Please help me in welcoming Aussie author, Stacey Nash to AusRomToday. Stacey’s latest novel, Forget Me Not was released earlier this month through HarperCollins Australia and today Stacey has kindly offered AusRomToday readers an inside peek at chapter one…
Forget Me Not
It’s not getting any easier to tell my mother what’s happened, what she’s missed, what’s been going on in my life. It’s not getting any easier to survive each day without her. It’s not getting any easier to think of her and not cry. Elbow on my writing desk and chin cupped in my hand, I stare at the yellow notepaper. The lines across it are as empty as my pounding head. The spot where the tip of my favorite pen touches is marked by a growing dot, evidence that there are no right words.
It’s sure as heck not getting any easier.
Hoping to find inspiration, I glance at the photo waiting to be slipped into the envelope with this letter. Normally I put aside a nature shot for her, but this one’s a ‘selfie’ of me and Will. His sandy hair looks kind of messy the way it falls into his bright eyes, and his arm, resting over my shoulders so naturally, pulls us close together. Our grins say more than words ever can.
Twirling the pen between my fingers, I gaze out the window at the soft autumn afternoon and daydream about what to write. A distant clang like metal against metal sounds from outside. Will must be at it again. I shoot up, lean over the desk, and raise the window, letting a rush of warm air brush my face.
His jean clad legs stick out from under the hood of a beat-up car parked in their yard.
That car is like a full time job, he works on it so often now. He backs out and hoists a motor, or something, onto his shoulder, lifting like it weighs no more than his kid sister. He looks up, catches me watching him, and grins. I wave and, with a sigh, plonk back into the chair, dropping my gaze to the blank sheet in front of me. I really want to write her.
For nine years I’ve been writing these letters and placing them in my top drawer with a photo. It’s become a yearly tradition. At least if we ever find Mom, she’ll know what my life’s been like.
Nothing comes to me. None of the thoughts ambling through my mind are quite right, so I drop the pen, pinch my lips together, and tap my fingers on the desk in a sharp rhythm that cuts through my aching head. I need the right words.
I last saw her on an ordinary March school day the year I was eight. She packed my lunch, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and waved goodbye. I climbed into the bus. As she stood on the curb, she didn’t look happy or sad, scared or frightened—just the same as any other day.
Heaviness squeezes my chest and makes each inhalation of breath hurt. I’ve played that day back in my mind over and over, analyzed every detail: her wave, her smile, her words, her haunted look. Did she know it was goodbye?
Not knowing leaves a complete emptiness inside me. Knowing if she’s alive or dead, or why she hasn’t come back would make it so much easier. Especially since Dad barely mentions her anymore, and no matter how many times I turn her photos around, they continue to spin and face the wall. I guess it’s just too hard for him.
I shake my head in an effort to expel the memories, but it’s no use. The lines on the paper blur, my eyes slide shut, and it hurts too much. I can’t do this right now. Grabbing my camera off the desk, I slam the window shut and run down the stairs, shouting to Dad, “I’ll be back for dinner.”
“Wait. Can you grab milk?”
He walks out of the kitchen, a five dollar bill pinched between his fingers. I pluck it from his outstretched hand and turn to leave, but his hand closes over my shoulder, spinning me around. “Everything okay?”
I close my eyes and expel a long breath. He won’t want to hear it, so there’s no point sharing. “I miss her, too.”
He pulls me into his chest, and it’s too much. Tears roll down my cheeks, and I throw my arms around him, holding him as tight as I can while he runs a hand over my head. “Sweetheart.”
I cling to him. “It’s just…”
He holds me for a long time, until my tears stop. When I pull away, I rub the telltale streaks from my cheeks, and shove the money in my pocket. “Milk, right?”
He nods, and I turn for the door. “Anamae,” he says, “I love you, kid.”
A weak smile raises my lips. “Love you, too.”
Outside, I head straight to the white picket fence separating our yard from Will’s. He’s been my best friend since he moved here in the sixth grade, and I’m so grateful his parents decided quiet suburbia was a better place to live than the inner city. I slap my hands onto the flat tips and stretch over, calling, “Will.”
He peers around the corner of the house, and the sight of his smile is enough to rattle this awful mood.
“Sure. Two minutes.”
Fishing for weeds in the garden occupies the time while I wait. The Averys have the nicest yard on our street. A perfectly manicured lawn complete with stone statues and spiky plants in white pebble gardens. Will’s mom likes being fashionable and modern, obvious from the gravel now crunching under his feet. Appearances aren’t important. Sure it’s nice to look good, but it’s not the thing that matters most. That’s one of the things she just doesn’t get about me. I always wear faded jeans and comfy t-shirts, yet she constantly tries to dress me up. Make me look like a girl. Still, she’s been like a second mom to me. She even gave me The Talk. I just about died when I realized what was happening.
Will’s coming. “Hi, Mae.”
“Hey.” I grin. Love it when he shortens my name.
We stroll down our wide path and turn onto the next street. It’s only a few blocks from our street to a small cluster of shops. The short walk, fresh air, and Will’s banter help lighten my mood. The cafe comes into sight, and I grab his hand, dragging him across the road toward another storefront—an old shop. Aqua paint peels off the brick walls around huge glass windows, and two stories rise up above us. Like all the shops on this street, a big tin awning slants out over the pavement, and a balcony juts out above. Albert’s Second-Hand Treasures emblazons a window spanning the shop’s front. Through the window piles of odd stuff are visible, cluttering the inside. According to the kids at school, it’s evidence the old man who owns the store is a little unhinged, which earns this place the nickname, Crazy Al’s. But to me, it’s far more than that. ‘Crazy Al’s’ been a part of my life almost as long Will.
“Bet you can’t find the weirdest one today,” I say.
Will raises his brows and shoots me a look that says ‘you’re insane.’ “Really, this old game? I thought you wanted to get coffee.”
“Oh, come on. I need some childish fun.” I lean in toward him an smile. “Bet you can’t win.”
I also need to see Al, not to talk… just see him. His grandfatherly ways might make me feel better.
I drag Will toward the front door, and all the while he shakes his head and scuffs his heels. “Okay, but loser buys coffee,” he finally says, “and cake.”
He pushes me through the door, making the bell overhead jingle. As he heads toward a large table in the far corner of the shop, a small smile crosses my lips. Glancing toward the counter, I stop at a long bench and paw through ancient yellowing books and old jewelry scattering it in a disorganized mess. I’ve no idea how Al even knows what’s here.
Al raises his white-grey frizzy-haired head from the newspaper sprawled on the glass counter. His bushy eyebrows lift, and he throws me a warm smile which somehow makes me feel a little better.
Running my hand over the ‘treasures,’ I stop at a ceramic owl perched amongst the clutter on the table. When I turn it over in my hand, chubby little claws grip the sides of a skateboard. I hold it up so Will can see it. “Check this out.”
“A skating owl?” Will laughs. “I can top that.”
He holds up a book with the title Peanuts in Love. On the cover two peanuts hold hands, their cute little shell bodies in a sea of pink hearts.
“Not good enough.” I scan the table looking for something better and spot a pile of old movies scattered over the next table. I move them aside one by one, looking for a good title. Sunlight dances across the table and glints off something shiny. A blue flower with a yellow center. My heart jumps, the only part of me still moving. It can’t be. Surely Dad didn’t pawn it or give it to Al. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. It can’t possibly have been made into something else.
A small noise of surprise escapes my lax mouth, and a memory flashes into my mind: the pendant lying on Mom’s pillow the day she disappeared.
Will chuckles from the corner. I drag my gaze away from the flower brooch to see a bright pink pith hat sitting atop his sandy head. He eyes my open palm, which now holds the brooch. “You call that weird?”
I run my fingers over the cool glazed metal, and a lump grows in my throat. “It’s the same as the forget-me-not pendant Mom always wore.”
Not missing a beat, he raises his voice toward the back of the shop. “How much?”
Al pauses in his perusal of the paper, two fingertips touching his tongue as if to dampen them as he flicks a page over. His bushy eyebrows lift, and he clears his throat.
“Gosh, lad, for that?” I hold up the brooch, and Al squints at it. “It’s for Mae?” He smiles at me.
“Yep.” Will pulls his wallet out, and empties the coins into his cupped hand.
“Nothing,” Al says, then flicks his gaze to me. “Tell your Dad poker’s on tomorrow night. All the boys are coming.”
I return his smile with a nod. “Sure thing, Al.”
“Take care, Mae.” He doesn’t mention today’s Mom’s anniversary—the day she disappeared, but he doesn’t have to. Even though he never knew her, I’ve always suspected it’s why he took me and Dad under his wing. Especially after Nan died; her death upended the last slither of normalcy we had.
“No refunds….” Al says.
“Without magic,” I chime in on his usual farewell. No wonder people think he’s crazy, since he’s always saying stupid things. A sign hangs on the wall above the counter mimicking his words. No refunds without magic.
We walk out the door, and the bell jingles. “You owe me cake,” Will says.
“I do not. The brooch won.”
“No way, the peanuts definitely—”
“The peanuts did not beat the skating owl,” I say, and we both laugh.
I want to go home. I want to go straight to mom’s pendant. I want to compare it to this brooch, but I promised Will cake and coffee. He’d understand, but it wouldn’t be fair after dragging him out here. Although it makes me a little impatient, I’ll wait.
After hanging out with Will, I climb the stairs into the rarely used, cold, dark attic. Goose bumps prickle my arms with each step. This place is so eerie. Holding my hand out, I grope around in the dark until it closes around the cord for the light switch. A sharp tug illuminates the room with a soft glow which highlights the dust floating in the air. Pressure grows in my nose, and I hold my breath to suppress a building sneeze.
A corner of the chest which holds all my mother’s most precious possessions peeks out from behind cardboard boxes. I need to see the pendant and make sure it hasn’t somehow been altered and made into this brooch. Something so precious to her can’t be lost. A wooden creaking noise makes me spin around so fast my neck kinks, but the entry is empty. Phew. If Dad catches me up here… don’t think about it. He won’t know, as long as the driveway stays empty of his car, I’m safe.
A tight knot grows in my chest, anyway. An image of Mom running her thumb over the charm she wore everyday lingers in my mind.
I ease open the lid of the chest. Love letters, a few small items of jewelry, and other precious odds and ends rest on top of a discolored wedding dress, as if every last item was placed in here with care. Dust and the smell of moth balls make my nose twitch and finally bring on the sneeze.
Blue fabric, the same color as the brooch, peeps out between a stack of old envelopes. I slide it out of the bunch with care and peel back the fabric, my fingers slipping on the soft, smooth silk. My breath catches at the sight of my mother’s pendant.
My memories of it remained unchanged by time. It’s exactly as I recall. Five blue petals come to a yellow center, creating the shape of a forget-me-not flower. The pendant hangs on a long chain with shiny, silver looped links.
The sight of it brings back so many memories. The only time I ever saw my parents fight… Mom shouted so loud I covered my ears, and Dad responded in a low emotionless voice. Young and scared, I hid in the curtains while she screamed. Her last words were punctuated by her yanking the pendant off and tossing it across the room. Dad scooped it up, crossed the room in long strides and pulled her to him. His fingers traced the edge of her face before he kissed her. He lowered the pendant over her head, and the angry lines on her face melted into a smile. It’s not exactly a good memory, but it was her.
Now, I find myself smiling, too. Surely he won’t mind if I wear it. Something so precious to her shouldn’t be left to rust in the attic. I’m almost certain she’d want me to have it, so I slide the pendant into my pocket with the brooch and pack the other contents of the box away.
Easing the door closed, I climb out of the attic and head to the bathroom to clean my dust-covered hands. Water rushes from the spout and splashes against the sides as the basin fills. A reflection of me stares back at me from the mirror, my dirty hand clutching my aching chest. Today everything feels so raw, open, and fresh, like it only just happened. She should still be here.
Rubbing my hands clean, I delve into my pocket for the jewelry. Bringing it to my collar, I pin the brooch into my blouse. The hard edges prick my skin. My thumb brushes over the smooth, round sides of the pendant and when I pull it over my head, the chain catches on my hair. After I twist it through the tangle so it finally falls cool against my skin, it nestles in the hollow of my throat. I pick it up between my fingers and with reverent slow strokes, rub my thumb over the shiny yellow center—the pendant Mom never took off.
A shiver shoots up my spine and out through my limbs like an electric current, zapping every cell, every fiber, every part of my being. Walking on graves, that’s what Mom would have said. Maybe it’s an omen about her.
I plant my palms on either side of the full basin and peer into the still water, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. The water reflects only the cream ceiling. That can’t be right. I do a double take.
My chest tightens. I hold my hand up, but I can’t see it—not my arm, not my chewed fingernails, not my leather watch on my wrist. Where am I? Mouth gaping, I look into the mirror again, but I see nothing.
Not even my face.
I dip my finger into the warm, reflection-free water. Circles ripple in ever growing rings, but there’s no image. My gaze flits to the mirror, but I see only the open door. I have no reflection.
My stomach flutters like a thousand butterflies are trying to escape it. I slap my palm onto my chest, and I can still feel me. I must be here. When I slide the pendant over my head, my reflection blinks onto the mirror. Huh? Pulling it back on, my hand brushes the cool metal. The ripple goes through me again. I look into the mirror, and once more my reflection’s gone.
I grab my hairbrush from the drawer and wave it around in the air, but its image isn’t cast in the mirror either. It has to be magic, but that’s only in fairytales. Will’s not going to believe this, not in a million years. I pull the pendant over my head and my reflection returns. No way. It can’t be, but it is. I’m almost certain it’s making me invisible, but how?
I put it on—invisible. Take it off—visible.
It doesn’t make any sense. How can something like this—like those video games Will plays—even exist? It must be a magical artifact or some kind of prank. My shoulders shake with a chuckle while I stare at myself in the mirror. This is unreal. I bet he’s gone right back to working on his car. He’ll love this. Ha! Now let’s see who found the weirdest treasure. I slide it back on and wipe my damp hands on my jeans. Watch out Will, I’m going to sneak up and scare the life right out of you.
A sharp rap, someone knocking on the front door, echoes up the stairs. I duck into my room, unpin the brooch, and place both forget-me-nots in the jewelry box on my dresser. The rap sounds again. “Coming.” I bound down the stairs, through the living room, and yank the door open.
A man in blue overalls carrying a toolbox holds a yellow box-like thing snug in his palm. “My name is Thomas. I’m from the East Coast Natural Gas Company. There’s been a gas leak reported in this area, so I need to check the levels in your home. It won’t take a minute.”
A green flame and fancy words, the logo for East Coast Natural Gas, are embroidered on his loose, navy overalls. He’s legit, so I unlock the screen and pull it open, letting him inside.
The man’s gaze meets mine as he walks past me, into the living room. He scratches his head of close-cropped dark hair, and moves his hand to his chin, rubbing it along the shadow of facial hair lining his jaw.
I scrape my palm across my forehead, suddenly recalling my recent vanishing act. He spoke first. I must be visible again. Phew. I didn’t forget to take it off.
“Ignore the mess,” I say.
He holds the yellow gas meter out in front of him, his eyes never leaving the small flashing green light. He walks in straight lines across the living room. Crossing my arms over my chest, I tap my foot. Hurry up. I’ve got a neat trick to show off.
He nears the base of the stairs and the green light flicks to red. His pace quickens, and he strides up the steps two at a time. I rush up behind him. “What is it?”
The gas meter beeps when he reaches the top of the staircase. Coming upstairs seems kind of strange. I mean, surely gas leaks would have to be a kitchen thing. The beeping sets my teeth on edge, and I just want it to stop. Maybe there’s something wrong, but here in the upstairs hall?
“That doesn’t sound good,” I mutter.
“It means there is indeed…”
He twists, angling himself toward my open bedroom door, and his gaze locks on my dresser. The back of my neck prickles, a sure sign something about this just isn’t right. I step past him and pull the door closed, but he pushes me aside and slams it open. Panic shoots through me, but I’m fast enough to dart around him. Turning my shoulder and reaching for the box.
He lunges toward me, grabs me from behind, and his arm pins my neck to him with a shoulder crushing grip. He pushes me against the dresser, and the box falls open, its contents spilling across the top. Heart pounding, my throat burns with a scream. I’ve got to get him out of here. He must know about my pendant, the brooch. Dammit. I wriggle to escape his vice-like grip, but it’s no use—he’s too strong.
My hand darts toward the pendant. I snatch it, but he grabs my wrist. Adrenaline tries to pound my heart right out of its home in my chest. If only I can get the jewelry on, I might be able to make its magic work and hide.
“Tech breech confirmed,” he speaks into his collar in a matter-of-fact tone; then he turns his gaze to me. “Give me the pendant.”
There’s a tiny ripping sound, like Velcro torn open.
A young guy in a black leather jacket flickers into my bedroom. A sharp gasp leaves me. I can’t escape one attacker, let alone two.
Where the heck are these men coming from? I’m not going down without a fight, so I kick at my captor’s shins. The leather jacket guy wrenches the man’s grip from my shoulders and punches him square in the chin, knocking his head to the side. Shaking his head, the gas man stumbles backward.
The jacket guy raises his knee and drives a foot into the other man’s stomach. The straight, hard kick makes a loud thud and forces the dude to double over and curl in on himself. The leather jacket guy crouches and drives his fist straight up into the man’s chin. It knocks him flat on his back like a felled tree.
My chest rises and falls with my quickened breath. My heart thuds like a booming drum.
The mysterious rescuer turns toward me, holding my gaze with intense, steady jade eyes. He grabs my assailant by the arm, and they both flicker out of my room.
My mind spins.
Legs, arms, body—I can’t move, but it doesn’t matter. Moving is the least of my worries.
Who were they, and what just happened? The meter seemed to lead him straight to Mom’s pendant. Gas man, my ass.
I clutch my head in an attempt to stop my mind spinning, but my hand slides off my sweaty forehead and falls against my tightened stomach. They might come back. The guy in the jacket…
What was that? The brooch, the pendant…my disappearing reflection. They wanted it. Damn.
Sweat trickles down my forehead and into my eyes. I wipe it away with a trembling hand. Questions hurtle through my mind, all jumbling together as they race faster and faster in my mind. Seconds, minutes, hours I don’t know, but a single thought emerges through the haze of my mind.
Forget Me Not
Anamae is drawn into a world which shatters everything she knew to be true.
Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother’s favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. They’re not just jewellery, they’re part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewellery’s power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device – and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she’s Enemy Number One. She’s forced to leave her father behind when she’s taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.
About the Author
Stacey Nash writes adventure filled stories for Young Adults in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. She loves to read and write books that have a lot of adventure, a good dose of danger, a smattering of romance, and KISSING! Hailing from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, she loves nothing more than immersing herself in the beauty and culture of the local area.
Author of the Collective Series; Forget Me Not and Remember Me.