- Pages: 336 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Rocky Pond Books
- ISBN: 9780593618929
An Excerpt From
The Night Fox
The fox sleeps by my bed.
Small, with a curled, quiet tail. Smiling.
Its fur is a warm, earthy brown, hints of red. Smooth under my reverent fingers.
It smells of some faraway spice, and magic, and wood—for that is what it is made of.
More perfect for its tiny imperfections—the notch by the head, the ripple on the left side
of the nose—for they tell me it was made by you.
The fox fits in the palm of my hand—where yours used to rest.
I don’t run anymore. Feet bound to hard, barren, gray earth.
But the fox flies in my dreams,
trying to find
a way home.
It never does.
Mornings are unpleasant enough without a suitcase landing on your feet.
Kicking, I shove myself up, clawing at the tangled hair falling into my face. My heart ricochets in my chest from the abrupt awakening.
My mother stands there, arms folded across her chest. Her eyes gleam, determination on the surface hiding something more vulnerable underneath. Pity? Concern?
I hate both.
“Pack what you’ll need for the next few weeks. You’re leaving in less than an hour.”
I’ve only been home a few weeks since my senior year at the Carwick Boarding Academy ended.
Granted, all I’ve done is sleep, and occasionally eat, same as over winter break, but still—
Bubbles of panic slowly rise in my sleep-numbed brain. “Where are we going?” My stomach lurches with unease.
Mom sighs. “We aren’t going anywhere, Liz.” Her gaze softens. There’s sadness too. “Just you.”
The words slam into me. “Wait, what? You can’t do that.” I’m not sure what she’s planning, but I’m positive I don’t want it.
She tucks an errant strand of blond hair behind her ear and turns to go.
I know there’s no use in arguing with her. The sooner you stop resisting Ren Maven, the more time you get to live your life. You’re fated to agree with her at some point anyway. But this time, what she is asking of me is different.
And I’ll never agree.
“Where am I going?” I call after her, a last-ditch attempt at information.
“Don’t forget to pack your retainer” is all I get from down the hall.
“Just wonderful!” I holler back.
Fan. Freaking. Tastic.
I get to spend an indeterminate amount of my summer at an undisclosed location. Me, the girl who doesn’t talk to strangers, or friends, or really anyone at all.
Who sleeps and reads and watches Netflix and sleeps again.
Who hides in her room.
Who cries herself to sleep each night.
Yes, this sounds precisely like a recipe for disaster.
My suitcase gapes at my feet, an open mouth. I sit beside it, curl my legs into my chest, wrap my arms around them tightly. I look around the room, trying to decide what to pack while my brain struggles to compute what is happening. I’m leaving. Leaving my room, the only place I feel safe.
The green walls are dusty, except for odd, brighter patches where school photos used to rest, stuck on with tape. They’re stacked in a shoebox under my bed now, where the faces of all the people who used to be my friends can’t see me, taunting me with their happy eyes. Next to the box lie rolled poem posters, never put up. My dirty hiking shoes peek out from under my dresser, my stuffed monkey sprawled next to them. The room of a girl who used to be. A girl who used to go to boarding school in the mountains. Used to have friends who made music and played Frisbee and roamed the campus at night. Used to plan movie nights with her mother. Used to be happy she believed in God. Used to be yours.
What would that girl have packed if she had to leave? Is there anything that matters to both the girl I was and the girl I am now? I know the answer before I’m done thinking the question.
My gaze lands on the carved wooden fox resting atop the open journal on my nightstand, a reddish-brown figure shorter than my index finger is long. Standing, I close the notebook, covering the poem I wrote the night before. I kiss my two fingers and touch them to the fox’s smooth head, like I do every morning. Every night.
“I love you,” I say.
They’re probably the only true words I’ll speak all day.
I don’t remember meeting you.
We just kind of
like two atoms forming a molecule, or stars drawn into each other’s orbits.
By the time you notice, it’s too late—you can’t go back.
I don’t remember falling in love with you.
I mean, I do, but not like in the movies, or the books, or the fairy tales.
No earth-shattering beginning in which I laid eyes on you and
that I had fallen
hopelessly, tragically, mystically,
helplessly, brilliantly, in love with you.
But I have more memories of that time, that slow, surreal f l o a t i n g, than I do of any other
time in my life.
Do you know how much you made me bloom?
Do you know how deeply and irrevocably you scarred me?
I don’t remember the moment I first saw you.
But the first moment
I remember you, singularly,
separate from anyone else—
Sitting up in the balcony at a basketball game. End of our sophomore year. Neither of us very interested, but we had to go once, right? It was athing. Sitting with our friends, the group that absorbed us both. Three of us—you caught between me and a friend of mine— talking about crushes. About what we found attractive in someone.
I said, Blue eyes. Smile lines in the corners. (Like yours,
which I hadn’t noticed yet. Somehow.)
She asked you. You shrugged, shoulders rising like
always when you didn’t know what to say—which you
said. We pushed you, teasing.
Finally, you said something like, I don’t know, dimples,
I guess. When pressed, you wouldn’t say more.
You were unassuming and adorable, and Iremember you.
The same understatedness that made me not
remember meeting you is the very thing I began to find
endearing. I never found out whether you noticed my
shy dimples or not.
I wish I’d asked.
Here’s the thing—love never felt like it was “supposed to.”
But it was perfect,
as I knew it should be.
You didn’t make me feel fiery all over.
You didn’t keep me up at night, not at first.
You didn’t burn me up wildly from the inside.
You made me feel peaceful. Still.
You made me feel happy. Content.
You were the soft, warm spring wind
and the sun on new grass
through the bright, dappled leaves.
You were entirely unexpected.
You were everything.
You still are.
We ride in silence. It’s early for me—eight a.m. I crash early and sleep late these days. Still, at this hour, with such a rushed exit from the house, there’s no chance I’ll fall asleep. The smooth hum of the engine and Mom’s silent, loaded glances, which I do not return, are starting to get to me, so I fiddle with the radio. Country—too happy. Pop— memories push at the edges of my consciousness, and I push back—too romantic. Classical—too snobby. Christian—my shoulders tighten—nope, not that either. Not anymore. I turn off the radio.
Mom’s voice cuts through the silence, and I almost jump. “Liz, you aren’t even the tiniest bit curious about where you’re going? I expected you to ask again once we were on the road.” Her eyes hold the same gentle, slightly frustrated concern that they’ve had for the last few months. I see through the question. She wants me towant something, something other than you. She wants me to be excited, or afraid, or angry. Anything but indifferent.
In truth, I am, just maybe, the tiniest, teeniest, ever-so-smidgenest bit curious. But that flutter of interest is buried under the avalanche of all my other crap. I can’t admit that to her . . . if I give her the littlest bit of hope today, she’ll expect me to be smiling tomorrow. Because that’s totally how feelings work.
“What do you think?” I say.
She sighs. “We’re going to Raeth.”
Raeth. RAY-eth. Round and unfamiliar and alluring on my tongue, like a smoky whisper. The name sparks something in me, although I’ve never heard it before. Something mysterious. Almost . . . magical. Like the smell of damp earth in spring beneath a full moon. That’s odd. Not the magic part, but the spark part. It flares in my gut, leaps to my chest, and dies quickly—but it was there. Unnerving.
So I say, “Where the hell is that?” knowing it will tick her off.
She doesn’t take the bait. “It’s a special place . . . somewhere you can heal.”
Heal? I gave up on that a while ago.
“Mom, you know that’s not up to you.” In other words, drop it.
“I think a nice, long stay there will do you good.”
Nice. Long. Stay.
White halls. Cold tile floor. The smell of rubbing alcohol. Forced therapy sessions. I swallow the fear down.
“You’re just going to drop me off somewhere random and expect me to be fine with it?”
All of a sudden, I do care, and the whiplash from nothingness to fury is jarring.
She continues before I can butt in again. “It’s for kids like you. And it’s only for the summer.”
I stare at her, at a complete loss for words, which, believe me, doesn’t happen very often. “The summer,” I say slowly, venom building. “Kids like me.”
She eyes me, and I can tell she knows the storm that’s coming just as well as I do . . . and is just as powerless to stop it.
But somehow, I stuff it down. Push all the emotion down, down, down, from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet, shove it into a bottle and cork it.
And there it is again—that terrible, terrible emptiness.
Almost worse than being the saddest or angriest or loneliest girl in the universe.
Which I am.
“Liz?” Her tone is hesitant, probing. Almost apologetic.
I shake my head. I don’t even look at her. I can’t. “You don’t get to talk to me right now.” My voice sounds flat, dead. Unfamiliar, like it’s not even mine. I close my eyes. Lean my forehead against the cool window.
She’s sending me away.
If my father were here, would he be handling this differently? Handling me, my love for you, differently? No use wondering. The dead can’t answer questions.
I tug my journal free from my canvas backpack. The grief pounds under my skin, desperate for release. Only on the page do I feel understood. Only in ink does my story make any sense, even to myself.
The emptiness laps at my consciousness as I put pen to paper, threatening to pull me into the infinite darkness of myself, where I know I could fall forever and never be found.
But under it all, lives this pulsing truth.
No one understands the way I love. Not even my mother. It’s fiercer and deeper and faster than the blood in my own veins. Stronger and more savage and more stubborn than time. My love is different.
I should’ve known that no one would understand my grief either.
Not even God.
Here’s the thing—
before we got oh-so-serious
before all was love and grief
we were just two kids figuring out
the many ways two people
could fit together.
The trip that started it all was
by all accounts
an epic disaster.
Young, inexperienced, bumbling fools—
I being the greatest, to be sure.
The car got stuck, muddy tires spinning,
I pushed it,
you broke it free.
The water jug leaked, flooding the trunk,
you were the one who laughed,
The rock was high and exposed,
water glistening beneath,
you were the one who jumped off first.
Who was the one to collapse the tent,
waking you up at three a.m.?
Ah yes, that was Definitely
Yet even as I fretted and fumed
worrying you’d see me as such a fool
rather than brave, capable, interesting,
I couldn’t help but notice how different it seemed
sleeping in a tent with you next to me
the warmest summer night
the eve of our senior year.
Not alone, surrounded by sleeping bags like
and not even touching,
inches between your sleeping pad
simply hearing your breath
the intimacy of knowing
your face at rest
like a secret I shouldn’t
too holy for me.
I shook off the feeling
thought it all just a fluke
not understanding my own fascination
not knowing one day you’d see me
and I’d see you
lying under the stars beneath
a fall crescent moon.
The drive seems endless.
My thoughts pinwheel from desperate plan to even more desperate plan, pinging faster and faster until I can barely distinguish one from the other. I could pop a tire at the gas station. Or call someone to come pick me up. Or fake being fine once I get there so they have to send me home. At this point, I’d even consider calling God with a banana phone, the way my mother convinced me I could as a child.
In my mind’s eye, white walls close in on me. Blank. Sterile.
If she is sending me to a place like that—I know I’d rather die.
I rub my temples, hard, with my fingertips, as if the pressure can make the car stop moving. The ideas blend together until they’re an indecipherable, blurred tornado, and I have to stop thinking just to keep myself from losing my last shred of sanity.
Despite my anxiety, I feel myself slipping into sleep as the sun flashes behind the trees. Mom has driven silently since I ended our last conversation, radio turned low to classical music I can barely hear. Maybe it’s the incessant violins, or the monotonous reel of shadow on asphalt, but sleep grabs me and pulls me under.
I often see your face in my dreams. Sometimes it’s wrong—you, but not you. Sometimes right. Sometimes smiling, that oh-so-familiar, soul-stilling smile, and other times looking sad. Bone-deep sad.
A fox winds its way through a dark forest. Its fiery, white-tipped tail the only flame in the shadow. I’m desperate to keep up, but it slips out of reach. Leaving me aching. Grasping.
I sink in and out of sleep, never fully waking, riding on a bumpy carpet of dream and nightmare.
When I wake fully, late afternoon light is spilling through the window, and the scenery has changed—we’re now driving on a gravel road winding into a horizon of hazy purple-blue mountains. They loom. Stepping up and up until they kiss thunderheads the color of a day-old bruise.
“Where the heck are we?” I mumble. My tongue feels thick and dry in my mouth.
“Almost there” is all Mom says. The road lurches up . . . into the side of a foothill. I follow the snaking white line as it winds onward and upward . . . foothill to small mountain . . . small mountain to medium mountain . . . medium mountain to big mountain. Dipping and disappearing, materializing only to spiral upward once more. To the sky. To nowhere.
“Crap,” I mutter.
Not only am I spending the summer at a psych camp for wrecked kids, but it’s also located in an impenetrable mountain fortress. My feebly hatched plans to hop on a bus or hitchhike out of here might need to be rethought.
I grip the armrest. Shut my eyes. Feel the front of the car tilt up and up and up. Listen to the occasional stray rock rattling in the wheel well. Work to quell the irrational fear that we are going to climb up into the sky and then fall off the face of the earth into endless, awful nothing. The granola bar I forced down earlier threatens to make a reappearance.
“How do you know the way?” The sentence comes out breathless. She’s not using directions.
My mother just purses her lips tighter, a thin, determined line. Ren Maven wants up this mountain? Well then, by golly, we’re getting up it. Sometimes I don’t understand how she can be so amazed by my stubbornness, when I clearly get it from her.
Then, all at once, we are there—atop the ridge. At first, all I can see is green. Lush, deep, vibrant, layered green, of all shades, splashing up the sides of the valley and bleeding into the mountain slopes.
The question why swells in my mind again, looking at all that beauty spread out before me. Why would God give this to the world, to anyone who chances upon it, when He won’t pay any attention to me? No use even thinking about it. The response is always the same—no answer at all.
Mom has visibly relaxed now, shoulders slumped after the long drive. Her eyes are soft, looking far into the past, or future, or both. Looking down into the valley.
I follow her gaze. At the very center of the valley, at the end of the winding, brown road—
is a little white house.
Even in the beginning
we were always tied together by grief.
The news of my dog’s death
reached my phone, buzzing
in the middle of class, a chilling October afternoon
of senior year
and I knew—
I only wanted to be with you with such sadness.
around you like the clean, bright scent of clothes
fresh from the dryer.
I wanted to surround myself with it
that broad smile
daring me to speak
to let the words pour out of me, unchecked.
We sat beneath the fading trees
on the brown lawn,
stiff grass tickling my thighs.
Silence with you felt like
a cocoon, a connection that didn’t
need words in order
to be heard.
The sound of pen on paper
the occasional remark about assignments
and weird teachers
the knowledge that I could talk about it,
if I wanted to, and if I didn’t
that was okay too—
you were here for it
all of it
all of me.
I wanted to tell you then—
I didn’t want to lose you too.
Didn’t want to lose you because
I loved you.
I didn’t know how yet
didn’t know what kind
didn’t have words for the quiet
honeysuckle-scented growing like
petals unfurling but
I knew love when I saw it.
It looked like you.
It would have been the start
of a string of endless
things we would say to each other
that we would be hearing for the first
time in our lives.
Instead, we stared at homework scribbles
picking Skittles from the bag.
I said you had good handwriting
and you laughed, saying no one
had every told you this before.
I placed the hated green Skittles
on the blanket between us, and you
ate every last one of them.
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