A novel by the Printz Honor author Garret Freymann-Weyr, about a boy who discovers what happens when love fails us—or we fail love.
Maia Morland is pretty, only not pretty-pretty. She’s smart. She’s brave. She’s also a self-proclaimed train wreck.
Leigh Hunter is smart, popular, and extremely polite. He’s also completely and forever in love with Maia Morland.
Their young love starts off like a romance novel—full of hope, strength, and passion. But life is not a romance novel and theirs will never become a true romance. For when Maia needs him the most, Leigh betrays both her trust and her love.
Told with compassion and true understanding, After the Moment is about what happens when a young man discovers that sometimes love fails us, and that, quite often, we fail love.
About the Author
Garret Freymann-Weyr grew up in New York City and often sets her books there. She went to college at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and received an MFA in film from New York University. She has written four books for young adults, including My Heartbeat, which won a Printz Honor for excellence in literature for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries including the Netherlands, Japan, and China. She currently lives outside Washington, D. C., with her husband. She has said that the best way to get ideas is to read a lot. “That gets you thinking in terms of story, character, and image.
Garret Freymann-Weyr is the author of My Heartbeat, a Printz Honor book, as well as Stay with Me, The Kings Are Already Here, and When I Was Older. She lives in North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One. Black Ice
The year Leigh’s stepsister, Millie Davis, was in seventh grade and Leigh was in eleventh, he heard a lot about Maia Morland. She was new in school, her mother lived in the huge house that had been empty for so long. Maia was really brave, Millie told him, as it was hard to be new in the tenth grade. Everyone had friends already. But Maia was really smart and pretty, only not pretty-pretty. And her mother had been married five times. (It would turn out to be only three, but Millie did say, quite often, Five times. Imagine it). On and on she went. It was clear to Leigh that this Maia Morland was the object of his sister’s crush—the kind a twelve-year-old girl develops on the girl she wants to become. He almost wished Millie were still obsessed with collecting stickers or building Lego palaces. Listening to his sister go on about her stickers would take less time than her endless talk about this other girl. Eleventh grade was a lot more demanding than Leigh had thought it would be, and he had to work so hard to maintain his B average that he ended up with straight A’s at the end of the first term. This in spite of being on varsity soccer, which not only took up most of his afternoons but twice sent Leigh to the emergency room: once to tape up some bruised ribs, and once to be checked for a concussion after getting knocked out cold. A lot of soccer matches were on weekends, and as his father, Clayton Hunter, was lenient about enforcing the custody agreement, Leigh wound up seeing his father, Millie, and his stepmother even less than usual. It was a long train ride from New York to D.C., and one he hadn’t made so often that year. In March, when Clayton called on a Monday, which was rare, Leigh assumed it was to say, Of course, it’s no problem. Go to the game in Pennsylvania this weekend. Lillian was in the tiny living room, which she used as a study and was where they kept the TV. Before the divorce, they had lived with Clayton in a big apartment on West End Avenue, but this one, on a side street off Broadway, fit them better. Leigh’s bedroom didn’t have a desk, but he generally had the kitchen to himself in the evenings to do his assignments or to read. That night, he felt like he should be watching the news, as the president was giving Iraq a new warning before the much-promised Shock and Awe could start. While Leigh was glad that the war had stopped his mother’s ravings against the obscene coverage of a little girl from Utah who was abducted from her bedroom, he didn’t want to think of the men not much older than he was who were about to go into battle. He felt lucky and relieved, of course, but mostly baffled by the knowledge that short of a draft he would not be going. And even then, he probably wouldn’t go. Clayton, more than once in the past year and a half, had mentioned cousins he had in Canada. “I’m a lawyer,” Clayton had said to Lillian when Iraq turned from a question of if to when. “I’ll get him whatever documents are needed.” Lurking behind all this was an amount of good fortune so large, it was impossible to be grateful for it. It wasn’t the same as being rich, which was an obvious advantage, as only an idiot would be unable to see. The good fortune that Leigh knew as his wasn’t something he could feel or point to. It was more like oxygen or blood; it was that intrinsic, so you took it for granted even though you really shouldn’t. That the impending war unleashed confusion in everyone was clear, but for Leigh it highlighted how little he understood his own life. So, in spite of vaguely despising himself for not facing the disquiet brought up by images of teenagers massing on the Kuwaiti border, Leigh pretty much tried to ignore the news. He happily picked up the phone when it rang and exchanged hellos with his father, preparing to discuss his soccer game in Pennsylvania. Maybe this time his father and Millie could drive up from Maryland. Instead, Clayton wanted to speak to Lillian. Right away, Leigh braced himself for something bad. His parents got along well, mostly because Lillian refused to blame anyone for Clayton’s affair with Millie’s mother. But even so, it was very clear that neither of them wanted to be in touch more than necessary. Leigh brought the phone to his mother and then, so as not to overhear anything, made as much noise as he could doing the dishes. When Lillian came into the kitchen, she sat down at the table. He looked at her and asked, “Tea?” “Scotch,” she said, and he pulled the bottle from under the sink and watched her pour about an inch into one of the jam jars they used as glasses. Millie’s father was dead. Which meant that Millie was halff of an orphan. Leigh refused to let his brain spin out the possibility of creating fractions from orphanhood, if that was even a word, and he listennnnned as his mother answered his half-formed questions. Seth Davis had flown to Kansas to attend a seminar and had died in a rental car on the way from the airport to his hotel. There’d been a five-car pileup—three deaths and countless injuries. A mention was made of black ice, although it was also possible that someone had been drunk. Autopsies would confirm that. Leigh thought of the fetal pigs his biology class had dissected the year before, and wondered why anyone had to bother with an autopsy. Black ice or a drunken driver. The reason wouldn’t bring Seth back. “Insurance,” Lillian said. “Liability, litigation. If someone caused this, money will be involved.” The money paid out to the families of people who’d died in 2001 had been a detail Leigh had been unable to grasp when the planes flew into history. He had barely started tenth grade when it happened. He thought he’d been having a math problem with the insurance story. Now he saw that what he’d been incapable of understanding back then was the attachment of a price to a person. It wasn’t that such a thing was right or wrong that bothered him. It was that such a thing was necessary. “What kind of seminar?” Leigh asked, also wanting to look at a map. Where was Kansas, exactly? Next to the Dakotas or farther west? In a little more than a year, he’d be living in Montana and would know all the states bordering the Dakotas—Kansas was not one of them. But on the night Seth Davis died, any state not on the Atlantic Ocean was, for Leigh, a landlocked blur. “It was a teaching intensive,” Lillian said. “For high school English teachers. I think Seth was giving a talk or getting an award.” Seth Davis taught English in the city’s public schools, and was also a literacy advocate for communities in need. Seth, Lillian once said, is an old-school idealist. Leigh thought of all the fuss Millie’s mother, Janet Davis, had made whenever Millie came to visit her father. Seth lived in a reasonable neighborhood in the block-to-block way that most city neighborhoods were reasonable. But Janet was convinced that there was every chance Millie would be shot on the street, pushed onto a subway track, or raped in a stairwell. She had not thought to be afraid of what a car could do. Yes, Millie was technically safe, but there was no way Seth’s death would leave her unharmed. “I should speak to Millie,” Leigh said, not at all sure he wanted to, but remembering clearly all the times she’d calmed down from a bruise or a cut if he just sat beside her while she got a Band-Aid or an ice pack. “They haven’t told her yet,” Lillian said. “What, is she asleep?” Leigh asked. “It’s not even eight-thirty.” “Your father thinks it might be better if you were there,” Lillian said. Clayton and Janet were waiting to tell Millie that her father was dead? It wasn’t as if she were six years old. She’d know right away that they’d treated her like a child. That they’d protected her from news that she, more than anyone else, owned. “He wants me to tell her,” Leigh said, knowing that neither Clayton nor Janet would ever flat out ask him to do it. But his being there would let Millie know to be on guard before a word was spoken. “Yes, I have the impression that he does want that,” Lillian said. Memories of Seth that Leigh hadn’t even known he had kept flashing into view. The day they’d met, more than seven years before, when Seth was drinking coffee from a paper cup with a plastic lid that didn’t quite fit. The way he would hold his hand under his armpits if he’d forgotten his gloves. Seth running up the stairs three at a time but always letting Millie win if they were racing to his fifth-floor apartment. “But I have school, right?” Leigh asked. “Should I go tonight? Can I get a train?” Seth wore wire-rimmed glasses that he was forever pushing tight against the bridge of his nose. At some point Millie had started cleaning her father’s glasses by blowing on them and using her shirt to rub them clear. “I told Clayton it would be up to you,” Lillian said. “I’d like you to consider what you want.” This was an almost constant refrain of hers. She felt that Leigh worked too hard to please other people. That he didn’t take enough time for what might please him—for what he wanted. Leigh, who knew he didn’t do anything that made him unhappy, felt that she worried for no reason. He did well in school, he was popular, and he had a girlfriend. Although he wasn’t sure where he would go to college or what he would study there, Leigh believed that the road he was on belonged to a map. One free of too many detours, and leading him to the exact places where he was needed. Still, he’d met other mothers, had listened to Lillian’s friends talk about their kids, and he figured worrying was her job. If Lillian was asking him to consider what he wanted in the face of Clayton’s news, well, then this time Leigh had an answer. “I want Millie’s father not to be dead,” he said. If he left tonight, right now, he’d get to D.C. well before Millie was up. Clayton would pick him up at Union Station and they’d drive the half-hour or so that it would take to get to the house. Leigh pictured himself going into her room, the last person she saw right before her new life started. Knowing Millie, she’d either cry right away or sit for a while, trying to work out what she thought. He also, unwillingly, thought this was something his father could do. Should do. It was his job. Leigh, aware that he didn’t know his father that well, was reluctant to use terms that were definitive. And if the word coward now sprang to mind to describe Clayton, then wouldn’t that force Leigh, if he broke the news to Millie, to describe himself as brave?
Which he wasn’t. He was just, at this particular moment, angry. The whole ridiculous cliché of men hitting walls only to wind up with their hands broken was making a frightening sort of sense. “Janet will make her nervous,” Leigh said. “Millie will worry that being upset will upset her mother.” “That doesn’t seem possible,” Lillian said. “Are you sure?” “Millie hides everything Seth gives her in the guest room closet.” Leigh, who slept in the guest room at his father’s house, was forever shaking glitter out of his shoes or getting hit on the head by small stuffed animal squirrels. Millie loved squirrels. “I think I should go,” he said, thinking of his sister trying to figure out a private way to be sad. Or angry. Did girls hit walls? No one ever said so, but this kind of aimless rage couldn’t belong only to men. “Do you have any tests this week?” Lillian asked. “Papers due?” “No,” Leigh said. “A vocab quiz in French, but I can take it late.” “The memorial service will probably be in New York,” Lillian said. “Yeah,” he said. His mother had followed him into his room, where he was putting a shirt, a sweater, and jeans into a small bag. He had clothes at his father’s, but he always liked to bring some just in case all of his things had disappeared between visits. “I’m sure Seth’s school will want to do something,” Lillian said. “Tell her . . . ” Leigh knew his mother was inviting Millie to stay with them in case Clayton and Janet didn’t offer to accompany her up to the city for her father’s service. “I will,” Leigh said. “But I think Dad, at least, will come to the service.” Leigh didn’t want to think about how people were going to bury Seth. It felt like a great betrayal to Millie. If she had no idea her father was dead, then no one should be making plans until she knew. Lillian booked a train ticket online for him and then insisted on coming down to Penn Station. These days Penn Station, Grand Central, and the airports were crawling with police and National Guardsmen. There was no safer place to be in the city than at one of its exit venues. Normally, Leigh might have persuaded his mother to stay home by asking if she didn’t trust him. But he knew the news of Seth’s death had brought with it the type of fear that proximity to misfortune often carries. It was ridiculous, of course, but Leigh was as glad of his mother’s company that night as he had been at the age of ten when he was routinely woken up by the sound of his own screaming voice. “Bad dreams,” Lillian would say, turning on the light, helping him out of bed, and fixing him hot milk with honey. “It’s just bad dreams.”
When he finally got to his father’s house, Leigh took a pillow and a blanket from the guest room and stretched out on the floor next to his sister’s bed. When Millie woke up, he would be there, as Lillian had always been for him. He wouldn’t be able to ease the end of a bad dream, but he had vague plans about cushioning the beginnings of his sister’s grief. Whatever his intentions had been, they all vanished when he opened his eyes to find her staring down at him. “I knew you’d come,” she said. Leigh was quiet, not sure how to tell her what she apparently knew. Later, the details of her hellish night would leak out (overheard phone calls and an endless computer search until a local paper in Kansas posted the story). Right now what he focused on was that his sister had known he would come and he had. During some of the months to follow, her faith allowed him a place on the right side of the line separating men you could trust from men you couldn’t.