It’s cover reveal time! We are so happy to present a sneak peek of Out of Character by Molly Zenk, available on August 18th, 2015. Scroll down for an exclusive peek at the first chapter!
After the loss of her brother, actress Harmony Jones struggles with daily life. Landing the lead role on the hit faith based living history show, 1700s Life, might be the perfect way to reconnect with her faith and be her big acting break.
Tired of hiding his strong faith and convictions to get secular roles, David Hawkins jumps at the chance to play the curate on 1700s Life. It’s the perfect vehicle to spread God’s word.
Elliot Banes’ career needs an image makeover, so he accepts the naval hero role on 1700s Life. Getting away from his overbearing mother is an added bonus. His true hope is to learn to speak his mind instead of always fading into the background.
When a scripted love triangle between Harmony, David, and Elliot becomes a real life love triangle, Harmony must make a difficult decision. . She hoped to find her wavering faith, she didn’t count on finding love as well. If that was her only obstacle, the role would be a breeze. Unfortunately, there’s an on-set spy intent on causing drama. Can Harmony see through all the lies and secrets to the truth in her heart, or will she end up falling for the wrong man?
Anaiah Press: http://www.anaiahpress.com/MZenk.html
MOLLY ZENK was born in Minnesota, grew up in Florida, lived briefly in Tennessee and now lives in Colorado. She writes across many fiction genres including young adult, new adult, historical, mystery, romance, and Christian. She is married to a Mathematician who complains about there not being enough “math” in her author bio. They live in Arvada, CO with their three young daughters.
Two Years Ago
“So which did you like best?” I ask Patrick as we drive home from college tours. “We probably saw the music and drama departments of every state school this side of the Pacific Ocean. Did any stand out or are you going to let them fight over you some more before officially deciding?”
“Which did you like best?” Patrick asks. His text message alert goes off, but he ignores it. He is always such a careful driver. Mom never worries about us when Patrick is driving. “The most entertaining thing about today was their spiels. I mean, come on, do people actually fall for those sales pitches? ‘You’ve seen the rest, now see the best.’ Who writes this stuff?”
“Really desperate recruiting guys?” I take off my wedge sandals and prop my feet on top of the glove box. That’s the last time I wear new shoes when we’re walking about a million miles. “It’s your fault for being such a catch. Everyone wants the teen violin virtuoso. I’m just window dressing. These places will take me if it means getting to you.”
“You are not riding on my coattails. You’re a fab actress.”
“If I’m so fab, how come I never get any of the parts I audition for?” I rub at an angry red blister on the back of my heel. “I can’t even get a commercial. Remember that Bright Smile toothpaste audition?”
Patrick shrugs. “So you threw up in the trash can after you brushed with it. Big deal. It’s their fault for making such a nasty tasting product. I say you’re doing the toothpaste buying public a favor by exposing the sordid underbelly of Bright Smile.”
“Sordid underbelly?” I laugh. “I’m cutting you off the next time there’s a Mobster Confessions marathon.”
“I could say the same with you and 1700s Life.” Patrick swats at my feet when we stop at a light to get me to move them. I do so . . . grudgingly. “Between you and Mom that show is on a 24/7 loop. Why don’t you send in an audition tape already? Mom would pee her pants with glee if you land a role on her favorite TV show.”
I shake my head. “They wouldn’t want me. I’m not good enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Patrick scrunches up his face. “They’d be crazy not to want you. You’re going to be famous someday. You’re going to be famous, and I can say I knew you when.”
“Yeah, you knew me when I was headlining at the local dinner theater. Coming to a stage and table near you – Harmony Jones!”
“You’ll make it. You’re too good not to.”
“In LA, it doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. Talent doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s all about who you know and what you’re willing to do to get ahead of every other good, talented actress out there.”
“So jaded for someone so young. What about those open casting call deals?”
I roll my eyes at the thought. “Cattle calls? Please. I’d rather not hang around in some hotel conference room all day just to be told no.”
“It only takes one yes,” Patrick reminds me. “I’m telling you, send in a tape to 1700s Life.”
I shake my head again. “I told you, they wouldn’t want me. I’m a nobody.”
“Every somebody starts out as a nobody, Harmony.”
“Yeah, I know.” I lean forward and fiddle around with the radio dial to try to hide the fact I really, really want to be on 1700s Life but, at the same time, I really, really don’t think I have a shot. The producers always make a big show over asking for auditions tapes from all over, but when it comes down to it, the casting director goes for experience over raw talent. It happens every time. They ask for tapes, I think about sending one in, I don’t want to be rejected, so I watch other people season after season on 1700s Life instead of being on it myself. I even went so far as to make an audition tape after my crazy popular run as Abigal Williams in our high school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible but chickened out and never sent it in. In drama club, I’m a big fish in a small pond. No matter how much I want to be a real actress on a real show, I don’t know if I’m ready to be a small fish in a big pond. My head shot may be impressive but my resume is not. I have the kind of blonde, blue eyed beauty that is common enough in California. Nothing special there. My supposed beauty landed me some child modeling gigs and beauty pageant crowns, but being the face of Lil’ Junior Miss when I was ten isn’t going to open any doors now.
“What are you thinking about?” Patrick asks.
“That this whole actress thing is just a pipe dream.” I prop my feet up on the dashboard again, but Patrick smacks them down just as quickly. “Maybe I should just accept that I’m never going to be anything more than a high school drama club darling and settle on a major with more market value, like education. Maybe I could teach acting. That sounds like a good plan, right? Or a smart one, at least.”
“And always wonder what could have been? Please. You’re too good to be one of the ‘what could have beens’, Harmony. If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t settle for what could have been.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re, like, guaranteed success. The more you play your violin, the more people love you. Acting doesn’t work like that.”
“Acting works however you want it to,” Patrick says. “If you need to be confident, act confident. If you need to act brave, act brave. Seriously, Harm, you can do anything you set your mind to. Just believe in yourself a little bit more, will ya?”
I kiss my index and middle finger and hold them up to the roof. “From your lips to God’s ears. I think I can do anything as long as you’re with me, Patrick.”
He playfully bumps my shoulder with his. “Good, cause you’re stuck with me.” Patrick motions at the radio. “Hey, turn it up! Nothing says ‘I’m fabulous and I don’t care who knows it’ like a little Kelly Clarkson.”
I crank up the radio. We sing Stronger at the top of our lungs, grooving along to the music, and laughing till there are tears streaming down my cheeks. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. We’re young, we’re free, we’re talented, and we’re invincible. Nothing can stand in our way or tear us apart.
Until it does.
The black pick-up truck slams into the driver’s side door like some linebacker looking to make a tackle, only we aren’t ready for it. How can you be ready for something like that?
I scream. It’s the only thing I seem able to do. I scream over and over and over again.
“Stay calm, Harmony.” Patrick grips the wheel hard and grits his teeth as he tries to take control of the out-of-control car. We pin wheel into the guard rail on the side of the highway. The metal rail twists and bends as if a giant crumbles it in one angry hand and throws our car into the mix.
I brace myself against the passenger side door with my right arm and foot. My stomach feels like it’s in my throat. Throwing up would actually be welcome right now. It would give me something to focus on other than this sickening fear that has my heart in a squeezing death grip and my whole body shaking. I try to calm myself by saying a prayer but all that comes out is “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” Everything I ever wanted to do but never got to flashes before my eyes. Landing my first big role. Cheering for Patrick when he plays his first concert at Carnegie Hall. Getting married. Having kids. I want to be a good person. I hope I already am a good person, but what will people say about me if I die now? What have I really done with my life?
I clutch at the gold cross necklace around my neck – a present from mom for mine and Patrick’s eighteenth birthday. He has one, too, but he can’t reach for it now. He’s too busy trying to keep us alive. Patrick bites down hard on his lower lip and stares straight ahead through the broken windshield. Blood and glass from the driver’s side window sprinkle his strawberry blond hair but he doesn’t lose focus. Not once. I can count on Patrick to get us through this. He’s never let me down before.
The four points of the cross pendant dig into my palm. I focus on that, and suddenly my mind is clear enough to pray. Dear God, please help us. We need you now more than ever. Get us through this, and I promise to –
I never get to finish my thought. Instead, we slam into a concrete support column and everything goes black.
I wake up in the hospital. Everything is so white and quiet. Is this what Heaven is like? I close my eyes. No fear. No worry. Just quiet. I can get used to this. I let the quiet wash over me until the noises start to take over. I hear the beep beep of the machines monitoring everything that can be monitored. The TV volume is turned down low. Some cooking show is on. A lady is running around a kitchen acting like she forgot half her ingredients when really I know the food is always pre-made. I hear the sound of gentle snoring and turn to see Mom asleep in a chair beside my bed, her chin resting against her chest. How long has she been there? How long have I been here?
“Mom?” My voice is raspy from lack of use. I clear my throat, lick my lips, and try again. “Mom?”
She starts awake. “Harmony?”
“How long have I been here?”
She counters with, “What do you remember?”
“There was an accident. A truck hit the car, and then . . . Where’s Patrick?”
“I don’t think you should focus on that right now, sweetie,” Mom says. “Just worry about getting better.”
I struggle to sit up more fully in bed. “Mom, where’s Patrick!”
“Now, sweetie, don’t get upset, but – “
“Mom, stop stalling and tell me where Patrick is!” My heart rate monitor starts beeping like crazy as the number jack knifes. I put my hand on my chest and try to calm the oncoming panic attack. “Mom, please. Please, where’s Patrick? I want to see Patrick!”
“Just rest for now, Harmony.”
A nurse comes in and puts something in my IV. I think it must be some sort of sedative because it doesn’t take long for my eyelids to droop. “Mom?” I try one last time as sleep comes to claim me. “Mom, please.”
“Just rest now,” Mom repeats. Her lips tremble, and she won’t look me in the eye. She turns her head so I can’t see her wiping away tears.
“Mom?” I can barely keep my eyes open but still fight sleep. I need to know where Patrick is, and I need to know now.
“You’re going to need all your strength to get through this, Harmony.”
Mom smooths my hair away from my forehead like she used to do when we were sick, but this is more than just a cold or stomach ache. This is serious. Even if she won’t tell me the truth, Mom never cries or avoids a question. As my eyes close, I see a flash of gold in Mom’s hand. Patrick’s cross necklace. Why does she have that? Patrick and I promised to never take them off. He wouldn’t take it off unless he was dead.
The next morning, Mom pushes a wheelchair into my hospital room. She smiles a bit too Suzy Sunshine for my liking.
I sit up in bed and scowl at her. “What gives? Why won’t you answer my questions?”
She pats the seat of the wheelchair and keeps right on ignoring my questions. “How about taking this thing for a spin? Do you feel up to it? There’s something I want to show you. No, no it’s more than that. There’s something I need to show you.”
“Not unless you give me some answers,” I say. “Why do you have Patrick’s cross necklace?”
“For safe keeping.”
“Safe keeping from what?”
A nurse comes into my room. “Good news, Mrs. Jones. I checked with the doctor on call and he said it was all right to take Harmony for a little change of scenery. I need to be with you, though, just in case.”
“Wonderful,” Mom says. “You heard her, Harmony. Time for a change of scenery.”
The nurse starts flipping off switches and unplugging cords. wires that are physically attached to me, like my IV, before helping me sit up, and swing my feet over the side of the bed. I’m hit with a bout of dizziness from the sudden movement and close my eyes to wait for the room to stop spinning. When it does, I open my eyes. I look down at my body in its thin, blue hospital gown for the first time since I was brought here. Ugly, multi-colored bruises decorate my legs and arms.
Mom catches me looking. “It’s really not as bad as it looks. Patrick did a good job of making sure the brunt of any impact was taken on the driver’s side.”
“Are you going to take me to him? I want to see Patrick.” The nurse helps me into the wheelchair as if I am a doll they can just pick up and move around as they like. She puts a blanket over my legs, probably to keep me warm, but I think it’s really so I don’t have to see the bruises on my legs. Every time I look at them, I’ll be reminded of the car accident and Patrick . . . wherever he is.
“It’s not as simple as all that, sweetie, but I’ll take you to him.”
Mom wheels me to the elevator. The nurse trails silently behind us. Once we’re inside the elevator, Mom punches the number three. The elevator lurches to life, and I try really, really hard not to lose what little food I have all over the elevator floor.
Mom is all instant concern when she sees me grimace. “Do you want to go back? Did I make you do too much, too soon? I know sitting up after lying in bed can be tough. We can try again another time if you wa—”
“Mom! Just take me to Patrick!”
“Sweetie, before I do, we need to talk about a few things.” The elevator dings. Mom pushes me into the hall before putting the breaks up on the wheelchair and coming around
Mom stands and heads into the hospital chapel. If I had the strength in my legs to get out of this wheelchair, back on that elevator, and away from this nightmare twist my life has taken, I would. Instead, I’m left to just sit mutely in the chair while he nurse wheels me into the chapel after Mom. There’s some sort of makeshift shrine set up near the altar with flowers, pictures, and candles. As we get closer, I see it’s for Patrick. It’s all for Patrick.
“What do you think?” Mom fusses with the flowers. She takes out the wilted ones and color coordinates the others. “I think it’s a lovely memorial. Everyone cared so, so much for Patrick.”
“Cared? Cared?” I try to push myself to standing before the effort makes me dizzy, and I slump back into the wheelchair. “I didn’t stop caring about Patrick and neither should you, Mom.”
She fusses with the pictures next – rearranging them in chronological order. “Of course not, sweetie, but there are things in life that we can’t change, no matter how much we want to. All we can do now is trust in God’s plan. Patrick was a very special person, and now he can watch over us from Heaven.” She relights the burnt out candles. “Wouldn’t that be nice? To have a guardian angel?”
“I can’t live without him.” I look at my trembling hands as if they belong to someone else. A sob escapes from my mouth before I can stop it. I stuff my fist in my mouth and bite down to muffle the sound. “I can’t, Mom. I just can’t.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Mom kisses the top of my hair before laying her head against mine. “I wish we didn’t have to be tested like this. You’re so young. It’s much, much too early to learn that life is hard.”
“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.” I don’t bother to hide my pain anymore. I let the tears and grief be ripped from me in heaving gasps.
Mom hugs me tighter, but it feels empty. Everything feels empty without Patrick. “Let it out, Harmony. Let it out. Life isn’t always fair, but faith helps us know that even in the darkest of times, the sun always comes out.”
“Can you . . . Can you leave me alone with Patrick’s shrine for a little bit?” I ask.
Mom nods. “Of course. We’ll be back in ten minutes.”
Ten minutes. I only have ten minutes.
“Hey, Patrick.” I pick up one of the pictures from the shrine. It’s a selfie of us smooshed together making duck faces. “I know you probably planned all this me living and you not stuff. Even if it was a split second decision, you’re always putting me in front of you. Why would the day of the accident be any different? I guess I should say thanks, but words seem so hollow right now. You gave your life for mine. How can I ever repay that? Mom’s going to say your death is all part of God’s plan, but I never made a plan that didn’t have you in it. I don’t know how. Maybe God can help me with that one.”
I set down the picture, lace my fingers tightly together, and close my eyes. “Dear God, hi, it’s me Harmony. I know you bring a lot of comfort to a lot of people – Mom and me included – so I wanted to ask you, how do I get through this? When does it get easier? When will I stop feeling like half of me is gone? I don’t know how to live without Patrick. I wish I didn’t have to start now. I wish this was all just some horrible nightmare that I’ll wake up from and everything will be back to normal. Me plus Patrick is normal. I don’t know any other way to be. Help me. Help me find my way. Help me to know this is all part of some master plan. I can’t accept Patrick died for nothing. I won’t accept it. Help me. Please, help me.”
I keep my eyes shut and my hands clasped together. I wait. I listen. I look deep inside my soul and hope the answer is there. Memories are there, like the time Patrick and I organized a water balloon war at Bible Summer Camp or when Mom made sure she had every “Bible edition” of popular games so we could still play them without compromising our core beliefs. As we got older, Mom let us explore and question the meaning behind those core beliefs, but we never strayed from them. Faith is a comfort, like a close friend who never leaves you. That’s how I felt about Patrick, too. He was more than a brother. He was my best friend. Sometimes I thought he knew me better than I knew myself.
“How am I ever going to live without you?”
I wait for a sign, but there’s no big revelation or clap of knowingness where the sky opens up and angels sing. There’s no voice telling me everything is going to be all right. There’s just emptiness. When I need His comfort the most, God abandons me.
So I abandon Him.
My twin brother is dead, and my faith is dead along with him.