That's Not My Name by Yvonne Navarro -- an Excerpt

Cover art and design by
Daniele Sera

Prelude and Chapter 1



And we forget because we must
And not because we will.

                          --Matthew Arnold, "Absence"

      During the day, her life is filled with ups and downs and a never-ending sense of anxiety about what the next moment might bring. Mornings are sweet and bright and start with her mother's drawn but sincere smile, a soft kiss on the end of her nose, the love and laughter of the rest of her small family even though Daddy doesn't live with them anymore. As she does every weekday, Auntie K comes over in the morning and Mama goes away until a little after twelve o'clock, when she's through with the breakfast shift at the restaurant. Auntie K works afternoons in a liberry and has scattered lots and lots of books around their house-- it must be millions. Auntie K is helping her learn to read and she has come to love the pretty picture books and all the wonderful words; already she knows the first five letters of the alphabet by heart.

      It's when Mama comes home, Auntie K leaves, and then Daddy comes over that they all dread.

      She loves Daddy, of course, and it always starts okay, with the hellos and the hugs and the kisses, a fun little present or two for them all. But her parents' conversations seem to change with the dark. As the sun drops below the tops of the neighborhood houses, their voices get louder, the tones get meaner. If movements could have sharp edges, the way her mother and father whip their hands through the air would slice each other until they bled. By the time bedtime arrives, the atmosphere is tense and cold, beyond her little girl's ability to understand, and she wonders if they did something-- if they do something every night-- that makes Daddy get so angry.

      It is a big house and she has a room all by herself even though she would rather not be left alone. But she climbs into bed and huddles against her favorite toy, a stuffed purple elephant (it makes the adults laugh when she tries to say it-- effelant) nearly half her size. The room is dark but that's okay. The absence of light frightens her not nearly so much as the vicious words still being hurled about in the living room or the way she feels so alone when she'd rather be with the rest of her family. Because she has no choice, she can only lie there and listen, trying to draw comfort from being with her best things, her effelant, the stack of her most favorite books, her small pink slippers with the fuzzy bunny ears that wiggle over her toes when she walks. It's a good place, her room, but it isn't quite enough to chase away the sounds of the never-ending argument far down the hallway. After awhile she puts her thumb in her mouth and nurses at it, ashamed at what she knows is a babyish thing but still drawing the tiniest measure of security from the movement.

      And, as she does every night, she cries herself to sleep.

      When it comes, finally, her child's slumber is surprisingly sweet and untroubled, a haven that leaves behind the shouted jealousies and battles that constantly rage between her parents. It is a cool fall night and she burrows deeper beneath the sheet and her soft pink blanket as the hours pass. Slightly past midnight, just beyond the rim of dreams, she registers a sound, something odd and out of place in what should be a silent room.

      Her eyelids fly open and garbled thoughts of monsters fragment her sleepy thoughts as her body suddenly sweeps upward. The room tilts around her and she sees the ceiling, the wall, the covers on the bed. Before she can cry out a hand, familiar yet rougher than she would've ever expected, clamps over her mouth. The smell of it-- Old Spice and sweat-- fills her nostrils as her lips are mashed painfully against her teeth. The window, open to a damp, dark breeze, looms in front of her and her kidnapper, but as he hurries toward it his hip rams one corner of the small table her mother has painted pink to match everything else in the room. She sees the family photograph fall, along with a stack of little-girl books-- Auntie K has put them everywhere-- but it happens slowly, like a piece of fruit dropping into a bowl of half-chilled Jell-O. There is nothing delayed about the sound when the books and the picture hit the hardwood floor, though; the shatter of glass is immediate and shockingly loud in the darkness.

      She hears her mother's cry of alarm in the other room, but the scream is cut off by the mass of the building as the girl is dragged through the open window and into the chilly outside air. There her abductor breaks into a run, turning the dull glow of the street lamps into blurred circles of light flying past overhead, like strange, moving moons. She hears the sound of his strained breathing and feels his fear in the way his fingers are too tight against her face, his large hand painful around her small rib cage. She feels herself swoop downward, as though she were on the kiddie roller coaster at the fair, then the slamming of a car door and the clamor of an overtaxed engine roar in her ears. Suddenly everything is filled with the chilly breeze from the car's fan and the sensation of speed as the rest of her family is left somewhere behind.

      Man and child are swallowed up by the night.


The one person who has more
illusions than the dreamer
is the man of action.

                --Oscar Wilde

January 16 - Thursday:

      How long have I been doing this?

      Too long, Jesse Waite thought as he opened the door of the Impala. He tossed the bag of groceries-- nothing more than a loaf of bread, a jar of generic peanut butter, and two packages of noodle soup-- onto the backseat, then climbed inside and shut the door, shivering while he waited for the engine to warm up a little.

      He knew he really ought to go on home; the gas gauge showed a half-empty tank and he needed to ration that until next Friday, needed to bring this pastime of his-- following this woman around-- to a end. He'd been an idiot to take off from his job, and at no time had that been more apparent than when he'd discovered that his boss had sold the failing business and folded up. Had he been gone that long? Oh, you'd better believe it. All he had to do was look at the balance in the savings account at Household Bank to get a dose of reality: It was down to almost nothing, and the checking account wasn't much better-- his next grocery budget would come from hosing off an old crate of dusty bottles in the basement and returning them for the deposit. At least the car still ran, no matter how cold it was, and that was a real plus; he was going to need it

      It'd taken a bit of fancy talking on the part of his friend John about Jesse's missed work time, but he'd come through for Jesse again. Four more days and Jesse started on the night shift at MC Tooling. Taking the graveyard track would give him a two-buck-an-hour night bonus, and he'd been told they paid on Friday for work through the previous Wednesday. The rent on the townhouse was paid through January, but then he had to get things straight again, hold a job and go home once in awhile, be Jesse again.

      But it was so hard to let go of what little he had-- why, just a few minutes ago, he'd been in the same store with her, standing only eight feet away. It was the first time Jesse'd been so near, and it only confirmed what he suspected: It wasn't his imagination at all. This young woman could, indeed, be Stacey. How much of this questioning was he supposed to endure, for God's sake? He'd already gone beyond the point of pain-- physical, emotional, it didn't matter what kind. Some people might have been counting the days or the weeks, maybe even the hours. Not him; Jesse just counted one thing: a lifetime. And it stretched, empty and merciless, ahead of him.

      Even now-- it'd been only half an hour since he watched her climb out of the Lexus and wave good-bye to the driver, that same thin guy who today was wearing a ridiculous-looking old man's cap. But it already felt like it'd been hours, days, forever-- it was like that more and more now when he was away from her. Every time he saw this woman, she became a freeze-frame in his mind, another cherished image that he filed with the rest-- the way she wore her hair, what she was wearing. Today, for instance, from just the few minutes he'd been close to her, he could close his eyes and see her outfit: a sensible brown skirt and blouse under a leather-look jacket that wasn't nearly warm enough for the temperature, a pair of tan high heels.

      Jesse knew this woman, he would swear his soul on it. Everything about her was familiar and comforting, necessary... he was attuned to her every move by something inside him, a strange sort of destiny on a level so deep he couldn't even put a name to it. Like when she came out tonight... she'd head straight back to where she'd moved into that apartment complex down the road-- with him-- walking by herself in the snow and the dark of early evening when he would have never left her to make the trek in these freezing temperatures; he would have waited and given her a ride--

      It was usually his mother-in-law's words that came back to haunt him--

      "What if she's not really in there?"

      --to gnaw at his mind like a hyena worrying the bones of a lioness's old kill. This time, however, as the automatic exit door to the Pik-Kwik hummed open and she finally stepped outside and turned east, someone else's voice suddenly grated into Jesse's head, filled with the rasp of cigarette smoke and the nuance of what might have been, or maybe is--

      "Hey, man, you gonna sit here and cry in your beer, or you gonna go out there and fix things up with her?"

      Jesse Waite flung open the door of his car and headed toward his wife.


      Okay, Nola Elidad thought. I think I remembered everything. Milk, a loaf of bread for toast in the morning, and a box of cereal. Froot Loops-- she felt guilty admitting it, but she liked them. She picked her way carefully through the slush outside the entrance of Pik-Kwik, using the drier spots like little islands to head toward the shoveled sidewalk in the hope of not ruining her new tan pumps. She'd made it just to the back of the last car between her and the cleared area when a man said something from behind her.


      Nola stopped and looked around. It was an automatic reaction because the voice was so close and she knew the speaker was talking to her, that he expected some kind of response. "Pardon me?"

      The dark-haired man a few feet away was a good deal taller than her and handsome in a rugged, outdoorsy way. His shadow-rimmed eyes were blue like hers, but darker, and they were full of pain. "Come on, honey. Let's go home."

      He reached for her hand and Nola recoiled, then started backing away. Slush seeped into her shoes, chilling her feet instantly, but she couldn't think about that right now, or about the fact that he was between her and the relative safety of the entrance to the grocery store. Her gaze flicked around the lot, but she'd get no help there-- not another soul in sight.

      "Oh, no," was all she could think of to say. "You–"

      "Please don't do this, Stacey," the man said. This time when he snatched at her, his movement was quicker, far too fast for her to dodge. His fingers-- cold and hard even through the sleeve of her jacket-- locked around her wrist and she knew she was in trouble, that this was much more than a case of mistaken identity, and that if she didn't get out of it now--

      "Let me go," she managed. She pulled backward, but his hold didn't loosen. "You've got the wrong person. That's not my name." The instant the words left her mouth a sudden, sickening sense of deja vu boiled inside her, and for a moment she couldn't function beyond this added sense of terror, a black fear so strong that Nola struggled against the urge to retch.

      Then it passed and, frozen, they stared at each other. His face was a pale oval beneath the fluorescent lighting in the parking lot, the skin beneath his eyes so shadowed it might have been bruised. His mouth worked for a moment, then his expression changed and he actually looked relieved. "God," he croaked. "I get it now. Come on."

      Before she could protest further, he was pulling her across the lot and toward a rust-beaten car idling about ten feet away. "Stop it!" Nola cried. She threw herself in the opposite direction and lost her hold on her plastic grocery bag. But she couldn't worry about that now, as she went down on the side of one leg when the man's grip tightened rather than let go. His fingers dug into her flesh through the sleeve of her coat hard enough to bruise. "Let go!"

      "Stacey, please," the man said desperately. He dragged her back to her feet, then his arm went around her waist. Her heart was hammering so hard that she nearly couldn't breathe and a sense of weightless unreality blurred her vision as she felt her feet leave the ground-- he was literally carrying her to his car. She tried to scream and got a mouthful of his flannel jacket as he spun her around and hugged her, closing the distance.

      Nola fought then, as best she could, pitting her meager five-foot-two-inch frame against his heavier, stronger one. She tried to kick and punch and claw, even bite... but it was no use-- he seemed impervious to her blows. No one pulled into the parking lot or came out of the store, and no one heard her choked pleas for help as he easily held her struggling body with one arm while he opened the driver's side door of the waiting car.

      Then she was inside, pushed past the steering wheel like she was nothing more than laundry being stuffed into a bag. She kept going and hit the passenger door face-first, ramming her nose hard enough to bring tears to her eyes but not so hard that she forgot to fumble for the door handle and yank on it.

      Nothing happened.

      She slammed her hands futilely against the glass as the driver's door closed. The sound was like an explosion in her brain, but not enough to drown out her abductor's words. "Don't bother, Stacey." He sounded absurdly tired, as if this entire thing were a terrible ordeal for him. "The lock's been jammed for months. Fasten your seat belt." She twisted around and stared at him, pressed herself as hard as she could against the locked passenger door. "That's not my name," she whispered. Hadn't she said that before? The edges of her vision sparkled dangerously and she was mildly surprised at the taste and feel of her own blood as it laced between her teeth-- she must've bit her lip when she hit the door.

      "Yes it is," he said. His voice was calm and deliberate, stubborn. The expression on his face was terrifyingly serene, as if he had nothing more to do in the world than convince her that he was right and she was wrong. "I think I know what's going on here. You've got... what's it called? Amnesia. You've heard of it-- everybody has." The clasp on his seat belt clicked as he strapped it into place.

      Nola screamed then, but the sound was cut off as his hand whipped over and covered her mouth. "Cut it out," he said angrily as her lips mashed against the front of her teeth. "You're just making this harder than it has to be, and I hate having to manhandle you like this. Now would you fasten your damned seat belt?"

      He released her, waiting, and disbelievingly, she shrank against the seat. How amazing, Nola thought foggily, that she could feel or notice the cold, cracked vinyl jabbing into the bare skin of her back where her sweater and jacket had climbed above the waist of her slush-stained skirt. She had lost one of her heels, and her left foot, stocking ripped and wet over scraped, bloodstained flesh, ground against an ice-splattered and dirty floor mat. In the wake of what was happening to her, she was even surprised that she could feel the pulse of pain from her split lip, but there it was.

      "Damn it," her kidnapper muttered. "Boy, this is a mess if I ever saw one." He stared at her, and Nola realized that if she didn't do as he asked, he was likely to reach across her and do it himself. Was it not better to keep him at least on his own side of the car for now? Her fingers scrambled to find the buckle, but they felt thick and unwieldy, as though each digit had grown to twice its size. At last she managed to connect the two pieces, another snapping sound that seemed to be an announcement of finality. Seeing her belted securely appeased her captor and he relaxed a little, easing the white-knuckled grip he'd had on the steering wheel.

      He put the car in gear and Nola had to bite her lip to stop herself from screaming again. The parking lot outside the car was still deserted beneath dark, winter-clouded skies; not a single shopper stepped from the store or climbed out of a car, yet only a moment-- a lifetime-- ago, when Alec had let her out of the Lexus, she could've sworn there'd been at least three people doing just that. As her abductor guided the car onto Irving Park Road and accelerated, Nola searched the street frantically for a police car, praying one would pull up next to them. She was being kidnapped, for God's sake, literally taken way on a weekday afternoon! Things like this didn't happen in Roselle, and they certainly didn't happen to her.

      Nola tried to swallow, almost choked instead. Her face still throbbed and there was a vague, high sound in her head-- her racing pulse was making her ears ring. Her throat was raspy and her chest hurt from trying to breathe-- maybe she'd have a heart attack and she wouldn't have to worry about what was going to happen an hour from now. "W-what do you want?" she finally managed in a sandpaper voice. "Where are you taking me?"

      He gave her a glance that was half pity, half sadness. "Home, of course. Where else?"

* * *

Published by Bantam Books - June, 2000
ISBN 0-553-57750-6 -- 432 pages.
This novel is now out of print, but
You can buy an autographed copy
through the Store.


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All text copyright © 1993-2004 by Yvonne Navarro. Don't be naughty-- no reprinting or use in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the starving author. We mean it. We know lots of lawyers. And we ain't afraid to use them.