Vivi Lewis just wants to stay in one place for more than a minute. It's April of her senior year, for crying out loud, and here she is again, packed into a beat-up white Toyota with her anxiety-ridden single mom, fleeing the Washington coast. She hopes that this move-the one that's taken them inland to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho-will finally be their true fresh start.
There's little to indicate this time will be much different from all the others...until Vivi meets Win Kemper at the city bus stop before her first day of school. Win and Vivi are a perfect match-both self-defined weirdos. Vivi trusts Win, and their time together is a whirlwind of cliff-jumping and paddleboarding, a life immersed in nature that would have given her, and especially her mom, a panic attack in the past. Their instant spark becomes a rock-solid friendship, and might be even more, if Vivi can stick around long enough to experience it.
But having a reason to stay also raises the stakes. Running from their fears has never made Vivi and her mom safe enough before, and now everything she has to lose appears in sharp relief. Can she find the strength to separate herself from her mother? Will the burgeoning bond she and Win share be enough to get them beyond the last twenty-six days of senior year-even when the worst-case scenario comes to pass?
|Publisher:||Margot + Burke Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
For Beck, the path to published novelist has taken lots of twists and turns, including a degree in anthropology, a stint as a ticket seller at a ski resort, a much-loved career as a high school English teacher, and a long tenure as a member of the best writing group ever, hands down.
Beck balances (clumsily at best) writing novels and screenplays, working full-time as an educator, mothering two pre-teen males, loving one post-40 husband, and making time to walk the foothills of Boise, Idaho, with Stefano DiMera Delfino Anderson, the suavest Chihuahua north of the border.
Learn more at authorbeck.com.
Read an Excerpt
When my mom goes to sleep, she leaves her tennis shoes by the bed — on the floor, with the laces undone. She positions her shoes with the toes facing the bedroom door, and the tongues are pulled out so she can slip her feet in quickly. Lately, she's been trying to buy slides or mules or loafers, which she can slip on without even bending over.
When I was younger, I liked to crawl in under the covers with her at night when it was damp and cold. Mom was usually awake when I got there. Some nights I'd wake up, and she'd be dozing next to my bed in the armchair upholstered with yellow and pink roses, fully dressed, car keys in her hand.
Many mornings when she'd come to the breakfast table in her nightgown, I would spy her jeans poking out from underneath.
At some point after I started going to school with other kids, I realized Mom was different. Other kids' parents didn't sleep in their clothes. They didn't keep watch over their kids in the middle of the night.
I'd love to tell you I didn't care what other people thought of us, but that would be a lie.
I'd also love to tell you I don't care now that I'm older, but that's not particularly true either.
At first, the ride to Coeur d'Alene didn't seem to be helping Mom. She gripped the steering wheel so tight her hands kept cramping up, and she had to have me hang on to the wheel while she let go, one at a time, to shake them out.
The white Toyota is partly to blame. I don't have a driver's license, but I can tell when the tires are out of alignment. As we drive east from Washington, the whole car shudders, trying to follow the crooked wheels' lead and lunge into the barrow pit.
And the weather isn't cooperating, either. So far we've had snow, rain so hard the wipers on high didn't help, and gusts of wind that almost pushed our car into the eighteen wheelers in the lane next to us.
So it's no surprise that we're both exhausted from the whole ordeal.
But the farther Mom gets from the Pacific Ocean, the farther we drive away from everything I've known for my seventeen years (at least the ones I can remember — I was born in California, but I don't remember living there — I was too young), the more I can see Mom's face softening. Her shoulders relax a bit with each hour.
Now, as we drive across the bridge coming up from the south of town, she smiles. I'm barely awake, but I see the smile start in her eyes.
"Welcome to Coeur d'Alene," she whispers, and to me it seems like a prayer, or a thank you. I don't know why exactly, or who she might be thanking. Maybe it's from her lips to the universe.
It's late on the night of April 15th, and we drive up to a little gray house with the porch light on. I stumble from the car with my backpack and my toothbrush.
"I'll come back for a load of stuff," I tell her over my shoulder. "I just need to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth."
"It'll be fine overnight. This is a safe town."
"How do you know that?"
"Everybody tells me." She goes to the front door and unlocks it with a key that's still attached to a large plastic tag with the address on it.
"You don't know anyone here." I push past her to get to the bathroom.
She calls after me. "Jeanne, the property manager. She said so."
I feel bad for calling her on her choice of words: everybody. I turn the light on in the bathroom. It's probably the only bathroom, since the tiny front room has only one hall coming off of it, and I can see the kitchen at the back of the house, and the back door, and I just walked in the front of the house.
It smells clean, though, like bleach, and the mirror in which I'm watching myself brush my teeth has a little hand-painted bird at the top of its white frame. It's a homey kind of touch to me, and maybe, maybe we're here for a while. Maybe this will be our home.
"We'll get something bigger after I save up a bit," Mom says.
She comes in behind me, watches my face in the mirror, rubs my back in between my shoulder blades the way she's always done since I can remember. Nothing feels more like love than a warm palm making lazy circles on your back, smoothing out your T-shirt, counting the knobs of your backbone.
She's still a tiny bit taller than me, her eyes big and blue in a thin face. I'm darker skinned, with thick eyebrows, chocolate brown eyes, and apples of my cheeks that always seem to be blushed. My face is soft and round in browns and pinks, and she's tall and narrow in blues and blonds. I can look at her temples and see the veins there, and sometimes, I can see the beat of her heart, right in the hollows next to her wide eyes and long nose.
I spit in the sink, rinse the toothbrush, and turn around to give my mom a hug.
"Mom, it's great. Let's go to sleep."
She points back to the front room. "I just dragged in the sleeping bags and pillows for now."
I nod, and my head feels heavy on my neck. I have one day, tomorrow, before I start at a new school. In April. As a senior. I try to shake away the dread that sinks its teeth into my spine where my neck meets the top of my back.
The advantage I have is exhaustion. I crawl into the sleeping bag Mom has spread out on the carpeting in the front room. I worry for a moment about bugs or strange smells in the carpet left by some other person who lived here. I hope I can't smell anything.
I reach into the front of my backpack and find my roller ball tube of lavender oil. I glide it over the insides of my wrists and slip it back into the bag.
"I could find the teakettle and teacups in the back of the car and make some chamomile if you want." Mom comes in from the bathroom and sits down on the sleeping bag next to me.
I shake my head. "I'm fine. I'm too tired to wait for the water to boil."
She brushes my bangs out of my eyes and blows me a kiss. "Okay, kiddo. Love you." She gets up and snaps off the light, checks that the front door is locked. She comes back, creeping slowly in the dark, and kneels next to me. She folds her sleeping bag down and crawls inside, rolls over so she's facing away from me.
I close my eyes, feel sleep settling on my tired legs and arms.
"Thank you, Vivi." Mom's voice is soft.
"For coming with me. For doing this."
"Wouldn't want it any other way, Mom. I love you."
She reaches behind her and takes my hand, holds it close to her and kisses the top of it. "I love you up and down, forward —"
"And backward, and always." I finish the sentence, and Mom releases my hand.
"Try to sleep," she says. "When we get up we'll see what we need to get you ready for school."
I try to breathe in deeply and let go of the worry. I think back to rain on the roof of our old house. I breathe in again, and finally, after counting at least twenty deep breaths, I fall asleep.
* * *
The light slips between the curtains, and when I open my eyes, I panic for a minute — first lost as to where I am, and then convinced that it's Monday, convinced I need to get up to get to the new school I know nothing about.
Mom offered to homeschool me, since there are literally twenty-six days of school left, but I worry about graduation, and I definitely don't want it to look weird or like I couldn't hack senior year and withdrew at the end, so close to being done.
Plus, I can't stay at home with her all day. I need to be out in the world. We're alike in some ways, but I get claustrophobic. I can't stay in. I have to be out, and I have to be connected to something bigger than myself.
Finally, I remember it's not Monday, it's Sunday. I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, and put deodorant on.
"I want to be completely unpacked, so you really feel like it's a good start tomorrow morning," Mom says as I come into the kitchen. "No looking for your favorite socks at the crack of dawn, you know? I want it all ready to go."
She's been up a while, I can tell. The coffee pot burbles, and it seems like she's had a pot already.
I don't mention that I don't really have a favorite pair of socks. I'm not opposed to the concept — I'm no killjoy — but I've got no time and no money to spend on goofy footwear.
I shake off what already feels like a bad mood and give Mom a kiss on the cheek. "Morning."
"It shouldn't take too much time, right?" she asks.
I'm not sure why she's trying to convince me.
"There's not much," I respond. "Maybe we can accumulate some more stuff here."
I leave off the part about wishing we were packrats. Just once I wish I could be the kid complaining that my mom and dad have way too much crammed in the garage.
But she's not paying attention to any subtle wishes or slams on my part anyway. She gets up and dumps the rest of her coffee in the sink.
"You ready to unload?"
I'm ready to unload on her for dragging me across a state because she got spooked, and I could tell her I'm pretty sure nothing's coming after us. But I don't. I'm chalking up this souring attitude to a lack of sleep and a change of venue.
Mom stands, looking for her keys, and I watch her smooth the front of her T-shirt. Suddenly I'm so, so sorry that I picked on her, even if it was just in my own mind. She tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and I can see just how tired she is, especially around her eyes. She's worked so hard for so long to keep us safe and clothed and fed and warm.
The least I can do is help her unpack the car.
"Mom, it's not much." I pluck her keys from the counter by the coffee pot. "Why don't you have another cup of coffee? I'll bring in the first load."
"You don't have to do that, lamb."
"I want to. You drove all night." I tuck the keys in my back pocket and go to get the first pile of things.
I go outside and look at our little car. I wonder how it's going to be this time.
I wish for a time that is long. Longer than the others.
* * *
Monday rears its ugly head in the form of my freaky phone alarm: fake birds, who start chirping quietly about five seconds before they get loud, so loud.
I sit up with a jerk, try to find where it was I put my phone last night.
I'm still on the floor, though now with an air mattress between me and the hardwood in the bedroom. I hope for a minute that we stay long enough for me to actually have a bed frame. A real mattress. Maybe I'll get a job and earn the money myself.
But when I go away to school, like I want to, then I can stay in a dorm. So maybe I can put up with an air mattress for the end of school and summer.
If I think about it too much, though, I don't want to go away to school. I feel like I'm a traitor. I chicken out, punish myself for thinking of leaving, hyperventilate on really bad days.
I plan to go on a run tomorrow morning. It's late enough in the year that it's light when I wake up, so a run will be good for my brain. My anxious brain.
Today, though, I need to get ready.
Mom offered, when she decided to come here, to give me a ride every morning. But there's a city bus stop not far from the house, and I've already Googled it, so I know I can get to it, get on a city bus, and get to Coeur d'Alene High, home of the Vikings.
I'm sure there's a school bus, but we didn't give the school system enough notice to get themselves organized to pick up a new kid with five weeks left of school.
And Mom doesn't need an extra task in the morning. She's already started to fret about the job she's lined up, as a cashier in the gift shop at the Coeur d'Alene Resort.
Mom has a bachelor's in kinesiology. She has a teaching certificate, too, and she taught PE in an elementary school when I was really little. It's been a long time since she was a PE teacher. A lot of stuff happened before I was old enough to be aware that there was something going on. But she doesn't teach anymore, and she doesn't talk about it.
I finish getting dressed and find Mom at the stove. She's making me eggs.
"You found a pan. Well done." I give her a kiss on the cheek.
"Today only. Tomorrow you have toast like the rest of the peons." She hums a bit. Her mood is light, airy, and her shoulders seem straighter than I've seen them in a while.
"Tomorrow I'm going to try to run."
She turns from the stove to face me. "Good, Vivi, I think you should. It does a body good."
"I'm glad you approve." I plunk my backpack on the ground next to the folding chair and sit at the card table. She sets the eggs in front of me.
I eat and brush off the growing worry. Reframe it, Vivi, I tell myself. I think about this house, about the bluebird on the mirror's frame in the bathroom, about the sun shining in the windows.
Fresh starts might be a good thing. Maybe this is ours.
I eat, Mom leaves the kitchen to go get ready for work, and I call a goodbye to her as I walk out the door, reaching for my phone.
"Be careful. Have fun. Meet people!" she yells from the bathroom.
* * *
When I get out in the street it's sunny, and the air is fresh, almost a little chilly. But the sun, oh, it's so nice. I love Washington State, but after living there I feel like I've forgotten there's a big ball of gas up in the sky that warms our planet. Spring in Seattle is wet and windy and gray, and it's nice to know that maybe April brings more than showers.
My phone navigates, and I look at the little houses on my street before turning the corner to go up the hill.
I pass the library. That's a place I could apply for work. I like books. I love books. Books love me. I fancy that they do, at least, since every new girl deserves some friends, even if they are made of pulp.
I don't have my earbuds in, because I'm trying to be all smart in a new place and not get jumped my first day out in the world. I become aware of footfalls behind me.
I turn around. Listen, I could spend many minutes imagining terrible serial killers with hooks for hands wielding chainsaws behind me, but part of keeping myself under control is ripping my imagined serial killer Band-Aids off summarily. Cutting to the chase, so to speak, helps to keep me in check.
The person behind me stops short. He looks up, Beats over his ears, big plaid shirt with the collar popped up, like it's really cold out. But his tan legs stick out of khaki shorts and are stuffed into socks and Birkenstocks.
"What?" He flips a Beats over, off of his ear.
I didn't say anything, I don't think. Geez, maybe I did. I do that sometimes. "I didn't say anything."
"Oh. I couldn't hear." He grins, points to his ears. "What do you listen to?"
"I couldn't say." I don't want to reveal my musical tastes to a random person. It's the window into the soul.
"Well, I'm currently all over James Blake. With Bon Iver, especially. It's not the newest album, but man, in the morning, it's the perfect start. Definitely." He walks up to my side and points ahead. "Walk to the stop together?"
"The bus stop?" I step a little to one side. He stands next to me as though we're besties.
"Yeah. You're headed to school, right?" He pulls his headphones all the way down, around his neck. I've been upgraded to full attention. "Unless you're an NIC girl. My apologies for insulting you, then."
"No. I'm in high school."
I raise an eyebrow. "You've gone from thinking I might be at the community college to assuming I'm a sophomore?"
"Well, you're new, and I've never seen you before, so I figure you're just not in the halls when I am. I'm a senior, so you're a sophomore."
"Or, I'm a senior who just moved here from Issaquah."
"East of Seattle. Inland a bit."
"Cool. You want to sit together on the bus? I can check your schedule and give you the lowdown. Maybe we have a class together. I could find you at lunch, save you a spot at my table."
I can't help it. I laugh. It's one of my weird, high, kind of snorty, nervous laughs. Not attractive.
"What's the laugh for?" He's kind to call it a laugh and not a pig snort.
"I thought for sure I'd have a tortuous first day — the weird girl moving here at the last minute of senior year."
"There'll probably be tortuous moments. I haven't seen your schedule yet, remember. Plus, I give you no guarantees on the women in my school. I've found most of the senior girls to be pretty insufferable."
"Is that so?"
"Well, you strike me as my type of person, and you and I, we don't gel with a lot of the preppy types."
"Maybe I'm a preppy."
"You'd be preparing to try out for the cheerleading squad — actually, I guess you wouldn't because we're almost out of school — but you'd definitely have a whole lot more makeup on, and I suspect nothing you're currently wearing came from Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, so you're not a prep."
"Do you really give everybody a label? I don't want a label."
"How about a 'like me' label?"
He smiles at me, and his smile is white, so white in his amber face. He has a golden brown face kind of like mine, and I'm almost startled at the realization. Maybe not the browns and pinks I get from my dad, maybe brown from somewhere else, a different, honey kind of shade, but brown nonetheless. And deepened by time in the sun, I think.
A "like me" label. He doesn't mean because of our skin, does he?
He shakes his head, reading my expression. "I don't mean because of your skin. I'm a little Japanese, a little Canadian, a little Cuban. I don't care what you are."
Excerpted from "Worst Case"
Copyright © 2018 Beck Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Margot + Burke 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.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Undone,
Chapter Two: April Fool,
Chapter Three: Palindromes,
Chapter Four: Driving the Green,
Chapter Five: Lovely, Dark, & Deep,
Chapter Six: Jack Be Nimble,
Chapter Seven: May Day,
Chapter Eight: Shame On Me,
Chapter Nine: Hope is the Thing with Feathers,
Chapter Ten: Uneasy Rider,
Chapter Eleven: The Art of Losing,
Chapter Twelve: Madmen,
Chapter Thirteen: Never Closer,
Chapter Fourteen: One Wild & Precious Life,
Chapter Fifteen: This is Just to Say,
Chapter Sixteen: Nothing Like the Sun,
Chapter Seventeen: Song of Myself,
About the Author,