|Product dimensions:||13.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
At first the car ride was simply annoying. Edie slouched in the back seat of the SUV, clutching her mom’s sticker-coated guitar case. Her uncle Bert kept his eye on the road, characteristically quiet. Her aunt Norah blithely rattled on from the passenger seat, characteristically not so quiet. She was lost in speculation about the challenges Poor Edith would face now that she’d left foster care and come to live in “a real home.” Edie didn’t have a stable upbringing, a private education, or any exposure to society. Her wardrobe was atrocious. Her posture was appalling. She had bright orange cheese powder under her ragged fingernails, proving she had no understanding of proper diet or personal care. She was practically poisoning herself. “And that hair!” Norah exclaimed. “Good lord, what will the neighbors say?” Edie sank a little lower and tried to finger comb through the worst of her tangles, unsure why the neighbors would care about something as trivial as her hair. The purple dye that clung to the tips had long since faded to a subtle shade of lavender. The rest was a painfully ordinary shade of brown. It was dry and frizzy, and she hadn’t cut it for a couple years, but it was just hair. “Don’t worry,” Bert assured Norah, drawing her attention away from the back seat. “You’ll get Edith up to snuff in no time. Why, look what you’ve done with me.” “Yes, you’re right, of course.” Norah sighed while adjusting Bert’s shirt collar. “I do have a talent for improving people. The ladies in the club are always remarking on it.” Edie assumed Norah was referring to her Great Hearts, Good Causes club, which she’d been boasting about lately. Since joining last summer, Norah had apparently fundraised for Nigerian schoolchildren, Syrian refugees, and hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. Now she was determined to outdo all her neighbors by displaying her Great Heart on her very own doorstep. After all, anyone could send money to “those other people.” Few had the fortitude and generosity to let a poor relation live under the same roof, almost like family. “We’re putting you in the east room,” Norah said as Bert turned off the highway. “The big one in the corner?” Edie blinked away her surprise. “I know,” Norah said as if surprised, herself. “Normally we save it for guests, but we’re not expecting anyone until summer.” Edie gripped the guitar case a little tighter as she mentally checked off yet another title she wouldn’t hold during her stay: family, guest, anyone. She shook off her growing irritation by silently reciting the mantra she and her best friend, Shonda, had developed while dealing with bitchy customers back at the Burger Barn in Ithaca. Think it. Don’t say it. She could imagine a giant swarm of flying piranhas busting through the front windshield and reducing Norah to a small mound of bone dust and a pair of pearl teardrop earrings. She simply had to smile politely while she pictured it. When Bert drove by the ENTERING MANSFIELD, INC. 1770 sign, Edie recalled the last time she’d visited. It was more than seven years ago, back when her mom’s massive blowout with her sister led to a mutual boycott on family visits. Edie had been startled by her mom’s ferocity, and a little impressed, too. The two of them made a pinkie pledge that day to never enter Mansfield again. Now Edie was breaking that pledge. A little knot of guilt and grief formed in her gut. It tightened as the familiar landmarks continued to speed past: the ice cream shop, the library, the murky and probably polluted lake that Edie and her mom used to plunge into on hot summer days. Childhood memories flooded her, one after the other, rushing in faster than she could handle. She accidentally let out a sniffle. Then another. Norah craned around from the front seat. “Don’t sulk, dear,” she scolded, gentle but condescending. “Bashful, I can handle. Awkward, we can work on, but I can’t abide sulking.” Edie wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I was just thinking about my mom,” she said as the tears continued falling. Bert flashed her a sympathetic smile through the rearview mirror. Edie gratefully returned it. Norah, true to character, took no notice of either of them. “I understand a few tears,” she said, “but while you’re with us, please try to demonstrate a little moderation.” “Moderation?” Edie asked, unsure how such a thing was possible. What was she supposed to do, cry every other tear? Bert reached over and patted Norah’s hand where it rested on her lap. “It’s only been three years,” he quietly reminded her. “And a girl only has one mother.” “I only had one sister,” Norah countered. “But at some point even Frances would want us to move on.” Edie felt her temper rise, simmering under her skin like shaken soda-pop. She could handle being criticized. She’d prepared herself for endless disapproval, mandatory gratitude, and the uniquely tenacious agony of feeling like she’d never fit in. She’d even expected the ugly jolt of betrayal she felt for violating the pact she’d made with her mom. But she couldn’t believe Norah was putting a statute of limitations on missing someone. Then again, limitations had always been one of her specialties. “I suppose a bit of moodiness is to be expected,” Norah continued with a sigh. “Frances was always so temperamental, and you know what they say about the apple.” “It keeps the doctor away?” Bert snuck Edie a wink. Norah shot him a glare. “It doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she said. Edie bit her tongue, desperate to prove Norah wrong about her temper. The task grew increasingly difficult when Norah failed to cease her censure, soften her put-upon sighs, or get eaten by flying piranhas. By the time Bert pulled the car into the long and winding driveway, Edie was ready to explode. A thousand words pressed at her lips, none of them polite. Her only solution was to bolt before she said something she’d regret. The second Bert’s key turned in the lock at the side of the house, Edie ran past him, her old army duffel in one hand, the guitar case in the other. “Where do you think you’re going, young lady?” Norah challenged. “Somewhere I can sulk,” Edie snapped, the words flying out too fast to stop them. “In moderation.” With that, she fled up the stairs, ran down the hall, and slammed the bedroom door behind her. She stood there for several seconds, battling her instinct to flee all the way back to Ithaca. Too bad that wasn’t an option. She’d agreed to move here. Papers had been signed. Legal guardianship had been transferred. For the next five months, until she turned eighteen and left for college, she was stuck in Mansfield. She set down her belongings and reminded herself that the situation wasn’t all bad. Her aunt and uncle were offering her room and board, sending her to private school with her cousins, and making an effort to repair the family rift. Edie also appreciated having her own room, even if it was only on loan until guests arrived. She’d shared her last bedroom with two kids half her age. Her foster mother also snored like a stuttering sea cow, and the creepy building manager always waylaid Edie for small chat while he ogled her boobs. Surely a few months in Mansfield would be an improvement. Edie crossed the room and flopped down on the enormous sleigh bed, jostling the dozen or so eyelet pillows that’d been carefully arranged to imply they’d been dropped at random. It really was a nice bed. She could get used to that, at least. She surveyed her surroundings as she tried to picture herself settling in. Aside from the excess of white, not much had changed since her grandparents owned the house and she used to visit with her mom. The antique furniture was perfectly matched and polished. The door handles were porcelain. The lamps were cut glass. Everything was either fragile, sterile, or both, leaving Edie terrified she was going to break or stain something. It was a nice house but it didn’t feel like home. To Edie, home was safety, comfort, and a place where she could make mistakes because someone was there to help her laugh at them. A place where her seven-legged, bug-eyed caterpillar drawing stayed on the refrigerator years after the paper yellowed and the pipe cleaner antennas fell off. Where she and her mom read desperately tragic novels together. Where they shared Edie’s first cigarette, her first drink, her first post-heartbreak cry. Home was where Edie built memories. Home was where someone loved her. Here in Mansfield, Massachusetts, home appeared to have a more formal definition. Edie took out her phone and opened the web page she ran with her best friend: Shonda and Edie’s Indispensable and Only Occasionally Illogical Lexicon. She posted a new entry.
- A temporary refuge potentially preferable to foster care, homelessness, or Taisha Duncan’s lumpy pullout sofa bed.
- A residence containing three marble fireplaces, four unused bedrooms, and two dozen sets of shiny black shutters that don’t actually shut.
- A place where the doors are always open but the arms are not.
Edie stared at the screen, desperate to see a ping of connection with her friend. The comment section remained empty. She was starting to suspect Shonda had shut off her new post notifications, or, even worse, she was ignoring the site completely. With a pang of loneliness and an ache of uncertainty, Edie slipped her phone into her pocket and promised herself to check it only once an hour. Maybe twice. She retrieved her mom’s guitar case and sat down at the dressing table that was wedged between two bay windows. A dressing table, she noted, not a desk. God forbid she do anything but prepare herself to look fabulous for the neighbors. With a sigh of resignation, she opened the case. Two things lay inside: a dog-eared notebook filled with Edie’s songs, and a stringless guitar, its surface scratched, its tuning pegs askew. One day, when the thought of playing no longer made Edie well up with tears, she’d buy some new strings and make the guitar sing again. In the meantime, she’d simply keep it close. It stored some of her favorite memories: following her mom around to open mic nights, writing songs together, dozing off to a lullaby about sleeping in a crescent moon. Edie traced a line down the guitar’s neck as she recalled the first time she’d played her mom’s favorite song, “Water, Water, Wash Me Slowly.” She was only seven, barely able to hit all the notes. Her mom had practically burst from pride, telling everyone her daughter was going to be a huge star. That was a good memory. That was a hold-on-to-it-forever memory. She was about to shut the case when her eye caught on the napkin that was poking out from her notebook. She slipped it out and smoothed down the wrinkles. It was mangled and stained, but the scribbled words were still legible. I can’t. I’m sorry. Move on. Edie’s dad had stuck the note to the refrigerator door with an inauspicious out-of-season Santa Claus magnet when Edie was still a baby. He disappeared that day, for good, but Edie’s mom kept the note, brandishing it whenever Edie mentioned boys. “Edie,” she used to say, “never fall in love. As soon as you give a man your heart, he’ll shine his two-sided smile on someone else, trading his promises for your regrets.” Edie had few worries on that front. As an outsider in Mansfield, she’d have a hard enough time just making friends. For the rest of the school year, she intended to bury her head in her books, hoping to keep up her grades and earn a scholarship. Then, in August, she’d walk in her mom’s footsteps—exiting the same house in the same town, also shortly after her eighteenth birthday—but Edie would be running off to college, not to a husband. Haunted by a scribbled napkin and a flickering sadness that used to pass through her mom’s eyes, Edie wanted an education more than a romance. Mostly.