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Authors: Lauren Sabel

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BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
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When I’m twenty feet back, waving my arms frantically and pumping my legs as hard as I can, I catch my toe on a rock and sprawl, face-first, into the dust.

This is the worst day of my life.

But then the truck grinds to a stop, and Nicolas gestures to me. I pull myself off the ground, my hands tingling with droplets of bright red blood. As I walk the last few feet to the truck, I study Nicolas’s rugged face, afraid he’s going to pull away at the last minute and leave me stranded again. But he doesn’t. He just puts out one hand and pulls me up onto the truck.

“Come on, princess,” he says. “Just don’t bleed on me.”

Chapter Seven

A
S SOON AS
I
CLIMB
onto the back, the truck jerks forward. There are no seats back here, just two wooden benches lining the sides. A mariachi band is crammed onto the benches, knee to knee, their shiny instruments gleaming so brightly they hurt my eyes. On the floor, a barefoot little girl is playing with a lamb, her grin exposing her missing front teeth, and a lady with a long braid is nestled beside her.

“Thanks for stopping,” I say, wedging myself onto the truck bed between Nicolas and the tailgate. It’s tied together with rope, ready to burst open and send me tumbling into the street. “Can’t I sit in front?”

He shakes his head, his eyes narrowing into small slits.

“Okay.” I sigh. “Look, I’m sorry I called you a thief.”

“You should be,” he says, turning to face me. “So where are you going, princess?”

“Rosales,” I say uneasily, unsure of how much I should tell him. “Can I be there by tomorrow?”

“You’re on Mexican time now. Everything takes a little longer,” he warns me. “And my chauffeur is off duty today,” he says sarcastically. “So don’t expect a miracle.”

Apparently we’re done talking, because Nick leans his head back and closes his eyes. His shaggy black hair may be begging for a haircut, but it falls in soft curls around his face, and his ragged red jersey fits snugly across his well-built—

“BAAA!”
I look up, and the little girl is standing over me, settling the squirming lamb into my lap. I shriek, trying to backpedal away from the lamb’s tiny legs kicking into my thighs. I’ve never been around a wild animal before, and I have to force myself not to shove it off my lap. “Is it s-safe to hold him?” I ask.

“You might ruin your nails,” Nick quips, so I swallow the lump in my throat and push down the voice inside me screaming that the beast’s going to bite a rabid hole in my leg.
It’s safe. He won’t bite me.
I gingerly touch the lamb’s fuzzy pink ears, and he licks me with his rough tongue. “What’s his name?” I ask.

The little girl shakes her head, and I wonder if
dinner
is the right answer.
I’m gonna call him Honey.

“Why are you going to Rosales?” Nick asks me, letting Honey lick the back of his hand. “I can tell you’re not a girl who’d cross the border, well, ever.”

To meet a man who will protect me from the people who murdered my mother?
Other than that, I don’t know what to say. “Um . . . I’m visiting my uncle Roberto.”

“So you’re here for Los Muertos?”

I nod. Whatever Los Muertos is, I’m here for it
. I just hope it’s not human sacrifice.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about,” Nick says.

I shrug.

“Los Muertos? The Day of the Dead?” Nick scoffs. “It’s only the biggest holiday of the year! Do they teach you nothing at your rich American school?”

“I knew that,” I say, lying through my teeth. “And I don’t go to a rich American school.”

I focus on the mariachi players crammed onto both benches, their red-and-gold-embroidered suits twinkling like jewels under the sun, glad that I could tell the truth for once. Or half-truth, anyway. I’ve never actually been to school. Mom always insisted I have a private tutor, a stodgy professor from England who fills my head with boring information for four hours every day. But I’ve acted in enough high school movies to know that gym clothes itch and cafeterias have rotten food and you have to fit all your stuff in one tiny locker.
What else do I need to know?

“Oh, really?” Nick says. “So you’re just a poor girl who stole some rich girl’s shoes?” He points to my shoes, and a self-satisfied smirk stains his face.

I glance down, past my cheap black T-shirt, past my totally tacky faded jeans, to my sparkling white sneakers with the gold
G
on the sides.
I can’t believe I forgot to change out of my Gucci sneakers.
“Those are hand-me-downs.”
From Mr. Gucci.

“Whatever,” Nick says. “So you’re what? Three years younger than me? Fifteen, maybe?”

“Sixteen,” I correct him.
When I was fifteen my mom was alive, and I was safe at home with a boyfriend and a best friend.
“Sixteen sucks,” I add, surprising myself by my honesty.

“Pardon me, princess.” Nick rolls his eyes. “Baby’s all grown up now.”

“I can handle myself!” I snap, not at all sure that’s true.
In the studio, yes. On the back lot, definitely. But in the real world?
I stare at the mariachi players. They are barefoot, the fringes of their gold mariachi pants ragged around their ankles.
Is this the real world everyone’s talking about?
“What about you?” I ask Nick, desperate to get the attention off me.

“Me? I’m done with school,” Nick says, “and unlike some people”—he gives me a meaningful glance—“I
work
for a living.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You just don’t look like the kind of girl who
works
,” he says. He picks up my manicured fingers and runs his index finger over them. “More like the girl people like me work
for
.”

I shake his hand off mine. “I work,” I say.

“Oh yeah? Doing what?”

I think of how exhausting it is to film the same scene dozens of times, and of the weary, sleepless nights preparing for a part or memorizing a script. But I can’t tell him about my job, so I just look away.

“That’s what I thought,” Nick says bitterly.

“You don’t know me,” I snap. “So don’t act like you do.”

“You’re right, I don’t. And maybe I don’t want to,” Nick says.

“There’s no
maybe
about it on my part,” I respond. He turns his back to me, and I inch as far away from him as I dare, without falling out the back of the truck.

 

Several hours later, my back aching and my skin itchy with dust, the truck stops in front of an old stone church. It’s beautiful, but in that “I’m going to be crushed to death by falling stones” kind of way.

“Father García lets travelers sleep here. It’s the last stop before the mountains,” Nick explains. “And the last chance for you to run your princess butt home.”

I ignore him, focusing instead on the sound of “last stop.” It sounds like a cue for getting my personal will in order. “We don’t have time to stop,” I say, imagining missing Roberto and dying in an alley at the hands of a vicious gang. “We need to get to Rosales by morning.”

“You know what I need? For you to stop complaining.”

“I’m not complaining!”

Nick shakes his head. “I’ll take you as far as I can,” he says. “Trust me.”

“Yeah, right,” I mutter. I hate when people say “trust me.” Pierre said “trust me” in the same breath he said “forever.” I picture Pierre and Sparrow kissing, their arms wound tightly around each other. I shove my thumbnail into the soft flesh of my index finger.
I bet he doesn’t even miss me.

I force Pierre out of my head and follow Nick across the small, dark courtyard to the church. It looks familiar. I’ve seen this church before, I realize, on the studio’s back lot. It’s the “Traditional Mafia Church” set. Usually directors film shoot-’em-up scenes here, or drug deals gone bad. Either way, someone dies. I can think of nothing else as Nick opens the door for me, and I go in.

 

I’ve never seen so much gold in my life. Seriously. Not in Mom’s jewelry drawers, or at Tiffany, or even on all of Rodeo Drive. The walls, ceiling, and altar are solid gold.

I’m shocked. There’s enough gold in this church to buy Beverly Hills, but I had to ride all the way here in a nearly broken-down truck with people who can’t afford shoes.

“What are you doing?” I ask as Nick kneels beside what looks like a birdbath and dips his fingers in. I’ve never met anyone religious, except Scientologists.
But they believe we are descendants of aliens, so that doesn’t count, does it?

“Sign of the cross,” Nicks says, looking at me like I’ve been hiding under a large, ignorant rock for years. He moves his thumb in a cross shape over his chest. “My mom raised me in the church.”

“And now?”

“Now?” He drops his hand from his chest. “She’d be disappointed in who I am now.”

Before I can ask him why, he walks through a doorway to the left of the altar.
What would Mom think of me? Running for my life, trusting a complete stranger to get me to safety?
I hurry up the aisle, passing the bright gold altar.
She’d tell me to trust the universe to take care of me, and she’d call me the Holy Fool, who makes the world smile as she leaps off the cliff. Then again, Mom had a way of believing everything would turn out all right, even when it didn’t.
I step into the room just left of the altar, where people are laying out brightly colored blankets across the concrete floor.

This is where we’re staying? He’s got to be kidding!
This room looks like a prison cell. The walls are bare concrete, and a single bulb dangles from the ceiling. There’s a cot against the back wall, and hanging above it is a giant, multicolored tapestry of the Crucifixion.

“It’s perfect for you,” I say, trying not to let a grimace cross my face. “Which way to my room?”

Nick raises his eyebrows, his look stern and disapproving. “They want you to take the bed,” he says. “You’re their guest. It would be an insult to say no.”

By the time I’m settled onto the disappointingly hard cot, having fluffed the thin pillow and estimated the thread count of the sheets (150, tops), the whole room is asleep. There’s a melody of snores in different tunes, and although I’m exhausted, I can’t make myself sleep.

I watch Nick lying on the floor beside my bed. His eyelids are moving gently in sleep, his normally hard face relaxed, almost angelic compared to his bitter, caustic self when he’s awake.
Is his mom disappointed in his stupid machismo attitude? Or just because he doesn’t go to church anymore?
I’ve finally decided that it must be his bitter attitude when two sharp voices break the night.

“¿Dónde está?”

“¿Quién?”

Nobody wakes up. The snoring continues, but the sharp voices, coming from somewhere outside the room, are ringing in my ears.
Great. I’ll never get to sleep now.

Soon the voices sound angrier, one deep and gravely, the other high and pleading. I want to wake Nick, but he’d just make fun of me and tell me what a self-centered princess I am. If I were home, I’d wake Mary, sure it was two journalists sneaking over the fence. But Mary’s not here, and it’s probably just town drunks anyway.
But what if they’re reporters?

Don’t be a fool, Vivian. Just go to sleep.
I press my thin pillow over my ears, but I can still hear their voices burrowing into me, and I know I’ll never sleep until I’m sure the paparazzi haven’t found me. So, feeling like a scared kid, I step off the cot and sneak through the sleeping people to the back of the church.

 

At the entrance to the church, a black-robed figure looms in the open doorway. His back is to me, and the light from the moon pours over his shoulders, illuminating the gold cross stitched across his robe.

I can’t see much of the other man, except his giant black silhouette cutting across the darkness. The church doorway slices off half his head, so he must be over seven feet tall, and I can’t see his face, since it’s submerged in the dark night.
Not that I want to.


¿Dónde está la muchacha?
” the man growls.

His voice presses into me on both sides, and it feels like the concrete walls are caving in on me.

When the priest finally speaks back, his voice is small and begging.
“No sé. Y no quiero morir
.

Isn’t this when the priest pulls out a string of garlic and a big silver cross, and burns a hole through the undead’s chest?

The man rubs a gun across the priest’s cheeks, down to his chin, and then slowly up his nose to end in a point in the center of his forehead.
“Confiese or te mato.”

Something drips onto the floor around the priest’s legs. It cradles the moonlight like liquid silver as it runs between the pews, and the small church fills with the smell of urine.

The man cocks the gun, and when he speaks, his voice sends chills through me. “
La niña
,” the man repeats, like he’s bored with the situation, and would rather just kill him already.
“¿Dónde está?”

While the priest quietly weeps, I hold my nose as the liquid snakes down the aisle, carrying the smell of the priest’s terror toward me. The man keeps speaking Spanish in his dead, monotonous tone, except when he says the two words I fear most:

Vivian Divine.

BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
8.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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