I have some hard truth kernals for you guys: If we were currently living in "Harry Potter" world, most of us would be muggles. Sorry, guys. It's just kind of a fact. I mean, I would totally love to be chilling with the Ravenclaws, but life isn't fair, is it?
That's the general idea behind Patrick Ness' "The Rest Of Us Just Live Here," hitting shelves October 6. Basically, it's a novel about everyone that ISN'T the star of a YA fantasy novel -- a.k.a. Mikey Mitchell, his sisters and his pals -- trying to get by while the "indie kids" fight the forces of evil. You know, graduating before the school blows up or gets overrun by vampires and whatnot.
MTV News readers don't have to wait until October to find out a little more about Mikey and his crew, however, as we have an exclusive excerpt right down there. Check it out:
CHAPTER THE FOURTH, in which Satchel and Dylan sit in a coffeehouse with understated live music and discuss what Satchel’s uncle told them; Dylan also tells her it’s clear that second indie kid Finn has feelings for her; Satchel doesn’t see that this is Dylan’s way of saying that HE has feelings for her, too; later, the Messenger of the Immortals makes a surprising offer to indie kid Kerouac.
OK, look, I gotta get some stuff out of the way. I wish I didn’t, but it’s necessary. This doesn’t define me or any of the people I love, okay? It’s just life. And we’ve moved on.
But you gotta know.
Four years ago, when I was 13 and she was still 14, my sister had a heart attack. It was caused by arrhythmia, which was caused by Mel starving herself to death.
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she died. They were able to revive her, obviously, but the fact remains that, for three or four minutes, she was gone, we’d lost her. She says she doesn’t remember anything about it: no lights, no tunnels, no angels or old relatives or prickly faced Labradors to help her with her journey to the other side. But weirdly, she doesn’t remember the opposite either. She doesn’t remember nothingness or emptiness or oblivion. Her memory stops before the heart attack and picks up again in the hospital.
“Don’t you wish you could remember?” I once asked her.
She looked at me as if I’d suggested murdering a duckling. “Absolutely not.”
Where were we at this point as a family? Mom was in the Washington state senate and was running for lieutenant governor. I’m going to guess that your knowledge of/interest in state and local politics is as nonexistent as most people’s, but it’s enough to know that this was something she considered both extremely modest and a big, big deal. She’d planned it for almost three years, way more than the other candidates seemed to, and we’d been photographed a lot in the run-up to the primary to see if she’d be selected as her party’s candidate.
Because weren’t we all perfect and adorable? Weren’t the Mitchells exactly what the state needed? Look at us with our healthy and unthreateningly average smiles. Our hair that spoke of middle-class prosperity but wasn’t (too) much better than yours. The modern political husband, super-supportive and perhaps a bonus extra behind the scenes. The two older children with their polite attitudes and good grades, and beautiful little Meredith, precocious and funny as a later Disney heroine. Wouldn’t Lieutenant Governor Alice Mitchell be your friend as well as your humble public servant while hanging around in case the governor died?
The problem was that hardly anyone had heard of her, the campaign had no money, and polls had her at a steady but distant fourth in the primary.
It wasn’t my mom who told Mel she was looking “a little fat” in some of the press photos; it was her one-day-a-month campaign adviser, a chain-smoking beard called Malcolm. But Malcolm did say it, and my mom didn’t fire him.
Was that enough to make Mel stop eating? Maybe. But we were hardly a hotbed of mental health before then. We didn’t have nearly as much money as it looked like we had, for one thing, because my dad was still paying back the thousands he embezzled from my uncle Rick’s car dealership, where he used to be top sales manager. My dad stole, under Rick’s nose, all the money to buy the house we still live in. He should have been arrested. He should still be in jail.
But Rick is my mother’s brother and this was even earlier in her career, when she was trying to move up from the state house of representatives to the state senate. A scandal would have ended her political career, so she and my dad not only stayed married, but she somehow convinced Rick to keep it secret and -- if you can believe this -- actually let my dad stay employed there. No access to any accounts, of course, but still selling cars until he’s paid back all the money, plus interest. Which will probably take him up to retirement. As I said, Uncle Rick doesn’t come around much anymore.
So pretty much every day back then we were about an hour away from losing everything: money, careers, house, a father, all the while pretending we were the highly functioning family of an up-and-coming politician. My dad drank every day (always did, still does). My mom threw herself into politicking, and Mikey Mitchell -- your humble narrator -- was so tense I’d started to get trapped in compulsive loops for the first time. Counting and recounting (and recounting and recounting) the contents of my sixth-grade arts cabinet.
Driving our poor dog Martha crazy (pre–porcupine death) by walking her over the same length of road four dozen times because I couldn’t seem to get it exactly “right,” though I could never have told you what “right” was. I was sent to a psychiatrist called Dr. Luther and was put on medication. And this was all before my mom decided to up the stakes by running for a bigger job.
So all I’m saying is that the ground was clearly fertile for craziness to grow. My sister just got stuck with one that was particularly shit.
One that killed her.
Killed my mom’s campaign, too. Malcolm tried to keep the press to a minimum (and this was at the start of the vampire romances, so there were plenty of “mysterious” deaths among the indie kids to be writing about anyway), but enough got out that my mother was forced to withdraw to support her daughter through a “crisis that could hit any family.”
We all started this thing called FBT, family-based treatment, where we were supposed to show ourselves as resources for Mel, instead of the cause of the problem. And for a time, we did. Mom set up a gradual eating routine that Mel, eventually, accepted. Me and Meredith were instructed on how to refer to food and Mel’s condition in nonjudgmental terms, which we were happy to do. We were so freaked out by maybe losing her we would have burned all our clothes in a bonfire if it would have helped. Dad drank a bit less.
And Mel got better. She gained some weight, not a lot, but an amount that made her healthy again. It took a while, over a year, which is why we’re both seniors now instead of her already graduating, but she braved it out and nobody gave her much shit when she went back to school. That’s when she and Henna got so close, now that we were all in the same year. Meanwhile, my mom went back to the state senate. Someone else won the primary for lieutenant governor and was subsequently slaughtered in the general election by the incumbent, so my mom started calling it a “blessing in disguise” with a hard, faraway look in her eye.
I finished my own counseling with Dr. Luther. I stopped the anxiety medication. Things got kind of back to normal again.
And that, I think, was the problem. They could absolutely deal with Mel getting so sick. But I don’t think they could quite deal with her getting better. I did about eight hundred hours of anxious research on the internet and tried to tell them that almost ninety percent of anorexics do recover, but as time passed, they seemed to start resenting the healthy daughter just sitting there, the one that they’d sacrificed so much for, no longer needing the sacrifice, if she’d ever really needed it in the first place. (She did. We could have lost her. I could have lost her. And then what?)
My mom started making vague references to “missed opportunities” and stopped coming to FBT sessions because she was doing important work down in Olympia, the capital. She handed control of Mel’s diet over to Mel four full months before the schedule suggested. Mel asked if I would help her, and I have, every day since.
We went back to barely seeing my dad. He’s either in his office at work or his office at home, usually smelling of alcohol, often asleep. To be fair, as alcoholics go, he’s pretty low maintenance. He gets to work most of the time, he’s never violent or scary, and he lets my mom do most of the driving. I think my mom keeps him out of trouble, mostly by being clear about what she would do if he were ever in trouble.
So here we are now. I make sure my sister eats, she helps me out of my tics and loops, and we both watch over Meredith and try to stay out of our parents’ way.
But this, all this, isn’t the story I’m trying to tell. This is all past. This is the part of your life where it gets taken over by other people’s stories and there’s nothing you can do about it except hold on tight and hope you’re still alive at the end to take up your own story again. So that’s what we did. Me, Mel, and Meredith all moved on, and we’re the stories we’re living now.
“It’s on the 24th,” Meredith says, staring at us like she’s trying to light us on fire with her mind. Which, maybe she is. “So three weeks from today. Aren’t you going to write it down?”
“Eight hundredth time you’ve said it,” Mel yawns, leaning back into our couch. “It’s in my phone, on the calendar in my room, on TV every five seconds, and I have a feeling you’ll probably remind us as the day approaches.”
“It’s the week before your prom so it won’t get in the way and there’s enough time for you to get off work--”
I grab Meredith’s fingers where she’s counting off her points. “It doesn’t matter if we’re free, the concert’s gonna sell out in like two seconds.”
Meredith opens up her computer pad and reads. “‘As a thank-you to their local fans for this special show, Bolts of Fire have made tickets available for purchase to any fan’” -- she looks up at us -- “‘between the ages of eight and 12 living in the 98--- zip code.’” She closes the pad. “You just have to be one of the first to register.”
“Let me guess,” I say.
“Done and dusted,” Meredith says, copying a phrase from our dad. “They let fan-club members in there first.”
“Now all you have to do is talk her into letting you go,” Mel says.
“I will,” Meredith says, “with your help. But you know she won’t take me, so you guys have to be ready.”
My mom started avoiding large public gatherings she couldn’t leave several years ago because they just turned into abuse-fests by people who hated politicians in general and politicians who supported a nonlethal speed limit in particular. Thirty minutes anywhere, even church, is her maximum, and on this one, I have to say I can kind of see her point.
“I’m in,” Mel says. “Even though I hate country music. I’m the best sister in the world.”
“I’m in, too,” I say, “though as your brother, I’m probably only the second-best sister.”
“But,” Mel says, and raises her eyebrows. She doesn’t need to explain further.
Mom’s aversion to public events aside, Bolts of Fire have toured near us twice before, both times in the even bigger city that’s an hour away from the city that’s an hour away from us. Meredith tried to beg, bribe, tantrum, reason, sweet-talk, extort, demand, and panic my mother into letting her go. But after Mel’s rough time and my thing with the loops, Mom isn’t taking any chances on her last remaining possibly non-messed‑up child.
Meredith was too young for the “atmosphere” of a rock concert (which is stretching it, as far as Bolts of Fire are concerned; they’re so meticulously clean and goody-goody, the bars at the venues only serve orange Kool-Aid) and she was too young to stay up that late anyway. So no, no, end of discussion, no, don’t make me take away your internet privileges.
“But I’m 10 now,” Meredith says. “Double digits. And it’s like five minutes away. And I’ll be home before my bedtime because they’re having the concert early so the cancer girl can have her treatment the next morning.”
Mel shrugs. “Not up to us.”
“I’ll die if I can’t go. I’ll just die. For real.”
“You could tell them you have cancer, too?” Mel suggests. “That’d get you in with or without Mom.”
Meredith’s eyes go wide, first in shock, then with a glorious, glorious plan -- “No way, Merde Breath,” I say. “For so many reasons.”
A door on the upstairs landing opens. Our father comes out in his underwear. Meredith looks away. He stares down at us like he’s not sure we’re there. He scratches the hairy potbelly sticking out over the elastic of his briefs and smacks his lips like he just woke up. It’s six o’clock in the evening, so that’s a possibility.
“You guys seen that shirt of mine?” he asks, his tongue lazy with drink. “The one with the eels?”
I turn to Mel. “The eels?” I mouth.
“I think Mom’s washing it,” Mel lies to him. “Why don’t you wear that red one with the double cuffs?”
He waits for a minute, like he didn’t hear her, then farts loudly and turns without a word back into his office.
When he’s sober, our dad is a funny, smart, warm guy, criminal greed aside. Mel in particular loves him, always has since I can remember. And she’s so disappointed in him, it almost literally chokes her.
Look, some more stuff happens that evening—Meredith argues with our mom over Bolts of Fire, Mel sneaks out to Henna’s house—but nothing so important that I have to go on about it. Just remember, please, most of that stuff is in the past. It isn’t the story I want to tell. At all.
You needed to know it, but for the rest of this, I’m choosing my own story.
Because if you can’t do that, you might as well just give up.