Authors: Mary Hanlon Stone
Table of Contents
To my home team: my parents, Arthur and Therese,
and my guys, Richie, Jack, and Keith
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Published by The Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.). Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England. Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd). Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd). Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India. Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd). Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa. Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.
Text copyright © 2010 by Mary Hanlon Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Philomel Books, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Published simultaneously in Canada.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stone, Mary Hanlon. Invisible girl / Mary Hanlon Stone. p. cm. Summary: Fourteen-year-old Stephanie, whisked from Boston to Encino, California, to stay with family friends after her abusive, alcoholic mother abandons her, tries desperately to fit in with her “cousin’s” popular group even as she sees how much easier it would be to remain invisible. [1. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 2. Self-esteem—Fiction. 3. Popularity—Fiction. 4. Family problems—Fiction. 5. Child abuse—Fiction. 6. Muslims—Fiction. 7. Encino (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.S877942Inv 2010 [Fic]—dc22 2009027255
eISBN : 978-1-101-18766-1
Special thanks to so many people, beginning with the extraordinary Michael Green, who had the vision for this book, the kindness and patience to guide me along the journey, and the ability to send the funniest e-mails at the perfect time. To Claire Gerus, phenomenal agent and soul sister. You are magical. To Tamra Tuller for all her help. To my sibs, who are always there for me: Colleen Hanlon, savior and sage; Arthur Hanlon, muse musician; John, D.B., Kevin and Noreen, the rest of the home team. Thanks to Alexandra Dew, intrepid teen advisor, and the Stone girls, Tamara, Tali and Carly, for answering weird and random questions. To Lori Wagner for refusing to let me shove the book under my bed. Love you, Dub. To Robin Sax for generously introducing me to Claire. Thanks, Lobna Abdelaziz and Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. And, of course, to Richie, the most wonderful man I know, and my beautiful boys, Jack and Cubba.
Gross. It stinks in here. Like somebody’s wet dog.
I look up from my nest of coats on the closet floor and smack the flashlight against my hand hard. I hate it when it does this. When the beam of light flickers like it’s about to go out. The batteries aren’t even that old. I slap it against my leg even harder this time. The flashlight’s lucky it can’t bruise, no matter how many times I whack it. I wonder what it would be like not to bruise, no matter how many times I get hit.
I smack the flashlight one last time and the beam finally steadies. I focus it back on the book in my lap and a drop of water falls on my head. I reach up to touch one of my mother’s sweaters. It’s soaking wet from the rain that’s been pouring down outside for three days. No wonder it stinks in here. I want to open the door and toss out the sweater, but can you imagine what would happen if I were discovered? In here? Like this?
Not that I had a choice. The signs were everywhere. I felt fear rip through my body before my brain even registered “danger.” My body works faster than my mind. My heart started pounding, my legs started running and deep inside me, my cells screamed,
. Another part of my body reacted too. I wet my pants. I wet as I ran, like I was three instead of fourteen.
But that’s how it feels when this happens. Like I’m smaller and younger than I am. Like I’m nothing.
When I was finally safe in the closet, I had to peel off my pants and underwear. I rolled them into a little ball and shoved them behind the fishing stuff. I threw a windbreaker over my naked butt. It’s slippery and makes me cold even though it’s hot outside and the rain is like steam.
I run my fingers over the edge of my book. At least I have that. I always keep one waiting with the flashlight, behind the fishing poles and tackle box. I used to keep apples in here too, but then one day I came into the closet and found bugs all over them. Bugs with hard backs and short fat legs, the kind that, when I was a little kid, I thought could be the tanks in a bug war.
I point the flashlight at my Nancy Drew mystery. This is the only place I read Nancy Drews. Normally, I’m way too old for them. I mean, I read all forty-seven of them when I was ten, more than four years ago. I just keep a couple handy in the closet for when things get really scary. They help calm my mind when it catches up to my body and starts to think too much about where I’ll be hit next. And if I’ll have marks that I’ll have to hide at school.
In the closet, I read them over and over, even though I know what’s going to happen.
I start reading and I forget about my naked butt and the slippery windbreaker. By now the voices have grown loud. I have to bite on my knuckle to help me concentrate. Sometimes, I bite down so hard, it bleeds. I usually don’t even notice the blood until they’ve gone, when I open the closet door and see things smashed.
I have the knuckle of my right pinkie finger in my mouth now. It’s the only one that doesn’t have a scab yet. Something smashes against the wall in the kitchen and I squeeze my eyes shut to clear it from my head. I know it was a glass that smashed because it sounded high-pitched, like a woman’s scream. When a book is thrown, I hear a dull thud. High heels make sharp, scratching sounds like desperate rats trying to dig into the walls.
I grind into the pinkie knuckle to keep concentrating. In my book, Nancy Drew tries to grab her attacker and a sack is pulled over her head. She tears frantically at the cord around her neck.
I turn the page. Nancy’s still struggling. She knows that in a moment she’ll black out. She pulls harder on the cord. I put my hands up to my neck to help her.
Something bangs in our kitchen like angry thunder. My head jerks even though I’m trying to read and not hear anything. Footsteps storm into the living room and stop inches away from my sanctuary.
is one of my old Warrior Words.
I curl into a ball and slide my dad’s raincoat over my head so that I’m in a little tent. I keep the flashlight on my book and read the note to Nancy Drew demanding that she give up the Spider Sapphire case.
Something heavy slams against the closet door, which then flies open. My hand shakes as I turn off the flashlight. I try to frame what’s happening as if I’m reading about Nancy.
Someone opened her sanctuary!
It doesn’t work. I can smell the whiskey. My throat pitches forward like I’m going to throw up. I taste vomit in my mouth, but I clench my teeth so that it goes back down.
I shut my eyes into hard slits and wait for my words. Nothing happens yet. The whiskey smell is overwhelming. I push on my tightly shut eyes. Then, there’s a trembling in the top of my head and a rumbling as my Warrior Words start to tumble down. They come in to save the day when I’m forced to stop reading the Nancy Drews.
bursts in a brilliant rainbow in the middle of my brain, and I have a second of calm. Then there’s a hard yank on the raincoat covering me. My word vanishes. My mother stands in front of me like a beautiful, angry witch. She’s wearing a sparkly red dress that’s dipped low in front so that you can see half her boobs. She and my dad had been at a late afternoon wedding. Her lips are also red, perfect ruby curves except where they’re smeared on one side, making her upper left corner look like someone botched an operation.
“What do you think you’re doing in here?” my mother says to me, half falling into the upside-down hedge of jackets.
I don’t want to see her face. I squeeze myself even smaller so that maybe she’ll remember how unimportant I am and be distracted by something else. I sneak my arms to the sides of my head, where they cross over each other on top. I’ve learned to protect my head.
She laughs, rasping and high, like a witch. I peek at her face to see how much time I have. Her long, black hair is done up in a shiny bun like a queen’s. Her hands are on her movie-star waist. For a moment she’s a painting:
Beautiful, Angry Woman.
Her beauty is her power source. People can’t take their eyes off of her. The construction workers always whistle at her, and once an old businessman with a red-veined nose said, “Hubba, hubba.” Even our priest stares at her in church.
“I thought I told you to clean your room,” she hisses at me.
She’s lowered her head to say this to me. Her breath comes in fat clouds of whiskey. They puff around my head. Her eyes are red and loose like they can’t hold everything in their view at one time.
I dig up a word and put it over her face so I don’t have to see her witch anger.
glides over her cheeks and across her nose in a silvery splash. A school of fish shoots over the rapids of her forehead.
There’s no point in telling her that my room is clean.
My father comes up behind her. His face is white and tired. “Just sleep it off,” he says in his nervous voice. “You need to lie down.”
He’s perfectly sober. He always is around her. He’s afraid of all her bottles. The bottles we find in the broom closet, the bathroom cabinet and the clothes hamper.
My mother turns and looks at him. Her mascara rings both eyes. Raccoon Mama. Her voice is an ashtray scraping on concrete. “You are so pathetic. Have I told you how pathetic you are?”
She’s pure witch now, no queen. Her mouth is mean and her cheeks bunch up as if even the nerves under them are angry. She turns back to me. Heat pumps into my face. I pray nothing will get broken this time.
“Get up,” she spits, and her eyes pierce into me like knives.
I stand slowly and keep my eyes on her shoes. I’m holding the raincoat around my waist and hoping she won’t notice it.
“Hang up the coat,” she says, then kicks at my nest on the closet floor with the point of her sparkly red high heel. “What the hell kind of mess is this?”
I mumble, “I don’t know.” I start to edge away from the closet. It’s not that far to the stairs. I take one tiny side step but keep looking down. She grabs the coat and jerks it off of me. I feel air on my naked privates.
“What were you doing in there?” she screams.
Shame blisters my face. I look at my dad. His leaky eyes are stuck on my privates with the new dusting of pubic hair, the promise of my period yet to come. “Jesus Christ,” he says.
I don’t even have time to say anything. She’s already hitting me, mostly on my head but also on my shoulders and back. Even though my privates are exposed, I’m glad I don’t have to hold up the raincoat anymore because now I can use my arms to cover my head.