What New Books Shall We Read in The Month of July? –– July 2020
It’s July, we’re going full swing into summer and your girl is ready with her beach body and new books to read while she works on them glossy tans.
Okay, let’s be honest honest here for a sec boys and girls. As we all know, the whole world grinded to a stop a month ago––some is still in lockdown even now––and initially I went into it high-spirited. I was so ready to conquer the quarantine, like heck, bitch got all the books lined up from A-Z on my Kindle. I have plans for movies/tv shows to watch and things to do while the lockdown is in under way.
But boy oh boy, little did we know, I did none of those things that was mentioned above. Like, I couldn’t even finish one book because of how boring and depressing lockdown eventually became. However, now is not the time to moan and fret because a new month is coming and the lockdown has been lifted awhile back––at least where I’m at.
So finally, at long last, your girl is going to slowly get back to “normal” life. At least as much of a normal life as pre-COVID that one could maintain while keeping a safe 6 feet away from people. That said, I’d like to welcome July, summer and restarting my reading journey alongside all these new books to binge-read with open arms and a big ass smile.
As the new chieftain of the Crows, Fie knows better than to expect a royal to keep his word. Still she’s hopeful that Prince Jasimir will fulfill his oath to protect her fellow Crows. But then black smoke fills the sky, signaling the death of King Surimir and the beginning of Queen Rhusana’s merciless bid for the throne.
With the witch queen using the deadly plague to unite the nation of Sabor against Crows—and add numbers to her monstrous army—Fie and her band are forced to go into hiding, leaving the country to be ravaged by the plague. However, they’re all running out of time before the Crows starve in exile and Sabor is lost forever.
A desperate Fie calls on old allies to help take Rhusana down from within her own walls. But inside the royal palace, the only difference between a conqueror and a thief is an army. To survive, Fie must unravel not only Rhusana’s plot, but ancient secrets of the Crows—secrets that could save her people, or set the world ablaze.
Fie was taking too long to cut the girl’s throat.
It wasn’t the act itself; in the three weeks since taking charge of her band of Crows, Fie had dealt mercy more than a handful of times. Tavin had told her last moon that killing never ought to get easier, but that it did anyway. Too many lives had ended on the edge of her steel since then to pretend that didn’t hold a speck of truth.
No, the sticking point now was the sinner girl.
The girl had been sitting up on her pallet when Fie walked into the quarantine hut, dark eyes imperious, mouth set in a stiff bar like the one sealing the door from the outside. Her short-sleeved linen shift was well made but plain for the Peacock governor’s only daughter, her black hair in a clean, glossy braid that hadn’t yet frayed and dulled with fever sweat. A scroll had sat half unfurled across her lap. Just enough near-noon sunlight soaked the canvas-screened windows for her to read by.
Fie reckoned the Peacock girl was near her own age, somewhere closer to seventeen years than to sixteen. But delicate rings of dark-veined rash had begun blooming at her temples, slight enough to be only hours old, damning enough to say the girl had only hours left.
Minutes, now that Fie had come for her.
Most of the time Fie found her sinners delirious, dazed, even dead; the Sinner’s Plague never let any soul slip through its grasp, and it wrung even the simplest dignities from its victims along the way. Never before had a sinner watched Fie so, like she was a wolf strolling too near a pasture.
Fie ought to have left her mask on. Instead she took it off.
She ought to have drawn the broken sword. Instead it stayed at her side.
She ought to have told the Peacock girl to close her eyes. Instead, she jerked her chin at the scroll and asked, “What’re you reading?”
The Peacock girl leaned back, gaze narrowing. Her lip curled. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t read anyway.” She tossed a small, clicking bag at Fie. “There. Do it fast and clean.”
The bag was full of milk teeth, and when Fie fished one out, its spark sang loud and harsh in her bones. Niemi Navali szo Sakar, it declared, daughter of—
Fie yanked her hand out. The tooth had been Niem—the sinner girl’s, and it’d stay noisy until she died. Others in the bag kept quiet, but Fie picked out the song of Peacock witches among them. The governor’s dying daughter meant it as a bribe.
“Not how it works,” Fie said, tying it to her belt, “but we’ll call it a tip.”
“Just do what you’re here for already.”
Fie shrugged, brushing her cloak aside in the same movement, and drew the swords buckled at each hip. One was from Tavin, the Hawk boy she’d left behind: a beautiful short sword wrought of finest steel, gleaming demurely in the diluted sunlight. The other sword could barely be called such: an old, battered blade, broken half through, its end no more than uneven jags. A Crow chief’s sword, good for mercy alone. That sword had come from Pa, who she soon would have to leave behind as well.
Fie didn’t care to dwell on that. Instead she held out both blades and asked, “Which do you want?” As the Peacock girl’s face turned gray, Fie shuffled closer to give her a better view … and to give herself one as well. The letters on the scroll ordered themselves into words for her, faster now thanks to regular reading practice. “Oh. The Thousand Conquests. That’s a load of trash.”
The Peacock girl snapped the scroll up, scowling. “Of course you’d think that. I don’t expect a Crow to have taste.”
“I’m around conquest … two hundred?” Fie drawled. “Out of a thousand? So far the only Crows have been dirty, thieving half-wits. Or monsters. Scholar Sharivi seems to think the Peacocks piss ambrosia, though, so I see the appeal for you.”
“It’s the truth,” the sinner girl hissed. “Peacocks are born to rule. The Covenant made you as a punishment.”
Fie had heard it before; she supposed that to most of Sabor, it seemed clear-cut. Every other caste was born with a Birthright, an innate gift passed down from the dead gods, like a Crane’s way of spotting lies or a Sparrow’s way of slipping from unwanted attention. Some were even believed to be dead gods reborn into the castes they’d founded, like the Crane witches, who could pull the truth out of a liar, or a Sparrow witch, who could utterly vanish from sight.
The dead gods, though, had denied the Crows a Birthright of their own. Their witches could only steal the Birthrights from bones of the other castes, and only as long as a lingering trace of its former life lasted in that bone. And as the only caste immune to the Sinner’s Plague, their trade was cutting throats and collecting bodies.
With all that, Fie didn’t doubt the life of a Crow sounded like a punishment to a highborn Peacock. Most of Sabor believed dead sinners were reborn into the Crow caste so as to atone for whatever crimes had brought the plague down on them to begin with.
And yet …
She crouched on the dirt floor, setting her swords between her and the Peacock. “Funny thing is, were I to think on which of us two the Covenant favors right now—” Fie tapped her cheek. “Reckon that’s where the scholar Sharivi and I would disagree.”
Fie expected the Peacock girl to sneer at her, to lash back.
Instead, Niemi closed her eyes and raised a hand to the Sinner’s Brand rash on her face. Her voice cracked. “I … I suppose you’re right.”
A tiny, cold scrap of guilt knotted in Fie’s gut. Aye, she despised this soft, clean girl, and not merely because the girl despised her. Yet only one of them would leave this room alive.
Pa would tell her to stop dragging it out.
Wretch would tell her not to play with her food.
Instead, Fie asked, “Do you know why the Covenant picked you?”
It was all sinking in. I’d never had a crush on anyone. No boys, no girls, not a single person I had ever met. What did that mean?
Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush – but as a fanfic-obsessed romantic she’s sure she’ll find her person one day.
As she starts university with her best friends, Pip and Jason, in a whole new town far from home, Georgia’s ready to find romance, and with her outgoing roommate on her side and a place in the Shakespeare Society, her ‘teenage dream’ is in sight.
But when her romance plan wreaks havoc amongst her friends, Georgia ends up in her own comedy of errors, and she starts to question why love seems so easy for other people but not for her. With new terms thrown at her – asexual, aromantic – Georgia is more uncertain about her feelings than ever.
Is she destined to remain loveless? Or has she been looking for the wrong thing all along?
The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.
Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real–since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist.
Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.
The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan–and herself.
It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.
Tonight, she puts up with him.
When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.
As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.
Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.
McNightmare: Good morning. This is a friendly reminder that you have three, three hours and counting before suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of your future valedictorian. Bring tissues, I know you’re a crier.
The text jolts me from sleep, a minute before my 5:55 alarm. Three quick pulses to let me know my least favorite person is already awake. Neil McNair––McNightmare––in my phone is annoyingly punctual. It’s one of his only good traits. We’ve been text taunting since we’re sophomores, after a series of morning threats made both of us late for homeroom. For a while last year, I decided to be the mature one. Vowed to make my room a McNair-free-zone.
I put my phone on silent before slipping into bed, but beneath the pillow my fingers twitch with combative responses. I couldn’t sleep thinking he might be texting me, baiting me, waiting. Neil McNair has become my new alarm clock––if alarm clocks have freckles and knew all your insecurities.
I fling back the sheets, ready for battle.
Roth: Oh, I didn’t realize that we still thought crying is a sign of weakness. In the interest of accuracy, I’d like to point out that you’ve only see me cry once. And I’m not sure that necessary make me “a crier”.
McNightmare: Over a book. You were inconsolable.
Roth: It’s called an emotion. I’d highly recommend feeling one. One, sometime.
Genre :Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Publish Date :July 28th, 2020
Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?
Saturday, April 23 Stephen Jones, Esq. Innocence X Headquarters 1111 Justice Road Birmingham, Alabama 35005 Re: Death Penalty—Intake Department
Dear Mr. Jones,
My dad has precisely 275 days before his execution. You’re the only hope we have because every lawyer we’ve used has failed us. In the last appeal, Judge Williams didn’t take more than five minutes to consider.
We mailed a renewed application since it’s now been seven years.
Please look into James Beaumont’s application (#1756). We have all the court and trial files boxed up and ready to go.
Thank you for your time, Tracy Beaumont
P.S. Jamal’s going to college. Can you believe it? All that running added up to something. If you have those letters where I say he was wasting his time, please destroy them.
P.S.S. Next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Jamal’s doing an interview on The Susan Touric Show. You should check it out.
Time runs my life. A constant measuring of what’s gone and what’s to come. Jamal’s hundred-meter dash is a blazing 10.06 seconds. That’s how my older brother got this monumental interview. I’m not thinking about Jamal’s record, though. I’m thinking about Daddy’s time. Seven years—two thousand five hundred and thirty-two days served, to be exact.
This running clock above my head’s been in place since his conviction. That moment branded me. Mama gripped the courtroom bench to keep from collapsing as each juror repeated guilty. I looked to Mama for an explanation. The empty look in her eye cried out the answer: death.
Since then, it’s tick-tock.
Here at the TV station, Jamal rocks steadily in the guest chair, watching highlights of his track career with the producer during a commercial break. He glides his hands over his fresh barber cut, his mind more likely on the camera angles that’ll best show his waves.
He’s everything on the outside I wish to be. Bringing people in, when nine out of ten, I’d rather push them out. That’s why I hate that my mission crosses paths with the biggest day of Jamal’s life.
Five minutes and thirty-seven seconds until showtime.
As the commercial nears its end, I don’t have to look up to know Mama’s leaving the makeup room. The click of her heels echoes past a crew of engineers and radiates as she circles around Jamal to the guest seating area on the side of the studio stage. She enters like only a proud Black mother can, hair all pressed and curled, with a sharp black skirt suit that fits her curvy figure.
Mama’s been name-dropping everywhere she can about the news anchor Susan Touric showcasing Jamal as a top athlete. I expected a live audience, but the set is a small studio and crew. I look out to Susan Touric’s interview desk with a backdrop image of Austin, the state capital. They’ve pulled out a white couch so there’s space for my family to join Jamal at the end.
Mama smiles at Jamal, then at my little sister, Corinne, but I swear she throws some silent shade my way. Her not-so-subtle warnings have been going on for the past month. She knows I want Daddy’s story to seep out, but Mama has made clear there is no room for Daddy on this occasion. Not because she don’t love Daddy, but because she wants Jamal to have a clean slate at college as Jamal, not “Jamal, the son of a murderer.”
If it was a few years ago, I’d understand, but Daddy’s got less than a year. No extensions. No money for more appeals. While time uncoils itself from Daddy’s lifeline, she’s forbidden Susan Touric from mentioning him, too. The show agreed not to talk about Daddy in exchange for Jamal showing up; and if Susan tries anything, Mama says we’ll straight up leave.
Mama stands by me and leans near my ear. “Tracy, ain’t it something to see your big brother’s hard work paying off?”
“Mmm-hmm,” I say, even though I’m still hoping the journalist in Susan can’t help but fling open Pandora’s box—on live television.
If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.
I’m as restless as the ghosts today. The sigh of the trees makes my scalp prickle, my senses strain. There’s something waiting for me in the silences between the notes we play, like a vibration too low for human ears. It’s been out here in the woods for weeks, just out of my reach.
No one else notices. Sarah leans over her banjo, dark hair falling across her forehead, mouth set in concentration. The music that spins from her fingertips is bright as the sunshine that drifts across the pine needles. She looks soft in this light, her eyelashes downy as moth wings.
The wood behind her glows golden right up to the edge of Mama’s property, where the true forest begins. There, the sunlight loses its hold, fading to shadows. Those trees grow tall and close together, clotted with brambles and vines. That’s where the ghosts who spill out of Aunt Ena’s house like to linger, mingling their whispers with the wind. I can’t quite catch their words, but they tug at me, drawing my attention away from the music.
“Jesus, Shady,” Sarah says, her voice hacking through the song like a machete. Orlando slaps his hand over his guitar strings to mute the chord he fumbled. “You missed your cue again. Why didn’t you come in?” All her moth-wing softness has disappeared.
“Sorry,” I say, glancing at the fiddle in my lap. “There’s not much for me to do in this song.” I pull a loose thread from the fraying hem of my skirt, wrapping it around my finger.
That was the second time I forgot to come in. I’m distracted today, but the truth is, this song doesn’t mean anything to me. I want to learn to play bluegrass the way my daddy did—like it’s the breath in my lungs, the beat of my heart. And I never will if Sarah keeps picking all these folk-rock songs.
She pushes her short, messy hair back with an impatient hand, revealing her undercut and the cloud-shaped birthmark behind her ear. I’ve thought so many times about running my lips over just that spot. “The open mic’s in one week, Shady. We can play something else, but if we don’t decide on a song today, we won’t be ready in time.” There’s an edge to her voice like she’s been paired with a lazy classmate for a group project. “You know how badly I need to win this.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, louder, taking up my fiddle to show I’m paying attention. I know I’m the one at fault, but the annoyance in her voice makes me glare back at her, all thoughts of lips on skin forgotten. “I want to win, too, you know.”
The prize is a free half day in a small recording studio, a chance to record a song with professional help and equipment. It sounds cool, but I mostly want to win to make Sarah happy. She thinks it would help her get into a good music school.
But we can’t even agree on what song we’re going to play for the open mic night. Sarah only wants to play newer, more popular folk-rock, Orlando flits from one style of music to another like a butterfly tasting flowers, and I can only really perform if we’re playing traditional folk and bluegrass. We’re like the leftovers from three different dishes someone’s trying to make into a casserole.
“We could do ‘Wagon Wheel’ instead. It has a strong fiddle part,” Sarah says.
“ʻWagon Wheelʼ?” I say, so surprised I flinch. The last time we played “Wagon Wheel” it was just Sarah and me, alone in her room. One minute we were playing and the next our lips were inches apart. Sarah pulled away before we could kiss, but it changed everything between us. We haven’t talked about it since. Maybe now she’s trying to remind me, to give me an opening?
Confusion passes over her face, followed quickly by a deep blush. She definitely didn’t mean to bring up the almost-kiss.
“‘Wagon Wheel’ is kind of overplayed,” I say, glancing away.
“It’s a crowd pleaser though,” Orlando offers, oblivious to what just happened. He’s stretched out on his belly, wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose, which hovers about three inches from a mess of pill bugs he found under a rock. That’s always the danger of holding practice in the woods—Orlando will wander off after a grasshopper or get stuck watching the progress of an ant colony for hours on end. His whole absentminded-professor thing irritates Sarah, but you can’t blame a person for loving what they love. And Orlando loves bugs.
“Any other ideas?” Sarah asks.
“I’ve been working on ‘The Twa Sisters.’ Orlando likes that one too.”
“It’s too creepy and weird,” she says, shaking her head.
I shrug. She’s not wrong. “The Twa Sisters” is an old folk song about two sisters who fall in love with the same boy, so one drowns the other. When the drowned sister’s body washes up on the river bank, a young fiddler finds it and shapes her bones into fiddle parts. Her rib cage becomes a fiddle, her finger bones its pegs. But the bone-made fiddle will only play one tune: Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.
Daddy taught me “The Twa Sisters” during one of his low times, when his songs all turned dark and drear, as far from the bright notes of bluegrass as a person can get with a fiddle in hand. You’d think he was the one who killed the fair sister from the song, the way his voice got so husky-sad, the way his fiddle cried.
Only tune that the fiddle would play was
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain
I’ve been practicing it for weeks, but I still can’t play it like he did, as if the song’s story is my own. My notes come out sweet and bright, no matter how I try to deepen and darken them. But I can’t seem to leave this song alone, like it’s the only one my fiddle wants to play.
I’d never say it out loud, and even admitting it to myself gives me chills, but if I could have a fiddle made of my daddy’s bones, I’d take it. I’d take it and play it and learn all the secrets he kept, all the sorrows he bore inside his breast. I think that’s what made his music so good.
“I don’t get why you’re so opposed to playing new music,” Sarah says as if she’s reading my thoughts.
“And I don’t get why you’re so opposed to playing good music,” I shoot back, heat spreading across my cheeks.
Sarah’s lips part for a retort, but then she closes her mouth, looks down at her lap. She puts on such a tough front, but underneath all that sarcasm and bossiness there’s this tender, easily bruised Sarah she tries so hard to hide. And my barb cut right through.
Before I can apologize, she snatches up her banjo and stalks off through the woods, her boots kicking up pine needles. Orlando groans and gets up to follow her, leaving me with only the trees for company. I wish I could make her understand what playing the fiddle means to me—what it used to mean, what it can’t ever mean again.
I know that music could be my ticket out of here, out of Mama’s crowded trailer, out of Goodwill clothes and food that comes in cans and boxes. It could be an escape from all the memories that never leave me be. But that’s not why I play the fiddle. My family history—everything we’ve lost, all our ghosts and all our griefs—those feel like the truest part of me, the beating heart of my music. Playing Sarah’s way is like taking an ax to my deepest, most secret roots.
Bright, soft banjo notes begin to drift through the trees. Sarah’s playing a Gillian Welch song, the one about Elvis. Orlando starts singing along, his voice rich and sweet as molasses.
Their music floods me with longing, making me think of ninth grade, when the three of us met. Sarah had just transferred from another county, and Orlando had moved to Briar Springs from Miami the summer before. We were close friends within a few weeks and started playing music together soon after. Orlando was happy to discover that the bluegrass Sarah and I liked reminded him a little of the guajira music—Cuban country— he’d grown up playing with his grandfather and uncles. He taught us a few Cuban songs, and we taught him bluegrass and folk. Music is what made us friends, but now it feels like it’s pulling us apart. If we could play together again like we used to, when it was just for fun, when we laughed through half the songs we played—
I grab my fiddle and follow their notes like bread crumbs through the trees.
They both look up, startled, when I reach the small clearing where they sit. “That’s the one,” I say, pushing down all my doubts. “We’ll play that for the open mic night.”
The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.
Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.
But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.
His brother’s message came late.
The little party which had started in Tulum on Monday had somehow only just ended at Joel’s apartment a few minutes before the text arrived. An international bender. It sounded fun on paper. Joel had goaded the last of his bleary guests out the door and made sure his wallet and cologne were still concealed behind the suits in his closet. He used an app to pay off his drug dealer, used another app to order a housekeeper for the morning, poured himself a tall glass of seltzer and settled into bed next to the empty space where he had hoped, earlier in the weekend, he might now find some company resting. He swallowed two Tylenol. He wondered why nobody ever warned you it was possible to feel this alone before you were thirty.
His phone lit the ceiling a cold blue. Joel was so exhausted he mistook it, initially, for some new breed of ghost.
This place is bullshit, wrote Dylan, his brother.
Joel studied the message for a very long time before responding: Everything ok?
Dylan was eleven years younger than Joel. He was a senior in high school this fall, if Joel’s addled brain was doing the math right, and still lived in Bentley, Texas, a rotten rind of a town which Joel had escaped the moment he could and hoped to never see again. When Joel missed his family, he flew them to Manhattan. Which was most Christmases. Some. Twice.
As he waited for his brother to respond, Joel scrolled up to see the last time they’d spoken: three months before, when Joel, likely drunk, had sent Dylan a picture of a football player tackling a massive rooster mascot. Dylan had responded, wordlessly, with a GIF of two handsome underwear models colliding with one another on a catwalk.
The brothers’ relationship was a muted one.
Joel’s screen slid back down with the arrival of a new message.
lol sorry wrong person.
Joel typed a message, deleted it and tried again. It’s cool. He added after a pause: What’s up?
Joel watched his screen. The status of his message changed from Delivered to Read. Joel waited, waited, but no reply came.
Joel was almost asleep again when his phone lit up for the second time.
actually it’s not ok.
Joel tried to call. It went to voice mail after two rings.
can’t talk rn, his brother wrote. sorry.
Lil D, Joel wrote—an old pet name that felt rusty from disuse—What’s wrong?
dumb dreams. bad dreams. i’m stupid.
This was followed by a GIF of a linebacker shaking his head on the sidelines of a game.
i fucking hate football
what’s stupid about hating football?
how else i’m gonna get out of this place?
Joel climbed out of bed. In the kitchen he poured himself another seltzer, debated for a moment and splashed it with vodka.
The way their mother described it, Dylan was the best thing to happen to Bentley’s football program in a decade. He’d made varsity when he was just a freshman and had been the starting quarterback the year after that. The team had flourished under Dylan: they made it all the way to state quarterfinals his first year as quarterback, had made it to semifinals last year and now, according to the breathless calls Joel had received from his mother over the summer, the Bentley Bison had a shot at the state championships for the first time in a generation.
In all of his Instagram photos, Joel’s little brother had never once appeared to be anything but affable and handsome and casually, ruthlessly charming in the way of Southern boys who knew their towns were made for them. Now, sitting on the chilly bar stool in his kitchen, Joel debated how best to approach the idea that Dylan had anything resembling a problem in his life.
He took a long drink.
Tennis worked for me, Joel typed.
can’t, Dylan wrote. they killed it.
to make more money for football.
coach says my numbers are shit.
You mean your grades?
their ok. They’re* lol
Joel smiled at his phone. maybe just scholarships for college then.
not that ok
cause football. i can’t ever study.
Why don’t you quit then? You’ve got a year to turn shit around.
hahahahaha that’s funny
quit football. Joel waited out a long pause. sorry, Dylan finally wrote. i shouldn’t be bothering you.
You’re not bothering me, Joel typed. Dylan talk to me please.
i thought about it a lot really i want to but i can’t quit i can’t
Another long pause. u don’t remember what it’s like down here.
Joel left his phone unlocked on the counter. He gathered empty glasses into his sink, tossed out a stuffed ashtray, picked up small baggies that a few hours before had held cocaine and molly and every other palliative he could get his hands on and rolled them into a wet towel to bury in his garbage. He gagged at a sharp whiff of gin uncoiling from somewhere beneath his counter. He did remember what it was like in Bentley, Texas. Or, rather, there was plenty he had made himself forget.
Joel had made a name for himself upon arriving in New York with an economics degree from a nowhere school and a plaque from his tennis scholarship and a smile on his face. He had established himself as an analyst with an itch, an instinct, the ability to look at a pile of data and spot flaws, opportunities, dangerously optimistic projections. That itch had served him very, very well. Just look at this custom kitchen, at the Italian sofa in the living room from a designer whose name brought a pause to even the most jaded of the Hamptons set.
And what was Joel’s itch telling him now?
This is serious.
There’s something wrong with that town.
This is your brother.
i can’t quit football. i just fucking can’t but i can’t keep playing neither if i don’t play i don’t got no college cause who’s gonna pay for it? mom? and if i don’t got no college i’m fucking stuck here and if i stay here i’ll go crazy bro—i can’t sleep i can’t eat i can’t go to the bright lands it’s not the same no more i can’t with this fucking place
Can’t go to the what?
i hate it here. it’s like i hear this town talking when i sleep.
Joel looked at his absurd apartment, at the well-appointed wreckage of his late twenties, and told himself he wasn’t afraid. He googled How much does college cost today and priced plane tickets and pretended he wasn’t scared out of his mind at the thought of what he was about to do.
u there? yo joel u there?
Joel took a hard sip of vodka straight from the bottle. He sent Dylan a screenshot of a ticket confirmation.
He told himself it was time to start being an older brother for once in his life.
You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.
Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.
It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.
It wasn’t just the murder.
It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…
“What are you doing, Charlie?” James said eventually.
“I already asked him that.” Billy pulled a face but didn’t look up from his magazine. “It’s a secret, apparently.”
Charlie sighed, then put his pen down on the desk.
“It’s not a secret,” he said. “I was concentrating. When you’re thinking about something important, you want to carry on without being interrupted.”
“Jesus,” Billy muttered. “Sorry.”
“The same way you wouldn’t want me to interrupt . . . whatever it is you’re reading.”
Billy glanced down at the magazine. He closed it.
Charlie smiled at James.
“I was writing in my dream diary.”
“What’s a dream diary?”
Charlie held up the notebook.
“Every morning, I write down what I dreamed the night before.”
I took a mouthful of sandwich. “It’s not the morning.”
“I didn’t say that’s what I was doing right now.”
I swallowed. Annoyingly true.
“I never remember my dreams,” James said.
“Most people can’t.” Charlie put the notebook down. “I used to be the same. Dreams are stored in the short-term memory, which is why it’s important to write them down as soon as you wake up, before you forget. If you don’t, they vanish forever.”
I resisted the urge to do an actual eye roll. I had become used to Charlie’s fascination with arcane bullshit. He’d bring books on magic and demonology in to school, but I always thought it was more to be seen reading them than out of any genuine interest—that it was part of a persona he liked to cultivate. Charlie would have been more than happy for people to believe he spent his evenings cross-legged in a chalk pentagram surrounded by candles. But he usually liked his reputation to have more of an edge to it than talking about dreams.
“So what were you doing?” I said.
“Searching for patterns.” He looked at me. “Making notes on what I’ve discovered. Once you start doing that, you begin to notice the same dreams crop up time and time again. The same themes. The same places. The same people.”
“And so what?”
“It helps with incubation.” Charlie smiled.
And I hesitated for a moment, the sandwich halfway to my mouth. It felt a little like when he had spoken to Hague on the day of the accident—saying something unexpected and odd enough to pull you up.
I didn’t like the word. It made me think of something awful being cultivated in a jar. And, of course, I realized I had been wrong just then—after what had happened to Hague, dreams actually did have an edge when it came to Charlie.
James seemed uneasy too.
“What does incubation mean?”
“Influencing what you dream about,” Charlie told him. “Which helps to waken lucidity. Do you know what a lucid dream is?”
James shook his head.
“It’s when you become aware that you’re dreaming while you’re in a dream. Almost as if you’re waking up inside your dream but staying asleep. Once you do that, you’re in control of what happens. You can do anything you want, live any experience you want, make your dream world exactly how you want it to be. Anything you can think of can be real.”
I looked at James and I could see he was considering that, and I wondered what he would choose to do if he could do anything at all. Get back at the bullies who tormented him? Envision a happier home life? Escape from Gritten altogether? I imagined the idea must appeal to him, and I didn’t like the way he was staring at Charlie as though he’d just been offered something magical.
“They’re still just dreams,” I said. “When you wake up, it’s not like it matters. It hasn’t changed anything.”
Charlie looked at me. For a moment his expression seemed completely blank, but there was an undercurrent to it that set me on edge, as though I’d committed some kind of transgression by challenging him.
“What do you mean?” he said.
I shrugged. “Just that. They’re only dreams. They don’t make any difference.”
Charlie smiled then, and for some reason it unnerved me more than the blankness had. It was the same smile he’d shown to Hague that day, one that suggested he was way ahead of me, and that I’d said something simplistic and childish that he himself had gotten past a long time ago.
New York City, 1899. Tillie Pembroke’s sister lies dead, her body drained of blood and with two puncture wounds on her neck. Bram Stoker’s new novel, Dracula, has just been published, and Tillie’s imagination leaps to the impossible: the murderer is a vampire. But it can’t be—can it?
A ravenous reader and researcher, Tillie has something of an addiction to truth, and she won’t rest until she unravels the mystery of her sister’s death. Unfortunately, Tillie’s addicted to more than just truth; to ease the pain from a recent injury, she’s taking more and more laudanum…and some in her immediate circle are happy to keep her well supplied.
Tillie can’t bring herself to believe vampires exist. But with the hysteria surrounding her sister’s death, the continued vampiric slayings, and the opium swirling through her body, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a girl who relies on facts and figures to know what’s real—or whether she can trust those closest to her.
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.
In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.
In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.
I risked putting my hand over my brother’s.
Tim let it rest there briefly. Then with his other hand he pulled open the drawer of the kitchen table, and retrieved two packages tied with coils of old ribbon.
I said, My birthday. It went right out of my mind.
My brother loved me. A tear dropped onto my skirt now.
Tim reached past me for the pencil and notebook. He wrote, Only 30!
I whooped with laughter and wiped my eyes. It’s not that, truly.
Instead of trying to explain, I unwrapped the first box. Four Belgian truffles.
Tim! Have you been hoarding these since the war broke out?
The second package was quite round; under its skins of tissue paper I found a fat shiny orange. All the way from Spain?
Tim shook his head.
I played the guessing game. Italy?
A satisfied nod.
I put the fruit to my nose and drew in the citrus tang. I thought of its arduous journey through the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar and up the North Atlantic to Ireland. Or overland through France—was that even possible anymore? I just hoped nobody had been killed, shipping this precious freight.
I tucked the orange and chocolates into my bag for a birthday lunch while Tim packed up his gardening tools to take to the allotment. In the lane, the slice of dark sky was streaked with pink. He got his motorcycle started on the third try. I’d bought it for him at a widow’s auction of an officer’s goods, though I’d never told him so in case the thought of riding a dead man’s machine bothered him.
I waved as my brother rumbled slowly away, then went to fetch my coat and cape. I lined up my hooks and eyes. Standing beside my bicycle, I drew up my skirts on their strings. It was mild for the first morning of November.
On the way to the hospital, I pedaled past the shackled gates of a school where a freshly painted notice said closed for foreseeable future by order of board of health. If slum children weren’t going to school these days, it struck me that they couldn’t be getting their free dinners there either.
Clouds hissed and billowed from the high windows of the shell factory, which meant the fumigators were steaming the workrooms; maybe they’d been toiling in their sulphurous fog all night. Outside, in a line that snaked from the door, munitions girls shifted from foot to foot as they chatted, hands pocketed against the dawn chill, impatient to get in and get at it.
I cycled faster. Thirty years old. Where would I be at thirty-five? If the war was over by then, what would have taken its place?
Back to this moment, what would be asked of me this morning? Delia Garrett, weeping into her sheets for her stillborn daughter. The gasping, husbandless, pregnant one, Honor White: let her lungs be winning the fight. Mary O’Rahilly: please, her travails over, and a baby in her arms.
I locked my bicycle in the alley.
Passing the shrine to the fallen soldiers, I noticed that a rebel had daubed not our war across the paving stone at its base. I wondered if he could possibly be the same yobbo who’d attacked Tim.
But wasn’t it the whole world’s war now, the rebel’s as much as my poor brother’s? Hadn’t we caught it from each other, as helpless against it as against other infections? No way to keep one’s distance; no island to hide on. Like the poor, maybe, the war would always be with us. Across the world, one lasting state of noise and terror under the bone man’s reign.
I joined a knot of people waiting at the stop, far enough apart to be out of coughing range, but not too far to reach the door of the tram when it drew up. A drunk sang, surprisingly tuneful, oblivious to the scowlers:
I don’t want to join the bloody army,
I don’t want to go to bloody war.
I’d rather stay at home,
Around the streets to roam,
Living on the earnings of a–
We all braced ourselves for the dirty rhyme.
… lady typist, he warbled.
The tram came and I managed to squeeze on.
From the lower level, I counted three ambulances and five hearses. Church bells rang ceaselessly. On a newspaper inches from me, I tried not to see a headline about a torpedoed liner: “Search Continues for Survivors.” Below, the words “Likelihood of Armistice” snagged me. Twice already, the papers had mistakenly declared the war over; I refused to pay any attention until I had proof it was true.
It was a relief to get down outside the hospital in the dawn light and breathe a little before I went through the gates. Nailed up under a streetlamp, a new notice, longer than usual:
the public is urged
to stay out of public places
such as cafes, theatres, cinemas, and pubs.
see only those persons one needs to see.
refrain from shaking hands,
laughing or chatting closely together.
if one must kiss, do so through a handkerchief.
sprinkle sulphur in the shoes. if in doubt, don’t stir out.
In I went, in my sulphurless shoes, through the gates that said vita gloriosa vita.
I wanted to go straight up to Maternity/Fever, but I made myself get some more breakfast first, in case today was even half as hectic as yesterday.
In the basement, I took my place in the queue. I had reservations about what they might be bulking out the sausages with these days, so I decided on porridge.
I listened in on speculations about the kaiser being on the verge of surrender; the imminence of peace. It occurred to me that in the case of this flu there could be no signing a pact with it; what we waged in hospitals was a war of attrition, a battle over each and every body.
A student doctor was telling a story about a man who’d presented himself at Admitting, convinced he had the flu because his throat was closing up. The chap turned out to be sound as a bell—it was just fright.
The others sniggered tiredly.
But wasn’t panic as real as any symptom? I thought about the unseen force blocking my brother’s throat; Tim hadn’t spoken a word since he’d been shipped home.
Our queue shuffled forward, past the latest sign, which said, in strident capitals, if i fail he dies.
I ate my porridge standing up in the corner and couldn’t manage more than half the bowl.
No russet head when I hurried into Maternity/Fever; no Bridie Sweeney.
Indefatigable in pristine white, Sister Luke moved toward me, a broad ship. Good morning, Nurse.
I found I couldn’t bear to ask after Bridie, as if the night nurse were the young volunteer’s keeper.
On the stairs last night, though I’d been thinking about what Bridie had told me—how she’d grown up in a house of orphans, and couldn’t stand the nuns she now boarded with for want of anywhere else to go—I’d wasted time chattering about film stars. I realized she’d never actually said anything about coming back, had she? I’d jumped to conclusions simply because I wanted her help so much. It shook me to realize that I’d been counting on her being here today; she was what the poster called a person I needed to see.
Over on the right, Delia Garrett seemed to be asleep.
Mary O’Rahilly, in the middle, was a snail curved around her own bump. After Dr. Lynn had pierced the sac and let the girl’s waters out, it really wasn’t safe for delivery to be delayed too long, in case of infection. I murmured, Any progress there?
Sister Luke grimaced and adjusted the patch over the eye she’d lost at the front. Pangs every eight minutes. Stronger than before, but the doctors aren’t happy with the pace.
I doubted Mary O’Rahilly was, either. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her black hair limp with sweat; even her cough sounded weary.
It occurred to me that Bridie might in fact be here this morning, but in a different ward. The office would assign every volunteer to where she was most needed, of course.
Honor White was telling her beads with bloodless hands, mouthing the words.
That one makes a great show of piety, said the nun in my ear.
My temper flared. I answered, very low: I thought you’d approve of prayer, Sister.
Well, if it’s sincere. But a year of praying did nothing to reclaim her nibs.
I turned to stare. Mrs. White? I whispered. How can you possibly know that?
Sister Luke tapped her nose through the gauze mask. A sister at our convent serves at that mother-and-baby home, and I asked her all about Missus over there. Not six months after release, didn’t she show up in the exact same condition again? She’ll have to stay two years this time. Perhaps she’s incorrigible.
When I saw the red curls coming in the door, the relief staggered me. Morning, Bridie!
She pivoted toward me with her mile-wide smile.
But I shouldn’t have used her first name, not in front of Sister Luke. Bridie didn’t call me anything, I noticed—just bobbed her head.
Have you breakfasted?
She nodded appreciatively. Black pudding and lashings of sausages.
The nun said, Sweeney, sprinkle this floor with disinfectant, and rub it all over with a cloth tied around that broom.
The day shift was mine, so why was the nun giving orders? I pointedly waited for Sister Luke to leave.
She shed her apron and put on her cloak. Have you heard Mass yet, Nurse Power?
That confused me, because it wasn’t Sunday. Oh, for All Souls’, yes.
(God forgive me the lie; I couldn’t bear a scolding from her.)
All Saints’, you mean.
I could hear the pleasure Sister Luke took in correcting me.
On the first, she reminded the whole room, we celebrate the Church Triumphant in heaven, watching over us poor sinners on Earth. Whereas tomorrow, the Feast of All Souls, we honour the Church Penitent–the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Could she really imagine I wanted a lecture on the finer points of the liturgical calendar? I got on with putting my coat and bag away and scrubbing my hands.
Bridie was cleaning the floor already.
Honor White let out a wet cough.
Sister Luke said, You could try a poultice on Mrs. White.
I reminded myself that the night nurse wasn’t in authority over me. Actually, Sister, in my experience poulticing isn’t much help in these chest cases.
Her visible eyebrow—the one not covered by the patch—disappeared into her coif. In my much longer experience, it will if you do it correctly.
I could tell by Bridie’s shoulder blades that she was attentive to every word of this.
So tempting to point out that much of Sister Luke’s experience, and all her training, was from the last century. Instead I said mildly, Well, as we’re so short-staffed, I believe I’ll use my good judgment.
A tiny sniff.
I told her, Sleep well.
The nun buttoned up her cloak as if she had no intention of doing anything so feeble.
Sweeney, don’t get under anyone’s feet today.
The minute Sister Luke had swept out, Bridie leaned on her mop and let out a snort. You told the old crow, all right. You told her something fierce.
But it would do this young woman no good if I stirred up trouble between her and the nun, given that they lived under the same roof. And besides, patients shouldn’t be made uneasy by dissent in the ranks. So I shook my head at Bridie. But I added, I’m glad you came back today.
A grin. Sure, why wouldn’t I?
I said, poker-faced, Oh, I don’t know. Hard work, stinks, and horrors?
The work’s even harder for us at the Motherhouse, and there’s all the praying on top.
Us, meaning you and the nuns?
Bridie corrected me: Us boarders, about twenty girls. Anyway, of course I came back. It’s all go, here! And a change is as good as a rest.
Her cheer was infectious. I remembered the cut she’d got from the broken thermometer yesterday. How’s your finger?
She held it up and said, Not a mark. That styptic pencil of yours is magic.
Actually, it’s science.
Delia Garrett was half-awake, struggling up in her cot. I checked that her stitches were healing nicely.
She was limp, monosyllabic.
Tell me, is your chest tender today?
A chest binder should help, Mrs. Garrett.
Somehow, flattening the breasts told them to give up making unwanted milk. I fetched a roll of clean bandage. Working blind under her nightdress, I wound the stuff four times around her. Tell me if that’s too tight or if it constricts your breathing at all.
She nodded, as if she barely cared. A hot whiskey?
She probably didn’t need it for her flu, but if I were her, I’d want to sleep these days away.
Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before.
When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good.
I was the one dancing with Max when it happened.
No one ever remembers who it was now, but it was me.
Actually, pretty much everything that night was me. Max and Babette had gone on a last-minute, two-week, second-honeymoon cruise around the boot of Italy that they’d found for a steal—and the return date just happened to be two days before Max’s sixtieth birthday party—smack in the middle of summer.
Babette had worried that she couldn’t book a trip with an end date so close to the party, but I stopped her. “I’ve got this. I’ll get everything ready.”
“I’m not sure you realize what a big undertaking a party like this is,” Babette said. “We’ve got the whole school coming. Three hundred people—maybe more. It’s a huge job.”
“I think I can handle it.”
“But it’s your summer,” Babette said. “I want you to be carefree.”
“And I want you,” I said, pointing at her, “to take a dirt-cheap second honeymoon to Italy.”
I didn’t have to twist their arms. They went.
And I was happy to take charge of the party. Max and Babette were not technically my parents—but they were the nearest thing I had. My mom died when I was ten, and let’s just say my dad was not my closest relative.
Actually … technically he was my closest relative.
But we weren’t close.
Plus, I didn’t have any siblings—just a few scattered cousins, but no family anywhere nearby. God, now that I’m laying it out like this, I have to add: no boyfriend, either. Not for a long time. Not even any pets.
I did have friends, though. Lest I make myself sound too sad. Especially my friend Alice. Six feet tall, friendly, and relentlessly positive Alice, who was a math specialist and wore a T-shirt with a math joke on it every day to work.
The first day I met her, her shirt said, NERD SQUAD.
“Great shirt,” I said.
She said, “Usually, I wear math jokes.”
“Is there such a thing as math jokes?” I asked.
“Wait and see.”
To sum up: Yes. There are more math jokes in the world than you can possibly imagine. And Alice had a T-shirt for all of them. Most of which I didn’t understand.
We had almost none of the same interests, Alice and me, but it didn’t matter. She was a tall, sporty, mathy person, and I was the opposite of all those things. I was an early riser, and she was a night owl. She wore the exact same version of Levi’s and T-shirts to work every day, and every day I put together some wildly different concoction of clothes. She read spy novels—exclusively—and I read anything I could get my hands on. She played on an intramural beach volleyball team, for Pete’s sake.
But we were great friends.
I was lucky to be a librarian at a very special, very legendary elementary school on Galveston Island called the Kempner School—and not only did I adore my job, and the kids, and the other teachers, I also lived in Babette and Max Kempner’s garage apartment. Though, “garage apartment” doesn’t quite capture it. The real term was “carriage house” because it had once been the apartment above the stables.
Back when horses-and-buggies were a thing.
Living with Max and Babette was kind of like living with the king and queen. They had founded Kempner, and they’d run it together all these years, and they were just … beloved. Their historic mansion—that’s right: real estate is super cheap in Galveston—was just blocks from school, too, so teachers were constantly stopping by, hanging out on the porch, helping Max in his woodshop. Max and Babette were just the kind of people other people just wanted to be near.
The point is, I was glad to do something wonderful for them.
They did wonderful things for me all the time.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a rare opportunity to really astonish them with the greatest party ever. I started a Pinterest board, and I went through magazines for décor ideas. I got so excited, I even called up their daughter Tina to see if she might like to do the project together.
Ironically, their daughter Tina was one of the rare people in town who didn’t hang out at Max and Babette’s all the time. So I didn’t know her all that well.
Also: she didn’t like me.
I suspected she thought I was trying to take her place.
Fair enough. She wasn’t totally wrong.
“Why are you decorating for my dad’s party?” she said, when I called—her voice tight.
“You know,” I said, “just—timing.” It’s such a disorienting thing when people openly dislike you. It made me a little tongue-tied around her. “They’re on that trip…”
I waited for a noise of recognition.
“So I just offered to get the party done for them.”
“They should have called me,” she said.
They hadn’t called her because they knew she wouldn’t have time. She had one of those husbands who kept her very busy. “They wanted to,” I lied. “I just jumped in and offered so fast … they never got the chance.”
“How unusual,” she said.
“But that’s why I’m calling. I thought maybe we could do it together.”
I could feel her weighing her options. Planning her own father’s sixtieth birthday party was kind of her rightful job … but now, if she said yes, she’d have no way to avoid me.
“I’ll pass,” she said.
And so the job was mine.
Alice wound up helping me, because Alice was the kind of person who was always happiest when she was helping. Babette had been thinking streamers and cake, but I couldn’t leave it at that. I wanted to go big. This was Max! Principal, founder, living legend—and genuinely good-hearted human. His whole philosophy was, Never miss a chance to celebrate. He celebrated everybody else all the time.
Dammit, it was time to celebrate the man himself.
I wanted to do something epic. Magical. Unforgettable.
But Babette had left an envelope on her kitchen table labeled “For Party Supplies,” and when I opened it up, it held a budget of sixty-seven dollars. Many of them in ones.
Babette was pretty thrifty.
That’s when Alice suggested we call the maintenance guys to see if we could borrow the school’s twinkle lights from the storage facility. When I told them what we were up to, they said, “Hell, yes,” and offered to hang everything for me. “Do you want the Christmas wreaths, too?” they asked.
“Just the lights, thank you.”
See that? Everybody loved Max.
The more people found out what we were doing, the more everybody wanted in. It seemed like half the adults in this town had been Max’s students, or had him for a baseball coach, or volunteered with him for beach cleanups.
I started getting messages on Facebook and texts I didn’t recognize: The florist on Winnie Street wanted to donate bouquets for the tables, and the lady who owned the fabric shop on Sealy Avenue wanted to offer some bolts of tulle to drape around the room, and a local seventies cover band wanted to play for free. I got offers for free food, free cookies, free booze, and free balloons. I got texts from a busker who wanted to do a fire-eating show, an ice sculptor who wanted to carve a bust of Max for the buffet table, and a fancy wedding photographer who offered to capture the whole night—no charge.