(Note: This is an excerpt from Amber Fraser's unpublished novel, The List)
As I stare at my desk in Communications class, with that damn sheet of paper staring back at me, all I can
think about is the heavy weight that’s draping over me and pulling me so far down I’m nearing the bottom.
It’s something thick… heavy, hard to fight. Like dough. No, like tar. Yes, tar, the color of soot or obsidian. It’s
tough tar that I try like hell to rip my way through, but find myself failing.
I should have known the damn list would get to me. But I had to write it. I had to list the names of the people
who had come and gone in my life. I needed to put them somewhere, because I couldn’t carry them inside anymore.
It would only hurt more when I finally pledged.
“Hey, what is that?”
I blink and turn my eyes to the right. I find an Asian girl sitting at the desk next to me, her almond shaped
eyes fixed curiously on my desk.
"None of your business."
Undeterred, she says, “Seems like a list.”
I roll my eyes to the ceiling for a second, trying to see where this conversation will go if I allow it to.
When my eyes go back to her, she’s scanning the names. I crumple the piece of paper into a ball and stuff it
in my bag, deciding to throw it out later.
“What was that?” she whispers lowly, as if she just saw a ghost.
“My father’s having a party. That’s the guest list.”
She thinks it over for a second, and it seems to satisfy her. “Oh, okay. Your father knows the Levinksy’s?”
I want to shoot her. The teacher writes on the board and the class is fairly quiet, copying notes. Everyone
can hear her.
An image of slamming her head down on her desk flashes in my head, but instead of messing up her pretty
little face, I take the list out of the bag and stand up. I ignore her and the rest of the class’ eyes as I walk to
trashcan in the front and toss the paper in. Then I walk back to my desk, avoiding their eyes.
Once I’m seated, I try not to look as miserable as I feel. The only thing that can mask it is a clenched jaw
and a hard glare at anyone who looks in my direction.
The girl doesn’t try to talk to me again, which is much better than I hoped for. But not all things go so well,
because halfway into class I’m itching to get the list back. I want to burn it.
When class finally ends, I wait for everyone to filter out of the room. Once they’re gone, I gather my things
and head over to the wastebasket, but as soon as I reach my hand down, my teacher appears in front of me, forcing
me to back up.
She quirks a dark brown eyebrow, making her pale face seem even narrower.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and stand still, waiting for her to continue. For some grand reason, she
takes half an hour.
Finally, she says, “You need to pay more attention in class.”
“I don’t care. We’ve talked about this before, and you know that I don’t care.”
“You’re a junior now. Act like one.”
We stare at each other for a moment. When it begins to feel like a standoff that I’m not really sure I can win,
she gestures for me to leave. I pull the paper from the wastebasket and go out into the hallway. As I make my way
to my next class, I mumble to myself about her. She’s seriously my second least favorite teacher, not because she’s
such a hardass (I get that she wants me to learn) but because she never accepts an excuse. And I think the fact that
my legal guardian is Alec Remington is more than enough reason to not pay attention in class. I mean, there has to
be something good that comes with being adopted by him. And if this is it, I’ll gladly take it.
I go into math with an attitude that the teacher, Mr. Fishburne, notices immediately. It’s like I’m on his radar
all the time. It’s annoying as hell.
As he opens his mouth to speak to me, I want to tell him that I just want to go back to sulking; it’s what I do
“You’re not gonna like this,” is the first thing he says.
“What is it?” I ask, taking the bait.
“You got an F on your test.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Seriously?”
“No,” he says, rubbing his beard to calm his grin. “But your father called for you.”
I sigh. “He did?”
“Yes,” he nods. “Go to the main office. Seems important.”
With another sigh, I stick my hands into the khakis of my school uniform and make my way down the winding
marble hallways, to the main office. When I arrive, the room is busy with buzzing telephones, bustling teachers and
secretaries, and Alec, who waits patiently in the row of seats by the front.
I brace myself with a deep breath, and then I walk in.
When he senses me, he turns to me and stands. “It’s time.”
I can feel my eyes widen as I think of the worst possible thing…and babble in panic. “What do you mean? I
had more time—”
“Calm down,” he snaps. “It’s only the meeting. The others pushed it five hours early, and since I said you’d
come with me this time, I have to pull you out of school.”
I say nothing in reply, knowing he doesn’t want to hear from me after my slip up. It’s not something we talk
about. The issue is so large and heavy that with a lack of discussion, it serves as one of the many pink elephants
that follow us room to room.
“Well? Go get your stuff,” he orders. “We’re going.”
I go back to Mr. Fishburne’s classroom and take my things from my desk in the back. I tell him I’m going
home. He seems to want to ask if anything is wrong, but we both know he can’t, so with a nod he tells me he’ll see
I’m not entirely sure, but just before I cross the threshold, it feels like there are a pair of eyes on the back of
my head, heavy and meaningful and overwhelmingly there. I don’t even have time to look over my shoulder, because
I know how impatient Alec can be at times.
In fact, I don’t have time to panic over the fact that I’m going to a meeting for The Abe, or the fact that the
list is burning a hole through my pocket. I can’t chuck it in the office because Alec has an amazing attention to
detail, and I can’t tell him I don’t want to go to the meeting because the consequences are just…unimaginable.
I can’t go into details. It will only get morbid, and my mind’s not a nice place to be when it’s like that.
We’re in the car now. We move through New York City traffic fairly quickly, partially because it’s not yet
rush hour, and partially because Alec’s driver, Neil, who I’ve known since I was adopted, is the best driver in the city.
As we travel downtown, I don’t marvel at the buildings or the people or the parks, the way each
neighborhood changes from one to another seamlessly, or even the tourists enjoying the early autumn afternoon. I
simply stare out of the window, feeling like I’m going off to meet my doom.
The car stops and Alec tells me we’re there.
He steps out of the car. I follow and find myself standing in front of a grungy-looking building. The entrance,
a heavy metal door that slides open, is camouflaged by layers of colorful graffiti that stretch from the sidewalk to
the second floor and span ten feet either side. The whole thing resembles an abandoned warehouse, but even if I
didn’t know people were inside waiting for us, there’s something about it that seems lived-in.
Alec slides the door open, which groans and creeks loudly enough that I wince, and gestures for me to
follow him inside. As we walk down a cold, dimly lit hallway, Neil slides the door shut behind us. The sun
disappears with him.
“This way,” Alec says.
We climb a flight of rickety metal stairs and reach the warmth and light of a vacant lobby. On the left end of
the lobby is the only door. Alec opens that door too, revealing a world I never wanted to see but know I will soon
be a part of.
Eight sharply suited men sit at a mahogany table, each one flanked by two equally sharply dressed people
who stand behind them. The atmosphere is stuffed with hierarchy, old money, and a sense of loosely based (but
hey, better than nothing) camaraderie.
“Well, you’re finally here.”
I manage a smile when I see the familiar cocoa brown face of Audrey Baker. Even from over here, her brown
eyes sparkle as she sits languorously in Alec’s leather wing-backed chair and smirks at us. She stands, gives me a
hug first, and then hugs Alec. As they mutter to each other, I greet Landon Argyle, who stands behind the chair.
“How have you been, Liam?” he asks. “Things are all right?”
I shrug as I shake his hand. “As much as they’ll ever be.” I look around the room, at the men talking to each
other and their flankers standing studiously behind them. “So this is everyone?”
“Everyone who’s important.”
I nod in understanding. Alec takes his seat and Audrey moves behind him, resuming her place next to Landon.
Alec gestures for me to come closer. I do as he says and look at him, knowing he wants to tell me something.
“Just stand right here and listen,” he says. “Learn how this works.”
As soon as he finishes speaking, the buzz of chatter ceases and the room drops into silence.
“Welcome, everyone.” Every eye in the room looks to the end of the table and lands on a man with grey hair
and twinkling blue eyes. Brandon Cohen, head of the Loch Family, greets us. “I’m glad we could make it.” He looks
to me and Alec. “And we have a guest. It’s good to see you again, Liam.”
“You too,” I say, hoping my returned smile isn’t as pained as I think it is.
He returns his attention to the room as a whole and continues. “Alright, this is the second to last meeting of
the year. We have a lot to talk about.”
The seated men nod sagely in agreement. Mr. Cohen gestures to a man sitting next to Alec.
Consulting a notepad, the man announces, “First on the agenda is all this shit happening with the families in
Immediately, the air tenses, and then the men launch into a heated discussion.
“Where the hell have they come from with all of this?”
“Should we do something about it?”
“Not publically. All it would do is get the media on our backs.”
“Edward Osborne’s gotten a few girls and started his own ring. I heard they’re making a killing.”
“And you’re suggesting that we do the same?” Alec retorts. “I guess you forgot that I’m a devout man.”
The room bursts into laughter.
“Okay,” he acquiesces. “But I do believe in Jesus Christ.”
“And I won’t involve myself in that filth.”
“But think about the Levi’s,” the man opposite of him says.
I barely hold back my flinch when I hear the familiar name. I turn my eyes to Alec. His jaw is tense and his
eyes are hard.
I look back at the man. I’ve never met him before, but from the pictures, I recognize him as Chevy Baldwin,
head of the Baldwin family. I know Alec doesn’t like him much, but then again Alec likes no one.
“That sneaky son of a bitch, Antony,” Baldwin sneers, “is doing something to make enough to fill that damn
mansion he has, from his basement to his helipad. And we don’t know what. Aren’t you curious, Alec? Don’t you
want to know what he’s up to? Don’t you want to tear him down and steal all of his worth?”
The room tenses so much that I’m almost surprised the windows don’t burst at the pressure. Especially since
silence is the only reply to Mr. Baldwin’s words. Alec simply stares at him from the opposite side of the table, cold,
hard and calculating. I hold my breath, waiting.
“I don’t want to know anything he or anyone else is doing,” he replies. “I understand everyone’s concern, but
my family is not threatened. We are not weak enough to feel threatened that the others have finally gotten their
It seems like everyone recoils in their seats at the same time. Some open their mouths to bite back but he
continues, boisterous and proud.
“Do whatever you want but leave us out of it.”
For effect, I would guess, he swivels three hundred sixty degrees and when he stops, facing the table again,
pushes his chair back and stands.
“Stay behind,” he tells Landon. “Take some notes for me. I’m going home.”
Landon replies with a dutiful nod and takes the chair from him. The sweep of Alec’s eyes tells Audrey and I to
follow him to the door.
Mr. Cohen’s voice sounds. “You’ll regret this. You know you will.”
Alec doesn’t reply, as I’m sure no one expected him to. On the way down, Audrey pulls out her cell phone and
calls Neil. He’s parked right where we left him when we make it outside. We climb into the car, Alec in the front
and Audrey and I in the backseat.
At some point on the ride home, I’m tempted to ask him if that’s what he wanted me to learn, but only a
second later I realize how he would take the question and the punishment that would follow. I would think that
perhaps this was how Abe meetings always went, but Alec never returned like this. Something is up, but the only
different variable I can think of is me being at the meeting. And that definitely isn’t important enough, so as usual,
I’m at a loss.
When we step into the apartment he goes straight to his room. With a tight jaw, Audrey watches as he
closes the door. I roll my eyes at them and go to my room. The apartment is so big that Alec and I almost have
separate wings, so it truly amazes me that a few minutes later I can hear Audrey yelling. The sound is muffled, but
not enough to ignore.
“Don’t pull this shit!”
“You can’t feel bad about this! You don’t get to feel guilty! You don’t have the right!”
“I’m not gonna stand here and watch you dump on yourself. Why? Again, because you don’t have the fucking
right, Alec! You knew exactly what you were doing when you decided to play grim reaper!”
I go into my bathroom. The sounds follow me.
“You know there is no going back at this point.”
I sit on the toilet and cover my ears. I can still hear her.
“Not after everything that we--you, me, everyone else you’ve got your claws in—not after everything that
we’ve done to him, for him, for you.”
“Audrey, I swear to God!”
“You wanted him to pledge so he’ll fucking pledge! Handle your fucking business, Alec, because I’m not
gonna do it for you!”
So slowly I’m not entirely aware of what I’m doing, I slide down to the floor. The tile is cool against my skin,
which sticks to it when I shift to get comfortable. In the silence that grips the household, I hear the crumple of
paper. I look down to my pocket and find the list. When I take it out, the first name to catch my eye is Erehn
Levinsky. My brows furrow as I try to remember why he’s fifth from from the top. But I get distracted when my
eyes reach the top of the paper and I see the names of my parents.
Just as that damn tar begins to slither over and seize my chest, a dripping sound reaches my ears. I look to
my left, at the sink, but find that the faucet isn’t the source. I look to my right. The faucet in the bathtub isn’t
dripping either. Then my eyes catch something.
I look at my left arm.
Okay, all good there.
I look at my wrist.
When I turn it over, I’m confronted by pale skin cloaked in a deep red that drips to the floor. The smooth
lines of scars formed long ago must have ripped open. That’s the only thing that makes sense since all I can see is
red, since all I can hear is the steady drip.
Well, then. So much for morbidity.