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Authors: Lisa McMann

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BOOK: Going Wild
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CHAPTER 2
The Package

C
harlie Wilde let the front door slam behind her and shuffled listlessly to the living room for the last box. She gave a fleeting look around the empty house and sighed. The Wildes' cats, Big Kitty and Fat Princess, warily circled and sniffed at two pet carriers on the floor. Their dog, Jessie, whined and paced anxiously at the window. “I feel you,” said Charlie. “Believe me.”

Charlie's younger brother, Andy, followed her in, carelessly dragging snow across the carpet. Without a word the kids lifted the box and carried it out of the house together. The door slammed again, and the children waited at the back of the moving truck for their mom to grab the box from them.

All around, the noises of the city went on as if everything was normal: honking horns, waves of music from passing cars, and the occasional siren. But things were far from normal for Charlie. When her cell phone vibrated in her pocket, she balanced her end of the box with one hand and reached for it.

It was a text message from Charlie's best friend, Amari, consisting of two emojis: a sad face with a teardrop and a green moving truck.

Charlie used her thumb to reply with a row of sobbing girl faces.

Andy, who was ten, grew bored waiting for their mother and started smacking the heel of his boot into the ice on the driveway to see if he could make a hole. After one particularly hard kick, he accidentally dropped his end of the box. The lid slipped off, and a couple of coffee mugs spilled out onto the ice.

Charlie sighed and lowered her end of the box to the ground. It had been a long, cold morning. Now that the house was empty and she'd said good-bye to her friends, she just wanted to get moving.

A blue car slowly passed by, the driver peering out the window like she was searching for an address. The car kept going, and Charlie turned back to Andy, who was just standing there. “What are you waiting for? Pick up that stuff,” she said. “And quit messing around.”

“You quit,” muttered Andy. He dropped to his haunches and pulled off his gloves.

Charlie's mom poked her head out from the moving truck. “Any more boxes?”

Charlie frowned and stared stonily at the driveway.

“This is the last one,” Andy said. He chucked the coffee mugs into the box and smashed down the lid.

“Impressive,” Charlie said sarcastically. She helped him lift the box up to their mom, who put it on top of a stack and shoved a sleeping bag next to it to keep it in place. They could hear their
dad grunting from inside the truck as he tightened the straps that would hold the fragile stuff in place for the seventeen-hundred-mile journey, taking them from the awesome city limits of Chicago to what Charlie called Absolutely Nowhere, Arizona.

“Almost done,” their father called out. “Load up the warm bodies and we're out of here.”

“Okay, kids,” their mother said, “crate the cats and grab Jessie. We'll put them in the car with me. You two ride in the moving truck with Dad.” She jumped out onto the driveway. “We'll know soon enough how well this'll work—I'll spare you the meowing and the puking for the first few hours, at least,” she said with a wry smile. All three pets had been rescues with unknown pasts, but the animals had one thing in common: they hated riding in the car. Jessie got carsick if she moved around too much, and Big Kitty was especially skittish and had an earsplitting, banshee-like
meowl
whenever she wasn't enjoying herself. Fat Princess chewed on things when she was anxious.

Andy darted inside, and Mom gave Charlie's shoulder a squeeze as she passed. Charlie pulled away. She could hardly believe this was it—their last moments in their beloved house.

As Charlie lagged after them, she saw the blue car coming back this way just as slowly as before. She hesitated at the door to watch it. But a second later Andy began hollering from inside. The cats were clearly not cooperating. Charlie went to help.

Ten minutes and several scratches later, the cats were
successfully enclosed in their crates. Charlie and Andy each carried one out to the Subaru. While Charlie carefully loaded them into the backseat and secured them with seat belts, Andy opened the hatch for the dog. He unfolded the waterproof sheet they kept back there and spread it out in case of an unfortunate barfing incident.

“I'll get Jessie,” Charlie told him once the cats were loaded. As she jogged back to the house, she saw a small package propped up next to the door. “Where did this come from?” she murmured. She picked it up and looked around, but saw no one.

“Is this yours?” Charlie called to her dad, holding it up.

Her father appeared at the back of the moving truck and started lowering the roll-up door. “I don't know,” he said, hopping out and continuing to pull it downward, “but anything that doesn't make it in here in the next two seconds has to ride on your lap for three days.”

“Eep!” Charlie tossed the package into the back of the truck, just making it.

“First goal of the spring season,” her dad remarked as he slammed the door closed and latched it. “Nice shot.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said, but it came out halfhearted. Her stomach hitched as everything about moving away suddenly became so immediate. The truck was loaded, the house empty. She'd never play soccer with Amari or her other friends again.

At least I'll be able to play soon
, Charlie thought. If there was
one nice thing about having to move so far away, it was that her new school in Navarro Junction had a sixth-grade girls' spring soccer team, and tryouts were next Thursday. But Charlie would give that up in a heartbeat if she could just stay in Chicago. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

“Have you got Jessie?” her dad asked, and started toward the driver's door.

“I'm getting her,” Charlie said, her eyes flying open again. She darted into the house, past her mother, who was grabbing snack bags from the kitchen counter. Charlie took Jessie by the leash and rested her hand on the dog's head, trying to calm her. She looked around one last time, letting another sigh escape.

“Charlie,” her mom called, the click of her boots echoing in the hallway as she walked toward the door. “We're ready! Time to go.”

Charlie felt a wave of anxiety, and tears sprang to her eyes. “Just give me a second to say good-bye to my house!” she yelled back with more attitude than she probably should have had. But she couldn't help it. Didn't her mother understand what she was doing to her? Charlie had lived in this house since the day her parents brought her home from the hospital. Her whole life was here. And now everything was falling apart.

CHAPTER 3
Starting Over

T
he Wildes rolled into Navarro Junction on Friday afternoon, just in time to get a quick tour of Andy's and Charlie's schools. When they moved into their new house on Saturday, they got everything unloaded into the garage and their beds and desks set up, and that was about all they could manage before they collapsed.

On Sunday Charlie stood in the garage and stared at the stacks and stacks of boxes that still needed unpacking. She wondered idly where her soccer stuff was, but looking for it seemed like an overwhelming task. Besides, her thoughts were consumed with having to start school in this strange place. It made her stomach hurt to think about it.

She turned away from the mess and instead took in the neighborhood. All the homes had stucco siding and ceramic-tiled roofs, which reminded her of gingerbread houses.

The street was quiet, and there was no one outside that she could see. She went to the screen door and called inside, “I'm going for a walk!”

“That's great, honey!” came her mother's overly cheerful reply.

Charlie frowned at her mom's enthusiasm—after all, it was her fault they had to move—and ventured down the driveway to the sidewalk. It was weird taking a stroll in such an unfamiliar place and thinking at the same time,
This is where I live now.
She slipped her hands into her hoodie's pouch pocket and clutched her cell phone. It made her feel better, somehow, to know that Amari was just a text message away. Charlie took a photo of her house and sent it to her, then kept walking.

It was quiet compared to her old neighborhood. There were no skyscrapers here, no honking horns or random sirens at all hours of the day and night. No businesspeople rushing down the sidewalk to work or to get in line at the coffee shop, or to catch the train like Charlie often did. That had been an adventure every day. Life was happening everywhere all the time at a breakneck pace, and a kid had to be quick to keep up. Of course Charlie had to be cautious when she was out alone in the city, but her parents had made her and Andy take self-defense and safety courses at the Y since they were little. And because her mom was an ER doctor, Charlie even knew CPR—you never knew when that could come in handy. By the age of twelve she'd been able to handle just about anything, but if she'd ever needed help, her stay-at-home dad had always been available by phone.

Now, walking through her new neighborhood with its strange stone-covered yards, cacti, and flowers blooming in February, Charlie felt uneasy and unsure about what to do with herself. It
was too calm here. If she were back home, she could meet up with her friends or take the “L” train somewhere exciting. But here there wasn't much of anything going on—not that she knew of, anyway. Her mind returned to school and the quick tour they'd taken in and out of a jumble of small buildings. She began to worry about getting lost or finding a place to sit at lunch tomorrow.

Charlie picked up her pace, always expecting to see tall buildings around the next curve in the road but never finding them. Navarro Junction was an hour's drive from Phoenix, plopped down in a valley in the Sonoran Desert. There weren't many trees, but mountains surrounded them. When their Realtor had handed Charlie's parents the keys to their new house, he'd joked that the schoolkids always knew which way was home based on which mountain range they were looking at.

Charlie hadn't understood why it was funny. Didn't kids here memorize street names? In Chicago, the president streets went east-west. If you got lost, you just walked until you hit one and figured out your way home from there.

Charlie squinted against a sudden squall so she wouldn't get dirt in her eyes and flipped her hood over her head. She jogged across the street and saw a tiny children's play area between two houses, surrounded by stones. A couple of giant saguaro cacti stood in one corner. Charlie knew what kind they were because, on the long drive, their father, a biologist, had talked about how different the plant and animal life would be in their new home. The
saguaros were the tall ones often pictured in postcards of sunsets and cowboys and ghost towns, their prickly arms pointing out and up to the sky. Charlie looked at them, puzzled. Who would put something so prickly near a kids' play area? It didn't make sense.

Charlie's phone vibrated in her pocket. She stopped walking and pulled it out, smiling when she saw that Amari had sent a photo in return. Charlie looked closely and realized it was a photo of Charlie's old house, with snow falling all around. “Bet you're a lot warmer over there!”

Charlie's eyes teared up. Amari had gone out in the cold and snow to do that for her. She longed for her friend.

“I miss you,” Charlie replied. “And snow.”

“Seriously, don't miss snow,” wrote Amari. “Totally overrated.”

“Haha,” wrote Charlie, though she was far from laughing. There was so much she wanted to say to Amari about how different it was and how sad she felt, but trying to find the words was too painful.

Instead she typed, “I should have given you my new snow boots.” There was definitely no need for the new boots Charlie had gotten for her birthday last fall. That was before Mom dropped the bomb about moving.

“You'll need them when you visit,” replied Amari. “Or when you go skiing in the mountains! Lucky.”

“I suppose,” Charlie wrote.

“Are you moved in?”

“Not really. Everything's a mess. Big Kitty freaked out and hid behind the stove. She hasn't come out yet.”

“Oh no! She'll feel better soon,” wrote Amari. “And she'll come out when she gets hungry enough.”

“Yeah, I hope so. Thanks.”

There was a pause, and then Amari replied, “Hang in there!” with a brightly smiling emoji.

Charlie's eyes lingered on the screen, but she couldn't think of anything to say to that. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat, and then she shoved the phone back into her pocket and continued walking, making a loop that she hoped would bring her back to her house.

She passed a large grassy area, noting it would be a good place to kick a soccer ball around, and turned down her street. Charlie scanned the driveways looking for their Subaru, but she didn't see it, and for a frantic moment Charlie couldn't remember which house was hers. Why would anybody want houses to all look the same?

Finally Charlie spotted the right house number. She headed up the driveway just as her dad pulled in and parked.

“Help me with the groceries?” he asked, getting out.

Charlie shrugged. “Sure.”

Charlie's father, Charles Wilde, was tall and lean and wore glasses, and she was named after him. Amari had once told him
that he looked exactly like a scientist was supposed to look, which had made him laugh, though to Charlie he just looked like a dad. Technically he was a doctor, like Charlie's mom, but he often joked that he was only the PhD kind, which didn't count for squat most of the time. And he hadn't actually worked as a scientist in years, so it was a little weird for Charlie to think of him as one. That was about to change, too.

They brought everything inside and began putting things away in the empty refrigerator and pantry. Charlie's mother flew past them, car keys jangling. “I'm running into work for a couple of hours,” she said, her face lit up. “They've got paperwork for me, and one of the doctors called in sick, so I guess I'm jumping right into the fray.” She grinned. “I don't know when I'll be home—don't hold dinner.”

“Good luck!” said Charlie's dad, swooping in to give her a kiss before she rushed off.

Charlie didn't say anything. Soon they heard the car pulling out of the driveway.

“I thought she wasn't starting until tomorrow,” said Charlie.

“Yeah, me too,” said her father. “But we knew it would be a little hectic once we got here.”

Charlie looked around for a bowl to put some fresh lemons and limes in, but there wasn't one. She lined them up in a row on the counter instead.

“So,” Charlie's dad said, putting milk in the refrigerator, “did
you take a walk around the neighborhood?”

“Yep,” said Charlie.

“What did you think?”

Charlie rolled her eyes at the pantry shelves. “Boring.”

Charlie's dad stopped what he was doing and came over to the pantry doorway. He studied his daughter. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Talk about how boring it is?” Charlie said with an edge to her voice. “No thanks.”

Her father pressed his lips together, and Charlie knew she'd gone too far, but she couldn't help it. She didn't want to be here. Final answer.

“Look,” said Dad, “I know this is hard on you. But Mom had a great opportunity, and we just couldn't—”

“Just couldn't pass it up,” said Charlie. “I know.” She'd heard that line a thousand times. “But that doesn't make me happy about it.” She brought some items to the pantry and pushed them around on the shelves, trying to make it look like what they'd had back home in Chicago. Her eyes stung.

“Aw, kiddo.” He put his hand on Charlie's shoulder. “It'll get better. I promise.”

Charlie doubted it. “Maybe for you and Mom. But not for me.” She pushed past her father and blindly unloaded the rest of the groceries onto the counter, opening cupboard doors and closing them again, feeling completely lost as to where to put things. Then she
gathered up the empty bags, trying to figure out how to recycle them when they didn't even have a recycling bin yet. She smashed them together into a big ball. “This house is so stupid,” she said bitterly.

Dad glanced sharply at Charlie, then his face grew sympathetic. But it was clear Charlie needed to blow off steam. “Just put all the cupboard food in the pantry for now and the refrigerator stuff in the refrigerator. We'll sort it out later.”

“Fine,” said Charlie.

Charlie's father eased his way out of the kitchen so Charlie could bang around undisturbed. “I'll be in my study getting ready for tomorrow,” he said.

When the groceries were all put away, Charlie fled to her room.

As she lay on her bed, Charlie fumed. She was furious at her mother for making them move here. Dr. Diana Wilde had been offered an amazing job as head of the emergency room at the hospital in Navarro Junction. It was an opportunity she would've never had in Chicago—or so she repeated about fifty times a day to all their friends, neighbors, and relatives back home. The ER here was understaffed, and she'd be working a really crazy schedule, but the commute was only ten minutes—and she could even take the bus so they wouldn't need to buy a second car. She was so pumped up about it that Charlie didn't think she'd even noticed how unexcited her own daughter was about this “great” opportunity.

And her father was messing things up, too. He accepted a position teaching biology at the nearby community college, filling in the rest of the school year for a professor who was taking a leave of absence. So he was excited to work outside the home again for the first time in a long time. Charlie felt like all her lifelines were being taken away at once.

After a while of moping, Charlie heard Andy and her father talking, but she couldn't make out the words. When curiosity got the best of her, she slid off the bed and found them in her father's study. Dad was on the floor under his mahogany desk, setting up his computer. Andy was sitting on the desktop, plugging in the speakers.

“If you're teaching tomorrow,” Andy was saying, “who's bringing us to school?”

Charlie leaned against the doorframe, wondering the same thing.

“My first class starts at nine. I'll drop you off on my way. I've got time to go inside at both schools, so don't sweat it.”

“That's okay,” said Charlie coolly. “I'm good.”

Dr. Wilde looked up from under the desk. His hair had fallen forward. “All right, suit yourself.”

“You're going in with me,” said Andy. “I don't know how to get anywhere.”

“We took a tour,” said Charlie disdainfully. “How can you not remember?”

“I wasn't really paying attention. I was looking at the kids.”

On Charlie's tour she'd tried not to make eye contact with anybody—but they were all staring at her. “Well, no wonder, you goof.” But Charlie's confidence faltered as she tried to remember exactly how her campus was laid out. Everything was muddled.

Andy turned back to his dad. “Are you going to be home after school like always?”

“These first few days I will—I'll pick you both up from school until we get the hang of things. After that you'll ride the bus home sometimes, and Charlie will be able to walk,” said Dr. Wilde. He disappeared under the desk again. “I'm teaching evening classes twice a week, so some days you might come home from school and be alone for a few hours, unless Mom is home. But you two are old enough to handle it.”

“Home alone,” said Andy, nodding. “I like it.”

Charlie crossed her arms in front of her, a look of consternation on her face. It felt wrong, her father going to work, especially when everything else was so unsettled. Who was going to be home to cook and keep their schedules organized . . . and go to their after-school events? “So I'm stuck babysitting?” she asked.

“I don't need a babysitter,” Andy said. “Besides, you might not be here much either if you make the soccer team. I'll take care of myself just fine.” He seemed very eager to do so.

“It won't be every day,” said their father. “And it's only for three months. If I like teaching and it's working for our family, I
can try to stay on. And if I don't, I can quit.”

“Great,” Charlie said icily. “Can I say the same thing about living here?”

Andy scowled at her. “Why are you being so annoying?”

Charlie shrugged. “Clearly you wouldn't understand what it's like to have friends and a life back home.”

BOOK: Going Wild
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