I finished the first draft of my YA urban fantasy novel Reflections sometime last week. I can't remember the exact date right now, and I'm not too concerned about it, because I get to take a break now. I'm taking two weeks off from writing to rest, relax, and recover before diving into the second book in the Blood and Water series.
Since a lot of you have been asking me about Reflections, I wanted to take time to share a sizable excerpt with you. So, without any further ado, here's the first chapter of a (very) rough draft of the novel. Enjoy!
NOTE: General trigger warning for body dysmorphia, self-esteem issues, self-criticism. Onward.
CHAPTER 1. the dressing room
The dressing room was hot, but that wasn’t the reason Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan was sweating. She and her best friend Myra Hare had been at the mall for hours, and although Myra had a dozen outfits stuffed into bags on her arm, Rama hadn’t found a single thing she liked.
She never found anything she liked anymore.
The department-store dressing room was small, way smaller than it needed to be. Either the air conditioning had gone out in this part of the building, or Rama was really worse off than she thought. Sweat ran down the back of her neck and trailed along her spine. What’s worse, she could see the sweat beaded on her face as she cautiously assessed her reflection.
Standing in front of the dressing room mirror, Rama hated what she saw. The dress was as awful as all of the others—too tight in some places, too low in others, and too short around her thighs.
As she studied her reflection, she wanted to throw up. She prayed for the ground to open up and swallow her whole before Myra could ask her what was wrong, why she was taking so long, and whether she planned to buy the dress.
There were too many questions, and she didn’t feel like answering any of them. They were all too complicated, and she didn’t have the patience. Besides, she wasn’t sure she had all the answers, either.
Then again, she wasn’t sure that she had any of the answers.
Myra’s knuckles rapped against the door. “Hey, can I come in?”
“Just a second.” Rama smoothed the dress over her stomach. Too tight. She’d known it would be. Still, there was no way she’d ask Myra to go look for the next size. “I’m changing back into my street clothes. I don’t think I’m getting this one, either.”
“Rama,” Myra said, “that’s like, the eighteenth outfit.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Just give me a minute.”
Myra sighed, but she didn’t argue. Rama felt guilty for dragging her best friend into such a mess, but Myra had been the one to propose the shopping trip. They hadn’t been spending enough time together. Myra had just made the cheerleading team, and Rama was taking three AP courses, which meant her nose—as hooked as it was—was constantly buried in a book. She had so much homework that sometimes, she didn’t even leave the house on the weekends. She didn’t count that as a loss—it wasn’t as though she liked going anywhere now, anyway. She was far too busy to even help her parents with running the restaurant most nights, and that was an obligation. A social life? Forget it.
Her parents, like all of the others in town, must have been thrilled with this development. There had been a rash of unsolved murders of young girls in the past few months, and the mayor of Aldale, West Virginia had even gone so far as to establish a curfew for anyone under eighteen. It just wasn’t safe to be out alone at night. It wasn’t safe to be alone at all.
But Myra’s parents thought all the precautions were too strict. Sure, the children needed to be careful, but as long as they exercised common sense and good judgment, there was no need for them to take such drastic measures. They’d explained their point of view to their daughter, and it hadn’t taken much else for Myra to be convinced. Of late, she’d taken to trying to recruit Rama to her side of the debate.
“We should go to the mall today,” Myra had said at her house that afternoon. “It will do you good to get out.”
For some reason, Rama had gone along with the plan. She’d even, at one point, thought that Myra might be right. It probably would do her good to get out.
But now, in the dressing room, Rama wasn’t so convinced. She wasn’t sure what the worst part of the dress was—the way it scratched her skin, the way it dipped low enough in the front to expose the scar below her collarbone, or the way it clung to her hips and made her feel like a cow.
She didn't even need the dress, didn't she? It wasn't as though she actually went anywhere anymore, let alone somewhere that she would wear something so nice. It didn’t even cover her scar, which had been her biggest reason for wanting to buy new clothes, anyway. If it couldn’t even do that much, did it do her any good?
She ran her fingertips over the scar and winced as though it were fresh. Myra was the only one besides Rama who had seen the scar, and thankfully, she’d never asked Rama where it had come from. If she had, Rama would have had no idea what to tell her. There was absolutely no way she’d tell anyone the truth—if she said it aloud, she had to acknowledge that it had happened, and then she couldn’t pretend it was just a nightmare anymore.
Rama swallowed the lump in her throat. The walls of the dressing room were closing in around her, and the ceiling was going to cave in any minute. She would be crushed or suffocate and die in the middle of the mall and no one would miss her, that was the worst part, not even Myra who had dragged her to the mall try on the stupid dress in the first place.
“You okay?” Myra asked from the other side of the door.
“Fine,” Rama lied. “I'm just hungry is all.”
“It's making you cranky.”
“I know, and I'm sorry. Look, can we just go?”
Myra sighed again. “You said you needed new clothes, and you haven't gotten a single thing. I don't want to leave without you buying something.”
“I hate everything I try on.” Rama pulled the dress off over her head and tossed it onto the chair. The plastic hanger that had been there clattered to the ground. Rama stooped to pick it up. “I don't see the point in staying here when I don't want to even get anything now.”
“Let me see if I can find you something else then. Just let me try, okay?”
Rama looked at herself in the mirror again. Shiny white stretch marks pulled across her hips and thighs, dipping into the ragged waistband of her underwear. The under-wire of her bra was sticking out on one side. Her hair was disheveled, dull, and full of tangles.
She wanted, more than anything, to be someone else—anyone else.
Anyone that wasn’t her or anyone like her.
And she’d be willing to do almost anything to make that wish come true.
Rama was still thinking about how much she hated her body when Myra returned with an armful of clothing. She knocked on the door, and Rama paused a minute before opening it enough for Myra to shove the clothing in. Rama dropped the pile of clothes on the chair. None of them were to her taste—fit too tight; showed too much skin. Drew too much attention. What had Myra been thinking?
“Well?” Myra asked.
“Close the door,” Rama said. There was no way in hell she’d wear any of that stuff. But she couldn’t say that to Myra. She wouldn’t understand. She never could.
No one could.
And she wouldn’t try to make her understand where she was coming from.
“Something’s wrong,” Myra said. “I wish you’d just tell me what’s bothering you.”
Rama took in a shuddering breath.
“It’s not about clothes, is it?”
“It’s not about the clothes.” It was never about the clothes. She squeezed her eyes shut, willed away tears. In her mind’s eye, she saw him again—the man with the mustache. Chicken tikka masala. Her stomach churned.
She opened her eyes. Myra was still there, lips narrowed into a thin line.
She touched Rama’s arm. “You’ll never be happy until you learn to make peace with your body, you know.”
That was easy enough for her to say. Myra had long legs and curves in all the right places—that was one of the biggest reasons she’d made the cheerleading squad. As far as Rama knew, she’d never had a single pimple. Self-esteem issues? Forget it. Myra had absolutely nothing to complain about. And she certainly had never been attacked like Rama had, never hated her body as much as Rama hated hers now.
Rama sniffed and covered the scar on her chest. There was no way in hell she’d ever tell Myra what had happened that day in the restaurant.
Myra took the clothes from Rama and sighed. “Okay, you win. You don’t have to try this stuff on if you don’t want to. Shopping is supposed to be fun, not torture, you know.”
A smile quirked the corners of Rama’s lips. “I appreciate your help.”
“It’s nothing,” Myra said. “Why don’t we head back to the car? We can get milkshakes before I drop you off. I’ll grab your bike.”
In her battle with self-image, she’d almost forgotten—she’d ridden her bicycle to Myra’s house, and then they’d gone on to the mall. She needed her bike to get home. Sure, she could always hitch a ride with Myra, but Myra was asking for more quality time. Rama needed to be alone. And Myra wanted them to get milkshakes.
Rama chewed her lip. The last thing she needed was a milkshake. She kept saying she was going on a diet, but maybe she wasn’t serious. She couldn’t figure out how to make a diet work when she lived above a restaurant and had two chefs for parents. At any rate, she’d already done too much thinking about her body that day, and she needed a serious distraction. A milkshake wouldn’t cut it. Neither would her friend.
“I’m going to bike home, I think. I could use some fresh air.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea? You’d be alone.”
“I know. It’s all right, I promise. I’ve done it before.”
Myra cast a sidelong glance at her. “Have you done it since the murders?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Rama exhaled loudly. “I’m going straight home, no stops on the way. It isn’t even dark yet—won’t be dark for a while—and I really need to think. Come on, Myra. Just let me take my bike.”
She could tell that Myra wanted to press her for details, but somehow, she resisted. “Suit yourself. Let’s go, girl.”
What do you think? Are you excited for Reflections?
"She wanted... to be someone else—anyone else. Anyone that wasn’t her or anyone like her." (Click to tweet)