Excerpt from Epic Fail
About the Author
Books by Claire LaZebnik
About the Publisher
I am exceptionally fortunate in the niece and
nephew department. I love and admire not only those
I’m related to by blood, but those I was lucky enough
to acquire through marriage (both mine and theirs).
For Maren, Eric and Cori, Adam and Molly,
Emma and Hal, David, Jack, Teddy, Marie,
Libby, Ben, Rudy, Dexter, and Freddy
It was my idea for Mom and Luke to make a big deal out of their fifth wedding anniversary. And it wasn’t just because I was hoping to get a tropical vacation out of it—although, of course, I was. It was also because I had been there for their wedding and knew that they deserved a do-over. A ten-minute-long Vegas ceremony didn’t seem weighty enough to maintain a lifelong marriage, and I didn’t ever want to see them get divorced.
First I needed to get Luke on board—the proposal had to come from him, not me. It was hard to catch him when he was actually home and Mom wasn’t within earshot, but I finally found my chance when he was pushing my two-year-old half brother on the swing.
Jacob liked swinging. A lot. You started pushing Jacob in the swing, you were stuck there for a solid half hour because he’d cry if you tried to take him off. After half an hour, he’d still cry but your arms would be so tired and you’d be so bored and annoyed that you’d let him.
Anyway, I glanced out my window and spotted the two of them at the swing set and instantly flew down the stairs and out the back door and across the lawn to join them.
“Oh, good,” Luke said when he saw me. “You ready to take a turn? He won’t let me stop.”
“I actually came out to talk to you. I have an idea.”
“Of course you do,” he said with a smile.
“Your fifth anniversary’s coming up in just a couple of weeks. You need to take Mom out to dinner and tell her you love her more than ever. . . .” I stopped and peered up at him. “You do, right?”
“Eh, she’ll do,” he said. “Since I’m stuck with her and all.”
I shoved his arm. Sometimes Luke felt more like an older brother than he did a stepdad. “Be romantic for once. Tell her that this anniversary should be a bigger deal than your wedding was because you love her even more now than you did then and that you want to take her somewhere amazing to celebrate. Somewhere like Hawaii.”
“Ah,” he said. “Now I see where this is going. And we bring you along, right?”
“If you insist.” I grinned. “Come on, Luke! You guys need this so badly. You know you do. You’ve been so busy lately, and she’s been stressed out, and you had such a crappy wedding the first time. . . .”
He stopped pushing long enough to hold his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay! I’m totally up for this. But only if your mom likes the idea.”
“I’ll make her like it.”
He shook his head and gave the swing an extra-big push. “I can’t wait for the day when you figure out how to use your powers of persuasion for something worthwhile.”
“This is worthwhile!” I said. “I’m saving your marriage. You know what? Don’t wait until you go out for dinner. Something always comes up when we try to plan things ahead of time. Go ask her right now. I’ll push Jakie.”
“You just know I’ll agree to anything to get you to take over.” He stepped aside and I took his place behind the swing. But he lingered a moment longer. “You don’t really think our marriage is in trouble, do you?”
“Do you?” I said, a little alarmed by the seriousness of his tone.
“Of course not. I just wish she’d stop worrying so much about—” He gestured toward Jacob’s back. “So he’s a late talker. Lots of kids are. But she gets herself so worked up about it. She’s going to take him to see a speech therapist, you know.”
“Yeah,” I said. At Jacob’s last checkup, the doctor had given Mom the name of a speech therapist to take him to. But Luke said the pediatrician was being a typical alarmist Westside doctor, and I kind of agreed with him. There was nothing wrong with Jacob—he was just still really little.
“The speech person is just going to say he needs lots of therapy,” Luke said. “It’s how they make money. And that’s not going to help your mother’s anxiety.”
“And that’s why she needs to go to Hawaii!” I said. “So she can relax!”
He laughed. “Right. Hawaii. I’ll go talk to her.”
“Or Tahiti,” I called after him as he moved across the yard. “I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti!”
And then I had to push Jacob for about three million more hours. Every time I’d stop, he would arch his back and kick and cry. I eventually had to drag him off the swing. He sobbed and grabbed on to the chains, and I said, “Stop now or I’ll never push you again,” and he said . . .
Nothing. Jacob never said anything except “Yes,” “No,” and sometimes the very last word you said. Like if you said, “You want to watch Pajanimals?” he would say, “Pah-mulls,” or something like that. Sometimes. But that was pretty much it.
He probably didn’t even understand my threat, which was fine, since I didn’t really mean it.
I carried him back to the house. He calmed down on the way, burrowing his head into my shoulder and cuddling close, and I couldn’t stay mad at him. It helped that he was so cute, with his big brown eyes, narrow chin, and wavy light brown hair.
My face was heart-shaped, too, and my eyes were also large and dark—we both looked a lot like Mom—but I had crazy curly dark hair, thanks to my biological father’s genes.
When Jacob was born, I wasn’t sure how I felt about sharing Mom with this little squishy stranger. There had already been a lot of adjusting in my life. She and I had been alone together for so many years, and then Luke came along and they were always going out without me. And then she had a baby, and I felt like here was someone needy and cute who was going to take even more of her time and attention away from me. But she kept urging me to hold him, and the more I did, the more I loved the way he smelled and his weight in my arms and the little noises he made, and finally one day I said to Mom, only half joking, “He can be mine, too, right?” and she said, “He already is.”
I was twelve years old and safely at home with my grandma the night Luke Weston met my mom in a Philadelphia alleyway. (It’s not as skanky as it sounds, I swear.) At that time, Luke was a singer/songwriter/guitar player who had so far scored only one moderate and esoteric hit, which played occasionally on a few alternate-rock stations and was loved by a very small handful of music geeks. That song had gotten him some early afternoon small-tent gigs at music festivals and the occasional booking as the opening act for better-known musicians.