the bubble, cause then we wouldn’t be together, others might look at us and know our secrets. So we sit very, very still. I hold my breath and pray that the waiter comes.

“It’s okay,” Mama says. She says that a lot, even though it’s not okay at all.

“How is it okay? We’re being totally ignored by the waiter. Do you think that’s okay? We’re paying money to be waited on, not to sit here just wanting something to drink. He’s not doing his job at all, and I won’t put up with this. Excuse me,” he calls to a passing waitress. She looks at him. “Can you get a manager please?”

“Sure.”

She turns and walks away. Michael picks at his plate of fruit. I don’t even touch mine. We’re not hungry anymore. I bend my head to look at the table. I just want to go home now. I don’t even care about the hot fudge cake. The manager comes and Daddy tells him what’s wrong. We don’t have drinks and haven’t seen our waiter since we sat down. The manager apologizes and says something about a free dessert. He leaves. Daddy asks us why we aren’t eating. I suddenly remember how to eat and start putting jello in my mouth. But I can’t taste it. I wait for things to get better again, but I know it won’t.

***** ***** *****

The monster is back. I can hear him. He’s screaming about a worthless wife. I hear Mama scream. Something shatters, and then a big thud. She fell. I want to get out of bed, I want to go get Michael, he can stop it, but I can’t. My legs are shaking, my teeth are chattering. I’m all curled up in a ball but no one can see me. I pray and ask God to make them stop. The noise is muffled now, I can’t hear it as good anymore. I strain my ears, try to hear. Another scream. I hug Teddy so tight my arms hurt. My heart is racing, I can feel it beating so fast. I wish I could see. I wish I knew if it was as bad as it sounds. I think it is. The monster is so strong. The monster might hurt Mama. When I hear Mama scream “Stop!” so loud I think the other houses hear it, I jump up, pulling Teddy by his ear.

I don’t look down the stairs, I try to be as quiet as I can, but I run down the hallway, past the pictures on the wall, to Michael’s room. He has his light turned on. I think maybe that means he is scared too. What I see when I open his door makes me hate the monster: my brother is sitting on the bed, and he is crying. Tears sting my eyes and I walk over to the bed. Instead of pushing me away, Michael wraps his little arms around me. We don’t say nothing but the hug makes me feel better, because I am not by myself. I love my brother.

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