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First pages

Chapter One

I stumbled in the dark, trying to get out without alerting anyone to my escape. The window stuttered open, sticking in various places from serious lack of use. With a quick glance behind me to see if anyone noticed, and a deep breath, I heaved myself out the window, my feet dangling off the side searching for footholds—anything to keep me from falling to my death.

A few more feet and I’d be free. A few more feet and—

“Where exactly do you think you’re going?”

I cursed under my breath and looked up. “Are you going to tell Mother Theresa?”

My twin sister scowled at my nickname for our aunt. “Summer, don’t. Don’t ask me to lie for you.”

“I’m not asking you to lie. I’m asking you to not tell. It’s totally different.”

“So where are you going?”

I couldn’t see her gold-flecked hazel eyes that were mirrors of my own, but knew she was irritated with me. “Caving. It’s for a good cause. We’re cleaning up the cave walls from all the graffiti.” Surely a good cause was reason enough to break out of my prison. My fingers cramped as they clung to the lattice work on the side of our Aunt Theresa’s house.

Winter sighed but said, “Fine. I won’t tell. But don’t get caught.” She shook her head, making her dark brown hair look wild as she stared down at me from the window. I began my descent again, jumping the last few feet.

I blew a kiss up at her. With a twist of her mouth that landed somewhere between a smile and grimace she said, “I love you too. Be back before you.”

I saluted, chuckling softly at her joke over my name, Summer Dawn. Reminders on when to be back weren’t needed. If our aunt found me gone, my current three-month grounding would be extended to a year or more—maybe a life sentence. But it couldn’t be helped. I had to get out. She had grounded me for three months of my senior year of high school. What kind of person did stuff like that?

Mother Theresa, that's who. The woman wasted no time to dole out punishments like grounding or taking away privileges when she felt things weren’t going her way. And even when I tried really hard to let her have her way, she’d say my attitude needed work, and I’d end up grounded . . . again.

I stuck to the shadows, feeling nervous as I headed to the street. I’d had the insanely creepy feeling that someone was watching me all week. Winter laughed when I told her about it and told me to stop getting hysterical on her.

The street light glowed over Nathan’s car a half a block down. I shook off the feeling. A half a block wasn’t enough distance to walk alone to merit getting all jumpy.

“You made it!” His long, thin frame shoved off from where he’d been leaning against his dad’s car. He caught me in his arms. I breathed in the rich scent of mud and water that never seemed to wash out of his clothes. “I didn’t think you’d come.”

“If we don’t get out of here now, she’ll catch us.”

He nodded and slid in behind the driver’s wheel. Mother Theresa terrified Nathan.

Easy breathing didn’t happen until we were ten blocks down the road and pulling onto the highway headed up to the mountains. I willed myself not to look in the rear view mirror, fearing I’d see the glare of her headlights coming after me.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Nathan said as if reading my thought.

“We’re almost through it.” The impossibility of keeping the tired out of my voice overwhelmed me.

He flicked his glance from the road to me. “Three months is a life sentence in high school years. She’s not even your real aunt. What is she? A cousin three times removed or something? Can’t you put in a call to someone? Tell them Theresa is a psychopath and you need a different foster home?”

“Are you kidding? Alice nearly held a parade for the entire state of Washington when she found out we had any relatives willing to take us in: aunt, cousin, or otherwise.” Alice had the unsavory job of being my social worker. She felt like more of a mother figure to me than the crack-addict-mother she took Winter and me away from when we were five years old. Alice had worked hard to keep Winter and me together. Aunt Theresa’s house was a last-chance opportunity, and we all knew it. There were no different foster homes. There was only the freedom that would come on our eighteenth birthdays.

Nathan pulled off the road next to several other cars. His headlights slashed into the dark maw of the cave. Just as he cut the lights, a face appeared from within the shadows, disappearing as his lights went out. “Hey!” I pointed to the cave. “Did you see—?”

Nathan was already out of his seatbelt and half-hanging out of the door as he reached behind us for the duffel. “See what?”

“I saw someone, in the cave, before you turned your lights out.” I pointed some more, though he wasn’t looking at me.

“Yeah? And?”

“I just . . .” I trailed off, wondering how to explain in a way that didn’t make me sound like a mental patient.

“Relax, Summer. Everyone else is already here. So if you saw someone, it was just one of the guys. You’re getting so axe-murderer paranoid lately.”

He’d hefted out the duffel and headed to the cave.

I scrambled to catch up. “I am not!” My defense sounded hollow, even to me. The truth, when forced to admission, was that I’d been paranoid all week. But that face didn’t belong to one of the guys. The face wasn’t anyone we knew. I gave myself a hard shake back to reality. The stranger looked close to my age, maybe a bit older. One of Nathan’s friends might have brought an older brother, cousin, or someone from a different high school.

Nathan fastened his headlamp on with Velcro straps and slung the duffel over his shoulder. The dark of the cave swallowed him. With a grunt, I followed—bumping into him just past the entrance. He laughed when he heard my cry of alarm. “Scared ya!”

I punched his shoulder.

“Ow! Summer! Don’t get mean!” He flipped on his headlamp and handed me mine.

The cave went deep, ending abruptly at a yawning hole in the ground. A frayed climbing rope wound around a boulder and disappeared into the dark of the throat.

We strapped ourselves into the harnesses, clipping the carabiner into the eye hook. “Ladies first.” Nathan’s grin glowed white in the low light from my headlamp.

“Whatever. You go first. That way, if I fall I have something soft to land on.”

“There’s nothing soft about me.” He flexed his muscles before hooking himself to the ropes. After several minutes he called up to me. “Down already.

My hands shook as I clipped the carabiners together. “What is my damage?” I muttered. Lots of girls were skittish; my own sister was still afraid of the dark, but me? Never. Voices filtered up from below, indicating Nathan’s friends were gathered and ready to go. Likely the new guy would be among them. Everyone would be waiting on me.

I started my descent, going faster than normal. I looked up just as I passed the lip into the lower caves and gasped.

The whites of his eyes flashed in the glimmer of light that passed over him from my headlamp.

The face again.

Not a new guy below me, but a stranger looming above me.

With a panicked cry, I let go of the rope.

Chapter Two

Before I could muster the sense to grab the rope and catch my fall, I’d bounced against the wall several times, sending jolts of pain through my body. My fingers burned hot through the climbing gloves as I finally caught the rope. “Stupid!” I yelled, not entirely sure what I meant by that, just grateful I’d found my voice.

“What are you doing?” Panic laced Nathan’s voice, and several lanterns shined up at me blinding me to anything but the bright spots. I looked up to the top, my headlamp illuminating the lip of the hole, but saw nothing there except the shadows cast by my own movement and light.

“Stupid!” I shouted again, still not sure what I meant by the word. “I swear, Nathan—if this is some prank, I am so going to kill you a hundred different ways!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! You think I want you to break that pretty neck? Huh?”

His friends laughed, making me grateful I’d missed whatever comment they may have made about my neck or any other body part. I hurried to the bottom.

Nathan moved quickly to grab me and hold me. I allowed myself to all but collapse against him—allowed him to be the force holding me on my feet.

“It’s okay. I got you.” He smoothed his hands over my hair. “Don’t be pulling stunts like that though, right? It’d mess me up bad if something happened to you.”

“I don’t know what happened.” And I didn’t. It couldn’t have been a prank with Nathan acting so protective. Could someone really be lurking in the high cave? But no. Too impossible. I saw the face as we pulled in. No one ever came out. But we didn’t pass anyone on our way to the throat, and hiding places within the cave didn’t exist. The sheer walls made it all impossible.

“I don’t know what happened,” I repeated. Telling him about the face again would sound lame. They’d think I was crazy and that was without telling them that I felt like someone had been following me for over a week and that sleeping at night had been close to unbearable due to the irrational fear that someone watched me. I shook my head. “I’m fine. Just tired probably.”

“Then let’s get going!” Shawn, Nathan’s best friend, cried out.

They all pulled out various cans from their back packs and duffels. “Wild world reclamation project! Begin!” Tony shouted. They were smart enough to bring face masks so the propellant from the paint cans didn’t make anyone sick.

Over the many decades people had been coming down into the cave, people had also been leaving their mark. Graffiti littered most of the stalactite and stalagmite formations. Nathan and his art class friends had bought a bunch of various colored spray paint cans and decided to paint the cave back to its natural beauty. I couldn’t miss the craziest art project I’d ever heard of. Which was how I found myself shimmying down the lattice work of Mother Theresa’s house.

Nathan threw a can to me, my still-shaking hands making a clumsy catch. Then he got down to business. I spent more time watching Nathan than painting. He understood how to mix the browns and whites into something earthy and natural. I loved watching him work.

He was the reason Mother Theresa grounded me for three months. She said it would protect my virtue and keep me from becoming a crack-head like my mother. She made lots of little jibes at me like that. Everything she did, she did to keep me virtuous and to keep me from creating little crack-babies like my momma did. She even used the word momma, as if Winter or I would ever call our mother momma.

So when Nathan brought me home late one night, accompanied by the police for getting kicked off the roof of a family-operated motel in a neighboring city, she went into tirades on soul saving. She wouldn’t hear my explanation that we hadn’t been doing anything bad—no crack-baby-making or crack consuming. We were just throwing ice cubes off the roof.

Nathan emptied his first can and threw it into his duffel. He tossed me over a wink and went back to work. So cute. I tried to focus on the flutter he caused in my stomach rather than the flutter caused by thinking on who might be at the top of the throat. Just my imagination. I repeated that phrase often while pretending to smile and enjoy myself. And when everyone finished with the first room and had moved on down the tunnel and into the second room, I stood there alone for the briefest of minutes while I finished painting out the words “true love always” from the sidewall.

The tingling in my gut made me stiffen and suck in a stuttering breath. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck vibrated with the sense of someone’s eyes on me, I didn’t look back towards the tunnel leading to the throat, fearing what might exist there. I fled to the second room, rushing to the combined light of the others, hurrying away from the absolute knowledge that if I turned, that pale, passive face would be the only thing to see.

***

“Someone’s watching me.” I didn’t have to wait long for Winter to wake up. It was as though she sensed my need for her, and so pulled herself from deep slumber. A perk of being twins. We couldn’t read each other’s thoughts, but emotions were so much more than thoughts. I’d have felt guilty about waking her up, but her alarm would have gone off in another eighteen minutes anyway.

She blinked several times before focusing on me. “Aunt Theresa was in her room all night. She didn’t follow you.”

“I don’t mean her. A guy. Our age. He’s following me. He looks like a ghost.”

“You don’t believe in ghosts.” She stretched and pushed back her covers.

“I don’t.” And I didn’t, not like other people perceived them anyway. I believed the dead had better things to do than hang around living people rattling chains and wearing sheets. “But it wasn’t like poltergeist-ghost. It was like creepy-axe-murderer-stalker ghost.”

Winter went to the window to look out past our curtains. I didn’t dare follow, fearing if I looked, he’d be there—his eyes wide and his face the ashen grey of the undead. “No one’s outside.” She turned to me with her arms folded over the red Drug Free t-shirt she always wore to bed. Sometimes I wondered if, by wearing that shirt, she was labeling herself so everyone would know she had nothing in common with our mother. “Maybe he’s the parole ghost, haunting you for breaking out last night.”

“You’re so not funny. I had to go last night. It was a good cause. We’re reclaiming the wild.” I willed her to come away from the window—which she did, as though pulled by my thoughts.

“You’re off ground in another two weeks. You couldn’t reclaim the wild then?”

“The art club had it already planned. They weren’t going to change their plans just because Theresa’s a Nazi.”

“Theresa isn’t a Nazi.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, and jabbed a finger her direction. “You’re going Stockholm on me, aren’t you?”

“No.” Her turn to be defensive. “Stockholm Syndrome is for people being held hostage, not for people whose relatives are providing food and shelter for them.”

“You are going Stockholm.” I couldn’t believe she’d gone over to the dark side, defending Mother Theresa. She’d accused me of the Stockholm syndrome once, back when we were ten and living with the McCoy’s. She’d heard the phrase mentioned by a teacher at school and applied it to our situation with the couple who acted nice enough when other people were around, and not so nice when it was us alone with them. She felt like I saw too much from their point of view and forgetting the fact that they often forgot to feed us. She’d begged me to get us out of there.

For whatever reason, the state never left us with nice people very long, and forgot about us when we were with people who were at best neglectful, at worst . . . far worse.

“I am not. It’s us and just us. Wonder twins forever.” She put her fist to mine and smiled. “Wonder twin powers . . .”

“Activate.” I finished the phrase and dropped my hand.

“Anyway,” she said, turning to the closet to rummage for clothes. “We’re not in a hostage situation. You’d save us from that if we were—like last time.”

I joined her at the closet, looking for something to change into so the signs of mud and errant spray paint could be hidden away until they could be washed without Theresa noticing. “Yep. I’ll save us. And you’ll save everyone else.” It always worked that way. I’d get us out of a home where we were either being starved or beaten or treated like slaves or worse.

After we were out of danger, Winter spoke loudly of our mistreatment. She complained to anyone who would listen, until the state would be left with no other choice but to investigate the foster home. That way she knew she protected whatever child might have come after us, protected them from what is worse. For us, it seldom actually came to the worse part—the real blessing of being twins. We recognized the signs and banded together to keep worse at arm’s length until the case worker, Alice, would come in her Civic with the missing arm rest and rusted passenger door to pick us up.

There were times when I went to great lengths to get Alice’s attention. Sometimes it meant breaking the law so the police would get involved. That always got her attention, but I had to stop doing that because Alice threatened to split Winter and me up. Keeping family units together was hard enough without me making it so no one wanted us. The one thing we had going for us was being twins. The state hated to separate twins. I resorted to simple phone calls and the threat we’d run away. We never actually ran. Runners always got split up. They hated runners more than they hated law-breakers.

Alice didn’t like me much, but she loved Winter. Everyone loved Winter, which explained why she made captain of the cheerleading team, why she was the star-lead-role in every single play. Everybody loved her. But no one loved her as much as I did. I’d go to the ends of the universe for my sister.

Changing clothes turned out to be slightly painful. My jeans had fused to the dried blood from the cuts which fused to my leg. I felt bruised and battered everywhere.

“You look worse than I’ve ever seen you.” Winter winced as I pulled off my jeans.

“That’s saying something considering—”

“Considering you’ve got a hickey on your neck.” Winter pointed.

My hand automatically went up to feel if she was right at the same time I denied any making out. “I totally do not! He only kissed me goodnight, on the lips, nothing more!” But when my hand went to my neck, I felt a slight lump there. The spot felt tender as my fingertips traced the perimeter of the lump. “Oh.” I groaned and dropped to the bed, cringing with the motion, since there were bruises all over me. “I fell through the throat and bounced into the wall. Lots of rocks were sticking out. I guess one of them got me here, well I mean, they got me everywhere. They used me as a punching bag.” I met her eyes. “But it definitely isn’t a hickey.”

“You don’t have to convince me. But how are you going to convince Aunt Theresa you weren’t making crack-babies?” She smirked. “Because it really looks like a hickey. It looks like someone squashed a tomato against your neck.”

I went to the mirror to check it out. “No, no, no!” No amount of cover-up would ever cover it up. “Would a turtleneck look suspicious?” I stretched my neck to inspect the bruise better in the mirror.

“With Theresa? Everything looks suspicious.” Winter rummaged on her side of the closet, which looked a lot more organized than my side, until she pulled out a light blue blouse with a high ruffled collar. “Try this on.”

I smiled gratefully. “And what about tomorrow?”

She laughed. “You can try the turtleneck then. Maybe you’ll be abducted by aliens today, and you won’t ever have to worry about tomorrow.”

Winter finished getting ready, and talked while I stared at the wall, feeling the energy drain from me with every moment.

“Mr. Williams says I have a good chance at the acting scholarship from UW.”

“That’s great.” Keeping my tone light took effort. How would I ever pay for school? A scholarship hung above me, too high for me to ever reach. My grades weren’t bad, but they weren’t anything to applaud either. There were government programs, but I wanted to shake off the need for government assistance as soon as I turned eighteen and Theresa put me out of the house.

“You should apply for a scholarship, too.” Winter’s words echoed my own thoughts as she wriggled her head through the top of her shirt.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, whatever. You’re the smart one, not me.”

Winter took her turn to roll her eyes. “No one thinks of the actress as smart. I could never get a biology scholarship, but you could.”

“Whatever.”

She made noise in her throat that sounded like those voice exercises before a performance. “You’ve played dumb for so long, I’m starting to worry you believe you are dumb.” She flattened down the little static frizzes of hair all over her head. “Anyway, we should go to Seattle and check out the campus sometime in the next month, once you’re done with being grounded.” She turned to face me, forcing me to open my heavy eyes and smile back at her beaming face. “A scholarship would totally rock, wouldn’t it?”

“Definitely. And it’d be nothing less than you deserve.”

“And I, um . . . need to borrow some money from the pot of gold.” She looked at me, her eyes filled with apology.

Of course she brought up the scholarship first because she knew I was a sucker when it came to her going to school. “For what?”

“I want to take a few acting classes—outside of school drama class. I really think I could be a lot better with a little direction. And then, when I audition for the scholarship, the professional classes might make me stand out.”

“How much?” Because Winter had tons of after school activities, she couldn’t ever get a job. But I worked washing dishes and mopping floors at a dodgy little dinner just off the main highway. The pot of gold was for any just-in-case situations where we found ourselves on our own. We hid the money inside a hole we’d made in the closet floor that we kept covered by padding and carpeting.

“The classes are sixty dollars an hour, and there are six one hour classes.” She had her smile turned all the way up, though not bright enough to erase the shame in having to ask. She hated borrowing from the pot, knowing I worked hard to keep it full. Though honestly, working was a relief. It got me out of the house several days a week—even when Theresa grounded me.

“Yeah sure. Go ahead.”

She hugged me tight. “I’ll pay it back when I get my first job.”

I waved her off, yawned, and groaned. “I’m too tired to shower and go down for breakfast.”

She tucked in her shirt and stomped her feet into her tennis shoes. “That happens when you’re out all night. Hey, go back to bed. I’ll tell Theresa you feel sick.”

“I already promised not to make you lie for me.”

“Not a lie. Every time you go without sleep, you do get sick. It’s a verifiable fact. Besides, you cover for me all the time.”

This statement was not strictly true; Winter never did anything wrong. But I covered her in other ways, like providing money for acting classes so she didn’t have to ask Theresa. Theresa and Paul were living off their retirement, which wasn’t much. Asking for anything felt akin to mugging a homeless person.

I finally shrugged and put on the ruffle-necked shirt, just in case Mother Theresa came in to check on me. Then I sank back into bed and wrapped myself in the luxury of my blankets. When we were seven, someone donated handmade quilts to the state for kids in the foster care system. By giving us the quilts, it allowed us to have something familiar as we moved around from place to place . . . something we could call our own. The square patches on my quilts all had suns on them. Winter’s was covered in various phases of the moon. The quilts worked exactly as they were meant to. Everywhere we went, the quilts went with us. We would cut off our own hands and leave them behind before we ever left one of our quilts.

I woke up several hours later, the bruising on my body almost hurting more than before I went to sleep. My stomach rumbled a reminder of missed breakfast while I showered. If we weren’t on time at Theresa’s table, we didn’t eat until the next meal.

I stood for several minutes longer, letting the hot water run over me until it turned tepid, and grabbed a towel and my robe. I met Theresa in the hall on my way back to my room.

“Oh good, you’re up, which must mean you’re feeling a little better.” She had a hawkish sort of nose, and eyes too small and spaced too close together to make her comfortable to look at for any length of time.

“I’m feeling a little better.” I pretended to shiver and pulled the worn collar of my bathrobe higher so it covered the bruise on my neck. “I’m just really tired and have a lot of body ache.” No lies there. I ached. Oh, how I ached.

She put her hand to my forehead. “Hmm, maybe the flu. We’ll do soup for dinner and see if that helps. Make sure to drink plenty of water so you stay hydrated.”

I nodded. And shivered again. Theresa believed soup cured disease. The black plague wouldn’t have stood a chance against her garlic soup. Theresa really did seem nicer when she thought we might be sick.

Once in my room, I heard the garage door opening and closing. The low whine in Theresa’s car engine that made it easy to identify as it backed out of the driveway. Saturday errands. The perfect time to get my painted, bloody clothes cleaned up before she noticed.

I hurried to the closet, flipped on the light, and shoved aside the hamper lid to dig around in the basket. I frowned and dug deeper, finally removing every stitch of clothing, piece by piece until the hamper was empty.

Panic.

The clothes were already gone.

She found them. While I showered. She came in here and found them. She knows I’m faking. “I’m so busted.” Talking to the hamper didn’t help.

I made my way back downstairs. “Wineve?” I called Winter by the pet name I’d given her when we were barely old enough to talk.

“What’s wrong?” She turned.

“My clothes!” The words came out in a hiss between my teeth since I had to keep my voice low. Theresa’s husband, Paul, could have been anywhere, and having him hear my confession of sneaking out guaranteed Theresa would also hear about it.

Winter shook her head—not understanding. “Your clothes?”

“Missing. Gone. She must’ve found them.”

Winter snorted. “She hasn’t been in our room this morning. You are so paranoid sometimes. She didn’t even come upstairs all morning except for that once to check on you. If she’d have found them, you would’ve heard—she’d be mad enough the whole neighborhood would’ve heard.”

All this made sense. Theresa never put off scolding or punishment for later. She believed swift action helped us understand the importance of penance. “I put them in the hamper, but they’re gone.”

“Well don’t look at me. I didn’t take them. It’s your week for laundry.” She turned me toward the stairs and walked with me, keeping her voice low as well. “They’re probably still there. You just didn’t look hard enough.”

She helped me look when we got back to the room. Together, we tore the room apart. The clothes were missing.

I expected war when Theresa came home, but she bustled about the kitchen, humming and making garlic soup.

The clothes were missing, but no one took them.

Chapter Three

Monday at school, Nathan nearly tackled me in his excitement to see me. “You gotta talk to your aunt. Three months being grounded is lame.”

I pulled myself away from him so I had a view of something more than his Orting High Cardinal Pride shirt and shrugged. “It’s almost over,” I said. Talking to Theresa about loosening her rules would be like asking a lemon to produce grape juice. Besides, after her mothering me with my fake sickness over the weekend, I felt a little softened towards her. She really could be a decent person when she set her mind to it.

“Isn’t that Winter’s shirt?” he asked.

“Yeah, so?”

“Ruffles aren’t your thing.” He picked up one of the ruffles between his two fingers and gave it a little flip as though amused by my choice of clothing.

I didn’t explain about the bruise looking like a hickey, feeling pretty certain he’d take it as a challenge to give me something real.

“Makes me wonder if I’ve got the right sister, that’s all.”

“Trust me. We don’t pull switches like that. Besides you’re not her type.” The last time Wineve and I pulled a switch turned into a full blown disaster. The same day the cheer team did pictures for the year book, Winter had found an open audition for some acting company in town. Hollywood had come to Washington to film some huge blockbuster. She asked me to cover for her so she could do the audition. After all, the cheer team was only taking pictures, and I did have her face. At a technical level, the switch should have been easy. And it was—right up until they decided to do the picture in a pyramid with the cheer captain on top.

Yeah, easy. It looked like a demolition car pileup full of red cheerleader skirts and arms and legs. As everyone untangled themselves, no one doubted my true identity. Aunt Theresa received a phone call, and I got into big trouble for trying to be someone I wasn’t. Winter ducked out of trouble since she got the part and with it, her Screen Actor’s Guild card. Theresa and Paul took us to dinner to celebrate.

Nathan hung his arm over my shoulders as we walked to lockers. “We’re meeting everyone at the Corner Cafe for lunch. Come with.” He crossed his arms over his school pride shirt and leaned against Winter’s locker.

“It’s risky. I’m so close to being not grounded.” I pulled out my biology book, and stuffed my English book onto the shelf. “And I usually eat with my sister.” He knew this, which is why it bugged me to have to remind him.

“There’s room in the car. Bring her.”

“I’ll think about it.” I slammed my locker shut and swirled the combination dial so it wouldn’t open for random sluffers who raided lockers during class time. “Gotta go.” I swept a quick kiss on Nathan’s lips and hurried to class, sliding into my seat just as the bell rang. Winter shot me a look and flexed her arm while she crossed her eyes. This was sign language for, “The brain-dead-monkey-man made you late, didn’t he?”

Before I could defend Nathan or ask about lunch, the teacher started class.

Biology. We were learning about genetics and DNA. It was the only class that interested me lately. I liked the nature versus nurture argument, and hoped that not everything depended on either nature or nurture since both were in short supply in my life. I hoped, somehow, my own free will factored into the equation too.

“Want to go to lunch?” I asked as soon as the bell rang.

Go? Where?” She stuffed her book into her already bulging bag.

“Nathan and a few of his friends are meeting at Corner Cafe for lunch. He said we could ride with him. We won’t be late coming back because he has art class right after lunch. You know how he is. He’d never miss that.” I tried to make it sound fun and non-trouble-making.

Winter stood and slung her bag over her shoulder, making me cringe just imagining lugging all that weight around. “I don’t—”

“Aw, c’mon, Wineve. Just come with me.”

She shook her head. “I just don’t think we should today.”

I raised my eyebrows. “What makes today different from tomorrow?” I followed her as she filed out of the room behind the rest of the class.

The crowd of teenagers buffeted against us as we made our way to Winter’s next class. My next class was on the other side of the school, but I couldn’t wait until lunch to debate on whether or not to go. Time would be short enough as it was.

“I just have a bad feeling about it, that’s all.” Her face looked determined. “I’m not going. You shouldn’t either.”

“Okay, now you’re being weird. It’s five blocks. What’s gonna happen?”

She’d arrived at her classroom door. “I don’t know. I just don’t feel good about it.” She faced me, her eyes fixed on mine. “Don’t go, Summer. It feels wrong.”

I snorted. “Don’t get all mystical on me, Wineve. It’s just lunch.” Still . . . she looked so worried and terrified, I gave her a hug. She held me longer than normal, and when I tried to break away, she held a little tighter. “Stay with me, Summer,” she whispered.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Julie Wright is the author of over twenty novels, including the Hazzardous Universe Series and the Spell Check series. She is a Whitney Awards winner and a Crown Heart recipient. She is represented by agent Sara Crowe. She enjoys speaking to writing groups, youth groups, and schools. She loves reading, eating, writing, hiking, and playing on the beach with her kids and husband. Julie’s favorite thing to do is watch her husband make dinner. Visit her website www.juliewright.com

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
So many writers inspire me. Some just because they write good books: Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, Douglas Adams. Others because they write good books AND they are my best friends: James Dashner, J Scott Savage, Heather Moore, Josi Kilpack, Janette Rallison, Annette Lyon, Jessica Day George & many more.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover shows a girl in a cyclone where the world is literally both right side up and upside down. There are uprooted trees to convey the way she is uprooted from her life and all she loves. On the back cover is one tree tied to the ground. Summer will learn to stay grounded in the chaos of death.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
My seventh grade English teacher told me I had a talent in writing. My tenth grade English teacher told me I would never be a writer. I realized at that time that it was important to know which voices were valuable to listen to and which voices needed to be ignored. I ignored the tenth grade teacher

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Teen & Young Adult
Nikki Saturn and The Rogue...
What would make you face your worst fear?
The True Archer
What could cause an assassin to doubt?
ASSessment
Don't push a fifteen-year-old too far.