LOCKED OUT OF HEAVEN From the Diary of Molly Overbrook
That’s how these things usually start, right? “Dear Diary”? I’m only asking because it seems kind of strange to pretend that I’m writing a diary, which should be, you know, private
, when what I’m really writing is a “therapy assignment” that’s going to be read by Dr. Mésomier and my dad and aunts and Odin-knows-who-else. But since right now I’m not really speaking to any of those people, I’m just going to pretend that none of them are going to see this, because if I think of them reading these words, then I’m never going to be able to write down what happened this summer. And although I want to make it clear that I think this is a totally lame assignment
and it’s not really anybody’s business but mine and Mardi’s
, I do actually want to write it down. Because, well, it was pretty freaking strange, and maybe writing it down will help me figure out how the Hel, I mean, the Underworld, things could have gotten so messed up between me and my sister.
And since maybe this is going to be read by people who have never met me, I suppose I should catch you up on a few things that happened before summer even started.
Most people know me as Molly Overbrook, but in certain very
select circles, I’m also known as Mooi, and my twin sister, Mardi, is called Magdi. Most people see us as two fairly normal seventeen-year-olds, albeit ones from privileged backgrounds: Mardi’s normal ride is a vintage Ferrari, while I usually go for something with a chauffeur (I like a chauffeured Navigator or Escalade preferably, but a Town Car will do, or even a taxi— although as I learned this summer, nothing beats a Maybach), so I can sip on some bubbly and check my social media feeds while someone else does the driving. Shopping means department stores and individual designers (although in our case, the department stores are Barneys and Jeffrey and the designers are 5:31 Jérôme and Kim Haller). Good hair is an obsession, and we own approximately one hundred different hair care products between us; of course mine gets a little assistance from the Frédéric Fekkai salon. Like everyone our age, we sweated over the SATs, and we’ll soon be waiting on pins and needles to see which colleges will let us in.
Despite the outward appearance of quasi-normality, we are in fact the daughters of Thor, a.k.a. the god of thunder. No, not the one played by Chris Hemsworth. Our dad doesn’t wear a red cape and silver armor, although he does
have a hammer, which he doesn’t swing around as much; he keeps it hanging on a couple of hooks above the mantel in the living room of our Park Avenue penthouse while he jets around the world buying and selling skyscrapers and companies and, I don’t know, islands
. By which I mean that, yes, our father’s a genuine Norse god, which makes us goddesses—Mardi’s the goddess of rage and I’m the goddess of strength. But we’re a little different from our dad and his ex, Ingrid, a.k.a. Erda, the goddess of the earth, and her sister Freya, the goddess of love. They were all born thousands of years ago in Asgard, which is our real home and where we’re supposed to live, coming to Midgard (the place humans call Earth) only when they mess things up and need our help.
But Thor (whom we call Troy, when we’re not just calling him Dad) and Ingrid and Freya and a few other Aesir and Vanir (which is what the gods call themselves in Asgard) ended up getting trapped here after the rainbow bridge that connected Asgard to the rest of the nine worlds was destroyed almost five hundred years ago, leaving them pretty much stuck here. Like, forever
Despite the fact that Thor and Tyr—the god of war (a.k.a. Trent, whom we’ll meet later)—and Ingrid and Erda and about a half dozen other gods have been trapped here for so long, none of them ever had any children—that is, until Mardi and I came along seventeen years ago.
To be sure, our births were prophesied a long time ago, but that was before the Bofrir was destroyed, and everyone figured those prophecies had been canceled when the link between the nine worlds was cut— especially because in the legends our mother is supposed to be a Jotun (a giant) from Jotunheim, a world that was also cut off from Midgard by the destruction of the rainbow bridge. And as far as everyone knows, there aren’t any giants here on Earth. But then one day our dad showed up with a cute little bundle of joy in each arm (so we’re told anyway; we may be goddesses, but you can’t expect us to remember things from when we were a couple of months old, let alone a couple of days), and judging by the way glass shattered when we cried for our bottles and the trays on our high chairs would break into a million pieces when we threw temper tantrums, it was pretty clear we were the goddesses from the ancient prophecies. Needless to say, our appearance on the scene raised a lot of questions, but one of them was kind of more important than all the others:
Where was our mother? And who was she?
Well, we’ll get to that, but first I want to tell you about this dream I had around the start of the summer. Not once, but every night for more than a week. I know, it’s the twenty-first century and no one really cares about dreams anymore besides Jungian analysts—and how can you take someone seriously when their job is to sit on a couch and listen to people talk? Except gods’ dreams aren’t like humans’ dreams—our unconscious is plugged into the magical currents that govern time itself, as in, they’re prophetic. (How do you think they came up with the prophecy about Mardi and me all those thousands of years ago? It wasn’t from gazing into a crystal ball. It was a dream.)
In the dream, I’m at Fair Haven, which is this beautiful colonial-era mansion on Gardiners Island, just off the East End, where Mardi’s boyfriend, Trent, lives. Besides being the Gardiners’ ancestral home, Fair Haven also happens to sit on what’s called a “seam” between our world and the Land of the Dead, also known as Niflheim, the most fearsome and inhospitable of the nine worlds, with a cold white sun that’s not even as bright as the full moon and covered in endless sheets of ice—including Hel, the vast city where dead Vikings are banished if they fail to die a heroic death.
The reason why I’m telling you all this background stuff is because I didn’t know it in my waking life—I found it out in the dream. And only after I did a little digging around did I realize it was all true. Which is why I knew this dream was important.
Important, and terrifying.
In the dream, I’m walking toward Fair Haven across the front lawn. In real life, that lawn is as flat and manicured as a croquet pitch or tennis court, every single blade of grass perfectly trimmed to 1.5 inches. But in the dream, the yard is a swampy, cratered mess, alternating puddles of sludge and muddy mounds the size of muskrat nests. Plus, it’s raining. Plus, the puddles of water are freezing cold.
Now, I’m a serious shoe girl, and a muddy lawn is not my normal habitat. (Not good for the Zanottis!) Yet in the dream, I’m barefoot and wading right into this vast field of sludge like it’s the Mediterranean lapping on the Côte d’Azur, plopping one foot into six inches of ice-cold muck and then the other, as I charge toward Fair Haven. I don’t know why, but I have to get to the mansion, and I have to get there soon, or it’ll be too late. And so I’m splashing through the mud as fast as I can, slipping every other step and falling on my hands and knees and splashing my face with brown goo. I don’t even care what my hair looks like—so you know I must be completely out of my mind
I’m so caught up with just trying to get across the lawn that I’m not really paying attention to my destination. But then, after what seems like hours, I manage to climb onto one of those muddy but still comparatively dry mounds, and when I pause to catch my breath, I look up for the first time, to see how far I am from my destination.
That’s when I see the mansion—which just last year was described by Architectural Digest
as “not only the most beautiful, but the most elegant home on the whole of the East End.” Except in my dream it’s not beautiful at all, let alone elegant. It’s a ruin. Every single pane of glass in every single window has been smashed, and two out of every three of the thousands upon thousands of cedar shingles that normally cover the house have been blown off, and the simple white Ionic pilasters and window frames have been ripped away or hang in splinters from the walls—and that’s only what I can see of the house, because the whole enormous building is covered in dark, droopy tangled vines that look more like seaweed than ivy or creeper. The vines cling to the house not like they’re growing up its walls but like they’re trying to pull them down, and there are big holes in the roof with tree branches growing through them, as if the house had been abandoned for a hundred years or more. Which is impossible. I was there just last summer. The house was in perfect condition. I played croquet with Mardi on this very lawn.
And I mean, I know it was a dream, so the normal rules of reality don’t apply. But the thing is, I knew
I was dreaming, and in the dream I wasn’t surprised
to see Fair Haven looking like this. It was exactly what I expected to see. It was only the part of me that was watching myself dream that was confused. Was I seeing the future? Or maybe some alternate version of the past? And if so, how? Though it was said that the Aesir possessed magical artifacts that allowed them to change time itself, all those were trapped on the other side of the destroyed rainbow bridge. So how was I seeing this vision?
But before the not-dreaming part of my brain could ask the dreaming part of my brain for the answer to this question, I noticed something off to my right, in the east wing of the mansion. The east wing was built in the early seventeenth century, and Trent always said it was the strongest part of the house. Its posts and beams had been cut from solid tree trunks two feet thick and had stood for nearly four hundred years. But now the whole wing swayed like a poorly built tent in a hurricane, and much of the roof had caved in, and some kind of vast . . . mound rose from the hole, like one of those creepy termites’ nests in Africa, but a hundred times bigger. But it was only when it flashed a second time that I realized it wasn’t the mound that had caught my eye, but a pulse of light somewhere deep within the crumbling walls of the east wing: a thick greenish-yellowish glow that pulsed on and off. And each time it shone on, it cast a shadow that, though monstrously distended, was still recognizable as human, and female.
And even though I didn’t know who this woman was, I knew I had to get to her, I had to save her.
O MOTHER, WHERE ART THOU? Mardi-Overbrook-Journal.docx
Let me guess: the first thing Molly wrote in her diary was “Dear Diary,” wasn’t it?
Gods, she can be so predictable, not to mention conventional. That’s the difference between us. I like to surprise people. When Molly got extensions in fifth grade so she could look like every other Britney- Christina-Beyoncé-Gaga-Katy wannabe, I went all Sinéad (or Amber Rose, if you don’t remember Sinéad) and buzzed my long wavy locks down to the skull. And when it grew out, I dyed my hair black to make sure I’d stand out from the basic bimbos of the world even more. I pierced my tongue when I was thirteen and tattooed the rainbow bridge on my neck when I was fifteen. Troy, a.k.a. Thor, a.k.a. Daddykins, says I do these things because I grew up without a strong female presence in my life, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
I do these things because it’s fun.
I do them because I can
No doubt Molly will tell you everything started to go wrong or, I don’t know, weird between us, when Janet Steele (yes, the
Janet Steele) dropped her little bombshell after winning the French Open this past May (yes, the
French Open), but I don’t think that’s true. I think everything changed last summer, after Troy booted us off to the East End to get away from a little trouble in Manhattan—trouble that was not actually our fault, as later events made clear. Neither Molly nor I was particularly thrilled
about spending the summer babysitting for one of Dad’s old exes, Ingrid, but Ingrid turned out to be pretty cool, and her sister Freya makes the best cocktail-cum-love-potion you’ve ever guzzled.
But of course what really made last summer interesting was meeting Trystan Gardiner, a.k.a. Trent, a.k.a. Tyr, the god of war. (Molly mentioned him, right?) Although it wasn’t as simple as just meeting him—when you’re a goddess masquerading as a witch pretending to be a normal human, nothing ever is.
Molly and I both met Trystan Gardiner in different places, at the same time. If that sounds fishy, that’s because it was. See, the Trystan I met—who called himself Trent—was the real Trystan, whereas the Trystan Molly met—who called himself Tris—was really this evil shape-shifter named Alberich who was just trying to steal our ring, which happens to be made out of Rhinegold and has all kinds of magical powers.
Anyway, when all was said and done, Alberich had been defeated and banished, the Rhinegold was safely locked away in Hel, and Trent and I were the only couple left standing, while poor Molly realized she’d been dating an absolute troll all along.
But wait, you’re asking, isn’t Tyr one of the multi-thousand-year-old gods? What’s he doing dating a seventeen-year-old? Isn’t that a little, you know, ew
? That’s a very good question, and I’m going to get to it eventually, but for now let me just explain that the gods trapped here in Midgard are a little different from the gods who still live in Asgard. See, Asgardians are immortal. Like, they really live forever and ever, and pretty much nothing can kill them, and if they do get killed, then they stay dead. But here in Midgard, the gods’ bodies are practically as vulnerable as human bodies, which means they can
be destroyed. But only the flesh: the soul sticks around and migrates to a newly conceived body. Joanna, Ingrid and Freya’s mother, who was also trapped here in Midgard with her children, has not only had to watch each of her children die, in some cases more than once, she’s also had to give birth to each of them two or three times, which has got to be pretty weird, not to mention kind of horrible, since when they first come out, they’re like any other baby: crying, breast-feeding, diapers, the whole nine yards, with no knowledge of who they used to be. It’s not until puberty that their powers start to manifest and their memories return to them, a drawn-out and not-particularly-fun process known as the Reawakening—although I imagine it still beats dying.
And so Trent got himself into a little trouble about nineteen years ago, and he ended up burning his mortal body (his second, if I’ve got the count right). I used to ask him what happened, and he’d go silent. At first, I thought he was trying to hide the fact that he’d done something shady, but then I realized he actually didn’t remember—all his memories had died with his old body and haven’t returned yet. Or rather, hadn’t returned as of the beginning of this summer, although by early June that situation had changed.
In fact, that’s when everything changed, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
So here we are, in our second summer on the East End. Molly and I ended up liking the place so much that it was pretty much taken for granted that we’d come out and stay with Ingrid and her mortal husband, Matt, and their two kids, Jo and Henry, as soon as school let out. Except this year, only Molly was going to be crashing at Ingrid’s cute but kind of small beach house (only 3,000 square feet), while I was going to stay with Trent in Fair Haven, his family’s grand home on Gardiners Island, just off the coast of North Hampton. You could drop Ingrid and Matt’s house in Fair Haven’s ballroom and still throw a raging party for a hundred of your closest friends in the space left over.
Dad sort of raised his eyebrow at the whole thing, but I raised my own back and that was that. This is the man who used to give us cereal for dinner and left us with a succession of girlfriends over the years.
The day everything began to happen, however, I was over at Ingrid’s house to watch the French Open final on TV. I know what you’re thinking. Tennis.
Who watches tennis except for old British people and wannabe Anglophiles? And I’m not even a tennis fan. That’s Molly. (Or that was Molly. Something tells me she’s not too big on it now.) She’d gotten into it a little during our sophomore year, when she went out for the team, but then Dad made her quit because even though she’d never picked up a racket before, she had this funny way of winning every single match
she played, and he was pretty sure she was using magic to help her out. Molly claimed she wasn’t, and who knows, maybe she wasn’t doing it on purpose, but my sister is just about the most competitive person I know—after me—and sometimes when a goddess wants something, she’s just going to get it.
So anyway, she quit the team, and destroyed all her gear, including an adorable platinum tennis bracelet that quite frankly looked better when it wasn’t
worn with a tennis skirt. But by then she’d started watching matches on TV—she even made Dad add the Tennis Channel to our cable package—and she’d become obsessed with Janet Steele.
In case you live under a rock, Janet Steele is the number one female tennis player in the world, which is amazing, given that she’s something like thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old, which in tennis years is ancient
. She was once a teenage prodigy, but then something happened when she was twenty or twenty-one and she vanished into the Outback, that big desert in the middle of Australia, which is where she’s from. Some kind of “family crisis” was all she’d say—or all her publicist would say, since Janet simply disappeared. She was gone for thirteen or fourteen years, until about two years ago, when she suddenly showed up and started playing again, at around the same age that most tennis players retire. And not just playing: winning. By the end of her first year back, she was in the top ten. By the end of her second year, she was number one. She even almost won the Grand Slam last year (Serena Williams beat her at Wimbledon) and, what with the fact that she’s a six-foot-two Glamazon with three feet of lustrous dark hair and legs that would make Giselle jealous, she became the highest-paid female athlete in the world. According to reports, she pulls in more than a $100 million a year in endorsements and prize money. That’s Michael Jordan money, people. That’s LeBron James money.
So, Janet started the year by winning the Australian Open and cruised right to the French Open final, where she was once again facing Serena Williams. I didn’t watch last year’s Wimbledon match, but I guess it was a real slugfest, and according to the tabloids, whatever friendship might’ve existed between Janet and Serena was dead and gone by the time it was over.
“Rumor has it she can be a bit of a bitch,” Molly said as she settled onto a couch with a bottomless bowl of Parmesan-dusted popcorn, courtesy of Ingrid’s magic and culinary prowess.
The TV was on, but it was just the announcers, droning away about things like “first-serve percentage” and “forehand volleys” and “hitting a clean, flat ball.” I would’ve rather been at the beach, or with Trent, but it was pouring rain outside, and Trent was busy. So I was stuck with the fam.
“Molly, please,” Ingrid said. “Little pitchers have big ears.” She nodded at Jo, who was sitting a few feet away on an easy chair.
“Oh, Mom, puh-lease!” seven-year-old Jo said, snacking on her own bottomless bowl of crunchy kale chips. “I totally know what a bee-yotch is!”
Ingrid shook her head in defeat.
“Who’s the b?” I asked Molly. “Janet or Serena?”
“Puh-lease,” she said in her best imitation of Jo. “Janet Steele basically shows up, plays her matches, crushes her opponents, then leaves. Never talks to anyone, doesn’t socialize or practice with any of the other players, nothing. Back when she was a teenager, she was supposed to be a real party girl, but now she says all of that is ‘beneath her.’”
“Like, literally,” I said, pointing to the screen. That woman was tall.
The players were walking out onto the field, or court, or whatever it’s called. Serena Williams is like five foot ten or something, with guns like an NBA star, but Janet Steele towered over her by a good four inches. She was more lithe than Serena, but you could see the strength in her shoulders and legs, all three or four feet of them, which were fully on display in a skimpy white tennis dress that barely covered her butt cheeks.
“My Lord,” Ingrid said from the other side of the kitchen island. “Is that what they’re wearing these days? I have bathing suits that cover more than that!”
“Mo-om!” Jo groaned. “You are em-bar-ras-sing me!”
“Watch it, young lady, or I’ll turn those kale chips back into plain old kale, and make you eat till you turn green. Mardi, here are your spicy wasabi peas,” she said, proffering an antique earthenware bowl with a bright red stripe around the rim. “I’ve put a bottomless hex on them, so pace yourself or you’re going to end up with a tummy ache.” Tummy ache.
Ingrid’s fought demons and giants, visited six of the nine worlds, and helped raise people from the dead, but she still talks like a children’s librarian (which, btdubs, is what she is in her human guise). You gotta love her.
Just then, Freya burst through the front door. She was rocking a typical Freya look (not that anything Freya wears is “typical”): cutoff denim shorts that were definitely shorter than Janet Steele’s tennis dress, and a sleeveless, backless, semi-see-through blouse that showed off her arms, which glittered with bracelets, including an asp coiled high up around her toned left biceps.
“Hey, Molls, what’s shaking?” she said before turning to me. “Mardi, I was going through my closet this morning, and I saw something that made me think of you.”
She tossed me a little box; inside I found a thick black leather belt. When I uncoiled it, I saw that the chunky silver buckle read BOY TOY
“Oh, my gods, it’s awesome!” I practically squealed. “Is it vintage?”
“It’s more than vintage,” Freya laughed. “It’s Madonna’s. I borrowed it from her at a club in New York in like 1982, and then when she got famous, I kind of sort of forgot to give it back.” She winked mischievously.
Molly tried to hide her disappointment at not getting anything, but you could tell she was upset. This was the third item of clothing Freya had given me since we’d arrived last week, and just the day before, Molly had complained that Freya liked me best and she felt left out. I tried to tell her it was just because Freya and I have the same taste in clothes, not because she liked me better. I mean, Molly’s a label queen, and everything she wears has to be right off the runway or she won’t even look at it. I don’t mean that as a dig or anything. Just stating the facts.
When Molly puts on the same Herve Leger you’ve seen on a thousand different celebrities, she works it out. But Freya and I are more rock ’n’ roll. And besides, I told her, Ingrid clearly preferred Molly to me. This didn’t make Molly feel any better, though. “Ingrid dresses more like a librarian than any librarian in the history of libraries,” she’d whined.
Now, however, before she could say anything, Freya exclaimed, “Is that Janet Steele
? She’s back?”
Molly immediately perked up. “Do you know her?”
“Know her?” Freya said. “I held that girl’s hair out of her face while she puked her guts out. We used to party like it was 1999 when it was only 1995. She used to hang around—”
“Janet’s a big tennis star now,” Ingrid said in this bland but curiously sharp tone of voice. When I looked over at her, she was frowning at Freya, and her face bore a clear shut-up expression. Like I said, Ingrid’s a librarian, so she can make a shut-up face like nobody’s business.
“Right, she was always a big tennis star, even then,” Freya said, oblivious to her sister’s warning. “I always thought it was a little suspicious myself.”
“Why?” Molly asked. “I think she’s amazing. She’s beautiful and talented, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her.”
“I’m sure Freya’s just exaggerating,” Ingrid said, coming around the island with a bottle of white wine in one hand, seltzer in the other. “Sis,” she said in a not-very-sisterly tone, “why don’t you make us some spritzers to drink while we watch the game?”
“It’s called a match,” Molly said. “A game is, like, I don’t know, baseball
“Yes, Mother,” Jo echoed drolly. “Baze-bowl.”
Ingrid and Freya exchanged a significant look, and suddenly Freya’s eyes went wide. She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut. With a false smile on her face, she ran to the kitchen, and Ingrid sighed in relief.
I looked back and forth between them, then glanced at the TV. Janet Steele was unzipping her warm-up jacket and shaking out her legs prior to the start of the game, or match, or whatever you call the whole tennis experience. It seemed pretty clear that Freya and Ingrid knew something about her that they weren’t saying, and I was determined to get it out of them, if only so I’d have something to talk to Molly about while two grown women spent the next two hours hitting a ball back and forth with giant flyswatters.
But as it turned out, I didn’t have to get it out of them.
Janet told us herself.
Copyright © 2016 by Melissa de la Cruz. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.