Kittworth

One

Water

Before the wind stirs the bay water into waves, the air is only cold and still and wet. It smells like rain and salt from the sea. Moira Sound feeds the bay, and its span stretches for miles in both directions, before blending into the Pacific. But I wonder about that water, where it goes when it drains and why it comes back with the tide; what it sees and what it brings back.

A silent slaughter takes place beneath the surface as salmon gills hook in a fisherman’s trap. I can never tell who is in the boat. It could be Dad, but it’s probably Neil. Sometimes I think it’s my grandfather. Or at least what I imagine my grandfather looks like in real life.

Safe on the beach, I hold my shoes and stand in the water until my feet get too cold. Tiny ripples gurgle and pull at my ankles. That’s as far as I let it go. If the water rises any higher, I just wake up. Because I can always wake up.

Seabirds squeal over my head as dark clouds fold in, finally bringing a breeze—the hiss before the bite—and then the wind. It rushes through the valley. A flag licks the air, its rope rattles against a metal pole. Shed doors whistle open and bang shut. Waves crash against eroded wharves, rocking boats in the harbour.

The fisherman always leaves without me. My hand rises as if to wave when I stretch out my arm. Come back, I must have said a dozen times, I’m still here. But iron bells repeat like a siren. Leave or be forgotten. Cold rain wets my skin, ocean air fills my lungs; where do I go? There are mountains before me and there are mountains behind me. I can almost feel freedom. But then I hear boat horns split the air and plane propellers drone, and I know those means can only lead me back here.

 

Wescott

 

Olivia Wescott stands at the end of her driveway when I walk down the road. Her family’s gray husky, Leo, gallops to greet me and I push him away when he gets too friendly.

“Hi, Olivia,” I say.

“Hey, Amelia.”

Massive softwood trees dwarf telephone poles along the ditches beside me. I see a school bus braking at the top of the hill up the road. “Last exam?” I ask.

“Uh huh.”

“You got your braces off,” I say when I enter the driveway. “You look great. And no glasses too.”

Olivia laughs bashfully and the bus stops behind us.

“Good luck,” I say.

“Thanks. Neil’s still inside. You can go in if you want.”

“Yeah, okay. See you later.”

As the bus pulls away, I stare at her house, hoping she’s wrong. Hoping that her brother isn’t home, that he drove his dad’s car into the village, and his bulky old Chevy parked near their shed is just a misleading souvenir of his absence. But I can see Neil and his mom through the open windows of the log house. I imagine his white smile pushing dimples into his sun-tanned cheeks, his eyes narrowing brightly. His mother delighted by his self-assurance; his shoulders saying I can carry that for you, his legs promising I can run that far for you.

I lean against Neil’s ugly brown truck and my backpack scrapes the paint. Leo sits at my feet and pants. A crow caws somewhere in the woods. “What do you want?” I say to the dog.

The screen door on the porch opens and bounces shut after Neil jogs down the steps. He looks at his feet. His feet, his feet, then:

Surprise. It’s me.

“It’s open,” he says after the quick glance up.

I get inside the cab and Leo leaps in after me. “You’re going to get into trouble.”

Neil opens the driver’s door and snaps his fingers. “Leo, get down…Stupid dog.”

Leo jumps out and waits behind us, lonely.

Neil stoops to fit inside the door frame and I stare at him to see if he wants to stare back. He doesn’t have his hat on today. He must have gotten a haircut. Short all over and the same sun-streaked blond as his sisters. Instead of looking my way, he turns over the truck engine, fits a pair of dark aviator sunglasses over his eyes, and spins the truck onto the road.

 

Drive

 

Neil turns on the radio, and the rowdy country music, even though barely audible on the lowest volume notch, is a good sign of mood progression. I lean against my window, watching my breath fog up the glass and then dissipate.

“What’s wrong?”

Words.

I look over.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I say. “I didn’t say anything was wrong.”

“You’re frowning.”

“The sun’s in my eyes.”

“The sun is behind us.”

I jolt in my seat, swaying with the vehicle as it bounces over potholes in the road. “It’s nothing.”

Neil sighs dramatically.

“What?”

“You never used to be like this,” he says. “You used to smile. You were happy. Enthusiastic.”

“I was not.”

He reaches over to massage my forehead and says, “You just need to relax this part of your face.”

I swat his hand away. “Stop it.”

“You stop it. You’re ugly when you frown.”

“Um, thanks?”

“That’s not what I mean.”

I cross my arms bitterly. “Just let it go. Everyone gets this way when they grow up. Life is better when you’re young. When everything is still shiny and there’s still hope to leave places like this.”

“Leave?” He almost laughs. “You’re not trying very hard.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me, College Girl. Two semesters and you’re back.”

“For the summer.”

“Sure.”

“Shut up.” I sigh and watch bulky mountain peaks interrupt the horizon, fog making them muted giants in the distance.

“You love it here,” Neil says. “Why do you want everyone to think you hate it?”

“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You grow up in a small town then abandon your good morals, resent your rural upbringing, and discover the real world. You get a real job in a big city and lose your virtue and when you die you can say that you lived life to the fullest. And I’ve come to accept it. I’m not perky anymore because I finally see this place for what it really is. No one is safe here. This town leaves its mark on everybody. Even the most noble.”

“Thank you for that subtle jab.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you…”

I can’t help but stare at Neil’s T-shirt. Kittworth Mission Airport. The navy logo on gray cotton is faded from countless washes. He wears long sleeves to cover his scars. It gets cold up in the sky, he says when people ask.

Outside my window, homes appear closer together and views of bay water widen as we enter the village. I shake my head. “I’m evolving,” I conclude. “Adapting. I’m a product of my environment. I’m ugly because this town is ugly.”

“You’re not ugly, Darwin. Everyone is ugly when they frown. And you scowling all the time is a result of how this town looks to you. Try smiling at it and it will smile back.”

I laugh out loud. “You’re one to talk.”

Neil leans forward both ways to check for traffic as we stop at the next intersection, and grins. His turn signal ticks annoyingly as he veers onto the main road of town.

KITTWORTH MISSION
POPULATION 1850

We turn into Mac Mews and I grip the door handle. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m hungry.”

Patty’s Restaurant stares back at me as we park in front of the windows. “But I’m late,” I say.

“You can walk the rest of the way,” Neil says, free of chivalry.

“That would make me even later.”

Neil chucks his sunglasses onto the dashboard and stares at me.

“Come on, Neil, please.”

“I’ll just be a second.”

I fold my arms over my chest and look out my window. One of my old elementary school teachers is pumping gas outside the One-Stop. “Fine.”

“Aren’t you gonna come in with me?” Neil asks.

“No way.”

“I dare you.”

 

Keller

 

The bell on the glass door chimes when Neil and I enter the diner. A trio of girls blush when they see Neil, as if being in the same room with them is a compliment he’s paying directly to them. One of them giggles. As we cross the dining room, people drinking coffee discuss the weather, the price of fish, the traffic on Highway 16. A woman glares in my direction when she catches me staring.

“Hi, Neil.” Our old school librarian, Mrs. Gilchrist, stands behind the cash counter, ready to take orders. “I didn’t know you were home, Amelia,” she says.

“It wasn’t in the plan,” I say.

“Oh?”

“She got fired,” Neil says. I smack him in the side with my hand.

“Fired?” Mrs. Gilchrist says. “Now, you can’t leave me out of the loop.”

“Summer job at one of those fancy coffee shops,” Neil says, reaching in his back pant pocket for his wallet.

“I see,” Mrs. Gilchrist says, full of compassion and pity. “Not your forte?”

“I’m not good under pressure,” I say, and Neil has a hard time trying not to laugh.

“Happy to be home at least?” she asks.

“Of course.”

Neil orders breakfast to go, and another waitress rings him through the cash.

“You know, your mother forgot Lucy’s hat here when she was in earlier this week,” Mrs. Gilchrist says to me, waving toward the back of the store. She leads me to a counter where there are fat tubs of ice cream on display behind glass. I sit on a stool at the counter as she retrieves a tiny yellow bucket hat and hands it over.

“Thanks,” I say. “Mom is always forgetting something. Especially when Lucy’s with her.”

“They’re a handful at that age. Will you be needing anything this morning?”

“No, I don’t think…”

Suddenly, the air next to me moves. Donnie Keller sits down and my stomach churns. The bell on the front door rings consecutively and Mrs. Gilchrist moves to greet the customers. “I’ll give you some time to decide, Amelia,” she says. “Good morning, Donnie.”

“Good morning, Mrs. G,” he says.

I fiddle with the Velcro pocket on my baby sister’s hat. Don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t…

“Cute hat,” Donnie says.

His cheeks are wind-bitten, giving the illusion of a healthy complexion. Too many smoke breaks outside in the winter, I guess. His twenty-one year-old frame is still boyish. I always expect to be taller than him, but I never am. He seems to grow beside me as I wait in silence. Or maybe I’m shrinking. I look away.

“I don’t think you’ll get all that pretty hair under it though,” he says about the hat.

I crumple the hat into my fist and stand up. Donnie stops smiling and it takes a moment for me to realize that it’s not me making his cheerful mood sour, but Neil’s protective stance behind me.

“Hey Donnie,” Neil says, like the two of them are still friends.

My face flushes in embarrassment as Donnie scoffs, shakes his head and walks off.

“I got you a milkshake,” Neil says, handing me a Styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw.

“Thanks.”

 

Kittworth

 

Businesses managed from metal outbuildings and wooden home offices cramp the street. Locals attempt to entice sightseers with makeshift signs and overused flags, dull from wind and wear, before they get sucked into the harbour. Lines of customers outside farmers’ carts are distracted with binoculars and long-lensed cameras.

Neil is forced to slow down his truck as pedestrians cross the street without looking. “Tourists,” he scoffs.

“Visit Kittworth,” I say. “But you can’t stay here because God forbid anyone live here. But enjoy. No cellphone towers within fifty miles. Fresh seafood, real-live First Nations locals. Take a plane ride with the famous Neil Wescott in his famous airplane over the famous—”

“Why do you keep saying famous?”

“I’m doing a tourist campaign. I’m making us sound more exciting.”

“Us?”

“The bay. I mean they come here, take pictures, rough it for the day and then return to the comfort of their little resort towns.”

Neil flicks on his blinker and says, “That’s how we make money, honey.”

With his smile making me bashful, I roll my eyes as we cross under the main harbour gate to park. The blue and white sign’s large painted letters are peeling on wood.

BOYKO BAY HARBOUR AUTHORITY

Even with the hint of a sunny morning, the bay water is a dark mass slowly eating the cove, tide ebbing and then swelling. A processing plant takes up the end of the long and crowded shoreline. I imagine myself in the outdoor assembly line in chest-waders and rubber gloves, wheeling bins of graded fish to the plant all day, other workers sliding more results of butchery down to the next unlucky soul in line. I imagine Neil’s cousin, Demetra—my boss—tucked inside her office trying to prove people wrong. This place won’t become a museum any time soon.

Neil shuts off the truck’s ignition, interrupting commercials on the radio. “There’s your dad,” he says.

Dad appears at Neil’s open window. “She bugging you again?” he asks.

“Oh, you know, bragging about leaving this place to change the world.”

“Did she give you that product of her environment speech? I don’t know where Eden and I went wrong with her.”

I get out of the truck, grab my backpack, and slam the door. “Good thing you can have a do-over with Lucy, right, Dad?”

“Come here, Envy—oh, I mean Emmy.”

Dad meets me in front of Neil’s truck, and I whisper, “Thanks for waking me up this morning. You were supposed to take me with you so I didn’t have to ride with…” I jot my eyes over to Neil as he stares at me through the windshield.

Dad grins. “How was I supposed to know?”

I roll my eyes. “Why are you down here anyway?”

The wooden terminal down the road is where he is supposed to be. Dad is a partner at the private air station, owned by Neil’s dad and his uncle. They have several bush planes in hangars near a paved runway, and a small fleet of seaplanes, under cover in boathouses by the airport’s docks for delivering mail, taking up tourists and chauffeuring campers, hikers and anglers to remote destinations.

Dad holds up a take-out bag and a tray of coffees from Patty’s Restaurant in response to my question. Then, suddenly, he frowns and looks at his left hand. He flexes his palm, urgently wiggling his fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

Dad cracks each of his knuckles with his thumb. The skin on the back of his hands is marked red with scars of frostbite and water damage, souvenirs of seasons spent fishing and making air deliveries in the winter.

“My arm’s asleep,” he says.

“That’s what you get for sitting still on the job,” Neil shouts out his window.

Dad begins to laugh and then deadpans. “Jokes this early in the morning? Em should ride with you more often. Don’t go anywhere—you’re giving me a lift back to the station.”

Dad shakes his hand in one last attempt to wake it up and then he opens his arms, expecting a hug. I let him kiss the top of my head. “Be a good kid today,” he says.

He ruffles my hair and I duck away.

“Hey, where’s my goodbye?” Neil says to me.

Dad whacks Neil’s shoulder after hopping into the passenger seat and says, “You’re treading in deep water today, buddy.”

I curb a laugh as Dad drinks the rest of my milkshake and Neil rubs the sore spot where Dad belted him. “You’re right, Neil,” I shout as I walk on to the plant. “Smiling does make everything better.”

Keep Reading

 

Why This Book Changed My Life

Randy has trouble looking me in the eye. He asks if I’m okay, if I want him to pray.

He prays.

“Dear Father…”

Father, father, father. 

I can’t really listen, but I say amen.

***

I have waited a long time to share this book. Its lifespan is 7 years from conception to completion, and one thing is certain: this book changed my life.

Most of the time when someone says this, they mean that they have discovered a book, read it and it has transformed the way they look at the world or themselves or both. When I say that this book changed my life, I mean that I wrote this book and the process it took me on afterwards created a turning point—a fork in the road. A before and an after.

During the summer of the year I turned 20, I hadn’t written anything. But one day in the middle of August, I woke up and it was there—a new story.

I recently heard a musician describe his process of song-writing. He said it was like a door opens in his mind and then the words and rhythms spill out. He said you can sit down and write a song, or you can wait until the door opens and write a song.

This is how it feels with me.

“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all”, John Keats wrote in a letter once. However, I always keep in mind that before that sentence appears, this one comes: “it is easier to think what poetry should be than to write it”.

That summer, I wrote a lot of words. A lot , a lot. But, none of it was really that good; I was never going to show it to anyone.

I finished it and shelved it and carried on through other doors whenever they opened. Probably a year later, the old book started to call to me; knocking and knocking. Eventually, I opened it and went through it again. I thought, well this isn’t that bad but it isn’t that great.

The story was set in Alaska and starred a young woman whose parents had been killed in bush plane accident. Firstly, I decided that I had to bring it closer to home if I was going to give this story its legs. I’m from Canada, so my first instinct was to bring the location down to British Columbia. Check. Then, while I was talking to my mother at the kitchen counter, I said, “I can’t kill her parents.”

Because, A. I don’t know what that’s like, and B. everyone always kills the parents; it’s too easy.

Suddenly:

“I could injury the parents—paralyze! I could make the dad paralyzed…But I don’t know anything about that either.”

My mum simply stared at me.

It was a light bulb moment.

In 2003, when I was 11 years old, my father suffered a spinal-cord stroke and was permanently paralyzed.

Some people probably assume that children who experience trauma use self-expression as a way to escape their hard reality. I don’t think that’s what I did. I began writing for fun before Dad’s stroke. Writing has always been very emotionally challenging to me. I did not begin to write or continue to write to escape; I write because I have to. Those doors, remember, they are not easily closed.

With renewed motive, I went back into my story and fleshed it out until it was a hefty 150,000 words. I mapped out a sequel and wrote 10,000 words of it (again, this isn’t normal; it was the first time I wrote like that and it hasn’t happened to me since). Then I was left with one question that always beckons at the end of every story: is it any good?

In December 2013, I was reading our local newspaper—something I do not do—and saw an article about our public library hosting a writer-in-residence. She was going to be leading workshops for 6 months starting in January. She was also receiving manuscript submissions—full, partial, anything a local writer needed feedback on. I gathered courage and sent an email with the first chapter of my book. A few weeks later, I received a reply saying she wanted to meet me.

January 25th 2014 was going to be the day and I was terrified. I do not remember being so nervous for anything. I didn’t know what to expect. No one had read my stories beside my family. This woman was a writing professor; an award-winning published author. But I had to know–was I good enough? I decided that this meeting was going to determine my next step: keep going or change paths. But on the Friday night before our scheduled appointment, my dad had to be rushed to the hospital at one AM.

We didn’t know what was wrong when we called 911. He looked as if he was having a another stroke. But the doctors discovered it was a pulmonary embolism; a blood clot in his lungs, and I remember thinking I thought he was going to die.

But he didn’t.

My mum told me the paramedics resuscitated him twice in the ambulance, while my brother and I prayed so fiercely and so confidently in our living room—this was not the end. At four o’clock in the morning in the empty waiting room outside the Intensive Care Unit, I emailed the writer-in-residence from my phone to say I couldn’t make it to our meeting. She replied late in the morning and said we could reschedule.

My family spent the next four days in the ICU family lounge, while Dad was intubated and doctors did more tests. My new meeting was schedule for February 1st and I couldn’t get myself to feel nervous if I tried. Life and death situations violently shove things into perspective. I laughed about it as my brother drove me downtown; Dad had survived. My family rallied. Faith remained.

I arrived 15 minutes early to my 11 AM Saturday morning meeting at the downtown branch of our local library. I told the librarian why I had come and she told me where to go. I climbed the stairs she directed me to and sat down on a small couch in a very bare hallway near an open office door.

Then I heard, “Emily?”

The woman was tall and had a nice voice. I rose from the couch and stood in the office doorway while she shook my hand and asked about my father. I told her the shortest version of the emergency and ended with the good news, “He’s going to be alright.”

With a genuine look of relief, she told me to have a seat.

I sat.

She resumed her seat behind a large writing desk and, while slipping off her glasses, she said, “Well. I hope someone’s told you you’re a writer.”

Smiling was natural and very hard to stop.

I said, “No, they haven’t, but thank you.”

The rest of our hour and a half meeting was an out-of-body experience. She used words like “once in a blue moon” and “never have I ever”. I couldn’t believe what was happening. She confirmed it for me. I hadn’t dreamed all my dreams for nothing.

Yet, even after she read through the entire novel, I put it away again. I wrote new books and new stories, fueled by remembering that I knew how to write a book. Because there are moments when your fingers are flying on the keyboard and those blank white, intimidating pages are surrendering to sentence after sentence, and you think: what in the world am I doing? Where are these stories coming from? And you battle with depressing thoughts of comparison and failure. What I have realized is that never trying to slay those empty pages would be the only failure.

In 2016, I went back through that old, familiar door that would become KITTWORTH, and carved out this book from what seemed like ancient marble, so dense and so rough. It’s just under 55, 000 words now. I published Meet Me Back Here, Alright in 2017 and then Reeds and Wicks in 2018, just babies compared to Kittworth.

To me, Kittworth is so old and so real to me. And I’m very glad to share it with you.

 

It's just a dot on (2)


Reeds andWicks (1)


MeetMeBackHereAlright

New Book

 

It's just a dot on (1)

Before the wind turns the bay water into waves, the air is only cold and still and wet. It smells like rain and salt from the sea. Moira Sound feeds the bay and its span stretches for miles in both directions before, blending into the Pacific. But I wonder about that water, where it goes when it drains and why it comes back with the tide; what it sees and what it brings back.

img_2280With the Pacific Ocean surging toward its shores and rugged mountain peaks guarding its boundaries, Kittworth is a town of adventure and tourism. Visitors travel from all over to explore its beautiful—and dangerous—landscape, coming and going whenever they please. Only Kittworth’s lifelong residents live with the constant threat of never moving beyond its borders—especially Amelia Garrison.

Her first year away at college was a much-anticipated escape from Kittworth and the bad blood ruling its backwoods. When she returns to work at the local fishery for the summer, she never expects her life to change again. The unplanned arrival of her baby sister, Lucy, two years ago was plenty of change. Now, all Amelia wants is to blend in, save money and dodge babysitting duty. But on the night of her parents’ wedding anniversary, Amelia’s father is paralyzed in a bush plane accident, and Amelia’s priorities are turned upside down.

While her parents recuperate in hospital two hours away, learning how to take care of Lucy and help pay the bills force Amelia to lean on the support of her neighbours, including her childhood crush, Neil. But in a town where generational animosity reigns, her neighbours may be causing more harm than good. As her desire to fight the status quo grows, Amelia soon realizes that every action—no matter how small—has a reaction, and the consequences might keep her trapped in Kittworth forever.

Coming Soon

New Story Series Starts Today

This story is very old and very dear to me. If you have read any of my other projects, you may recognize some of the ideas herein, so you can know that this is where they were born.

***

“It is an aching kind of growing.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

LETTERS TO ELLIOT HAWTHORNE,
THE ONLY SON,
OR
HALLELUJAH, GOOD LUCK

“O bright-eyed Hope”

Keats

Chapter One

“THE POLAROIDS”
(or the Character Sketches)

[1]

If anyone had heard of Bower, they knew about the hills that wanted to be mountains, the valley and the tunnel they created; the wind and the cove and probably the sheep. And if anyone had visited Bower, they had heard of the Lumleys, their horses and their son, Thomas. The Arnolds, the inn-keepers, used this to their advantage.

In the hub of Bower, where there were shops and restaurants and townhouses made of red brick, there were only three places for visitors to sleep. People who booked rooms were businessmen, city-dwellers and out-of-towners who needed the comforting proximity to a highway or a bank or a doctor’s office. The others, the families with small children who wanted a getaway, of course having heard about the Hills, the Cove and the Beach, opted for the Arnolds’ inn; The Worthing on the hem of the hub, surrounded by farmland and the Lake.

These visitors either came for the Lumleys’ horses or for the Arnolds’ inn, and in either case the Arnolds and the Lumleys referred one to the other, both profiting from their informal partnership. The Worthing was just down the way from Lumley Farm and because the Cove, the Hills and the Lake were such identifying landmarks, without any buildings nearer besides the Inn and the Stables, the homes became monuments, tributes even, to the land and the town; the Arnolds and the Lumleys consecrating their names in the sacred directory of Bower.

It began when Thomas, a Lumley, met Gemma, an Arnold. And when Thomas first saw Gemma he thought she was a ghost.

Gemma Arnold was not yet fourteen, though like most girls when they are not yet fourteen looked like she had seen sixteen at least. Tom was almost seventeen and he was thinking about leaving Bower for St. David’s to study agriculture at the college.

Thomas Lumley rarely spoke and when he did it usually wasn’t in complete sentences. He didn’t even bother with Yes and No; he simply nodded or shook his head. People assumed he was either very bored or very mad; some even believed he lacked a heart or a brain. But most had heard he was nice, so that was what (they thought) got him through life alright. The older, married women said it was his looks that got him through because he was boyish and tall and serious-looking.

He was in the yard, walking to the barn when a figure dodged through the trees behind him.

Tom didn’t believe in ghosts. He thought all the people who claimed to have seen ghosts were just losing their minds, and he didn’t know anyone who was dead yet so he knew no one could have been trying to haunt him. But the figure came again, just as he entered the barn. He could tell it was a girl this time, so she couldn’t have been a ghost. Tom would have never imagined such a ghostly type of girl. When he thought about girls he tried to make them as real as possible, from what their body temperature would be to what perfume they’d wear. But this girl appeared out of nowhere, without him pre-imagining how hot or cold she was or what she smelled like.

He went outside again. The wind blew as he looked in both directions, scanning the property like a light house, turning his head slowly in a semi-circle and then starting again like a sprinkler. Rain-soaked grass stretched over the hills and up to the house. Drying laundry flapped on the clothesline. Ducks waddled down the garden footpaths and bothered the cats along the way. The tree line past the fields was thick and deadly, especially under the dreary grey sky. But no ghosts.

Tom went back into the barn, making eye contact with each of the horses (this was before they had more than only three). He took a step toward Patriot, the nearest of the bunch, and reached over the wooden stall to pet the horse’s neck. Then there was clicking, a creaking and some cracking. Tom spun on his heels. The door in the back of the barn was open and there was the ghost peeking inside curiously.

Tom frowned; his anxious response to a stranger trespassing on private property, obviously. The ghost froze. Now, if she really were a ghost Tom figured she’d vanish like a magic trick because he assumed ghosts to be very scared most of the time, stuck between two worlds like that. But she stood there, apparently startled by his presence. Of course, Tom thought she was pretty and, of course, he didn’t want her to know that her beauty made him off-balance or weak in the knees but it was so.

The ghost laughed a shy sort of laugh; Tom did not. Then: “My sister wants to learn how to ride a horse,” said the ghost.

“The office is inside the house,” Tom said.

“Do you know how much it’s going to cost?” the ghost asked next.

“The office is inside the house.”

The ghost smiled and then walked outside. Tom stared at the empty doorframe, still frowning, wondering where she had come from in the first place. He knew his parents would know (for that’s who was in the office inside the house) but he was not about to ask them about the ghost because he never wanted to appear interested in a girl on account of Mrs. Lumley priding herself in matchmaking and would, without a doubt, begin the challenge of arranging a date. So, Tom waited until he saw the ghost walk away from his house, down the driveway and disappear beyond the way. Then he went inside where it was warm and light and where supper was ready to eat. He ate roast beef and potatoes and said nothing about the ghost.

The next time they met, the ghost was delivering a card (with money inside) to the Lumleys on behalf of her parents for her sister’s riding lessons. Tom didn’t know this first off, so her presence at the barn late one afternoon surprised him and this is what their conversation was like.

“I’m back,” said the ghost.

Tom said nothing.

“What’s your name?”

Of course, he told her: “Thomas.”

“That’s a good name.”

Tom said nothing.

“How long have you lived here? I love horses,” and, after this, she stroked Patriot’s neck, the horse giving a whinnying snort of approval.

The ghost looked more ghostly today, thought Tom, and so finally: “You’re not dead, are you?” he asked.

“You mean, like a ghost?” she asked. “I don’t think a ghost would know that she’s a ghost, do you? Just like how crazy people don’t really know they’re crazy.”

“I guess not.”

“Then who’s to say anything?” and the ghost smiled.

“You don’t live in the woods or anything, do you?”

“Do I look wood-worthy?”

Tom pictured her inside the forest behind his house, running barefoot with ivy in her hair, flowers in her hand, and laughing. “Kind of.”

“Is that a compliment?” the ghost asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Then, no.”

So, he pressed: “Where do you live?”

“None of your business.”

“That’s not fair,” Tom declared. “You know where I live.”

“That’s because I found it on my own,” and she said this rather proudly.

“So, you want me to find out where you live?”

“No, of course not, weirdo. That’d be creepy. Stalking, even.”

“I just want to know you’re not homeless,” Tom said.

“Wouldn’t you still be friends with me if I was?”

“Well, sure, I…”

“Then why care?”

“Because I do!”

The ghost giggled. “You have too much time on your hands, Tom,” and then she twirled, dashing out of the barn entirely.

When Mrs. Lumley went outside to hang clean laundry on the line, she saw Gemma leaving and Tom staring at her, and shouted: “Thomas, have you met the Arnold girl? She’s lovely, isn’t she? I can’t imagine why her parents called her Gemma, putting a G in front of a perfectly adequate name like Emma. You know, my grandmother Mary had a middle name of Emily; that’s sort of like Emma. Do you remember your great-grandmother, Thomas? Of course, you wouldn’t, you were only two. But Gemma’s sister, Rosy, she’s nine and a half. She’s coming later in the week. I suppose Gemma will come too. You’ll be spending a lot of time together perhaps.”

And Mrs. Lumley was right. No one could have foretold the future quite as simply or accurately. Every Thursday nine-and-a-half-year-old Rosy walked down to the Lumley farm from the Worthing with her older sister, Gemma.

The Lumleys’ riding instructor was Poppy; an old widow whose son was Bower’s doctor. Rosy and Poppy got along famously, as did Rosy and Patriot—thank goodness—which left Gemma bored for two whole hours. Befriending the Lumleys’ son was her first idea to pass the time and it was the last idea, too, because spending two hours with him she found far too intriguing to think of doing anything else. Thomas didn’t stop his chores for Gemma. He continued as if she wasn’t there. She talked about everything at once and when her parents asked her how they got along the conversations went like this.

“He’s just the funniest boy,” Gemma told them.

“He likes jokes?” asked her mother.

“No, I mean, strange. I can talk for an entire hour and he never tells me to stop.”

“That’s generous of him,” said her father.

“I like him a lot.”

“I think he’s handsome,” said Rosy.

“He is, but that’s not the point, Rosy. It’s what’s in his head and his heart that counts.”

“How can you know what’s in his head or his heart?” asked her mother.

“I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s his eyes. They’re very honest eyes.”

The Arnolds took their daughter’s word and favoured the Lumleys considerably. They began sending visitors down the lane for an authentic horseback ride through the country and lakeside (because, of course, it benefited the Worthing, adding one more layer of charm to the already charming inn) and they did this so often Mr. Lumley was forced to buy more horses and hire more help. At first, the only payback the Lumleys could offer the Arnolds was Tom. He helped maintain the inn’s lawn in the summertime and keep the walkways and driveway free from snow and ice during the winter. On Fridays, he drove Gemma, because Gemma refused to drive any kind of vehicle by herself, into Bower for errands, and on Tuesdays he drove her forty-five minutes to St. David’s to pick up supplies for her parents. So, with the subject of Gemma, I will begin to describe her like this.

Gemma Arnold was fair; her hair was light as well, but it wasn’t any shade of yellow nor was it completely white. It was nothing like bleach or brown or even sand. Well, come to think of it, it came nearest to sand, but her skin had no freckles like one would imagine a girl with hair the colour of sand to have. Her hair was just light, but by no means stripped of colour; it was natural light, best described like the sun perhaps. I say this because it was her hair and her mysteriously dark-coloured eyes and eyebrows that made her the attractive thing Tom thought her to be. In his mind she was one of the queens or warriors from the Norse stories his father used to tell him at bedtime. Tom didn’t like to read so Asgard was never as real as it could have been to him if he had sat still long enough to sound out the foreign names on paper. He did like it, though, when stories were told aloud to him and he liked those Northern stories about Vikings and Iceland the best. If Gemma’s eyes had been a pale milky blue instead of that strange brown-green that they were then Tom would have thought she was indefinitely one of the heroines in the stories, but, alas, her halo of hair had to do.

But Gemma was good for a lot of things besides to look at. She did the baking to fill the Worthing’s restaurant front counter with cakes and breads, and she was a welcoming face at the front desk in the inn. Her recent conquest was making her own blends of tea and selling them in the souvenir shop with the postcards and the Worthing and Bower paraphernalia. Aside from her skills in hospitality, Gemma was smart; she retained information like a book and felt the need to share it frequently. She could rant for extended periods of time whether she knew Tom was listening or not, on subjects which he then became expert in too.

Tom became well acquainted with the lime tree; as a species and, also, as the grand heap of them in the Worthing’s side yard which Gemma and her cousin called “The Fort”. Gemma never got around to explaining why they called a huddle of ingrown trees which trunks all connected “The Fort” but Tom knew that was its name. He learned a great deal about the ranks in the army, in particular what it meant to be a captain, and soon found out that “Captain” was what everyone called Mr. Arnold because of his time spent in the R.A.F.

Sometimes Gemma would talk about the weather; how dark it was (“We need more street lamps out this way. Don’t you think we need more street lamps, Tom?”) or how windy (“You would think the trees would snap right in half!”) and Tom always managed to say: “It is very dark outside, Gemma,” and “It is very windy today, Gemma,” because Tom always called Gemma by her name when speaking with her.

Her ramblings, for that was what they were, didn’t bother Tom as one would assume ramblings would bother a man like Tom Lumley would, because, of course, he came to love her, even if unbeknownst to him. Gemma loved him too, and her love was instant like most girls’ infatuations are. But they fell in true love when they got older and married and had a family and lived on the Lumley Farm after inheriting the land and the house. Their children went like this: Diantha, Charles and William; and Gemma waited and waited until one of them had a daughter, so they could name her Gemma because Gemma Arnold-Lumley was so fond of her own name that she thought it important to give it to someone else.

It wasn’t until the middle child, Charles, was called on by God to go to the seminary in Grenville to study theology and there he met Katie Müller. Of course, he and Katie Müller were friends and then friends on fire and then were married and had a daughter who Katie, with the upmost respect of her mother-in-law, named GEMMA.

Reverend Charles Lumley and his picturesque wife Katie (who all the ladies in the town admired, almost to obsessive adoration; mimicking her style of hair, dress and accessory every Sunday morning because Katie was beautiful and kind and compassionate) were given on righteous authority to govern the church in Bower from their second year of marriage just as Katie was preparing for Gemma’s arrival. And when the original Mr. and Mrs. Arnold-Lumley went through rough patches of health or finance, Charles (or Charlie as his mother always called him) came home to the Worthing; so, his wife and daughter grew to love its charm just as his mother and father had.

Little Gemma had her grandmother’s blond hair, though it was not as white-blond as in the pictures but rather a honey kind of brown which darkened in the wintertime and lightened in the summer; an animal adapting to the natural turn of the elements. And she loved the Worthing, calling her great-grandfather “Captain” and the trees in the yard “The Fort”. And in the Worthing’s front cabinet and on the tables in the dining hall were always jars of the best blackberry jam in the county. It came from the back gardens of Samuel Weal and it would forever come from the back gardens of Samuel Weal which he kept with his grandson, Elliot Hawthorne.

Returns next Tuesday 

Meet Me Back Here (for this sale), Alright?

Meet Me BAck Here,Alright_From August 23nd to the 27th, Meet Me Back Here, Alright is 40% off in the Kobo Store. You can click on the cover to check it out in the store, and keep on reading below. Here are the next ten pages. (If you missed the first batch, click here.) Use the promo code: 40AUG

***

I decide to go to Cece’s and tell her about the Miller-driving-me-to-the-hospital incident when Bristol comes over on account of Daddy being out of the house and Mom not working at Foodland. Bristol talks to Mom about married life and her new apartment in town and how Rob is going to try to get a job soon and that she’s not pregnant yet. Mom tells Bristol that Sophy has joined the choir at school and gets to wear a cute little uniform. It’s free so Daddy is in favour of it. Now Sophy sings all the time in her squeaky voice and makes us all laugh, but sometimes she doesn’t stop and it makes us all really irritated instead.

When I’m getting ready to leave for Cece’s, Bristol says to me, “So how are you holding down the fort without me?”

I want to ask her what I should do about Beckie sneaking out at night. Beckie tells Mom she’s on cheer squad and the girls always have sleepovers and important things to discuss that cannot be discussed over the phone. But she’s lying. Beckie used to be a cheerleader before her attendance dropped and her grades became non-existent. I tried to get her to knock it off once by hiding the ladder she uses to get back into our room, but she went out anyway and instead of finding the ladder in the barn, she tried to climb the tree outside our window. All I could think about was Pollyanna and her twisted legs and her broken doll, so I put the ladder back myself. But I look at Bristol drinking tea out of a Marineland mug at our kitchen counter, and say, “Alright, I guess,” instead.

***

I walk to Cece’s house, because it’s just down the road before the Wilsons, and we sit around her room and listen to sentimental Connie Francis songs on her grandpa’s record player. We do this every time she breaks up with a boy. We eat ice cream sandwiches and she puts her hair into a 1960s up-do and lip-syncs to “Frankie”, and then we watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Cece claims not to remember any boy named Miller Stott from the newspaper. She just keeps asking me what he looks like and if he has any brothers worth pining for. I know about the diner, his uncle and the Olympics and the swimming pool, and that he’s got a brother who either joined the army or works on a farm. But I don’t tell that to Cece. She’s too busy ranting about how she’s going to get fat like her mom and die as an old maid.
Going to Cece’s house always makes me depressed because if she’s going to get fat like her mom and die an old maid, what does that mean for me? Cece’s never been single for more than a month in her whole life. I’ll probably die young. Probably fatter than Cece’s mom too.

***

Ever since Miller drove me to see Grandma he’s been following me around school, smiling at me and trying to get me to talk to him. He walks around with an entire head above most students and he caves in his swimmer shoulders so he doesn’t bump into anyone unintentionally, while holding onto the straps of his backpack. Today he chases me all the way down the science hall and two sets of stairs, past the staff room and my locker. He finally catches me on the way to the library.

“Hey,” he says, all out of breath because of the hunt.

I say hi and keep walking. He follows me and asks me what I’m doing, so I say, “I’m going to the library.”

He immediately asks me why. My answer makes me sound like a nerd, but I say it anyway, “Homework.”

“But it’s lunch,” he says.

I want to say No, it’s an extra meaningless hour I’m stuck at school, but I say, “Yeah, so?”

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

I stop in the middle of the hallway and stare at him. “Not really.”

“Maybe we could eat together.”

“Because you drove me to the hospital?”

“Because you don’t have any friends and because I don’t have any friends.” He laughs like he thinks he’s telling a joke, but of course I’m offended.

“What makes you think I don’t have friends? And I don’t believe you don’t have friends. Don’t guys like you always have brainy little sidekicks?”

Now he’s offended. “What do you mean guys like me?”

I want to say You know, that tall guy who is a prime candidate to be an athlete in high school and could be really popular if he wanted to be, but he’s not that kind of athlete, so he hangs around his dorky childhood best friend or even his cousin, and they, too, in turn could be popular simply by association. But I stop at the library door and say, “I don’t eat in the cafeteria.”

Miller tells me that he doesn’t eat there either, and I give him a look which says I don’t believe you.

“Fine,” he says, twirling his car keys around his finger. “I was gonna offer you a free burger and fries, but hey, suit yourself, bookworm.”

“I’m not a bookworm,” I say, thinking about free burgers and fries.

Miller walks backwards, holding out his hands while he shrugs. “Time’s a-wastin’.”

I really don’t want to go to the diner because Ben Wilson and guys from the football team go there at lunchtime, and I don’t want them to see me. I’m not embarrassed to be seen with Miller Stott, I’m just embarrassed to be me. But I agree to go. I say it’s the awaiting free home-style burger and fries, and not Miller’s smile that makes me do it. But he smiles alright. I have to run to catch him at the end of the hall, and I’m self-conscious because his smile makes me smile, so I look at my feet while we walk outside.

We pass a group of kids smoking beside the NO SMOKING sign on the stairs to the parking lot, and I spot Miller’s small, blue car amidst the half-ton trucks instantly. When I get inside his car the Beatles are playing again and we only get halfway through “Come Together” before we’re facing the back of Stott’s Diner. The drive from school to the diner is literally less than a few minutes, depending on the crosswalk and the traffic light.

Through the side windows of the building I can see Ben and some jocks occupying the corner in the restaurant. I know if I go in there Ben will crack some kind of joke that’s either racist or sexist, and I’m not really in the mood to hear the obnoxious laughter of our school’s football team.

“Are you sure you can eat here?” I ask Miller as he parks and shuts off the car.

“Yeah, that’s my name on the sign in the front,” he says.

“No, I mean, aren’t you, like, super-athletic?”

He looks at me like I’m speaking a different language.

“I read the newspaper,” I say. “Don’t you have a regime or a diet or something?”

“Oh, yeah, but it’s my cheat day. I get one day a week to eat whatever I want.”

I want to say That totally sucks, but I take a deep breath and get out of the car. I go for the diner’s glass door, dreading the moment when I pass through it and Ben and his buddies stop eating and look up.

“Hey,” Miller says loudly on account of being by the other end of the building. “This way.”

I take a glance at Ben through the window and gladly leave him behind. Miller opens what looks like a heavy fire door, so I see straight into the restaurant’s kitchen.

“Did you not hear me before?” Miller asks, gesturing for me to enter first. “My name’s on the sign; we get the red carpet treatment.”

Inside, I immediately hear the snap of grease and sizzle of meat on a grill.

“Hey Molly?” Miller says into the room.

“Miller, thank God,” a woman says, still out of sight. “Could you stack those boxes somewhere out of the way? I’ve been tripping over them and pushing them and kicking them.”

I look around, but I can’t find any face to accompany the woman’s voice. The kitchen is a small area; a stove, some deep-fryers, a walk-in refrigerator. Fresh produce covers a wooden island in the middle. There is an open door to the dining room, and I can hear Ben and the football team now.

Miller spots cardboard boxes blocking a walkway and begins moving them. “Is my dad here?” he asks, shouting in the direction the voice came.

“Not at the moment. He ran out to get some of that…” A woman walks into the kitchen and stands at the island, stopping mid-sentence to stare at me.

Miller stops moving boxes, looks up, and says, “This is Alex.”

The woman wipes her hands on her vegetable-stained apron and grins. “Alex,” she repeats. “Why haven’t I seen you before?”

I stutter, but before any real words come out, Miller says, “She’s from school. And it’s lunch. We’re hungry.”

“I’m Molly,” the chef says, offering me her hand. I shake it and Hi, how are you her. She stands over the grill, squishing some beef patties with a long spatula. “Is your uncle gonna rip my head off if I feed you again?” she asks Miller.

“I can’t promise anything,” Miller says, leaning against the counter when he finishes stacking the boxes. “But it’s not illegal. It’s my cheat day.”

Molly fixes two hamburgers and prepares two plates. She slides on some steaming hot fries, hands the plates to Miller and says, “You said that on Monday.”

Miller smiles and accepts the meals. “This way,” he says to me, nodding toward the back of the kitchen. We walk through a skinny doorway into the break room/ pantry. There’s a small bistro set in the middle, surrounded by shelves of bread and fat cans of tomato paste and Costco-sized condiments.

Miller puts the plates on the table and sits down. I stand there, watching him, thinking this looks a lot like a date. Eventually I slide stiffly onto the other chair and stare at the sesame seeds on the burger bun.

“What’s up?” Miller asks because my apprehension is obvious.

“Are you sure this is alright?” I ask. “I mean, I don’t have any money.”

Miller has already downed two enormous bites. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Really? Because these meals are, like, 7.95.”

He laughs. “And it costs, like, a dollar to make it.”

I suck on my bottom lip as the crispy fortress of fries looks up at me.

“Drinks,” Miller says, half-standing. “Milkshake?”

“Um…”

He points his finger at me. “Chocolate?”

“Uh…”

“Coming up.”

He dashes out of the room and I’m stuck in there, eating beautiful greasy food, wondering how in the world I got into this situation. Then I hear him talking to someone and it’s not Molly the Chef. I think it must be his father.

Two milkshakes, Miller?” I hear from behind me. “Does Kevin know?”

Miller comes through the skinny doorway and puts two Styrofoam cups on the table, bringing his father with him. Over my shoulder, I smile at him like I smiled at Molly, and he, too, looks dumbfounded by me.

“Miller,” he says finally. “Are you hiding girls in the pantry again?”

Miller sits down and drinks some of his shake. “Dad, this is Alex.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say, waving. “You make really good food here.”

“Thank you very much. So, Alex. Where do you live?”

“Dad,” Miller snaps, picking up the small remains of his burger. “Don’t be weird.”

“I live about six houses down from the fire station on Rhettlynch,” I say.

“Oh, okay. Good stuff.”

I look back at Miller and catch him silently protesting for his dad to get lost.

“I’ll leave you alone,” Miller’s dad says, obeying hesitantly but still smiling.

I keep at the fries when we’re alone, watching Miller devour the last of his burger. “I take it you don’t bring girls here a lot,” I say.

He winces playfully. “Harsh judgement.”

“No, not like that. I didn’t mean that you couldn’t get girls to come here…I meant that you don’t.”

“It’s okay. You’re right. I don’t.”

I cough on purpose. “So you’re a swimmer? Or diver? I can’t remember.”

He sits back like it’s going to be a long explanation, so I lean back too, thankful that he’s going to be the one filling the awkward silence. “Both actually, but I stopped diving when I was fourteen. I had a growth spurt so I changed directions. Focused on swimming. I tried to go back to diving a couple of years ago, but since I stopped gymnastics I wasn’t up to par. I do short-distance swim now.”

“Like the butterfly and the backstroke?”

He nods, picking slowly at the fries on his mostly empty plate. “Uh huh.”

“You’re on the school team, right? I saw you at the pep rally.”

“Yeah. I’m surprised anyone notices us. There are only, like, six of us so we’re easy to miss.”

Miller Stott is not easy to miss. I stare at his shoulders, rolled forward like he’s trying to appear smaller, and I’m reminded of his height even when he’s sitting down because he easily shrinks the bistro set.

“How tall are you?” I ask.

“I tell people I’m six-three so they don’t freak out when I tell them I’m six-five.”

“Are you really?”

“See?”

I smile when he smiles, but I get the feeling he’s embarrassed so I change the subject again. “You’re in the newspaper a lot.”

“Yeah, our town gets bored when it’s not football season. Don’t go into the dining room, the articles are framed everywhere. What do you do? Any teams?”

I inhale slowly and look at my half-eaten burger. “No teams.” I try to think of something else to say, but nothing can rival being in the newspaper or owning a diner. Then again: “I work at the harbour across the bay,” I say proudly. “I wait on club members and check out rental kayaks.”

“Yeah, I know,” Miller says, emptying a ketchup packet onto his plate. “The rowing club practices on the lake. I see you at the docks sometimes.”

“The rowing club?”

“Would you like to see the newspaper clipping?”

We both laugh.

“I joined when I took a break from swimming last year,” he explains. “Dad said if I’m going to throw away my scholarships, I need to keep up extracurricular. He tells me St. David’s has a crew team and I should keep that in mind. I didn’t argue. I love anything with water. I’ve been a Kayak and Canoe member since I was five. But I really wanted to drop out of school, become a sailor, join the Navy—I’m kidding—but really. I wanted to sail around the world so someone could make a documentary about me.”

I like boats and swimming and water too, but I didn’t make a sport out of it. No teams. No scholarships. No newspaper clippings. I know he was kidding about the documentary, but it doesn’t seem too farfetched. I look at my food and suddenly don’t feel like finishing it, but it was free so I feel like I have to. Then there’s some commotion in the kitchen. Miller’s dad is there and someone who sounds just like him.

Miller suddenly panics. “Oh, no,” he says, scrambling.

“What?”

He picks up his plate and slides the rest of his fries onto mine.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Just don’t say anything,” he whispers, putting his plate underneath my plate. He sits back and crosses his arms, nonchalant.

A man comes into the room and says, “Hey buddy, your dad said you’d be back here…” He stops when seeing me: same look of astonishment.

“I’m Alex,” I say.

“Alex?” The man looks at Miller for clarification. Then to me: “Very nice to meet you.”

“This is my uncle Kevin—my coach.” Miller makes his eyes go wide.

“Oh. Hello. I’m here, eating. He’s not.”

Coach Kevin looks at Miller through narrowed eyes. “Don’t get your girlfriend to lie for you.”

Miller and I exchange confounded glances and then we both begin to explain that I am not—by any means—his GIRLFRIEND. But Coach Kevin stops us. “No, I don’t want to hear it.” He leans over the tabletop and points at my plate. “Do you know what this is?”

“Protein?” Miller says.

“It’s fat and grease. And this!” He picks up a French fry.

“A vegetable?”

“Carbs—it’s a mountain of carbs!”

Miller looks down in defeat. “It’s my cheat day.”

Miller’s dad comes in and Coach Kevin glares at him. “It’s his cheat day,” he says in defense, and father and son laugh.

“I can’t watch it.” Coach Kevin leaves and Miller’s dad snatches a bag of burger buns off a shelf and follows his brother back into the kitchen.

Miller mutters sorry, and I say that it doesn’t matter. He takes out his cell phone to check the time and asks, “What do you have after lunch?”

“History. You?”

“Nothing. I have a spare. I usually just hang out here until last class.”

“Oh, well, I’ll walk back.” I stand and take my milkshake with me.

“I can drive you,” he insists, standing too.

“No, it’s okay. Thanks for lunch. It was really good. And it was fun, too.” I’m awkward and insincere, even though I’m trying hard not to be.

“I’ll see you around.”

I wave and back out the door, sucking on my milkshake straw. I run away from the building, my head leading the way and I almost tumble over myself. When I pass the front window, Ben looks up so I look down and speed walk back to school.

***

I go to the library for my spare, last period of the day, and I stare at my English binder open to today’s notes and read them so many times over my handwriting doesn’t look like handwriting anymore and there is no way I can tell Mr. Gordon what T.S. Eliot was actually trying to say when he wrote Prufrock. I’m too busy thinking about newspaper clippings and cheat days, about burgers and fries and Miller’s smile. I decide to go to my locker and get my history textbook to finish that homework instead and on the way Mr. Tollers stops me outside Student Services.

A twitch of unease runs through me when he asks me to come into his office. For a moment I think it’s about Colton Glasby shoving Grant Danson into a locker. I even recite a short speech in my head about how there was nothing I could have done and I did eventually tell Mr. Tollers about what I had seen.

Mr. Tollers folds his hands together and leans over his desk when I sit down in the chair in front of him. He asks me how I’m doing and I tell him I’m fine. I even ask how he’s doing, but he doesn’t answer. He gets right down to business.

“How’s your sister?”

I want to sigh and roll my eyes, stomp my foot, run out of his office—anything to show him just how annoyed I am by How’s your sister.

“Beckie?” I ask.

“Yes, Beckie,” the teacher says. “Is she here today?”

I inhale and let it out slowly, apparently letting my silence speak for itself.

“Has she been at home lately?”

More silence.

“How are things at home?”

“Fine.” I answer this time because I don’t want student services calling social services. And it has been fine. Mom and Daddy haven’t been fighting which means Daddy has been getting his prescriptions refilled on time and Mom hasn’t said anything about Bristol’s husband not getting a job, and they still don’t know that Beckie is gallivanting around town with a drop-out named Johnny.

“Good,” Mr. Tollers says. He picks up a pen and clicks the end several times before dropping it, intertwining his fingers and leaning over the desk again. “Beckie’s attendance hasn’t been very…pristine lately. It’s not a very good start to the school year.”

“Yeah,” I say slowly.

“Do you have any idea why she hasn’t been in class?”

I want to say Because she’s a teenager and she hates school like the rest of the kids here, but go with, “No.”

“Do you think your parents would have any idea why?”

“Please don’t bother them about Beckie.”

Mr. Tollers relaxes, satisfied, and I look at the ceiling, convinced I’ve just betrayed my sister. Then: “I know things have been…tough at home lately…”

How does he know that things have been tough?

“I thought you could help me before we need to take any…drastic measures.”

Drastic measures.

“Do you think you can get Beckie in class tomorrow?”

I shrug and mutter some sort of an excuse.

“Because if you can’t, I’m going to have to contact your parents and tell them what’s been going on.”

I look up and meet his eyes. “Okay. Yes. I will. I’ll do it.”

“Thank you. Do you have a class?”

“No.” I rush out of his office and dart down the hall, making a beeline for the library. I barricade myself in one of the cubicles in the corner. I sit and stare out the window that overlooks the parking lot. The sight of Miller’s car by the fence makes my heart race. But I force my thoughts back to the task at hand. Beckie. And with the image of her face blinding me from everything but Mr. Tollers’s threat, I see Johnny the Drop-Out smoking a cigarette by the parking lot stairs.

I don’t take much time to think, I burst out of the library and down the stairs, tearing my way to the parking lot. I tap the guy on the shoulder. He turns and blows out a puff of smoke in the opposite direction.

“Oh, hi, you’re…” He winces when forgetting my name.

“Beckie’s sister.”

“Right, right.” He drops the cigarette and stomps it out with his worn-out Converse sneaker. “I’m Johnny.”

I shake his hand when he offers his and I roll my eyes, wondering why a sixteen-year-old boy is bothering to shake my hand. “Yeah, I know who you are. Is my sister around?”

“I haven’t seen her today,” Johnny says.

I squint, trying not to cough in the smoke. “Are you lying?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “Why would I lie? Is she in trouble?”

“Yes, she’s in trouble. She hasn’t been in class.”

The guy looks at the ground, serious. “She never said.”

“You mean she’s not with you all this time?”

He shakes his head and shrugs. “No. We hang out at lunch and after school, but not during classes. I told her she should go because she sure doesn’t want to end up like me.” He manages to laugh.

I stand beside my sister’s boyfriend, feeling the September wind and a jab of remorse rush over me. “If you see her before I do, tell her that Alex needs to talk to her. Tell her it’s important. Please?”

Johnny nods, apparently concerned. “Absolutely.”

I thank him and walk back into school. The bell rings and I breathe a sigh of relief because the day is over. I go to my locker, gather my things and head for the buses in the elementary school parking lot across the street. As I blend into swarms of students, I know I won’t see Miller again today. But I tell myself that I don’t care, not now with more important things to worry about.

I climb the short steps onto the bus and say hi to my bus driver. I slump down into a seat near the middle of the bus and a few kids walk on after me. I lean against the window, watching other kids get on other buses and I think about how I have to check the mouse traps in the basement and empty the dehumidifiers or they’ll overflow because they don’t work right.

Then the air beside me moves and someone plops down on the seat next to me. Ben Wilson is there, looking me up and down.

“What do you want?” I ask.

“Was it you I saw walking away from Stott’s today?” Ben asks, like it was unimaginable.

“I guess so.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Eating.”

He laughs like I’m telling a joke, and relaxes in the seat.

“You’re not sitting with me the whole way, are you?” I ask.

Ben gets excited and moves so his whole body faces me. “Did you walk down?”

“What?”

“To the diner.”

“No, I had a ride.”

“With who?”

“That’s none of your business.”

He looks like he wants more of an answer and I know he won’t leave me alone until he gets one. Do I dare tell him?

“Miller,” I say.

“Who Miller?”

I look at Ben like he’s the stupidest kid on the face of the planet. “Stott.”

“Oh!” he says, pieces falling into place. “The, uh, uh—water polo? Is he the guy on the water polo team? I’m just kidding.” He elbows me in the ribs, trying to get me to laugh as he smiles that wide handsome smile. I look away after glaring at him.

“So, listen, I’ve been seeing Beckie around…”

Her name makes me look up. I listen closely for any information I might not have already.

“She’s been hanging around that Adams kid, what’s his name?”

“Johnny,” I say.

“Yeah, that’s it. Are they serious?”

I look at Ben and glower. He. Is. Not. Dating. My. Sister. “Very serious.”

“Oh, that’s so cute—trying to keep me for yourself?”

“Ew. No. Get out of my seat.”

Ben grins and winks at me as he inches off the seat and into the aisle. “You used to be pretty, Podolski,” he says, gently whacking me on the side of my head. I pull away from his touch instantly. “What happened?” He winks again.

I ignore him as he leaves for the back of the bus and a small group of his friends welcomes him loudly.

Ben is beautiful, confident and different, and popular because of it. He inherited his mother’s skin and his father’s height, and he’s nice and smart when he wants to be. I try not to take his comments to heart, but I unexpectedly want to cry in embarrassment, hoping no one on the bus was listening to what he said. I wonder if he means it, if he thinks that I’m not pretty because I don’t wear my hair down anymore or because I don’t wear short skirts or tight shirts—that I gave up trying to get attention a long time ago. I curl up against the bus window, shove my hands into my jacket pockets and try to forget that today ever happened.

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Meet Me BAck Here,Alright_

P.S. The paperback is coming. Shh. (I’m quietly clapping my hands, if you couldn’t tell.)

Meet Me Back Here, Alright?

Before

Part One

The doctors have told me that my grandmother isn’t dead yet. They have also assured me that she’s not floating around in heaven or walking the hospital halls like a zombie. They have to say that because they’re doctors and because of science. Sophy has asked them about ghosts and spirits and emotions and stuff, but they don’t answer her. They just tell us that Grandma is unconscious and she probably will be for a very long time. Still, sometimes I imagine she’s sitting right next to me or wandering around the psych ward, flirting with some of the cute doctors or something funny like that. Opposed to what she really is—sinking in ICU bed number five, comatose.

I heard that people in comas can understand things going on around them, so I wonder if Grandma knows that Aunt Bernice gives me her money every time I come to see her. Because after I go to the hospital, I go to Aunt Bernice’s house for dinner and she gives me more of Grandma’s money to put in the bank. I go because Daddy would take the money for his pain-killers and Mom would refuse the charity. Visits aren’t so much about support as they are survival. So I hope Grandma isn’t mad at them for not coming to see her or Aunt Bernice.

After I leave Grandma’s hospital room and after I eat dinner with Aunt Bernice, Sophy and I ride the bus home. Every time we get back to the village Sophy asks me if we can get milkshakes at Stott’s Diner and I always say no. I don’t like going to the diner because I know a kid who works there. His parents own the place so I know he will be there, waiting to recognize me.

Stott’s (not to be confused with Scott’s, the hardware store across the street) is directly beside the bus stop. I can jump off the bus and see right through the restaurant’s windows. And Sophy always asks for a milkshake and I always say no. But today I say yes. I feel bad for telling her to shut up on the ride home. Her voice is small, just like she is, and you can only take so much of it.

We go inside Stott’s Diner and a bell announces our presence. There’s really no one inside so I creep through the door like I’m planning to rob the place. I can’t stop Sophy from charging the counter, but she needs help getting on top of a stool.

A woman appears in front of us and I try not to stare at the kid I know standing behind her. I’m thankful his back is toward us so it’s easier to avoid eye contact, but he’s just so tall that I can’t help from staring at the back of his head. I ask for two chocolate milkshakes, and the woman smiles and rings us through the cash.

I think I’ve escaped an awkward Hi, how’s it going but the Stott kid turns, looks at me and then looks again. He stares at me for a while so I look at the top of Sophy’s head and say hi. He says hi back and “How’s it going?” spills out of his mouth. His voice is deep and it throws me off because I guess I thought he was going to sound differently.

The woman slides two Styrofoam cups with lids and straws toward Sophy. I say thanks and the guy from school says, “See you later.” I have to make sure I smile at him before pushing Sophy out the door.

On the sidewalk Sophy sucks her straw so fast she forgets to breathe, and I think of how the Stott kid’s first name is Miller. Two last names but no real first name. He’s in the newspaper all the time because he’s some wannabe Olympian. His uncle was the first swimmer to qualify from Woolf Island in, like, forever, so they built a pool at the school for him back in the day, and now I’m pretty sure Miller Stott is the only person who still uses it.

***

Beckie climbed out of our bedroom window at nine o’clock last night and didn’t climb back in until after midnight, so I have a hard time waking her up this morning. It’s almost eight o’clock and she’s still belly down on her bed, scared of the light. I’m about to throw my brush at her again when Sophy barges into the room, kneels near my bed and bows her head.

“I’m ready,” she says.

“Not today, Soph.”

Her red ringlets are still damp from bath water and she’s chosen to wear green socks with pink tights and a sweater that used to be mine then Beckie’s now hers. Sophy looks at me with her pudgy cheeks and turned-up nose and knows she’s cute, so I kneel beside her; my body an exact replica of hers, only bigger.

“Put your hands together like this,” I say. “Now you can go ahead—say it out loud.”

“ ‘Our Father which art in heaven…’ ”

I recite the next line in my head, waiting for Sophy’s kindergarten voice to fill the room.

When she pauses, I open one eye. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m praying to a wall,” she says.

“You’re supposed to close your eyes. Close your eyes and see the face of God.”

“What does he look like?”

While I take time to think about it, Sophy gets up and puts her finger under Beckie’s nose to make sure she is still breathing. I look at the alarm clock on Beckie’s bedside table and the red, digital colon blinks. Tick, tick, tick.

“Get back into position,” I say, pulling Sophy’s chubby torso over so we’re kneeling respectfully again. “You know the nativity scene Mrs. Wilson puts on her lawn at Christmastime?”

Sophy nods, her eyes shut tight and her short fingers intertwined at her chest.

“The little baby is Jesus,” I say. “Think of that.”

“A baby?”

“Just do it. And start over.”

I copy her, eyes shut and hands together, and we both try our hardest to see the face of God.

“Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name…”

“It’s not hollowed it’s hallowed.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ugh. Sophy, come on.”

“It means kept special,” Beckie says, rolling over in her bed and stretching. “Important, holy.”

I glare at Beckie, half-annoyed, half-grateful. “There, Sophy, okay? Now finish.”

Sophy nods again, more determined. “Our Father in heaven, haloed be your name…”

“So-pheee!”

Beckie and Sophy giggle, and in their fit of laughter I almost don’t hear Mom calling for us from downstairs.

When I go down Mom is in the kitchen, wearing her red Foodland apron, and making Sophy’s lunch for school. She puts the brightly coloured lunch pail into the brightly coloured backpack and then puts the backpack over Sophy’s brightly coloured outfit. I stand beside her with my non-existent lunch occupying my black backpack hanging over my very dull outfit. I say goodbye to Mom, and she kisses us and shoos us out the door.

Daddy is sitting in the lawn chair on the porch again, staring at the driveway and the barns and the road in the distance. His cane leans against the orange armrest.

“See you later, Daddy,” I say, walking down the porch steps which squeak like they might snap under any more weight. He doesn’t look at me for long and I wonder if it’s because I remind him of Bristol. Out of the four Podolski sisters, Bristol and I look the most alike.
Sophy stretches onto her tiptoes to kiss Daddy on the cheek and he leans down to accept her. They both laugh when Sophy squirms because of his prickly gray and brown beard.

“Be good,” he says, coughing immediately after.

Sophy holds my hand and I wave to Daddy and try not to think about how much pain he must be in.

We don’t make it very far down the driveway before Mom runs after us. She holds out a tinfoil-covered pie plate and catches her breath. “Take this, will you, down to Gloria with me?” she asks.

I stare at her name tag clipped onto her apron, and the sparkly Little Mermaid stickers

Sophy used to decorate it. “Mom, we’re gonna be late,” I say.

Mom’s expression, not more words, tells me that she’s begging. Because she doesn’t actually speak after that on account of not wanting to upset Daddy. But from the look on his face he’s not even in the same world as us, let alone listening.

***

The Wilsons buy our hay and rent our fields ever since the accident, so Mom likes to keep herself in their good graces whenever she can. When we get there Mrs. Wilson, a beautiful Korean woman with ageless skin and perfect hair, sweeps Mom away into the kitchen and leaves me inside the living room with her son and only tiny Sophy to defend me.

“I thought you would have brought one of your pretty sisters,” Ben Wilson says to Sophy when seeing me.

Sophy’s blond eyebrows make a knot between her eyes and she says, “Alex is pretty.”

Ben laughs.

The fabric of my windbreaker makes a swooshing kind of noise when I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear, self-conscious in the silence. I say nothing and hold onto Sophy’s hand until Ben’s ogling stare causes me to take action.

“We’re leaving,” I say and then drag Sophy out the door. She whines about how we’re leaving without Mom, but I assure her Mom can find her way back home without us.

I stop at the end of the driveway when I notice Ben at the window. His T-shirt is so tight it might as well be painted on, making it easy to imagine what he’d look like without it. But I don’t have to imagine. When he cuts our grass in the summertime, he’s always shirtless, wearing his hat backwards, shielding his neck instead of his face, and turning himself brownish pink by June. Beckie stares from the kitchen window every time, ready to reward him with a sweating glass of lemonade.

When we’re on the road Sophy pokes my arm for attention and asks if we can walk up the hillside on our way to her bus stop. I tell her no and she asks if we can at least sing the song. “Only if you start,” I say. But we never really sing the song.

***

Today at school there’s a pep rally and we have to sit on the gym floor because our school isn’t one of those fancy catholic schools with auditoriums and cushy chairs like the school Cece goes to. Kids from the fancy catholic schools call us hicks because we don’t have lines on our main roads and because we only produce farmers and football players. We only get to sit on chairs when it’s something important like Remembrance Day or because someone has died. So during the assembly today we have to sit cross-legged on the dusty gym floor, cramped inside the dark with only random spotlights shining on the student council rep and the cheerleaders as they bounce around in front of the stage.

The football team grunts and shouts whenever anybody says our school name, so the principal has to start his speech over multiple times. The track and field team is the only team bigger than the football team, but they’re a lot quieter and skinnier. All the sports teams are called up to the stage one by one, even the chess and badminton teams, as music blares from every corner of the gym.

They put the cross-country team and the swim team on the stage at the same time and I don’t really know why. But I stare at Miller Stott standing in the back row. He makes all the little runners look even smaller than they really are. For a second I think he’s staring back at me, but it’s too dark to tell. So I look away and I sit there while my brain starts to melt and my feet fall asleep, wishing that this stint of my life was already over.

My schedule for this semester is still being sorted out because it’s only the fifth day back and everyone, including teachers, is still living in summer time. I signed up to see the guidance counsellor the first day back to drop Advanced English and just take Regular English, and I want to switch Philosophy for Social Science. But I have yet to have my name called over the PA system. So I walk around the school halls during the empty slots like the potheads do when they’re not in class.

I thought I’d get special privileges because of my impending graduation, that the teachers would want to get rid of us in the kindest, quickest way possible. But, less than a week in, I get the feeling this is going to be the longest year yet.

When I come home from school I find Daddy in the exact same spot I left him in, sitting in that lawn chair, drinking a can of pop and staring at the road. He says hi and I say hi. He asks me how my day went and I say fine. Mom is hanging laundry on the clothesline in the side yard, and after a few moments of staring at my parents on opposite sides of the property, I go inside to change.

Every other afternoon I bike to the ferry and cross a skinny part of the St. Lawrence River to get to the harbour on the mainland in time for the dinner shift at the boat club. I work in the members-only clubhouse, serving preppy old people from the city in my navy polo, khaki shorts and white Keds. Sometimes I roam the boardwalk to make sure everyone who is checking out the sailboats is supposed to be checking out the sailboats or tell people about the night’s specials and invite them into the dining room. Rich people’s children come and jump off the docks into the water at sunset and the crew team from St. David’s comes to practice. The Kayak and Canoe Club teaches kids how to wear life-jackets properly and it’s all an extremely lively place until October comes and everyone goes away and I don’t have a job anymore.

I come home just after the sun has set and I hear my parents before I’m even inside the house. My head feels ready to explode whenever they fight. It’s like I’m caught in the air, floating aimlessly, wanting to intervene and run away at the same time. I thought Bristol getting married and moving out of the house would help. Because it was always Bristol against Mom, and Mom against Daddy, and Daddy against the world.

They’re in the kitchen this time, drinking coffee and watching the news on the small TV on the counter. I slam the front door shut so they know I’m home, and hang my jacket on the banister in the front hall. For a split second I think they may have stopped talking altogether. But as soon as Mom mentions Bristol’s new husband, Daddy starts at her, loud slamming door or not.

Sophy is on her knees in my room, trying to talk to heaven again. I shut the door behind me as I drop my backpack onto the floor. Mom and Daddy’s voices are distant and if I try hard enough it sounds like they’re having a normal conversation, laughing even.

“How’s it going?” I ask Sophy.

“I get to ‘And forgive us…’ and then I don’t remember.”

I get down beside her to help. “ ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ ”

“What’s that?”

“Things we do that aren’t right and people who hurt us.”

She nods and closes her eyes.

“ ‘And do not lead us into temptation’,” I say, obviously jogging her memory because she joins in afterwards.

“ ‘But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’ ”

We sit on the floor and I stare at the empty chair by the desk in the corner where Beckie should be doing her homework. Then: “Alex, why do we say that?”

“That’s how we talk to God.”

“Do we always have to talk to God?”

“It never hurts.”

***

Today at school I’m finally called down to Student Services to get my schedule fixed. On my way from the library I notice Miller Stott walking, solo, down the math hall so I have to turn around and take the long way to the front foyer. He’s been everywhere ever since I saw him at the diner and I don’t know if our schedules are suddenly colliding or I’m just noticing him for the first time.

Before I get to Student Services I see Colton Glasby shoving Grant Danson into a locker. I stop, stunned, as a surge of angst jolts me. I’ve never seen someone actually trying to put someone else inside a locker before. The skinny boy is kind of squealing and the bully isn’t saying anything. He just gives one big shove and his friends shut the door, slamming the lock into place. They laugh and high-five each other before walking away and disappearing up the stairs.

I walk into Student Services and wait until Mr. Tollers calls me into his office. I change Advanced English for Regular English, but I don’t get to switch Philosophy for Social Science. My new pink schedule is still warm from the printer. Before I leave I tell Mr. Tollers that I think there’s a kid stuck in a locker in the hallway. And I think about how if I’d taken the math hall I probably wouldn’t have seen Grant get wedged into the wall and he might have been trapped in there all day. Then I go back to the library to kill my spare like none of it ever really happened.

***

I’m late for the bus when I need a ride to the hospital. I argued with Sophy for ten minutes too long about whether or not she was going to come with me. She stayed home from school because of an upset stomach and was apparently not faking it because she still wouldn’t come with me, even when I offered to get milkshakes after.

I run to the bus stop in the village and wait for what feels like five minutes, but in reality is probably only one. I know I’ve missed the bus, but I want to confirm it so I look inside Stott’s Diner (like I’m going to rob the place again) and eventually open the door. The bell rings and I’m half-inside the nearly dead restaurant. I don’t care who the first person I see is, I blurt out, “Hey, did I miss the bus?” in the general direction of the counter.

Miller Stott appears behind the counter, wearing an apron. “What?” he says.

“The bus, did I miss it?”

“Oh. Yeah, it looks like it. That’s the last one too.”

“I know. Thanks.”

I turn to leave, but then: “Do you need a ride?”

Everything in me feels like it has stopped working so all I can do is frown and stare across the restaurant. I want to say Of course I need a ride, that’s why I’m taking the bus.

But Miller says, “I can give you a ride.”

I step all the way inside to weigh out my options.

1. Go home.

2. Drive into town with Miller Stott.

“You’re working, though,” I say.

Miller takes off his apron and tells me that he’s off in five minutes. “Where are you going?” he asks.

I say, “The hospital,” and he looks a little confused, so I say, “I’m going to visit my grandmother.”

He insists after that and is ready to go before his five minutes are up. He puts on a jacket and I hear keys jingle, making this very real.  “Let’s go,” he says, opening the door (ding-ding).

I stare at a man finishing a hamburger at a table in the corner.

“You know who I am, right?” Miller asks, not in a proud way but in an I-hope-this-isn’t-weird-for-you sort of way. “We go to the same school.”

I walk by him and his out-of-place height is more real when being so close, and I get a good look at his face. I kind of like it all of the sudden so I laugh, a silly little giggle. Apparently I’m nervous. “Yeah, I know who you are,” I say. “Do you know who I am?”

The door shuts behind us, and I follow him toward the line of parked cars on the street.

“You’re Alex Podolski,” he says. “Your older sister Bristol married Jasper Lauzon’s brother Rob. You have another sister named Beckie and a little one too, but I don’t know what her name is.”

Miller stops by a little dorky German car and unlocks the passenger door. I say, “Sophy,” and I get inside the car.

Miller shuts the door on me and slams it so hard, using the side of his leg to ensure it shuts properly, that it sounds like the window could shatter, and he says, “Sorry. It sticks sometimes.”

My mouth melts into a smile because I do like his face and then I’m alone for a few seconds, taking it all in until I realize my backpack is still on. I take it off and hold onto it like it’s a flotation device.

Miller gets in the car and has some trouble turning over the engine. The radio comes on and the Beatles start singing. They play all the way to the hospital and all the way back. I’m freaking out inside because this is so random and Miller doesn’t talk to me until we’re on the parkway and he asks, “So is your grandma sick?”

“She’s in a coma.”

“For real?”

“Uh huh.”

“How long has she been in a coma?”

“Three months.”

“No way. That’s crazy. I read about this one guy who was in a coma for, like, thirty years.”

“Yeah…”

That’s pretty much all that goes on until farmland disappears behind us. We pass signs which say WIND FARM and BRIDGE TO USA, and storefronts that say Woolf Island Convenience and Woolf Island Grocer, Woolf Island this and Woolf Island that. I count tall wind turbines staggered in yellow fields, looking like skinny metal dinosaurs because they’re that out of place, until I lose track or get bored.

The city emerges in the form of housing developments and shopping malls. We pass Lowe’s, Home Depot and Canadian Tire all in a row, and then I see City Hall and the Holiday Inn and then we’re facing the hospital.

Miller parks outside the patient pick-up area and I tell him I won’t be long. I run inside and the volunteer sitting at the information desk reminds me to squirt my hands with hand sanitizer, and the rubbing alcohol burns a cut on my thumb.

I take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk into the ICU family lounge. I tell Dennis the Security Guard that I’m here to see May Podolski because I’m her granddaughter, and he flashes an ID badge, making the ward doors open with a buzz.

I find Grandma in the same place I find her every week. Intensive Care Unit, bed five, a different nurse outside her room every twelve hours. Today it’s Stephanie with the long blond ponytail.

I stand beside Grandma as she breathes with a ventilator and has all these IVs sticking out of her neck and arms. Her skin is still wrinkly and her hair is still white, and all I can think about is Miller Stott parked downstairs in his dorky German car. It’s blue. Navy blue.

I wait for a while and sit with Grandma, contemplating what I’m going to tell Aunt Bernice when I phone her and say that I can’t make it to dinner. I can’t go to dinner. I’d have to bring Miller, and Aunt Bernice would think he’s my boyfriend. She’d give him a hard time like he is my boyfriend, and he’d think I’m a nut case and never want to see me again. Not that I want him to want to see me again.

After ten minutes I call Aunt Bernice from the pay phone because I forgot my cell phone and I tell her that Sophy’s sick and we couldn’t make it to see Grandma either. She tells me that it’s okay and that she’ll see me next time. Then I’m off and racing for Miller’s car.

He asks me how it went and I tell him it was fine, so he drives me back to the countryside, “Here Comes the Sun” playing in the background all the while. When we get closer to the village, he volunteers to drive me to my house, and I say, “No, that’s okay. I can walk.”

“From the bus stop?”

“I do it all the time.”

“It’s dark out.”

I don’t disagree on account of it actually being dark out. Then Miller stops the car at the intersection near the center of town and asks, “Where do you live?”

I point to the right and say, “Down there.” I point straight ahead and say, “And you live down there.”

“How do you know where I live?”

“I’m just assuming.”

Miller flicks on his blinker and turns right.

“Hey,” I say.

“It’s not a problem. I can drop you at your driveway, I can drive you to your front door. I can drive you to Toronto if you want, but I’d have to stop for gas…”

Smiling is hard to control. “My driveway is fine.”

So Miller stops at the end of my driveway and I walk inside my house. No one any the wiser.

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The Countdown Begins

Grice (10)Daydreamer John Luke Poet has just graduated from high school two years early. Instead of planning his next academic achievement, all he wants is to explore the waterways of the St. Lawrence River on his dad’s new catamaran sailboat. His older brother, Nate and his amateur folk-rock band dream of more.

John Luke has always supported Nate’s wild, musical aspirations. So when Nate announces plans for a gig-filled summer road trip, John Luke has no problem tagging along. Until he meets Madelyn Odine, the band’s beautiful new member–and Nate’s new girlfriend. Love and loyalty are tested as the band heads toward glory and experience, and only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same again.

Available Aug. 16, 2018

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Click here to read Chapter One