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Authors: Liz Reinhardt

Double Clutch


Double Clutch: 

A Brenna Blixen Novel  

Book 1




Liz Reinhardt



Double Clutch
: a pattern of breathing in which a runner inhales two breaths

for every one breath exhaled.


Chapter 1


My mom waltzed into my room early on the morning of my first day of high school back in Sussex County, NJ, after a year in Denmark, and I breathed a sigh of relief that she kissed my forehead like it was my first day of kindergarten instead.

Good morning, Brenna.” She smoothed back my short, blunt bangs, which had been very cool in Denmark. I hadn’t seen them on anyone here when we were shopping at Wal-Mart and Target for back to school stuff. I shuddered a little when I noticed a good chunk of the girls had big bows tied around their high ponytails, like they should have been wearing poodle skirts and saddle shoes too. My bangs might as well have been a neon mohawk based on the open-mouthed stares I got.

Morning, Mom.” I slid a look at her out of the corner of my eye. People always talked about how they thought their mother was the most beautiful woman in the world when they were little kids, but I still felt that way. My mom wasn’t beautiful in a lots-of-hairspray, full-of-herself way, like women were when they regretted having kids and wound up trying hard to stay physically perfect. My mom had soft, freckled skin and a cleft in her chin and blue-gray eyes, like the sky in summertime when thunderclouds rolled in. She had the softest, most delicate hands, and any perfume that smelled good in a bottle smelled incredible on her skin. I loved her fiercely, and to protect her, I swallowed around the lump that seemed to swell by the second in my throat from pure, raw nerves.

Don’t be nervous.” My mom was a fortune teller when it came to reading my thoughts.

I am not.” I raised my eyebrows, mostly to keep the tears from plopping out of my eyes. “I am
world traveled
.” Funny how glamorous our little joke still sounded. Like we sunbathed on the Riviera or strolled through Paris modeling all the latest fashions for a year. In fact, we spent most of our time holed up in a quaint, centuries-old dairy farm and read books. A lot of books.

Don’t I know it.” Her eyes crinkled at the corners when she smiled.

I smiled back. “We already conquered
The Scarlet Letter.
What more can they throw at me?”

Mom guided me through a home school program in Denmark, because there was no way I could curl my tongue around Danish fast enough to be eligible for even elementary school. Since I breezed through the thin ninth-grade packet and moved on to devour the tenth just to do something other than stare at the fields around our house, I was a technical sophomore. But being ahead didn’t mean school would be a breeze, because this year I would be attending two schools.

Mom pursed her lips and squinted at me a little. “Are you
tech school is a good idea?”

It’s Share Time, Mom,” I pointed out.

It meant I would be spending half my day at the regular academic high school and half my day at the vocational technical school down the road. Share Time students, or Techies, as they’re called, graduate with a regular diploma. But Techies might as well wear a big scarlet ‘T’ on their shirts as far as academic high schoolers are concerned, and I was trying not to dwell on the whole outcast thing anymore than I had to.

tech school
.” Mom rolled it off her tongue like she was trying to spit a bad taste out of her mouth.

She graduated, six months pregnant with me, from an academic high school. She should have gone on for more schooling right away, but she had to put it off for years to raise me. My mom has always been one of the most brilliant people I’d ever met, degree or no.

Don’t say it like that.” I tug on her little hand. I didn’t get my hands from her. Mine are long and bony with short, thin nails and bumpy knuckles. “It’s only half the day. I still get a good academic thing in the morning. When we did all of that photography and silk-screening in Denmark, I was really interested. Technical art is a skill you can keep forever. And it will help when I want to get a job. More than throwing pots and making macramé will, but you never get upset when I take an art class. Haven’t you always taught me to be self sufficient?”

Yes, yes, yes.” She closed her eyes and kissed me by my ear, hard. “You want breakfast?” I let out a small sigh of relief; the tech conversation was over for the day.

How about oatmeal?” Hot oatmeal had never been high on my list of foods before, but I’d acquired a taste in Denmark and couldn’t shake it now.

I rolled out of bed and stood like a dazed alien in my own room. On one hand it was so familiar, I could see every detail when I closed my eyes. On the other, it was another world. It was exactly the same as the day Mom decorated it when I was nine, the year Mom married Thorsten. Every detail was like I remembered it, right down to the lace-edged gingham curtains. I always felt comfortable in it, felt like it was a part of me, until the day we got off the plane and I opened the door and stood, shocked, looking at my private space with new eyes. Really new eyes.

Lilac walls complimented a patchwork bedspread. Over the bed hung three pictures of cats doing cute, silly things like batting at girls’ petticoats. The rug was black and white checked over a wood floor. The tall, white dresser was filled with clothes I hadn’t worn for over a year. I pulled open the creaky drawers and took out piece after piece slowly, surprised by how little sense they made. When did I ever like clothes like this? And, more importantly, why? They were mostly plain crewnecks and polos and unflattering jeans with glitter and heavily stitched logos on them. I had two pairs of Keds and a pair of penny loafers in the closet. These clothes were so unlike me, I felt like I was looking through a little kid’s dress-up trunk.

I pulled my suitcase from under the bed, and vowed that I really would unpack. Soon.

The clothes in my suitcase were the only part of the room that felt real to me, and my stomach clenched with excitement as I dug through for the perfect first-day-of-school outfit for a new year and a new me. I took out my slim midnight black jeans, a pair of black Chuck Taylors, my favorite black and purple striped sweater, and a tight black v-neck t-shirt to go underneath.

I yanked a brush through my long, light-brown hair, and imagined it a come-hither red or a daring black. Mom cut my bangs herself, happily, but she told me hair-dye was a mistake that could wait until I was older. I ran the toothbrush in slow circles around my teeth and tried to swallow back the acidic churn in my gut.

As I smoothed my makeup on, I thanked Odin for all that time in the Danish countryside with Mom’s
magazines and no soda. My skin, which was a little lumpy and gross in middle school, smoothed out and became the perfect canvas for hours of cosmetic experiments in Denmark. If the retro-disco look ever caught on like
promised it would, I would have hours of practice with metallic eyeshadow and false eyelashes under my belt.

My stepfather was putting a bowl of oatmeal on the table. “Hey, Fa.” I kissed him on the cheek. ‘Fa’ is what kids in Denmark call their dads, and since Thorsten is from Denmark and not quite my dad, ‘fa’ seemed like a good alternative.

Ready for the new day, Brenna?” Thorsten had wide, white, straight teeth. He’d never even had to see an orthodontist. They sometimes made me wish I was his biological kid, just so I could have avoided my painful faceoff with braces.

I think I am.” The force of my lie made my oatmeal sit heavy in my gut.

Do you want a ride in?” he offered.

No, Fa, it’s cool. You have a long drive to work. Anyway, the bus is okay with me.” I pushed my congealing oatmeal around in the bowl. “I wish we were close enough to ride my bike in.” I shot a pleading look at Thorsten, who looked at my mother expectantly.

You know I don’t like it.” She sighed. “Danish people are used to bike riders, Brenna. This isn’t Denmark. Cars aren’t going to be expecting you. What if you get hit? What if someone grabs you and takes you?”

I did what I knew was the only thing that might possibly work. “That’s cool.” I made sure to keep my voice only very slightly depressed. “I’ll miss the exercise, but I’ll get over it.”

I could feel her wavering, but I didn’t look up. I couldn’t blow my spot now.

Brenna, you would only be able to do it for a few weeks. Soon it will be freezing and then it will start to snow.” Her voice was full of worry.

Then she was quiet, waiting for me to beg or plead or cry, but there was no chance of that. My mom was a master at persuasion and getting what she wanted; I learned my techniques from the master herself. Finally, she gave a loud sigh.

Fine. But you need to leave now, so you have plenty of time. No riding with your iPod on. And keep your cell in your pocket.”

I squeezed her shoulders tight and smacked a kiss on her cheek. “Love you!” My jacket and backpack already in hand, I breezed a kiss on Thorsten’s face and beat it before she had a change of heart. “Have a good day, Fa!”

You too!” He focused his conspirator’s smile on his iPad, but I caught it.

Be good! Be safe! Love you!” Mom followed me to the garage where I unlocked my bike and grabbed my helmet. My iPod was safely hidden in my pocket. I needed my music, but didn’t need my mom to worry. As if she knew my intent to break the rules, she grabbed me and kissed me again.

I’ll be fine,” I reassured her. “I’ll call you before I leave school.”

My mom looked like she might cry, just like she had on the first day of school every year of my life. For the first time, I felt like crying, too, so I knew I had better hit the road fast if I wanted to make it to school without puffy, red-rimmed eyes.

I got on my bike and started pedaling. I was going to have to bike close to five miles, but I was up for it. I loved the freedom of it. I liked being able to get myself places. My birthday was October 11
, and I would only be turning sixteen, so even though I’d be eligible for my permit, my license was far away. Until I got it, my bike was the best chance I had for freedom.

I pedaled hard; I didn’t want to be late on my first day. I gulped down the clean smell of cool air mixed with the sweet and rotten stench of dead leaves and the acrid smoke from burn piles. I focused on the blood pumping through my legs and the strong beat of my heart. I had been a fairly sedentary kid before the big Denmark adventure, and the farther I got from that kid, the less I even wanted to pick any of her old, lazy habits up again.

Before I knew it, I hit the high school, all three stories of sandy-colored stone with wide front steps and a patio with trees and bushes and benches. There was a completely empty bike rack where I parked, chained my bike, and walked into the front office with my eyes trained straight ahead of me.

The school had the same weird familiar/unfamiliar feeling that my room had. I toured it and the tech school one time back in eighth grade, when I was so excited to start high school I could hardly contain it. I didn’t know then that I would leave for an entire year within a few months. Only a few of my friends even knew where I went.

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