The air crackled around me, and I jerked my head up, looking out the door. The hairs on my arms stood on end, and I swore the hair on my head tried to rise, too. A brilliant light flared outside, followed immediately by a deafening crash that unsteadied me. Sulfur and smoke filled the air, first pungent and fresh, then the wet, bitter smell of flames quickly extinguished. The giant oak tree in the backyard had been struck by lightning. The earth still trembled, little shock waves that kept time with the pounding of my heart.
I didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be—
A scream exploded into the air, pain and anguish and terror. I jerked back around to see that he’d started. He held a knife in his hand, and blood dripped from his fingers. I wouldn’t look at her, couldn’t, or at least I tried not to, but my gaze was drawn to her no matter how I struggled.
Now I lay me…
It was my fault, because I tried to warn her. He knew even from so far away that I had changed the script, that I wasn’t doing my poor-lost-lamb routine, that I was trying to get her to run. What made me think I could change anything? He always knew. He could look at me, he said, and see exactly what I was thinking, feeling, planning, and I believed him.
Please let his hand slip. Instead of just cutting her, let him slice an artery. Let her death be quick and easy. Take his joy from it. Take my pain from it.
It was a prayer, but I didn’t know to whom. God didn’t listen to me the other times. Why should he? If I’m not worth my own father’s attention except when he was mad, why in the world would any god give me his attention?
Another scream ripped through the air, stronger, more desperate, its echo as sharp edged and tormented as the scream itself. It made the air vibrate, made me vibrate, just like when the tree had fallen, life ending in violence, only this time it went on and on inside my head, my chest, my soul, my very being. My throat went hoarse, my mouth dry, and that was when I realized.
The scream was coming from me.
—Excerpt, The Unlucky Ones by Jane Gama
It was lovely to have a plain, ordinary day at work on Tuesday. True, Mila’s workmates were more somber than usual, and she thought everyone felt the same edginess she did each time they arrived at a new job. But the heat was especially overpowering—114 degrees, according to the bank sign when they passed it midafternoon—and the heat index was north of a hundred, too. By the time she got home, she was too wrung out to do anything more than take care of Poppy, eat dinner and write a few pages in her notebook.
Pages all about Sam and confusion and new feelings and old feelings.
Lord, she wished she really had begun life the same day Mila Ramirez sprang into being. Without all the family baggage dragging her down, she could have made friends, had a first crush, a first date, a first kiss, all well before the age of twenty-six. But she hadn’t. And all those wonderful, lovely firsts were still out there, waiting to happen.
Wednesday morning a storm blew through, springing up out of nowhere as Oklahoma storms often did, a few cracks of thunder, a few flashes of lightning and a deluge of rain before moving on as quickly as it had formed. The pavement steamed, and the air hung heavier than it had before.
It seemed appropriate, since they were turning in to the Carlyle driveway.
After shutting off the engine, Ruben sat there a moment. They all looked at the house, no different than it had been the dozens of other times they’d seen it but seeming somehow so. There was actually one difference, Mila noted: a for-sale sign planted near the front curb.
She swallowed hard before reaching outside the window to grab the door handle. It creaked open, helped along with a kick on the lower panel. No one said anything as they got out, gathered their equipment and scattered to their tasks.
Mila was on her way to the backyard—unwillingly, though she didn’t voice it to Ruben or the others or even herself—when a car door sounded behind her. They rarely ran into anyone in this neighborhood. Either both spouses worked to pay for the big houses or one worked while the other did whatever people with money did to fill their time.
It wasn’t a resident. The shield and decals on the white pickup made that clear. She didn’t overtly react as she watched Sam cross the grass to her, but everything inside her was dancing with delight. Trepidation. A lot of worry. But still a whole lot of delight.