Ariel loves the local news in the same practically manic way she loves most things. I can hear my mom flirting with my stepdad in the kitchen, arguing over when to stir the rice. The sound of their voices comes in from far away, hissing and buzzing like the signal is fuzzy and I just need to adjust the antenna. On TV, the anchors are looking serious, shuffling their papers, and I get up to go get a glass of lemonade. I already know how the news lineup is going to go.
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Ariel loves the local news in the same practically manic way she loves most things. I can hear my mom flirting with my stepdad in the kitchen, arguing over when to stir the rice. The sound of their voices comes in from far away, hissing and buzzing like the signal is fuzzy and I just need to adjust the antenna. On TV, the anchors are looking serious, shuffling their papers, and I get up to go get a glass of lemonade.
I already know how the news lineup is going to go. Instead of the usual graphic of the angry cartoon thermometer, though, the one for the breaking story is a stock photo of yellow crime tape. I stand with my elbows propped on the back of the easy chair to watch. Crime tape means homicide. The anchor Ron Coleman is doing the breaking story in that broad, unnatural voice that newscasters have, like they come from no place and every place all at once.
There are ninety acres of it, and it runs straight through the middle of town. The news story still makes something tighten in my throat. In her school picture she looks mouse-haired and kind of dorky, but in this fun, goofy way. She would have given you gum or shared her lunch if you forgot yours. She was younger than me but older than Ariel—thirteen or fourteen. Nothing really scares Ariel. She looks strange with her face flipped upside down and her hair brushing the carpet.
I shake my head, leaning on the chair. The sleeves of my T-shirt are handmade. They used to be a tutu that someone tore a hole in. My little white sleeves start to dance and rustle. The air around me is suddenly electric. First comes the slippery, unsteady feeling, like everything is tilting and the floor is going to slide right out from under me.
I stand perfectly still, trying to breathe like everything is normal. The dry, unnatural cold is next, making the tiny see-through hairs on my arms stand up. Then comes the whisper very close to my ear. I bet you anything. I believe in them anyway, because the world is full of things that no one really understands.
She smiles, and her face reminds me of a skull. Her face is as sharp and hollowed-out as a moon crater. All the way. I shrug away from her and shiver without meaning to.
On TV, the anchorman is talking about candlelight vigils, looking appropriately sad. That we all feel this tragedy as one big loving community. When Ariel glances over, I smile automatically. Lillian scowls, waggling her fingers in a devil-horns sign, but Ariel only stares right through her. The outline of her hipbones looked like a basket with nothing in it. She was cold all the time and always wanted to hug me.
When she pressed against me, her bones felt sharp and spidery, like they might crawl inside me. When we were little, she was like a completely different girl. We lay in the rope hammock in my backyard and braided our hair together. Mine was yellow like butterscotch.
Best friends since forever, Wagner and Wald. I can hear her voice like the cry of a bird, Hannity, Hannity, Hannity! I can feel her hands against my throat. She died in January. The cameraman scans the ground, zooming in on a heap of black feathers lying next to the statue of Justice in a blindfold. When our mom calls for us to turn off the TV and come to dinner, Ariel and I leave the living room with Lillian drifting along after us like a helium balloon.
Even with the air conditioning on full blast, the air in the kitchen is warm from the stove, and everything smells like fresh garlic and sweet yellow onion. My stepdad, Decker, sets a heavy casserole dish in the middle of the table and we all sit down, except Lillian, who crosses to the granite island and hops up on the edge of it.
Seeing her in the kitchen is always disorienting. Later, we would whisper back and forth in my room, then sneak downstairs at two in the morning to lie out in the backyard and look at the sky. I concentrate on the dish of carrots in front of me and try not to glance in her direction. My cousin Kelly runs a one-hour photo shop over on Coronado Avenue.
There are a hundred fifty thousand people crowded into a seven-mile stretch along the Coureur de Bois River. Lillian is wriggling on the edge of the counter, watching Ariel with her eyes wide and her hands clasped against her chest. No one ever hears Lillian except me. Like the killer is going to burst into our kitchen right now, this minute, and he will have to scrape back his chair and protect us. She is the absolute master of avoiding the unpleasant.
She kicks me cheerfully, then launches into a story about how one of the girls in the brass section got in trouble for leaving her phone on in class and it went off during the Star Wars medley. But my mom has already stopped paying attention. You look burned. My mom just nods and scrapes up the last bite of chicken. The line is uneven. Not entirely comfortable.
So I move some peas into the gap and balance out the distance. There are all these things that you do. Sometime around eighth grade, I got in the habit of always leaving a little bit of everything on my plate.
Just two or three bites, nothing very intimidating. If there was a piece of ginger beef or a few fries on my plate, sometimes Lillian would finish what was left. She had this whole list of rules and rituals that, when you got down to it, were nothing but magical thinking. My rituals, on the other hand, were real.
The Penguin publicist I spoke to hyped it big time, I think because it was part of their Breathless Reads collection. Such was the case with The Replacement, which showed promise in the gothic tone and writing, but mostly fell flat. When I was sent a review copy of Paper Valentine, I really did not get that excited, but I did resolve to give Yovanoff another try, and I am so glad that I did, because she has grown a lot as a writer since her debut novel. Not by the memory of Lillian, no, but by her ghost. Lillian follows her around, giving her advice or criticizing her behavior, or both at the same time.
Paper Valentine Quotes
I put your sophomore effort, The Space Between, on my list of books to check out but it never quite happened. There are so many books out there; sometimes I lose track. But when I was offered the opportunity to review your new novel, Paper Valentine, I leapt at the chance. Hannah Wagnor is one of the It Girls. Or rather, was.