Friday, April 29, 2016

"Mystique" by Shari Arnold

by Shari Arnold

Mystique is currently on tour with Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Only Bauer Grant can pull off gorgeous while dead. But staying dead is another thing entirely. When he wakes up at his own funeral, the town of Mystique calls it a miracle, until it happens again. Something is bringing the residents of Mystique back to life, but what?
Presley Caine finds herself caught up in the mystery when Bauer asks her to visit him. Presley can’t figure out why the most popular guy in school is so drawn to her. And when Bauer is kidnapped soon after, she looks to Bauer’s brooding best friend Sam, whose dad works for the powerful Mystique military base, for answers.
In her quest to discover the truth, Presley’s relationship with Sam deepens, her feelings for Bauer are tested, and it becomes clear that her own mysterious past is somehow connected to these strange events. But is she strong enough to handle the truth when it is finally revealed?

Only Bauer Grant can pull off gorgeous while dead. His dark blond hair is tucked behind his ears, and his full lips are still pink. I’m drawn to his reflection in the gold cross hovering above his casket. His body is laid out as if in sleep. The church is overflowing, mostly with students. Some faces I recognize, but most are still a blur of new; new school, new town, new, new, new. I stand near the back of the church. I want to sit, pretend I’m one of Bauer’s friends here to mourn a life unfinished, but the truth is I’m working. For the last twenty minutes, I’ve been chasing down pings, chirps, and pop song ringtones, doing my best to silently convey “Turn off your cell phone. You’re at a funeral!” Apparently sadness is best communicated through text messages and Facebook status updates.
A tall middle-aged man who introduced himself as Bauer’s uncle reads his eulogy—seventeen years of life summarized in three short paragraphs. The congregation sniffles and weeps along with Bauer’s family, who are sitting in the front row. No one is more distraught than his mother, who clutches a pale blue handkerchief in her right hand, her eyes disbelieving, while a parade of tears soaks the collar of her black dress.
I think back to Monday and how I awoke to sunshine, but once the news started circulating, it was as if someone had placed a lampshade over the town of Mystique. The clouds grew thick, the sky turned dark, and down every hallway at school, someone was whispering his name.
Bauer. Bauer. Bauer. When said in a hush, it sounds like wind blowing. And that’s when the November chill arrived. I watched it move the trees outside my English class while the girl behind me wept silently into her notebook. I wanted to offer her comfort, but instead, I handed her a crumpled-up tissue from the bottom of my backpack. And later, when I passed her in the hall, she smiled and said, “Thanks, new girl.” You’d think in a town this small they’d remember my name.
I still don’t know how he died. I asked my boss Lisa, who is the funeral director, but she mumbled something about how it wasn’t important. “Just keep the aisles clear, Presley.” Words she said so often they could be her life’s mantra. While herding people to their seats, I tried my best to eavesdrop, but all I got was “So sad to lose someone so young” or “Without Bauer, there’s no hope for the football team.” And that was only near the back of the church. No one was talking up by the family, where the collective silence was as respectful as it was unsettling.
His uncle’s voice breaks, and the microphone amplifies it to the back of the church. He barely gets to his seat before losing it altogether. I shift my feet awkwardly. I can’t cry. It wouldn’t be right. I didn’t even know Bauer. Even though I saw him every day at school and occasionally kept an eye out for him in between English class and calculus, when we’d usually pass in the hall, that still doesn’t make him my friend. And yet since the moment they wheeled his casket into the church, my throat has felt tight.
The service ends with a song. The congregation finds the strength to sing, even though most of the people around me appear to be busy staring down at their hands while they fight off the tears that will eventually flow at the cemetery.
I move to open the back doors, lifting empty Kleenex boxes as I go. Three men stand near the exit, looking very military in pressed suits so clean and dark in color that without the shiny trinkets pinned to their chests, they’d blend into the walls. They haven’t spoken a word to anyone since their arrival, instead, they just continue to hold up the back wall with their regulated posture. Is Bauer’s family military? I shrug internally. One more thing I never knew about him.
I glance back at Bauer as the music swells to a finish, and he’s still where I left him, laid out in a velvet-lined box. Everyone files out of their seats, eyes touching upon Bauer’s face for the last time.
Lisa busies herself with gathering the flowers to take to the cemetery. She looks up and summons me with her eyes. I know what she wants. It’s my job to explain to the family how they have a few more minutes to say their good-byes before we close and seal the casket.
I glance over at the front pew. Bauer’s mother and father are huddled together as if drawing strength from each other. Bauer’s thirteen-year-old sister, Ophelia, is staring straight ahead as if she’s willing herself to be anywhere but here. With her right hand, she pats and soothes her younger sister, Jill, who in her three-year-old state doesn’t appear to know exactly why everyone is so sad. Or why Bauer isn’t responding to his name being called over and over again.
When Lisa sees me falter, she approaches the family. Perhaps I’m not cut out for this. It feels insensitive to rush them. Lisa does it with a smile. My thoughts return to Bauer. For someone so popular, he sure did know how to look right at you in the hallway and make you feel like you weren’t invisible. I was too afraid to approach him when he was alive. And now that he’s dead, I’m still afraid.
His eyes are closed. I try to remember what color they are, but my mind is blank. Blue? No. Green? I’m pretty sure I never noticed. I was too busy trying to look away. No one wants to get caught staring at the hot, popular kid. It’s so unoriginal.
I reach out, daring my fingertips to touch him. I keep expecting his chest to rise and fall, but he remains still and silent. He’s cold, not like ice cold (which is what I was expecting), but more like when you touch one of those wax figures at Fisherman’s Wharf. You expect them to come to life, turn to you and brush your hand away, but instead you realize they aren’t real. They were never real, unlike Bauer. He may look too good to be true, with his clear skin and long eyelashes, but just last week, he was kissing his girlfriend in the doorway of my calculus class. Right before I reached them, Bauer stepped out of the way, narrowly missing me. I wanted to roll my eyes and be all “get a room,” but once Bauer looked at me, I forgot to use my words. The blush that colored his cheeks when he apologized did funny things to my stomach. He seemed genuinely sorry. All I could do was race for my seat, hoping no one else noticed how Bauer’s embarrassment was contagious. But Sam noticed. It appears Bauer’s best friend misses very little. Sam’s eyes followed me from the front row and only moved on once our class started.
The lights in the church begin to dim as if a show is about to start, and I slip away from the casket. I can hear Lisa explaining to his family how in a few minutes the pallbearers will be coming to get the casket. “It’s okay,” she whispers. “It’s time to say your good-byes.”
Bauer’s family rise to their feet as one, their arms encircling each other like a football huddle. Their next play: saying good-bye. For a split second, I wish I could be a part of that huddle, slip right under the rope of arms and move into the center. It’s very different from how my aunt and I acted at my grandmother’s funeral. It was just the two of us, and yet not once did we touch.
A single-file line of men enters the church and gathers around the coffin. I recognize Sam near the front. His hair is cut short, neat and trimmed around his ears, and normally he would be one of the taller boys in the church, but today his shoulders are slumped. I can’t make out his expression as he stares down at his friend, only that his jaw is clenched. When the man closest to him calls his name, he looks up and our eyes meet. I’m the first to look away.
The pallbearers’ heads collectively crane toward Bauer as if in prayer. Lisa moves toward the casket with a large metal key in her hand, and I’ve already forgotten what I’m supposed to be doing. What was I thinking when I took this job? Oh, yeah, college.
Suddenly, a loud gurgling noise fills the church, followed by a gasp of breath. The pallbearers spring back from the casket. Some fall to the floor. I’m left a clear view of Bauer, who is no longer still but shifting restlessly in his casket like a fish pulled from the water. The sound that escapes my lips is something between a scream and a gulp. I take a step forward and then another—I have to see it for myself. Bauer’s flailing stops as abruptly as it began, and his eyes snap open. When he sits up in the casket, my face is the first thing he sees.
I hear a solid thunk from behind me as Lisa hits the floor.

Praise for the Book
"Mystique has an amazing story to tell, and you don't want to miss it. The writing is glorious, the characters are authentic and every page of this book just keeps on getting better and better. [...] This page turner is definitely a must read!" ~ Paula M. @ Her Book Thoughts!
"This was such an interesting read and so different. Author Shari Arnold never disappoints. She keeps you glued to every story she writes. And Sam. Wow, what a guy. Sam definitely got me hooked on him throughout their crazy journey to freedom. Love this." ~ Neilliza Swaffar
"The storyline was fresh, the characters were complex and the dialogue was perfect. There were no boring moments throughout this whole book, the storyline was kept fast-paced and kept me on the hook the entire time. I absolutely enjoyed Mystique, and I'm really looking forward to reading some more of Shari Arnold's work! She definitely knows how to keep it intriguing! I'd easily recommend this book for any aged reader from Middle Grade on up!" ~ Crystal Gomez
"I flew through this book, literally. That’s how much I enjoyed it and had to find out what was going on. [...] I definitely hope there will be more like this from Shari Arnold, because I will read them all. I recommend for any YA paranormal reader." ~ kristen
"The first chapter of this book blew my socks off and the rest followed suit, with crazy twists and turns, an intriguing mystery, and characters that came alive on the pages. I love how the story is by turns creepy and sweet, complex and intense. Shari Arnold is one of my favorite authors and Mystique does NOT disappoint!" ~ T. Banghart

Guest Post by the Author
My Inspiration for Writing Mystique
I’ve always been intrigued by stories that are set in a "real world" with just a hint of un-believability. Or magic. And that’s what inspired Mystique. It began with a "What if people began to come back to life?" and lead to a "Why would they?". And that’s pretty much how Mystique came about.
Once I had an idea to make the most popular boy in high school come back to life I had to figure out the "whys" and "hows" and "whats". That’s the best part. I had to create the story around him and where it would go from there and who would be affected and all that fun stuff.
And that’s pretty much how Presley Caine, the female protagonist, came about. She and Bauer (the most popular boy) were supposed to be a love-at-first-sight thing, drawn together by some otherworldly magic, but that didn’t happen. You see, Sam (Bauer’s best friend) entered the story and, all of a sudden, nothing was as I’d planned. I really hate love triangles, so I knew it had to go down a different way.
And I knew it had to be creepy. Or creepy enough for me to write. I really can’t handle creepy. But then Royce entered the story, and creepy went to an entirely different level for me.
In the end, Mystique didn’t get planned at all. It created itself, which is true of all of my books. I always start with a feeling, an idea, and they usually go down a path I never saw coming.

About the Author
Shari Arnold grew up in California and Utah but now resides in Connecticut, with her husband and two kids, where she finds it difficult to trust a beach without waves. She writes Young Adult fiction because it's her favorite. And occasionally she takes photographs.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card and a paperback copy of Mystique by Shari Arnold (open internationally).