If I'd known I'd be living in Benders Hollow, California, when I was sixteen, I would have traded back every complaint I had about my life for a bus ticket out of this place. No can do, though. I'm stuck here for a year. Then I'll be gone, back to Los Angeles and on my own.
I met Benders Hollow four minutes ago via a Greyhound bus because my mom, Dr. Nancy M. Holly, decided her "path" didn't include being a mom anymore. As I stepped on the bus to come here, she stepped on a private chartered jet, headed to some South American jungle village to help "world citizens" lance boils and disinfect festering monkey bites. All so she could come back and tell her doctor friends how she helped the underprivileged peons she looks down her long nose at.
Not that I'm complaining. At this point I don't care if I see her until I get a monkey bite. I get in the way of her life, and we're like gunpowder and lightning together. First it was two weeks in Syria helping refugees. She missed my seventh-grade graduation for that one. Then it was a month in Africa. Scratch my fifteenth birthday for that trip, but add a purple Mohawk to greet her when she got back. Sometimes spite tastes sweet, and she refused to take me to any of her "functions" because it's not who you are, it's what you look like, and until I looked normal, I was out of the loop. Damn, no more jumbo shrimp cocktail and old pervert doctors ogling my ass.
Now it's a year in South America. I don't even know what country. I didn't ask.
Not that her being gone is much different from her being here, because even when she's here, she's gone. Whatever. My mom is saving the world one person at a time, she likes to say. I like to ask her how it feels to think you're a god. She rolls her eyes and walks away.
I'm in a no-win situation, though, and I know it. Poor disaffected me. We're rich. I've been quietly "transferred" out of three high-end private schools due to my inability to follow stupid rules. My last school counselor asked me how I could possibly complain about having such a great life and wonderful mother. Yeah, everybody loves her, and she loves everybody loving her. For such a stupid and lame question, I started crying before I got pissed about it. My mom cares more about strangers than about me.
She saves lives and that's good, and I love her because she's not always as selfish and egotistical as it seems, but it ends with the one thing more important than her status. Money. I asked her how many families she put through bankruptcy while she was saving their lives and she didn't speak to me for a week.
Anyway, now she's working as a surgeon in remote parts of a jungle where her daughter isn't, and I'm in Benders Hollow to meet my father for the first time because she wouldn't let me stay home alone. It's not like I haven't taken care of myself since I was ten, and it's not like he has. I can order out. I know how to use a toaster. Big deal. No different from when she's in town.
My mom likes telling me I'm spoiled. I'm a rich kid stuck in a not-rich-kid mind. She says I am who I am because I'm reactionary to her perfectness. But I'm not. I fit nowhere in her life, and the embarrassment I see in her face and the way she falters and casts her eyes away when she introduces me to "colleagues" makes me want to vomit on her four-hundred-dollar shoes. But I know who I am. I'm Poe Holly, and I'm pissed off.
I recognized him from a picture I saw once, but more than that, I recognized his voice. I'd talked to him a few times before. Once at Christmas when I was ten, another time on my birthday, and then after I'd been caught drinking last year in the locker room of my last private school. My mother's daughter doesn't get suspended. It was decided Oak Grove Preparatory School was not good enough for me.
I saw the resemblance in his eyes. The color of flagstone, just like mine. Other than that, he was totally and completely average. He could be any Joe Schmoe walking down the street in a small town: slim build, beige jeans, and a tucked-in slate green short-sleeved polo shirt. Every woman's dream if her dream was bland: he was about as clean-cut and boring as you could be. The only thing cool about him was that he wasn't wearing an article of clothing worth over fifty dollars. Maybe we'd get along.
His hair was cut ultra-conservative, dark brown like mine if I didn't dye it black, and he was clean-shaven and looked older than I had imagined. I knew he was thirty-five, but his face was a bit drawn and the shade under his eyes reminded me of a person who read too much. He smiled, standing with his hands in his pockets. I could tell he was nervous. I stepped toward him. "Hi."
He nodded, shifting his feet. "Hello."
We stood there, me in my punk getup and him looking completely forgettable with his loafers and neatly parted hair. I hitched my bag on my shoulder, wondering if this had been a good idea. "You're not holding a sign."
He blinked, then furrowed his brow.
"A sign. Like at an airport. It's supposed to say my name. Poe Holly. So I don't miss you in the crowd."
He brightened, then smiled, looking around the vacant sidewalk. "Nobody else got off at this stop."
"I was the only one on the bus. I take it the usual tourists don't come by Greyhound."
He laughed. "Benders Hollow isn't Los Angeles, and no, they don't."
I looked around, taking in the touristy setting. Mom had offered to have a limo bring me up. "Seven hours on a bus?" she'd said. "Poe . . ." Blah blah blah. I sighed. "Well, I'm here."
He held his hand out. "Let me take your bag." He took it, then looked to the bus idling at the curb. "Any more baggage?"
"Mom wouldn't fit in a suitcase."
He smiled, but a darkness passed through his eyes. Then he slung the huge thing over his back and we walked down the street. "That's why I like it."
I looked around. It looked like a small town to me, all right. "Why?"
He chuckled, but barely loud enough to hear. "Because it's not Los Angeles."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Brutal by Michael Harmon. Copyright © 2009 by Michael Harmon. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.