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First pages

Chapter 1

Ned opened Professor Wenzel’s office door and saw lightning. He blinked and took a step back. Lightning? He squinted. Not lightning: a doorway of crackling light. The light shut off suddenly. Ned blinked, his eyes swarming with bright blurs.

“Professor Wenzel?” Ned asked.

“Go away.” Professor Wenzel was working on a pile of machinery, computer parts, and wires that were crammed into his office, all attached to a doorway framed in jagged metal.

“It’s your office hours?”

“I’m busy. Shut the door. It’s dangerous.”

The doorway of light turned on again and Ned’s vision filled with the light. He didn’t close his eyes. The light seemed almost blue at first and then shifted to white, brighter than he had ever seen before. His eyes burned as if he were looking straight into the sun. And in the light, he thought he saw a flicker of something, maybe the outline of a person, but then it flickered again and there was a landscape that grew brighter until it was burning light.

He walked forward, staring at the light, trying to make sense of the flashes of places and people fading in and out too quickly for him to make out.

“Go away!” Professor Wenzel yelled. “Stop!”

But Ned was already reaching out, touching the light. It was hot, burning, and he drew back, but the light had consumed him so there was nowhere to go.

Ned tried to scream because he felt like he was on fire, but he had no voice and all he heard was a roar, a crackling, every sound pressing in on his ears at once. Maybe he was falling, but there was no space, just the light, no way to know which way was up or down.

He couldn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t move. He tried to grip his textbook, remembering that he had a question about problem twelve on page forty, or was it problem forty on page twelve. His textbook wasn’t there.

His eyes burned with the light and the flashes of the world — a desk, a face, a mountain that spun away from him quickly and changed into an ocean. He was going up and up until he could see the world and then it zoomed up on him and he crashed down in an instant, everything burning around him.

He closed his eyes, so he couldn’t see, but it didn’t make the light go away. Maybe this was what dying felt like. But Ned didn’t want to die. He had a life plan: go to college, marry someone (probably Nancy), find a job, have kids.

“Don’t let me die,” he said, though the words didn’t come out right. “Please help me.” All he heard was a roar of nothing.

And then numbness spread from his tongue and his fingertips and his toes. The light still surrounded him, but he felt no pain.

Ned blinked.

He was standing now. Not on the ground, but on light. He really was dead, wasn’t he?

He looked around, trying to make out something in the cloud of light.

There were passageways with flashes of images and sounds stretching out before him. Ned took a step forward and he could make out faces and places. So many different places. Space wasn’t quite the same, and he felt a little bit like he was everywhere at once.

“Wow,” he said, surprised when it made a sound. He could hear snatches of muted sounds coming from the passageways to the world, but the light around him was quiet. There was no one there who could hear him.

In front of him, the light grew brighter, and Ned walked towards it. You were supposed to walk towards the light, weren’t you?

He stopped when he saw his bedroom through one of the passageways: his books, his shelf of action figures, his flannel sheets that were neatly folded down, his old stuffed zebra on top of the fluffed pillow. It looked strange. He never made his bed.

He reached out to touch the zebra on his bed, wondering who put it there, and then he was falling and landed in his bedroom.

He breathed. Had he been breathing before?

He picked up the zebra. Had it been washed? It smelled different. He sat up, his head spinning.

He was in his room. The pictures were straightened, his dirty socks had been put away, and his clothes hung neatly. His mom must have cleaned it while he had been at school.

But the neat pile of textbooks on his desk was dusty. Dusty?

The clock said 6:54. In the morning? Evening? Office hours for Professor Wenzel were from one to two in the afternoon. He had been gone … he didn’t know how long.

Ned looked down at his hands. He seemed real. He was still wearing the same clothes and everything. He scraped his fingernail across his skin. It hurt. He stood up and stretched. His whole body ached. He was alive. But what had happened?

He could hear someone walking down the hallway and then his sister, Clarissa, stuck her head in the door.

When she saw him, she screamed and ran away.

***

Breakfast. Ned dug into the stack of three fluffy pancakes with a slab of butter melting into them and the real maple syrup that his mom only got out for special occasions dripping off the side. His parents finished up bowls of oatmeal and raisins, and then his mom scrubbed the griddle clean. There was another stack of pancakes on the counter for him.

When had he eaten last? He picked up the fork and cut into pancakes and chewed and swallowed and didn’t taste any of it.

“Professor Wenzel told us … well, we didn’t understand any of it,” his mom said from the kitchen as she scrubbed some more. “We prayed every minute that you would come back. I knew … or I hoped. But I don’t understand where you were. You didn’t …”

Ned took another bite of pancake, and then another. He was hungry, very hungry, but he still couldn’t focus enough to taste the pancake as it slid down his throat.

“He called it … the Vortex? You were in the Vortex?”

The word was new to Ned. He had been in light, and he had come back. Life was continuing as normal: there were pancakes on his plate, the sun was shining onto flowers in the kidney-shaped garden outside, and his dad was flipping through a newspaper, though he didn’t read a single page. He flipped, flipped, flipped, and stared at Ned as Ned shoved the rest of the pancakes into his mouth.

Ned’s mom gave him another plate.

“I don’t know where I was,” Ned said.

“What was it like?” his dad asked.

“Light. Pain. Confusion. And then … I ended up here.” Ned was glancing at the paper as his dad flipped it. Something was off with everything. The furniture was still there, everything was as he remembered it and as it should be. A ceramic daisy with a face on it smiled up at him from the centerpiece of the table.

He ate more pancakes.

“Professor Wenzel …” His mom took a deep breath. “He said something about other dimensions. How did you get here?”

Ned didn’t have an answer. He had been at Professor Wenzel’s office, and then in the light, and then his bedroom.

His dad put the newspaper down. Ned could see the weather forecast. Sunny.

“I’m so happy you’re home.” His mom finally stopped scrubbing the griddle and put it away. She dished him up his third plate of pancakes and then put away the syrup and wiped off the counter.

“I’m sorry,” Ned said.

“It’s okay,” his dad said. “It was an accident. We’re glad you’re all right. You are all right, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I feel fine.” Did he? He breathed. Heart beating. Breathing. No pain anywhere.

“The Vortex …” his mom stopped and rinsed off the rag. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask questions. We just didn’t understand it. And Professor Wenzel … he said he didn’t know what the Vortex would do to you. But it doesn’t …”

Ned didn’t have any answers. He looked at the newspaper again, but his dad was folding it up.

“What day is it?” Ned asked.

“Tuesday,” his mom said.

Tuesday? It was Tuesday when he left, wasn’t it? But it was morning now. School was going on without him and his job at the store and …

Flowers outside. Sunny forecast. Green grass. The sun was up, and it was so early in the morning.

“I mean, what’s the date?” Ned asked.

How long had he been in the Vortex?

His parents exchanged a glance with each other. “It’s April 6,” his dad said.

He had been gone two months.

He grabbed a napkin and wiped off his face and stood up without saying a word. He didn’t even clear his dish off the table, just turned around and walked out the front door.

He was still wearing the same clothes that he had worn to school, even still had his shoes on. But it was spring now.

He had missed most of the semester. His job at the store was probably gone. No wonder his sister Clarissa had been so shocked to see him.

Ned started walking. His wallet — was that even in his pocket still? He checked. It wasn’t there. Where was his backpack?

Professor Wenzel had said he had been in the Vortex? How did you go into it and come back two months later? He rubbed his face. He didn’t even need to shave.

Maybe Professor Wenzel had the answers — he could make sense of what had happened. Ned needed to go back to that office, where the doorway of lightning had been.

He turned around.

And there was a doorway of lightning again, the portal opening before him.

Ned swallowed. He felt like throwing up pancakes.

Light surrounded him, and there were passageways of flickering images again. For a moment, he glimpsed the empty street and his parents’ house and a stray cat jumping on top of a vinyl fence. The street faded into light. He walked forward, but it was a different way of walking.

And he saw Professor Wenzel’s office, the door closed.

Ned stepped out of the Vortex.

Teleporting?

His hand shook as he knocked on the office door. No one answered. Ned tried to open the office door, but it was locked.

“What are you doing?”

A woman had walked up behind him — a professor, maybe, with gray hair pulled back so tightly it made her face strained.

“I …”

“Look, if it’s about the rumor … I thought we were done with that weeks ago. Professor Wenzel no longer works here.”

“Where …”

“His office is all cleaned out, no fancy equipment. You shouldn’t be snooping around.” She started walking off, sipping on a cup of coffee. Ned could hear her muttering. “Seriously. Stupid kids.”

Professor Wenzel was gone.

The woman turned into an office, and Ned was alone in the hallway again.

With a thought, the Vortex appeared — except for it was always there, really. He just had to look at the world differently and face the right way. He stepped in and the school hallway disappeared.

Images and places flickered. He thought about home again, but he stopped. He still needed to see Professor Wenzel. And with that thought, the light grew brighter, and then Ned could see Professor Wenzel. He hesitated — where was he? He stepped halfway out of the Vortex, still clinging to the light.

Professor Wenzel was drinking coffee, sitting at a table that was covered in papers. He looked just the same as Ned remembered from class — frizzy gray hair, argyle socks, and wandering eyes behind thick glasses. The whole room was covered in papers and books and neglected houseplants, most of which needed watering. One was tipped over and the dirt from the plant covered the floor and a stack of old magazines.

Ned didn’t say a word. He was at Professor Wenzel’s house? He glanced into a small kitchen covered with mostly dirty coffee cups and crumbs from empty old-fashioned donut boxes.

Professor Wenzel continued to drink his coffee and read. Ned was in the middle of someone’s house and he hadn’t even knocked on the door. Why wasn’t Professor Wenzel looking at him? Should Ned clear his throat? Or leave the way he had come before he was noticed?

“Professor Wenzel?” Ned finally said.

Professor Wenzel spluttered out coffee and looked around wildly. He looked right at Ned … but he didn’t seem to see him.

“Who’s there?” Professor Wenzel said. He took another sip.

“I’m Ned,” Ned said.

“Ned Norman? That kid who …” He choked on his coffee and spent the next few minutes coughing.

Why wasn’t Professor Wenzel looking at him? Ned took a step forward, and the light of the Vortex fell away — he felt like he had walked a down step and thudded back into the world again.

Now Professor Wenzel was looking at him. He stood up and toppled over a stack of books.

“Your parents …” Professor Wenzel said when he finally got a breath in. “Have you seen them? Do they know you’re all right? Are you all right? You weren’t supposed to … it was an accident … I didn’t think.”

“I’ve seen my parents,” Ned said. “What … happened to me?”

Professor Wenzel stared at him for a minute, and then he reached out and touched Ned’s arm. “You’re real.” Professor Wenzel collapsed back into his chair. “I was building the portal, but I didn’t intend … I was going to send sensors through it, measurements, that sort of thing. It got too large. I didn’t know what had happened to you — I could only hope that you would turn up. I was afraid I had killed you … but you’re not dead, right?”

“I’m fine. But where did I go?”

“The Vortex is what I call it. I don’t understand it. I needed more measurements, more time with my research, but I never intended people to go into it. It’s a mess. But … what did you see?” Professor Wenzel pushed out another chair for Ned to sit in.

Ned sat down. “There was light and sound and nothing made sense.”

“Well, you’re a three-dimensional person, aren’t you, and you just can’t get shoved into more dimensions and come out of it the same, can you? That’s what the Vortex is — other dimensions, a method of exploring space and time. That’s what it was going to be … but I’m done now. You fell into it. And I had to keep it a big secret, abandon research. You’re all right, aren’t you?”

Professor Wenzel poured Ned a cup of coffee.

Ned didn’t touch it. “I guess so. But …”

“Wait. How did you get here?” Professor Wenzel spilled coffee all over his newspaper, but he didn’t care.

“I don’t know,” Ned said. “I was back in the Vortex, and I just came here.” There was something that smelled rotten in the house. He shifted in his chair.

“Teleporting, I suppose? Hmm. How long have you been in the Vortex?”

“Not long.”

“Maybe you traveled through time? This is interesting.” Professor Wenzel fumbled around and grabbed some paper and a pen and started writing, but the pen didn’t work.

“Travelled through time?” Ned asked.

“In a way. I wouldn’t think you can go backward, just skip forward,” Professor Wenzel continued. “And I frankly don’t understand. I needed more time, more measurements. The portal wasn’t ready yet. And you …” Professor Wenzel stared at Ned.

“Hey — what’s the date today?” Ned asked, suddenly afraid that maybe he had skipped ahead in time again by going back in the Vortex.

“April, maybe?” Professor Wenzel looked at his watch. “April 6.”

Ned exhaled. He hadn’t lost any time.

Professor Wenzel was trying to get his pen to work and muttering to himself. “Teleporting. Invisibility? Maybe not invisible, but not fully in space …” He looked up. “But it doesn’t matter, does it? I’ve only published obscure research and this portal was like … penicillin. An accident. Too big too quick.”

“But what do I do now? I mean, am I normal?”

The Professor shook his head. “I have more questions for you than answers.”

“I just don’t understand.”

Professor Wenzel gave a bit of a chuckle. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“Sorry that I was so careless with the portal. Sorry that you fell in. Sorry that I don’t have any real answers for you. You’re going to have to discover this mostly on your own. I’m glad you’re safe. I won’t have that on my conscience.”

Professor Wenzel stood up, sloshing more coffee. Ned stood up too.

“You’re not planning on telling anyone, are you?” Professor Wenzel asked.

Ned shook his head. Who would he tell? How would he tell them? “Am I …” He choked on his words.

“I probably have no idea,” Professor Wenzel said.

“But … will I be different forever? I’ll be able to teleport? Be invisible?” He didn’t want to be anything special.

“Maybe. The Vortex changed you. If you want answers, you’ll need years of research from people a lot smarter than I am.”

“I don’t want people researching me,” Ned said.

“That’s up to you.” Professor Wenzel moved back to the table and began mopping up the coffee with blank pieces of paper.

Ned wanted to leave, and the Vortex was there — and maybe it would always be there. It was easy to step into it, to have Professor Wenzel and his house disappear.

It barely took a moment before he was back in his bedroom. His mom opened the door and Ned retreated into the Vortex, barely clinging to the light. His mom looked over the whole room, her eyes passing over him. Ned barely breathed. He moved forward, slowly. She couldn’t see him.

His mom’s eyes glistened a bit, and she took a deep breath. She gave a small smile, and then she left his bedroom again.

His mom didn’t know he could teleport or turn invisible. No one did besides Professor Wenzel.

Ned left the Vortex fully. No one needed to know. Maybe it would fade if he never did it again. He was just a guy who needed to get a job and figure out school since he had missed two months. And how could he get a new driver’s license?

He could forget about the Vortex and go on with life as normal and pretend that he was normal too.

Chapter 2

Nancy’s work phone rang again. She glanced at the clock. It still wasn’t five o’clock yet. Five o’clock meant that she could go home.

She answered the phone. “Hello. How can I help you?”

“What?” An old lady on the other line yelled back at Nancy with an accent — German? Russian? Nancy had no idea. “I need to order the shoes. Is this the right number?”

“Yes,” Nancy said back, loudly. Sometimes she had to about scream at the customers so they could hear.

“What?” the old lady said. “Those shoes. The ones in my closet.”

“What sort of shoes would you like to order?”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Do you have an item number? Or perhaps a description of what the shoes look like?”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, we must have a bad connection. Please hang up and call again.”

“What?”

“What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything?”

“I need to order shoes.”

“But you can’t hear me.”

“I will call back later.”

Nancy sighed. So far in the day, she had had three old men try to talk about politics. Four old ladies tried to tell her their life story. One old man was inappropriate. No one had actually ordered anything.

Crazy Calls would probably fire her. Again. She had quit a few times too. It never stuck. Income was sort of nice, so she kept coming back.

What time was it?

Almost five o’clock. Close enough if she dawdled to the time clock.

She walked as slowly as possible, thinking about what type of ice cream she was going to get after work. Maybe mint chocolate chip. Or peanut butter cup.

After she punched her time card, she raced out the door, got into her car, drove straight to the grocery store, and picked up a pint of ice cream, settling on chocolate marshmallow. She started eating it in the car — she always had plastic spoons with her for that very reason.

Her phone buzzed, which surprised her because she rarely had it with her, and if she did, it was usually dead.

I need a ride to Mom’s house, Jane had texted.

Nancy rolled her eyes. Her sister Jane was too practical to own her own car and insisted that a bus pass worked quite well. It didn’t, of course, which meant that Nancy became a taxi driver because Jane didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission.

She had a lot of practice driving and eating ice cream. But by the time she pulled up to the apartment, the ice cream had started melting and Nancy had to shovel large spoonfuls into her mouth. The steering wheel veered a little too much to the right and Nancy hurriedly applied the brakes before she hit her sister in the shins.

“Watch it,” Jane said, opening the door. “Give me your ice cream so you can drive.”

“Absolutely not,” Nancy said. “You can take the steering wheel. I only have two more bites.”

Jane sighed. Nancy finished the ice cream and then resumed driving, though she may have gotten the steering wheel a bit sticky.

What was the speed limit? Twenty-five? She looked at the speedometer. She was going fifty, which was ridiculous because she wasn’t in a hurry. She would rather not go to her mom’s house.

“My hands are sweating,” Jane said. She wiped them off on her gray pencil skirt. Who wore skirts on weekdays? Jane had mentioned something about an internship and having to dress professionally. She really went for it too: skirt, heels, and a peach shirt with this weird tie thing on it. Even pantyhose. Really. Nancy didn’t even own a pair of pantyhose. She was wearing sweatpants and a stained t-shirt with unicorns on it that she had bought from a yard sale for five cents. Her mother had dragged her to the yard sale and was completely appalled when Nancy bought the t-shirt. So, Nancy wore it all the time.

“Mom likes Bobby, right?” Jane said. “You need to turn there.”

“I don’t know,” Nancy said and kept driving straight.

“I hope Mom’s okay with this. I’m still 18, though I’ll be 19 when I get married. That’s old enough, right? You really did miss that turn. You need to turn around.”

“Ugh.” Nancy turned around. She loved her mom, she really did, but she preferred to keep her distance. “Wait — you’re getting married?”

Jane didn’t hear the question. “Bobby is great, so it’s right for me to do this. It’s not like life ends when you get married. I figured I can graduate from college in two more years, and then grad school. Bobby only has two semesters left of school, and he’s so supportive of whatever I need to do. Like these internships — he doesn’t complain when I have to go to school and then work every day. I wish I could spend more time with him …”

Nancy tuned Jane out. She hated when Jane talked about her boyfriend — now fiancé, apparently. The guy Nancy liked had completely disappeared off the face of the planet. Nancy had been waiting for Ned to contact her somehow. She had sent so many texts and emails. She called his number every few days. But she hadn’t heard a word him for two months. She had even mustered up her courage and went to his parents’ house. They just said he was away, and they didn’t know when he would be coming back, and then they basically slammed the door in her face.

“What do you think of that?” Jane said.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nancy said, honestly.

“You are the worst listener in the world,” Jane said. “This is huge. You are happy for me, aren’t you? I mean, is it hard to have your younger sister married before you?”

“It’s not surprising,” Nancy said. “You’re the tall, skinny flirt in the family who gets good grades. I’m the short, chunky, frizzy-haired one who still owns a Gameboy and plays it regularly.”

“Don’t put yourself down, Nancy. You’re awesome.”

“Thanks for your confidence. But I don’t really care what you think about me.”

“What do you want to do after you graduate? I mean, that’s a few weeks away, isn’t it?”

Nancy was a little surprised she was graduating. With a multi-disciplinary degree in humanities and such. It was the most pointless degree that ever existed, and she knew it, and she had done it anyway. Nothing else had ever appealed to her — not that humanities appealed to her either, but it had been fairly easy to get the classes done and didn’t require lab work.

“I don’t have any plans,” Nancy said.

“I know,” Jane said. “Are you going to keep working for Crazy Calls?”

“Maybe,” Nancy said. “If they don’t fire me again.”

“Right. But … I mean, I have so much I want to do — you know, business and design degree, maybe go into corporate world — something where I have to dress up and wear heels? And I want to have kids and spend my life with Bobby and go see the world and all of that. You have to have dreams, Nancy.”

Nancy didn’t answer. She wasn’t the overachiever that Jane was — she was more underachiever. Maybe Nancy could find a job as an ice-cream taster. Or move to a bordering state. Or become a vigilante and get a nifty tool belt.

But she mostly just wanted to pass her math class and get college done with so she would never have to go to school again.

“Are you going to stop or what?” Jane asked.

They had arrived at their mom’s house. Nancy did stop, though she wasn’t happy about it. The front yard was even more cluttered than she remembered — how long had it been since she had been there? There were some new sculptures scattered on the lawn, more petunias stuffed into flower beds, and the side of the house was lined in what appeared to be broken dressers.

A new swing on the porch swung in the breeze, knocking a weird planter made from a typewriter. Nancy did not understand why anyone would put plants in a typewriter.

Jane got out of the car, but Nancy didn’t want to get out. The last time she had been there, she had been yelled at. Nancy couldn’t even remember exactly what it had been about. Maybe chipped vintage dishes and dishwashers and cleaning up after herself.

“Nancy, come on,” Jane said.

Nancy sighed and got out of the car. She almost tripped over a statue of … she had no idea what it was. Maybe a fish. Maybe a giraffe. How could a fish look like a giraffe?

They walked into the house. “Mom!” Jane called.

“Jane!” their mom called. “I’m in my bedroom. Come here, you can help me pick out what to wear.”

They went to the bedroom. Nancy was not surprised to see that her mom, Tilly, was not completely dressed. She was wearing a slip and running her hands over dresses hung on padded hangers. They were all hideous vintage things, polka dots and paisley.

“Red or purple?” Tilly asked. She pulled out two equally horrible dresses and held them up. Tilly looked at Jane, not Nancy. Jane understood vintage dresses. Nancy understood t-shirts.

“Purple,” Jane said. “Where are you going?”

“Oh, just a church party. You can come with me.” Tilly put on the dress and then started applying lipstick.

“I have some news,” Jane said.

“Oh?” Tilly asked.

Nancy retreated to the background and tried to sit on a chair, except for she realized it was more of a picture display than a chair, so she had to keep standing as her mother finished getting dressed.

Jane took a deep breath. “I’m getting married. It’s official now.”

“Oh, Jane, that’s wonderful.” Tilly gave Jane a long hug. “Do you have a timeframe?”

“The beginning of June, we think.”

“June is perfect. Plenty of time to get the decorations made. How did he ask?”

“A treasure hunt. He had me go all over the place, and then he proposed where we had our first date. It was perfect.”

Nancy rolled her eyes. She turned and went to the living room and slumped down on an old couch and managed to sit on a broken spring. She could hear Tilly and Jane prattling away about wedding plans, Jane’s ring, Bobby’s plans for a career, and Jane’s internships.

They finally emerged.

“Well, let’s go,” Tilly said. And that’s when she finally noticed Nancy, sitting and sulking on the couch.

“Nancy!” Tilly said. “You’re here! What are you wearing?”

“Clothes, last time I checked,” Nancy said.

“Hardly,” Tilly said. “You don’t want to borrow anything from me, do you? I know Jane’s too skinny to fit into my stuff, but I may have something …”

“I like my unicorn t-shirt, thank you. And I don’t want to go to some random church activity. I’ll just go back to the apartment and then you can drive Jane home, okay?”

“Come on, Nancy,” Jane said. “It’s just potluck with a dessert contest. It won’t be that bad.”

Nancy sighed.

“You are coming,” Tilly said. “Even looking like that. Jane has big news and I think it would be wonderful to spend the evening with my daughters. I haven’t seen you in weeks.”

Nancy sighed again. “Fine,” she said. “There had better be ice cream.”

***

At the church, Nancy planted herself in a far corner so no one could see her. She was mostly hidden by an elaborate centerpiece. She glanced around the room. The Smiths looked stranger than she remembered. There was a mom sitting on the table next to her with three small children, and Nancy realized that the mom had graduated high school with her. The table on the other side was filled with old ladies chatting about dead people. Some creepy teenage boy was eying her from the corner. The Normans were there too, sitting alone and not talking to anyone.

Wait. Was that Ned? Sitting next to his parents?

Ned was here?

Nancy gaped at him for longer than necessary and realized that her mouth was open. She shut it. Ned was staring at the paper tablecloth and drinking slowly from a plastic cup of water. A few people passed by him and patted him on the shoulder and said it was good to see him.

Ned still existed? Why hadn’t he called her?

“Oh, Nancy,” Tilly was saying. “Come meet Rosa, she lives three doors down from me now …”

Nancy didn’t pay attention to her mom. She was still staring at Ned, who looked up and met her eyes.

She had forgotten how blue his eyes were. She suddenly remembered mud puddles, secret treehouse meetings, awkward dances, study sessions, and cheering at basketball games. When he went to Peru, she had taped up a picture of him in her bathroom and had decorated it with her roommate’s lipstick. And then when he came home, they went to movies and dinner and played heated games of Risk. Until he had just disappeared.

But there he was.

Ned spilled his cup of water on the table, and then got up and walked out, leaving Nancy staring at nothing.

Nancy sat for a moment. And then she hurried and ran after Ned. What was his problem?

Maybe he had been hiding from her for the last two months. But they had kissed that one time. Didn’t he owe her an explanation?

He wasn’t in the hallway. He had gone through the door just a moment before, but he wasn’t there.

Nancy started to wander the hallways, peeking in classrooms and asking the kids running around if they had seen him. They didn’t know where he was. She went back into the main room, but he wasn’t there either.

It was like he had turned invisible. Nancy started to wonder if she had really seen him in the first place.

Nancy finally went up to Ned’s parents.

“Ned was here, right?” she asked.

“Yes, he was just here,” Ned’s mom said. “I don’t know where he went. Bathroom, maybe? He’ll be happy to see you.”

“Right. Well, if you see him before I do, can you tell him I’m looking for him?”

“Sure.”

Nancy went to the men’s bathroom. Maybe he had gone out the front doors and started running home.

She waited and asked the first guy that came out of the bathroom if anyone else was in there. The guy said no.

So, she wandered off again, circling the hallways because she really didn’t want Tilly to involve her in some awkward conversation.

As she turned the corner by the drinking fountain, she bumped into someone tall.

“Sorry.” She looked up. “Ned!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

H. W. Hoyt currently lives overlooking a large lake outside of a tiny town with her husband and their four young children. She enjoys nap time, playing with her kids, hiking, photography, and learning new things.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Sometimes we want life to be a happily ever after. But usually it is a lot harder than we expect. Being an adult can be difficult--no one has it all figured out. But there is a happiness when we keep trying and we do little things to help other people along the way.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I have literally tried to stop writing, and I basically just keep writing anyway. It is so much fun.