Authors: Sophie Littlefield
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #General, #Fantasy & Magic, #Mysteries & Detective Stories
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Sophie Littlefield
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Banished / Sophie Littlefield. — 1st ed.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Hailey Tarbell, raised by a mean, secretive grandmother, does not know that she comes from a long line of healers until her Aunt Prairie arrives with answers about her past that could quickly threaten her future.
[1. Healers—Fiction. 2. Identity—Fiction. 3. Grandmothers—Fiction. 4. Aunts—Fiction. 5. Supernatural—Fiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
Growing up is hard, but you are doing a beautiful job.
This book was touched by many hands along the way, and I am grateful to you all.
Barbara Poelle, my agent who employed the roadside-assistance-phone-call and cocktail-napkin methods to develop my idea,
Claudia Gabel, who took a chance on me,
And Stephanie Elliott, my editor, who worked tirelessly to help me shape the story.
Writing this book reminded me of a time when I was doing my best to grow up, and I would like to thank the friends who were there. Bob—first and foremost. Mary. Julia, Sonja, Anne, and MaryAnn. Joellen and Margaret, and Ellen and John. And of course Kristen and Mike, who are always there.
PART ONE: GYPSUM
AKING UP HURT
. Her head pounded and there was something in her eyes, something sticky and warm that made it hard to see
She blinked hard and her eyes cleared, and she realized she was in a car
Not just any car—her boyfriend’s car. It was a pretty white Celica, and she brushed her hand against her lap, feeling smooth, silky fabric, and remembered—it was prom night, and they were driving out to Boone Lake and he’d brought champagne, a bottle on ice in a cooler. She had slipped into the girls’ bathroom to fix her lip gloss and dab on a little extra perfume before they said goodbye to all their friends, to the school gym decorated with streamers and helium balloons, to the teachers, who smiled and nodded at them because they were nice kids, kids who got good grades and didn’t make trouble
Except that her boyfriend had been drinking since they got to
the prom, and he wasn’t drunk, no, not drunk exactly, but they’d been laughing as he took the turns on State Road 9 just a little too fast, his hand slipping along the folds of her emerald green skirt
And she hadn’t stopped him. Because she liked having his hand there. And she couldn’t wait to kiss him some more. And she liked going fast and reckless around the turns because it felt like the future, felt like the day when they would drive away from Gypsum and never come back
But something had happened
There were no lights in the car now, not even the glow of the dashboard. But the headlights were still on, one shining straight into the woods, to the right of the tree they’d hit
The other beam twisted at a crazy angle. It lit up his body, lying on the ground ten feet from the car, bent in a way that didn’t look the least bit natural
She started screaming, yanked at the buckle of her seat belt and pushed against her door—it wouldn’t open, it was stuck or jammed, and she crawled to the driver’s seat, her knees grinding on something sharp—oh, it was the windshield, the windshield had shattered, and she realized with horror that it was her boyfriend’s body that had broken it. He never wore his seat belt—he’d gone flying through the windshield, across the hood of the ruined Celica, and landed on the hard ground, broken and bleeding
The driver’s-side door opened easily and she stumbled out of the car, tripping on the hem of her dress, her beautiful strapless dress that no one knew had come from the St. Benedict’s thrift shop in Tipton, that fit her like it had been made for her alone
She bunched the skirt in her fists and ran to her boyfriend, stumbling in her high heels before collapsing on her knees next to him. His hand, thrown out palm-open as though he’d been reaching for something, twitched and his lips moved. His eyes were glassy and unfocused and she bent close to hear what he was trying to say
Hurts …,” he managed, licking his dry, cracked lips
No, no, please don’t …,” she murmured as she tugged his tuxedo jacket open as gently as she could
What she saw made her throat close with fear. It was too much. There was too much damage. The wound was open and black and glistening in the moonlight, so much blood draining into the cold, dry earth
Her hands flew to the wound, her fingers working quickly to find the edges of the gash, the words coming to her lips even before she realized she’d made a decision
But he spoke first. “I … I love …
His voice was so weak she almost missed it, but comprehension flickered in his beautiful brown eyes, and he looked at her the way he did when he picked her up for school, the way he had the first time she’d passed in front of his locker last year, the way he did when he searched the crowd for her face after every play at football games
It was a look that saw her, knew her
knew her, the way her mother never would and her father, whoever he was, never chose to. It was the look she’d hung every dream, every foolish hope on, and as he blinked twice, his eyes rolling up and going opaque, she said the words
She said the words the way her grandmother had taught her, the syllables slipping like gossamer ribbons past her lips, words she’d chanted a hundred times on a hundred long-ago nights lit by sputtering candles and her grandmother’s eyes bright with purpose. A hundred times, a hundred nights, but tonight was the first time she prayed with all her soul that the words would work
A twitch, a sigh—she broke off in the middle of a word whose sound was burned into her memory, but whose meaning she didn’t really know, not the way her grandmother did. Her boyfriend twitched again and blinked, and she stilled her fingers on his face
Don’t leave me,” she whispered. “Oh, please don’t leave—” Her heart thudded hard in her chest because he wasn’t gone; he’d almost died but she’d brought him back, she’d said the words
He was back
She was bending to kiss him, to throw her arms around him, when his eyes blinked again and stayed open—
And there was nothing there
Vincent,” she breathed, her heart going cold. “Vincent, please, please, Vincent, please—
But he said nothing. His eyes were empty and his lips were still, and the forest around them was dark and silent as a stone
, the social workers finally made Gram send me to school. Until then, she told the authorities she was homeschooling me, but after years of her never turning in her paperwork or showing up for the mandatory meetings, they finally got fed up and told her I had to go to regular school. Gram gave in; she knew when she was beat.
The first thing I noticed about the other kids was that they all looked like they could be on TV. I called them Cleans. Their clothes were new and ironed smooth. Their hair was shiny and combed. Their nails were trimmed and free of the black grime that I’d had under mine as long as I could remember. No one had to tell me that, compared with these other kids, I was dirty.
That didn’t stop the kids on the bus from reminding me. By the end of my first humiliating ride to school, I’d been called a bunch of names and accused of having cooties and lice and a witch for a grandmother. It was the same thing on the ride home, even though Mr. Francheski pulled the bus over, stood up and hollered, “
Was all you kids raised in barns? Where’s your manners? Be nice to this new girl.
When I got home that first day I was crying. This was long before Chub came to live with us, and even though I knew better than to hope for anything from Gram, I dropped my book bag on the floor and ran to her favorite chair, in front of the television, where she was smoking and watching
. I blubbered out what had happened, how the kids had said I was dirty and called me trash. Gram barely shrugged, craning her neck to see over me to the television.
“I guess you know where the soap is at,” she snapped. “And you can drag a brush through that hair, you want. Now git.”
Now, eight years later, I had washed my hair the night before and blown it out with a hair dryer I’d saved up for. I was wearing mascara and lip gloss that I’d bought with the money I’d made working for Gram.
But everything else I had was secondhand, a fact I was always conscious of as I walked the halls at Gypsum High. My clothes were never right. My backpack was never right. My shoes, my notebooks, my haircut, wrong, wrong, wrong—and everyone knew it. Gypsum might be a two-stoplight town in the middle of nowhere, Missouri, but there was a structure like anywhere else: popular kids and in-between kids and losers. And people like me, so far down there wasn’t any point in bothering to classify us.
I had gym second period. My locker was next to Claire Hewitt’s. Claire always smelled faintly of baby powder and motor oil, and her hair frizzed in a cloud around her shoulders. But as I spun my lock, even she flinched away from me.
When you’re near the bottom of the school social ladder, like Claire, the only thing that can really hurt you is to be associated with someone even lower. And there was no one lower than me. Not Claire. Not Emily Engstrom, with her limp and her lazy eye. Not even the Morries. No one at all.
I started changing into my gym clothes, not bothering to say anything to her. What would be the point?
“Hey, Hailey,” Shawna Rosen said, appearing at my side without warning. “Are those
shoes you’re wearing?”
The girls trailing her pressed in closer to me and stared down at my feet as Claire slammed her locker door shut and slipped hastily away. I could practically feel their excitement. They were never happier than when they could remind some poor girl of the enormous distance between her pathetic existence and life at the top of the heap.
Sometimes, when Shawna and her crew came after me, I stood my ground. I stared into their overly made-up eyes and telegraphed disdain. But this wasn’t one of those days. I shuffled backward, away from Shawna and into the wide aisle between locker rows, bumping into someone behind me, tripping and nearly falling. My hand shot out to steady myself against the wall of lockers, and I was dismayed to see I’d run into a group of Morries.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, but they were gone before I finished speaking, melting down another aisle without a word.
You almost never saw one of the Morries alone. They stuck together at the edge of the halls and the back of the classrooms and the cafeteria tables farthest from the food line in silent clumps of three or four. Like me, they didn’t participate in any sports or clubs or extracurricular activities. The girls wore their hair long, hanging in their faces. The boys were so skinny their dirty, frayed jeans hung off their hips.
They never volunteered in class. If they were called on, the girls would mumble so quietly that teachers soon gave up on them. The boys were bolder, surly and argumentative and sullen. They didn’t care at all about their grades.
They were called Morries after Morrin Street, the main road that ran through Trashtown, which is what everyone called the run-down neighborhood outside of Gypsum half a mile past our house. I don’t know who started calling them that, but if there had ever been a time when the Trashtown kids mixed with the Cleans at school, that time was long gone.
Shawna and her friends got bored with me and wandered off, but I still had to hustle to finish getting dressed, and I was late to gym class. Ms. Turnbull and Mr. Coughlin didn’t notice, since they were busy dragging the vaulting horses and balance beam and parallel bars out of the closet. We counted off and lined up behind the equipment. No one looked very happy about it, but my reasons were probably different from everyone else’s. It wasn’t that I was bad at this stuff. The problem was that I was good—
I used to wonder if God had compensated for making me such a freak, for my lack of friends and horrible home life, with natural athletic ability. If so, I’d love to give it back. I was fast and I was strong, I could balance and throw and catch with amazing accuracy, but instead of helping me fit in with the other kids, it brought me—what else?—more trouble.
In sixth grade my PE teacher noticed I had the third-highest mile time in the school. He had me run sprints and then another mile, eight times around the track, clocking me with his stopwatch. Each time I passed him I could see his expression growing tighter and more excited. When I finished he jogged over to where I was stretching out—they were constantly harping on us about stretching after exercise—and told me he wanted me to start training with the middle-school track team.
I was so surprised I couldn’t come up with a response quick enough. It had never occurred to me that anyone would ask me to join a club or a sport. But of course I couldn’t do it. Gram would never have allowed it. She didn’t even want me attending school. If the social workers hadn’t forced her to send me, she never would have let me out of the house except to do errands.
Once, in grade school, I received an invitation to a birthday party. I ran home, my heart pounding with excitement. I knew that the girl didn’t really want me there, that her mother had made her invite every girl in the class, but I didn’t care. I had never been to a birthday party—Gram didn’t believe in celebrating birthdays, so mine passed every year with no cake, no presents, no singing—and I desperately wanted to go.
Gram read the invitation, her cracked lips moving as she sounded out the words, and then she frowned and tore it into pieces. “No need for you to mix with them kids,” she said.
Years later, when my gym teacher insisted on sending home a permission slip for track, Gram wrote in big block letters across the section of the form where she was supposed to fill in my medical information: HAILEY DOES NOT HAVE MY PERMISHION TO DO ANY SPORT.
Ever since then I’d been careful not to let anyone see me excel at anything.
But today would be tough. I was in the vault line. I stared at the old leather-covered thing, wondering how I could feign clumsiness. It would be hard; if I just hit it head-on, it would hurt plenty. But I wasn’t sure I could stop myself from hurtling over it neatly. How was it possible to act clumsy when you were sailing through the air, your instincts taking over?
I managed, but it took all my concentration. I also forced myself to stumble off the balance beam and pretended to be too weak to support myself on the parallel bars. When Mr. C glared at me and shook his head with disgust, I felt a flash of pride.
If he only knew.
I was at the back of the vault line, congratulating myself on escaping attention again, when Milla Swanson reached the front.
Milla was a Morrie, a thin girl with hair the color of mustard crusted to the lid of a jar. She approached the vault with uncertain little steps, head down as though she hoped the floor would swallow her before she got there. I was only half watching as she got to the old wooden springboard, but I saw her hesitate—instead of the step-bounce-leap they drilled into us, she wobbled and then almost tripped as she jumped toward the vault, her hands scrambling on the leather padding. That happened sometimes; kids hit the vault wrong and sort of slid or fell off the other side, usually in embarrassment with a bruise or friction mark. It had happened to me once or twice when I’d purposely messed up.
But when Milla struck the vault, momentum carried her into the side, and the impact sent her flying backward. She fell on her back, and I winced at the sound her shoulders made as they struck the springboard—that had to hurt—but then there was another thud and a reverberation I could feel through my feet on the hardwood gym floor, as her head bounced off the edge of the springboard.
The two girls at the front of the line jumped back with little shrieks, and then there was a second when no one moved as Milla rolled gently to a stop at the base of the springboard, her arms flopped out at her sides.
Ms. Turnbull and Mr. C came running, but I got to Milla first. I didn’t even know I was moving until I was crouched by her side, reaching for her hand, but Ms. Turnbull slapped my hand out of the way.
“Don’t touch!” she screamed, even though Mr. C bent down and picked up the same hand I’d been reaching for.
I backed away, but I didn’t want to. There was something inside me, some roiling force, that was making my fingers itch to touch Milla, that was sending the blood in my veins surging through my body with hot insistence. I wanted—no, I
—to help, to put my hands on Milla. Even as I realized how bizarre my impulse was, I had to fight not to act on it.
I stepped back into the silent crowd of kids making a circle around the vault. Ms. Turnbull and Mr. C talked in hushed voices, feeling for a pulse and waving their hands in front of Milla’s eyes, which were open but unblinking. Ms. Turnbull put her face close to Milla’s as though she was going to kiss her on the lips, but then she turned away.
“She’s breathing,” we all heard her say.
“She’s unconscious,” Mr. C said in a panicked voice. I saw the flyaway ends of the hair he combed over his freckled scalp trembling as he crab-walked away from Milla’s body like she was on fire, and I realized he had no idea what to do, despite all the years he’d taught us basic CPR.
“I’m going to go call.” Ms. Turnbull scrambled to her feet and sprinted toward the gym teachers’ office.
In the seconds it took for me to break away from the crowd of kids and rush to Milla, there was not a single sound in the gym. No one spoke, or coughed, or called my name. No one tried to stop me. But when I picked up Milla’s cool, limp hand with its ragged fingernails and rough calluses, I stopped hearing anything else anyway.
At least, I heard nothing in the gym. Inside my head a strange whispered chorus started up, a murmured chant that made no sense.
A second later, my vision went. I don’t think I closed my eyes, but everything else disappeared and it was as though I was looking into time going forward and backward at once, like I’d jumped off a cliff and hovered somewhere in black empty space.
“Milla,” I whispered. I felt my lips move, so I was pretty sure I’d actually spoken, and then I had that same blood-rushing feeling again, like every bit of energy inside me was being pushed to my fingertips, where it dissipated into Milla’s body.
I let go of her hand and my fingers moved over her neck and face until they found her scalp, which was hot and damp, the hair plastered across a long bump that swelled under my touch. The rushing sensation intensified, and my own heart seemed to slow and falter, and I started to sway, but somehow I couldn’t let go, couldn’t stop touching Milla’s injured body. Just when I felt like I had exhausted the last of my will, something shoved me hard and I fell onto my shoulder. My vision and hearing returned instantly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Ms. Turnbull screamed, her face purple and her hand raised high as though she was about to hit me. Maybe she would have, except that Milla, lying at her feet, rolled over and threw up.
It turned out to be a good thing because Ms. Turnbull forgot all about me. Milla sat up, wiping her mouth against her sleeve, hiccuped a couple of times and looked like she was going to cry, but as Ms. Turnbull shouted questions at her she answered them, in a voice too low and mumbly for the rest of us to hear.
I retreated back into the crowd of kids. A couple of them started to ask me what had happened, but then the door to the gym burst open and Mr. Macklin, the vice principal, came in and started yelling at all of us to go to the locker rooms and get dressed for next period, that everything was under control and none of our concern.
I went with the rest of them, but I couldn’t help glancing back over my shoulder at Milla, who was trying to stand up even while Ms. Turnbull pushed her back down to the floor.
Milla was watching me. The look she gave me was hard to understand: fear battling contempt, with barely a trace of gratitude.
The only emotion completely absent from her face was surprise.