Our debut novel, Phoenix Always, will take you on a suspenseful journey as Phoenix Maison struggles to break the immortal curse she’s under. Bloodless bodies, mysterious Gypsies, unsettling discoveries—the French Quarter has never held so many secrets!
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I suppose most people would be tired of living after nine centuries. But it’s not living I don’t want to do anymore. It’s dying. I’m tired of dying.
I drag my exhausted body to the bathroom across the hall from my bedroom and reluctantly greet the mirror. Terrified blue eyes reflect back at me. Bloodshot, swollen eyes afraid of the future. Of five days from now—Wednesday, November second. The date repeated in my head all night last night. It flashed like an unset digital clock behind my eyelids until I gave up trying to sleep.
On this day nineteen years ago, I turned forty-seven years old. Five days later, my heart stopped beating for the thirty-eighth time. That’s how I always die. My perfectly healthy heart just stops. I never feel a thing. Physically, at least. But agony rages deep within the part of me that lives inside the bodies.
What makes this birthday different from all the rest? I accepted my potential death last year and the year before…and the life before. I have for every birthday in every life for the last eight centuries, and I did what had to be done.
Speaking of what has to be done, I drop Visine into my eyes and do my best to conceal the sleepless marks without caking on makeup. Beautiful freckles speckle the porcelain skin on this face, which I refuse to cover. I love this body—it’s the best one I’ve had since my days as a Chinese contortionist—and I may not be so lucky in my next life. I hate to think I’m so shallow as to be afraid to die because my next body might not be pretty. But my list of things to worry about in this life is short, so I can’t be picky.
In my emerald-accented but simple bedroom, I slip into faded jeans and a black David Bowie T-shirt, forever grateful for the evolution of fashion and women’s rights. But there are some changes I refuse to get on board with, like music. I miss eagerly awaiting a new Beatles song. I don’t know what the crap on the radio is these days.
Boots on, I inhale a preparation breath to face a different kind of music. My parents—another pair of unfortunate souls who got stuck with me—beam at me from the kitchen as I make my way down the hall.
“Happy birthday, Phoenix!” my mom squeals as she lights the “18” candle stuffed into a mound of whipped cream atop a stack of waffles, strawberries, and chocolate sauce.
I’ve had thirty-nine sets of parents name me Phoenix in one language or another. I hate that damn name, but I would never let them know that.
I return their smiles with my own and turn up the fake enthusiasm I mastered ages ago. “Finally! I’m eighteen!” I widen my eyes and do some stupid dance for emphasis. It makes parents happy. But I’ve had twenty-five “eighteenth” birthdays. Being an adult is overrated.
I continue the stupid dance right up to the kitchen island where my parents stand on the other side laughing at me. I pull back my beloved red, wavy locks and blow out the now sinking-into-the-whipped-cream candle. I don’t like cake. I’ve never liked cake. Unlike my last set of parents, David and Samantha Maison actually care about what I like and don’t like. So strawberries and waffles it is.
“Oh, nice touch with the sprinkles, Mom.” I pluck one of the rainbow sugar skulls out of the whipped cream and pop it in my mouth.
“Thank you. I wish I could take the credit, but I bought them.” She slides a glass of milk to me as I climb onto a stool.
David sticks a fork in the giant stack of yummy and hands one to me and another to his wife, his hazel eyes alight with joy. I look forward to this tradition every year, and just like the previous thirteen waffle-eating birthdays, I wonder if this will be our last year to devour a diabetes-inducing amount of sugar together. I like these parents. No… I love them, and that’s why I didn’t sleep.
I dig out a forkful of strawberries and whipped cream. “You totally could have gotten away with telling me you made them.”
“Until you saw the sprinkle bottle on the counter.” Laughing, she bumps the bottle with her elbow.
The three of us dig into the mound of sugar coma while my parents joke about making me get a “real” job and start paying rent.
It doesn’t take long before my dad brings up the other reason I didn’t sleep. “So, Phoenix, what are your plans for the day? Is Brynn taking you out to celebrate tonight?”
My heart splinters with her name. “No, we broke up yesterday.”
“Phoenix,” Samantha moans. “You promised us you would stop doing that.”
My hands shoot up in defense, flinging whipped cream into the air. “Why do you just assume I’m the one who dumped her?”
“Because you’re always the dumper. Never the dumpee.” David chuckles at his own lame joke.
“Dumpee? Really, Dad?” I roll my eyes. “That’s not even a word.”
I’ve always referred to my parents by their first names in my head. It’s hard to think of people as my mom and dad when I’ve had so many of them. They’re just people who created the body I stole from whomever should have been their real daughter. But it’s always been different with David and Samantha; I actually feel like I belong with them. That’s new. It confuses me.
Samantha chuckles. “But you do know your father is right, honey. You are always the one breaking hearts, never the other way around.”
For five days after every birthday, which is always on October 28, I count down the hours until my heart may or may not stop beating. It’s hard enough dealing with parents, siblings, and other family who will—or might—mourn my death if I go. I have to say goodbye and give them a sense of closure without them realizing what I’m doing. I can’t in good conscience bring outsiders into that mess, but I can’t always avoid it either. I have one close friend now, and there was Brynn. Was.
“Yeah, well, she broke up with me.” I gulp down half of the customary birthday glass of milk. “Brynn said I’m a terrible lesbian and dumped me yesterday after school.” Thirty-nine lives since the year 1100, all as a female, and this is the first body that’s attracted to women instead of men. I never realized just how complicated women are until I started dating them.
My parents explode into laughter. Milk shoots out of David’s nose.
I roll my eyes again. This is also the first body that feels the need to roll its eyes at everything it doesn’t like. I shovel the last few bites into my mouth while they giggle.
“Well, since you’re free tonight, let us take you out to dinner,” David says when he stops laughing. “Your mom and I have something we want to tell you.”
I already know what they want to tell me, but I have to go to dinner with them and let them tell me their big secret. It’s part of the closure game. “Of course. I have cheer practice until six, but I can meet you wherever you want afterward.”
“It’s your birthday, honey. You pick,” Samantha says, wiping whipped cream from her golden strawberry hair.
I knew she was going to say that. “How about Chartres House?” It’s our favorite restaurant, though we rarely eat out.
“Perfect,” they say in unison.
Back in my room, I change into a lacy, dark green sun dress and toss a black cardigan into my cheer bag. I suppose it won’t kill me to dress up for dinner with my parents. They’ll appreciate the effort. With my bag over my shoulder and books in hand, it’s time for my possibly-last day of school. I’ll find an excuse not to return after the weekend so I’ll have plenty of time to prepare for death. If I’m still alive Thursday, I’ll have a ton of make-up work to do, but I won’t complain. It guarantees at least one more year in this life.
“We love you, Phoenix,” Samantha shouts as I open the front door to leave for school. It’s not an automated sentence. It’s a woman terrified of what she’s going to tell me tonight and hoping her reminder resounds in my head once she gets those words out.
I want to tell her to stop worrying so much. A vice squeezes around my heart. I drop my stuff on the floor and run to the kitchen, leaving the door open.
David startles when I throw my arms ’round him. “I love you, Dad.”