Welcome to the second stop along the excerpt tour for Mary Kubica’s upcoming release When the Lights Go Out! Scroll through for the synopsis, book, and author details, followed by the excerpt, and a link to the rest of the tour!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.
Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?
Book stats: Hardcover, 336 pages, Park Row Books, September 4, 2018
There’s a guy I see in the cafeteria every now and then, a little bit like me. A weak frame lost inside crumpled up clothes; tired, red eyes but doped up on caffeine. Like me, he’s twitchy. On edge. He has a square face, dark, shaggy hair, and thick eyebrows which are sometimes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses so that the rest of us can’t see he’s been crying. He sits in the cafeteria with his feet perched on a plastic chair, a red sweatshirt hood pulled over his head, sipping his coffee.
I’ve never talked to him before. I’m not the kind of girl that cute guys talk to.
But for whatever reason tonight, after I get my cup of coffee, I drop down into the chair beside him, knowing that under any other circumstance, I wouldn’t have the nerve to do it. To talk to him. But tonight I do, mostly, I think, to delay going back to Mom’s room, to give the doctor his chance to examine her and leave.
“Want to talk about it?” I ask, and at first his look is surprised. Incredulous even. His gaze rises up from his own coffee cup and he stares at me, his eyes as blue as a blue morpho butterfly’s wings.
“The coffee,” he says after some time, pushing his cup away. “It tastes like shit,” as though that’s the thing that’s bothering him. The only thing. Though I see well enough inside the cup to know that he drank it down to the dregs, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
“What’s wrong with it?” I ask, sipping from my cup. It’s hot and so I peel back the plastic lid and blow on it. Steam rises to greet me as I try again and take another sip. This time, I don’t burn my mouth.
There’s nothing wrong with the hospital’s coffee. It’s just the way I like it. Nothing fancy. Just plain old coffee. But still, I dump four packets of Equal in and swirl it around because I don’t have a stir stick or spoon.
“It’s weak,” he says, “and there are grounds in it,” he tells me, giving his abandoned cup of coffee the stink eye. “I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “Guess I just like my coffee stronger than this.”
And yet, he reaches again for the cup before remembering there’s nothing left in it.
There’s an anger in his demeanor. A sadness. It doesn’t have anything to do with the coffee. He just needs something to take his anger out on. I see it in his blue eyes, how he wishes he was somewhere else, anywhere else but here.
I, too, want to be anywhere else but here.
“My mother’s dying,” I tell him, looking away because I can’t stand to stare into his eyes when I say the words aloud. Instead I gaze toward a window where outside the world has gone black. “She’s going to die.”
Silence follows. Not an awkward silence, but just silence. He doesn’t say he’s sorry because he knows like me that sorry doesn’t mean a thing. Instead, after a minute or two, he says that his brother’s been in a motorcycle accident. That a car cut him off and he went flying off the bike, headfirst into a utility pole.
“There’s no saying if he’ll make it,” he says, talking in euphemisms because it’s easier that way than just saying there’s a chance he’ll die. Kick the bucket. Croak. “Odds are good we’ll have to pull the plug sometime soon. The brain damage.” He shakes his head, picks at the skin around his fingernails. “It’s not looking good,” he tells me, and I say, “That sucks,” because it does.
I rub at my eyes and he changes topics. “You look tired,” he tells me and I admit that I can’t sleep. That I haven’t been sleeping. Not for more than thirty minutes at a time, and even that’s being generous. “But it’s fine,” I say because my lack of sleep is the least of my concerns.
He knows what I’m thinking.
“There’s nothing more you can do for your mom,” he says.
“Now you’ve got to take care of you. You’ve got to be ready for what comes next. You ever try melatonin?” he asks, but I shake my head and tell him the same thing I told Mom’s doctor.
“Sleeping pills don’t work for me.”
“It’s not a sleeping pill,” he says as he reaches into his jeans’ pocket and pulls out a handful of pills. He slips two tablets into the palm of my hand. “It’ll help,” he says to me, but any idiot can see that his own eyes are blood shot and tired. It’s obvious this melatonin didn’t help him worth shit. But I don’t want to be rude. I slip the tablets into the pocket of my own jeans and say thanks.
He stands from the table, chair skidding out from beneath him, and says he’ll be right back. I think that it’s an excuse and that he’s going to take the opportunity to split. “Sure thing,” I say, looking the other way as he leaves. Trying not to feel sorry for myself as I’m hit with that sudden sense of being alone. Trying not to think about my future, knowing that when Mom finally dies, I’ll be alone forever.
He’s gone now and I watch other people in the cafeteria. New grandparents. A group of people sitting at a round table, laughing. Talking about old times, sharing memories. Some sort of hospital technician in blue scrubs eating alone. I reach for my now empty cup of coffee, thinking that I, too, should split. Knowing that the doctor is no doubt done with Mom by now, and so I should get back to her.
But then the guy comes back. In his hands are two fresh cups of coffee. He returns to his chair and states the obvious. “Caffeine is the last thing either of us needs,” he tells me, saying that it’s decaf, and it occurs to me then that this has nothing to do with the coffee, but rather the company.
He digs into his pocket and pulls out four rumpled packets of Equal, dropping them to the table beside my cup. I manage a thanks, flat and mumbled to hide my surprise. He was watching me. He was paying attention. No one ever pays attention to me, aside from Mom.
Beside me he hoists his feet back onto the empty seat across from him, crosses them at the ankles. Drapes the red hood over his head.
I wonder what he’d be doing right now if he wasn’t here. If his brother hadn’t been in that motorcycle accident. If he wasn’t close to dying.
I think that if he had a girlfriend, she’d be here, holding his hand, keeping him company. Wouldn’t she?
I tell him things. Things I’ve never told anyone else. I don’t know why. Things about Mom. He doesn’t look at me as I talk, but at some imaginary spot on the wall. But I know he’s listening.
He tells me things too, about his brother, and for the first time in a while, I think how nice it is to have someone to talk to, or to just share a table with as the conversation in time drifts to quiet and we sit together, drinking our coffees in silence.
To follow along on the rest of the tour (and catch all the excerpts), click HERE.