"Fernandez masterfully immerses readers in the world of Kyle’s canvas, so that they paint right along with the artist. [The author] eloquently captures the subtleties of human relationships."
—Jill Allen, Clarion ForeWord Review
"When I finished reading Undrawn, I felt the sort of thrill you get when you discover something important. [The author] has debuted with a novel which, in my opinion, firmly establishes her as a serious author with an excellent grip on the profound complexities of the human soul."
—Jose Baez Ventura, Hoy newspaper, Dominican Republic
"Debut novelist Conchie Fernandez has shown in her just released novel Undrawn that she is a voice deserving to be heard, and heard widely. The book (particularly the ending) is emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. I endorse this work."
—R.W. Bennett, author, "Love.com"
Kyle Reed stands on the verge of his lifelong dream of artistic immortality when a call from his estranged older brother Stuart puts a halt to everything in his carefully constructed life. Kyle faces the impossible decision to go back "home" and attempt to undo the many painful choices he made that severed his ties with his family and the woman he once loved. As he steps into the house he grew up in, Kyle revisits the lives he led. He walks through the elegant rooms where he learned to keep quiet to avoid his father's temper, and dealt with the debilitating disease that opened the doorway to his art. In his journey through his past, he assesses the perilous habits that distanced him from his family, the bitter enmities that still ravage his peace, and the surprising loyalty he finds in the people who surround him. Kyle juggles with the present and the past and he clings to sanity through his art, the passion that has become his true north. Between the sculptures and images that fill his spaces and canvases, lie the crucial aspects of his life that he's been avoiding for years: the icon he destroyed, the crime that still fills him with shame, and the forgiveness he never offered...or received.
Book Excerpt from Undrawn:
“I have no illusions. I lost them on my travels.” Christopher Hampton, Dangerous Liaisons
Kyle stood across the street from his father's home and smoked. He had stood there for a long time, under the insistent drizzle; his long hair hung limp against his pale face. He held the dying cigarette between his lips, which he kept pressed into a thin line, and hugged himself against the cold that was already creeping inside his body. He wasn't sure what was harsher, to stand outside in the autumn rain, his exhausted body battling against the wind and the cold, or to cross that street, put out the stub and announce his arrival 'home’.
He felt ridiculous standing there, almost concealed by a media van, milling among the press as if he weren't a part of what was happening behind his father's gates. He was a part of that family; he had been summoned there, forcefully, and he had surrendered. So why am I postponing the inevitable, why am I standing here, making myself look even more miserable?
Of course he knew why. The whys had kept him outside the tall iron fences of his former home for close to four years.
The house still looked the same, the guard's post, the ornate black iron gates, which even as he stood there, swung outward to let in a black limo; the green lawn that covered the short hill leading up to the house. The two-story house was still magnificent, sturdy and stubbornly immaculate. It was still painted in that strangely placid, pale yellow his mother liked to describe as "beige gold", but he and his brothers had secretly called "egg yolk." That was the end of the comfort, of the warmth. The front door remained closed to him and he was sure the entire Reed clan was behind it, waiting for him.
He took another deep breath, hoping to fill his lungs with smoke, and then glanced down at the dead cigarette. He sighed as he threw the stub out and ground it beneath his black boot. He looked up again and studied the half-or-so-dozen cars that lined the driveway. Limos, a Saab, a Mercedes, a couple of generic and unrecognizable and impossibly expensive cars. Did you call for valet parking, Stuart? He wondered. His brother was perfectly capable of doing just that. Anything to keep cars from the manicured lawn, to give off the appropriate semblance of order, luxury and civility.
He knew he had to cross the street. He had stood out there for close to twenty minutes, trying to convince himself he could turn around, hail a cab and go back to Chicago. That deeply ingrained, illogical loyalty, however, kept him glued to the sidewalk. His heart was pounding. He felt a sickening weight in his chest and he had to admit to himself that he was scared shitless.
Seeing his father, who, according to everyone from Stuart to the news, was finally dying... how could it be anything but terrifying? Still, he was not grieving a priori. He told himself he was just scared of the drama. He had spent the last couple of years avoiding the jolts and unending rollercoaster ride of being part of his family, pretending his mother alone, his one tie to the Reeds, aside from Troy, had spawned him. But he’s dying. And I came back. And maybe when he’s gone, all of this will fade and get buried.
The sound of his cough shook him. Time to go in. Not losing the 40-dollar cab fare. He had come this far and he was going to live through the ordeal. Kyle grabbed hold of his bag and took the first step toward the house. Here it comes: Norma’s tears and just about everybody’s top-ten lists of insults, accusations and your everyday friendly calamities. Just a reminder, in case I forgot how I fucked up. And to top it off, dealing with my older brother, the brilliant and successful Senator Reed. Other than ex-Senator Brandon Whitman Reed, his father, Stuart was, bar none, the aggravation Kyle most wanted to avoid.
Fuck it. Going in. He went up to the guard's post, making his way among the press and the blatantly curious. He went undetected until he stood before the uniformed guard.
“I’m here to see Senator Reed,” he said in a low voice.
“Sorry, but you can’t go inside,” the guard grumbled. He sounded like he had repeated the litany several times that morning.
"I'm expected," Kyle said patiently. The guard gave him a quick look and pursed his lips in open disbelief. Kyle took a deep breath and continued. "Please tell Stuart Reed that Kyle is here."
That’s a good question. Kyle Who? Who are you, anyway? And what the fuck are you doing here? Are you crazy? His anarchic brain demanded. The guard had every right to ask; Kyle was certain he looked like shit, but he felt like it too, so for once his outer image reflected his emotions. He could feel his long hair plastered to his face, he knew there were dark circles under his dark eyes, and he was dressed in black from head to toe so he was sure he did not resemble the Armani-wearing clique behind the iron gates.
“Kyle Reed,” he admitted. Never had his name sounded as alien and legitimate as it did then. He was admitting his kinship to them; he was making himself a righteous part of whatever was going on behind those closed doors. The guard gave him a dubious look, but nevertheless ordered him to wait as he walked up to his post and picked up the intercom. Kyle looked around in slight amazement although he shouldn’t have been surprised at the interest roused by his father’s illness. There must have been more than a dozen journalists and cameramen surrounding him. He felt it was almost comical, how the world had huddled outside the gates of his father’s world, waiting for word on his death, so the flags could be ordered to stand at half mast, so for the next two days a couple of TV channels could run documentaries and tributes of the ex-Senator’s career. The specials are probably already sitting in the cutting rooms of the local stations. Kyle couldn’t even remember when his father stepped down from his Republican seat, but somehow he had managed to hang onto his claims to royalty, he was still influential and respected.
Kyle chuckled aloud and shook his head. Then it hit him – as so many things had, for the past two days: this wasn’t about his father. This was about Stuart. Brandon Reed might have been a filler story for CNN or the local channels if only he hadn’t been Stuart Reed’s father.
And he's also my father. There are three of us, actually; the oldest a Senator for the almighty Republicans, no doubt fast on his way to the presidential run in a couple of years. The youngest has a foot in the closet and another not quite outside. Then there’s yours truly, the middle child, self-designated oddity.
“Mr. Reed?” The guard addressed him humbly. The man looked flustered and genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry about the delay, Mr. Reed. Please follow me.” Kyle nodded and heard a sudden hush following the man’s words. He blushed instinctively; his innate loathing for the media resurfaced. He bowed his head to avoid the flashes and the microphones that were immediately thrust into his face. The people around him broke into excited cries and summons and their impropriety and incessant curiosity engulfed him.
"Mr. Reed! Kyle!" Kyle heard them yell as he and the guard made their way to the entrance. The calls continued as the gates opened for them. The press became excited again; a new story was born. He could see the headlines in his mind: The Estranged Son Is Back! The Bearded Stranger Is Stuart’s Brother! Yes, I am the proud skeleton in the Senators’ otherwise immaculate closets! He imagined himself admitting to the press.
"I'm sorry about that, sir, but you've got to imagine how tight security has been around here since the Senator got sick. There’ve been a lot of VIPs coming in to see him. We have to be careful.” The guard blurted out nervously. Kyle shrugged him off.
"It's OK. I haven’t been here in a while; I didn't expect you to recognize me.”
"I'm sorry about your father, Mr. Reed."
"Thank you," Kyle said curtly. His eyes were stationed on the front door, which he knew would open shortly. Who would stand there to greet him? Current Senator Reed incarnate? After all, Stu had called Kyle, late the night before. Kyle had been asleep but he remembered the conversation vividly. How could he forget it? He was rarely blessed with the pleasure of Stuart’s voice on the line.
"Yeah?" Kyle had barked into the phone.
"Kyle?" For a moment Kyle had not reacted, he was shocked at the intrusion, the instantly recognizable and unwanted voice that broke through his uneasy sleep.
“Dad’s very sick. We don't think he'll make it over the weekend." Stuart had paused, perhaps waiting for some sort of reaction, which he didn't get.
“I didn’t know it was that bad.”
“Well, it got worse. Mother would like it very much if you were here if...when Dad passes. Can you fly to Boston?"
Kyle had been silent for a moment. Fly to Boston? Could he really do that? Could he take the journey, go back?
"Yes," he had answered, betraying himself in less than a second.
"I’ll send you a ticket." Stuart had offered coldly.
"No, I’ll take care of it."
"Actually, I had my office take care of it. Flights are pretty full from Chicago to Boston this weekend. There's some sort of convention here. I booked you on American, first class, tomorrow morning."
"I don't need to fly first, Stuart," Kyle had said dryly, knowing full well it would tick Stu off.
He bit. "I don't want you in coach, Kyle,” he hissed, losing his former composure and distance. “I really don’t give a shit where the fuck you sit in the goddamn plane, but this house is surrounded by press and I sure as hell want you to be as inconspicuous as possible. There’s less of an audience in first class."
"People don’t know who I am,” he countered.
“Just because you’re hiding in Chicago doesn’t mean people have forgotten all the shit you pulled, Kyle. Just for once do something for this family. Sit in goddamn first, get in the fucking limo and get inside the house so no one can fucking see you!”
He felt his heart pound and his anger boil over his vision, his hearing. All he could hear was his heart race relentlessly in harmony with words he didn’t want to say: fuck you. He would not fall. He would not react. Still, he argued in deadpan: “I'm not paying for first."
Kyle heard Stuart take a deep breath. Two minutes into the conversation and he lost it first. I win. “Kyle, I paid for the fucking ticket."
He spoke cautiously, enveloping every non-confrontational word with remote condescension. "Cancel it. Call off the limo. I’ll take care of my own shit."
"Do whatever the fuck you want." He hung up.
He’d always anticipated that call. Troy had been telling him about Brandon’s downward spiral for weeks. He’d called his mother to check how she was dealing, but he’d muted her soft complaints to filter out any of her pain. Still, he wished Troy or his mother had called to say his father was dying, not Stuart. It was fitting; surely his younger brother and his mother were too distraught to call or to notice Stuart had chosen to be the family spokesperson and reach out to him. He had too many mixed feelings over his father’s illness, feelings he’d been bleeding onto his canvases to suppress their gnawing emptiness, but his brother’s call compounded the uneasiness, the hollowness of the surreal concept that was the end of his father’s life.
The tall oak door swung open and Kyle stiffened for a second, and then relaxed when he saw his younger brother at the doorway. The guard excused himself and Kyle was left with Troy.
"Hey," Kyle said quietly and he felt his face soften as he smiled. Troy rushed out to him, disregarding the protocol of their family's privacy, ignoring the flashes outside their gates. The men embraced for the first time in too long and Kyle felt his flush heighten. Like a vampire, he couldn’t rush inside without his brother’s invitation, but he regretted the show of emotion under the lenses of the press.
"Bro, I've missed you,” Troy whispered and Kyle did not reply, as usual. Troy slowly pulled away from him and he smiled through damp, reddened eyes and the exhaustion that dragged his handsome face. "Let me help you with your stuff, Ky."
"I'm fine, really. How're you doing?"
Troy shrugged and sighed, then put an arm around Kyle's shoulders. "Come on in,” he invited. Kyle braced himself in spite of the warmth of his brother’s half embrace. He felt the finality of his arrival when Troy closed the door behind him.
He was trapped in the distinctive scent of potpourri and flowers and the soft amber lights of the foyer. Inside, the house hadn’t changed much. He couldn’t really remember if the interior had always been painted in stark white, but the marble floor still shone to perfection, the mahogany archways still glowed and the brass knobs on doors and windows still looked brand new.
He looked around and felt the indisputable discomfort of being a stranger in the house he’d grown up in. As he stood before the grand stairway and muted his brother’s small talk he felt the ghost of their childhood selves rush by. He felt his parents’ voices, the music from his father’s studio, his piano lessons, Stuart bouncing a basketball with his friends. He heard pets bark and Troy splash around in the pond in the back although his mother had told him for the fifteenth time not to touch the fish in the pond! Yes, this had been his home once; this had been the place he had longed to return to many years before. Now he was back, voluntarily, returning from exile but not quite the prodigal son. He was an expected and unwitting guest, uncertain where he fit in, if he even had a place in this house.
He wondered if he would occupy one of the guest rooms, surely his old room didn’t exist anymore. He wondered if this was how ghosts felt when they were trapped in their former homes, watching as their clothes were given away, their rooms changed into closets and studios.
"You wanna go up and change?" Troy asked quietly. "You're soaked."
"Sure. Where's Mom?"
"She went to her room to lie down, she was up all night. But she asked me to wake her when you got in."
“No, let her sleep.” He paused. Next natural question: “And Stu?"
"He's in the library with Carol and Dad’s doctor. I'll tell him you're here."
"Don’t bother. Can I shower in your room?"
"Sure. I'll be right up."
Kyle nodded and watched Troy walk down the hallway and turn into the library. So I was right, you’re all huddled inside the library, my least favorite room in the house. Kyle took another quick glance around him. It was small wonder, the house was still expertly decorated; his mother had always been devoted to making it look beautiful. His parents’ home had always reminded him more of a museum than a house; even as he grew up in it, he had felt engulfed by the antiques, the expensive art objects, the overall sterile luxury of the furnishings. He remembered some magazine had taken pictures of the house once, back when the family had seemed like a bastion of bliss.
Kyle slowly made his way up the stairs, one hand on the mahogany banister and another on his bag handle. He looked to his right, knowing he would find the painting still there, staring back at him. He was not disappointed; even though his family had seemed to erase almost all traces of him, they had not taken the family portrait down. There it hung, beautiful and false, all of its twenty years frozen in time. Brandon stood tall behind a sitting Norma, whose lips were turned into that loving smile Kyle had been told he’d inherited, but seldom showed.
He had always thought of his parents as a striking couple. His mother was surely still considered a stunning woman and Brandon was, without a doubt, a regally handsome man. The painting showed an incontestably attractive family: a dashing couple with three perfect children.
His smile would have been somewhat melancholy if he didn’t feel the familiar touch of remorse, cynicism and slight revulsion that his family portrait always evoked. He climbed the stairs toward his brother’s room. As he made it to the second-floor landing, he paused before the room that was once his. He didn’t even argue with his rebellious thoughts as he opened the door quietly, carefully, not wanting to disturb whatever phantoms lurked inside.
The curtains were drawn so the lighting was poor; he didn’t flick on the lights. He didn’t need much illumination to see the room was anonymous. The beige Berber had been left untouched, but the wide mahogany bed he'd slept in was piled high with a thick comforter and a dozen throw pillows. The TV and the stereo were gone, his first paintings had been replaced with a mirror and two non-descript landscapes. Nothing in the room told he had once lived there. He pursed his lips and cursed himself for feeling so lost. He’d been right, he was the ghost revisiting his old haunt, finding himself effectively obliterated and wondering if he’d ever really lived between those walls, if there were any clues to his existence hidden somewhere in that house.
He closed the door swiftly and was almost disappointed it made no sound as it closed. He would have wanted to slam it. Maybe the sound would have made him react and get the hell out of the house, the impossible situation. He chuckled again. And what the fuck is wrong with me anyway? It’s just a room. Just my old room. It’s not mine anymore; I'm not a part of almost anything or anyone in this goddamn house anymore.
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