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Authors: Carrie Jones


BOOK: Flying
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For all the girls like Emily Ciciotte …

girls who know they can save the world.

Let's do this!



I wake up scared. Chills shudder down my body and my mouth tastes bad, like old sandpaper mixed with—what? Spaghetti sauce? Diesel oil? Rancid sour cream? I shut my lips tightly and try not to smell or taste or breathe, just fall back asleep, but my heart beats too hard, too fast, too crazy quick from whatever nightmare it was that woke me. It feels like when Dakota Dunham goes ballistic on the bass drum when someone gets a three-pointer at a basketball game.

The moment I think of Dakota Dunham, I know it's no use. I'm not going to fall back asleep. My hands are clutching my quilt as I open my eyes. My glow-in-the-dark stars have faded into the ceiling, which means it's past midnight—way past midnight.

Something thuds downstairs. I reach out to turn my light on and then think better of it. Because what if it's some sort of demonic serial killer who attacks the single women of Milford, New Hampshire? What if he's down there right now, stepping past our little yellow love seat, making his way toward my mom's bedroom? Maybe he wields a machete or a chainsaw or has claws for hands, or something else all stereotypical serial killer, and he's heading straight for my mother's bedroom, ready to …

I whisper, “Mom?”

No answer. I try to think of a weapon capable of fighting off a demonic serial killer. My iPod Nano? Hardly. My pom-poms? Pshaw. My lamp? That could work. I reach out and grasp the light stand. It's heavy enough.

Then comes her voice. It travels upstairs to my bedroom, loud and pinched. “You better not try it!”

You better not try it?

That is not the sort of thing Mom normally says. She's the kind of mom who acts like a church secretary. She mouses herself down, you know? No makeup. Baggy clothes. Quiet voice. It's like she's hiding from the world. Not that the world is even noticing or anything.

I try again. “Mom?”

No answer.

I let go of the lamp, pull the covers off, and haul myself out of bed. It is not easy. My mom says I'm a sound sleeper and a lazy waker. An oak tree once fell on our house during a blizzard; I slept right through.

Shuffling across the floor, I can't see anything. My leg bashes into the edge of my dresser. Pain shrieks up and down my shin. Great. That'll bruise and look lovely when I'm cheering. Fumbling for my doorknob, I find it and turn it, pulling the door open, and …
Horrible, awful light smashes into my eyes. My lids shut.

Moaning, I struggle to open them again, to adjust. Blink. Blink again. Okay. I stagger toward the stairs and pad down them. The runner on the steps bristles against my naked toes.

“I am serious!” Mom yells.

I make it to the bottom of the stairs and wait there a second. The front door window shows a world of blackness. Mom stands in the middle of the living room. Her narrow back quivers with emotion. She's not in her pajamas even. She is still wearing the same long, hippie skirt and sweater she had on earlier today … I mean, yesterday.

“Hey.” I whisper-say the word, not sure if I should interrupt.

She whirls around, snapping the cell phone shut. Her hair is wild, glamorous in a celebrity red carpet way, and her eyes match.


I can actually see her make her body relax. Her shoulders slump again and she smalls herself down. She seems more mom-like. “Honey? What are you doing up?”

“You were yelling.”

Her eyes get big and innocent. “Yelling?”

“Into the phone,” I add, leaning back against the wall and yawning. I am not the sort of person who does well when they randomly wake up in the middle of beauty rest time. Obviously.

She rushes over to me and wraps her arm around my waist. We're the same height now, which is wild really. It is so bizarre being eye to eye with your mom.

“You need to go back upstairs to bed right now, young lady.”

“Do not go all official mother on me, because you are avoiding the issue,” I say, but I snuggle into her and we trudge back up the stairs. My calves ache. I'm so tired from all the touchdowns at cheering practice. Each step is hell. “Who were you talking to on the phone?”

“Crank caller.” Some pitch in her voice makes me feel like she's lying, but Mom never lies. Still, it doesn't make sense. She's not a person who gets mad that easily, and as we get to the top of the stairs, I still can't quite understand what just happened.

“Why did you keep talking to them then?” I ask.

She flicks on the light to my room and guides me in like I'm still five years old. She does a slight shrug. “I didn't want to let him just get away with it. It isn't okay to harass innocent people in their homes. If he does that to us, who else is he doing it to? I can just imagine poor little old ladies, grabbing their phones, disoriented in the middle of the night. Their first thought would be someone has died. It's cruel.”

She says this all quietly but with force, and then she motions for me to get in my bed, which I do. She pulls my covers (penguin sheet, penguin blanket, second blanket, comforter, quilt) up to my chin, leans in, and kisses my forehead. Her small fingers smooth the hair away from my face. It feels nice. She gives me a tiny smile and says, “You have a good sleep, Mana.”


“Don't worry about anything,” she insists. “No being a little stress monkey.”

“I am not a little stress monkey,” I lie. My mom thinks I don't handle stress well enough; she wants me to start yoga or meditate. Like I have time for that. She says my stress comes out in nightmares—typical, boring nightmares about being defenseless and having little gray men abduct me, or being naked at school, that kind of stuff. And she goes on and on about how I need to keep my heart rate down and be mellow.

“You, my little sweetie, are getting all crinkly faced. That means you're worrying.” She stares at me with mom-radar eyes and then tucks the quilt around me even more tightly before she adds, “I've got everything under control.”

My mind can't wrap around what she's saying, because I'm too busy trying to remember my last nightmare, which involved voices in my head, I think telling me the wrong answers for a computer science test. “Huh? What do you mean?”


She smiles at me. I smile back, and my eyes start to close, and I'm already thinking of Dakota and how his forearms look when he drums.

“I will always keep you safe,” she says, which is what she has said to me every single night since I can remember the actual tucking-into-bed process. Mom tends to baby me a bit.

I lift up my arm and wiggle my hand, but I'm so sleepy it's barely a wiggle. She knows what I want though. She wraps her fingers in between and around my fingers.

“I love you, Princess Jelly Bean,” she says, placing my stuffed penguin next to me. I have a thing for penguins. This is normal, despite how much I get teased about it. Penguins are adorable. They mate for life. They waddle. They have built-in tuxedos. “I love you the whole world.”

I smile. “I love you, too.”

She squeezes and lets go. I fall back asleep before she has even shut off the light. Poof. Just like that … I am off to Beddy Bye Land with the Kissy Penguins. At least, that's what she always used to call it when I was little. Back then, she would tell me a story before I went to bed. It would always be about a girl hero, conveniently named Mana, and how she would rescue the world from space monsters. I would snuggle up against Mom and listen to her soft voice and fall right asleep every single night. I was such a baby back then. Now all my good dreams are about Dakota and his forearms.

*   *   *

Mom and I head to a cross-country meet on Saturday, not because we are runners but because Lyle, one of my two best friends, is competing, and we like to support him whenever we can. Plus, to be truly honest about it, a cross-country meet is much quicker than winter and spring track meets with their multiple events that take all day. So we try to get all our supporting done in the fall. Next year Lyle will be up at Dartmouth. My heart kind of sinks when I think about him going off to college and me still having a whole other year of high school.

But Mom is obviously not thinking about these sorts of things, and is her usual happy, caffeinated, wiry self as she pulls the car into a parking space by the field. She taps me on the knee. “How are you feeling today? Everything working well?”

“All body parts in regular working order.”

Lyle thinks it's amusing that she phrases things this way. “She makes you sound like a machine,” he always says, and I always tease back, “I am a machine. A tumbling machine of awesome.”

We are sarcastic goofs. We have been sarcastic goofs forever, friends since I moved into the neighborhood in lower grade school, back when he was super awkward and gangly and his head seemed too big for his shoulders. He is not like that now. I spot him in his warm-up pants and windbreaker, and his shoulders stretch out the fabric of the jacket; his thigh muscles even stretch out his warm-up pants. He has gotten so-o-o huge. It's kind of stunning. He waves and I go up on tippy toes, waving back.

Mom hooks her arm into mine. “That's an awfully big smile, young lady.”

Lyle starts jogging over.

“Don't give me that scoffing face. You know what I mean,” she teases.

“I have no idea,” I answer. Actually I have
sort of
an idea, but this peculiar jumble of feelings I have for ancient friend Lyle is not what I want to diagnose or even poke at right now, especially since Lyle is already with us.

“Hey.” He smiles. “You came.”

BOOK: Flying
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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