Excerpt from The Secrets We Keep
by Lily Velez
Sully still remembered the first time that he saw Cadence. It was a sweltering summer that year. Push-cart ice cream vendors roamed the neighborhood blocks like soldiers on patrol, circling playgrounds and community swimming pools. It was common to see people pop open fire hydrants like champagne bottles, children dancing in the shoots of water as miniature rainbows reflected off the asphalt.Sully and his brother, twelve and ten years old at the time, were living with the Petersons back then along with a tribe of foster siblings. Ol’ Man Peterson was a Vietnam vet with PTSD and a short-fuse temper that exploded so quickly, it was like his personality had a gas leak. Usually, maintaining a thirty-foot distance from the man at all times was insurance against his drunken rampages. His military pedigree had bred in him a no-nonsense adherence to hard work and, where appropriate, hard discipline—both of which were far less easy to escape.The hard work in particular manifested in the Peterson prison as an endless checklist of chores (otherwise known as “slave labor” in the Spencer Graham lexicon), the completion or lack thereof of which determined whether or not you ate dinner that night. Additionally, each child had to fulfill their assigned task in accordance with certain standards, and as Ol’ Man Peterson was an uncompromising perfectionist, one chore could go through three to five rounds before the man extended a grunt of approval.The afternoon Cadence arrived, Sully and Spencer were attached to yard work. While the Peterson walk-up sat only a few yards from the curb, which meant there barely existed a lawn between the chain-link fence and the front door, Ol’ Man Peterson preferred his grass cut to an exact height. It was taking painstaking precision to perfect his science.Spencer lay on his stomach with a see-through ruler to measure the blades of grass. “I think you cut this side of the walkway too short.”Sully rested a broom atop his shoulders, arms draping over it like a scarecrow. “It’s way too hot to even care, dude.”“I care because I want to see the new Adam Sandler, movie and I’m not about to get grounded for another weekend.”“How many times have I been grounded because of you?”Spencer stood. “Whatever. I’m taking over sweeping duty.” He stretched out a hand to receive the broom, but Sully’s gaze had already shifted to a royal blue SUV parking alongside the curb. A woman emerged from the driver’s side. She came around to open the backseat door closest to the Peterson home. Two ballet flats appeared from under the door, reaching for the street. When the woman closed the door, a girl who looked to be Sully’s age or slightly younger stood with her, hands bracketed to the straps of her backpack and her bottom lip caught softly under her front teeth.Spencer snapped in Sully’s face. “Hellooo? Earth to Sully.” Sully nodded toward the two, and when Spencer turned and saw them, he said, “Uh oh. Another casualty.”The woman, clearly the girl’s caseworker, greeted the boys with a cheery “working hard?” before continuing up the walkway with her charge. Sully waited for the girl to look his way, and when she finally did, he offered her a soft, barely-there smile by way of hello. Part greeting, part commiseration. She instantly looked away.They discovered her name only because she was sharing a bunk-bed with their friend Novah. “Cadence Livingston,” she told them. “She’s been in the system for a few years. She doesn’t talk much. Or at all. Those are the only things I was able to get from her. She’s probably halfway to being a mute.”“I wish Spencer was a mute,” Sully muttered.“Ha ha,” Spencer said. “You’re so funny. Absolutely hilarious. How did I get so lucky to have a brother like you?” Then he excused himself to see about fixing the eyesore Sully had made of the front lawn and left Sully fixated on the enigma of the quiet and elusive Cadence Livingston.
A graduate of Rollins College and a Florida native, when she’s not reading or writing, she spends most of her days wrangling up her pit bulls Noah and Luna, planning exciting travel adventures, and nursing her addiction to cheese. All this when she isn’t participating in the extreme sport known as napping.
You can learn more about Lily and her books at www.lilyvelezbooks.com. Lily’s debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, comes out November 8, 2015.
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