Sneak Peek: From the Top by Brittni Miner
Brittni Miner’s first full-length novel will be coming out very soon. Brittni and the Eburnean Books team has put in a lot of hard work to make this book wonderful, and we’re excited to share it with you soon.
So, in preparation, we wanted to share a Sneak Peek with you here on the blog! Enjoy!
Keep in mind, this is a pre-publication sneak peek, and the actual printed content of the published book may change. This sample is not to be redistributed without written permission from the publisher.
“It’s running backwards again, mom.”
Lizzie twisted onto her side, rolling herself up into her papery sheets like a nestled caterpillar. She let one eye open a slit to see the time. Through the haze of her darkened bedroom, 6:03 branded itself onto her retina. Awake.
“Fullmer, we’ve talked about the Spider-Man rule,” she groaned.
“Joke’s on you, mom, they’re playing reruns!” Hazel flew into the room past her twin brother, a mess of tangled, kinky blonde curls that landed with a poof on the crumbling mattress. “Spider-Man is on all morning starting super early, then The X-Men. You know, for that new movie coming out.” Hazel clambered up onto the pillow and then eased her way slowly under the patchy quilt. She rolled herself to her side, just as her mother had, dragging with her Lizzie’s last vestige of warm, cozy sleep time. “Mmm, feels good in here.”
Lizzie snatched back the covers and buried herself until the room was darkness once more. “I can still drop you guys off at the fire station,” she said. “There’s no age limit on that. No questions asked.” Hazel’s giggle was muffled through the quilt, but Lizzie could still picture how her daughter’s cheeks were turning rosy pink as she laughed.
“Mom, it’s running backwards.”
Fullmer’s voice was impatient, serious. Lizzie pulled back the quilt and sat up. She was the parent, but her son was the adult. Fullmer was short and scrawny, but his dark green eyes begged to be taken seriously. A worried frown tugged down the corners of his mouth. He favored a set of blue and red polos that Lizzie had found at a yard sale a year back and he wore one now, the collar ironed sharp and crisp and making him look like a shrunken down forty-year-old who had come to lecture her about staying out past curfew.
“Mo-om, it’s the Coltrane!” Impatient, he stamped his foot. Ah, there was the nine-year-old.
Lizzie smiled and sighed. She reached over to her nightstand and grabbed her last hair tie, which barely hung together by a thin, dying rope of elastic. She held the band between her teeth as she swept up her own tangled mess of blonde curls. “The record player can’t ‘un ‘ackerds—” Bun up. “The guy said so.”
“It can and it does. I have played it twenty-three times and I’m sure.”
“Stop counting, dingleberry.” Hazel flicked her brother on his forehead. Lizzie felt the impulse to swat her away but stopped short when she saw the half smile that threatened to overtake Fullmer’s face. Thank God for twin camaraderie.
She pulled both kids onto her lap. Hazel curled into her, head resting on Lizzie’s shoulder like a faithful pup. Fullmer squirmed, wrenching himself free to implore his mother with a more direct stare.
“Twenty-three times!” He pinched the bridge of his nose and Lizzie could practically envision a table of tax documents or consent forms in front of him. “The Giant Steps album is a catastrophe. And don’t even get me started on the Village Vanguard stuff. Coltrane’s jazz has been murdered.” He pouted, one fat lip sticking out.
“Honestly, Mer, I don’t know how you can even tell. It’s all a jumbled mess to me.”
Thoroughly exasperated with her, Fullmer slid off his mother’s lap and headed out toward the living area, his body hunched over with the weight of Lizzie’s ignorance. Hazel grinned up at her mother with gapped teeth. “Drama queen,” she laughed and shrugged, hopping off to follow her brother.
Lizzie stood up slowly, the world spinning a bit underneath her as she found her footing. When did she get in last night? Two? Kavinsky had been harassing her again, adding on to the closing list while he tried to cajole her into having a nightcap with him. She probably still had greasy black pomade stains on her apron from where he’d been grabbing at her all shift. Skeez.
God, the tile was freezing. Their whole apartment was tile. Who did that? Who thought, What a brilliant idea! What could make a dollhouse-sized apartment even more cozy? Tile! Sell ‘em like hotcakes, baby. Lizzie cracked her toes before sliding her feet into her sagging pink slippers.
In the living room, the kids had already stacked themselves under a shared quilt. Hazel sat cross-legged on the paisley couch, the remote balanced between her naked toes. Fullmer lay on his tummy, the patchwork draped over his head and shoulders as he fidgeted with his record player on the end table. Garbled saxophone notes buzzed through the air, pushing at a headache Lizzie hadn’t realized she had.
“Don’t mess with it, baby. Maybe I can have the antique guy take a look if he comes in for lunch today.”
Lizzie shivered and grabbed her jacket from off of its hook on the wall, pulling it over her pajamas. Heat must be out again. She was so sure she’d paid that one. She rolled up her sleeves before opening up the fridge to pull out the eggs.
“French toast?” she asked the room. Neither kid looked up. She turned back to the kitchenette, just then realizing that she’d used up the end of the bread on breakfast the day before. “Just kidding. Scrambled eggs it is.”
Lizzie’s cell phone rang, the bright, clear voice of Sutton Foster cutting through the mindless hum of Saturday morning television.
“IT’S A CALL, MOM!”
“Thank you, Hazel.” Lizzie smirked and shook her head. She walked over and hip-bumped her daughter’s head as she stirred the eggs in the pan.
Hazel turned to her, bright eyes lighting up. “Oh God, Mom, Greta’s party!”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t forget.” Lizzie wiped her hand on her sweatpants before fumbling to mute her phone. NORA flashed across the screen insistently.
“I need to change, it’s at the roller rink!” Hazel whirled into her and Fullmer’s shared bedroom, long streaks of hair barely missing the door that shut behind her.
This was the third call in no less than two days. Something twisted in Lizzie’s stomach as the thought of Poppy, lifeless and gray on his practice floor, came flooding into her mind’s eye. She’d ignored Nora’s first two calls, thinking that it was a check-in with bad timing. She had already imagined how the conversation would play out: Kids doing alright? Yes, Nora. Diner ok? Yes, Nora. Do you have enough money? Yes, Nora.
She really shouldn’t complain. Outside of Kavinsky, the super, or Mrs. Schmidt from next door, Nora Grant was the onlyperson who bothered to call Lizzie and she always had the best of intentions. Lizzie could practically feel her warmth carried across the wavelengths, radiating out from the tinny iPhone she had sent her one year for Christmas. She offered support and sometimes checks and, above all, the kind of intense, unquestionable friendship that sticks to the bones.
Lizzie had met Nora in the ninth grade. Her mom had just bailed—for real, this time, not just on one of those benders that brought her back, crying, after a long weekend. Lizzie had come in to the first day of school wearing hand-me-downs from her dad’s new live-in girlfriend and smelling like his Coors and bad weed. She had been able to feel the pink stain of her humiliation stamping the back of her neck, branding her Don’t Get Involved, Guys.
The other kids didn’t look twice at her, but Nora did. She sat down right next to Lizzie (on the roll, Grant came just before Hancock), extended one manicured hand and said, “You must be Elizabeth! I saw your name on the desk during the open house. Great eyeliner!”
And that was that. Best friendship
, formed on alphabetical order and a single observation. Nora opened the door for Lizzie’s life to change and, for that, she’d continue to pick up her random phone calls, even if that familiar blush crept back onto her neck whenever she knew she’d have to reveal the intimate details of her private life in Nowhere, New Jersey.
Lizzie jumped. She put the phone to her ear.
“Is Poppy okay?”
“Lord! What?” Nora’s soft, tinkling laugh broke up the end of her drawling question. “Whatever made you think Poppy wasn’t okay?”
Lizzie slumped against her refrigerator in relief. “God, Nor, don’t scare me like that. He’s getting old, ya know.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you! And don’t tell him he’s getting old. You should have seen his face at his retirement party last year. Unadulterated seething.” Nora laughed again, immediately putting Lizzie back at ease. She stirred the eggs absentmindedly, enjoying the comforting familiarity of the conversation.
“What can I do ya for?” She asked. “We’re alive, the apartment hasn’t burned down, and the kids still have all their vital organs.”
“Well praise Jesus for that.” Lizzie could hear the humor in her friend’s voice but could still picture her touching her heart the way she always had at Sunday School whenever she’d felt relieved. Lizzie took a bite of the egg, testing it out.
“I’ve actually called to offer you a job here in Georgia.”
Lizzie spat the egg across the room, its searing hot butter leaving a bright burn on her lips. “God, did you take up meth since we spoke at Thanksgiving? Does Jove Peterson still deal?”
“Very funny,” Nora replied. “You can joke about Jove but’s he’s actually looking a lot better these days. I just saw him come through the practice last month, he had the Air Force haircut and everything.” Lizzie could hear the catch in her friend’s breathing as she paused in that funny little way she always did, gearing up to present her well-thought out monologue.
She crossed her arms and peeked around the corner to spy on Fullmer, who still looked lost in the puzzling wonders of his ancient record player. She lowered her voice. “There’s no way in hell I’m coming back to Georgia. I really thought that would be apparent by now.”
“Look, it doesn’t have to be a permanent thing,” Nora cleared her throat, likely weighing out which words she’d choose next. “It’s just that I’m working at the practice now and Bill has been getting really involved with the church and Poppy is going to lose his mind if his retirement is spent taking care of the girls instead of fishing at Lake Tobo. We could really use a nanny.”
“A nanny.” Lizzie repeated the words blankly, not even bothering to test out how they felt.
Nora rushed into her explanation. “I know, I know. It’s not Broadway. It’s not even—”
“Nora, I’m not on Broadway now. I’m waiting at a glorified truck stop in Jersey. I’ve never—” Lizzie could hear her voice picking up and she peeked back to make sure Fullmer still wasn’t listening. She forced herself to whisper once more. “It’s not like I’d be giving something up. That’s not the point.”
“We’ve got two extra rooms. Enough money for a decent salary. And health care is on me!” She joked.
For a moment, the line was quiet.
“It’s been a decade, Liz. Not many people get a new chance at their old home.”
The doorbell rang.
“It’s Greta!” Hazel shrieked, racing from her bedroom with old roller skates clacking together over her shoulder. “Bye, Mom!”
“Check in with the neighbors when you get back!” Lizzie turned back to the kitchen and busied herself once more, sliding the scrambled eggs onto a clean plate and pulling the orange juice out of the fridge. “I’ve got to go, Nora. I’ll call you soon.”
“Wait, maybe you could—”
Lizzie clicked off the phone and slid it across the counter as far as she could. Fullmer came ambling into the kitchen with a record tucked under one arm.
“Took four and a half minutes,” he said as he sat down in front of his meager plate of eggs.
“Stop counting, dingleberry,” Lizzie muttered as she sat down across from him.
Fullmer shrugged and looked up at her with big, shining blue eyes. “Are you taking me to Greta’s party, too?”
Lizzie felt a familiar pang in her stomach. “No, bud. You’re hanging out with Mrs. Schmidt today. She told me yesterday that she might bake cookies!”
Fullmer rolled his eyes. “She only ever bakes snickerdoodles. Old lady cookies.”
“Come on, little dude,” Lizzie said through a mouthful of egg. “Any cookie tastes good before noon!”
He couldn’t help himself—Lizzie saw the smile start to crack through until it overtook his whole, freckled face.
“Now eat your eggs so you can go change,” she told him. “I’ve gotta drop you off after I get ready for my shift.”
After a cold shower and several agonizing minutes of forcing Fullmer to change into something that didn’t make him look like a middle school principal, they were out the door and down the hall. Mrs. Schmidt was in her doorway as they walked up, inserting her key with one shaky hand as she tied her scarf with the other.
“Oh, Mrs. Schmidt! Did we get our days crossed?”
“Elizabeth!” Mrs. Schmidt dropped her key as she clutched her heart. “I am so sorry! Is my sister. Had another attack. Is at Saint Mary’s! I go see her now.”
“Yesss.” Lizzie elbowed Fullmer in his moment of satisfaction. He stopped his celebration to retrieve the key.
“I’m on shift in half an hour,” Lizzie said, stepping closer to Mrs. Schmidt’s door. “Can he come with you?”
“Am so sorry, Elizabeth!” The old woman shuffled over to the stairs and began to start her slow, fumbling descent. “Wish I could help.”
“What do I do with Fullmer?” She asked, her voice desperate.
“Will see you Monday!” Mrs. Schmidt called up the stairs.
“I—” Lizzie turned back to her son, only to see him already buttoning up his coat and looking up at her expectantly.
“Do you think Mr. Kavinsky will let me play my jazz at the diner this time?”
Lizzie sighed and rubbed her face with both hands, trying to clear her head at bit. She nodded down at Fullmer and motioned for him to lead the way down the stairs.
She couldn’t help it. The thought itched at the back of her mind. A warm, clean home. Help if she needed it. Friends for Hazel. For Fullmer.
But she had come this far. Well, she had come to New Jersey. And that was something, right? She couldn’t go back to Georgia. She wouldn’t.