- Pages: 336 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Razorbill
- ISBN: 9780593327296
An Excerpt From
Live, Laugh, Kidnap
enesis was having an out-of-body experience.
How else could she explain why she was hovering over her own bunk bed, watching herself make out with Sage, if not through the power of astral projection? It was physically impossible for her to be up this high, floating at the top of the ceiling of the tiny A-frame cabin where she lived. Clearly, her spirit was soaring above her body to the beyond. It was as if she were a ball of light and energy floating in space.
Genesis felt a sense of complete peace wash over her, but that was quickly replaced by a sudden panic; if she was up here, then who was down there inside her actual body?
The figure in bed certainly looked like her: purple tie-dyed T-shirt and frizzy brown hair in a long French braid, freckles sprinkled across her face—but Genesis was not controlling the legs that were now intertwined with Sage’s nor the fingers that were running through his glorious curls. She couldn’t feel his pillowy lips brushing against her own.
“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted this,” Sage murmured, breaking away from the kiss and staring into Genesis-But-Not-Genesis’s eyes. “I’m in love with you. I love everything about you.”
“But that’s not me!” she yelled from the ceiling. Like a TV set to mute, though, no sound came out of her. “I’m up here! I’m up here!”
Genesis flailed her limbs, and then suddenly she was falling straight down. Just as she was about to collide with her alter ego, she woke with a start.
She rolled over on her lumpy mattress and squinted at the early morning light streaming in through the cabin’s tiny windows.
“I know you’re up there,” Ocean said, making her own bed on the bottom bunk. “But you’re gonna have to get your butt downhere because it’s our turn to milk the cows, baby!”
So Genesis hadn’t been astral projecting. She hadn’t even been lucid dreaming—its easier-to-do cousin in which you are able to control your actions during a dream—either.
She’d just been having a garden-variety sexy dream.
Or, really, sexy nightmare, when she considered the likely chance that Sage was her half brother. All the kids on the ranch were raised like one big family. Genesis wished the earlier generation had really thought through this whole communal parenting concept and how awkward it would get for everyone come puberty.
She took a deep breath and pressed her head against her pillow.
“I’ll be out there in a few minutes,” Genesis said, reaching below the covers for her phone. “I’m just going to, um, meditate first.”
“Wow, that’s so . . . dedicated of you,” Ocean said sarcastically, and went outside.
This was a running joke inside Astralia—the poorly named community Genesis called home—since nobody had actual time for spirituality anymore. They were too busy running a business. Milking the cows. Tending to the crops. Baking the bread. Not just to feed themselves but farmers market patrons across the state. It was all part of the community’s image rebrand that had been going on over the last decade.
The Astralians were no longer radicals who disavowed the ways of capitalism, religion, and nuclear family in favor of communal living and a shared belief in the power of meditation and hypnosis. It had been years since the townspeople of Violet, Montana, had last cowered in fear at the sight of the members or grabbed their hunting rifles and threatened to shoot the demons they believed possessed their souls. That era ended when their founder, Jimmy Joe James—described as a “young Leonardo DiCaprio but in need of a shower” by the media, making women flock to the town in wwjjjd T-shirts—was arrested for money laundering and sentenced to thirty years in prison.
The early 2000s were an exhilarating, terrifying time, or at least that’s what Genesis had heard. When all the excitement was going on, she was no bigger than an heirloom tomato inside of hermother’s uterus. Sometimes Genesis was overcome with the nagging sense that she had arrived to her entire existence too late and would always feel like an outsider looking in.
This feeling intensified as she opened Instagram on her phone, her feed full of people she observed closely but had never met. As she scrolled, their posts seemed to blur together, one woman with long beachy waves clutching a latte in her hands followed by a Bible verse in a gold curly font followed by a smiling baby followed by the next woman with long beachy waves and so on. Her finger paused as the algorithm finally fed her the woman she had been looking for, the one who stood out from all the rest.
Lover of Life | Lover of Christ | Wife to @PastorJayReaps + Mama x5 | Bestselling Author of ACT LIKE A LADY, PRAY LIKE A BOSS!
Ree was the source of her spiritual awakening, something her own community didn’t seem to have the energy to provide her. By the time Genesis was born, the population of the commune had dropped from over two hundred to under thirty. Those who didn’t get convicted in conspiracy with Jimmy Joe James or flee after his sentencing quickly realized that keeping up acres of land required a lot more than just the ability to lead a chant or prepare a good lentil stew. Sure, they originally came here looking for the meaning of life, but at least surviving was something to do.
Genesis popped her earbuds in and pressed play on that day’s devotional vlog.
“Good morning, boss babes! It’s a new day. And in this moment, you get to choose how you want to show up in this beautiful world that God created,” Ree said, staring in awe out of the window of her car. “Now I want to talk to y’all about something that God has put in my heart today . . . a little thing called temptation.”
Genesis looked around the cabin to double-check if anyone else was present. She adjusted her pillow and sat up straight.
“So, I had just stopped by our newly opened coffee shop at Hope Harvest Market—which, if y’all haven’t stopped by yet, you should! I was getting my second iced latte of the morning—’cause, you know, Mama needs her coffee—when I saw the yummiest-looking donut behind the counter. I swear to you, this donut was screaming, ‘Ree. If you don’t put me in your mouth right this second . . .’ Look, I love to treat myself, but y’all know I am trying to be good. Temptation can lead us all day long. From that yummy-looking donut at the coffee shop all the way to that cute guy at work who is definitely not your husband.”
Ree winked at the camera, and Genesis felt like it was directed at her. Cute guy who’s not your husband, cute guy who might be your brother . . . those were basically the same thing, right? Genesis thought.
“Look, we’re only human,” Ree went on. “It’s impossible to prevent ourselves from having these enticing thoughts. But, girls, we can choose how long we hold on to those thoughts. When we entertain temptation, we fantasize about ourselves eating that donut or reaching across the copy machine to kiss that guy in accounting . . . we take another step downward! One of the Devil’s greatest deceptions is to tell us that justimagining the pleasures of our sins really isn’t that bad. Satan knows the power of our thoughts. Heknows those li’l fantasies can turn into full-blown obsessions! Satan ain’t stupid. But you know who’s smarter? Our one and only Lord Jesus Christ. When you give your temptations up to God . . . when you open yourself up to that light . . . that temptation will be gone! Poof!”
Ree flashed her manicured fingers into the air like fireworks.
“He will say to you, ‘Don’t do this! Come into the light, girl!’ So today, I want you to go forward and give your temptations up to God! Because when you give those up to God, he will take them and replace them with nothing but blessings! Do you hear me, girls? B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G-S!”
“I give my temptations up to you, God,” Genesis frantically whispered as she closed her eyes and her visions of Sage and his perfect cowboy body intertwined with hers floated up higher and higher toward the sky.
• • •
When Genesis made it to the community kitchen for breakfast, all that was left on the buffet table were the end piece of a freshly baked loaf of bread and dregs of granola.
“Early bird gets the worm,” Ocean said, reaching aroundGenesis for her second helping of bread.
“Bet you couldn’t get bread like that in the big city, huh, Ocean?”a cheerful voice said behind them. Genesis turned to find Sage in his purple apron, hoisting a plastic crate full of dirtydishes with his toned arms. She knew that here purple was everyone’s color, but she felt like it really washis color. Something about it made his hazel eyes pop. He gave her a goofy grin, and her faceflushed, then a light wave of nausea rolled through her body.
“Nine whole different grains in there,” he added. “I bet Trader John can’t evenname nine grains.”
“It’s Trader Joe’s, you hayseed!” Ocean exclaimed. “And they definitely sell, like, one hundred kinds of grains. Quinoa, oats, rice . . . brown rice . . . but whatever. It sucks there because you have to wait in line just to get inside the store to shop for the grains, and then once you’re inside, you have to wait in line around the perimeter of the store just to pay for them. God, you’re right,” she said, taking a bite of bread and savoring it. “I’m so glad I moved back here.”
Like Genesis, Ocean had been born on the ranch, but she had left years ago to attend college in spite of protests from elder members. The Astralian youth were “unschooled” all year round, which meant their days usually consisted of six or so hours of performing a rotating schedule of chores around the ranch combined with two hours of independent reading time or, if one of the adults was feeling crafty, some kind of do-it-yourself tutorial involving yarn or beeswax. Miraculously, Ocean had gotten a scholarship to Columbia, in part because she was good at math but also because the school was seriously lacking in students from Montana and the admissions department found her origin story to be “colorful.” Then last February she turned up back at the ranch in a black turtleneck, complaining about her “tech job” and how she didn’t want to “deal with capitalism” ever again. She was on the verge of throwing her company-issued iPhone in the trash when Genesis asked her if she could have it instead. Somehow its data plan still functioned all these months later. Genesis didn’t ask questions.
“Morning, Gen,” Sage said, turning toward her. “You get something to eat?”
“No. She was too busy ‘meditating’ again,” Ocean answered for her through a full mouth, giving her a knowing look. Genesis couldn’t figure out if it was because she knew she was using the iPhone or if she’d heard her moaning about Sage in her sleep, or maybe both.
“It’s fine.” Genesis shrugged. “I’ll just have some kombucha.”
Sage gave her a doubtful look.
“C’mon,” he said, nodding toward the kitchen. “I’ve got something for you.”
Genesis swallowed hard and followed him into the massive, dilapidated kitchen, where the ranch did all of its baking for sale. Sage had recently taken over the role of head baker from one of the original Astralians who couldn’t even knead dough anymore because of his rheumatoid arthritis.
He carefully dropped his plastic crate off in the dishwashing area, then led Genesis over to a metal domed cake plate on the center island.
“Just a warning, this was my first time ever making them. I want you to try one and be honest,” he said, lifting the dome to reveal three glistening donuts covered in dark pink glaze.
Genesis’s eyes widened. Was this some kind of test from God?
“I know they look like a mess, but—”
“No. No,” she said, rapidly shaking her head. “They look great. It’s just . . . I’m . . . trying to . . .be good.”
“Seriously? Since when?”
“Since . . . now,” she said unconvincingly.
“You’re gonna be working out there all day, Gen. You need to eat something. And these are raspberry glazed, which practically makes them fruit, which basically makes them a vegetable.”
“I don’t think that’s how food works, Sage.”
He lifted one of the donuts and waved it under her nose. Genesis tried to imagine a Barbie-size version Ree Reaps perched on her shoulder, whispering in her ear about the power of temptation. Try as she might to avoid breathing in the sweet, yeasty smell, it only made her mouth water.
“Fine,” she sighed, reaching for the donut and taking a bite.
“How is it?” Sage asked, nervously biting his lip.
“It’s really good,” she said at last, tears starting to pool at the corners of her eyes because she knew she had failed the test and would never receive her blessings. “Really freaking good.”
“Success!” Sage exclaimed, shaking her by the shoulders and pulling her into a half hug so as to not crush the donut.
“I gotta go,” she mumbled, pulling out of his grasp and heading toward the kitchen door.
“Wait, Gen, wanna come with me on the delivery route later?”
“Uh. Maybe. Thanks for breakfast,” she said quickly, waving the donut behind her without looking, and bolting outside. She ran straight through the pasture, behind the barn, where only the cows could see her cry.
• • •
A dozen buckets of milk and equally as many splatters of it on her overalls later, Genesis made her way through the open door of the laundry shed, where she found her definite biological mother, Grace, and her 10 percent–likely biological father, Art, poring over a pile of purple textiles in the midst of what looked like a tense conversation.
“Okay, so what did they tell you at the clinic?” Grace asked as she folded a pillowcase.
“They said it was mal-something?”
“Malignant?” Grace froze.
“Does that mean the bad kind?” he pressed.
“Yes, Art.” She nodded, her face softening.
Art placed both hands on top of his stringy man-bun in distress. He still wore it that way even though his hairline seemed to be shrinking exponentially. His face crumpled, and he began to sob. Grace threw down the pillowcase and took him in her arms.
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” she cooed.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen to me,” Art blubbered. “I mean, cancer? I haven’t eaten a genetically modified food in decades!”
“Now I have to figure out a way to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to pay for them to pump me up with toxic chemicals and radiation so I canlive? Are you kidding me?”
“We will figure something out,” Grace said, rubbing his back.
The Astralians had no official leader since Jimmy Joe James, but Grace, with her diplomatic ability to defuse any community conflict with her empathetic stare and soothing voice, had become the closest thing they had to one.
“Um,” Genesis said quietly, making her presence in the shed known.
Grace looked up from the hug. “Gen,” she breathed. “Hi.”
“I . . . just . . . I wanted to throw my overalls in with the dirty stuff . . .”
“Okay,” Grace said, turning to look back at Art. “First, can you do me a small favor, Gen? Can you go check the mail while me and Art finish up in here? I don’t think anyone has done that today. That would be such an important contribution, don’t you agree, Art?”
Art nodded once and continued to sob, his face now nearly the same color as all the laundry. Genesis knew this was a nonsense ask for privacy; no one on the ranch regularly checked the mail. All it brought were bills and notices from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. But still, she complied.
As she stumbled into the midday sun and down the hill toward the ranch’s timber-and-iron gated entrance, Genesis could feel her lack of proper breakfast. When she first noticed a shiny red convertible in the distance, parked outside, she swore it must’ve been a low blood sugar–induced illusion.
A woman emerged from the driver’s seat with wavy blonde hair and sunglasses almost as big as the handbag slung over her arm. Now Genesisknew she was hallucinating. She was picturing Ree Reaps again.
“Hey!” the woman called from behind the gate, waving her arm.
Genesis looked over her shoulder.
“Yeah, you!” the woman said with a smile.
Genesis began to walk the several yards toward her. As she got closer, the woman flipped her sunglasses up onto her head and squinted at Genesis. Her eyebrows and lips were painted on almost like she was a cartoon. It wasn’t Ree Reaps, Genesis quickly realized; she’d watched her “Five-Minute Makeup Look for Mamas on the Go!” tutorial three times and knew she’d never be so heavy handed.
“Can I help you?” Genesis asked the woman from her side of the gate, shielding her eyes from the sun.
Just then, she noticed a big, muscular guy in a black polo shirt emerging from the passenger side of the convertible.
“Oh, Gary, stay put. It’s fine. I told you it’d be fine,” the woman said, reaching her palm out toward him to stop. “I’m sure this nice young lady isn’t dangerous,” she said in a stage whisper, rolling her eyes. “Old news, Gary! Anyway, hi. Do you happen to know the owner of this property?”
“Um, well, there isn’t really one owner. We all kind of own it, I guess,” Genesis said, squeezing her hands inside her overall pockets.
“Hmmm,” the woman pondered, pursing her lips. “Interesting.”
She reached into her enormous leather handbag, which Genesis could now make out was patterned in letters of brown and gold. She didn’t know what they meant, but she was sure it was something expensive.
“Ah! Here we go,” the woman said, finally brandishing a manila folder from the bag. “Okay, so see, according to county records, this land was purchased in 1999 by a woman by the name of Grace Ogilvy.”
She pointed to the name on what looked like a photocopy of an official-looking document with a red-polished fingernail.
“Do you know this Ms. Ogilvy?” she pressed.
Genesis’s stomach dropped. She didn’t know a Grace Ogilvy, but she knew aGrace Astralian, the only person named Grace on the ranch. She’d never known what her legal name was before she dropped it, like all devoted members did upon joining.
Genesis just shook her head. The woman stared at her critically for a moment before putting a friendly face back on.
“Huh. All right. Well, you know what, honey? Why don’t I just give you my card, and you can pass it along and see if anyone else knows Ms. Ogilvy?” she asked, reaching back into her bag. “And if you find her, you tell her my client is looking to make a veeeerrrry generous offer for her property.”
She took out a small white card from a bedazzled metal case and handed it to Genesis through the gate with a wink.
Licensed Real Estate Agent
Community Development, Hope Harvest Church
Genesis let out a small gasp. Despite living just a few miles from the church, she had never met any of its members in the flesh.
Blessings, Genesis thought as she watched the convertible speed away, leaving behind a cloud of dust.B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G-S!