5.0 2
by Lena Roy

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Luke left his old life—his dead mother, his alcoholic father—behind in New York City when he came to Moab, Utah, eight months ago. Seventeen years old and technically a runaway, he found work and a new home at a youth hostel nestled in the red sandstone valley. Now, he has reinvented himself as a guy who lives for the present, and it seems to be working

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Luke left his old life—his dead mother, his alcoholic father—behind in New York City when he came to Moab, Utah, eight months ago. Seventeen years old and technically a runaway, he found work and a new home at a youth hostel nestled in the red sandstone valley. Now, he has reinvented himself as a guy who lives for the present, and it seems to be working—particularly when it comes to his relationship with his beautiful co-worker, Tangerine.

Back in New York, nineteen-year-old Ava is struggling through her own transformation—from drunk to recovering alcoholic. How could she have gotten so out of control? Almost sixty days sober, she’s not sure she can keep it up. But someone she meets at an AA meeting changes her mind, and a strange coincidence—or is it more than that?—brings Ava west to Moab as well.

Living on the edge, caught between the pain of the past and the possibilities of the future, Luke and Ava both discover that in this mysterious world, hope sometimes comes from the most unlikely places.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Roy, granddaughter of the late Madeleine L'Engle, makes a mixed debut with the intersecting stories of Luke and Ava, whose lives are affected by alcoholism. Luke's father, Frank, long sober, returns to drinking after Luke's mother dies in a car accident; Ava takes it up after her grandmother's death. Now a student at Columbia University, Ava is struggling to stay sober via AA meetings and has alienated herself from her parents, who run a hostel in Utah--to which Luke, unable to live with Frank's alcoholism, escapes. While the alternating stories unfold nicely, the book suffers from some clumsiness. The heavy reliance on AA culture brings it dangerously close to sounding like an infomercial for the program, with statements like "We drunks seem to have a hard time accepting any love that isn't the perfect fit." Recurring visions of a mystical bear, seen by several characters, create a confusingly hazy aura of spirituality. To Roy's credit, she avoids turning the novel into the expected love story and keeps it focused on the teenagers trying to reconcile their feelings for their families. Ages 12�up. (Dec.)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—After the death of his mother, Luke's father returns to alcohol after a long sobriety and is fast losing control of his life. Frustrated with having to take care of Frank and dealing with his own grief, 17-year-old Luke flees New York for Moab, UT, where he and his parents took frequent trips. He finds a job at the Moonflower youth hostel and lives among the travelers and free spirits. Ava, a student at Barnard, is learning to come to terms with her own alcoholism in an AA program that Frank attends. She hasn't spoken to her parents since they sold her childhood home in Ohio to buy the Moonflower. After Ava saves Frank's life, the two of them, along with their friend Charlie, decide to go to Utah. The story is told in Luke's and Ava's alternating points of view and broken into sections spanning five days of their lives, starting on a Friday and ending roughly a week later. In that time, the teens search for a higher meaning in life in the red rock, spires, and canyons of the area and the tenets of the AA 12-step program. The serendipitous connection between Luke and Ava, apparent early on in the book, will require readers to stretch belief. The device produces mixed results as the convergence of the characters is rushed at the end of the book and the magical realism thread as explanation doesn't satisfy. Nevertheless, the teen characters are well defined, particularly Ava, and the author deftly evokes a mystical Moab setting.—Shawna Sherman, Hayward Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews

A platitude-filled problem novel full of coincidental connections from Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter. Seventeen-year-old Luke is working at a youth hostel in Utah, after his mother's tragic death in a car accident and his father's subsequent descent into alcoholism. Nineteen-year-old Ava is an alcoholic college student in New York City trying to put her life back together after the death of her beloved grandmother. Ava meets Luke's father, Frank, at AA. Frank and Ava then go to Utah because they discover Ava's parents run the youth hostel where Luke is living. There, Ava, Luke and Frank each come to terms with the negative role alcohol has played in their lives and resolve to start over. Characterization is secondary to cliché-ridden dialogue that reads like the 12 Steps. The cardboard conversations take away from the nicely established setting and Luke's brief but fascinating introduction to the idea of animal spirit guides. For a more nuanced treatment of addiction, try Mary Pearson's A Room on Lorelei Street (2005) or Ron Koertge's Stoner & Spaz (2002). Despite the lineage, Roy is no L'Engle, at least not yet. (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt



Luke nearly banged his head on the door frame as he moved the last of his meager possessions into the trailer. He remembered to duck just in time, cursing his height. This last item, his mother’s painting, was the most cumbersome thing he had brought from New York. He leaned it against the wall and looked around. It was a relief that the trailer was already modestly furnished—no need to squander his limited cash making himself at home. He emptied the duffel bag onto the twin mattress: boots, jeans, and T-shirts. Sleeping bag. No computer, no cell phone, no expensive technology needed to maintain the simple life. The milk crate contained his small tent and other camping gear. The cooking utensils he had procured at the local Goodwill were housed in the kitchen at the Moonflower Motel, southeastern Utah’s premier youth hostel, a mere ten yards away.

Even at 6:00 p.m. it was hotter in the trailer than it was outside. It was the beginning of August, and two minutes in the dry desert heat made him slick with sweat. He appreciated that the Moonflower had a swamp cooler, an energy-efficient device that used a pan of water and a fan instead of the environmentally egregious Freon used in the air conditioners of the Northeast. The swamp cooler only reduced the heat by twenty degrees, but that was better than nothing.

Luke shoved his stuff to one side and sat down on the bed, taking in the compactness of the room. It would be nice not to live out of his duffel bag, the way he had for the past eight months. During that time he had become part of the fabric of the youth hostel through hard work and loyalty to the owners, Jim and Clare. Now he had a salary and a place of his own, rent-free. He must have looked odd, coming in two days after Christmas, alone. He had been flying on adrenaline, sixteen, technically a runaway. He had rented a bunk in one of the dorm rooms for a night, a week, and then started doing cleaning and grunt work for Jim in exchange for the bed, the constant change of roommates reminding him of his transience.

His seventeenth birthday had passed in March without incident or acknowledgment. He couldn’t believe how easy it was. People believed whatever he wanted them to. He could be as vague as he liked about where he was from and how old he was. Nobody seemed to mind vagueness in the Southwest. You could never be vague in New York City—too many people asked questions. You always had to be something. In New York, he wanted to be a painter, but he hadn’t picked up a brush in over a year. In Moab, he was just Luke.

“Knock, knock.” He heard a voice call out and the heavy tread of footsteps crunching the gravel. He smiled: there was Jim, towering in the doorway. “Everything to your satisfaction? Wow, I can’t even fit in here!” Luke watched Jim unwedge himself and step outside, where Luke joined him. “I’m glad that Clare suggested you move out of the dorm rooms so you could have more privacy,” Jim said.

“It’s just what I need,” Luke said. “I’ll finish unpacking and get to work, don’t worry.”

Jim wiggled his eyebrows. “Me, worry? I left my worries behind in Ohio.”

“I wonder what it’s like to be able to do that.”

“Life is too serious to be taken seriously,” Jim said gravely, and then winked. “But it might be a good idea to change your shirt.” Jim chuckled as he crossed over to the hostel building that he had painted a light blue. It looked almost garish in the sunlight compared with the rustic wood stain that was left on the picnic tables in front and the surrounding cabins.

Luke glanced down at his shirt, now drenched in sweat. He pulled it off as he stepped back up into the trailer. He leaned against the wall and studied the painting. It was two feet by four feet and had hung in the living room of his family’s apartment for over ten years. His mother, Georgia, had painted it from a photograph she had taken of him when he was five, standing on a rock in the Fiery Furnace area of nearby Arches National Park. The portrait was ablaze with oranges, reds, and yellows streaming out of Luke’s dark brown hair, and his face was upturned and smiling at the light. Georgia’s love for him was in those brushstrokes, and he needed to have that reminder that once upon a time someone had believed in him.

He blinked his eyes and appraised his new home again. The bed was in the corner with drawers underneath for his clothes, and there were a couple of chairs and a table for eating-drawing-reading. There was no running water in the trailer—no sink, toilet, or shower. A separate building with showers was available for those who weren’t staying in the main hostel but in trailers, cabins, or tents.

Luke felt something like excitement for the first time in almost a year, and he welcomed it. He could hear the murmur of voices and laughter outside. Guests were returning from their day trips to nearby parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley—and he needed to get back to the hostel. He stashed his stuff and put on a clean shirt, then jumped out the door and locked it, pocketing the key. He looked to the La Sal Mountains in the distance. He felt both contained and free in this valley, surrounded by the red sandstone of the Moab Rim. Moab was named after the Promised Land, he remembered Jim saying during one of their many conversations that winter, a twinkle in his eye. The first Mormons had given the town its biblical name in 1880.

It had certainly been that for Jim and Clare, discovering Moab last summer on a meandering road trip through the Southwest, after taking their daughter, Ava, to New York following her high school graduation in May.

“Where in New York?” Luke had asked.

“She goes to Barnard College, on the Upper West Side,” Jim had told him.

“She must be crazy smart,” Luke had said, not mentioning that he’d lived around the corner from the school.

“Well, she was smart enough to want to get a job right away, rather than tour the country with her parents.” Jim and Clare had burned rubber in a straight line west from New York to Denver and started their wanderings there. At first they just enjoyed the sights, but when they got to Moab, they were amazed by their visceral response to the place, and their willingness to jump into another life. Some would call it impulsive, but Luke knew exactly how Jim and Clare felt, although he didn’t consider it a “spiritual conversion” the way they did. Well, the way Jim did.

A cherry red Jeep was idling in front of the hostel. The main parking lot must be full.

“Can I help you?” Luke asked, approaching it.

“Yeah.” There were two college-age kids in the Jeep. “We just got here. Where can we park?” Luke directed them to the alternate parking area behind his trailer.

He nodded to a few travelers congregating out front by the picnic tables as he opened the door to the hostel, knowing he would find Tangerine inside. She had jumped at the chance to fill in for him at the front desk because she was looking for more hours to work so that she could afford to stay longer. It was toward the end of the season, and businesses weren’t hiring anymore. She was talking to Brigitte from Chicago, who also had started living at the hostel earlier this summer and was thinking about quitting law school. Brigitte had patched together a full-time work schedule by cleaning at the hostel and making mochas at the coffeehouse on Center Street.

Luke stopped, mesmerized by Tangerine’s Australian twang. She had very bright red hair in two braids down her back, green eyes, a nose ring, a tongue stud, and several earrings. For all of that outer adornment, she didn’t wear any makeup, and Luke thought she was stunning. Of course, she also made him nervous. Luke grabbed the guest book from the desk, wanting to finish the paperwork from his busy shift.

“I’m broke and my mum wants me to come home, but I’m not ready to leave.” Tangerine sounded unusually glum, and the intimacy in her sadness made Luke feel like an intruder, so he turned and went back outside.

The sun was finally behind the building, and guests were milling about, wondering what to do for dinner. One family was firing up one of the grills, and two of the three picnic tables were full. It was virtually impossible to be alone at the hostel, and Luke had to zigzag between three children playing tag to get to the empty picnic table to finish his work. He saw the guys from the cherry red Jeep and motioned them toward the door, knowing that Tangerine would get them settled.

Hal sat down next to him. Hal had been hanging around the hostel for years, so when Jim bought the place and took over, he sort of adopted Hal with it, giving him the glorified title of “maintenance manager,” which was a nice way of saying that Hal was willing to do the dirty work but needed some management himself. Hal lived in a trailer on the grounds, even though he had family in town. Luke had never gotten the whole story, but he knew that Hal had been born and raised in the area, that his geologic knowledge was impressive, and that he believed in the inherent evil of extraterrestrials and Bigfoot. He was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, but Georgia, who had been an art therapist specializing in adult psychosis, would have called Hal “high-functioning.”

Luke raised his chin briefly. “How’re ya doin’?” he asked. Luke noticed that Hal had food stuck in his drooping mustache, but it never did any good to call attention to that. His graying hair was also constantly a bird’s nest, adding to his permanent look of confusion.

“Hangin’ in there,” Hal said as he turned away from Luke to greet the two new guys, who sat down at the other end of the table, opening cans of beer.

Hal started talking to them. “You know the Zettians come in and just explode your world, man. It’s a totally mind-blowing experience!” The Zettians again. Luke smiled weakly at the new guys. He needed to do some damage control.

“That’s cool, man,” Luke said, knowing from experience that the best way to deal with Hal was to agree with him.

“No, man, it’s not cool.” Oops, wrong. “It’s not cool to have aliens invade your head and take you away with them. Those negative vortexes, man, stay away from them.”

“Wait,” one of the guys said, trying not to laugh. “What’s a negative vortex?”

Hal’s eyes bugged out. “You don’t know about vortexes? There’s electric and magnetic, positive and negative. You’ve got to watch out for the negative. You don’t know what can come through. Bigfoot, the Zettians. They take over your mind and you can’t think for yourself, and the Zettians do whatever they want with you … They pick your brain, they just pick, pick, pick…”

“Hal,” Luke said gently, putting his hand on Hal’s arm. It always made him a little nervous when Hal was in one of his moods. “Sorry, man, that is rough. Hey, could you make sure there’s enough toilet paper in the bathrooms? Somebody mentioned something about it this afternoon, but I forgot which one…” The look of panic was beginning to fade from Hal’s face, and he nodded.

“I’ll get right to it,” he said, and went inside the hostel.

“Was he for real?” came the inevitable question, and the two guys laughed. Luke laughed too, and he relaxed. Some people thought Hal was scary, but he wasn’t dangerous, just part of the wacky charm of the hostel. And he was definitely for real. At the Moonflower, Luke didn’t have to question his reality, the way he’d been forced to last year in New York. He shook his head slightly. Home in New York with his father, Frank. That was another lifetime ago. Home could be anywhere. Home was right here. He loved this makeshift community.

Luke finished the paperwork and, hearing giggles at another table, looked up. When had Bruno come in with his harem? Bruno had taken a group of girls to Monument Valley for the day. He was a guest from San Francisco who kept prolonging his stay, one week turning into seven. He also apparently had unlimited means, because instead of looking for work, he was getting to know the area very well by touring around with whatever pretty faces happened by the Moonflower.

Luke smelled something delicious coming from Bruno’s table and realized that he was starving. He stood up and went over to investigate. There was Dominique from Montreal, almost sitting in Bruno’s lap as he held up a piece of Navajo bread smothered in honey.

And there was Jen, sitting aloof, trying to look as if she belonged. Jen was barely fourteen, and in the past couple of months had blossomed from an awkward eighth grader into a beauty with long chestnut hair.

“What a funny name!” Dominique was saying.

“What’s a funny name?” Luke asked.

“Hey, buddy.” Bruno gave Luke a nod. “Mexican Hat. It makes sense to me. Doesn’t it look like a Mexican Hat to you?” Dominique shrugged. Mexican Hat was the name of a massive rock on the edge of Monument Valley that looked exactly like a sombrero. Luke sensed that Dominique would just be passing through. She wasn’t that certain kind of person, like Tangerine, Brigitte, or even Bruno, who would become bewitched by the majesty of the red rocks and look for reasons to stay. Usually the spell would wear off after a few months and people would go back to their regular lives. That wouldn’t happen to Luke, though. This was his regular life.

And it was Jen’s too. She lived about half a mile away, and Clare had befriended her when she joined the mentoring program at the local school as a way to become part of the larger Moab community. Jen had even “run away” to the hostel once and begged Clare to adopt her, but Jim had called her parents, Bill and Kerri, and that was that. What was she doing here on a Friday night?

“Stopped by Café Esmeralda, huh?” Luke gazed longingly at the bread. “Good trip?”

Bruno looked up from his bread and winked. “Can’t talk now, buddy. Gotta eat!”

“Bruno! You’ve got honey dripping down your chin!” Dominique squealed.

Luke rolled his eyes at Bruno and gave him a mock salute as he turned and went inside. Clare was now behind the desk.

“Ah! The guest book!” She beamed at him. “Tangerine checked in two young men from Iowa.” He handed the book to her, and she opened it, finding the right page immediately. “Tucker and Chris. Cabin 9. They’re just staying for the night,” she said, smoothing her brown hair behind her ear.

“Your friend is sitting outside,” Luke said.

Clare glanced up at him. “My friend?”


“Oh dear,” she said, and paused. “Can you finish this for me while I go see why she’s here?”

“No problem,” Luke said as he took Clare’s place and she hurried out the door. He noticed that one of the wooden Kokopelli dolls made by Jim’s Hopi friend Cha’tima had been sold. Jim was obsessed with Kokopelli, and even practiced carving little figurines of the deity himself in his woodshop behind the hostel. The humpbacked trickster playing the flute was the most popular symbol of the Southwest, representing the chasing away of sadness.

Luke wrote in the new guests’ names and turned around to face the kitchen. On his left was a door that led upstairs to Clare and Jim’s quarters, and to the right was a staircase that led to the dorm rooms. For now, he had the kitchen all to himself, unusual for this time of night. He could keep an eye on the desk while he made dinner. He opened the refrigerator and looked in his corner to see what he had left. Jim and Clare also kept a stocked canteen for guests, and Luke used it when he didn’t have time to go to the grocery store.

There wasn’t much choice: eggs, a few veggies, a tiny bit of cheddar, and a pork chop. Luke could have gone back outside and thrown the meat on a grill, but he liked the quiet of the kitchen. Besides, tomorrow Jim and Clare were having their monthly barbecue for the guests and workers. He would be in carnivore heaven. For now he decided to make an omelet. Tangerine came into the kitchen as he was whisking the eggs.

“ ’Ello, mate!” she exclaimed. The clouds had disappeared from her face. She banged around in the cupboards and turned around with a box of cereal that had a big T drawn on the front in marker. “Want some?”

“Huh? Oh, cereal for dinner? I’m okay, thanks. Making an omelet,” Luke said as he watched Tangerine throw the box of cereal in the air and catch it again.

“Ugh. I don’t see how you can cook in this heat.”

“Heat, what heat?”

“Oh, he’s using humor now, is he?” Tangerine elbowed him, and Luke turned back to chopping the mushrooms and half a green pepper. He didn’t want her to see him blush. He felt her breath on the back of his neck as she peered over his shoulder. His mind was racing. What did a normal person say in this situation?

“You want some?” he asked.

“He finally gets it!” Her laugh was confident and loud. She backed away, and he heard her slide into a chair at the table. He cracked two more eggs into the bowl, whisking them all together. “We’re going to try to get to Behind the Rocks for the moonrise again tonight,” Tangerine said. “Wanna come?”

Tourists might flock to the national parks, but there was so much beauty in places where you didn’t have to pay an entrance fee. Corona Arch, Portal Overlook, Fisher Towers, Hunter Canyon, Negro Bill Canyon, Angel Rock in Hidden Valley, and especially the Moab Rim, standing fortresslike for miles on the south side of town. Behind the Rocks was unofficially called Back of Beyond, beyond the Moab Rim, beyond Hidden Valley, “beyond your wildest dreams” according to some.

“Ah. Fresh blood in Tucker and Chris. They look game,” Luke said to the vegetables as they sautéed in the pan. A Moonflower tradition was to initiate any willing tourist into the thrills of hiking by moon and starlight; usually he loved this, experiencing this wayward heaven with other people.

“Last night sucked,” Luke said. They hadn’t even made it that far up the rim because someone had been cajoled into coming who shouldn’t have. Granted, it had been unusually windy, but this someone had bitched and moaned the whole way, making the group abandon their hike. Fortunately, the someone had left this morning and Luke had already forgotten his name.

“Yeah, Todd was a pain in the arse, but he’s gone, and it’s not last night anymore, is it?” Tangerine raised an eyebrow. She was hard to say no to, but he wanted to say no. He wanted to be alone in his new trailer home. Still, it was tempting. She was tempting. He didn’t say anything as he poured the eggs into the pan. “I’m taking your silence as a yes, you know. I need a buddy. Brigitte spends all of her evenings with her boyfriend, Carlos, now. C’mon, be my buddy.”

“Maybe,” he managed to mumble. It was nice to be included, even though she probably would have acted the same way with anybody else in the kitchen.

The door to the hostel opened, and Luke looked up to see Clare come in with Jen trailing behind.

“He is so hot,” Jen was saying. “His name is Jaime, and he’s staying at the campgrounds on Kane Creek.”

“With his parents?” Clare asked as she grabbed her keys from behind the desk.

“Well…” Jen said. Clare gave her a sharp look. “Yes, yes, with his parents, okay? Anyway, thanks for giving me a ride to the movie theater. And for calling my mom, I guess.”

“You should always check in with your mom. And you’re meeting Brandi, right?”

“Yeah. Then she’ll give me a ride home,” Jen said as she followed Clare back out again. So Jen was here to get a ride the four miles into town.

Tangerine yawned. “How long does your omelet take? I see you’ve got it on very low heat.”

“I thought that all you Aussie farmers knew how to cook?”

“Moi? Not only do I cook but I milk cows, groom horses, slaughter chickens. I could make you a shepherd’s pie that would put hair on your chest.”

Bruno would have had a smart remark, but Luke turned his eyes back to the omelet. He put the grated cheese on top, found plates in the cupboard above the stove, split the omelet in half, and joined Tangerine at the table.

“Such service!” she said, and took a bite. “Ooooh. I love capsicum.”

“Say what?”

“These green bits.”

“Oh, pepper.”

“You say tomato, I say tomahto.”

The front door opened, and Luke heard Dominique titter, followed by the murmur of other voices.

“TV time,” Bruno announced, and Dominique’s laughter followed him into the large common room adjoining the kitchen, which had a television and several couches.

Tangerine rolled her eyes and said in a stage whisper, “He’s a piece of work, isn’t he?”

Luke smiled. “You weren’t immune to the Bruno charm when he first got here, if I remember correctly.”

“Yeah, well, I’m immune now. I have six brothers and have been trained to see through charming men.”

Luke wanted to ask Tangerine about her brothers, but she kept talking. “I might be moving on anyhow.” She took another bite of eggs. “This is really delicious. You cook all the time, don’t you?”

Luke shrugged. “It’s something I like to do.”

“You can cook for me anytime! What do you think of Taos? I’m thinking of heading that way—the season lasts longer, and there must be more work there.”

“New Mexico?” He started to answer but lost her attention when the front door opened again.

“Cin!” Tangerine exclaimed.

“Hey, Clementine, Cool Hand.”

Cin stood there, tan from days in the sun, her red cowboy hat perched on top of a wet mess of hair. She held out two pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

“Bad day?” Luke asked, almost laughing as she slammed the ice cream onto the table and collapsed into a chair. Her name, Cinnamon Sprite, Cin for short, sounded like a sickeningly sweet candy or a porn star, neither of which was an apt description of this sinewy, swarthy, tall, dreadlocked woman. She insisted that it was her given name, claiming that her mother had been eating cinnamon toast and drinking Sprite for breakfast when she went into labor. Cin had been Jim and Clare’s only full-time employee besides Hal when Luke arrived at the Moonflower, and they had developed an easy rapport. In the spring she had taken a job at Red Rock Rafting Tours and moved from the hostel into a used Airstream trailer that she parked off Kane Creek Road, near the Colorado River, leaving Luke to fill her shoes.

He had never seen anyone like her: she was from Kansas and as earthy as the desert itself, covered from head to toe in tattoos. Word was that she was a shaman, a healer who walked between this world and the “other” one that the airy-fairy types in Moab were looking for, but Luke didn’t think of her that way. She was too strong and levelheaded. She took her hat off and put her head on the table, groaning.

“I need a little of my friends Ben and Jerry, a little of you two, and some mind-numbing TV. Is Survivor on by any chance?”

“The ridiculous is always on somewhere,” Luke said. “Want some real food first? I can make some more.”

Cin shook her head. “Sugar me up for now. And yes, I had a crappy day. Would you get the bowls? Can you stand listening to me complain for five minutes?”

“You? This should be interesting. Go ahead, be a venting machine,” Luke said.

Tangerine cleared the table and brought back bowls and spoons. “Thanks,” Cin said, and took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Then she opened them and started muscling the ice cream into the bowls.

“I’ll come right to the point. I need help. Macleod put me in charge while he’s gone on vacation for August, and then out of the blue, the office assistant decides to quit. Today!” She handed Luke a bowl, then Tangerine. “Anyone come around here looking for a few weeks of work?”

Tangerine stared at Cin.

“Hey, Tange,” Luke said. “I know that there’s not enough work at the Moonflower to keep you going, but would doing something like this be reason enough to stick around?”

“You thinking of bailing on us then?” Cin asked. Luke found himself hoping desperately that Tangerine would take the job. “Well, whoever I take on should know that there wouldn’t be official training. I need help in the office, and with rigging and derigging the boats.”

“Tange, this is the perfect solution, and you know it. Cin, she was just talking about going to Taos to look for a job.”

“Oh, Clementine. Taos is fine for a visit now and then, but it ain’t no Moab.”

Cin had nicknames for everyone. Luke could count on his fingers the times he’d heard her call people by their given names. He had been very confused when she’d started calling him Cool Hand. The connection was Cool Hand Luke, a great movie starring Paul Newman, about prisoners working on a chain gang. Cin made Luke watch it with her, and he was honored by the nickname. Was he as likable, as determined as Paul Newman was in the movie? Tangerine was called Clementine he guessed for the citrus connection. Jim was Jesse for Jesse James, and Clare was Clarity Jane, instead of Calamity Jane.

Cin had also been on her own since she was sixteen. Luke didn’t know all the details, except that she claimed to have run away with a circus and started her tattoo addiction there. Luke had gone with her to Albuquerque three months ago to see her get her latest one, which glistened green on her lower arm. A lizard. “A fat, lazy lizard. Helps the blackbird with my lucid dreaming,” Cin had told him. Whatever that meant. He knew that her tattoos were very real to her. They were all different animals she said she’d met. She’d even named them.

“Is there any more ice cream?” Luke asked, and Cin pushed the empty pints over to him.

“Sorry, Cool Hand. So what about it, Clem? Why don’t you try it out, come in for a few hours tomorrow?”


“Good. Let’s see what’s on the boob tube.”

Tangerine threw back her head and laughed. “I was going to bail. I can’t believe it!” Luke stood up and stacked the bowls. “Oh, I’ll wash up!” she offered, so he followed Cin into the TV lounge, where a crowd was watching Survivor. It was a particularly cruel episode.

“Ugh, this is too much.” Cin closed her eyes.

“It’s celebreality, baby,” Luke said, smiling.

“It’s humiliating, honey. And I thought this would be comforting!”

“They should be filming the Moonflower. Never a dull moment here,” Tangerine joked from the doorway.

“True. But don’t you think that people could use some more dull moments?” Cin got up and stretched. “Speaking of which, I could use some myself. Good night. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, barbecue time,” Luke said.

“Oh, see you there.” Cin opened the door. “Hey, Clem, does ten a.m. work for you?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Tangerine said.

“It’s time for Behind the Rocks!” Bruno hollered. The show was over.

“C’mon, Luke,” Tangerine beckoned. Dull moments. Never. “C’mon. Please come out with us…”

*   *   *

Tangerine and Luke climbed into the bed of Bruno’s truck along with Hal, Chris, and Tucker, while Dominique rode up front. They screeched down Kane Creek Road and parked underneath a ten-story-tall rock. Where was the secret entrance? It was as if the rocks shifted shape from day to night: what was obvious in the light was obscured by the dark. This was one of the things Luke loved about hiking at night. Bruno was the first to disappear into the crevice, Dominique right behind him.

“Wait, where did they go?” Tucker asked.

“Follow me,” Tangerine said mysteriously.

“Oh, I see now.” Tucker followed Tangerine. Chris went next, and Hal and Luke brought up the rear. Much of Luke’s knowledge of the terrain was from taking these hikes with Hal.

Luke felt the support of the red earth as he put his right foot on a crag, holding on to the rock above him with his left hand, up, up, and up.

“Hey, watch out!” he heard Hal call as some rocks came tumbling down, barely missing Luke’s head. “Be careful! This crypto soil isn’t just weeds. It’s live organic matter.” Part of the initiation process for the newcomers would inevitably be a tutorial from Hal on how to treat the earth. Luke was always careful about where he put his feet, and he didn’t want to step on any of the sparse vegetation: tufts of brush sprouting miraculously from seemingly solid rock.

His heart beat faster once he got to the top of the first precipice, where Tangerine and Hal were waiting for him. Thirty yards ahead were the others, looking like they were scaling another wall.

Luke heard Hal mutter “Useless” as they watched Tucker and Chris scramble up the rocks, dislodging a few.

Tangerine elbowed Luke and laughed softly. “Too bad we can’t ditch him, but we’re in it now,” she whispered. “It will all be worth it once we get up to the top. Don’t you want to hear Dominique squeal with delight?”

“No comment.”

At the zenith, a flat expanse of mesa awaited them. The true area called Behind the Rocks was another four miles ahead, but this was usually as far as they went. Luke collapsed on the sandstone with the others, breathless from exertion. He could stare at the night sky forever. He tried to shut out the conversation around him: How many galaxies were there? How many universes? The chatter was giving him a headache.

He heard Tucker say, “We’ve got an apple and some super good weed. Any takers?”

Luke sat up. All eyes were on Tucker, who had the weed, and Chris, who had the apple. Luke kept quiet and watched Chris make a pipe out of the apple. The physics were bewildering: Three holes were needed to make an air chamber inside. When Chris finished, he gave the apple to Tucker, who put pot in one of the holes and then lit it, inhaling deeply. He gestured to Luke. Why not? He’d only smoked pot once before, with Hal, and hadn’t been impressed, but what was the harm in trying again? He took the apple and the lighter and put his mouth over the hole as he had seen Tucker do, lighting the weed and breathing in slowly, imagining his lungs filling with THC. It seemed to go on forever, but at the very end of his breath, he felt as if something snagged in his chest, and he pulled the apple away, coughing violently.

“Oh, dude, you are going to be so stoned!” Was it Tucker who said that? Luke couldn’t talk and he couldn’t breathe. Why had he smoked? Why did he come out tonight? Tangerine was patting his back, and although it felt really good, he felt dwarfed by everything else. She didn’t take the apple. Did he matter to anybody? Look at how his thoughts were floating around. He didn’t like floating. He watched Dominique put her lips on the apple.

Hal also smoked and was wandering around muttering to himself. Hal was very conscientious about cleaning up after people, but this time he was angry about it. People would make fire pits out of smaller rocks and leave the garbage and ash, ignoring the credo around Moab to take out whatever you take in. Now Hal was throwing rocks, which was unlike him.

“No wonder everything is eroding,” he yelled.

Uh-oh, Luke thought. I should get up, shouldn’t I? But he couldn’t move. He watched Bruno walk over to Hal with a “What’s up, buddy?” and put an arm around his back.

“This will bring Bigfoot,” Hal said accusingly, pointing at the rocks.

“Okay, dude. Bigfoot. No problem,” Bruno said.

“No problem? How can you say no problem? Bigfoot is a problem, my friend.”

Luke lay back on the rocks and half listened to Hal’s tirade. He almost knew it by heart.

“I think we’d better go down and take him back.” Bruno was standing over Luke.

“Can we sleep out here tonight?” Dominique asked in a dreamy voice. She looked like a pile of jelly. It wasn’t a bad idea, but someone had to take Hal back.

“I don’t think so. Look at him.” Bruno pointed to Hal, who was sitting with his head down and his arms wrapped around his knees. “Let’s go. Party’s over.”

“Oh, man, that was some strong stuff. I can’t move!” Dominique groaned.

Tangerine jumped up. “Dominique doesn’t look so good, Bruno. How are we going to get her and Hal down the rocks?”

Luke saw Bruno look at Dominique with contempt.

“Let’s get her up and walk her around. C’mon, Dom.” Bruno pulled Dominique to her feet.

I should help her. If I move around, I’ll feel better too, Luke thought, and he slowly got up and saw Dominique put her arms around Bruno and try to kiss him. It was painful to watch: Bruno standing like a statue, staring off into space.

“What’s the rush, dude? It will wear off in a little while, and we can go down then,” Tucker said, sitting with Chris, oblivious.

Bruno’s eyes shot daggers. “I have to take Hal and Dominique back, so if you want a ride, come now.” He gestured to Luke. “Help me with her.” Luke came over to put an arm around Dominique, whose body was vibrating with giggles. They walked her toward the path, and for a while she was compliant, but then she lifted her legs and gave them all her weight. Bruno let go, she fell, and Luke fell on top of her.

“Owwww!” Dominique screamed.

That was embarrassing, Luke thought as he took the hand that Tangerine offered to help him up.

“I’ve never known you to smoke pot,” Tangerine teased. Luke couldn’t think of anything to say. He didn’t want her to let go of his hand, it felt so good. But even stoned, he couldn’t be so bold as to tighten his grip, and he let her hand drop to her side.

*   *   *

Getting the rest of the way back down the rocks had not been fun, he and Bruno taking turns carrying and cajoling Dominique. Fortunately, Hal had chilled out and made it down himself. Tangerine had been in high spirits and had taken Bruno’s car keys and driven them back to the hostel. It was just after midnight when they returned. Luke had gone straight to the trailer after telling everyone good night.

Now he lay in bed, thinking. Dominique, Tangerine, Georgia. Sometimes mind-wandering could be a good thing, sometimes not. He shook his head; he didn’t want to think about Georgia. Was he still stoned? He stared at the painting for a minute, and then it came to him—the kachina doll.

When he lived in New York, the kachina doll had sat at the foot of his bed. As he got older, he sometimes thought that this was silly, but he and Georgia had always laughed together about it, so he kept it there. Maybe it was having his own place that made him want to have his doll at the foot of his bed. Where was it? He remembered stuffing it in his backpack when he left New York, but he had never unpacked it. He got up and found his backpack by the door. The kachina was at the bottom of the front pocket, and he sat back down on the bed and looked at it, remembering.

It must have been the summer he was six. It was the second time that he and his parents had vacationed in Moab. They had spent the day exploring the Navajo reservation in Monument Valley. Afterward, they’d checked out the smattering of tourist shops. In one of the shops, they had been fascinated by a life-size kachina with a bear’s face. “A true work of art,” Georgia had whispered, looking at the price tag. “Worth more than four thousand dollars, I’d say.”

The shopkeeper had nodded. “This kachina was carved by an artisan in our neighboring Hopi tribe. Do you know about kachinas? Kachinas are the Hopi religious icons, teaching symbols. The Hopi carve kachinas to represent every aspect of their mythology, be it animal, vegetable, mineral … ancestral. I will show you some smaller, more affordable imitations.” He had brought them over to a bookshelf filled with hundreds of small dolls. Luke had been entranced, listening to the shopkeeper’s lesson on kachinas.

“During religious ceremonies, people wear masks and, through dancing and music, become one with their kachina, celebrating life and praying for a good harvest. These dolls embody the spirits of those dancers.”

Luke had picked a doll with a bear’s head and a body carved out of a soft wood, wearing a red leather skirt. The shopkeeper had told them that the bear kachina is the healer. “She is one of the strongest, for she can heal the sick.”

Georgia had bought it for him, and together they had named her Ursula. “It means ‘little bear’ in Latin,” Georgia had explained. The kachina doll was a part of Georgia, just as the painting was, and he wanted part of her with him. He realized that he wanted to be thinking about her. It was okay.

Memories of Georgia made him want to go up to Angel Rock and lie on the rocks and count the stars, to be even more alone than he felt in his trailer. Angel Rock had been her favorite, and he appreciated that it was probably because it was a hike Luke could manage as a small child. If you walked past Angel Rock, you would find Hidden Valley, and then Behind the Rocks.

He could walk from the Moonflower to Angel Rock in twenty minutes.

His fingers smoothed over the rugged construction of the doll: the red leather covering some of the wood, brown fur on the back of the head, and the strange face, meticulously carved. The turquoise eyes were loose and probably needed to be glued back on. He remembered the hope and encouragement that Ursula had always given him, there on the foot of his bed. But that was long ago, and he didn’t want to let himself get too sentimental. Still, he put her in her place, opened the door to his trailer, and began walking toward Angel Rock.

*   *   *

This part of the Moab Rim was a bit lower than on Kane Creek Road, so climbing the tiers of rock seemed effortless compared with earlier that night. He hiked higher and higher until he saw the mesa and the rock formation he had been looking for. And smoke. Smoke?

Was there a fire? There was smoke billowing over Angel Rock. Instead of walking straight to the top, he veered to the side to better assess the situation.

Luke saw a large figure cloaked head to toe in brown fur. Luke was sweating in just a T-shirt. What was going on? His mind flashed to Hal’s Bigfoot. He watched the back of the figure—was it a man? A woman? A woman couldn’t be that big. Probably a man. He snuck a little closer. It was tourist season; it was bound to be some hippie-dippie tourist, thinking that this mesa was a center of spiritual energy and praying to whatever gods might be listening.

Luke started to get agitated just thinking about that. He decided to go another way. He snuck one last look—but there was no fire, no fur-man. Nothing. That was impossible. Luke had been watching the figure for nearly two minutes.

He jumped over the rock and strode across the mesa to the spot where the fire had been. But there was no small circle of rocks, no ashes, no burn marks, just pure, unadulterated red sandstone. Bigfoot traveling through dimensions? That was ridiculous. He was losing his mind. Or was it the pot?

Luke sat on his knees, feeling the earth for a sign, anxiety rising in his throat. The flat surface was cool beneath him. Then he swung his legs out in front of him and collapsed back, stretching his arms overhead. Looking up, he saw a shooting star. He tried to concentrate on the stars and empty his thoughts. But it wasn’t working; he was positive that there had been somebody right here, right where he was lying. He closed his eyes and must have dozed, then woke with a start when he felt someone stroking his hair. He looked up into a pair of brown eyes, and for a moment he saw Georgia. But as his eyes focused, he saw that he was looking into the eyes of someone else. Who was it? What was it? A bear. A big brown bear. Instead of being afraid, he almost smiled.

You see, Hal? There’s no Bigfoot, no bogeyman … it’s just a sweet bear … His eyes closed again, and he fell back asleep.

*   *   *

“Luke! Where are you?” His mother was calling him. Luke was giggling, hiding behind a giant red stone. They had been hiking the Slickrock Trail at the Sand Flats Recreation Area, where there weren’t many boulders like this. He loved this game.

“Luke!” Maybe he should give his mother a hint. She sounded like she might give up, and he wanted her to play.

“You’ll never find me!” He wanted to climb up the boulder. Luckily, there were lots of little rocks around it that he could use to help him shimmy up this one. He found that his hands could grip easily.

“Mommy!” he yelled at the top. Georgia was sitting with Frank, looking in the opposite direction. She turned around and waved at him, beaming.

Frank got up and walked toward him, arms outstretched. “Free fall, Luke!” Luke felt exhilarated. Hiding, climbing, falling. He took a deep breath and catapulted himself into Frank’s arms.

They hiked back to their campsite, Luke riding on Frank’s shoulders. He had never slept in a tent, and he was overflowing with excitement. After dinner, they snuggled in their sleeping bags, and Luke said, “Tell me again…” Luke loved hearing the story of how Frank and Georgia met.

“We met right here, pumpkin, in Moab,” Georgia started. “On the Slickrock Trail, where we were today. I was on my mountain bike when I saw this man on the ground. The earth here is perfect for mountain biking—”

“If you know what you’re doing!” Frank continued, looking at Georgia. “I had no clue. One minute I’m up and having fun, then I hit the path in the wrong way and boom! I’m down. But who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t fallen?”

“His friend had just left him in the dust! So I stopped. And once we realized that we both lived in New York, on the Upper West Side, well, we were inseparable.”

“Our meeting was kismet,” Frank said.

“Kismet,” Georgia agreed.

How Luke missed Frank! But Frank might as well have died with Georgia.

*   *   *

Luke opened his eyes, and he was alone.

What had just happened? He crawled back down to steady earth and reality, made his way to his trailer, and fell into his soft bed and a deep, normal sleep.


Copyright © 2010 by Léna Roy

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