I Will Never Leave You

I Will Never Leave You

by Kara A. Kennedy
I Will Never Leave You

I Will Never Leave You

by Kara A. Kennedy

Hardcover

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Overview

This emotional debut thriller follows a teen girl being haunted by the ghost of her toxic ex-girlfriend, who gives her a chilling ultimatum—help her possess another girl or go down for her murder.

"A blistering exploration of the ugliest and tenderest parts of love, Kennedy turns the classic ghost story on its head."—Courtney Gould, author of The Dead and the Dark


Maya has always belonged to Alana. After four years of dating, and on the precipice of graduating high school, Maya has been too terrified to consider the idea of life outside of their volatile relationship. Until she finds the courage to break up with Alana while they’re hiking in Southern California.

Then Alana goes missing. As the police get involved and the media run wild with the story, everyone seems to think that Maya is lying about Alana’s disappearance. Secretly, Maya knows they’re right: if Alana’s dead, she’s the one to blame.

But that’s not Maya’s only secret. Alana isn’t gone, not really—and she isn’t going to let Maya go so easily…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593707463
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 07/23/2024
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 55,406
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Kara Kennedy has been telling ghost stories—and sometimes living them—since childhood. She holds a BA in Professional Writing from Penn State University, where she worked as a writing tutor for years. Kara is an Author Mentor Match alumna and a Pitch Wars '21 mentee. She lives in Pennsylvania with her partner and their two kittens, Roanoke and Renegade. I Will Never Leave You is her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


One Week Earlier


On the morning I decide to break up with Alana, the sky is crystal blue.

We’re hiking the superbloom trail at Antelope Valley, our annual tradition. Liquid gold sunlight pours down on us, warming the pathway lined with electric-orange poppies bending in the wind. The gusts are almost strong enough to block out the obliterating desert heat. I was praying for rain last night, for a miracle that would cancel this outing, but the Southern California air is dry as ever.

“You’re so tense and weird today,” Alana says. She never breathes heavily on hikes. Everything she does, from schoolwork to hiking to insulting me, is effortless.

“Sorry.” I take a swig from my water bottle while her back is turned. “I’m just stressed.”

“Maya, what do you have to be stressed about?” Her brown ponytail swings. “It’s a beautiful day. You’re surrounded by wildflowers. Senior year’s basically over. You have me. Relax.”

I tilt my head back to face the sky. An eagle swoops overhead, low and silent. People come to see the famous superbloom from all over, cars lining the roads that feed to the Visitor Center. Ever since we got our licenses, we’ve made the trip up here each May. It’s our thing.

If I break up with her, I leave all that behind. I start all over again.

It’s what I need to do. I just don’t know if I’m strong enough to stand up to her.

On the trail, it’s quiet, but there are still plenty of hikers snapping photos and laughing. Everyone in the world is happier than me. At least there will be witnesses, I tell myself glumly, wiping the sweat off my forehead. Because I know what will happen when I initiate this conversation with Alana. Her anger, the way it accelerates so quickly it makes me dizzy. I can already feel the knife-sharp fear lodging in my throat, the kick-drum beat of my heart.

“Are you freaking out about graduation?” Alana asks, voice cutting through the quiet. “Because it won’t be a big deal. We’ll walk across the stage, we’ll get our diplomas.”

“Barely, in my case.” I bite my lip and focus on the California poppies spilling out before us. Graduation is next Saturday, only a week away. “That whole thing is still a secret, right? You didn’t tell anybody?”

Alana turns, walking backward, bouncing on the soles of her feet. Her sneakers are newer than mine, pristine despite the dirt path. Everything she touches stays perfect.

“Who would I tell?” she asks. “Besides, it’s your personal business.”

“And everyone else on the planet, when I stay here in LA this fall,” I mumble, kicking a pebble. It ricochets off my sneaker, lands in a cluster of poppies and blue forget-me-nots. “Do you know how shitty it feels, not getting into a single college?”

She pauses, waits for me to catch up. Beyond her is a sprawling wildflower field that goes on for miles, and in the distance, the white-capped San Gabriel Mountains. I swallow back that gnawing sensation I get at the sight of it. I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life and it never fails to knock me off my feet.

There was a time when I felt the same way whenever I looked at Alana. Now, the expectant set of her mouth floods my stomach with nausea. The copper taste of fear in my mouth, bitten back.

“You’re being dramatic,” Alana says. “Hardly anybody gets into Yale early decision. That was always a crapshoot.”

This is a well-trodden conversation, one we’ve revisited a hundred times over the past few months.

“And then, what? Five rejection letters during regular decision?”

“Something like that,” I say, like I don’t know the names of the schools by heart. Like I don’t recite them over and over in my head in a mantra of self-hatred before falling asleep.

“Well, it could’ve been worse.” Alana squeezes my hand and the knot in my chest loosens. Alana is nice to me, she is—this is proof. “Nobody in our class knows besides me. So you show up at the graduation ceremony and act like you have every right to be there, because you do. Be brave.”

I don’t know if I remember how to do brave things, I think, wiping the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead and squinting into the Mojave Desert sun. It’s almost impossible to believe that wildflowers can bloom in an environment like this.

Alana crouches down at the trail’s edge as a couple of hikers holding hands with a giggling toddler pass behind us. I watch her brush her fingers gently against the soft petal of a poppy.

“Speaking of college.” My throat constricts. Sunlight picks strands of gold out of Alana’s deep brown hair. “I was thinking that it . . . that it doesn’t . . .”

She mumbles something under her breath. It sounds like Here we go.

“What?” I ask, defensive.

“You’re going to give me a big speech about how we shouldn’t be together, right? Because long distance will be too hard?”

I’m silent.

She glances over her shoulder. “Am I wrong?”

“I just don’t see how it can work,” I whisper. “You being all the way on the East Coast for college . . . I mean, it’s ridiculous, right?”

She’s going to say I’m wrong, I tell myself, hope blooming in my chest. She’ll tell me that distance doesn’t matter, or better yet, she won’t go to Massachusetts at all.

“Yeah,” Alana says, thoughtful. She gets to her feet, brushing dust off her leggings. “Yeah, you’re right.”

A cold shock washes over me. “What?”

“We’re going to be almost three thousand miles apart for four whole years.”

I stare at her, feeling my hands start to shake. “You don’t think it’ll work either?”

“Maya, you literally just told me that you can’t see how it can work between us. Were you just messing with my head?”

“No! I—”

“That’s really unfair,” Alana sighs, folding her arms. “After everything I’ve done for you this year? Protecting you from all the drama, all the—”

“Sorry,” I choke out. Ironclad panic squeezes my lungs. I can’t cry in front of her. I can’t.

The briefest of pauses, wind rustling through the wide-open fields.

“Are you crying?”

“No.” My lower lip is shaking, and when I blink, a fat, hot tear spills over my lashes, trickling down my cheek, dripping off my chin before I can wipe it away. Alana watches it fall through narrowed eyes. More than anything, she hates when I cry.

This is why I need to end things, no matter what it does to me. I’m not happy, and I won’t be any happier when she’s across the country. I will always be at her mercy.

I’m dry grass and she’s the wildfire. It takes nothing for me to burn.

“Sometimes I feel like . . . ,” I start, but trail off. “Sometimes I feel like it makes me too sad, being with you.”

“This again? Seriously?”

“I just don’t think relationships are supposed to make you this sad.”

“What’s making you sad?” she asks. The words drip off Alana’s tongue, slow and lazy like honey. “Is it your spooky ghosts again?”

I flinch like she took a swing at me. I should never have told her about the paranormal encounters I had growing up. She’s always had a way of clinging to my childhood ghost anecdotes, like it was some kind of fun party trick and not a trauma I’d rather forget. “You know I haven’t seen them since I was a kid.”

She smirks. “Yeah, I know, Maya. You aren’t being haunted by anything except your inner demons.”

Goose bumps rise on my bare arms, thin hairs standing on edge even in the warm wind. Dimly, I’m aware of the other hikers ducking around us, trying to act like this never-ending wildflower field doesn’t make it possible for them to hear every word. This is what Alana does: latches onto the ghosts of my past and resurrects them as soon as I’m vulnerable.

I could escape right now if I wanted. But the thing about Alana is that even when I feel so trapped that I can’t breathe, she could give me a wide-open sky and I still wouldn’t run. I love her too much.

“Seriously,” Alana says again. “It’s a favor from the universe that you didn’t get into Yale. There’s no way you could’ve lived an hour and a half away from me. I bet you would’ve lasted, like, a week, and then you would’ve just followed me to Smith.”

“I would’ve been fine,” I insist, but it comes out more whiny than forceful. It kills me to say these words, a jagged pain shooting through my lungs. “I’ll be fine. We need to stop pretending that we . . . that we need each other.”

She gives me a skeptical look, condescension dripping from her gaze. “Like you really mean that. Who’s going to be there to protect you from your anxiety spirals? What would you have done if you’d seen one of those super-scary Instagram posts from Elise and the other girls from school having fun without you—proof that the world doesn’t revolve around you?”

She laughs at her own joke, but I just glare. Another ghost that needs to stay in the past.

“Why would you bring that up? You know how bad it hurt when—”

“Maya, I realize you’re perfect and we should all aspire to emulate your shining example, but honestly? You’re not the best judge of character.” Alana undoes her ponytail, brown hair ribboning in the wind. “Why else do you think you ended up losing every single one of your friends over the last few years?”

I stare at her, hating her so much it stings. Hands shaking, I step forward, sneakers scuffing in the dirt. I’m not actually going to hit her, but my heart is slamming against my rib cage, blood pooling in my cheeks, and I’m not so sure I can control what I do anymore.

“Hey,” a voice says behind me, and I whip my head around. There’s a hiker, blond and midtwenties, thumbs looped through her backpack straps. She looks embarrassed. “So sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to make sure—are you guys okay?”

I open my mouth, cheeks blazing hot, but before I can get a word out—

“Oh, I’m fine,” Alana says, crystal blue eyes widening. Out of nowhere, there’s a delicate tremble to her voice. “We’re just, um, talking about school. It’s no big deal.”

The woman doesn’t seem convinced. Her eyes flicker over to me, then back to Alana. “You’re sure you don’t need anything?”

She says this to Alana, not me.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your hike! Beautiful day.”

I watch the woman as she heads off down the trail, wildflowers blooming in raging colors all around her.

“Good job, Maya,” Alana says, a laugh in her voice, and I close my eyes to block out the rage simmering in my veins. “Now you’re freaking out strangers.”

“Listen to me. The stuff with our friends—none of that was my fault,” I choke out through gritted teeth, squinting at her in the blinding sunlight. She will never believe me, but it’s true. Livia, Elise . . . when they stopped speaking to me, stopped caring about me. “I keep asking you to quit mentioning it. You aren’t giving me the space to heal.”

“The space to heal,” she repeats scornfully, waving her fingers in little quotation marks. “Your therapist is really getting to you. Maya, you’re fine. Well, I guess you would be if you could stop crying every five seconds.”

She steps closer to me. Doesn’t stop until she’s close enough to brush a strand of hair out of my eyes, fingertips soft against my forehead.

“As long as you’re with me, you’ll be fine.”

Her touch stings like an electric current. I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, want to punch the smile off her face until I hear the crack of bone under my fingers.

I want to make her hurt the same way she hurts me.

“I don’t need to be with you, Alana. We need to end this.”

“You’re breaking up with me?” Alana purses her lips. “Really.”

“You know we would both be happier that way.” Rage pounds in my ears. “Didn’t you just say it yourself? It’s crazy to expect we could stay together when we’re on different coasts. You don’t want that. You want to go off and live your life, while I—”

Her blue eyes go cold, like the hottest edge of a flame. “Don’t tell me how I feel.”

“Why? I know you better than anyone.”

“Oh, you’d love to think that’s true,” she says, but we both know it is. Over the years, we’ve twisted ourselves together into knots, carved our initials into the darkest parts of each other. You don’t come back from that.

I bite my lip. “I-I’m sorry. But this shit about me following you around . . . it hurts my feelings, Alana. You don’t think I can be my own person without you. I’m going to prove to you that I can.”

“You’re being crazy.”

“You know what, Alana?” I step back, sneakers dragging in the dirt. Crazy. The word rings in my ears, pounding inside my skull. “I’m going home.”

Alana laughs, the sound crackling like lightning.

“Maya,” she says. “You won’t leave without me.”

“Watch me.”

And I turn, pulling my car keys out of my pocket, swinging them around one finger. I drove us here, but she’s resourceful; let her find her own way back home. Without a backward glance, I head down the trail the way we came, desert wind harsh on my face.

I leave her there.

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