Night Kites

Night Kites

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by M. E. Kerr

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What do you do when your whole world is blown apart? A seventeen-year-old confronts love, betrayal, and his brother’s illness in this brave, deeply compassionate novel by M. E. Kerr

Life is going great for Seaville High senior Erick Rudd. He’s a good student, he has a girlfriend he’ll probably marry, and he’s on a straight…  See more details below


What do you do when your whole world is blown apart? A seventeen-year-old confronts love, betrayal, and his brother’s illness in this brave, deeply compassionate novel by M. E. Kerr

Life is going great for Seaville High senior Erick Rudd. He’s a good student, he has a girlfriend he’ll probably marry, and he’s on a straight path to college. Then his best friend’s girlfriend lets him know she’s attracted to him. Seventeen going on twenty-five, Nicki Marr is blond, green eyed, and gorgeous. Soon, Erick is seeing her on the sly.

Guilt ridden over his deception, Erick isn’t prepared for what happens next. He finds out that his brother, Pete, who’s ten years older and lives in New York, is very sick . . . with AIDS. Erick is stunned; he didn’t even know his brother was gay. It was Pete who told a five-year-old Erick that night kites don’t think about the dark, that they’re not afraid to be different.

How Erick and his parents deal with Pete’s illness—and how Erick handles his relationship with Nicki—are what make this book so unforgettable. Fearless and profoundly affecting, it will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

This ebook features an illustrated personal history of M. E. Kerr including rare images from the author’s collection.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
M. E. Kerr has a genius for striding up on her readers' blind sides and delivering the unexpected. She's done it again in Night Kites, her most important book. This story stands beside Judith Guest's Ordinary People.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Erick's older brother Pete reveals to the family that he has AIDS, in this story filled with sweeping emotional detail and nuance. Ages 12-up (September)

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Night Kites

By M. E. Kerr


Copyright © 1986 M. E. Kerr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5552-8


"I REALLY CARE ABOUT Nicki," Jack said. He paused to see if I was going to say anything. I wasn't.

He said, "She says I look like Sting."

"Well, you could be his son."

"I never think of rock stars having sons my age. They all seem about nineteen."

Jack was my age, seventeen. He was blond like Sting and green eyed like him, but he had a big nose Sting didn't have. He was self-conscious about it, so I liked Nicki for telling him that.

Nicki was blond and green eyed, too, and our age.

But Nicki was seventeen going on twenty-five.

The only really young thing about Nicki was her crushes on Sting and the other rock stars. Through most of high school her boyfriend had been Walter Ruski, known locally as Ski. He wasn't in school. He was older. He was the closest thing to a Hell's Angel we had around Seaville, New York. He was a scuzzy character but good-looking. Very. He was the type who wore punk bondage stuff and got around on a Kawasaki. He wore a lot of crosses around his neck, a Reaper of Death ring, and black hair, and was always in black, with black motorcycle boots and anklets with spike clips. I could see a girl falling for Ski. He was a dark hero. You see them all over rock videos.

Jack and I were having this conversation on a day in early September, out in the bleachers of the Seaville High stadium.

Down on the field they were trying out new pom-pom girls. My girl, Dill, was one from last year, but Nicki was a hopeful.

I didn't think Nicki'd make it. It wasn't even her idea to try out—it was Jack's. If I'd been Jack, I wouldn't have talked her into it. Not that Nicki couldn't jump as high as the other girls, or shout as loud, and she had the looks, too. She really had the looks ... But I knew how the other girls felt about Nicki Marr. There was no way, I didn't think, they were going to let her be one of them.

"Do you like her, Erick?" Jack finally asked me. "She thinks you don't like her."

"Tell her I like her fine."

"I hope you mean it."

"I do," I told him. What could I say? It was already too late.

"She hasn't had it easy," Jack said.

I didn't know her whole story. I knew her mother'd died a few years ago. Her mother'd run a small women's clothing shop called Annabel's Resale, which was attached to Kingdom By The Sea on the dunes outside of Seaville. At one time Kingdom By The Sea had been a big summer tourist attraction. It was a motel that looked like a castle, with towers, domed roofs, even a drawbridge. Her dad owned it; everyone called him Captain, because there was sort of a nautical air to the place. But in recent years it was judged to be an eyesore. The more money that poured into Seaville, the more people didn't want that kind of circus sitting right on the outskirts of the village. So there were all sorts of petitions circulating against it, business was falling off, the paint was starting to peel: It looked like an old, run-down amusement park ... Nicki lived out in that place.

Jack was my best friend all through grade school, middle school, and high school. We lived on the same street. We liked the same things. We wore the same clothes, both of us sitting there that afternoon in our 501 jeans, our muscle shirts, our Nikes. We were from the same mold, it looked like.

There were plenty of differences, physical and family. I was redheaded like all Rudd males. (I looked enough like my older brother, Pete, to be his twin, even though there was a ten-year age difference.) I was never the star athlete Jack was. I wasn't heavy enough for football, like Jack, or tall enough like Jack for basketball. Tennis was my game, golf, sailing. Jack could do all those things well too, though the Case family wasn't in The Hadefield Club and Jack didn't own a boat. (He didn't need one as long as I owned one; anything of mine was his.)

Jack's dad lived and worked in Seaview as an electrician. Mine was a corporate Wall Street man, with an apartment in New York City. Mine came out to our house only on weekends, usually.

But until Nicki came into Jacks life, any differences between us didn't make any difference: We were two peas in a pod. Even though Jack never had a steady girl and I dated only Dill, our double dates were easy. We never had to think about how the girls would get along together. They just did.

I'd spent most of the past summer in New York City, working as a runner for Rudd & Lundgren, my father's investment firm. When I came back to Seaville to start senior year, Dill told me that Jack was seeing Nicki. It was big news to Dill, too. She'd been working in the Catskills as a waitress, to earn money for college.

I said, "Nicki will mop up the floor with poor Jack."

"We both know why he's dating her, right?" Dill said.

After Ski, there'd been Bucky Moon, then T. X. Hoyle, both pretty smarmy characters, sort of charming smarmy, the kind with a little flair, but the kind who ran on the fast track, and you gave a lot of room to on the sidewalks.

One night right after Labor Day Jack asked us to join Nicki and him. They were going to see a Stephen King movie; they were going out to Dunn's Drive-In after.

Nicki had her own technique for handling social situations. She ignored Dill totally. Dill was directing conversations at her, and saying her name at the beginning and end of every sentence, to make her feel included. She was complimenting her on her clothes. Nicki always came away from tacky old Kingdom By The Sea looking like a fashion ad. Dill said it was because she wore all the designer clothes from Annabel's Resale, which Nicki's aunt had been running since her mother died.

Nicki looked right past Dill to me. Nicki spent the evening featuring Jack and me. She flirted with both of us, as though we were both her dates. It was easy to see why Nicki didn't have any girl friends at Seaville High. Nicki didn't relate to other females.

She was the type who could make a seductive number out of passing you a plastic fork. Her fingers found yours at the same time her eyes did, and both of them caressed you. It was that sort of thing all night.

As we were getting ready to leave Dunn's, we all started to pile into Jack's old Mustang. Dill'd already crawled into the back. I had to ride up front with Jack; I was going to jump out to buy dog food on the way home.

"See, I never ride in back when I can ride up front," Nicki said.

She rode up front between Jack and me.

Her leg pressed against mine, even though there was plenty of room. Every time she said something, she touched my knee with her hand.

She talked about Sting.

She said, "Jack looks like him, doesn't he, Erick?" Hand on my arm that time, lingering there. She said, "Jack, do you think you could write a song like 'Every Breath You Take' or 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'?"

I felt the pressure of her fingers. I smelled her perfume.

Jack just laughed.

That September afternoon when the pom-pom girls finished their routines, Nicki and Dill came into the bleachers to get us. They didn't walk up the steps together. Nicki was in front, and Dill was trailing behind her.

I loved Dill's looks. She had a style that was both sweet and tough. She was pretty, but she was also boyish. She had this great face: strong white teeth, always a tan left over from summer, straight black hair she liked to wear very short, slicked back almost like a boy's cut. That day she had on the gold hoop earrings I'd given her for her birthday. She didn't have Nicki's full figure—she had practically no breasts. She had a shy way of talking out of one side of her mouth, as though what she was saying had to be sneaked into any conversation. But Dill wasn't really shy. She was more innocent than shy. I was her first real boyfriend.

"Look at her!" Jack said about Nicki. "Just look at her!"

I looked. Looking at Nicki was what you did. You looked.

I don't think I'd ever seen Nicki in pants, not even when she was on the back of Ski's motorcycle. She just never wore them. Dill was in a skirt that day too, the pom-pom outfit, with the very short maroon skirt and the white sweater.

But Dill usually wore Guess? jeans or cords. Nicki wore outfits, costumes: that day some kind of navy-blue knee-length sweat shirt with yellow Day-Glo socks and dark gladiator sandals. You didn't expect such a thin girl to fill out a baggy sweat shirt the way Nicki did. You expected the long, thin legs, and she had very long, blond hair, the soft, shiny kind that fell over one eye.

Nicki was always brushing it back to look at you with these light-green eyes, as though she was sizing you up, as though she was telling you she could handle you no matter who you were. It seemed to me one eyebrow was always raised a little, like she was questioning you silently about something. Don't ask what.

Maybe Jack was reading my mind, because he said, "It isn't just the way she looks, either."

"Well," I said. I didn't know what to say. The idea of my old buddy being that gone on someone was totally new to me. Neither Jack nor I were big makeout artists—neither of us had ever made out 100%. But Jack was the one who always had to be talked into dates. Dad called Jack The Neanderthal Man. There was something clumsy and jock about Jack. He'd never even learned to dance.

Then Nicki was standing there smiling at us, holding Jack's arm with one hand, playing with his fingers with her other hand.

"How'd it go?" Jack said. "Are you a pompom girl?"

"I don't know yet," Nicki said. "I don't really care.

I thought, That's all Dill needs to hear. Dill was one of these gung-ho high school girls who'd have run away from home if she hadn't made pom-poms.

"We vote tonight," Dill said.

Nicki looked directly at me. "Would you vote for me, Erick? Tonight?"

Yeah, I'd have voted for her. Maybe not for pompom girl.

We were all laughing but Dill.


ONE TIME MY BROTHER, Pete, made me a night kite. Pete said sure, most kites fly in the daytime, but some go up in the dark. He made the kite himself. He put little battery lights on it, and we sat on the sand down in front of The Hadefield Club, watching this diamond-shaped thing blink out over the ocean, its phosphorescent tail glowing under the stars.

There was the sound of ocean waves and the salt smell in the damp air. I was five and Pete was fifteen.

I said the kite might get scared in the dark. Pete said night kites are different, they don't think about the dark. They go up alone, on their own, Pete said, and they're not afraid to be different. Some people are different, too, Pete said.

I said, "Pete? I don't get any of Dad's jokes."

We'd left our folks back up in the dining room of The Hadefield Club, eating dinner with Grandmother and Grandfather Rudd. They were visiting from Pennsylvania, and Grandfather Rudd was doing his usual number, complaining about the food and the way people in the dining room were dressed ("There are men here without ties on—I'm surprised"), and finding fault with anything Dad said about his work, too ... Dad did what he always did when this happened: He started telling jokes.

Pete and I had polished off our club steaks while they were still going at their lobsters. Dad was telling one joke after the other. Pete was guffawing in that loud way that was phony. I was squirming in my chair, gulping down ginger ales, and showing Pete how to fold his napkin to make rabbit ears.

"You said you had something to show Erick when it got dark," Dad said to Pete. "It's dark."

We excused ourselves, got the kite from the car, and walked down to the beach.

"What joke didn't you get?" Pete asked me. "You got the one about the guy who bought stock in an umbrella company, and a few months later it folded?"

"I got that one. I didn't get the one about the arbor, arbor—"

"The arbitrage trader who believed in reincarnation, and wanted to come back as a perpetual warranty," Pete said. "It's too complicated to explain, and it's not that funny. What's important is to know why Dad tells those jokes."

"Why does he?"

"Because he's nervous. Because Dad doesn't know how to deal with Grandpa. Dad should say to Grandpa, 'I brought you here because I thought you'd enjoy it, and I'm sorry if you don't,' and he should tell Grandpa to just butt out of his business dealings. Grandpa doesn't know anything about investment banking. But Grandpa gets to Dad, so Dad tells jokes. He doesn't know how to talk."

"He talks to us."

"Even with us he mostly gives advice, or orders. Be in by eleven, wear a tie, cut your hair, did you take out the trash, do your homework? That's not really talking, Ricky. Mom talks, but Dad doesn't know how."

"Do I know how?"

"We're talking right now. We're talking about being scared, and people who are different, and we're talking about not being scared to be different ... Look at that kite dance up there! I think it likes the dark!"

I wasn't so sure. There was something slightly eerie about that night kite. But I was always the cautious, conservative type—the last one in the water.

Pete had been a fan of Star Trek when he was younger. He'd chased off to all the Trekkie conventions in New York City. His favorite character on the show was Mr. Spock, the Vulcan with the pointed ears and no emotions, played by Leonard Nimoy.

Pete knew every episode. His favorite was one called "Counter-Clock Incident." It was about a reverse universe, with black stars shining in a white space, and people who were born old and died young.

Pete got me to watch a rerun of that with him once, around the same time he made that night kite. It terrified me to watch the Enterprise crew turn into children, losing their knowledge and their space skills. Pete couldn't believe I was actually afraid, but there was the big difference between us—Pete was the daredevil, the adventurer. My favorite character on that show was everyone's hero, Captain Kirk. I never liked anything too exotic or oddball.

Even though I tried to be more like Pete, I always came off more like Dad. I sensed how badly Dad always wanted to fit in. He'd married into money, old money, not the glitzy new kind. Mom's family practically founded Seaville. Dad had spent years trying to prove he was good enough to be one of them ... plus all his life trying to get Grandpa Rudd to think he was anything but a loser. I felt for Dad, even when I was little, and I told Pete that night on the beach, "Dad thinks people don't like him."

I could see Pete's freckles in the moonlight, and his mouth with that little half smile. "You know that about Dad, hmmm? Good boy!" Pete said.

"That's why Dad always says our family is first, maybe. Family will always like you."

Pete chuckled and mussed up my hair. Dad was always saying our family was first. I liked hearing it. I knew too many kids whose folks split up. I liked the feeling nothing like that would ever happen to us. "You boys sow a lot of wild oats before you marry," Dad'd tell us, "because Rudds marry forever!"

We kicked around the idea of Dad not knowing how to talk, and some other ideas: Mom was the one to approach if you didn't want to go in the direction Dad was pointing you toward. Dad was the one with good common sense—go to him for practical advice. Count on Mom's heart. Count on Dad's head.

We wound up as usual with Pete telling me to make up my own mind about people, though.

"Don't ever let me influence you. Don't let anyone tell you how to think ... But try not to be too tough on people."

I said, "Life is hard and then you die." Pete had a T-shirt with that written on it.

"Yeah," Pete said.

"Would you rather be a night kite or a day kite?" I asked him.

"Oh, I'm a night kite."

I figured myself for the regular day kind.

I figured Nicki Marr was probably a night kite. She not only didn't seem to mind being different from the other girls, she seemed to go for it.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I worked at The Seaview Bookstore, from five in the afternoon until nine at night. The store was right in the village, on the main street near the movies, so we got a lot of customers on their way to and from Cinemas I, II, and III.

The day of the pom-pom tryouts was a Tuesday, and I'd gone from there to work. When I came out of the bookstore that night, Nicki was standing there. The night, like the day, was unusually warm, more like summer than fall. A lot of people were strolling around. We always did good business on nights like that.


Excerpted from Night Kites by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 1986 M. E. Kerr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

M. E. Kerr was born Marijane Meaker in Auburn, New York. Her interest in writing began with her father, who loved to read, and her mother, who loved to tell stories of neighborhood gossip. Unable to find an agent to represent her work, Meaker became her own agent, and wrote articles and books under a series of pseudonyms: Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, Laura Winston, M. E. Kerr, and Mary James. As M. E. Kerr, Meaker has produced over twenty novels for young adults and won multiple awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her lifetime contribution to young adult literature. 

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