Read Loss Online

Authors: Jackie Morse Kessler

Tags: #General, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Family, #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Fantasy & Magic, #Bullying, #Boys & Men, #Multigenerational, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance


BOOK: Loss
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents




Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Two

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part Three

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Author’s Note

About the Author


Copyright © 2012 by Jackie Morse Kessler

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

Graphia and the Graphia logo are registered trademarks of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Text set in Adobe Garamond.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kessler, Jackie Morse.

Rage / Jackie Morse Kessler.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-547-71215-4

[1. Bullies—Fiction. 2. Self-esteem—Fiction. 3. Diseases—Fiction. 4. Time travel—Fiction. 5. High schools—Fiction. 6. Schools—Fiction. 7. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse— Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.K4835Los 2012



Manufactured in the United States of America

DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


If you’ve ever been pushed around and no one seemed to care, then this one is for you.


First, a huge thank-you to Julie Tibbott, my extremely patient editor, and to the entire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt team, including Karen Walsh and Lisa DiSarro—you guys rock out loud.

Next, an enormous thank-you to Sammy Yuen, the brilliant cover god of
. Worship him. He deserves much worship.

To my tireless agent, Miriam Kriss: Thank you so much for asking, “So, which Horseman are you writing about next?”

To the Deadline Dames: You ladies have been my constant support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To the Mopey Teenage Bears:
began during the 2010 World Tour. Rah!!! Ty, thank you for “Ballard.” Brian, you believed from the start. Amy and Heather—ladies, from punching bags to the TBF and beyond. You all are amazing. Rock on!

To Heather Brewer, who would have kicked my ass if Billy wasn’t believable.

To Renee Barr, who continues to read every single thing that I write. Poor woman!

To my mom and dad: my biggest fans!

To my Precious Little Tax Deductions, Ryan and Mason, who understand the power of stories.

And to my Loving Husband, Brett. Always, forever.

Part One

Billy Ballard and the Ice Cream Man

Chapter 1

The Day Before Death Came for Billy Ballard . . .

. . . Billy was on the ground, getting the snot pounded out of him. Again. No special reason this time; maybe it was because it was Tuesday, or because Eddie Glass didn’t like Billy’s hair. Maybe, if you listened to Billy’s mother all those years ago when he’d first started getting pushed around by his classmates, Eddie “secretly liked Billy” and this was how he showed it.

For whatever reason, Eddie was kicking the hell out of him, and Billy was taking it. He knew it would be over soon, real soon, and if he just protected his head and stayed curled into a ball, Eddie would get bored and stomp away, and then Billy could go on with his life.

The next kick didn’t fall, so Billy made the mistake of glancing up through his laced fingers. The sun backlit Eddie for a brilliant moment, and time stretched as Billy saw not a high school bully but a man in white, fists by his sides, his face hidden in shadow . . .

. . . and then time snapped back into place as Eddie landed one more kick, a brutal one that nearly cracked a rib. Billy couldn’t help it: He cried out.

Maybe that’s what Eddie was waiting for, because he stepped back, assessed Billy, and let out a satisfied grunt, like a pig snorting after particularly fine swill. Eddie got the expected high-fives from his fellow thugs as they moved on in search of other targets.

Billy lay on the filthy alley floor, alone and hurting, breathing in the stench of old pizza and spoiled cheese, thankful that Eddie hadn’t done anything to his face. It was becoming harder for Billy to hide his injuries from his mom now that the weather had gotten better. No way he could have disguised a broken nose or black eye; the one time he’d tried to cover a bruise with his mom’s makeup had resulted in a rash. Hell of a way to discover he had sensitive skin.

He let out a teakettle hiss through his teeth. He was grateful the beating was done, yes, but a small part of him seethed over the sheer indignity of getting beaten, again, of how dealing with the likes of Eddie Glass was just a piece of the daily routine. That part of Billy was disgusted by how he had to map out his routes to and from and inside school, how his mantra was Keep Your Head Down. Deeper than the disgust was the desperation to unleash his fury and fight back. But Billy’s anger was overcome, as always, by the gnawing dread that defending himself wouldn’t do anything but make the Eddies of the world return in packs.

“That’s true sometimes,” a woman said.

Billy jerked his head up to see not a woman but a girl in a red leather coat, pants, and boots, the color licking at her as if she’d caught fire. The girl loomed over him somehow, even though she was neither tall nor big, and though she wasn’t that pretty, something about the way she looked, the way she stood, was altogether sexy.

“Other times,” she said, “it’s just an excuse.”

“What are you talking about?” Billy’s voice was scratchy, breathy, betraying both his fascination and his fear—there was something terrifying about this girl who’d appeared from nowhere, something dark and wet and hot coating the air between them and making Billy think of freshly spilled blood.

“Why you don’t fight back.” She held her hand out to him.

He stared at the offered hand, surprised that her leather glove was a dull brown instead of red.
It should be red
, he thought as he took her hand; everything about the girl should be red.

Then all thoughts disintegrated as a rush of power charged through him, shooting up his hand to his head and down to his toes, instantly transforming his blood into lava. Just as he was about to scream, the girl released his hand. Billy, still on the ground, tried to catch his breath and failed. Gasping, he watched as waves of heat streamed from his fingers.

“You’re good at caging it,” the girl said. “But soon enough, it will claw its way free.”

He wanted to say, “What?” but he was still in pain from Eddie’s attack and the girl’s whatever-the-hell-that-was, and now he was more than a little freaked, so the question came out as “Whuh?”

“Your rage.” She said the word lovingly. “You’re so angry. But you’ve talked yourself out of being allowed to feel that way. You’ve convinced yourself that if you fight back, that will make it worse. It might,” she said. “Then again, it might not.”

He stared up at her. It felt like his eyeballs were jittering in their sockets.

“You’re angry,” she said. “But you’re also afraid.”

His heartbeat confirmed her statement in triple time. Flustered, he shouted, “You don’t know me!”

She smiled brightly, and Billy found himself momentarily dazzled by the sheer delight on her face. “Of course I do,” said the girl in red. “But you don’t know yourself. Yet.” And then she was gone, vanished like specters at daybreak.

He closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. When he opened his eyes again, the memory of the girl in red was nothing but a tickle in the back of his mind, a nudge telling him to get up.

Billy slowly hauled himself to his feet. His body was hurting—after a session with Eddie’s boots, how could it not be?—but nothing seemed to be broken. His clothing wasn’t even ripped. He probably had bruises, though. The same bruises he’d had for years.

There was a moment of bitterness, a sour churning in his stomach as Billy grabbed his fallen backpack by its single, dangling strap and hefted it over his right shoulder.

Get over it,
he told himself.
Just grin and it’ll be okay. Marianne’s waiting.

That was enough to get him moving. So what that he’d rather crawl under a rock and hide? Marianne was waiting for him.

He pasted a false smile on his face and walked—not limped, no, not today—out of the alley and around the corner to the front of Dawson’s Pizza. Outside the store, he paused to look through the large front window. Teens filled the pizzeria, packing the tables and lined in rows three deep by the counter and in back by the video games. Over in the corner, right by the window, Marianne Bixby had snagged a table just big enough for two.

Billy’s fake smile melted into the real thing as he drank in the sight of her. Marianne was in black, as usual, but the clothing paled compared to the raven black of her hair. Oblivious to the cacophony around her in the busy store, she texted on her cell phone as her bookbag stood guard on the other chair at the table.

In Billy’s pocket, his phone buzzed.

He glanced at the message—it was from Marianne, who was wondering if he was weaseling out of his turn to buy the pizza—and then he put the phone back in his pocket and took a deep breath. This was always the hardest part: walking in. No matter how many times he did it, it never got easier. If not for Marianne, he’d never go to Dawson’s Pizza; why choose to be adrift in a sea of sharks? Walking into the pizzeria meant that he was welcoming anything that happened, from being mocked to getting pinched to being shoved from behind. It terrified him. But knowing that Marianne was right there waiting for him was enough to make him forget his fear, just a little. Just enough.

He took two steps toward the door . . . and that’s when he saw Eddie Glass near the front of the store, hulking over a packed table. Billy stood transfixed as he watched Eddie glower and the teens scatter. He flinched as Eddie and his cronies laughed and sat at the newly vacated table. He felt the echoes of pain in his side where Eddie’s foot had slammed brutally home.

Billy shook off the memory of the beating, but the damage was done: He couldn’t go inside. Marianne knew him far too well—one look, and she’d know that Eddie had jumped him, again, that Billy had been a punching bag, again. And she’d tell him, again, that he should talk to someone, try to get someone to help him make it stop, and he’d nod and say yes and would change the subject because he’d long since learned that adults don’t always have the answers they claim to have, and the rest of the afternoon he’d see pity in Marianne’s dark eyes.

No. He’d sooner stick needles under his fingernails than deal with that.

He turned away and trudged home, careful to take the longer, more populated route instead of cutting down side streets. Always Be Careful; that was right up there with Keep Your Head Down. Billy’s life was about caution—at home, dealing with Gramps; at school, wondering when the Eddies there would lunge from the shadows.

Billy Ballard was sick of being careful.

Five blocks away from home, Billy fished for his house key, both to get him inside quicker and to give the appearance of a weapon, just in case he’d been followed. Not like he’d really fight, but still, appearances mattered. Everyone knew that. One look at Billy, and people saw right away that something was different. What was it about him that infuriated people like Eddie Glass? Was it his face? His hair? He had no idea. As far as he could tell, he was completely average. But there had to be something there, something he couldn’t see, couldn’t change with hair color or piercings or clothing. Something intangible and yet permanent, branding him forever as a target.

BOOK: Loss
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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