Today we are shining a spotlight on The Things We Can't Change Part One: The Prologue by Kassandra Kush.
This is a fantastic book, albeit just the start of a story. And yes, there is a cliffhanger - but don't let that stop you from picking this one up. Make sure you read to the bottom of the post because we've been lucky enough to get a teaser for Part Two as well!!
Ezekiel Quain has learned over the years that love and family are nothing to be depended on. After standing strong next to his mom through her cancer, she ran off, leaving Zeke, his dad and little sister to struggle with the leftover medical bills, and a bad taste in Zeke’s mouth about counting on anybody. His relationship with his father is strained, and the only person he cares for is his little sister, Cindy. With looks, attitude, and words, Zeke keeps everyone at arm’s length.
Evangeline Parker has it all: money, beauty, brains, and the perfect boyfriend, Tony. What everyone doesn’t see is that she’s trapped, and has been for two years. She lives every day in fear, hiding the fact that Tony isn’t the perfect man everyone thinks that he is. She walks a tightrope, trying to reconcile the Tony of the past with the Tony of the present, and to never, ever upset him. Terrified of anyone finding out the truth, she doesn’t get too close to anyone and has been struggling through the past two years alone.
When Zeke stumbles upon Tony and Evie one night and learns of her secret, their worlds begin to collide in a way neither of them expected. Before he can stop himself, Zeke finds himself stepping uninvited into Evie’s life, and urges her to tell someone. Evie refuses, terrified of the repercussions from Tony. Not even sure why he cares, Zeke can only watch from a distance, until disaster strikes and Evie’s secret comes to light, and they are both forced to take action.
Suddenly I want to run, fast and hard, as far away from this place as I can. I want to go up and shake Zeke Quain for provoking Tony, even though he had no idea of the consequences. I see my dad across the room and want to run to him, beg him to take me home and keep me safe. But I know I can’t. Just like yesterday, I’ll stick around and take it. I’ll numb myself to the pain, escape reality and retreat into my head, and wake up bruised and battered.
Just like yesterday, and just like last week. Tears sting and burn at my eyes as I remember last week, that horrible moment when Tony did something I’d never thought he was capable of. Suddenly I’m back in that moment, my arms high above my head, iron hands capturing my wrists, big body sitting over me, holding me down. Empty house, where no one can hear me screaming. The trickles of blood on me afterward.
Fuck. I can still feel them, the wet drips trickling down my thighs, the feeling of it all being absorbed into my body, the fear and shame and hurt and violation sinking right into me, poisoning me. I haven’t felt clean since. I don’t think I ever will again. I’ve felt wooden and hallow ever since, even more so than I ever have after one of Tony’s episodes, and only the pain when he has hurt me since then assures me that I’m still alive.
Sometimes I think that I need it to reassure me that I’m still a living, breathing creature. I need the stinging pain in my ribs right now, to let me know that blood, even if its poisoned, is still pumping and pounding and flowing through my body, that I’m still sending out brain waves and my lungs are still taking in air and then releasing it. That I’m not a marionette, with Tony pulling all my strings, putting on a stunning façade in front of my family and even my best friend. Maybe that’s why I don’t fight it. Because without the sharp pain, the fear that chokes me, I’m not sure I’m really alive.
Or maybe I’m just as scared as a mouse trapped between a cat’s paws. Or maybe I’m still in love with who Tony is during his saner moments, who he was, who I know he’s possibly capable of being. Or maybe I don’t try and save myself because I don’t even know if I’m alive enough, worth enough, to be saved.
I don’t know anymore.
All I know is that I want to run, fast and hard, away from this place at this moment. The pain in my ribs is enough to ground me, to keep me sane, and I know that I don’t want more of it at Tony’s hands. I want to run far, far away. To a beach, where I can curl my toes in the sand and let the surf pound my body, not Tony’s fists. Where I can feel the warm sunshine on my skin, and let it be the thing to tell me I’m alive. Where I can wash with salt water, and maybe, finally, get this dirty feeling off my skin. Scrub myself with sand, shed the poisoned layers, and emerge a new person, untouched by such ugliness.
I slowly re-shade a section of my drawing, and finally ask in a low voice, “Are you, like, okay? You weren’t at school today and…” I trail off because I’m not sure what else to say. And I was worried about you? I was, but I don’t want to admit it, even to myself. I don’t worry about other people, aside from Cindy.
Evie finally turns to look at me again, and this time, her eyes are full of a deep, aching pain that nearly takes my breath away. They’re covered by a sheen of tears, and I see her lip quiver for just a moment before she takes a breath and seems to regain control. I see her fists clench, her nails dig into her palms, and finally she speaks. “Can we please, please just not talk about me? At all?”
“Sure,” I say quickly, because I’m unnerved and a little scared. I’m not sure if I want to know what happened, if it put that look in her eyes. It occurs to me that this girl has problems and issues deeper and longer than mine, and that I should definitely stay away and not get involved. Luckily, that’s what I’m best at.
“Whatever you want,” I say, trying to put a little bite in my words. “Just… sit or whatever. It’s a free studio.”
“Thanks,” she whispers, and for a while she just sits there as I continue to work. Finally, she looks over and examines my drawing, and I resist the urge to put an arm over my work like a five year old. “I didn’t know you drew,” she comments.
“I don’t.” I look up to find she’s staring at me again, her eyes wide and innocent. I have to fight against the urge to spill my guts. Those eyes of hers should come with a warning label or something. No wonder Tony is so obsessed with her. Scrabbling for some distance between the two of us again, I point at her head with my pencil. “Your hair is fucked up, by the way.”
Kassandra Kush has tackled the very difficult subject of an abusive relationship in a way that is both confronting and informative. To everyone around her, Evie Parker is 'perfect' - beautiful, popular, wealthy and her boyfriend is the equally beautiful, popular and wealthy Tony Stulls. They are THE couple in high school. As is often the case though, appearances are not everything and there is a bleak, dark side to their relationship. Tony is unbalanced, psychologically controlling and violent. Evie is terrified: terrified of what he will do to her, of what he will do to himself and of people finding out what she is experiencing. The simple answer is that she should leave, or she should tell someone, which seems so obvious. But the flashes of the Tony she fell in love with: sweet and loving, combined with the threats he makes to harm himself make that option an impossible choice for Evie.
Zeke Quain is the quintessential bad boy. But really he's not - his attitude and style are carefully designed to help him keep distance between himself and everyone around him so that he doesn't get hurt again. With a background that couldn't be more opposite to Evie's, Zeke has to work at the Country Club that Evie and Tony are members ofto help support his family. His younger sister, Cindy, is his kryptonite. He will do anything for her and in fact does everything he can to ensure she can pursue her dream of dancing. Cindy is the one person that Zeke can't say no to. Zeke and Evie go to school together, but they mix in totally different crowds. Both know of each other, but their interactions are generally filled with derision and disdain.
That is, until Zeke discovers Evie's secret. Despite his vow to not care, he takes it upon himself to talk to her about what is happening with Tony and to encourage her to speak up. The dynamic between Zeke and Evie is just fantastic. There is no 'insta-love', in fact, they often can't speak to each other without one of them walking away furious at the assumptions being made. There is an underlying attraction, not to mention Zeke's obsession with Evie's hair, but it seems to me to be more about them recognising things in each other that they share. For Evie, there's a sense of safety when she is with Zeke.
The Things We Can't Change Part One is very well written. The characters have depth and I was completely engaged from start to finish. Even the 'support cast' is so perfectly developed that I fell in love with Evie's dad, the self made success story, felt indifference towards her stepmother and felt that I really got to know each of Evie and Zeke's friends enough that they were meaningful characters in this story. The cliff hanger is massive - for a brief moment I wondered whether the version of the e-book I had wasn't complete and I actually said "Nooooooo" out loud when I realised it was, in fact, the end of Part One.
I cannot wait for Part Two. Apart from wanting to know what happened next from the final moments in the story, I want to see what happens with Evie and Zeke. It is absolutely not a given that they will be together. There are so many obstacles to this it almost seems impossible: and yet I'd really, really love to see a relationship between the two unfold.
Don't let the prospect of a cliff hanger put you off - you will seriously miss out on a wonderful story if you do.
5 out of 5 stars
And as a really special treat, we get a teaser for Part Two!!Evie:
“Leave Zeke Quain alone,” I grit out through clenched teeth. “He’s been through enough.”
Nervous titters pass through the girls, while Hunter’s eyebrows rise. I wish I had stayed silent, but the words are already out and I can’t take them back.
“A little territorial, aren’t we?” Hunter asks, his voice low as he takes a step toward me.
I’m already pressed up against the wall, but I still try and back up ever further, my heart rate speeding up as I can feel the warmth emanating from Hunter, smell his deodorant, see the ironed creases in his dress shirt. Close, much too close.
“Back off,” I push out, and my breath comes out in pants, quiet and terrified.
“What’s the matter, Evie?” someone, Chantal, I think, jeers from the crowd. I can’t tell because all I’m focused on is how close Hunter is to me, and how every hair on my body is standing straight up, and my brain is telling me to run run run. “For someone who cheated on her boyfriend with someone from the slums, you’re sure acting like a prude.”
“Excuse me. Excuse me.”
The crowd parts, and then scatters – or at least the females do – at the sight of Zeke trying to cut a path through them. The boys break up a little more slowly, trying to give Zeke tough looks that say they know just who he is and what he’s done, trying to show they aren’t afraid of him. The fact that they walk away as quickly as the girls did shows the contradiction there.
Zeke has a damp towel in hand, and he gestures toward Hunter and me with it as he gets close. “Do you mind? If I don’t get the liquid up right away, it leaves marks on the floors.”
All three of us look down at the dark, cherry wood floors. Several drops of condensation from my glass, along with a slightly larger puddle of champagne about the size of fifty cent piece are all the liquid I can see. It’s a minimal spill, infinitesimal, really, but Hunter can’t seem to think of anything to say, as it is Zeke’s job to keep the club maintained. He’s forced to step away from me so Zeke can wipe up the drops, and with one final look in my direction, Hunter leaves.
I want to thank him, for saving me yet again, but I know from the look in his hard eyes that the thanks won’t be welcome. He probably doesn’t know why he did it any more than I do. I wish we could bridge whatever this gap is, comfort each other because I know we have both lost so much, but I know it’s impossible. I may feel safe around Zeke, but I have secrets that I will take with me to the grave, and no one will ever be able to get them out of me. Not even Zeke.
I shrug. It’s because it all helps, all this distraction. If I’m smoking or drinking or painting or hooking up with girls, I’m not thinking about Cindy, about love or connections or worry or especially not Evie and Tony. Or my anger, or doing anything about the anger that I feel.
“You don’t understand,” I finally say shortly, because they’re both staring at me like they want a real answer.
Dominic hesitates, but then he finally gives me a nod and we walk together to our next class. “You know he’s just worried about you,” he comments, and I give him a hard look. He holds his hands up innocently. “Look, I’m even less into all this emotional shit and stuff than you are, okay? God knows my own parents aren’t all there. I’m just saying, fall all you want. But don’t fall so far that you can’t get back up. Know what I’m saying?”
I nod, even though I already know the truth of the matter.
I know I’ll never want to get back up.
My name is Kassandra, I’ve received grief all my life (and every time they ask my name at Starbucks) that I spell my name with a K instead of a C. I come from a HUGE family of seven kids, and all our names start with a K – which left me no other option for spelling. I’m twenty-two years old, and I was home schooled until the ninth grade, where I went to public school and received MAJOR culture shock, but survived intact.
I was always ‘the quiet girl who was reading’ and this definitely led to my love of writing, which I’ve been doing since I was ten. My first book was a young kid’s adventure where a girl fell through a trapdoor in Scotland to a magical land. Since then, I’ve both improved my story lines and my writing, though I’m sorry to say not my handwriting. After attempting several times to get my books published traditionally, I decided to launch on Kindle and self-publish, and I can definitely say this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
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