Name: Sarah Cook-Raymond
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Title: The Defenders
Irony: the opposite of what you’d expect—with a twist.
Before today the only irony I knew was being the tallest boy in class but sucking at basketball. But that’s the twist. The day your life changes forever begins like all the others. It’s just the ending that’s changed.
Chapter Two: Before
I turn my boxers inside out, grab a hoodie, the same jeans I wore yesterday, and hurry downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.
“Hey Big Shot,” says Dad, looking up from the Washington Post. There’s a stack of five other papers beside him, all already read.
“Hey,” I echo. I don’t contest the nickname. He’s spent my entire life trying to get it to catch on. No need to stop now.
The coffee pot dings. Dad smiles and stands up from the table. His massive frame is draped in his uniform: dark suit, shiny shoes, crisp shirt. I see a small splash of coffee still in his cup as he goes over for a refill—meaning this is the second pot of the day.
I look over and see Mom leaning against the counter typing away feverishly on her Blackberry, a half-eaten piece of toast balanced between two fingers. “Here,” Dad says, moving across the kitchen and sliding a steaming mug of coffee in her direction. She looks up and their eyes meet. “Thanks,” she says with a crescent smile. She puts the Blackberry down and takes a sip. As she does, her shoulders rise and fall into a relaxed soft sigh.
“Toby!” yells Shelly, bursting into the room. She’s wearing a backpack so full it’s amazing she doesn’t buckle under the weight. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for school.” Shelly’s two years younger than me but you’d never know it.
“Speak for yourself,” I say, grabbing one of the strawberry Pop-Tarts in her outstretched hand. I take a satisfying bite. “I swear if it wasn’t for you, I’d never eat,” I admit.
“I heard that,” says Mom, though she doesn’t contest it. “I have an open house to prep for,” she says, turning to Dad.
“I wanted to take them to school anyway.”
“Fabulous.” She reaches down and throws a purse onto the counter so large it looks like she’s checking luggage. She shuffles papers around. “Ah, here’s the address,” Mom says softly to herself, but still waves the piece of paper in the air for us all to see.
“So you excited about that English test today?” Dad asks.
“Excited? You can’t get excited about a test.”
“Toby,” he pauses. “Life is a test.”
“Alright, alright!” claps Mom. She hoists the purse onto her shoulder and Shelly strides up beside her—her own little mini-me.
“So Big Shot,” Dad says, turning to me. “We still on for tonight?”
Tonight is fantasy football draft night. I’m the defending champ.
“You bet. But be ready, old man!” I say to him, closing the house door behind us. “You’re gonna need some luck.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
There was one word that I couldn’t get right on my English test. One word I swore I knew but couldn’t remember: precipice.
I turn into the driveway and I see it: Mom’s car in the driveway uncharacteristically early. A cool shiver spiders its way up my back. Something’s not right.
Cautiously I tip toe up the steps and place my hand on the door. All the hairs on my body stand on end. “Mom?” I say as I push my way in.
I hear her before I see her.
She’s curled up on the floor, her knees hugged up tightly to her chest. Her clothes tangle up around her. She just looks like a pile of laundry thrown on the floor. A mess of snot and tears stream together down her cheeks, pooling on the floor.
It unnerves me in the same way horror movies do. It’s that sensation where I want to cover my eyes but can’t because something—compulsion or curiosity—stops me.
“Mom?” I ask again. Cautiously I cross the room towards her. I don’t see Shelly walk in but hear the squeak of her sneakers on the freshly-waxed floor as she stops abruptly.
Mom looks up at us from under red-rimmed eyes, her whole demeanor as fragile and breakable as ever. “Your father—” she eventually chokes out but breaks off. All that follows are blubbered incoherent words coupled with bouts of hyperventilation.
And then it comes to me. The two definitions collide: Precipice (n). A cliff or a situation of great peril.
“He’s dead?” I whisper. I only meant to think it. But then she nods…
My knees buckle and I collapse next to her. Shelly does the same. We’re just one big pile of bodies like football players in a heap only no one attempts to move and we don’t have any padding to cushion the blow.