|Posted on December 6, 2017 at 2:55 AM|
About the Book
Title: Just Like The Bronte Sisters
Author: Laurel Osterkamp
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Sisters Skylar and Jo Beth adore skiing and they virtually share the same soul. After an accident, Jo Beth flees to Brazil, leaving Skylar behind in Colorado to obsessively read the Brontë sisters. While abroad, Jo Beth meets Mitch and her life takes some unexpected turns, until tragedy leads free-spirited Mitch right into Skylar’s empty arms. With their Heathcliff/Catherine romance in full swing, Skylar wants to trust Mitch, but did he harm her sister? Loving Mitch could make Skylar lose everything. Just Like the Brontë Sisters is an unconventional romantic page-turner inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, full of magical realism, literary references, a ghost, and some healthy doses of suspense.
Laurel Osterkamp is a Kindle Scout/award-winning author of women’s fiction and suspense. Her “day job” is as at Columbia Heights High School, where she teaches creative writing, college writing, and AP Lit. She resides in Minneapolis with her husband, two chatty children, an overweight cat, a gecko, and a hissing cockroach (don’t ask). Her other loves include chocolate, jogging, and boots.
Later that evening I was still pumped. The dim lighting, soft classical music, and the glass of red wine didn’t mellow me out. Gavin stood over the stove, stirring his homemade marinara with a small wooden spoon and I pretended not to notice him watching me as I sat on a stool by the island in the kitchen, leafing through an Olympics brochure. I could feel the angry path of a scratch that started at my cheekbone and extended down to my jaw, but I refused to admit to any discomfort or pain. Doing so would invite in Gavin’s judgment and concern, and I knew I’d be ingesting them enough tonight as it was. They may as well have been ingredients in the spaghetti sauce.
I just talked as if his ears were receptive. “Billy pretended to be mad, but I think he secretly respected me. After practice today, he talked like there’s no doubt I’d be in the Olympics. And seriously, being suspended in the air like that… well, now I understand how people become adrenaline junkies.”
“I’m surprised you came out of the whole thing with only a scratch.”
“You sound like my dad.”
“Then I’ll try to be less protective,” Gavin gave me a twisty smile as he dipped the spoon into his sauce and came toward me. “Here, try this. See if it needs more garlic.”
Halfheartedly, I let him feed me a small amount. We made flat eye contact and I shrugged. “I think you could go either way. I mean, it’s fine, but is there such a thing as too much garlic?”
“I don’t know.” He raised an eyebrow. “I guess that depends; are you letting me sleep in your bed tonight?”
My eyes awkwardly glanced away from him and settled back on my Olympics brochure, which had a picture of a triumphant Bode Miller on the front.
“How long before dinner?” I kept my voice intentionally light, like I hadn’t registered what he’d just said. “I might go downstairs and stretch. I still have a leg cramp.”
“I can rub it for you later.”
I leaned down and massaged my calf muscle. “Thanks, but I still want to stretch.”
I glanced up to see Gavin’s smile fade as he stepped away, walked back toward the stove, and spoke with his back to me. “I think we should talk.” Ominous words if there ever were any. I stood without going anywhere, as if our situation required formality. “Did you hear what I said?” Gavin said. “About talking?”
His urgency, his obvious desperation, propelled words out of my mouth before I could trap them. “Can’t you just be the guy for once?”
He dropped his spoon against the stove with a clang. “What? I’m not manly enough for you? I stay home in the kitchen while you go flying off a mountain, like you’re trying to be your sister or something...”
“Wait.” My defensiveness was instant and hot, a rash underneath my skin. “I do something spontaneous, something strong, and you think I’m just imitating Jo Beth?”
“Skiing past the safety barricades and off a cliff isn’t strong, it’s reckless, and it’s not like you.”
“Oh really? Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”
“Maybe I don’t,” he responded, “but it’s not for lack of trying.”
For a long, tense moment, Gavin stared at me, as if willing me to answer. I shifted my weight and looked toward the stairs to the basement, where I longed to escape from this conversation.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” I finally said.
“It’s simple,” he replied. “I want you to be safe. I want you to stay here in Black Diamond, and I want you to admit to me, to yourself, and to everyone else, that you and I are actually a couple.”
My answer was spineless. “I don’t know if I can do all that.”
Gavin’s face softened, maybe because he was as unprepared for my sudden vulnerability as I was. “Which part don’t you think you can do?”
I could barely squeak out my response, for fear that it would hurt us both. “All of it.”
Gavin nodded as if we’d just completed a business transaction. His shoulders rose and tensed as he turned off the stove with a flick. “I’m going. Just boil some noodles, then pour the sauce over them. It will taste good.”
I gave Gavin a reticent smile meant to beg forgiveness, but he wouldn’t look at me. “No, no,” I said. “Stay. Please, I want you to.”
He walked out of the kitchen, past me, and towards the front door. I followed and watched as he removed his wool coat from a hook and bundled up. My hands twitched from wanting to touch him, to soothe his anger, but my fingers were too timid to follow through.
He was clearly fuming. “Be honest, Sky. You’d rather have the night to yourself.”
I pictured the evening ahead of me, should he leave. It would start with a cold blast of air as he opened the door, a slamming sound as he walked away, and then the emptiness and guilt as I poured his marinara sauce into the sink, a blood red stream trickling down the drain because I couldn’t stomach eating his dinner without him. “That’s not true,” I said, trying to keep my voice close. “I just don’t get why we have to turn into something serious, into something that we’re not.”
“Because I’m tired of being ‘that guy’—the one you kill time with when you have nothing else to do.”
I felt my face heat up “I admit that I’m anxious to get out of here and into the Olympics. But my restlessness isn’t about you. I’m just sick of waiting for something to happen. You’re still my favorite person to spend time with.”
He paused, hand on the doorknob. I could see how he wanted to leave, how he wanted to stay even more. “Please don’t go,” I continued. “That sauce you made is delicious, and you don’t have to add any more garlic. That way our breath won’t stink too bad—you know, later on.”
I stepped in closer to him and put my hand on the back of his neck. He relaxed under my touch.
“Fine, okay.” Gavin whispered as he removed his jacket and we walked back into the kitchen together.
Later, I was in the bathroom, gargling with mouthwash. Green foam oozed down my chin and I used the sleeve of my oversized ski team jersey, which I wore as a nightshirt, to wipe it away. As I spat out the rest of the mouthwash I met my own eyes in the mirror.
Was that hesitation or fear lodged on my face?
I spat again, cupped my hand over my mouth, and breathed in and out through my nose, checking for signs of bad breath. There had been a lot of garlic in Gavin’s sauce. But I was satisfied that I passed the halitosis test, so I fished in the drawer, digging past hair brushes, tweezers, and a bottle of ADVIL to finally find an unopened box of condoms, which I had previously shoved into the very back, out of sight.
Briefly I studied the box that I bought months ago as a precautionary measure. I ripped open the blue and gold packaging, which read Trojan Ultra-Thin Pleasure Pack, and clumsily pulled one out. How could this shiny silver square, which looked like it contained candy, make me so nervous? Skiing off a cliff was nothing compared to this. I wrapped my fingers around the bright foil package, making a fist, so I didn’t have to see evidence of what I was about to do. I told myself that losing my virginity didn’t make me Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair and that becoming a sexual person didn’t turn me into an anti-heroine. I would instead be like Jo March, sleeping with her love, the professor, for the first time, somewhere off in the dusky void that existed away from well-lit pages underneath a reading lamp.
One more look in the mirror; this time it was a look of resolve. I studied the scratch on my cheek, made this afternoon by my ski pole when I’d landed in the snow, and lightly traced it down my cheek. “Gavin, I’m in the mood for more adventure,” I whispered to my reflection, rehearsing. I closed my eyes, shook my head in disgust, and then faced my reflection once again.
“Let’s take a chance tonight, okay?”
I gave my reflection the most provocative expression I could muster. My shoulders moved up and down, and then I walked out of the bathroom, determined to fly, not fall, off the cliff that I was launching myself from.
Mitch used tweezers to not-so-gently remove all the glass from Jo Beth’s skin. They sat in the bathroom, her atop the toilet with its lid down, and Mitch on the floor, his back leaning against the edge of the tub as he picked out the glass piece by piece, shard by shard, dropping each one into the wastebasket.
Occasionally he’d look up and his wide, dark eyes pooled with distress.
Jo Beth couldn’t keep silent. “Mitch, I swear that she started it. Magda hit me with that spoon and then she cut herself to make it seem like it was my fault.”
Mitch’s chest heaved up and down. He kept his eyes on her knees. “Jo Beth, you have to stop.”
“But I’m telling the truth.”
“Jo Beth!” His inhale was sharp, like he’d just been hit. “Once the baby is born, we’ll leave. I don’t care where we go, but we’ll figure something out. Until then, you have to keep it together.”
“She’s still in love with you, Mitch.” Jo Beth could say this as loud as she wanted because Magda was out, having taken herself to the emergency room after Mitch said that her cut probably needed stitches.
Mitch vehemently shook his head. “No. It’s not like that. She dumped me.”
“Wait, what?” Jo Beth felt her brain synapses coil tightly in confusion. “I thought you said that your breakup was mutual.”
He dug the tweezers into the base of her ankle, right where some glass was lodged. Suddenly Jo Beth felt like he was playing that board game, Operation, and she was as real to him as the clownish cartoon character who needs gas bubbles removed from his stomach.
“No,” Mitch replied. “She decided it was time, after I lost my ability to see through the blood-red cloud that surrounds her. That’s what happened.”
“Ouch!” Jo Beth yanked her foot away. His excavation attempts were just too vigorous. “What are you talking about? What blood-red cloud?”
Mitch grabbed her foot back and held it tight as he mined for more glass. “The one that surrounds Magda?” His tone was condescending and impatient, almost as bad as his nursing skills. “Don’t tell me you don’t see it.”
He wouldn’t look at her but stayed focused on his task.
“Mitch, you’re honestly telling me that a blood-red cloud hovers around Magda?”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I realize that not everyone can see it, but I can. I’ve always been able to see things that other people can’t. My ability is more a curse than a blessing.”
The pressure behind Jo Beth’s eyes was uncomfortable, just like the pricking of Mitch’s tweezers. Could he possibly be for real? “Why haven’t you ever mentioned this before?”
“Magda wanted it to be our secret,” he said simply. “But things changed, she broke up with me, and it was fine. There was no tidal wave, no crisis, she didn’t disappear, and we stayed friends.” Mitch finally dislodged the last pieces of glass and after depositing them in the trash can, he dropped the tweezers like he was dropping a microphone. “And I love you, Jo. But you have to stop acting so crazy.”
She had to stop acting so crazy? Jo Beth just nodded and gripped the edges of the toilet beneath her. How could one little statement from this man change everything?
she kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for taking such good care of me.”
Jo Beth went to bed and lay there until she heard Magda come in, and then there was the sound of their voices speaking in low, romantic tones. Were they kissing? Had they been intimate with each other this entire time? She was surprised to realize that she didn’t even care. But when Jo Beth was sure they were too consumed with each other’s company to worry about her, she got out her cell phone, hid under the covers so her voice would be muffled, and called Skylar. It was the middle of the night where she was, so Jo Beth thought for sure she’d answer, but it went straight to voicemail.
“Sky,” Jo Beth whispered. “You have to believe me because Mom doesn’t. Magda and Mitch have charmed her into believing that they’re innocent. But I know the truth. Magda is an evil bitch and Mitch is crazy.” She took a deep breath, trying not to feel claustrophobic underneath the covers. “I’m actually sort of relieved,” she continued. “Maybe Mitch actually does love me. Maybe’s it’s not his fault that he’s insane. I don’t know how long he’s been like this, maybe his whole life, but it explains everything. It explains why I can’t trust him.” She tried to keep her tears out of her voice. She had to stay strong. “Skylar, where are you? Why didn’t you come? I have to get myself and my baby away from Mitch. Once she’s born I’m going to leave and I’ll need your help. Promise that you’ll help me.” She took a deep sniff. “We need to talk in person. I don’t know how that will happen, but just know that I love you. You’re my favorite and I love you best of all.”
She pressed end, emerged from the covers, and sat up. Then she reached under the bed and removed the knife she’d kept beneath the mattress for over two weeks. Jo Beth gripped it in her sweaty hand, wondering if she was capable of murder, or if her subconscious just liked to pretend. Hell. She was pretty sure she was capable. The bigger question was whether she was up for the effort that murder required. Exhaustion slowly dripped through her, turning her muscles and mind to slush. She must have fallen asleep with the knife still in her grip, because after what seemed like hours, she woke to Mitch’s face looming above hers.
“Why are you holding a knife?” His voice was sharp, like the blade she clutched.
He took the knife from her and her breath caught. If he wanted to kill her, right here, right now, there was no stopping him. “Are you afraid of me, Jo Beth?”
She pushed him away and struggled into a sitting position. “No, Mitch. I’m not afraid of you. But I think we should break up.”
“As soon as I have the baby I’m going home with my mom.”
Mitch closed his eyes and fell back against the bed. “You can’t do that,” he whispered.
She took the knife from his hand and he let it go without protest. “Yeah, I can.”
His eyes rolled toward the ceiling. “So much water,” he said, holding out his palms as if to catch a nonexistent flood. “Like the roof is crying.”
“Mitch…” She placed her hand on his shoulder. He sat up abruptly and swiped back the knife. “Why can’t we just be okay? Is that too much to ask?”
Suddenly Jo Beth was afraid, but not of Mitch. There was a flood, but it wasn’t coming from the roof. It came from between her legs. “Mitch!” she cried. “Stop being delusional. My water just broke.”
“Huh?” I couldn’t orient myself or find my bearings as I woke in this foreign room to a foreign sound.
“Bijou is crying. You have to get her because I can’t.”
I fumbled around, patting my hands along the nightstand, trying to locate a lamp and switch it on. Finally, I gave up, got myself into sitting position, and put my feet on the floor. The trek to the nursery was short and lit by a nightlight, so that part was easy.
When I got there, I found Skylar standing on one leg over the bassinette, her crutches resting against the wall. She awkwardly leaned down in preparation for lifting Bijou up. Meanwhile, Bijou had switched from crying to angry screaming.
“Let me get her,” I said, and I handed Skylar her crutches so she could move out of the way. Then I picked up Bijou and held her, but that did nothing to stop her wailing.
“Do you think she’s hungry?” Skylar asked.
Skylar sat down in the rocking chair. “I can hold her while you go and prepare a bottle.”
“Okay.” I was unsure of the way down to the kitchen, and how I’d find the stuff to get a bottle ready once I was there. But I handed Skylar the baby and walked off like I knew what I was doing.
Actually, the kitchen was where I’d expected it to be, and when I flicked on the light there was Jo Beth, standing in the middle of the room like she’d been waiting for me.
“There’s the formula and the bottles,” she said, pointing to the counter where a bunch of baby stuff had been left out, probably by Elizabeth, so it could be found easily in the middle of the night. “Don’t forget to use warm water for the formula. Warm, but not hot.”
Was it possible to be this tired? I hadn’t slept on the plane and the hours before our trip were filled with life and death, but not with sleep. Every part of my body was heavy and it was incredible to imagine that I’d ever feel light again. “You woke me upstairs?” I said to Jo Beth.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Now are you going to make the bottle?”
I walked toward the counter where the baby stuff rested and I opened the can of formula. I let a sigh from deep inside escape while I dropped the milky white powder into the bottle.
“What’s your problem?” Jo Beth demanded.
“Nothing, I’m just tired.”
“So?” She floated over to my side and hovered next to me, her hands defiantly on her nonexistent hips. “Do you have any appreciation for the effort it took me to get here? I bet you don’t.”
“How could I?” I went to the sink, turned on the water, and stuck my finger into the stream of cold until it turned suitably warm. “I have no idea how you got here and I’m betting you’re not allowed to tell me.”
“You know I’ve never given a crap about rules. But you’re right; I can’t tell you because you wouldn’t get it.”
There was no arguing her point. If I couldn’t understand simple concepts, like how the universe could be created by a single burst of energy from a miniscule volume of space, or how it possibly rose like a phoenix from the dust of another, dearly departed universe, how could I ever comprehend Jo Beth’s existence or her journey to find Bijou and me?
“Okay,” I said simply.
Now it was Jo Beth’s turn to sigh, which she did as I tightened the lid onto the body of the bottle and shook it. Was she angry because I wasn’t arguing with her?
“Test the temperature on your wrist.” Jo Beth said.
“To make sure it’s not too hot.”
“But how hot is too hot?”
“It shouldn’t hurt.”
I looked at her; even as a ghost she was beautiful. “Can you feel pain anymore?”
Her eyelids pulled down for a moment, and then she silently shook her head no.
“But you can remember pain?” I asked.
“I’m sorry if I contributed to your pain, Jo.”
She shook her head again. “Our daughter is crying. You should get upstairs.”
The bottle was ready, so I turned toward the stairs, toward the sound of little Bijou’s wails. But first I looked back at Jo Beth. “Will I see you again?”
She shrugged her ghostly shoulders. “Who knows?”
“What if I can’t live with that uncertainty?”
“You have too. Everyone does.”
I almost pointed out that she doesn’t have to live with uncertainty, that she doesn’t have to live with anything, not anymore. But I kept my mouth shut for fear of being insensitive and climbed the stairs to find Skylar rocking Bijou.
“I can take over,” I said.
We did the awkward dance of switching places, which included our handing the baby back and forth while she retrieved her crutches, and at one point Skylar had to lean on my shoulder while I held Bijou. Skylar looked so much like a younger, less angry Jo Beth, and she even held the same soapy scent.
“Thank you,” I said. I wanted to tell Skylar to stay, to sit with me, to not leave me alone. But right before those pleas escaped my mouth, I bit my tongue and managed not to beg. I put the bottle in Bijou’s mouth and instantly her screams stopped. Then the only sound in the room came from her sucking that rubber nipple.
“You were hungry, huh little girl?” I rocked Bijou, feeling that pull of devotion that they say always happens to mothers, but not necessarily to fathers. This delicate, strong creature, with her paper-thin eyelids, silky hair, and strong grip around my index finger: I knew that if necessary, I’d kill for her.
I could live with any other uncertainty, but Bijou had to be okay.