Seventeen-year-old Hazel Clarke is no stranger to heartbreaks, and being sent to live with a father she’s never met is the latest in a string of them. Even the beauty of eastern Australia isn't enough to take her mind off of her mother, who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's and is living in a nursing home in England. But when Hazel meets the friendly, kindhearted Red and his elusive twin, Luca, she begins the slow process of piecing together a new lifeand realizes she isn't the only one struggling with grief. As friendships deepen and love finds its way in, Hazel also learns that when you truly love someone, they are never really gone. Don't Forget Me is Victoria Stevens's sparkling debut, and a touching testament to coming of age, falling in love, and finding home in unlikely places.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Victoria Stevens lives in Whittlebury, England. Don't Forget Me was inspired by childhood vacations to Australia and her grandmother's diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
Read an Excerpt
Hazel woke at noon to the sun streaming through cotton curtains, flooding the room with bright light. She stared at the unfamiliar ceiling as memory settled heavily in. She wasn't in her apartment anymore; she was in Australia, more than sixteen thousand kilometers from London.
She buried her head in the pillow. You have ten seconds to wallow in your self-pity, she told herself firmly, and then you're going to act like everything is totally fine. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Nine and a half. Nine and three-quarters ...
She took a deep, steadying breath and kicked back the covers.
Hazel climbed out of bed and surveyed her surroundings. The room was tastefully — albeit minimally — decorated, and everything from ceiling to carpet was a crisp, spotless white. The walls were bare, with no photos or anything else to show they were part of someone's home and not a hotel.
She crossed the room to draw back the curtains. Behind them was a sliding glass door that opened onto a balcony, and down below was a well-kept garden ending in a row of palm trees. Beyond that, on the horizon, lay the vast open sea; it was close enough that she could count the waves as they crawled up the empty stretch of sand. A rush of longing for the busy, familiar streets of London hit her and she yanked the curtains shut again.
Hazel showered and changed quickly and let herself out of the bedroom and into the hallway. She could hear music from a radio downstairs. She followed the sound and found Graham sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by piles of paperwork, a mug of coffee in his hand.
At the sound of her footsteps, he looked up and said, "Good morning! Did you sleep well? Are you hungry? If you'd like to go out for brunch, I own this place in town ..."
"You own a restaurant?"
"Yep, the Anchor — they're not expecting me back until Monday, but I can call and get us a table. If you want."
Graham seemed so much more relaxed and comfortable here in his own domain, yesterday's guarded awkwardness all but gone. She envied him.
"That sounds great."
"How are you holding up?" he asked then, studying her closely.
I'm surviving. That was the only word for what she was doing, wasn't it? Getting up each day, putting one foot in front of the other? But she said nothing, not trusting herself not to cry.
"Well," Graham said, clearing his throat, "I'm ready to leave when you are."
"I'll get my things," Hazel said, turning on her heels and leaving the room.
* * *
Graham hardly paused for breath the entire ten-minute journey into town, his low voice filling the silences with trivial chatter. As Hazel listened to him talk, she took in her surroundings through the open window. The sky was a bright, clear blue and the sides of the road were lined with the occasional yellow-leafed poplar or wisp of shrubbery. On her left, running alongside the highway, was the glittering sea. Port Sheridan was so different from what she was used to and she knew it was going to take some time to adjust to everything — like this balmy weather, which was typical here despite the fact that it was the middle of August and Australia's winter.
When they arrived at the Anchor, they were greeted enthusiastically by the staff and led to a table with an amazing view of the sea. When a waitress came over, Hazel ordered grilled barramundi and Graham ordered a steak. While they waited for their food she listened to him talk about the area and the local hangouts and her new school; she was to start at Finchwood High on Monday, where Graham had been a student himself some thirty years ago.
After brunch, they left the Anchor and walked along the beach toward a bustling promenade of shops. Graham pointed out each one as they passed, telling Hazel all about who worked there and what they sold and if it was overpriced. She tried to keep up, but he spoke so fast that most of it went completely over her head — not that he seemed to mind. They stopped to pick up her uniform and some other bits and pieces for school, and then for a midafternoon snack of ice cream and coffee, after which Graham finally suggested they go home so she could settle in and unpack. It wasn't until they were in the car that he quieted. Hazel, completely exhausted, was grateful for the silence.
Back at the house, Graham left her to organize the contents of her oversize suitcases, which was easier said than done — hanging her clothes in the closet and arranging her things on the desk felt far too real and not nearly temporary enough. In the end, she just collapsed onto the bed, falling immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep.
It was close to midnight when Hazel woke, and moonlight was streaming into the room through the glass doors; she'd been asleep for hours.
Wondering if Graham had been in to check on her, she eased open the bedroom door to see if he was still awake. The hallway was dark, but on the carpet in front of her was a tray with a chocolate muffin and some orange juice. Taped to the glass was a handwritten note, which Hazel crouched down to read:
Thought the jet lag might have caught up with you. Didn't want to wake you.
Sleep well, Hazel.
Hazel read the note twice and then folded it in quarters and tucked it into her pocket, ignoring the sudden lump in her throat. She carried the tray into the room and shut the door quietly behind her, setting the food down on her desk.
She thought about going back to bed, but she felt too awake, too wired. The room was stuffy, as if someone had sucked out all the air. She went over to the balcony door, and though the cold glass felt good beneath her palms, it wasn't enough. She needed to be outside where it was cool.
She let herself out the back door in the kitchen and into the garden, edging her way through a gap in the undergrowth at the end and onto the beach beyond.
Oh my God. The moonlight, the sea, the endless curve of the beach — it was so beautiful. Hazel walked right up to the water's edge, where the waves moved smoothly toward the shore and then crept back again in an even, calming rhythm.
It was a few minutes before she realized that she wasn't alone. There was a figure standing a little way down the beach, half-hidden in the shadows and facing her direction. As she watched, it began to make its way across the sand toward her. Hazel froze.
"Hello?" the person called when he was close enough. It was a boy, with a deep, lilting voice.
Hazel licked her lips nervously before answering. "Hello?"
He came to a stop in front of her. He was tall, a good foot taller than her, and around her age. He had dark hair and dark eyes, and pale skin. A camera hung from a strap around his neck. "Who are you, then?"
"Who's asking?" she said, and the boy let out a bark of surprised laughter.
"You're a Pom, huh?"
He smiled. "English."
"Sweet," he said. "I'm Red. Red Cawley."
"Like the color?"
"Yep. Short for Redleigh. Yourself, Pom?"
"No kidding," he said. "Like a color too — guess we match!"
"Guess we do."
"We should sit," he decided suddenly, dropping down to the ground and stretching his legs out across the sand. He patted the spot next to him. "Come on. I don't bite."
Hazel sank down beside him, crickets chirping in the undergrowth behind them. She fixed her eyes on the horizon, at the faint line where the black of the sky met the indigo of the sea. Above them, the sky was full of stars. There were no clouds or any of London's orange nighttime glow obscuring them, so she could make out entire constellations.
"It's pretty, huh?" Red said.
She murmured her agreement.
"Okay, Hazel-from-England," he said then. "I have to ask because it's driving me crazy — what are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"
"I couldn't sleep," Hazel admitted.
"How did you know?"
"You've got that look about you," he said. "When did you land?"
"Nice! Welcome to Australia! How do you like it so far?"
"Well, it's —"
"Amazing?" he offered. "Beautiful?"
"Different," she said.
"I'll bet! Don't worry; you'll fall in love with it soon enough. Everyone does."
Hazel nodded — because that was easier than explaining how much she'd lost by coming to Australia, or how she'd only come because she'd lost so much. This stranger didn't need to know that.
"It was nice to meet you," she said instead. "But I should be getting back ..."
"Sure, yeah!" Red jumped to his feet, offering her a hand. She grabbed it and straightened up, meeting his eyes. He was smiling warmly at her. "I guess I'll see you around then, huh?"
"Maybe," she said.
"Hopefully," he corrected. "Good night, Hazel-from-England."
She stood on the sand and watched him walk away, keeping her eyes on him until the shadows swallowed him whole and she was alone again.
When Hazel got back to her room, she found a sheet of paper and a pen, and sat down at her desk to write.
I remember the time we went to the zoo for my birthday. We saw every animal there, and then when my feet started to hurt, you put me on your shoulders so we could walk around again. I got my picture taken with a parrot, and you bought a copy for my bedroom wall. I wonder where that photo is now.
I miss you, Mum, but I remember.
She read the letter over twice and then sealed it in an envelope and put it away in her desk drawer.
In the car on the way to school Monday morning, Hazel couldn't decide whether she was more scared or nervous. At least nobody here knew what she'd gone through; she was so tired of people looking at her differently because of what had happened with her mum.
Graham parked the car and turned in his seat to face her. "You sure you want to do this so soon?"
She glanced out the window. The school was a collection of modern, single-story buildings surrounded by palm trees and open space. Students were arriving, milling around the parking lot, sitting on walls and benches, grouped in small huddles. Was one of them Red? She hoped so.
"Yes," she said, tugging at the hem of her uniform.
Graham studied her face for a moment and then reached across the car to give her shoulder a squeeze. "All right," he said cheerfully, opening his door. "Let's get you enrolled, then."
* * *
Finchwood High was a coed school for students between the ages of eleven and eighteen. It was home to over seven hundred pupils and had a staff dedicated to providing an enriching and unique experience for each student — or at least that's what the principal, a balding man named Mr. Lynch, told them proudly as he ushered them into his office.
He was completely different from the sharp, suited principal at her school back in London; Mr. Lynch wore tan trousers and a polo shirt, and his eyes were kind as he chatted to Hazel.
"So, welcome to Finchwood!" he said.
"It's just temporary," Hazel said immediately, and looked over at Graham, who had his lips pressed tightly together. She swallowed and turned to Mr. Lynch. "I'm hoping to be back in England by Christmas."
"Well," Mr. Lynch said with a broad smile, "rest assured we'll do everything we can to make this transition smooth for you, even though the school year is well under way. Shall we get you to your homeroom, then?"
Hazel looked at Graham again, and he raised an eyebrow as if to say, It's not too late to change your mind. She just nodded.
Mr. Lynch led them out of his office and into a crowded hallway filled with students hanging around in groups or getting their things out of their lockers. Once they reached the end of the hallway, Graham said a brief goodbye and Mr. Lynch took Hazel to her classroom. Outside, he introduced her to a redhead named Ashley who was to show her around for the rest of the week and make sure she settled in okay. He handed Hazel a map of the school printed in bright colors, and then wished her good luck before returning to his office.
Ashley took one look at Hazel, eyes dragging up and down her body in a way that made Hazel feel incredibly self-conscious, and sighed.
"So he asked me to do this because we have the same schedule," she said, arms folded across her chest.
"Thank you," said Hazel. "I appreciate it."
Ashley let out a laugh. "Oh, don't thank me! There's no way I'm going to spend the week babysitting you. It's not a big place; you'll find your way. Right?"
Hazel blinked at her. "Well, I —"
"Right?" Ashley pressed again, and Hazel nodded hastily. Ashley broke into a dazzling smile, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and stalked into the classroom, leaving Hazel alone in the busy hallway.
* * *
Most of the desks in the room were already occupied, so Hazel made her way to a seat somewhere between the middle and the back, where she figured she could avoid any unwanted attention. She settled into her chair, slumping down to make herself as small as possible.
The teacher arrived a few minutes later, and the loud chatter in the classroom died down to a murmur. Hazel got up to hand the teacher the enrollment slip Mr. Lynch had given her, desperately praying that she wouldn't make her introduce herself to the rest of the class. But the teacher just welcomed Hazel, said her name was Mrs. Baxter, and sent her back to her desk. Even so, Hazel could feel the students watching her as she took her seat again. She thought how unusual it must be for a student to join Finchwood halfway through the year — the school year in Australia began in January and ran through to December.
Hazel spent the rest of the morning trailing after Ashley from one class to the next with just enough distance between them that she was sure the other girl wouldn't notice she was being followed. She thought she'd done a good job of it until the lunch bell rang and Ashley disappeared from the classroom before Hazel had a chance to gather her things. She packed her bag hastily, throwing it over her shoulder as she rushed from the room to catch up, and ran straight into someone.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry, I didn't ..."
Hazel trailed off, raising her eyes to meet Ashley's. Ashley was standing with two friends, one hand on her hip as she glowered at Hazel.
"You," Ashley said accusingly, stepping toward her, and Hazel took a step back, wishing the ground would swallow her up.
"Yes, you. New girl. Whatever your name is. Would you quit following me?"
"You've spent the morning trailing after me like a lost puppy."
"Because Mr. Lynch told me that —"
"I don't care what Lynch said, having a constant shadow is getting on my nerves!"
"I don't want any trouble," Hazel said, hands held up in surrender, and oh God, this was not the first day she'd had planned. She was supposed to lay low, blend in. "I just need to know where the cafeteria is."
"Use the freaking map, then," Ashley hissed. "I saw Lynch give you one. Or do they not teach you how to use those in England?"
"They ... um. They do."
"God, I know, it was rhetorical. What's wrong with you?"
"Just leave it, Ash," one of her friends said. "I'm starving."
Ashley held Hazel's gaze for a few seconds before finally saying, "You're right. Let's go."
The three of them headed off down the hallway, in what Hazel assumed was the direction of the cafeteria. She took a moment to collect herself, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly before heading in the same direction. When she found the cafeteria, she bought a sandwich with the money Graham had given her and sat at an empty table in the far corner.
The tables around her started to fill up with loud, chattering students until every table was full except for hers. A wave of loneliness washed over her, and Hazel fought back tears. She willed the moment to pass — which, as always, it eventually did.
It's okay, she told herself, like if she thought it enough times, it might make it true. You're going to be okay.
* * *
Graham was waiting for her outside the school entrance at three o'clock as promised. Hazel climbed into the passenger seat beside him, overwhelmed by how relieved she was to see a familiar face.
"Hey!" he said. "How was it? Did you have a good day?"
Excerpted from "Don't Forget Me"
Copyright © 2018 Victoria Stevens.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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