For sixteen-year-old Jillian McKay, the threat of Hurricane Danielle means a long car ride with her neighborsincluding River Daughtry, the former star quarterback of Harrison High. The guy who was headed to glory until suddenly he disappeared to a West Texas juvenile detention center. Once cocky and flirtatious, he's now silent and angry. When their evacuation route is gridlocked, River is the first to recognize the danger they're in. Together he and Jillian set out to seek shelter in their abandoned high school. As they wait out the storm, they confront the past and realize survival is about more than just staying aliveit's about fighting for yourself.
|Publisher:||Whitman, Albert & Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Deborah Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and nutritionist, and the author of seventeen books for children and adults. She has been a regular contributor to the New York Times (including four years as the New York Times Magazine beauty columnist), and a home design columnist for Long Island Newsday. She lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
24 HOURS TO LANDFALL
River and his dad are waiting for me. I have to get out my duffel. I have to pack. Only I'm paralyzed. What do I do? What do I take?
Take only what's essential. That's the mantra on TV and radio.
Clothes? Favorite books? Cubby, the teddy bear I've had since I was three? The tiny red silk pouch with my baby teeth?
All over our city two million people must be asking themselves the same question, but that doesn't make it easier. I've never run from a category five hurricane before. There's no rule book. No self-help guide. To make it more unreal, the sky is now Popsicle blue. No storm clouds or distant thunder. No ominous warnings above us. Has everyone lost it?
Our neighborhood is carpeted with neon green grass and turquoise swimming pools. Dogs bolting from fenced-in backyards and kids tripping on sidewalks make headlines. Nothing bad happens here.
Only everything is about to change.
"Jillian," my mom says, suddenly appearing in my doorway, "let's go!"
But she's not going anywhere. I'm the one leaving. Without her. The familiar fear courses through me.
"Why can't I stay with you?" I ask for the eightieth time. "Or at least go with Ethan."
"I'm going with Jerry," Ethan shouts from his bedroom. "And we don't want you anyway." Typical Ethan. Forever excluding his little sister.
"Ethan," my mom says, in warning.
"Lowlife," I yell back.
"I have to work, you know that," she says, tired of going over this again. "And I want you out of harm's way." Then her face softens. "Do you really think I want to be here when the storm hits?"
Um, yes, Mom, I think you do. Disasters make good copy. She could get a Pulitzer out of this one.
If she survives to write it.
If any of us are left to read it.
"Tomorrow's Astros game was canceled," Ethan says, in a tone that sounds like someone died. My brother is on the phone with his separated-at-birth best friend, Jerry.
"Who cares?" I say. "Lupe Tortilla is closed." How will I survive without my weekly fix of fiery shrimp tacos and refried black beans? Or my watermelon Slurpees from the 7-Eleven? Dominos, the only holdout, is still delivering, but for how long?
I yank out my duffel and then kick it aside. I reach for a blood red nail polish called Tomboy No More, like giving myself a pedicure now makes sense. Like anything does.
"Jillian," my mom says passing my doorway again, pens and notebooks in her hands. She ignores the unmade bed and the clothes scattered on the floor, because things like that don't matter anymore. But she does a double take and stares at my toes. "I cannot believe you're ... please, let's go."
One body-bag-sized bag to hold my life: money, snacks, jeans, T-shirts, and random possessions from my almost seventeen-year-old life balled up inside.
"We should both go!"
She comes closer, pushing my mop of red hair out of my face.
"You have gorgeous blue eyes," she says. "Why do you hide them?"
"I don't hide them."
"I love you," she says, her face softening. "Let's not go over this again. I'm a reporter. It's my job to be here."
It's like she refuses to accept how bad it could get. Google "cat 5 storms" and what do you find? Sustained winds of over 157 miles an hour. Storm surges greater than eighteen feet above normal. They used to be rare. Not anymore. Between 2000 and 2009 alone, there were eight. And now there's Danielle.
But my mom's not paying attention to my pleading. I'm invisible to her. Orphaned. My single parent, career-woman mom is committed to succeeding in her job, whatever the stakes. Her mind is made up. All morning she's been plotting strategy with her office. She's renting a truck instead of using her car. She's pulled waders out of her closet, only now she's not going trout fishing in Montana with her book group. Waders will come in handy crossing streets flooded with waist-high water. She's stocked up on enough dry food for a moon landing, not to mention a dozen topped-off red plastic fuel cans, because gas will run out while mobs of cars on the freeway escape in one direction: O-U-T.
The plan is for the press to bunk at an office building off the freeway where the mayor and his staff will set up headquarters and monitor the storm. So while other families are leaving together, my mom will be staying behind.
I'm stuck in the backseat of my next-door neighbor's SUV to fend for myself. Just me with Mr. Harlan Daughtry, a big oil VP, and his son, River. Me in the back. River in the front. Almost as close as the night of the school's full-moon picnic.
The night he kissed me, rocking my world.
A lifetime ago.
Tall and blond with a body that makes smart girls stupid, that's River. What's changed since last year is that his cocky grin has been replaced by a wary coolness. But the biggest difference is in his eyes.
They don't meet mine anymore.
I don't know much about him now, not unless you count the rumors. No surprise about that. The star quarterback gets expelled without warning, so people talk. And whisper.
But none of us knows the real story. And he's not talking.
I can't help wondering what happened. He had it all. He was smart and popular. He carried the team. What could he have done that was so terrible that overnight he got cuffed and thrown into the back of a police car, ending up in a juvie prison in the West Texas desert?
I upend my backpack, sending school garbage clattering to the floor, and then jam it with essentials for exile.
The T-shirt drawer is sticking.
I wedge out the old school newspaper stuck behind it. Me on the front page.
While at 6'3" River Daughtry is the perfect drop-back quarterback, when you can run 4.40 in the forty, you can play any position in the field. Daughtry has a special innate quality that surpasses strength and speed, that surpasses self-confidence. He burns with raw power and invincibility.
Hard to recognize the picture. Tangled hair falling in my face, stripes of eye black, like war paint, and a smug grin as I hoist up the trophy. It hurts just to look at me then. Everything was so different. My fairy-tale life. I remember Carla, my girlfriend in LA, eyeing the picture. It was right before we moved from LA to Houston.
"You look hot, River," she said, laughing.
The me that doesn't exist anymore.
The world of before.
Drop-kicked from the Ivy League track in Houston and then thrown into that West Texas snake pit that eroded my brain. My hands shake as I reach into my pocket for the orange plastic bottle, my lifeline to sanity, and toss a pill down my throat.
Take only what's essential.
My mom's picture, clothes. What am I forgetting? What? The list. Where's my list? My brain's fried from the psych drugs they pushed down my throat. I can't remember things anymore. I go to the corkboard target on my wall and pull out a knife. I slip it into my back pocket.
"River, you almost ready?" shouts my dad.
Not even close. "Almost."
To make matters worse, Jillian will be along for the ride, all sweet perfume and memories, taking me back to where I refuse to go. Just seeing her reminds me of the me I'll never be again, the weight of the past like a boot crushing the back of my neck.
Screw the past, screw everything.
Just a week ago today, everything seemed almost normal. It was before the forecast changed from blue skies to black clouds and imminent disaster. It was only September, but I'd been consumed with studying, obsessing about my grade point average. I was preoccupied with the months ahead when I'd be applying to colleges and writing essays. Essays to make ordinary me magically stand out from the competition. Essays that required me to weigh in on what I thought about pivotal events in my lame life, or someone else's. Essays that asked me to describe ethical dilemmas I faced and how I handled them.
Seriously, why did I have to be held under a microscope to see if the way my mind worked meshed with some admissions board's exalted criteria? My life was my life. Weren't grade points enough to go on?
Lunch was usually a welcome break from obsessing about college. So I went out to meet Kelly. Instead of eating in the lunch hall, we liked to eat outside under the canopy of giant live oak trees. I got there first. As I waited for Kelly, I noticed Coach Briggs, his ramrod straight posture, eyes laser focused ahead, strutting toward the football field. And then that got me thinking of River and how his life imploded near the end of last year, our sophomore year.
I'd been attracted to River, but who wasn't? Sometimes I thought it was mutual, but other times I laughed at the idea. River was comfortable in his own skin, easygoing, flirty with everybody. That went along with being the star football player, Harrison High's hot Prince Charming, having your pick of girls, like a rock star who amuses himself by playing musical beds, not concerned with breaking hearts. Besides, I had Aidan.
"You're lost in thought," Kelly said, dropping down next to me. I hadn't even noticed her coming out to our lunch spot. "What were you thinking about? You looked sad," she said.
I told her I'd been thinking about River.
"You see him much?"
"I ran into him the other night when we were both taking out the trash. He had a sweatshirt on, the hood pulled up. He barely nodded."
I didn't tell her what else I'd seen recently. River's room is across the yard from mine. When the windows are open, I hear his guitar. Ever since he came back he plays for hours at a time.
But a few nights ago, a dull, steady pounding had woken me.
The sound was coming from River's window. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Like fists on a punching bag. I wondered if he was beating someone up. I got out of bed and walked to the window, but all I could see was the flickering light of a TV in the darkness.
In the morning I headed for his backyard gate after he and his dad left. I had to know what the sound was. I tiptoed along the narrow walkway, jelly-bean-sized pebbles crunching under my feet. I stopped at River's window. An unmade bed, clothes and towels dropped everywhere. Over on the far wall, by a huge TV, was a target. Only River didn't use darts. It was covered with slender knives, each suspended by the tips of their gleaming silver blades, all piercing the bull's eye.
I stared at the knives. That was a side of River I hadn't seen before. Was he angry? About what?
"Jillian? You're someplace else."
"What's River doing now?" Kelly asked.
"He's a stock boy at Whole Foods, I think. That's his life, except for running. He must do marathons all the time." I unwrapped my tuna salad sandwich and then tossed it aside. "What does someone have to do to get expelled and sent to juvie prison?"
"Not jaywalking," she said. "Heavy stuff like murder, robbery, dealing drugs, rape, arson."
Everyone in school had their own theory about what happened to River, but the truth never came out. The school wanted it buried, so they never issued any information to us. "I thought I knew him."
"Maybe nobody knew him," she said. "People snap, they get mad. Who knows? Or they're just unlucky. Wrong place, wrong time, whatever."
"Unlucky," I said. "I'll go with that."
Just then I looked up and saw Lexie, the head cheerleader, walking past us. Tight red T-shirt. Short denim skirt with a black widow spider tattoo above her ankle. She glanced over at me with a self-satisfied expression.
"Bitch," she mouthed.
I turned away, my hand closing around Aidan's ring. I wore it on a chain around my neck. I had a steady boyfriend I could count on. He was dependable. Trustworthy. He would never fall for someone like Lexie, who worked her way up the ladder of players on the team, finally latching onto River, the star at the top.
So what if River had kissed me like no one ever had? It was one kiss. One moment in time. And then it was over. Everyone crushed on River. Anyway, last semester's picnic was history. Lexie and River were history. I had to stop obsessing about the past.
But old habits die hard.
23 HOURS TO LANDFALL
I was obsessing about the past. I had to stop. That was a week ago. Ancient history. Now the clock was ticking. Only twenty-three hours to landfall. No time to think about anything except getting out and staying alive.
I snap into action, studying what's in my closet. Flip-flops? Sneakers? I think about flooded streets. What if the bayou overflowed and poisonous snakes floated out? Copperheads, cottonmouths — your standard-issue Texas nightmare — nothing to worry about there. I read they don't make as much anti-venom these days. I drag my tall boots from the back of my closet, but they weigh a ton, so I throw them back.
Take only what's essential.
I go into Ethan's room. "What are you taking?"
"Music and guitars," he says, yanking CDs off a bookshelf without turning to me.
Right. "What about Jerry?"
"Some six packs."
What did I expect?
I zip my stuffed duffle, then a second later unzip it to switch out a royal blue T-shirt for a navy one because when outrunning a hurricane you should definitely obsess about the hues of blues and, God, yes, I'm freaking, I am. I drop-kick the bag downstairs and out to the driveway where I stuff it into Harlan's trunk. River, in the front seat, ignores me, and I ignore him back.
The hard-assed ex-marine wedges carton after carton into the trunk, packed as tightly as cemented bricks. Files, water bottles, a flashlight, and finally a white metal box with a red cross on it. I wonder where he stashed his prized uniform, embalmed in plastic, from the hall closet.
The only holdout, my guitar. No music in his life. Too healing, or whatever.
"There's no room, River." He holds a stiff arm out to me.
I grab the guitar away and wedge it into the backseat against the door. "How hard was that?"
He doesn't answer.
Coexistence. The sum total of our relationship. Since my mom died, we sleep in the same house, eat at the same table, but that's about ...
Flash of red hair. She walks out of her house. A nanosecond glance at her through the rearview mirror, and then I look away. She stuffs her duffle into our trunk and goes back inside.
I don't want to be in the car with them.
I don't want to be leaving the city.
I don't want to be part of this.
No one holds cat 5 drills, because who thinks they'll ever happen? You can't cancel life for a day and tell an entire city to get lost. I max my music and shut my eyes.
Austin. They can wake me when we get to Austin.
I start to get into the car and then stop. Wait. What am I doing? I'm losing it. I forgot something. What? I dash back into the house and look all around. My toothbrush, right. The phone rings. Kelly. I smile at the picture of her in a pink bikini with a floppy straw hat pulled down over one eye. I took it last year in Galveston when the surf was whisper-calm and people were out paddling their sea kayaks. It looked like a poster for a summer in paradise.
"I wish you could come with us," she says.
Zero chance of that. She's got two younger brothers, and her parents drive a midsize Honda. I stare out the window at River in the car. He's sitting there stock-still.
In a last-ditch effort to avoid going with River, I had asked my mom if I could ride on Kelly's roof rack. Her answer was no answer. It was Harlan's SUV for me. Friend of the family, ex-marine, so trustworthy, whatever.
"It's fine, Kel." I work to sound sincere, which is a reach. But Kelly knows; she's been my best friend since I moved to Texas from New York two years ago.
"Are you ... nervous about being in the car with him?"
Yes, no, maybe so. I have no idea really. Does he make me nervous? Not like seeing-a-snake-in-the-backyard nervous. Or getting-a-wisdom-tooth-pulled nervous. How many kinds are there? Does he make me anything now? I haven't been close enough to him in over a year to find out.
I walk to the window. He's still sitting there, right arm out the window, fingers drumming against the top of the car. I think about the knives. Did he pack them? Part of his essentials? Who or what will he target?
"Austin's less than three hours away, Kel. I'm not a baby, I can take care of myself."
Excerpted from "Hurricane Kiss"
Copyright © 2016 Deborah Blumenthal.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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