Ember by Random House Publishing Group

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My Beating Teenage Heart
Excerpt

One

The first moment is utter darkness. The absence of thought, the absence of everything. An absence that stretches infinitely backwards and threatens to smother your sanity--if there was a you, that is. But there’s not. I am nothing and no one. I never was. I must not have been because otherwise, wouldn’t I remember?

Don’t look back. Don’t let the darkness inside you.

If I’m talking to myself, there must be a me. That in itself is a revelation. I exist. The second before was starkly empty and now I’m swimming with celestial stars. They’re as silent as stones but they shimmer, glimmer and shine. I think?.?.?.?I think I can hear them after all but not in a way I’ve heard anything before.

The sound isn’t music and it’s not whispers. I don’t have words to describe it. If teardrops, blinding sunshine and limitless knowledge combined to make a noise, it would be the one the stars hum while I float amongst them. I don’t know much, but this is something I’m certain I’m learning for the first time: the stars know things that we don’t and they always have.

And then, just as my mind begins to expand with questions

--who am I?

--where is this?

--how am I?.?.?.

I’m falling, plummeting through the glittering darkness at a speed that would normally make your stomach drop. Instinct kicks in and makes me throw out my hands to break my fall. Only, I don’t have any--no hands and no stomach either.

The fear of falling exists in my consciousness and nowhere else. There’s nothing I can do to stop my descent. Beneath me continents of light beam their brightness as I speed towards them.

Catch me, stars. Help me.

But they’re not stars, as it turns out. They’re the lights you see from a jumbo jet when you’re coming in for a night landing. They make civilization appear minuscule and for some reason that makes me want to sob but I can’t do that either. No hands, no stomach, no tears.

What happens when I hit bottom?

I’m so close now that I can spy individual cars, streetlamps, house lights left on.

Is someone, someplace, waiting for me, leaving the light on?

Where am I supposed to be?

A pointed suburban roof reaches up to meet me, and if I have no body, surely there are no bones to shatter, no damage to fear, but my consciousness flinches anyway. It quakes and tries to yank whoever or whatever I am away from the solid mass shooting up underneath me.

In the split second it takes to realize I’ve failed, I’m already through the ceiling. Inside, falling still. Falling?.?.?.?and then not.

I don’t crash. I don’t even touch down. All I can do is stare into the pair of blinking eyes below me. They’re not even a foot away. They’re the distance you hold yourself from someone when you’re on your way to a kiss. I don’t remember my own kisses but I remember the concept the same way I remember what a roof or a jumbo jet is. I remember romance, yearning, love and hate in a way that has nothing to do with me. Maybe I’ve never been in love--or maybe it’s happened a hundred times but so very long ago that I’ve forgotten each of them. I can’t decide which idea is sadder.

The eyes open and close as I stare at them. His eyes. The white boy’s. They’re not staring back at me, but looking clean through. If I had a body I’d estimate it was hovering just above his, toe to toe and head to head with him.

It’s night and we’re cloaked in darkness, the two of us. But he’s the only one who’s truly here. Here. Wherever that is.

I’d move if I could, give him the space he doesn’t realize he’s lacking. I feel awkward, embarrassed about all I can see from here--his pores, his nose hairs, a cracking bottom lip that could use lip balm--even though he doesn’t appear to have a clue he’s being spied upon. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m like a camera, picking up images but not in control of angles or focal length.

So I watch the boy’s eyelashes flutter and listen to him breathe. What his lungs expel sounds like a steak knife slashing into meat. Not like an asthmatic but like someone so steeped in despair it’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned in it. How long can someone live like this? It hurts to hear. My nonexistent hands clamp themselves over my nonexistent ears.

Outwardly, my focus barely shifts. I’m still floating over him, listening to breaths of bottomless anguish. Wait?.?.?.

I must be asleep. My fall from the stars and the hurt I hear in this boy’s breathing, they can’t be real. This vision I’m watching is nothing but a wildly vivid dream. When I wake up tomorrow, with my stomach, my hands and all my memories intact, I’ll shake my head at my panic. Then I’ll grab a pen and jot the details down before they fade to nothing. I imagine how crazy every bit of this will seem when I read it back in the morning. Stars that make a noise of wisdom. The power to read emotions through someone’s breath.

Insane. Even for a dream. Why not dream of something my eyes would want to linger on--the rapturous merging of two bodies or a purple sky hanging over a majestic blue-green waterfall? Why dream of this sad boy?

I examine him, attempt to cement the details in my mind so I can record them when I wake up, and as I’m watching I realize I can shift the camera here and there after all--not much, but a little. Yes, I can stare at him from the end of the bed if I prefer, or from a blue acoustic guitar leaning against the wall near his window. Maybe I can even?.?.?.?No, I can’t escape the room, can’t leave him behind. That’s beyond my power. He’s meant to be the star of this dream for reasons my unconscious isn’t ready to share with me. I notice that when I turn away from him to study the room, my gaze jumps inadvertently back to him before long.

And when it does this is what I see: a white boy of about sixteen or seventeen, curly brown hair framing his face. His pupils are light but in the dark I can’t determine whether they’re green, blue or even hazel. The boy’s lying in bed in a gray T-shirt, his bare arms stretched over the covers. He’s motionless. Stiller than still except for the blinking. The horrible breathing has stopped, or so it seems. When I listen more intently I realize I can still hear it if I choose. There are some things I can control within this dream, evidently, and this strange audio ability is one of them.

I watch the teenage boy close his eyes. A cell phone rings on the bedside table next to him. My eyes follow his as they dart to the phone and I wonder if the call is important in the scheme of this dream fiction. Perhaps the real action is finally getting started.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Yesterday
Excerpt

one
When I wake up I have a pounding headache behind my eyes just like I’ve had every morning lately. At first my eyelids refuse to open fully, and when they do the weak winter light wafting through my window burns my retinas. My brain feels sluggish and confused as I take in my surroundings: the white chest of drawers and matching mirror across from my bed; a collection of freshly laundered clothes folded neatly on top of the dresser, waiting for me to put them away; and a wooden desk with an open fashion magazine lying across it. Sometimes it takes me ten seconds or so to remember where I am and what’s brought me here . . . and as soon as I remember I want to forget again.
My mom says the headache’s probably a remnant from the bad flu we all caught flying back from New Zealand, but the other day I overheard her friend Nancy whisper, as the two of them peeled potatoes in the kitchen, that it could be a grief headache. The kind that strikes when you suddenly lose your father to a gas explosion and the three-­quarters of you left in the family have to move back to a place you barely remember.
Today is unlike the other days since we’ve been back because today I start school here. A Canadian high school with regular Canadian kids whose fathers didn’t die in explosions in a foreign country.
I’ve gone to school in Hong Kong, Argentina, Spain and most recently New Zealand, but Canada—­the country where I was born—­is the one that feels alien. When my grandfather hugged us each in turn at the airport, murmuring “Welcome home,” I felt as though I was in the arms of a stranger. His watery blue eyes, hawklike nose and lined forehead looked just how I remembered, yet he was different in a way I couldn’t pinpoint. And it wasn’t only him. Everything was different—­more dynamic and distinct than the images in my head. Crisp. Limitless.
The shock, probably. The shock and the grief. I’m not myself.
I squint as I kick off the bedcovers, knowing that the headache will dull once I’ve eaten something. While I’m dragging myself down to the kitchen, the voices of my mother and ten-­year-­old sister flit towards me.
“I feel hot,” Olivia complains. “Maybe I shouldn’t go today. What if I’m still contagious?”
My mother humors Olivia and stretches her palm along her forehead as I shuffle into the kitchen. “You’re not hot,” she replies, her gaze flicking over to me. “You’ll be fine. It’s probably just new-­school jitters.”
Olivia glances my way too, her spoon poised to slip back into her cereal. Her top teeth scrape over her bottom lip as she dips her spoon into her cornflakes and slowly stirs. “I’m not nervous. I just don’t want to go.”
I don’t want to go either.
I want to devour last night’s cold pizza leftovers and then lie in front of the TV watching Three’s Company, Leave It to Beaver or whatever dumb repeat I can find. All day long. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
“Morning, Freya,” my mother says.
I squeeze past her and dig into the fridge for last night’s dinner. “Morning,” I mumble to the refrigerator shelves.
“They’re behind the margarine and under the bacon,” my mother advises.
And they are. I pinch the Saran Wrap–covered slices between my fingers and let the fridge door swing shut. Then I plop myself into the seat next to Olivia’s, although she’s junked up my table space with her pencil case and assorted school stuff. I could sit in my father’s place, which is junk-­free, but nobody except Nancy or my grandfather has used his seat since he died. This isn’t even the same table that we had in New Zealand, but still Olivia, Mom and I always leave a chair for my dad.
If he were here now he’d be rushing around with a mug of coffee, looking for his car keys and throwing on his blazer. You’d think a diplomat would be more organized but my father was always in danger of being late. He was brilliant, though. One of the smartest people you’d ever meet. Everyone said so.
I shove Olivia’s school junk aside and cram cold pizza into my mouth with the speed of someone who expects to have it snatched from her hand. My mother shakes her head at me and says, “You’re going to choke on that if you don’t slow down.”
I thought sadness normally killed appetite but for me it’s been the opposite. There are three things I can’t get enough of lately: sleep, food, television.
I roll my eyes at my mother and chew noisily but with forced slowness. Today’s also a first for her—­her first day at the new administrative job Nancy fixed her up with at Sheridan College—­but my mother doesn’t seem nervous, only muted, like a washed-­out version of the person she was when my father was alive. That’s the grief too, and one of the most unsettling things about it is that it drags you into a fog that makes the past seem like something you saw in a movie and the present nearly as fictional.
I don’t feel like I belong in my own life. Not the one here with Olivia and my mom but not the old one in New Zealand either. My father’s death has hollowed me out inside.
No matter how I happen to feel about things, though, I have to go to school. After breakfast Mom drives Olivia to hers on the way to work but since mine is only a couple of blocks away and begins fifteen minutes later I have to walk.

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Gil Marsh
Excerpt

1

Gil Marsh

First day of school. Coach yelled from across the field. “Marsh! Meet our latest recruit.”

Gil stopped stretching and jogged over. Coach spoke to a boy dressed in a running tank and shorts. Thick black hair covered the boy’s knuckles and arms. It poked out from his chest, his shoulders and neck. It covered his legs. A beast boy, Gil thought.

“. . . help you out. He’s one of our best runners.” Coach turned to Gil. “Marsh, this is Enko Labette. He’s from Quebec.”

Hmph. Gil wasn’t one of the cross-­country team’s best runners. He was the best. No one else came close. He had led James E. Uruk High School to Nationals two years in a row.

“Hi,” Gil said.

Enko extended his hand in an oddly formal gesture. Gil shook it.

Enko had a powerful grip—­a ring on his pinky finger dug in slightly. He smiled, producing a deep dimple in his chin. He was trying hard to impress.

Well, let’s see what the beast boy could do.

“You follow me,” Gil told him.

He started the warm-­up jog just a notch faster than usual. Enko didn’t break a sweat.

“Round the back, over the Rock!” Coach yelled to the team. “No clock today. Keep to the running trail. I want it clean and even.”

Clock or no, Gil took off, in a sprint now, almost at racing speed.

Enko followed.

They circled around the back of the school to one of the paths along the Green Valley Creek, over the footbridge to cross the water, then up the side of Overhang Rock. The other boys lagged behind.

Overhang Rock stood three hundred feet above town. Made of exposed, weathered red stone, it had a war memorial at the top, erected some ninety years ago by a veterans’ group. A running trail wound alongside a road that led to the memorial.

Gil ignored the running trail and chose a hiking path that switchbacked in the other direction, zigzagging at sharp angles around and up the other side of the Rock. At a walk, the trail provided a small challenge. At a run, it required all your concentration to get from one boulder to the next without falling. Gil could do the path in the dark—­had done so numerous times. Enko, much to Gil’s surprise, took to it as if he could run it blindfolded.

By the time they reached the Memorial, sweat trickled down Gil’s back.

“We follow the road down,” he said. “Safer that way.”

Enko nodded. He wasn’t the least bit winded. Who was this kid?

Gil sprinted even faster downhill.

When they returned to the field behind the high school, Coach was waiting for them. “What the hell is the matter with you, Marsh? I said the running trail, not the climbing one!”

Gil leaned forward, hands on his thighs, panting. This had been more of a workout than he had expected. Enko breathed a little harder, too, but wasn’t out of breath.

“It’s okay, Coach,” Enko said. He had this weird French accent. “That was fun.”

Fun!

Coach scowled. “Maybe Marsh can learn something from you.” He might have said more, but off in the distance two runners trickled onto the field.

“Cool-­down walks!” he yelled. “Everyone,” he added pointedly to Gil.

When Coach turned to address the other boys, Enko slapped Gil on the shoulder. Gil walked ahead, ignoring the gesture. Beast Boy had just outperformed him. No one had done that before. And Coach had noticed.

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10 Things I Can See From Here
Excerpt

Stupid Things People Say

You are not your anxiety.

Don’t worry your pretty little head.

It doesn’t matter.

Don’t exaggerate.

Why get upset about something so small?

Just put it out of your mind.

All good things. All good things.

Ignore it.

Let go and let God.

Think positive.

Move on.

Get back on the horse.

What’s the matter, honey?

If you visualize good things, good things will happen.

Manifest destiny, Maeve. Make it happen.

You be the master of your life. Take charge!

Don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking.

Keep calm and carry on.

Don’t worry; be happy.

What is there to worry about?

All the things.

Being Hit by a Train

I could easily admit that it was nicer and faster to take the train from Seattle to Vancouver. But the last time I took the train, a woman threw herself in front of it just outside Everett. None of us had any idea what was happening while the train dragged the woman along until it finally screeched to a stop, spreading out her brains and entrails along the tracks. Which I knew because I researched these things. Her name was Carol Epperly. Thirty-­six years old. Mother of two. Struggled with depression. No kidding. I read her obituary (of course), and it sounded like someone really angry wrote it. I’m guessing it was her husband, and if so, he was pissed. His name was Doug. He had a lawn-­mower repair shop in Everett. She struggled against the depression, but clearly not hard enough. That’s what it said. And at the end: Never mind a charity; please consider donating to a fund for the boys, who will only know life without their mother from now on.

I would not be taking the train again anytime soon. That one moment was all I talked about with my therapist for almost three months straight. Nancy actually told me that it was time to move on. She had never said that before. That was like admitting defeat. That was like saying I had stumped her. She had never once offered a platitude before that.

So I took the bus, which I’d taken often enough to admit that it wasn’t the worst thing, even if it was slower. Mom drove me from Port Townsend to Seattle. I started crying before the stop sign at the bottom of our road.

“Oh, Maeve, sweetheart.” She drove with her hand on my knee. “It will be okay. I know it.”

There wasn’t anything for me to say. I’d already said everything. So I cried. The mountain of tissues in my lap grew tall and teetering. I was still crying as Mom looked for a parking spot at the bus station.

I cried while she bought my ticket. I cried and cried and cried when it was time to go.

“I love you,” Mom said.

“I love you.” But I didn’t say goodbye, and neither did she. We never said goodbye when I went to Dad’s. It was our superstition. Or mine, and she just played along. No goodbyes. Especially this time.

Nancy had told me that I should take the train again so that I would realize that people don’t throw themselves in front of trains all that often. This is your horse, Nancy said. Get back on it, Maeve. Besides, Nancy told me, it was far more likely that my bus would get into a terrible crash than that another person would commit suicide by train. Which was not helpful in the least. But I just couldn’t do it. I just could not get back on the train. Not yet. Not after Carol Epperly.

You could always walk, Dad had said. Which would be kind of epic. It could be a whole coming-­of-­age spiritual experience happening right along the I-­5. Imagine that.

I didn’t want to do the train, or the bus, or walk. And there was no excuse to fly, considering how close it was, for one thing, and the litany of possible air disasters, for an­other. I just wanted to stay home. But that was not an option either. You’re too nervous, Mom said. Imagine being alone at night. You’d just sit there trembling and anxious, which you do even when I’m home. And it was true. I worried and worried and worried until I was sick. But she was going to Haiti, so I was going to Dad’s. For six months.

The wait at the border took extra long because some guy didn’t have the right papers, and they took him into a room and questioned him for half an hour while the rest of the passengers just stood around wondering what the hell was going on and I chewed my nails and thought too hard. Were they interrogating him? Was he a terrorist? Or wanted by the FBI?

He looked pretty sheepish when he came out. Everybody else looked royally annoyed. Not me, though. I’d made the mistake of surfing the internet to distract myself from the potential serial killer in the little room, and because I couldn’t help myself, I’d looked up Greyhound bus deaths.

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Chaotic Good
Excerpt

1

 

 

The girl section.

 

 

“Your boyfriend won’t like that one.” He smiles at me through his patchy, barely grown-in beard, leaning against the wall of shelved comic books. I hang my head. This is exactly what I was afraid of. I knew I shouldn’t have come here. I knew I wouldn’t be welcome. With a jerk of his neck, he flicks his greasy brown bangs out of his eyes. He looks me over, his arms folded tightly in front of his puffed-out chest. He hovers close by, waiting for my response, dying for me to acknowledge him, not taking silence for an answer. His name spelled out inside a bat-signal pin: brody.

 

“I’m sorry, what?” I ask, not daring to look directly at his face. I knew better; I knew better and I came into the shop anyway. I read the reviews online: five stars from the guys, two stars from the girls. I don’t need his advice; I don’t need a debate. Right now I need inspiration. And this guy’s killin’ my vibe.

 

“It’s super girly. He probably won’t like it. When’s his birthday?”

 

“I--I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s, you know, for me.” Dingbat. My fingers squeak against the cover of the latest The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, holding on tight. I’m kicking myself for painting my nails sparkly pink and curling the rat’s nest out of my hair this morning. I brace myself for what’s coming next. All I wanted was a few new cosplay ideas without having to pass the geek-girl quiz.

 

“Oh! No wonder!” Brody laughs, and his expression softens. “You should check out the girl section.”

 

“The .?.?. girl section?” I scowl, feeling my dark brown eyes turn black.

 

“No worries, tiger. You’ll love it.” He ushers me, hand on my back, toward one narrow shelf in the corner. I step away from his touch as soon as I can, but I can still feel his phantom palm resting there. The shelf is in disarray, with a few pastel-covered graphic novels and some very kawaii manga.

 

“Here you go,” he lilts, eyes lighting up his pallid face. “All your comics lined up just for you. That way you don’t need to get lost in the big-boy stuff.” Another patron snorts from the board game section. This is humiliating. I’m trying not to flush, not to show a reaction. I can’t let him know he’s getting to me, but I don’t think it’s working. What year am I in? What kind of backwater wasteland is this? I swallow hard.

 

“Welp, I am a big boy, so, if you don’t mind.” I sidestep him on my way out of the “girl section.” I try to stomp my feet as I go, but I’m wearing ballet flats, so I hardly make a sound. Brody’s black leather boots echo through the shop as he follows me. Why is he following me? Leave me alone.

 

“Big boy in a pink dress, huh?” Why, oh why, did I wear the doughnut dress today?

 

“Yep.” I try to sound preoccupied as I flip through an old issue of X-Men, looking for Jubilee. I’ve been dying to replicate that yellow coat of hers.

 

“So you like X-Men?” Brody stands over me, reeking of arrogance and body spray.

 

“Sure.”

 

“Gen X, First Class, ’92? What’re we talkin’ here?” He combs through the comics, pretending to help. I don’t want to answer him, but the way he reaches over my head is a little intimidating. Maybe if I answer, he’ll leave me alone.

 

“Whichever one Jubilee is in.”

 

“Jubilee? Jesus.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and winces.

 

“Jubilee is awesome.”

 

“Jubes is the worst X-Men of all time. The worst. Worse than Dazzler.”

 

“Who?” Crap. And with that one little word, I know I’ve screwed up. One little word out of my big mouth and I’ve sealed my fate. Again. Why should it matter if I know who Dazzler is? How am I supposed to learn without buying the comics first? I pivot over to the next shelf and cough, hoping he didn’t hear me.

 

“I knew it! I knew you didn’t know anything about X-Men. What are you really looking for? Attention? A boyfriend?”

 

“I’m looking for comics!” I snap at him. My black hair flies in front of my face. I brush it away. I try to channel Liv, who would know exactly what to say. She would put him in his place. “Is my girl cash not worth as much as your boy bucks?” I feel myself shrinking; he laughs at me while I try to remove the gold ballet flat from my stupid mouth. “Who said I have to be an expert to like something, or to shop here?” I wave the comics in his grinning face, trying to distract from the awkwardness. I’m a thousand percent done. I wish I were She-Hulk. I’d have smashed him and the entire “girl section” to bits by now.

 

“You don’t have to get all snippy. Just hoping you can explain,” he starts, “why you’re buying comics if you don’t even read them.” Brody doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t even look annoyed. He talks to me like I’m six years old. Like he knows better. He doesn’t.

 

“Excuse you--I read comics. I love comics,” I say under my breath. I’m scared to raise my voice despite how angry I am. From now on I’ll be doing all my shopping online, that’s for sure.

 

“But you don’t even know who--”

 

“I know enough. Okay?” I snap. “I know all their costumes by heart, and one day I’ll be making--”

 

“Costumes?! That’s what you’re into, their outfits? Oh God .?.?. you’re not one of those cosplay chicks, are you?” Brody reels back, face scrunched up as if he caught a whiff of something more rotten than his body spray. He looks me over again from my shoes to my shoulders, not bothering to look me in the eyes, disgusted. Every second I stand here is excruciating. I wish I had never come in. I should have waited to go back to Portland. I should have saved up to buy an iPad so I’d never have to leave the house to buy a comic again. I can’t bring myself to say anything else. There’s nothing I can actually say. Nothing that would make a difference. I’m ready to run--screw inspiration--when the staff door bangs open. Another employee stands in the doorway, balancing six boxes in his dark brown arms. Great, now he’s got backup.

 

“Ayo, Brody! New Dark Horse shipment came in,” he says, nodding toward the back room. Brody takes his cue and leaves us with one last laugh.

 

“Come on, I’ll ring you up.” I follow without questioning, keeping my eyes focused on his red Vans and rolled-up cuffs.

 

“Oh! Nice choice. Let’s kick some butts and eat some nuts!” he chants while typing into the staff computer. I nearly choke on the spearmint gum I’m chewing.

 

“What?!”

 

“You’ll see.” He smiles. He’s younger than Brody, with a short golden-bleached Afro. His name tag only says why. “It’s one of my faves.”

 

“Yeah? You shop in the girl section?” I growl back at him under my breath. Just ring me up so I can get out of here. The attention is getting to me. I start peeling the polish off my nails; the glittery flakes fall to the ground.

 

“Ugh. He brought that up? I’ve been trying to talk him out of that girl section since I started here--it’s hella annoying.” Embarrassed, Why pushes his red frames up onto the bridge of his nose. The lenses are covered in so many fingerprints and smudges I’m surprised he can see me at all.

 

“Sure.”

 

“No, really. I know it’s stupid, right? But his uncle owns the shop. Brody pretty much acts like he runs the place.”

 

“Good for him.” I hand Why my debit card, no receipt, and rush to the door.

 

“Hey, wait! Do you want to enter a raffle? It’s for--”

 

“No thanks!” I cut him off, and get the hell out of there.

 

 

 

Atomix Comix is the only decent place left to buy comics in Eugene after Vanishing Planet vanished. Apparently, they went under without the extra income from selling board games, toys, and knickknacks. I never even got a chance to shop there. Now I’m stuck buying comics from grody Brody and the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.

 

I squint into the summer sun. The main drag is all washed out and white as my eyes adjust to the light. I try not to think about Liv getting to work at Books with Pictures this summer. How she’d never have her comics-cred questioned because she works behind the counter. Liv gets to be on the inside. I wonder if she kept the Lightning cosplay I made her. After all, it was her idea to dress as Final Fantasy characters. And yeah, I don’t know who any of them are, but I liked the designs. I had no idea I was going to get called out. Not like that, anyway.

 

I need thread. I need buttons. Hot glue. Sequins. Armature wire. A new thimble for my ever-growing collection. I list out all the things I’ll buy at the craft store to soothe my sore ego. I wish it were a longer walk; I don’t want to taint the one place I like in this town with the bad vibes from down the street. The bells on the door at Kozy Corner jingle quietly as I step into the shop. The air is heady with the smell of dust and fake flowers.

 

I’m home. I pace the aisles, tracing my fingers along stacks of folded fabric. My mind races through the possibilities. This vinyl could be Black Canary’s corset, and that intricate weblike brocade could be the lining for Spider-Gwen’s hood.

 

And then I spot it. A summer-night-blue fabric, a blue the deepest depths of the oceans, an almost-black blue that practically glows under the shine of the fluorescent lights overhead. This bolt of midnight-blue satin calls to me, crammed in the wrong spot between some yellow and green felt.

 

“Who put you here?” I ask the satin as I pull it out. I feel like fainting from just the sight of its cerulean perfection. I want to spray it with bleach and create a pattern of nebulas and galaxies. Hand-paint in stars, wire it up using fiber-optic strands so it twinkles, and, damn, what a gown it would be.

 

I would wear it to the premiere of my first summer blockbuster. And everyone would know that’s Cameron Birch; she’s the girl who designed the costumes. I fabricated them too, but I forgive their ignorance this time because I’m too busy posing with Chris Pratt for the press. I’ll buy five yards of it.

 

“Don’t you just look lovely today?” Dotty with the lilac-gray hair sighs as she rings me up.

 

“Thanks.” I hope when I’m her age, great-grandma age, I look as cool as Dotty. She dresses sharp, severe. Slick black capes and pounds of pearls and baubles. I’ve never seen her wear the same pair of earrings twice.

 

“All pink and poofy and perfect.” She kisses her thumb, her own personal gesture of approval.

 

“Sure.”

 

“What’s wrong? You’ve got a face like a wet weekend.” She folds the satin carefully before slipping it into the plastic bag.

 

“Maybe too pink,” I tell her as she swipes my debit card. I look over my pink doughnut-printed dress, the one I spent last weekend sewing after a serious bout of homesickness. I never liked the doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnut, but I loved seeing tourists with their pink boxes. I even sewed on little beads that look like sprinkles. Now I wish I had made something more normal. Maybe I should just start buying clothes at the mall again.

 

“No such thing as too pink.” Dotty hands me my fabric while the printer screeches out my receipt.

 

“Thanks, Dot. See you round, I’m sure.”

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