Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia" that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants.
Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again. Will Nico take the last bus to Everland?
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This never would have happened if I hadn't named the bloody cat Tinker Bell.
He stares at me over Leanne Watson's shoulder as she sprints up Leith Walk, his face squashed against her neck. Fake fingernails dig into his ginger fur; one gold hoop earring falls over his head like a lopsided halo. Leanne glances back, almost tripping over a buggy sliding out of the co-op, and grins.
"Come on, Fairy! Come save Tinker Bell!"
Tink wriggles and yowls, the way he always does when anyone but me tries to pick him up, but Leanne's grip is like a vise. (I should know; she's had me in a headlock more than once.) Michelle McInnes chugs along after her, pulling up her jeans as she runs.
"Yeah ... Fairy," she wheezes. "Come ... get ... him."
My calves ache, and my lungs are starting to burn, but I force myself up the street, cursing my sister for leaving the door open, and Leanne for being the school's top long-distance runner, and Tink for being slow enough to let her catch him in the first place. Heads turn as the girls run past. Someone yells something about calling the SPCA, but nobody tries to stop them. Nobody ever tries to stop them.
"Fly, Fairy, fly!" Leanne shouts. "Go on — you can do it!"
They dodge an elderly couple and a man carrying a crate of fruit into the Chinese supermarket and disappear around the corner. I follow them along an empty street, into a car park bordered by two blocks of dull gray flats. Leanne comes to a halt by a shiny red Mini; Michelle collapses against the boot, her cheeks the same color as the bodywork.
"That's actually no' bad, Brody." Leanne hasn't even broken a sweat. Her ponytail is still neat, her winged eyeliner slick as ever. "Where was that sprint in PE yesterday, eh?"
Tink mewls and kicks against Leanne's denim jacket. I know how he feels. Leanne and Michelle have been giving me grief since I moved to Mackay House five years ago, after they caught me roaming around the yard shouting after a cat named Tinker Bell and decided I would do for target practice. Should have called him Peter, or Smee, or Captain Hook. Nobody would mess with a cat named Hook.
"Come on, Leanne." I can feel my face burning, no doubt turning the spots on my cheeks reddish purple. "Give him back. You're hurting him."
"Leaaaaanne, you're hurting hiiim," she mimics, making my voice two octaves higher and a whole lot whinier. "Ask nicely, Fairy."
Aye, like that'll work. I lunge and make a grab for Tink, but Leanne lifts him out of my reach. I'm on the tall side for a fifteen-year-old boy, but Leanne's a giant: six foot one in trainers, an NBA player in heels. Tink screeches as she dangles him over her head.
"Naaaaaaants ingonyamaaaaaaa bagithi Baba," she sings, like Rafiki presenting Simba on Pride Rock. "Oh, sorry, Peter Pan. Wrong Disney."
Michelle breaks into giggles. "I know! He's got to say, 'I do believe in fairies.' Like in the film, eh? That's the only way you're getting him back, Brody."
Leanne looks at me expectantly. I glance around the car park. There's nobody to help me. No one unloading their shopping. No parents wrestling a toddler into the back seat. Tink squirms from side to side, mewling pitifully. Leanne's grip tightens.
"I do believe in fairies," I blurt out. "There. Gonnae give him back now?"
Michelle shakes her head. "Nah, you've got to say it like you mean it. Louder. Clap your hands an' all."
My cheeks burn. I loved Peter Pan when I was wee. Tinker Bell in particular — so much so that I named my cat after her. At five years old, I didn't realize there was anything "unusual" about that. I haven't read the book or seen the film in years, but still ... that story meant something to me. I don't want my memories of it to fuse with that time I made a tit of myself in a car park off Leith Walk.
But I know Leanne. She won't give up until she's served me my daily dose of humiliation, and I need to get the cat back. So I say it. I say it at normal volume, but she's still not satisfied. I say it slightly louder, then louder again, and again. Soon I'm shouting the words, slapping my hands together so hard the palms sting, until —
My chant cuts out, and the girls' sniggering with it. Above us, leaning out of a third-floor window, is a boy: a boy of around seventeen, with light brown hair, a cigarette in one hand, and wings. Bright blue wings, tall and sleek as a ship's sails, bursting past the window frame — two strokes of color against the pebble-dash landscape.
For a moment, Leanne and Michelle are completely silent.
Then they explode into laughter.
The boy frowns. For a second, I think he's about to have a go at me for shouting about fairies outside his window at half six on a Wednesday evening, but instead he stubs his cigarette out on the windowsill, gently maneuvers his wings past the frame, and disappears back into the flat.
Leanne is laughing so hard she can hardly breathe; Michelle's bent double, screeching harder than she did the time Rachel Rhodes sat in red paint in Art and it looked like she'd got her period.
"Hey, another fairy," she says, spluttering. "Your fairy godmother, Brody, come to rescue you."
Black Rimmel tears are running down Leanne's cheeks. As she goes to wipe them away, Tink soap-slips out of her grip and shoots away from us, sliding beneath a battered Vauxhall Astra. I start to run after him, but I hear a door being violently flung open behind me. I turn to see the boy with the wings striding across the car park. He looks thunderous.
The girls' laughter peters out. The guy isn't that big. He's tall but skinny — I can see the outline of his ribs beneath his paint-splattered T-shirt — and yet there's something imposing about him, even with the wings on. The tension in his shoulders, maybe, or the way his boots scuff the gravel. He comes to a halt just a few centimeters from Michelle.
"Get out of here." His accent is hard to place: mostly English, with a dash of something else. Spanish, maybe. "Go on. Piss off."
Leanne scoffs. "Nice wings, pal," she says, though her voice has a nervous wobble to it. "This your boyfriend, Brody?"
It's supposed to be a dig, but all I can think is, I wish. This boy is beautiful: high cheekbones, dark brown eyes, curly hair that flops down to his eyebrows. A constellation of freckles spans his tanned cheeks and nose, and his pale lips tilt into a sneer as Leanne speaks. He takes another step forward. Michelle blanches.
"I told you to leave," he says, his voice low. "You're going to go now, and you're not going to bother him again. Okay?"
After a long moment, Leanne rolls her eyes. "All right, fine. God, Fairy, learn to take a joke."
She bumps into my shoulder as she moves past me, and Michelle steps on my foot, but they leave. They actually go. If I weren't so relieved, I'd be pissed off at how easy this guy has made it seem. I've tried everything to get Leanne and Michelle off my back: ignoring them, arguing with them, begging them to just piss off and leave me alone ... Nothing works. Well, my friend Megan snapping at them sometimes does the trick. Or my brother, if he's around. Jake's sick of fighting my battles, though.
"For God's sake, Brody, deal with it. They're girls," he always says. Like that makes a difference.
As soon as they're out of sight, the embarrassment mutates into rage — Tink could so easily have jumped out of Leanne's arms and straight under the wheel of a car, and I'd have been left to scrape my favorite family member off the road. My eyes are prickling, but I won't cry. I never cry.
As I turn toward the Astra, the guy puts a hand on my shoulder.
"I'll get him. Cats like me."
Before I can tell him that Tink hates every living creature on the planet except me, the boy's on his knees and coaxing him out from behind the tire. The poor cat's trembling all over. It'll take an entire block of cheddar cheese (his favorite food) until he even comes close to forgiving me for all this ... but to my surprise, he sits quietly in the crook of the guy's arm as he's carried across the car park.
"There we go." The boy strokes the spot between Tink's ears before passing him back to me. "What an ordeal."
"Cheers." I shift Tink onto my shoulder, wincing as his claws dig through my school shirt. "You didnae have to do that, you know."
The guy brushes his hair out of his eyes. His hands are smeared with paint and glitter, and his nails are royal blue.
"Just making up for all the dickheads I didn't stand up to when I was younger. Do they often catnap him like that?"
"Nah. Well, no' this far, anyway." My eyes glide over the wings. "Are you ... are you off to a fancy-dress party or something?"
Up close, I see they're made from simple papier-mâché and covered with dozens — hundreds — of bits of blue. There are dried flowers, foreign stamps, swatches of satin and lace, sweet wrappers, splashes of nail polish, clusters of sequins and sea-battered glass. There's a butterfly pinned above the guy's left ear, and the eye of a peacock feather just below the right, all blending into a glittering swirl of turquoise and sapphire and cobalt.
It's the sort of thing I wouldn't be seen dead wearing.
It's the sort of thing that I'd rather die than admit that I kind of, maybe, like.
The boy tugs at the straps over his arms, making the wings flap together. "Something like that. Though to be honest, wearing this type of stuff ... It's the only time I feel like I'm not in costume."
Another face appears at the third-floor window: a girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, wearing a vivid orange headscarf.
"Nico? Kasia needs help making her claws."
"Okay, two secs." The guy — Nico — pauses for a moment, then shouts up to the girl. "Hey, Zahra, could you chuck me down a bit of paper? There's some on Kasia's desk."
The girl's eyebrows twitch into a frown, but she nods and turns away. After a moment, something falls from the window: a small origami lily, folded from pale green paper. The guy runs to catch it, takes a pencil from behind his ear, and writes something on the petals.
"You should come here tomorrow," he says, handing me the flower. "I think you'd like it. Don't worry — you don't have to dress up if you don't want to."
I turn the lily in my hands. Written in thin, slightly wobbly letters are the words Calton Hill. Thursday, 11:21 p.m. — and not a minute later!
"Aye, all right," I say, looking up at him. The girl is still watching from the window, a curious expression on her face. "I'll be there."
The boy smiles. His freckles shift upward, like stars realigning.
"Great. See you then, Fairy."
He gives another flap of his wings and winks at me before walking back to the flat. My cheeks flush. Fairy. That's the word that has haunted me since third grade, when some genius realized that just adding a y to my surname could get my eyes to water and my face to turn scarlet. It's the nickname that has followed me down corridors and into classrooms and on school trips, the nickname that's never been pinned to Jake, even though his name is Fair, too. But though it's not okay when Leanne and Michelle say it, it's different coming from Nico. In his voice, it doesn't sound anything like an insult.
It sounds like an invitation.CHAPTER 2
Stuff like this never happens to me. My days are usually made from the same few ingredients: school, homework, fighting with Jake and Keira over the computer. There are good things, like drumming or bingeing on Netflix and pizza at Megan's house, but nothing like this. Boys with blue wings don't appear at flat windows. Paper lilies don't come fluttering down from the sky. Walking home, Tink pressed against my chest with one hand and Nico's invitation in the other, Leith Walk seems different in a way I can't put my finger on. Like something in the world has shifted, just a wee bit.
Nothing's changed back at Mackay House. The concrete courtyard is empty — Leanne and Michelle have probably gone in to watch Hollyoaks, thank God — and our flat is exactly how I left it. Jake's still doing his homework on our ancient PC, and Keira's in her room listening to music at full blast. Dad's sewing a button onto one of Keira's school shirts while he watches a documentary, probably his ninth or tenth of the day, and Mam's in the kitchen making our supper. Nobody's even noticed I was gone.
"Home sweet home," I mutter to Tink, as he slips out of my arms and onto the carpet with a bump. He turns to me, hisses, then slinks off to sulk under my bed. I flip him the finger as he goes.
"Oh, you're welcome. Next time, I'll no' bother."
My dad's balding head appears over the back of the sofa. "There you are, Brodes. Here, come and see this."
I carefully flatten the petals of the lily invitation, slide it into my back pocket before anyone spots it, then perch on the arm of the sofa. On the TV screen, a tiny puffer fish is gliding over the seabed, creating storm clouds of sand with the movement of its fins. After a moment, the camera pans out to show a pattern in the sand: a perfect circle of delicate ridges, hundreds of times bigger than the fish itself.
Dad grins at me. "Amazing, eh?"
"Aye, it's cool."
It's impressive and all, but I'm too busy thinking about the lily in my pocket to focus on artistic fish. Calton Hill. Thursday, 11:21 p.m. — and not a minute later! My parents aren't that strict, but there's no way Mam will let me go out that late on a school night. Especially not to a party on Calton Hill. (If it even is a party. "Something like that" could mean anything. Could be a church fete or an accounting conference, for all I know.)
My eyes swim around our living room. After five years, I know every inch of this cramped wee flat: the Bolognese stain shaped like France on the faded tan carpet; our heights marked in pencil on the kitchen door frame; the crack in the bathroom wall when I tripped and smacked my head during a game of tag with Keira. I didn't think I could see it in a new light, but suddenly this room has become an obstacle course. Dad falls asleep on the sofa most nights, and Jake's always on the computer until one or two in the morning. I've got no idea how I'll sneak out of here without them noticing, or without Mam vaulting out of bed to see what I'm up to.
Dad puts down the needle and thread to rewind the scene. He loves documentaries. He's seen every Deeyah Khan film two or three times; David Attenborough is practically the seventh member of our family.
"Smart wee buggers, aren't they," he says as the puffer fish zigzags backward through the water. "All that just tae attract a mate. Heck of a lot more than I did! Eh, Sally? Sal?"
No answer. I glance into the kitchen: Mam's leaning against the counter, looking at her phone and biting a fingernail. Behind her, hot water bubbles over the edge of a pan, sending clouds of steam billowing through the door and into the living room.
"Mam!" I shout. "The water's boiling over."
Her head snaps up. There are coffee stains on her lavender work uniform, and half of her hair has fallen out of her ponytail.
"Crap! Quick, Brody — give me a hand."
She turns the hob off, batting away steam. I slide down from the sofa and set the colander in the sink before she pours the spaghetti in. We had pasta yesterday, too, and the day before that. Usually I'd moan about it, but my stomach's all jittery, and I'm not that hungry. Which is weird. I'm always hungry.
"How was school?" Mam opens a jar of tomato sauce and pours it over the spaghetti. "Did you get to play the drums?"
"Nah. I did reserve the room, but some sixth-year band got there first."
She clicks her tongue, like it's somehow my fault Phil Haynes and his pals can't respect the music-room rota. "Will you get a shot tomorrow, then?"
Before I can answer, Keira swings into the kitchen singing something fromHamilton. She holds her hands up — the fingernails of her left one are painted glittery lime green.
"Mam, I need you to do my right hand."
"We're almost ready to eat, Keira. After dinner, okay?"
Keira's voice jumps up ten decibels. "But I'm gonnae go up to Amanda's afterward and I need it to dry by then and —"
Mam throws up her hands. "Fine, fine! Give me a second."
While Jake and I are both tall, dark, and quiet, my twelve-year-old sister is the opposite: a tiny blond whirlwind who does everything at full volume. My parents always give in to her demands. It's just easier than dealing with her sulking. Mam gives my shoulder a squeeze on the way out of the kitchen.
"Could you set the table, please, love?"
Counting out the knives and forks, my mind drifts back to the boy with the blue wings. Nico. My stomach flips. It's not just that he was hot — though I can't lie, that's part of it. It's also the way he walked out wearing those wings, like he didn't give a damn who would see or what they might think. It was the way he looked at me like he got it. Almost — though we'd only met a few minutes before — like he got me.
I've got to go to Calton Hill tomorrow. Somehow. I have to.
As I go to shut the cutlery drawer, something catches my eye: Mam's rota for the care home where she works, stuck to the fridge with a magnet my auntie Rhona brought back from her holiday in Tenerife. Her hours for Thursday are written in purple ink: 5 p.m.–1 a.m.
My heart leaps. Sneaking past Mam would be like dodging a Rottweiler. In comparison, Dad's a lazy old beagle — he might even be asleep before eleven if I'm lucky. I can easily slip out without him noticing, and if I'm back by one o'clock, Mam won't even know I was gone. I can hardly stop the stupid grin from spreading across my face as I go to set the table.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Last Bus to Everland"
Copyright © 2019 Sophie Cameron.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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