Authors: Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong
To Smart Chicks everywhere,
we’re grateful that the future is in the hands of so many
strong, clever, and wise girls and women.
ost anthologies start with a theme. This one was a little different: it began with a tour.
Having done a few joint events, we decided that it would be fun to set up a multiauthor, multicity, author-organized tour. Touring is great, but touring with others is even better, both for us and for the readers. So with that in mind, we started talking to authors whose books we liked—books we thought our readers would like too. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that we didn’t get very far down our wish list before the tour was full.
Nineteen authors visited twelve cities on the Smart Chicks Kick It tour. That sounds huge, but it still means we missed a lot of places and a lot of readers. We wondered how we could bring some of that tour experience to readers we couldn’t meet. The solution? An anthology. We’d invite the authors from the tour to contribute a story—schedules permitting. As the 2010 tour got under way and we began inviting authors for 2011, we added two of them to the collection, as a sneak peek at Smart Chicks 2011.
Like the tour itself, the anthology needed a focus. We decided on journeys, trips—including diversions—in keeping with the tour idea. In some stories, the characters embark on actual road trips, getting from point A to point B. But there are other kinds of journeys, and you’ll read those here too, as our characters find their paths and discover things about themselves and their places in the world. We hope you’ll enjoy taking these trips as much as we are enjoying being on the road together.
From somewhere out here,
Kelley & Melissa
efore I was awake or aware, before my heart began to beat, Cairo was there. We curled around each other in the womb, so much so that the doctors had to pry our limbs apart to deliver us. Until we were four years old, neither of us spoke; we each understood the other without words, and nobody else was as important. There were Mom and Dad, of course, but they always recognized our bond.
He served as my one constant in a life led on four different continents (to date), where instead of schools and suburbs (until a year ago), we’d been taught by various tutors, sometimes Mom’s grad students, the different cities and cultures we lived in, or occasionally just books and our own curiosity. Last year, Mom took a visiting professorship at Georgetown, and for the first time in our lives, we were plunged into a “normal American high school”—the biggest culture shock of all. I adapted well enough; Cairo found it harder. We weren’t like other kids, something he reveled in and I tried to hide. But even as I made new friends and Cairo withdrew into the background, the bond between us never wavered. We were two parts of one whole. Inseparable, forever.
Maybe that was why I tried too hard to hide from the fact that Cairo was . . . changing. Why I denied this new truth until it was beyond denying. Until our first trip to Rome.
“Okay, so, seriously, I don’t get it.” My friend Audrey painted her toenails baby-pink by the gleam of her iPod’s flashlight app, so the chaperones wouldn’t see we were violating the lights-out rule. “Toilets come with seats. Always. So why does every single freakin’ restaurant and museum in Italy have toilets without seats? Do they, like, remove them just to be evil?”
Although the no-toilet-seats thing in Italy was annoying, I’d seen worse. My brother would’ve told Audrey so, explaining that we’d been to archaeological digs in Egypt and Syria where the only bathroom facilities were holes in the ground, and how different cultures look on different things as necessities or luxuries. I just said, “I know. It’s disgusting.”
And the truth was, Rome was kind of a disappointment.
Of all the places we’d lived and traveled, Cairo and I had never made it to Rome before. Strange, considering that Mom and Dad were archaeologists who specialized in the history of the ancient Roman Empire. But their work never took them, nor us, anywhere in Italy. Mom’s research concentrated on Roman settlements in the Middle East, and Dad long ago gave up digging in favor of writing books. He was as serious about history as Mom, but his books still became bestsellers thanks to their flashy titles (like his latest,
Cleopatra: Eternal Temptress
). So we grew up hearing about how glorious Rome was back in the day. When the school announced the summer trip for Rome, we both wanted to go, and our parents were thrilled we’d finally get to see the city.
But once we arrived, I realized that I knew too much to enjoy this the way my new friends did. The Forum would have been glorious 2,000 years ago; what I saw when we finally visited it was a ruin not unlike ones I’d seen my whole life. Tour guides acted like the Colosseum was just the world’s oldest sports stadium, instead of a place where thousands upon thousands of people and animals were slaughtered. Even the pizza wasn’t as good as it was at Vincenza’s in Falls Church. Instead of having some magnificent, enriching experience, I spent my days wondering which was hotter—Rome in July, or the surface of the sun.
A knock on the hotel room door startled us both. Audrey slid her iPod under the sheets. Mrs. Weaver called, “Ravenna? Are you awake?”
“Just a second.” I threw off the sheet to get out of bed while Audrey tucked herself in and tried to look like she was sleeping. Despite the darkness of the room, I could see her mouth the words
What did you do?
, I mouthed back, as though I had no idea what was going on.
But I did. I knew. With my brother, I always knew.
I cracked open the door to find Mrs. Weaver standing there in a pink plaid bathrobe she couldn’t have wanted any of us to see. I said, “Is Cairo okay?”
She blinked, maybe in surprise that she didn’t have to tell me what was going on. But she didn’t ask any stupid questions. “He seems to have had . . . a nightmare or an upset of some sort. We’ve tried to calm him down, but—”
“He’ll be okay. Just let me talk to him.”
Mrs. Weaver led me down the long corridor of the hotel. Behind various doors, I could hear giggling or talking, everyone else breaking curfew to gossip or make out. As we reached the end of the hall, I saw Cairo’s roommate, Jon, a jock assigned to room with him at random. I used to think Jon was beautiful with his carved muscles and white-blond hair—until I got to know him.
As I reached the door, Jon muttered, “Shut that freak up, will you?”
“Go screw yourself.” Nobody got to call my brother a freak but me. Before Mrs. Weaver could scold us for that exchange, I went inside.
This hotel room looked just like mine, except that it had been trashed. The covers were crumpled in one corner, the sheets in another, and the mattress had been flung up against one wall. Curled next to it, shaking, hands over his ears, drenched in sweat, was Cairo.
“It never stops,” he whispered without looking up. My brother always knew it was me. “I can’t sleep and I can’t think. It never, ever stops.”
“Shhhhh.” I sat next to him, careful to keep us from touching. My presence soothed him, though, just as his presence did for me. Maybe it reminded us of the time before our memories began, when we knew nothing of the world but each other.
We looked like negatives of each other: both thin to the point of being bony, with big, dark eyes and too much blue-black hair to control, but me with Dad’s pasty Irish complexion and Cairo with Mom’s deep Indian skin tone. The two of us shared accents nobody could ever place, fluency in five languages, a sense of belonging everywhere and yet nowhere, and our ridiculous names (Cairo’s for the place Mom and Dad met, mine for the city where they spent their honeymoon).
I always thought we would share everything. Then, a few months ago, these . . . episodes . . . began.
The signs were subtle, at first: Cairo would go very still and quiet, and his normally deep concentration would shatter to distraction. Nobody besides me could even tell something was really wrong, and even I was unsure exactly how to react. But slowly the episodes became longer. More intense. He would bolt from wherever we were, whatever we were doing, to isolate himself. His skin became sweaty and cool. Despite the lack of any rational explanation for it, he acted like a guy in severe pain.
Between episodes, it was like nothing had ever happened. Which was maybe why he never talked about it, and why I never made him talk about it.
We hid it from Mom and Dad, always tacitly, never admitting even to each other what was going on. The first time, at school, we claimed Cairo’s behavior was a reaction to some medication. The next few times at school he was able to cover by hiding in the guys’ bathroom and accepting the tardies. The only time it happened at home, Dad was at the store and Mom was puttering around in the yard—I got him calmed down before either of them came back inside.
I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t like the fact that there was anything about Cairo I couldn’t understand. Or anything that he didn’t want to share with me.
That night, as we huddled together in his wreck of a hotel room, I decided to finally press for answers.
“What’s going on with you?” No answer at first. “When you—when you get like this, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me what you do know. What you feel.”
He rocked back and forth, trying to calm himself. “I feel . . . what everyone else feels.”
Cairo breathed out raggedly. “Audrey’s scared Michael has a crush on you. He doesn’t, but she ought to be worried, because Michael isn’t really into her. He’s just into her feet. Only the feet. He thinks about her doing things with her foot that I’m not sure are actually physically possible.”
I tried not to picture exactly what Michael would want Audrey to do with her feet. “How do you know this?”
“I just know. Just like I know Mrs. Weaver kind of has a thing for Jon—”
“Ew.” Mrs. Weaver was at least forty.
“She’d never do anything about it, but she fantasizes about Jon constantly. Tegan’s afraid her parents are splitting up. Marvin’s afraid he’s gay, which he is. Lindsey hates herself— everything about herself. She goes through her whole body over and over, hair to bones to skin, and hates each part of it in turn.”
I didn’t understand why he was inventing stories about all of our friends, which was weird enough without it having this strange effect on him. All I understood was that I wanted to shake him to snap him out of it. Yet I knew, without being told, that any contact would feel like broken glass to him now—nothing but pain. “You don’t know these things. You’re imagining this weird stuff about people, and it’s—messing with your mind. We’ve never spent a lot of time around kids our own age, and maybe it’s just getting to you. It gets to me sometimes.”
like this, I thought but didn’t say. “After this trip, we’ll have some time to ourselves. We’ll go hiking. Make some music. You won’t be surrounded by people anymore.”
“It’s worse when I’m surrounded by them, but—it’s getting stronger. This new . . . ability.” His dark eyes found mine, and in the dim light from the city beyond our window, I could see the glimmer of unshed tears. “Ravenna, I know you don’t understand. I know because I know what you’re thinking. What everyone’s thinking. I can . . . I can read minds.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t move.
He said, “You think I’m going insane, don’t you?”
I hadn’t—until he said that. His eyes were so intense, his belief in his . . . “psychic power” or whatever so absolute. I’d been worried before, but that worry kindled within me, blazing into fear.
Cairo had always been my other half. The second part of my soul.
If he was going crazy, I was being cut in two.
Terror made me angry, made me stupid. I pushed myself up to my feet, hands balled in fists by my side. “Stop it. Just stop it. You’re not even trying to get a handle on yourself. You’re making yourself crazy and you don’t care what it does to you or to me. So spare me the guilt trip, okay? Get the hell over it and start acting like my brother again.”
The look on Cairo’s face—the total sense of betrayal there—I couldn’t stand it. I ran out the door of his room and back toward my own. As I ran past, Jon whispered, “Freak,” again, but I pretended I didn’t hear.
“I wish your brother wasn’t such a weirdo,” Audrey said the next day. We stood, with the rest of our school group, in the gardens in front of the Catacombs of Saint Cecilia. Though it was still morning, the Italian sun beat down, sweat beading between my breasts so that I could feel my cotton sundress sticking to my skin. Tendrils of my hair that had escaped from their high, sloppy bun clung damply to my neck. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean, he’s
, right? But so hot.”
That was another of the ways in which my twin and I were not alike. No matter how much Cairo stood out from the crowd, girls always raved about how gorgeous he was. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, guys never seemed to agree with my mother that I was “growing into my looks.”
At that moment, I was doing my best to be just one of the twenty schoolkids from Virginia—standing around, giggling at Jon’s handstands on the grass, eating a lemon gelato from the stand across the road, and trying to catch the eye of one of the hot guys with the Italian school group also waiting for the tour.
Cairo, on the other hand, stood off to one side reading the 2,000-year-old Latin carvings in an ancient salvaged stone.
Of course, I could read Latin too—Mom and Dad made sure of that early on—but I had the sense not to flaunt it.
Cairo’s shoulders were hunched over. His oversized black T-shirt hung off his slim frame. Though he was steady again, himself again—at least for the moment—I could see how alone he felt.
If I went to stand with him, let him borrow some of my “normal” for a little while, it would help. That was what I usually did. But Cairo had become . . . unstable. I couldn’t say whether it frightened me more for his sake or for my own. I couldn’t deal with that. Couldn’t face it. Easier to remain there, to keep giggling even if I didn’t pay attention to the jokes, keep flirting with guys who didn’t notice me.