Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here It Is, The Prologue to "Unbreakable" ... Please Read and React :-)

Okay, so I've been doing a lot of soul-searching regarding my finished novel. After taking in what you weighed in on (thank you, thank you, thank you :-)), I've decided to keep it a complete novel and just work on thinning it out. I started rereading it yesterday, and of course I've lost all sense of perspective on the beginning, since I've read through it so many times.

I figured, hey, I'll post the prologue (it's in three parts ... hmm, maybe this is why it's too long) and see what my lovely blog readers have to say. Please (pleasepleaseplease) weigh in :-)
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Excerpt from Unbreakable by Katie Loud
“Outlander!” she said as soon as he picked up the phone.

“Come on, now, Outlander, I was here first,” he said, but his response sounded uncharacteristically half-hearted to one who knew him as well as she did.

“You okay, champ?”

“Yeah. There’s some stuff going down, that’s all.”

“Want to talk about it?”’’

“I’ll call you in a few days. Fill you in then.”

“Okay. If it makes you feel any better, we’re in the midst of a crisis here, too.”

She sensed a grudging smile when he spoke again. “Trouble in paradise?”

“You could say that.”

He paused. “She’s having a baby.”

“And that’s a problem because?”

His voice was stony. “Some bloodlines should die out.”

“Maybe.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I was just thinking about you.”

“Me? Why?”

“Reliving the past, I guess you could say.”

He laughed, but it was void of any joy. This disturbed her; he was most memorable to her for his resolute happiness in the face of disaster. “Reliving the past? I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of that tonight.”

“Be well. I love you.”

He wanted to tell her everything then. If anyone would understand, it would be the voice on the other end of the state-of- the-art cellular phone that wasn’t on the standard consumer market yet, but he couldn’t. He could only echo her own words back. “I love you, too.”


I.
(Susy; Emerson, NH; September, 2006)

I felt revulsion toward my son today.

There have been times in the past that Seth (and, to be fair, his siblings) has upset me … but never anything like this.

Never before have I been unsure I wanted to lay claim to him.

“He’s only twelve,” my husband told me when I called his cell in near-hysterics. “He doesn’t get it.” He let me rant for another minute before interrupting to say that he was calling the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.

Of course, I started laughing. “That isn’t funny.”

“Yeah, I’m getting the impression that you really feel that way,” he said soberly, only making me laugh harder. “Okay, I’m in the middle of a meeting, but I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”

“Is there any way you could pick the kids up from school?”

“Sure, no problem.” He paused for a minute. “Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”

“No, it wouldn’t be to you,” I said, more sharply than I’d intended.

He didn’t say anything for a long second. “You’re not implying …”

“What, that you’d ever refer to a scholarship student as welfare trash? That you’d use the word spic? No, I know you wouldn’t. That’s the thing, we’ve raised a kid willing to bully someone because of their race or socioeconomic status.”

“He’s a good kid, and I’m not making excuses. I’m probably more upset about this than you are.”

“You just keep the histrionics out of it, right?”

I could hear the smile in his voice. “You said it, I didn’t. Seriously, I have to go, Suse. Eddie just came out and tapped his watch for the third time.”

I laughed, picturing our gentle, stereotypical, compulsive accountant. “Okay, I’ll see you in a few hours, then.”

“I love you, Susannah. Things’ll be fine, okay?”

“Okay. Love you.”

I hadn’t been off the phone for five minutes before it rang again. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard my mother-in-law’s voice; I lucked out like you wouldn’t believe in terms of in-laws. “I heard,” she said, knowing there was no need to elaborate. “Here’s what I want you to do. Write a letter to Seth explaining why this was particularly upsetting to you.”

“Write a letter?” I asked dubiously.

“You won’t be able to talk to him without getting worked up.”
I tried it out in my mind. Dear Seth, No matter what my last name is now, I started out as welfare trash. Love, Mommy.

“That’ll be a more useful lesson than the week of detention he got at school.” There was a coldness in her voice that I’d never heard before in relation to her grandchildren. I suddenly realized that she was as furious with my son as I was.

“I’ll think about it,” I hedged.

“Want to drive down to Portsmouth, get some lunch?”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll be writing a letter.”

“Now, don’t worry about what he’ll think. He’ll hear the whole sordid truth at some point regardless.”

After saying goodbye, I went into my office and fired up the computer. I thought for a long moment about the thousands of books I’d read, suddenly realizing that my hysterical reaction to Seth’s harassment of a financially underprivileged Hispanic kid screwed from the start at a school like Stephens Academy served as a prologue of sorts to a much longer story.

II.
(Roy; Boston, MA; September, 2006)

I'm sure that to some people, memories are indeed the proverbial priceless gem that can be brought out to examine and relive with positive connotations.

My memories give me nightmares for a week.

That's not precisely true, of course; some of my memories are wonderful. It's just that most of the good ones gleaned over the course of thirty years occurred after I was fourteen. It’s the years before then, though, that my mind is focusing on now as I sit alone in the study of the Boston penthouse that Addie and I have lived in for the past five years, wishing that I was a drinker. Conventional wisdom states that nothing helps tragedy like alcohol (until the next morning, anyway), but I can’t keep myself from holding true to a promise I made when I was just a kid that I would never drink.

Adelaide is in our bedroom crying. She doesn’t want my comfort; I caused every one of her tears.

It started out as a typical day. The team flew back to Boston early this morning after a two-week road trip. Although the stretch was highly successful (especially when you consider the roller coaster reputation of the Red Sox), we were instructed to report to Fenway for extra batting practice immediately after getting off the plane from Detroit. I was home at six o'clock, toting two suitcases and a dozen red roses for Addie. Because I can't read (a long, complex story unto itself), Ad and I leave "audio notes" on a tape player that sits on the kitchen counter, nestled between the toaster and the can opener and as inherently necessary. Sure enough, there was a fresh tape in it. Arranging the roses in a glass vase, I pressed the play button.

"Hello, my shortstop in shining armor." I smiled at the sound of Adelaide's sweet voice. "I'll be home around seven. Take a look at the newspapers on the counter. Another Gold Glove for Pentinicci?, Pentinicci Leads Sox to Fifth Victory in Six Games, Can Roy Pentinicci Make Those Who Called his Team the Dead Sox Apologize?, Roy Pentinicci Takes the Growl Out of the Tigers. I’m so proud! I'm thinking take-out for dinner tonight. I have a feeling it's going to be one of those days. See you at seven. I'm so glad you're home, Roy, and I have some wonderful news for you. Love you."

I picked up the newspapers on the counter, bemused as always with the media's obsession with me. I was named People's "Sexiest Athlete Alive" last year, an occurrence that tickled Adelaide as much as it embarrassed me. I hadn't wanted celebrity, hadn't asked for it, but somehow or other, it had happened. Addie's brother Christian, my closest friend since we were five years old, jokes that I was born for the spotlight, but we all know it's just teasing. My personality is unquestionably extroverted and I’ve been known to be somewhat vain about my looks (to quote Adelaide, "Roy spends more time in front of the mirror than I do"), but inside, there is someone to whom celebrity is impossible, unattainable, unimportant, insignificant. I stared at the head shot accompanying the article discussing my Gold Glove candidacy; it was unmistakably me, hat askew, go-to-hell grin on my face, but I wondered if anyone could look at that picture, see through the windows of my eyes and glimpse the demons that lurk beyond, the darkness that plagues my nights.

I had forty-five minutes before Adelaide was due home from her thankless yet somehow fulfilling job as a social worker for the city of Boston, so I went upstairs to unpack and shower. After ordering pizza then throwing on jeans and a T-shirt, I put on a Simon and Garfunkel CD and dozed on the couch.

When Addie's keys jingled in the lock, I rose to meet her. "Hey, gorgeous, long time no see," I said softly.

She dropped her briefcase and ran to me. "I missed you so much!"

I was lost in her, the sweet, spicy smell of her tanned, flawless skin against mine, an overwhelming feeling of completeness. I'd known Adelaide since she was three years old, but I don't know when it was that I realized I loved her. Even when I went through the notorious stud phase (the object of which is to see how many notches you can get on your belt), she just waited for me to see what had been in front of my face all along.

"So how’s life in the big city?" I murmured against her hair.

“Amazing for me, heartbreaking to hundreds of kids."

“Why do you do it?”

She smiled, and it erased the exhaustion from her eyes. “Because I love it.”

“Because you love it?”

She countered, “Why do you chase a ball around? Hit it with a stick?”

“Hmm,” I said. “Because I love it.”

“Because you love it?” She hung her keys on the designated hook and dug her cell out of her purse.

“Who you calling?”

“Pizza.” Like me, she had the local delivery place on speed dial.

“Already ordered. It should be here any minute.” When the buzzer rang, I pressed the intercom button and said, “Be right down.”

“I’ll go,” Addie said even as I stepped into my well-worn Nikes. I knew she’d offer, just as I knew she expected me to insist, like the nights we’d be in bed and she’d mention a hankering for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s downstairs in the freezer. She’d say she’d wait until the next commercial if we were watching television, and I’d end up running downstairs to get it.

“I don’t mind,” I said, pulling two twenties out of my pocket. “Be right back.”

“Thanks, sweetie.”

I took the elevator down to the lobby, although usually I walk. There’re an awful lot of flights to run down when someone who gets paid minimum wage is waiting on you. The guy in the red and blue uniform holding the cardboard pizza box was just a kid, but his eyes widened when he saw me.

“Pizza for Jim?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah. Jim. That’ll be twenty-one dollars and eighteen cents.” He pulled out a wad of bills and tried to make change while glancing up at me.

“Has it cooled down at all outside?” I asked. The day had been unseasonably warm and humid.

“Cooled down? Yeah, sure. Sure it has.” He took a deep breath. “Are you Roy Pentinicci?”

“You’re pretty good, man. Most people don’t recognize me without the hat.”

“Wow. Holy shit.” He colored, looking even younger than the sixteen or seventeen that he was. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“No sweat. I spend half my time in a dugout.”

He turned an even deeper shade of red as he held out a pen and a paper menu from the pizza place. It shook like an October leaf from New Hampshire in his hand. “Could I have your autograph?”

“Sure.” Kevin, the building security guard, started to approach, but I waved him off. I signed my initials in straggling, child-like penmanship then handed the menu back to the kid. “Have a great night.”

“Wait, what about your change?”

“Keep it,” I said.

Kevin keyed the elevator open for me. “Recognized by the pizza guy?”

I smiled. “The world is full of all types, my friend.”

“That’s for sure. Heard you swept the Tigers.”

“Yup. It was a good trip.” The elevator arrived, and I stepped on. “Have a great night, Kevin.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pentinicci. You too.”

When I returned, I saw that Addie had set the table. “I come in pizza,” I said, an old line.

She smiled anyway. “Good, I’m starving. What took you so long?”

“The pizza guy wanted an autograph.”

“And you aren’t even wearing your uniform.”

Addie is not one of those anorexic must-fit-into-my-size-six-jeans-so-no-dessert-for-me types, but she’s a slow, almost methodical eater. They always try to clear her plate before she’s finished eating at a restaurant. I watched her scarf two pieces of pizza and reach for another slice with amusement. “Do you have a tapeworm or something?”

“Or something.” Her eyes sparkled with happiness and, underneath, uncharacteristic unease. "That’s my news, sweetheart. I'm pregnant."

My father had died more than ten years earlier, but I could feel him rising up in me. I clenched my fists, fighting for control, not comprehending what Adelaide had said although I’d heard it loud and clear. "What?" I said in a voice that was deeper than mine, a decibel that seemed to come from the past, a rumble that haunted my dreams.

"I thought you'd be happy," she whispered, although I saw in her eyes that she was lying.

"We've talked about this a hundred fucking times!" I struggled to keep from yelling at her, to keep my anger in check. You're not like him, Roy, you're not like him.

"Don't swear at me."

"Fuck! Shit!” I yelled, embarrassingly aware of my immaturity. “I don't want a goddamned kid, Addie! You know that. We agreed to it when we got married!"

"You agreed to it when we got married," she said quietly.

I sat up, moving away from her. "Shit," I whispered, running a hand through my hair, a nervous gesture left over from childhood. "Oh, shit."

"You love kids. Susy and Christian's kids ..."

"It's not the same thing, and you know it."

"Why the hell not?"

"Who's swearing now?" It was juvenile, but I couldn't help it. If acting like an immature idiot would keep me from raising my fists to her, I would pick my nose, scratch my balls, and walk backwards through downtown Boston.

"Why does it have to be like this?"

I studied my hands, trying to choke the past down into the depths of my soul even as part of me knew that only vomiting it up would allow it to leave my system forever. There was a bruise that spread in an interesting array of greens and blues across the knuckles of my left hand. I’d acquired the bruise fielding a grounder in the last game of the road trip; it was fading, but I fixated on it now the way a drowning man would a life preserver. "Doesn't matter," I muttered, aware that I sounded like a petulant preschooler.

"Tell me why. Please."

"You know why." Oh, but she didn’t. She never would have married me if she had any clue what I really was.

"Roy?"

"What?"

“A lot of people overcome bad childhoods. A lot of people. It's not fair to either one of us that your childhood limits things. Isn’t it about time you move beyond it?"

"You don't understand," I mumbled.

"I would if you'd tell me."

"Not to change the subject or anything," I began, effectively doing just that. I had to; thoughts of a girl named Angie Cantor who would now be around fifteen were flooding my head. Angie, who looked at the world through my eyes and would never have to stress about getting a suntan because of her naturally olive skin. "But how the hell did this happen?"

"I stopped taking the pill," she whispered.

A pulse throbbed in my head. "What?" I roared. And the litany You're not like him played over and over in my mind.

I saw fear in Adelaide's eyes, an azure gaze of terror, and I was sick. Sick. I stood up and almost ran into my study while Addie went to our bedroom alone.

And so here I sit, faced with a past that I have buried deep enough to function in life, but not deep enough to forget. I don't think it could ever be buried that deep. Addie can talk about getting over a bad childhood, but she doesn't get it. How could she? that voice inside my head whispered. You’ve shared very little of yourself with her, when you get right down to it. Her parents, who pretty much raised me from the time I was in first grade, would understand, I think, and I know that Christian would, but they are my wife’s family first, and that complicates things too much.

I haven't forgotten, can never forget, but I'm sure that there are details that have mercifully fogged over in the passage of time, and do I really want to remember them? Am I prepared to face my own voice cracking with preadolescence, the words of a boy trapped in a situation he can't get out of? Do I want to return to hell? Although I got out, the feelings of loneliness and isolation that nobody even guessed about never really left. And of course there were the years of wondering where Gina was, if she was alive and safe and okay.

It kills me to think of Gina, even after all this time. And sometimes, even though I know it’s impossible, I think that maybe she’s still out there somewhere. When I go to put flowers on the headstone, I pretend that the casket is empty, or maybe that it isn't really my sister underneath all the dirt. I know it’s undoubtedly her body in the high-priced mahogany coffin this time; I watched her die, held her lifeless body and cried, but part of me always hopes.

Wallowing in the past was old hat, but what about my present life with
Addie? I gave when I could, did the dishes, went grocery shopping, discussed her work and my own with her, but it hit me with sudden clarity that I’d never really made a conscious effort to do a whole lot for her beyond showing up at her request to meet with troubled kids that needed motivation that might or might not come in the form of a real live baseball star. If she wanted to have a baby, she should have been able to discuss it with me. How many times, I wondered guiltily, had she tried to broach the subject?

I could even understand why she might think that my attitude about having children had changed. I absolutely adore my nephews and nieces; in fact, Seth, Amanda, Aaron, and Lucy had stayed with us for a week in Februay while Christian and Susy went to Aruba, and it was one of the best times of my life. They were enchanted with Boston, and I loved being able to show them the sights, loved hearing I love you, Uncle Roy every night as I tucked them in and kissed them good night.

I know that Addie would be a wonderful mother, and I hate to deprive her of that, but I can't be a strong support to her the way that Christian is to Susannah. He’s frequently away on business, of course, but the first thing he does when he gets home, no matter how tired or jet-lagged or cranky he might be, is to take the kids out of the house and let Susy have a few hours to herself. In addition to the horrors of the past, I’m too selfish to be a father. The status quo of my life works for me, and I don't want to rock the boat, don't want to upset the applecart.

I stood up, hating the way that my hands were shaking. I was a man now, a major league ball player, for Christ's sake, not the scared, helpless, isolated fourteen-year-old who only lived in my nightmares. Angie was in California with parents that loved her. She is okay, she’s (WHERE IS ERICA SCOTT NOW?) okay (STOPITSTOPITIWON’T THINKABOUTTHATNOTMYFAULT), probably surfing. Wondering why it was easier to think of Angie than that other (notmyfaultshedidn’ttellmeididn’tknow), I walked to the stairs, knowing that hesitation would cause a solid crack to exist in my marriage.

Addie’s eyes were red and swollen from crying. "Ad?" I ventured. "Sweetheart?"

She fixed me with an angry glare and choked out, "What?"

"I'm sorry. That sounds lame, but I don't know what else to say."

"It's not enough, Roy."

"I know. I, um, I want you to understand."

She sat up and looked at me. "You're going to tell me? About your parents and Gina and Mikey?"

I swallowed hard. "I should have told you a long time ago."

She looked at me, her eyes becoming gentle. "What about the baby?"

"I'll get used to it, I guess."

"Will you ever be happy about it?"

I smiled, although I was dying inside. "Probably. Now, hakuna mattata, okay?"

She nodded, and I sat next to her and put a hand on her stomach. Still washboard flat ... a baby. My baby. Oh, fuck.

"Roy ..."

"You wanted to know, Addie. And I need for you to understand why this baby thing is so hard for me."

And then I started talking.