First Look: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater (EXCERPT)

maggie stiefvater

SCHOL A ST IC PR E SS
N E W YOR K

Copyright © 2014 by Maggie Stiefvater
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
available
ISBN 978-0-545-65457-9
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

14 15 16 17 18

Printed in the U.S.A.
First edition, July 2014

23

The text type was set in Adobe Garamond Pro.
Book design by Christopher Stengel

This one’s for the readers who are always
there. You know who you are.

“Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to
an end?”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world,
which I find myself constantly walking around in the
daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Letters

No t Th e E n d , B u t R i g h t B e f o r e

I am a werewolf in L.A.
You asked why I did it.
Did what?
— The whole thing, Cole. The everything.
You, hyperbolic you, don’t really mean the everything. You
mean the last five weeks. You mean me burning down your
place of work. Getting kicked out of the only sushi restaurant
you liked. Stretching your favorite leggings and then tearing
them running from the cops.
You mean why I came back here.
That is not the everything, even if it feels like it now.
— I know why you did it.
Yeah?
— You just did it so you could say ‘I am a werewolf in L.A.’
You’re always telling me I only ever do things because they
will make good TV, or say things because I know they’ll make
good lyrics later, or do things because I like the way I look doing
them. You say it like I have a choice. Things come in my eyes

and ears and through my pores, and my receptors begin to pulse
restlessly and my neurons fire like cannons, and by the time
everything gets into my brain and comes out the other side, it’s
all transformed into a different species, pixels or channels, glossy
or matte. I can’t change the way I’m made. I’m a performer, a
singer, a werewolf, a sinner.
Just because I’m singing it for a crowd doesn’t make it
untrue.
If we make it through this alive, I’m going to tell you the
truth of why. And this time you had better believe me.
I came back for you, Isabel.

2

Chapter One

col e

f ♮ live: Today on the wire we have young Cole St. Clair,
lead singer of NARKOTIKA, giving his first interview in — ​
well, a long time. Two years ago he went face down during
a concert, and right after that, he went missing. Totally off
the radar. Cops were dredging rivers. Fangirls wept and
built shrines. Six months later, news came out that he was
in rehab. And then he was just gone. But it looks like soon
we’ ll be hearing some new music from America’s favorite
rock prodigy. He’s just signed a deal with Baby North.
“Are you a dog person or a puppy person, Larry?” I asked,
craning my head to look out the deeply tinted window. View
out the left: blinding-white cars. View out the right: fossil-​fuelblack cars. Mostly Mercedes with a chance of Audis. Sun
glittered and dazzled off their hoods. Palm trees sprouted from
the landscape at irregular intervals. I was here. Finally here.
I had an East Coaster’s love of the West Coast. It was simple
and pure and unadulterated by anything as obscene as the truth.
My driver looked at me in the rearview mirror. His eyelids

were halfhearted tents pitched over his red eyes. He was a dismal inhabitant of a suit unhappy to house him. “Leon.”
My cell phone was an insubstantial sun against my ear.
“Leon is not a possible answer to that question.”
“That’s my name,” he said.
“Of course it is,” I said warmly. I hadn’t thought he looked
like a Larry, now that I thought about it. Not with that watch.
Not with that mouth. Leon was not from L.A., I decided. Leon
was probably from Wisconsin. Or Illinois. “Dogs. Puppies.”
His mouth deflated as he considered it. “I suppose puppies.”
Everyone always said puppies. “Why puppies?”
Larry — ​no, Leon! — ​stumbled over his words, as if he
hadn’t considered the idea before. “They’re more interesting to
watch, I guess. Always moving.”
I couldn’t blame him. I would’ve said puppies myself.
“Why do you think they get slow, Leon?” I asked. My phone
was very hot against my ear. “Dogs, I mean?”
Leon didn’t hesitate with this answer. “Life wears them down.”

f ♮ live: Cole? Are you still there?
cole st. clair: I sort of took a mental vacation during
your intro. I was just asking my driver if he preferred dogs
or puppies.
f ♮ live : It was a long intro. Does he have a preference?
cole st. clair: Do you?
f ♮ live : Puppies, I guess.
cole st. clair: Ha! Double ha. Larry — ​Leon — ​sides
with you. Why did you choose puppies?
f ♮ live : I suppose they’re cuter.
4

I held the phone away from my mouth. “Martin from F
Natural Live chose puppies, too. Cuter.”
This knowledge didn’t seem to cheer Leon very much.
cole st. clair: Leon finds them more entertaining. More
energetic.
f ♮ live : That’s exhausting, though, isn’t it? I guess if it’s
someone else’s puppy. Then you can watch it and the mess
is someone else’s problem. Do you have a dog?
I was a dog. Back in Minnesota, I both tenanted and
belonged to a pack of temperature-sensitive werewolves. Some
days, that fact seemed more important than others. It was one
of those secrets that meant more to other people.
cole st. clair: No. No, no, no.
f ♮ live : Four nos. This is an exclusive for our show, guys.
Cole St. Clair definitely doesn’t have a dog. But he might
have an album soon. Let’s put this in perspective. Remember
when this was big, guys?
On his end of the line, the opening chords of one of our last
singles, “Wait/Don’t Wait,” sang out, pure and acidic. It had
been played so often that it had lost every bit of its original emotional resonance for me; it was a song about me, written by
someone else. It was a great song by someone else, though.
Whoever came up with that bass riff knew what he was doing.
“You can talk,” I told Leon. “I’m sort of on hold. They’re
playing one of my songs.”
5

“I didn’t say anything,” Leon replied.
Of course he hadn’t. He was suffering in silence, our man
Leon, behind the wheel of this fancy L.A. limo.
“I thought you were telling me why you were driving
this car.”
It poured out of him, his life story. It began in Cincinnati,
too young to drive. And ended here in a hired Cadillac, too old
to do anything else. It lasted thirty seconds.
“Do you have a dog?” I asked him.
“It died.”
Of course it had died. Behind us, someone honked. A black
car or a white car, and almost certainly a Mercedes or an Audi.
I had been in Los Angeles for thirty-eight minutes, and eleven
of those had been in traffic. I’ve been told there are parts of L.A.
where the cliché of continuous traffic is not true, but I’m guessing that’s because no one else wants to frequent them. I was not
excellent at sitting still.
I swiveled to look out the back window. There, in a sea of
monochrome, a yellow Lamborghini idled, bright as a child’s
toy, a knot of palm trees as backdrop. And on the other side of
it was a swimming-pool-colored Volkswagen bus driven by a
woman with dreadlocks. As I turned back around, sliding down
the leather seat, I saw the sun glance off warehouse roofs, off
terra-cotta tile, off forty million pairs of huge sunglasses. Oh,
this place. This place. I felt another surge of joy.
“Are you famous?” Leon asked as we crept forward. My
song still played in my ear, tinny.
“If I was famous, would you have to ask me?”

6

The truth was that fame was an inconsistent friend, never
there when you needed it, ever-present when you needed some
time away from it. The truth was that I was nothing to Leon,
and, statistically, everything to at least one person within a fivemile radius.
In the car beside us, a guy in Wayfarers caught me gazing at
California and gave me a thumbs-up. I returned it.
“Is this interview on the radio right now?” Leon asked.
“That’s what they tell me.”
Leon ran through the stations. He blew right by “Wait/
Don’t Wait.” I shook his seat a little until he backtracked.
“This one?” He looked dubious. My voice crooned through
the speakers, coaxing listeners to remove at least one item of
clothing and promising them — ​promising them — ​it would be
worth it in the morning.
“Doesn’t it sound like me?”
Leon looked at my face in the rearview mirror, as if looking
at me would give him his answer. His eyes were so very red.
This, I thought, was a man who felt things deeply. It was hard
to imagine being as sad as he was in a place like this, but I
guessed I had been sad here once, too.
That felt like a long time ago, though.
“I suppose it does.”
On the radio, the song drew to a close.

f ♮ live : So there we are, people. Remember now? Oh, the
summers of rocking out to NARKOTIKA. Okay, Cole. Are
you there, or are you conducting another study on dogs?

7

cole st. clair: We were musing on fame. Leon has not
heard of me.
leon: It’s not your fault. I just don’t listen to much else but
talk radio, or sometimes jazz.
f ♮ live : Is that Leon? What’s he saying?
cole st. clair: He’s more of a jazz guy. You’ d know it if
you saw him, Martin. Leon’s very jazzy.
I jazzed my hands for the rearview mirror. Leon’s hooded
eyes regarded me for a sad moment. Then one of his hands crept
off the gearshift to do fifty percent of jazz hands.

f ♮ live : I believe you. Which album of yours are you
going to tell him to start with?
cole st. clair: Probably just that cover of “Spacebar”
that we did with Magdalene. It’s jazzy.
f ♮ live : Is it?
cole st. clair: It’s got a saxophone in it.
f ♮ live : I’m blown away by your knowledge of musical
genres. Say, let’s talk about that deal with Baby North.
Have you worked with her before?
cole st. clair: I had alw —
f ♮ live : I wonder if everybody knows who Baby is?
cole st. clair: Martin, it’s very rude to interrupt.
f ♮ live : Sorry, man.
leon: I know who she is.
cole st. clair: Really? Her and not me? Leon knows who
she is.

8

f ♮ live: He is jazzy. Does he want to sum it up for
the listeners at home? I mean, if he’s not in danger of
crashing?
I offered my phone to Leon.
“This is a hands-free state,” Leon said.
“I’ll hold it for you,” I offered, expecting him to refuse. But
he shrugged, agreeable.
Sliding behind his seat, I held my phone to his ear. He had
one of those haircuts with a very defined ear shape carved into
the side of it.
leon: She’s that lady with the web TV shows. The crazy
one. It’s Sharp Teeth Dot Com, but she spells it strange.
With numbers, I think? Sharp t-three-three-t-h-dot-com? I
don’t know. It might be ones instead of ts.
f ♮ live: Do you watch any of her shows?
leon: Sometimes in between pickups, I watch on my phone.
She had that one last year. That drug lady with the baby?
f ♮ live: Kristin Bank. That’s the one that put sharpt33th
.com on the radar for most people. Who knew serialized
rehab pregnancy could be such a draw? Did you like it?
leon: I don’t know if they are shows that you like or don’t
like. You just watch them.
f ♮ live : I know exactly what you mean. Okay, let’s have
Cole again. You might be wondering why she’s interested in
putting him on an original web TV program. Why do you
think that would be, Cole?

9

I was not an idiot. Baby North was interested in me because I
came with a built-in audience. She was interested in me because
I had a pretty face and knew how to do my hair better than
most guys. She was interested in me because I overdosed on the
stage of Club Josephine, and then vanished.
cole st. clair: Oh, my great music, probably. Also, I’m
super charming. I’m sure that’s it.
Leon offered a limp smile. In front of us, the cars sluggishly
shuffled like playing cards. The sun rippled thickly off mirrors
and reflectors. The palms lining the highway were lanes and
lanes away. I couldn’t believe I was here in California, looking
right at it, and yet couldn’t touch it yet. The interior of this car
still felt at least two states away.

f ♮ live : That sounds true. She’s known for her taste in
music.
cole st. clair: I get that. That’s a joke.
f ♮ live: You are a quick one.
cole st. clair: I’ve never actually heard that before.
f ♮ live: Oh! I get that. That’s a joke.
Both Leon and I laughed out loud.
I’d met Martin. Though he had an eternally youthful voice,
he’d been in music journalism for longer than I’d been alive.
The first interview I’d done with him had been twenty minutes
of tastelessly conveyed sexscapades, and then I’d met him in
person and discovered he was old enough to be my father.
10

Questions, questions: How dare he sound twenty and be sixty?
Did they make cosmetic surgery for your vocal cords? And just
how badly had I offended him? But it turned out that Martin
was one of those not-dirty older men who were amused by us
still-dirty younger men.

f ♮ live : How long are you taking to write and record this
album? It’s not long, right?
cole st. clair: I think it’s six weeks.
f ♮ live : That seems ambitious.
If you looked up ambition on Wikipedia, my photo was the
first thing that came up. I did have some material that I’d written while sitting alone at camp in Minnesota, but it had been
strange to try to complete anything in a vacuum. No band. No
listeners.
They’d come together in the studio.
cole st. clair: I’ve got a vision.
f ♮ live : Do you think you’ ll stay in L.A.?
I wasn’t particularly gifted at staying anywhere. But L.A.
was where Isabel Culpeper was. Thinking her name was a dangerous, obsessive thought-road. I would not let myself call her
until I had gotten to the house. I would not call her until I had
thought of a theatrical way to tell her I was in California.
I would not call her until I was sure she would be happy I
was here.
If she wasn’t happy I was here, then . . .
11

With one move, I slapped shut the air-conditioning vents. I
felt too close to a wolf for the first time in a long time. I felt that
churn in my stomach that meant the shift was close.
cole st. clair: That depends. On if L.A. wants me.
f ♮ live : Everyone wants you.
Leon held up his phone so that I could see the screen. He
had just purchased “Spacebar” by NARKOTIKA (feat.
Magdalena). He seemed happier than when I’d first met him,
back when he was Larry. Outside, the heat tantalized. The
asphalt shuddered in the exhaust. In a minute, we hadn’t moved
an inch. I was looking at L.A. through a TV screen.
And now I’d let myself think Isabel’s name and there wasn’t
room for anything else. This car, this interview, this everything
else — ​Isabel was the real thing. She was the song.
cole st. clair: You know what, Martin and Leon, I’m
going to get out of the car now. Walk the rest of the way.
Leon raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t a walking road. I think
it’s illegal to walk on the shoulder. Do you see anyone else getting out of their cars and walking?”
No, I didn’t. But I very rarely saw anybody else doing anything I was doing. And if I did, it usually meant it was time for
me to stop.
Isabel —

f ♮ live : Wait, what’s Leon saying? Where are you?
12

I’d already left the interview behind. It took every bit of my
willpower to drag my attention back to Martin’s questions.
cole st. clair: He’s advising against my plan. We’re on
the 405. It’s okay. I’m in good shape. You wouldn’t believe the
muscles we pick up in rehab. Leon, are you coming with me?
I had already unbuckled my seatbelt. I dragged my backpack — ​
the only thing I’d brought from Minnesota — ​
to
my side of the car. Leon’s eyes opened wide. He couldn’t tell
if I was serious, which was ridiculous, because I was always
serious.
Isabel. Only a few miles away.
My heart was starting to tumble inside me. I knew I should
contain it, because I still had a long way to go. But I couldn’t
quite pull it off. This day had been so many weeks of planning
and dreaming in the making.

f ♮ live : Are you trying to get Leon to abandon a car on
the interstate?
cole st. clair: I’m trying to save his life before it’s too late.
Come with me, Leon. We shall walk away from this car,
you and I. We shall find fro-yo and make the world better.
Leon held up a helpless hand. Only moments before it had
been a jazz hand. How he was letting me down.
leon: I can’t. You shouldn’t. Traffic is bad now, but in a
few minutes, it’ ll be over. Just wait —
13

I clapped my hand on his shoulder.
cole st. clair: Okay, I’m out. Thanks for having me on
the show, Martin.
f ♮ live : Is Leon coming with you?
cole st. clair: It doesn’t look that way. Next time,
though. Leon, enjoy the track. The account’s all settled,
right? Good.
f ♮ live : Cole St. Clair, former frontman of NARKOTIKA.
A pleasure, as always.
cole st. clair: Now, that I’ve heard before.
f ♮ live : The world’s glad to have you back, Cole.
cole st. clair: The world says that now. Okay. Gotta go.
Hanging up, I opened the door. The car behind us let out
the softest of honks as I climbed out. The heat — ​oh, the heat.
It was an emotion. It owned me. The air smelled of forty million cars and forty million flowers. I felt a spasm of pure
adrenaline, memory of everything I’d ever done in California
and anticipation of everything that could be done.
Leon was staring out plaintively, so I leaned in swiftly. “It’s
never too late to change,” I told him.
“I can’t change,” he replied. It crushed him.
I said, “Stab it and steer, Leon.”
I slung my backpack over my shoulder, walked in front of
an idling black Mercedes, and headed toward the closest exit.
Someone shouted, “NARKOTIKA forever!”
I blew him a kiss and then I jumped over the concrete barrier. When I landed, I was in California.
14

C h a p t e r Tw o

isa bel

There was always room for more monsters in L.A.
“Isabel, beautiful. Time to work,” said Sierra.
I had been working, watering Sierra’s ridiculous plants.
.blush., the tiny, concrete-floored outlet for Sierra (no.last.
name’s) clothing line, always contained more plants than clothing. Sierra loved the look of the ferns and palms and orchids,
but she never wanted to put in the effort to make them flourish.
Her talent rested more with the torture of dead things and inanimate objects. Things that you could stick a needle in without it
getting angry. Things you could hang on a rack without violating human rights.
“I am working,” I said, stabbing a fertilizer spike into potting soil. “I’m keeping your plants alive.”
Sierra inserted two dried palm fronds into her updo, which
was several shades closer to white than my blond hair. The addition worked for her; most things worked for someone who
looked like her. She was a former supermodel. Former meaning
last year. That’s seven years in dog years or L.A. time.
“Plants live on sunshine, gorgeous.”

“Sierra,” I said, “did your parents ever explain photosynthesis to you? It’s like this: When a plant and the sun love each
other very much —”
“Christina is on her way,” Sierra interrupted. “Please, Isabel.
Endless smooches. Thanks.”
Ah, Christina. The Christina. She was a very good spender
when she was in the mood, and she liked to be waited on.
Well, really she liked to know that she could be waited on if
she wanted it. She did not want to be hovered over. She did not
want to be patronized. She didn’t want someone to hold a pair
of leggings for her. She didn’t want to be asked if she wanted
to see it in champagne. She wanted a selection of attendants to
be present so she could make a point of not asking them for
anything.
So Sierra sent us all out to lean on the five pieces of furniture and examine our nails and text our boyfriends. All of us
blond little monsters. Bangs sliced jagged and frosty, eyes lined
kohl-black-sinister, lips bubblegum or cherry, all of us kissable
as a plane crash.
Although I had only been here a few weeks, I was very good
at this job. It wasn’t that Sierra’s other monsters were bad at
elegantly folding tunics or boredly adjusting tanks on hangers.
It was that they didn’t know that the secret to selling Sierra’s
clothing was to lounge on the stool near the front, not giving a
damn, demonstrating to every potential customer exactly what
the clothing would look like if they were to buy it and not give
a damn.
The other monsters weren’t good at this because they gave
a damn.
16

I was mostly focused on opening my eyes in the morning
and moving my legs and eating enough food to keep my eyes
opening and my legs moving. That was enough. If I added anything else to my emotional workload, I got angry, and when I
got angry, I broke perfectly nice things.
Christina arrived. Her hair was crimped this time.
“Is this a new plant?” she asked Sierra.
“Yes,” Sierra replied. “Isn’t it the lushest of lush?”
Christina touched a leaf with a manicured nail. “What is it?”
Sierra touched it, too, but in a way that told me she was
thinking of how it would look in her hair. “Lovely.”
While Christina browsed around the store, I stretched over
the stool on my belly, typing the names of famous neurosurgeons into Google image search on my phone. I wore two of
Sierra’s low, see-through tanks and a low-slung sisal belt and
my favorite pair of leggings. Metallic and shimmery-rainbow-​
beautiful until you looked close and saw all the skulls. They
were not Sierra’s design. Not quite her thing in general. The leggings were a little ugly, once you got over how pretty they were.
I stopped looking at surgeons and typed in define friendliness.
My mother, who had no friends, kept telling me that I had no
friends other than Sofia, my cousin, and Grace, who lived in
Minnesota. She was not wrong. My friendlessness was for a variety
of reasons. For starters, I had only been at the school here for the
last five months of my senior year. And second, it turned out that
it was a lot harder to meet people once you’d graduated. Third,
most of the girls at .blush. were older than I was and had twenty-something lives and problems and gave a damn when I did not.
And finally, I wasn’t friendly.
17

“Everything she’s wearing,” Christina said.
Her voice was very close, but I didn’t look up. I suspected,
however, that she referred to me because of the way she had said
it. It was like when there were two Isabels in my class growing
up. They called us Isabel C. and Isabel D., but I knew which
Isabel they meant before they got to the final initial.
I glanced up just long enough to see that Christina was staring at me in a mistrustful way. The others slithered and crawled
to get her the tanks and the belt, unaware that in order to really
get my look, you had to accessorize with death in the family and
generalized heartbreak. The bass of the music overhead pulsed
and whispered. I began to close windows on my phone. So
many neurosurgeons were weird looking. Cause or effect?
“Isabel,” Sierra said. “Christina wants your leggings.”
I didn’t look up from the screen. “I’m not interested.”
“Isabel, precious. She would like to buy them.”
I flicked my eyes up to where the Christina stood. Some
celebrities don’t really look that famous in person. They’re a little
dustier or shorter when the camera’s not looking. But Christina
was not one of them. You’d know she was someone even if you
didn’t recognize her face. Because she looked on purpose.
It can be incredibly intimidating, even in this town.
It was clear from her expression that she was very used to
this being the case.
But I looked from my waiting boss to beautiful Christina
and I thought, I have kissed more famous lips than yours.
I shrugged and looked back at my phone. I typed in frontal
lobatomy. It autocorrected. Turns out you can’t spell lobotomy
without ooo.
18

“Isabel.”
I didn’t look up. “The Artemis leggings in charcoal sort of
do the same thing.” When nobody moved, I lifted a limp hand
and jerked it in the direction of the Artemis collection.
Fifteen minutes later, Christina had bought two tanks, a
sisal belt, and two pairs of Artemis leggings, all for the price of
cut-rate tonsillectomy.
After she’d gone, Sierra told me, “You are such a bitch.” She
slapped my butt fondly.
I didn’t really like people to touch me.
I shoved off the stool and headed toward the back. “I’m
going to go sit with the orchids now.”
“You’ve earned it.”
What I had earned was a trophy for generalized disinterest. It felt as if it had taken all of my energy to be so limply
disengaged.
As I pulled aside the linen curtain to the back room, I heard
the front door open again. If it was Christina returning to make
a second effort at my leggings, I was going to be forced to get
loud, and I didn’t like getting loud.
But it wasn’t Christina I heard at the front of the store.
Instead, a very familiar voice said, “No, no, I’m looking for
something very particular. Oh, wait, I just saw it.”
I turned around.
Cole St. Clair smiled lazily at me.

19

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