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Authors: Leila Sales

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BOOK: Once Was a Time
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“Do you want to see what my mom gave me yesterday?” Jake asked me.

“Sure.” We were standing outside Sutton Middle School, waiting for the doors to open and the day to begin. It was December now, nearly four months after our trip to Italy, and so chilly that I could see our breath forming little clouds in the air as we talked.

Jake pulled a plastic figurine out of his wheelie backpack and held it up. “Awesome, right?”

I inspected it closely. It looked pretty much the same as Jake's other action figures—and he had hundreds of them, I knew now from all the times I'd hung out at his house. “It seems awesome,” I agreed. “Who is it?”

“Starfox! He's an Eternal and he has superhuman strength and protective abilities. Like he can fall from a ten-story building and not even get hurt.” Jake lifted the figure as if to demonstrate, then paused. “I don't want to test it, though. Just because it works in the comic books doesn't mean it's going to work on a plastic toy.”

I laughed.

“What are you reading?” Jake asked, gesturing to the book in my hands.

“A Monster Calls.”
I flipped it around so he could see the front cover.

“‘By Patrick Ness,'” he read. He looked up at me. “Wow, you're already on the

“I'm skipping some of the books now,” I explained. “I'm just doing the interesting-looking ones, so it goes faster. Well, I guess not
much faster, because there are a lot of interesting-looking ones.”

The first thing Kitty did after I found her was to make a donation to the Sutton Public Library—a donation big enough to keep it open for years and years. I didn't know how to thank her enough, but she just said, “Lottie, that's what I made the money for.”

I'd spent the rest of my summer break and the first couple weeks of September helping Miss Timms unpack all the books we'd boxed up, and quickly the library was looking as good as ever—maybe even more so, now that Miss Timms could afford to replace some of the older computers and

Now, the school doors opened, and Jake and I joined the press of students trying to get in out of the cold.

“Charlotte!” I turned and saw Sydney hurrying toward me. “Is it okay if my dad drops me off at seven tonight instead of six? He has to work late.”

“Sure!” We headed through the doors together.

Dakota had been true to her word: Our friendship was over. And with it went my friendship with Kianna, Gavin's phone calls, and a lot of other people who'd been part of my day-to-day life in Sutton. But not all of them.

Sydney and I still did a lot of the things I used to do with the whole group—we'd paint each other's nails whatever crazy colors and patterns we felt like, and gossip about who had crushes on whom, and go out to the movies.
kept hanging out with our old friends, too. Unlike Dakota, she didn't think she had to choose one or the other.

“Do you know what your grandmother's making for dinner?” Sydney went on. “I am
with her cooking.”

After funding the library, the second thing Kitty did was leave Manarola and move to Sutton.

“Are you sure?” I'd asked her. “It's so beautiful where you live, and Sutton is so . . . well . . .”

“American,” Kitty supplied. “I know. But I've stayed more than long enough in Italy. I've let myself grow comfortable there. There's still time in my life for at least one more adventure.”

“Sutton's not exactly an
,” I warned her.

“Everything you and I do together is an adventure,” she told me. And that was true.

Kitty bought a modest house in Sutton, not too far from Melanie and Keith's, and she decorated it the same as she had her house in Manarola: filled with books, and artifacts from her travels. She started a small garden—no lemon or orange trees here, though, as she said the climate wasn't right. She cooked a lot, pasta and fish dishes that even Melanie and Keith admitted, with surprise, were much better than the Italian restaurant at the mall.

The people who knew me in Sutton, like Sydney and Miss Timms, were all enthralled by her, this petite old lady who spoke several languages and could tell stories from so many places and times. “What a cool grandma!” Melanie told me. Only Jake knew the truth about who Kitty really was to me.

As for Jake, we spent a lot of time together now. Everything in Sutton was different from Italy, but when we were together, it was almost like we were back there, in that beautiful, golden summer when all dreams seemed achievable. Often I would sit and read while Jake sketched, or we would plan out our imaginary next trips to other places in the world—or sometimes other times in history or other planets in the sky, since, as Jake said, you just never know.

That was my life, day after day. Then those days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the months into seasons. And just like that, years went by.

I kept getting older. And of course Kitty did, too. Eventually she couldn't garden anymore, though she still liked to look at her flowers. It became hard for her to cook, and then it became hard for her to eat. When she couldn't walk around anymore, I moved her African masks and Mexican wall hangings and Russian lacquer boxes near her bed, so she could still be reminded of how far she had traveled and how much she had done.

When her doctor said it was only a matter of time, I sat by Kitty's bedside, reading books to myself and talking to her on the rare occasions when she was awake.

“I'm going to miss you,” I said.

“Of course you will,” she replied. “But I'll always be with you. Wherever you go, I'll be with you.”

“I know you will,” I said. “And wherever you go, I'll be with you.”

She opened and closed her lips a few times, as if she was trying to say something.

“Do you need anything?” I asked. “I'll get you whatever you want.”

“No,” Kitty said. “Just stay with me before I go.”

So I held her hand. And I stayed.



I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who helped me turn the dream of Lottie and Kitty's story into a reality.

I will never be able to say thank you enough to my editor, Tamra Tuller, for believing in this story, believing in me, and knowing just how to turn this into the book it was meant to be.

Thanks to the rest of the team at Chronicle, including
Seo, Sally Kim, Lara Starr, Taylor Norman, Daria Harper, Claire Fletcher, Marie Oishi, Kayla Ferriera, and Vicky Walker for welcoming me into your family of authors and working so hard to make this book a success.

To Stephen Barbara, for your enthusiasm, ingenuity, and perseverance. You make me believe that any creative undertaking is possible, as long as I have you by my side.

To my aides in achieving historical British accuracy, including my language specialist Carol Mason; the Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum; and Juliet Gardiner's
The Children's
War: The Second World War Through the Eyes of the Children of

To the Mamas and the Papas, whose song “Once Was a Time I Thought” inspired this book's title.

To Allison Smith, for taking that first trip to Cinque Terre with me.

To Brian Pennington, for supporting me the entire time I was writing this.

To all the friends I made in Bristol, especially Usman Ahmed, who advised on the Britishisms, and Hannah Slarks.

To the Type A Retreat girls—Emily Heddleson, Lexa Hillyer, Lauren Oliver, Jess Rothenberg, Rebecca Serle, and Courtney Sheinmel. It was sitting by your sides that I wrote the first words of this novel—just as I have written so many other words in the years I've been lucky enough to know you.

To Kendra Levin, one of the best editors (and friends) I know, for helping me craft this plot from the very beginning.

To my father, Michael Sales, whose wisdom and love pro­vided the inspiration for the character of Lottie's dad.

And to my mother, Amy Sales, because everything we do
is an adventure.

Leila Sales

Leila Sales is the author of the young adult novels Mostly Good Girls, Past Perfect, This Song Will Save Your Life, and Tonight the Streets Are Ours. She grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Like the characters in Once Was a Time, Leila loves books, travel, imaginary games, and her friends. Learn more at
, and follow her on Twitter

BOOK: Once Was a Time
2.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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