My guest today is the wonderful YA author, Cody Kennedy. To celebrate the one year anniversary of the release of Safe, Cody Kennedy answers my question: Why did you write Safe?
Cody’s post is particularly timely since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The message in Safe is an important one of hope and healing. Safe is about giving young adults the strength to begin their healing journey (a journey that can take a lifetime or more), and how love can help guide the way.
So please welcome Cody and show him some love! -Shira
Thank you for joining in the one-year anniversary celebration of the release of Safe, Shira! Your question is an important one. I wrote Safe and my upcoming novels Omorphi and Slaying Isidore’s Dragons to give abused youths hope.
Though the events contained in Safe are purely products of my imagination, they mirror the tribulations of many young adults; young adults who are unable, for whatever reasons, to escape abusive environments including bullying at school. Teen years are difficult enough to endure and to have to cope with the secrecy (or not) and shame of abuse can be crippling. Worse yet, victims don’t recover from abuse. More accurately stated, they compensate for it when and if they are able. It’s traumatic, it’s debilitating, it’s tragic, and leaves everlasting, invisible scars. My greatest wish is that my stories give victims hope and inspire young readers to help those who may be in these circumstances. Friendship and love is invaluable to victims and lends to healing in ways most people can’t imagine.
Safe chronicles the events over eight years, from the time Caleb and Nico are ten to eighteen. Through these years, Nico suffers severe physical abuse at the hands of his father and Caleb desperately tries to save him. The story culminates in Nico receiving a near fatal beating from his father. Despite the circumstances, they find everlasting love. The story shows that abuse doesn’t define you and there is someone out there right now looking for exactly what you have to offer.
Believe. Never stop believing.
EXCERPTS FROM SAFE
At twelve, Nico runs away from home to seek shelter at Caleb’s house:
Nico suffered yet another beating at his father’s hands and ran away from home all the way to Caleb’s house. Almost a whole mile. Caleb met Nico’s tear stained face on his moonlit doorstep and pulled him quickly inside. He didn’t need to ask what happened. He knew. He’d learned to stop asking why. There was never a reason. Caleb’s mom called Nico’s mom and arranged a special school night sleepover.
Caleb lay on his bed for an hour curled around Nico while he sobbed and clutched Caleb’s hand to his chest. He finally spoke once the tears and trembling died away. “Sorry.” The single word came out in a shuddering sigh.
Caleb carded his fingers through the ebony curls he adored. “You don’t ever have to say sorry to me, Nico. We’re BFF’s.”
Another shuddering sigh passed through Nico and he cuddled closer to Caleb.
Caleb eventually can’t take it anymore and asks his father to intervene:
Nico got more bruises. Lots more bruises. Almost every day Nico showed up with more bruises. Now, stitches. Nico wasn’t safe at home. Ever. Worrying about Nico at night drove Caleb insane. On night Caleb couldn’t handle it anymore and went to his dad.
He found him in the den with his mom watching the news. “Dad?”
“Yeah, son?” he answered absently not taking his eyes from the television.
“Can I talk to you?”
“Sure.” He put a comforting hand on the nape of Caleb’s neck and walked him into the kitchen. “What’s up?” he asked as he poured a glass of red wine.
“Nico has stitches in his eyebrow and lip.” Pregnant pause. “From his dad.”
Mr. Deering eyed Caleb evenly. “Nico’s dad takes discipline too far? Is that it?”
Caleb stuffed his restless hands deep into the front pockets of his jeans. “It’s not discipline, Dad. He drinks then beats him up. It used to be every week. Now, it’s every day. One time he had a knot on his forehead the size of a big grape. Now he has stitches. It’s getting worse.”
Caleb’s mom entered the kitchen and took the glass of wine from his dad’s hand. His dad arched a brow as he reached for another glass. Taking a sip, his mom brushed a hand over Caleb’s blond curls. “What’s getting worse?”
Caleb fidgeted with the belt loop of his jeans. His mom was strict and not always easy to talk to. “Nico’s dad beats him up.”
His mom frowned and turned to his dad. “He always did have bruises when he came for swimming lessons. When I asked, all he would say was that he fell, or tripped, or something. And you remember that time he ran away from home and showed up here with a bloody lip?”
Caleb pled his dad with his eyes. “Will you talk to his dad?”
“I’ll try, but no promises.”
The next evening his dad sat him down for a talk. “Angelo Caro is a man from the old country, Caleb. He rules his home with an iron fist.”
“Nico doesn’t do anything wrong, Dad! He’s straight-A’s like me! His dad drinks and beats him up for no reason!”
“The next time something happens tell me and I’ll look into it again.”
Angry and frustrated, Caleb chewed his lower lip. “I’m afraid for him. I don’t want to wait for the next time.”
His dad one-arm hugged him. “I know, and I’m sorry I can’t do more.”
“The only thing that I can do is to ask the authorities to look into it.”
“Do you know what will happen to Nico if they take him from his home? He’ll end up in a group or foster home. Do you want that for him? You might never see him again.”
That was the end of that discussion.
The abuse almost becomes an issue between them, but thanks to Caleb’s awareness and conscience, it doesn’t:
“Hey,” Caleb said when Nico answered the phone.
“Where in hell have you been?”
The anguish in Nico’s voice tore at Caleb’s heart. “I went for a late run and ran too far. Dad came and got me then we had dinner at the pier.”
“You scared the shit outta me, Caleb.”
“Sorry, babe, had to blow of some steam.”
“Are you upset about something? I mean, other than your mom?”
“I’m all right. I wish you were here.”
“Me, too. My dad’s not home yet.”
Fuck. Caleb knew that meant it was going to be a bad night for Nico. “Is your mom home?”
“Ask her if you can spend the night here.”
“What’s my excuse for going over there so late?”
“Tell her I’m upset about mom again.”
“’Kay, hang on.”
Caleb listened while they spoke in Italian. Though he’d listened to it for seven and a half years now, he still couldn’t get used to it.
“She says it’s too late.”
Caleb sighed. “Which translates into she knows it’s gonna be a bad night.”
Nico was silent.
“How do you stand it?” Caleb immediately hated himself for asking the question. He knew Nico felt helpless when it came to his dad. “Don’t answer that. Sorry.”
“I’ll be out of here in nine months, Caleb. As soon as I turn eighteen and graduate I’ll be gone.”
The final straw comes when they’re outed at school and the Headmaster calls Caleb and Nico’s fathers to the school. Caleb’s father tries to convince Nico’s father that Nico did nothing wrong:
The double doors open and Caleb looks across the lawn. Nico walks unsteadily down the steps as Mr. Caro glowers at him.
Caleb sees the ugly, blossoming bruise on Nico’s cheek and his anger soars. Caleb knows Nico’s dad has hit him. Again. He looks at the giant, brooding man that towers over Nico as they pass and he wants to punch Mr. Caro.
A flicker of a smile crosses Nico’s lips before he mouths “I’m okay.” Mr. Caro catches him and slaps the back of his head then pushes him toward the car.
Caleb sees the fleeting surprise that crosses his dad’s face at the sight of Nico’s dad and just before knowledge and understanding fill his eyes.
Mr. Caro stops walking when he sees Caleb’s dad rise from the bench. Mr. Deering walks up to him and extends a hand. “Angelo, good to see you.”
Mr. Caro shakes his hand. “The same, Michael. I’m sorry for my Nico’s trouble. I will teach him a lesson.”
Empathy fills Mr. Deering’s eyes when he sees Nico’s cheek. He places a comforting hand on Nico’s shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Don’t, Angelo. He did nothing wrong.”
This comment surprises Caleb but he has no time to think about it because Mr. Caro says, “You take care of your Caleb. I will take care of my Nico.” It sounds like an order. He shoves Nico toward the car and follows him down the walk.
Mr. Deering holds a hand out to Caleb, an uncharacteristic move for his professionally stolid father. Caleb rises from the bench quickly and his dad puts a comforting hand on the nape of his neck and guides him to the car.
Caleb glances at Nico and sees the ancient fear on his face. He wants to run to him, to save him from what is surely in store for him.
Thank you for joining in Safe’s one year anniversary, Shira! It’s been great to be here! -Cody
Safe, by C. Kennedy
Blurb: They met at ten, they kissed at twelve, and were madly in love at eighteen. Caleb is the captain of the swim team and the hottest senior in school. Nico is small and beautiful and has an Italian father who rules with an iron fist. Literally.
Nico is never safe from his vicious father. One morning Caleb forgets himself and pecks Nico’s lips at school. A teacher sees them and tattles to the Headmaster. Accidentally outing themselves is the least of their problems. The ball set in motion by the school’s calls to their parents may get Nico killed.
You can stalk Cody and read excerpts of his upcoming novels, Omorphi and Slaying Isidore’s Dragons, on his blog www.CKennedyAuthor.blogspot.com