Sneak Peek!

Chapter One:

“Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling.”

(Heathers, 1988)


The message arrived as Madison Nakama slid into the passenger seat of her mother’s sedan. She pulled the phone from her pocket with one hand and tugged the seat belt across her lap with the other.


NEW Message, *anonymous*: 3:59 p.m. EST

Subject: I Love, LOVE, LOOOOOOOOOOOVE YOUR BLOG!


Madi grinned. Fanmail was the very best kind of e-mail! The messages had been coming in more frequently the last few weeks, sometimes two or three a day and many more after a rewatch. Each note of happiness she received gave Madi a thrill of excitement. People loved what she blogged!


The voice of Madi’s sister, Sarah, echoed from the backseat. “What’re you reading, Madi?”


Madi hit open, waiting as the message loaded on her phone. “Just a message.”


“Is it Aunt Lisa again?” Sarah asked. “She texted Dad seven times today. Mom told Dad to turn off his phone since he was at home, and Dad said he was waiting for a message from his editor. But then Mom said the editor could e-mail and Aunt Lisa was interrupting their personal time, but he told Mom that she was his little sister, and if she wanted to talk, he’d talk. So is”—her sister took a quick breath—“this Aunt Lisa again?”


“Not Lisa,” Madi said absently. “Someone else.”


“Is it about your blog?”


Madi glanced toward the front door of the house, but their mother had yet to arrive. Madi still had time. “Uh-huh,” she mumbled.


Dear MadLib,

I’ve never written to anyone famous before, so I hope this is okay! I recently joined the MadLibbers, and I had to tell you how much I ABSOLUTELY LOVE your blog! I’d heard about your rewatches once or twice, but hadn’t checked them out before this month. When a fandom friend of mine told me you’d started a rewatch of the SV series, I decided to pop by. I am SO GLAD that I did! I’ve never laughed so hard at—


“So who is the message from?” Sarah asked, interrupting the flow of Madi’s thoughts. She groaned, scanning to find her place again.


—the inside jokes and all those fandom FEELS. I honestly just wanted to call you up and say: “IKR???!!!” You totally GET it! And I know you were never a SV fangirl before you started the rewatch, but if you ever—


“Madi!” Sarah shouted. “Who’s the message from?!”


Madi jerked. “I don’t know who,” she said. “It was sent anonymously.”


“But why would someone send you an anonymous e-mail?”


“Because they don’t want me to know who they are.”


“Why would they e-mail you at all, if they didn’t want you to know that? Why send anything? They could just not e-mail and then you’d never know anything about them. It doesn’t make sense.”


Madi glanced over the back of the seat to find her younger sister watching. Sarah was small for fifteen years old, but the severity of her expression made her seem older.


“I’ll explain the whole anon thing later, okay?” Madi said. “I just need a minute to finish.”


“Finish what?”


“I want to reply to this message before we go to the park.”


“But—”


Please, Sarah. Just a minute.”


Her sister crossed her arms and looked out the window. “Fine,” she sighed.


Madi hit reply, her thumbs blurring over the screen as she typed.


Reply to Message from *anonymous*: 4:03 p.m. EST

Subject: RE: I Love, LOVE, LOOOOOOOOOOOVE YOUR BLOG!

Hi, Anon!

I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog! Don’t feel you have to hide. Feel free to jump into the liveblog on Twitter when we start Starveil V: Ghosts of the Rebellion. That rewatch starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST. Just search up the MadLibs tag and—


Before Madi could finish, the door to the house opened and Madi’s mother appeared. She took a step outside then turned back around, pausing half in and half out of the doorway. Madi figured her father must have called out to her to do some last-second errand. (Her father was always doing that.) With Olympic-level thumb-typing abilities, Madi sped through the last bit of her message.


—join in! I’d love to see you there.

Thanks for the fanmail. Got to go!

MadLib


With a grin, she hit send. The door to the car opened with a screech and Madi looked up to see her mother, white-faced, as she slid behind the wheel.


Madi’s smile faltered. “Everything okay, Mom? You look—”


“Everything’s fine,” she said, then pulled the car onto the street without another word.


Madi glanced into the backseat, hoping to catch Sarah’s eyes, but her sister was engrossed in something on her phone. After a moment, Madi turned back around. She slid her phone back in her pocket and frowned, the fleeting joy from her fanmail already gone.


: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : 


Madi stared at her mother, the seconds ticking by.


“You’re kidding, right?”


Around them, the May afternoon continued on like nothing had happened. The spring air hummed with the rumble of lawn mowers and motor vehicles. Children laughed on the playground. A bee buzzed. Madi was oblivious to all of it. Her chest ached like the time she’d fallen off the top of the monkey bars and her body had forgotten how to breathe. This time she’d been pushed by her mother.


“Mom,” Madi pleaded, “please tell me this is a joke.”


“No joke. I’m leaving.”


Madi’s eyes darted to the playground and the brick-fronted buildings behind it, seeking out her sister. Spring had arrived in Millburn, New Jersey. Around the park, crab-apple trees hung heavy with pink blossoms, the blue sky dotted with perfect silver clouds. Her fingers clenched, clawlike, around the cell phone in her hand. This is so bad! So freaking bad!


“It’s been in the works for a while,” her mother said, the nervous tapping of her foot the only hint of her emotions, “but I got the confirmation yesterday.”


“Confirmation. Right.”


“I’m . . .” Her mother shifted uneasily on the bench. “I’m leaving at the end of the week.”


Madi jerked. “As in this week?!”


“Oxford has an undergrad summer course they’d like me to coteach. It starts June first. I want to have the paperwork done and be settled in the apartment before—”


“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Madi’s shock rolled into sudden anger. “This is like some—some kind of awful joke.”


Her mother gave a long-suffering sigh. “For goodness’ sake, Madison, you’re a senior in high school, not a child, so please start acting like one.”


“But you’re running away.”


“No one’s running anywhere.”


“Driving. Flying. Whatever!”


Madi glared at children laughing on the equipment. Over on the swing set, her sister, Sarah—looking younger than her age would suggest—swung back and forth. Her lips were pursed in focus, eyes half-closed. The swing’s chains screeched in time to her motion. Watching her, Madi had the unsettling realization that while the pin had been pulled, the grenade had yet to go off.


But when it did . . .


“Look, it just sort of happened.” Julia Nakama’s voice was barely audible above the happy din of children. “And while I know this must be hard for you—”


“You know nothing about how hard it is.”


“I know what it must seem like,” her mother said, undeterred. “But my fellowship was only approved by the committee yesterday. As soon as your father and I talked about the move, I—”


“Dad knew about this?!”


Squeak . . . squeak . . .


Her mother leaned closer. “I understand you’re upset, but please lower your voice or—”


“Or what? You’ll leave?”


“Madi, please.”


Squeak . . . squeak . . .


Madi stared at her sister, willing her angry tears to disappear. This couldn’t be happening to them. Not now! Not when Sarah was finally settled into a good routine.


“I know this is hard to hear,” her mother said. “But opportunities like this don’t come along every day. When you’re older and you’re building your own career, you’ll understand.” Squeak . . . squeak . . . “Madi, are you even listening to me?”


“Listening to what? You’re leaving.” Her eyes narrowed. “Again.”


Her mother’s concern faded into frosty annoyance. “Calm down. People are staring at us.”


Squeak . . . squeak . . .


“Calm down? How am I supposed to ‘calm down’ when you’re taking off?!” Madi’s voice grew shrill and she stumbled to her feet. A nearby mother turned in surprise. “You said you wouldn’t do that. You promised us—you promised Sarah! And now you’re doing it all over again.”


“Madison, please!” Her mother’s fingers clamped around her wrist and she tugged her back down to the park bench. She smiled apologetically at the onlookers, shrugging as if to say: Sorry about this. My teen’s just being a teen. You know how it is. Madi could almost hear the laughter.


Squeak . . . The repetitive pattern slowed, and Madi caught her sister’s eyes across the playground. Squeak . . . Sarah frowned. Squeak . . . Madi looked away.


“You need to keep your voice down.”


Madi jerked her hand back and crossed her arms. “Yeah, well, you need to keep your promises.”


“You’ll understand when you’re older. Families and careers are never easy to balance. . . .” Her mother’s voice faltered. “Especially with our challenges. But I can’t keep putting this off. Teaching at Oxford is an opportunity I’ll never get again.” She stood from the bench, brushing invisible crumbs from her slacks. “Now get your sister. We need to leave.”


Madi grabbed her pack and stood. “Why don’t you get her yourself since you’re so certain about everything?”


A nearby woman gasped and Julia’s face drained of color. She stepped in front of Madi, blocking her from onlookers. “We’ll talk later. Go get Sarah.”


Madi lifted her chin. “No.”


Her mother let out a hissing breath as her fingers snaked around her daughter’s wrist. “Now I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Madison, but you will go get your sister or—”


“Why is Mom hurting your arm, Madi?”


Julia released her daughter and stumbled back. Sarah stood behind them, watching the interaction with an unwavering gaze.


“I-I’m not.”


“Yes, you were. I saw you,” Sarah announced. “You were talking to Madi, and then Madi started frowning, and she yelled at you, and then you yelled at her, and then you grabbed her arm, and—”


“I’ll be in the car! Hurry up, girls. We’re already late.” Julia bolted away, dodging wayward children. She didn’t look back.


Madi threw her arms around Sarah, hugging her younger sister. Sarah tolerated it for the count of three, then began to squirm.


“Thanks for saving me,” Madi said as she released her.


Sarah didn’t smile. (She rarely did.) “Why is Mom mad at you?”


“She isn’t.”


“Yes, she is.”


“No.”


“But I saw her, Madi.” Sarah spoke with certainty. “You were talking, and then you started frowning, and—”


“I dunno, Sarah. Mom’s just . . .”


Madi’s shoulders slumped. It wasn’t in her heart to tell her sister the truth: Everything in their lives had just changed yet again, and Sarah would be the one to suffer for it. Instead, she forced a brave smile. “Mom was just ready to go. She asked me to get you, and I said no.”


Her sister seemed to consider that for a moment, and Madi wondered if she’d now have to explain why she’d refused to get her. Questions, with Sarah, continued until she was satisfied. It was part of the reason she was so academically gifted.


“Okay.” Sarah looked up the street where their mother had disappeared. “So Mom’s ready to go home?”


“Yeah. You ready to leave?”


“Uh-huh,” she said, and looked back at the swing. “It was a good day.”


Madi didn’t answer. Couldn’t. In seconds, Sarah was down the street, leaving her to follow. Madi glanced down at her phone, forgotten in her hand. In the last stressful minutes, a new post had appeared on her dashboard. Her throat ached as she read it.