This book... Holy cow, how do I describe the emotions that have come from this story?
Brooke literally broke me. Her bravery, her tenacity, her positive outlook, her integrity. She truly embodies the modern Cinderella in a way I've never explored before.
I hope you love this book as much as I do. It's grittier--still clean--but boy does Brooke's story rip your heart out and then piece it back together again. This is for all the girls who are hiding harder lives than anyone can fathom. You are seen. You are loved. Hang in there. It will get better.
The Shattered Slipper.
Could you walk a mile in Brooke's shoes?
Here's the ebook link!
Here is an excerpt from the book. The first two chapters:
“The caged bird sings with a fearful
trill, of things unknown, but longed for still, and his tune is heard on the
distant hill, for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
Writer Maya Angelou
I walked into the school and let out a pent-up sigh of relief. I was here. Finally. Why did it always have to be some ultimate goal just to make it to school? Why couldn’t I wake up like everyone else and beg to stay in bed and get a day off?
Ugh. That type of thinking was going to get me nowhere fast. I shook my head as I went to my locker. Several people smiled at me and said hi. I had no idea what half of their names were, and honestly, I probably would never learn before I graduated in May. I mean, I’ve gone this long faking I know all these people, what’s eight more months?
“Brooke!” Alicia laughed as she approached. She was the closest thing to a best friend I had. Yeah, a friend who’d never actually been to my house. However, I’d been to hers a few times over the years. She pumped my arm. “I just heard the greatest news! You’re going to die!”
“What?” Usually phrases like—"greatest” and “going to die”—actually meant I’d want to die. My life was so screwed up that whenever something good happened I had to brace myself for what it’d cost me to enjoy it.
Alicia paused in the busy hallway. “I know I should wait until it’s announced during homeroom and let you find out like everyone else, but I saw the paper Principal Andrews was carrying and your name was in this huge red ink and it was there glaring me in the face and so—”
“What? Just tell me!”
“Homecoming Queen. You made Homecoming Queen!” She started freaking out right there in the middle of the hallway while I was trying desperately not to hyperventilate.
No. No. No. This can’t be happening. Not now. Not after all this time I’ve tried to stay on the down low. I really can’t take this right now. “Shhh! Stop telling everyone!”
“I’m not.” She looked around the area and then shrugged. “I doubt anyone heard me anyway.”
“I hope not.” Homecoming Queen was the last thing I needed anyone talking about.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I just—” I just what? What could I tell her that she’d believe? “I don’t think I’ll be in town.”
“Oh, lame. Why? What’s going on? Does your mom have another convention to go to?”
She remembered the same lie I used to tell her in junior high when she’d ask to come to my house. “Yes! I think so.”
Alicia looked at me funny and then started to head to class. I followed. “Well, I still think it’s cool, even if you don’t,” she threw over her shoulder.
“I just feel bad I won’t be able to accept it…” I trailed off. “It needs to go to someone who can appreciate it anyway.” I glanced around the area. “Where was Principal Andrews going when you saw her last?”
Alicia stopped and turned around. “To her office, I think, why?”
“I’m going to talk to her. I’ll catch you later.” I gave a short wave.
“But wait! Don’t ruin it. What if your mom’s convention is later?”
“I’m sure it won’t be.” I headed down the hall. “Thanks for letting me know,” I said as I glanced back.
Alicia looked like I’d just hit her over the head with my purse.
I took a deep breath and pasted a smile on my face. I’d mastered looking completely calm and unphased when I was nine. That little trick had saved me more times than I wanted to count.
Without hesitation I walked past the secretary and knocked on the principal’s open door. She was sitting and her back was to me and she was reading an email when she turned and gestured for me to come into the room.
“Hi, Brooke. What can I do for you?”
I laughed as my chest began to tighten. “I heard the craziest rumor and was hoping you’d tell me it wasn’t true.”
Principal Andrews tilted her head. “What’s that?”
“Did I make Homecoming Queen?”
“Well!” She looked taken aback. “I don’t know where you heard that, but yes, you did.”
“Then I’m so glad I found you!” I gushed, probably a little too much, but I had to hide my growing panic somehow. “I-I won’t be there. I’m going away that weekend. Could you give the title to someone else?”
“Brooke?” She blinked. “Are you certain?”
I pulled out my phone and acted like I was looking at my calendar. “Yep. I’ll be in New York with my mother. I’m so sorry. But I’m happy you haven’t announced it yet.”
“We could hold onto the award and give it to you at an assembly later.”
“I—no!” I smiled. “Don’t worry about it. What’s the big deal anyway?” I waved my hand like getting a crown and being presented during the Homecoming game wasn’t one of high school’s greatest honors. “Think of it this way, someone else is going to be so happy.”
“Brooke, stuff like this looks really good on your college applications and getting those scholarships.”
Dang it. I hadn’t thought about that. And yet, the thought of standing in front of all those people with my mom next to me, just didn’t—it really wouldn’t work. “I know. And hopefully, it’ll help whoever you choose as your queen, but it can’t be me. Thank you so much.”
“Hey, the student body voted, the staff only picked the most deserving students, your classmates did the rest.
“That means a lot.” And it did. So much. Everything I’d worked toward for years proved how much this meant. But I couldn’t accept. Or everything I’d worked for would be gone. In a snap. “I wish I was going to be here. But this New York trip has been planned for months.”
“I see.” The principal looked like she really didn’t see at all. “Well, I guess we’ll adjust our announcement. Thanks for letting me know.”
It wasn’t until that second, when I felt my knees begin to shake, I realized how close I’d been to the edge. Stuff like that really stressed me out. To the max. “No problem.” I didn’t look back as I walked out of the room and headed to my class. Homeroom would be next hour and once the new announcement was made then I’d be able to fully relax again. …Well, until I made it home.
As I walked out of the office my mind was so preoccupied with everything I wasn’t sure how long Asher had been calling my name, but by the sound of his last, “Brooke!” it had been some time.
I quickly turned around to see him coming up behind me. “Sorry! Have you been calling me? I didn’t hear you.”
“It’s okay.” He stopped next to me and then just stared. As in right at me.
Asher Bronson was the equivalent of the all-American boy at our school. Baseball, basketball, soccer—and yes, he even played quarterback for the football team during junior high. He was also, unfortunately super nice. And I’d secretly had a crush on him since seventh grade. Bad, like—bad. Bad. Bad. And if rumors (or wishes) were true, apparently, he’d had a crush on me since that long too. Except, nothing had ever happened. Nothing. Ever. Until then.
As in that exact moment.
He grinned this adorable grin and ran his hand through his dark hair and then his green eyes met mine. Wham. I smiled, but my insides were literally exploding. I didn’t know if that’s a thing or not, but it sure felt exactly like they were.
“So, I’m glad I caught you alone,” Asher said.
I tried not to gulp. “You are?”
“Yeah. Are you going with someone to Homecoming?”
I died. Like, seriously. I sloshed right into a puddle of giddiness right there in my high school hallway. “Um, no.” And then I remembered, and my sloshy giddiness turned into a dark puddle. “But I’m-I’m-not going.”
“Oh. You don’t want to?”
“No!” There was no place I wanted to be more than at Homecoming with Asher Bronson. I’d like dreamed of that day millions of times. “I’d love to go. I’ve just—I’m going—I’ll be…” For the life of me I couldn’t remember what my stupid lie was. Gah. “Oh! I’m going to New York that weekend with my mom.”
“Hey, wow! That sounds way better than Homecoming.”
“Right?” My smile was back. I waited for him to ask me out again, or say something else, anything. But he didn’t.
Asher sort of nodded his head and then gave me a short wave and was gone. I almost went after him and stopped the whole plan and told everyone I was going, just so he and I—just so we could see if there was anything. But… I resisted. I remained strong.
In homeroom when Asher Bronson and Lexi Coleman were announced Homecoming King and Queen, my smile slipped slightly. Not because I wasn’t happy for Lexi—I was really happy for her—only because Asher and I, we could’ve... never mind. Now, because of my choices, someone else would go with him.
After school, my silly heart dropped when I overheard Lexi bragging in the parking lot how Asher had asked her to Homecoming. I would’ve walked a little slower and relived the sadness of it all, but I had to make it to the elementary school in time to get Skye and Dawn, my little sisters.
“Hi, Brooke!” Skye ran up and hugged me outside their building. “Look! I lost another tooth!” She jumped up and down. The braids I had done up earlier were completely coming out, but she looked cute anyway.
“That’s awesome!” I gave her a high five. “Don’t lose that tooth.”
“I know. Mrs. Davis said to keep it in the bag and tell Mom so she can call the Tooth Fairy tonight.” Her toothless smile was so big, she was so excited. “Do you think the Tooth Fairy will give me a dollar?”
I never got a dollar from the Tooth Fairy. Not once did she come and get my teeth. Never. No matter how many times I told my mom. I couldn’t let that happen to my sisters too. When I was eleven, I became the Tooth Fairy for Dawn and now I was the Tooth Fairy for Skye too.
I ruffled her bangs as I hid a lump in my throat. “We’ll see,” I managed to choke out. I was all they had.
No one could know that I ran the house. That I cooked, cleaned, paid the bills, did the shopping—bathed, homework, story time—everything with my sisters. No one could know that my life wasn’t as awesome as they thought. If anyone saw through my mask to the truth, my life would be over. Me and my sisters would be turned over to the state and separated. And nothing was worth that. So, I worked my butt off making sure our lives looked as normal and happy as possible. Including working to make sure I had cash to give Mom too.
Mom was a drunk. Sometimes I thought of it as depressed, or working through things, or someone with challenges, but really—she just preferred to drink than to live. I preferred to live. So, I made sure we did. Even if I had to sacrifice insignificant stuff like Homecoming to do so.
Later that night after I’d washed the dishes and put my sisters in bed and listened for my mom to come home, I regretted it. Really, really regretted everything. However, I mostly resented my life. It wasn’t something I complained about often, but I was tired. My days were long, and my sisters were exhausting. There would never be New York. There would never be Homecoming. There would never be Asher. And for about thirty minutes I allowed myself to cry. It was stupid, I know, but I needed it somehow.
I woke up the next morning and realized I hadn’t heard Mom come home the night before. It was unusual for her to be out all night during a weekday. It was her favorite stunt for the weekend. No contact, just gone. But she usually came home for a few hours each night during the week.
I saw my wallet on my nightstand and quickly checked it. Whew. The EBT card and government assistance card were still there. I fingered through the cash I’d been given in tips. As long as my mom had cash with her, she never came after the government cards. The cards we actually needed to live.
I had it broken down to a science. Each utility bill, each dollar, it all went somewhere. We didn’t have a car, so that helped a lot. Mom relied on her friends to take her places. And thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about DUIs or car accidents either. Under the circumstances, I’d much rather prefer to walk.
Everyone just assumed it was part of my fitness routine to walk everywhere and I even had jogging outfits to make it seem legit. I’d become a master of thrift store shopping when I was about twelve. By the time I was fourteen I’d watched enough YouTube videos and learned how to repurpose clothes so well that no one could tell it didn’t come from a name brand store. Even my mom thought it was cool. I remember the day she was with it enough to ask me about an outfit I’d created.
“Hey, where’d you get that shirt?” Mom was drinking coffee and staring at me from the kitchen table.
I wasn’t used to Mom talking to me when she had a hangover. Surprised, I looked down to see which shirt she was talking about. “I made it.”
“You made it? As in sewed the whole thing?”
I held it out from the hem and looked at it. “No, I found a large shirt at the thrift store, then cut it down and created one my size.” Okay, I did a lot more than that, but there was no reason to go into it all.
Mom’s eyebrow rose. “Well, it’s really pretty.”
“Thank you.” I had glowed under the rare praise.
“Do you think you could make one for me sometime?” She took another sip of coffee and then sat her mug down.
At first, I was too shocked to speak. She must’ve really liked the shirt. “Sure! I’d love to. I probably have a few blouses we could look at already—if you’re interested?”
She nodded her head slowly. “Yeah. That sounds fun. Let me take a nap and we’ll work on the shirt later today.”
I’d gathered everything up and got my supplies ready and waited for a few hours. When mom had finally woken up, she spent the next hour or so in the bathroom and then left the house. I realized she’d forgotten all about the shirt. So, I decided to make her a few anyway and give them to her as Christmas presents. I was already working on new clothes for my sisters to get from Santa. It wasn’t that hard to make something for Mom too.
Wow. The memories of that Christmas three years ago flooded back. That was a hard year. I closed my eyes again and rolled over. I had spent every last dime of my babysitting money, as well as used up the full food stamp card for Christmas dinner and breakfast and even splurged on buying ingredients for homemade baking. I didn’t have money for Mom to use that week for going out. She was so angry. Especially Christmas morning when she saw the gifts the girls got.
She didn’t realize how it was all my money. She was convinced I’d used up her cards to shop for them. Most of it was stuff I had repurposed, even a pretty storage bench I’d cleaned for their toys and a small bookshelf I got from a yard sale that I brought home and repainted while they were asleep. They didn’t even recognize it as the same shelf they’d helped me carry home several weeks earlier. And unfortunately, neither did Mom.
I don’t think I’d ever been yelled at like I was that morning. I’m pretty sure there’s a limit to how many times a fourteen-year-old girl could be called selfish, before she literally broke down. After Mom stormed out of the house, I slowly folded up and put away my empty stocking–not that I’d been expecting anything, I just—the selfish word hurt so much that year. My hands shook as I cleaned up breakfast. As soon as I was done, I made it to my room, curled up on the floor and just rocked. I don’t know why I rocked, but I did.
When I’d came out later, the girls had propped Mom’s presents from the three of us, and those they had made at school, up at her place on the table, including the wrapped new blouses I’d made for her. She would find them later. Then I helped them carry the bookshelf into their room and decorate it. Dawn hugged me a lot that day. I didn’t know whether to be grateful someone cared, or mortified she thought I needed extra hugs.
There are certain days you plan for weeks and you’re so excited and have such high expectations to how that day will go. I think that was my downfall. The expectation that those days would be different from the rest. That if I did so many things, and created the perfect atmosphere, everything would be happy and wonderful, and we’d laugh and…
I completely failed on those days. Those days were the worst. Those expectations, they really turned around to stab you in the back, or chest, or head… whatever would do the most damage.
“Brooke!” Skye burst into my room. Her dark hair in total disarray and she was nearly in tears. In her hand was a small plastic bag. “The Tooth Fairy didn’t come! Look!”
Oh, no! I’d completely forgotten while I wallowed in my own self-pity last night. “I’m so sorry! I forgot to have Mom call the Tooth Fairy. It’s entirely my fault. She just didn’t know to come here. I’ll be sure to write Mom a note while you get dressed so she can call the Tooth Fairy while you’re at school.”
“Will you?” Skye brightened. “Thank you!”
“Put the bag back under your pillow, so you don’t forget.”
Skye ran from the room while I facepalmed. It was not a good start to the morning.
Our day only got worse from there. Dawn came in and showed me the new hole she’d ripped into the crotch of her jeans, which meant we’d have to make a stop at the thrift store that afternoon after school. Skye spilled a ton of cereal all over the floor, when she knocked the box down. And the shirt I’d hoped to wear was still in the washing machine. After tearing through my closet and getting the girls ready, I had no time to put on my usual makeup. Instead, I grabbed my cosmetics bag and shoved it in my backpack, then quickly gripped the girls’ backpacks and headed out the door.
“Come on, we’re going to be late!”
Dawn had changed into a simple dress, but she wasn’t too thrilled with it. “Do I have to wear this? I’m in sixth grade. This is so embarrassing.” she muttered as I tugged her out the door.
“I promise we’ll head to the thrift store for more pants.” I’d held off getting jeans for Dawn this year, mainly because she was starting to eat a ton, which I figured would mean she’d begin growing soon. What’s the point of buying something if you’ll grow out of it in a week? Needless to say, that would be why she’d slowly ruined every single pair of jeans she had. That and I was playing Russian roulette and attempting to hang on to my next paycheck, which obviously wasn’t going to happen.
“Skye! Come on!” I called to her as Dawn tried to come back in the house. “Where are you going? Did you forget something?”
“My library book.”
“What?” I’d forgotten today was library day. “Hang on. You stay there. I’ll be right back with your book.” As I walked in the house I saw that Skye was in the bathroom. So, as I collected the book, I also went ahead and snuck the dollar under her pillow and quickly stuffed the bagged tooth into the pocket of my jeans. Who cares if it wasn’t at night. As far as I was concerned it happened. Skye would find it later and be happy and never guess it was me.
By the time we’d all made it out the door and started heading toward the elementary school, we were ten minutes later than usual. Which meant we had to move it. I grabbed each of their hands and began to speed walk around the corner and down the busy street toward the school.
I was about to congratulate myself on how much time we were making up, when all of the sudden the clouds broke over our heads. Literally one of the biggest rainstorms started up and I groaned. We had nothing. Not one jacket, umbrella, pair of boots for the mud—nothing.
“It’s raining!” Dawn gasped.
Skye ran ahead. “Wahoo! This is the best day ever!”
“Skye, wait! Cars won’t be able to see you. Stay here with me!”
It was as I was just about to run after Skye that Asher pulled up in his Jeep. I’d recognize the orange vehicle anywhere. He rolled down his window. “Hey, do you guys need a ride?”
“We’re fine.” I smiled and glanced down the sidewalk. Skye had stopped and starting spinning in the rain. “We’re just heading to school, it’s no big deal.”
He wasn’t convinced. “Get in. I’ll take them to the elementary. Then we’ll worry about you later.”
“Are you sure? I definitely don’t want to bug you.”
Asher rolled his eyes. “Are you always this stubborn?”
“Skye!” I called, so I didn’t have to answer. “Skye, Asher is going to give us a ride.” I pushed Dawn toward the Jeep while Skye came skipping back to us. Her hair was already soaked.
“Who’s Asher?” Dawn asked, her eyes wide as she climbed into the back of the Jeep.
“He’s a friend from school,” I replied. Asher’s eyes caught mine and I felt a jolt. In five years I’d never felt like this around him. Crush and awkward and could barely make eye contact—but never like this. Like, we were connecting somehow.
“And who are you?” he asked Dawn as I reached down and pushed Skye into the Jeep.
“I’m Dawn, Brooke’s sister. And this is Skye.”
“Nice to meet you.” He grinned at them before watching me climb into the seat.
“You’re really cute,” Skye announced. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Yes,” I said with a glare of warning to her.
“Actually, no.” He put the Jeep in gear and pulled out onto the road.
“But I thought you and Lexi…” I trailed off.
He looked at me funny. “Just because I asked someone to a dance doesn’t mean I’m dating them, or whatever.”
“Right. Of course not.” I ran my fingers through my damp hair and reminded myself not to act like such a moron.
“If you weren’t planning on being out of town and we went to Homecoming, you wouldn’t consider us to be boyfriend and girlfriend, would you?”
Could my face get any redder? “Look, point taken. Thank you.”
Asher laughed. “Girls are so weird.”
I looked over at his profile and then toward the road but didn’t say anything. It wasn’t worth it to argue.
“Brooke isn’t weird,” Dawn said. “She’s amazing.”
“Are you amazing?” Asher grinned again.
I snorted and kept my gaze out the window. “Far from it.”
“What are you then?”
“Just a girl trying to keep her head down and graduate high school.”
“Brooke is teaching me to read!” Skye started to bounce in her seat. “And she helps me with my homework and she cooks me yummy food.”
Dawn decided to jump in too. “And she sews cool clothes too!”
“Wow, you are amazing.” Asher nudged me with his elbow, like I was his best bud or something.
That small contact zinged its way up to my neck and back. Asher Bronson just called me amazing. He more than likely said it because he was teasing me, but he said it.
He pulled up to the elementary school drop off. I got out of my seat to let them out. The rain was still coming down pretty hard. Both girls said goodbye to him like he was their most favorite person ever and then ran into the school. Early. Thanks to Asher.
If I thought it was awkward to sit next to him with my sisters with us, it was ten times odder without them. I couldn’t bring myself to climb back in. “Thank you so much. You saved us.”
“Where are you going?” he asked. “It’s still raining.”
“It’s okay. I can walk. I like the rain.”
He looked at me for a few long seconds before he shook his head. “You know, Brooke Whitman, I’ve known you for years, but I had no idea until now how scared you were.”