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Authors: Megan Whitmer

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Between

BOOK: Between
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BETWEEN

Megan Whitmer

S
PENCER
H
ILL
P
RESS

Copyright © 2014 by Megan Whitmer

Sale of the paperback edition of this book without its cover is unauthorized.

Spencer Hill Press

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Contact: Spencer Hill Press, PO Box 247, Contoocook, NH 03229, USA

Please visit our website at
www.spencerhillpress.com

First Edition: July 2014.
Megan Whitmer
Between: a novel / by Megan Whitmer – 1st ed.
p. cm.
Summary: A girl learns that she’s in a witness protection program for magical creatures and the future of their world depends on her, but saving them means sacrificing someone she loves.

The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this fiction: Chuck Taylors, Coke, Gibson guitars, iTunes, Jeep, Kleenex, Little League, M&Ms, Mary Poppins, Men in Black, Shrek

Cover design by Nathalia Suellen
Interior layout by Jenny Perinovic
Author Photo by Priscilla Baierlein Photography

ISBN 9781939392152 (paperback)
ISBN 9781939392169 (e-book)

Printed in the United States of America

For Lauren and Ella, the most magical creatures I know
.

O
NE

B
uck. Muck. Truck. Duck.

“Duck!” I lift my head and turn to Sam. “What the duck!”

Sam sits cross-legged in the grass beside me, his guitar resting in the bend of his knee. He’s been strumming the same chords over and over again, turning the tuning pegs while he tries to match the melody in his head. “Duck,” he repeats, and looks at me from the corner of his eye. His mouth turns down on one side. “It doesn’t feel right.”

I tap my pencil against the sketchbook balanced on my legs. My long red hair pools on the page, covering most of the drawing I’m working on. We’ve been playing this game for a few months, ever since I made the New Year’s resolution to stop swearing. Mom set a jar on the kitchen counter back in December and started making me and Sam put a dollar in every time we use language she doesn’t like. It took ten bucks to convince me to come up with words that won’t cost me anything.

Sam, on the other hand, throws in a ten every Monday as insurance. He’s much fonder of swear words than I am, and he’s a much harsher critic of my substitutes.

I think “duck” works pretty well.

Duck. Ducking. Ducker.

The perfect swear stand-ins are so elusive. “Do you have a better suggestion?”

“Chuck.” His answer is immediate, like he’s been waiting for me to ask. His eyes stay on his guitar strings, and his grin is equal parts deviousness and delight.

I slap the headstock of his guitar. “My name is not a swear word.”

“Of course not.” He wriggles his eyebrows. “Your name is Charlotte.”

Ugh. I wrinkle my nose and look back to my drawing. Charlotte
should
be a swear word. I hate my name. I only hear it from substitute teachers. Everyone else knows to call me Charlie if they expect a response. Except Sam, of course, who calls me Chuck.

Sam snorts. “Why don’t you just put money in the swear jar like I do?”

“I need my money for my art supplies.”

He shrugs. “Then give up peanut M&Ms.”

Give up my M&Ms? I need those like I need air. A sketchbook, some pencils, and a party-sized bag of peanut M&Ms—that’s all I require in life. I lower my chin and fix dead eyes on him. “Sometimes, I don’t know how you’re my brother.”

“Older brother,” Sam reminds me, drumming his fingers against the body of the guitar. “You could learn a lot from my experience, Chuck.”

We share a birthday, but he never misses an opportunity to play the Older Brother card. I smirk at him. “Six minutes older. I’ll keep my M&Ms.”

“Suit yourself.” He rakes his fingers through the mess of light brown curls on top of his head and nods at the swells of farmland across the one-lane road in front of our house. The sun slips below the top of the highest hill, splashing the sky with orange and pink and turning our neighbor’s horses into dark silhouettes. Black wooden fences divide the farmland into a patchwork of fields dotted with animals, wells, and a couple barns. “You’re gonna run out of light soon.”

He’s right. I turn back to my drawing and pull my colored pencils from the zippered pouch beside me. I usually prefer to draw with charcoal, but these colors—the variance in greens in the grass, the blue-gray ponds, the brown mares, the fruity blend of colors hanging in the sky—deserve to be recorded. In mere minutes, the entire scene will shift as shadows stretch across the fields and all the colors fade into one. I can fill in the details later, but I’ll have to work quickly to capture these colors.

I feel Sam’s eyes on me. His hands are still, resting against his guitar. He’s watching my face, and I know what’s coming. He’s been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up since we got in the car after school. I’d filled all our silences with as much random conversation as possible, but he’s got me now.

I stare hard at my lines on the page. Maybe if I don’t look at him, he won’t mention it.

He draws in a quick, short breath, about to speak.

I brace myself.

“You know your drawings are incredible, right?” he asks. “The Collis Society made a mistake.”

And there it is. My pencil stops moving, and I close my eyes. It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get into the prestigious arts program at the Collis Society. Drawing is my thing, and everyone knows it. Sam has his guitar and notebooks of song lyrics and melodies; I have my worn-out sketchbooks and shelves filled with charcoals, paints, and brushes. Doing an independent study at Collis this summer was supposed to be a given. I’m Charlie Page. Of course I’d get in.

Except I didn’t. Mrs. Huffman gave me the letter in homeroom this morning. I thought getting it on my birthday was a good sign.

I was wrong.

“Not incredible enough, I guess,” I tell him. I hate the way my voice shakes. There are a million worse things that could happen than being rejected from Collis’s art program. I know that.

Still, I was counting on it. A summer residency at Collis would automatically set my college applications apart and practically guarantee me a spot in any of the best visual arts programs in the United States.

Without it? I don’t know.

Dear Ms. Page, We regret to inform you…

The air seems heavier, pressing down on my shoulders.

I know what an acceptance from Collis would’ve meant for me. I can’t decide what the rejection means. I’m not good enough? I’ll never be a real artist? I’m wasting my time?

Maybe I’m supposed to do something else. Sure, I’m one of the best artists in my high school, but what does that even mean? It certainly wasn’t enough to impress Collis’s admissions board. Every high school in the world has its best somethings. I’m a big fish in a tiny, supportive pond, and Collis can choose from an ocean filled with special, sparkly fish far more gifted than I’ll ever be.

Why did I even think I’d get in?

Sam sets his guitar aside and rests his arm over my shoulders. He pulls me close, mixing sympathy and reassurance into his easy, close-lipped smile. “Your drawings are incredible. You’re amazing. This changes nothing.”

I lay my head against his shoulder and we sit without words, listening to the water dribble across the rocks in the creek across the road.

“Hey, you two.” The screen door creaks as Mom comes outside. She’s changed into khaki shorts and a pale pink T-shirt that makes her golden skin look even more tan. She trots down the stone porch steps and seats herself next to me, stretching her long legs alongside mine in the grass. “Anything exciting going on out here?”

I give Sam a meaningful look. Mom doesn’t know about Collis yet. She’d been so busy since we got home getting everything ready for our birthday dinner that I didn’t mention it to her. Besides, her hugs always bring out my tears if I’m on the edge of crying, and I’d like to avoid a breakdown.

“Oh, you know.” Sam sighs heavily and withdraws his arm from my shoulders. “I’m trying to concentrate on drawing this sunset, and Chuck won’t shut up about the new Amos Lee album. You know her and her hipster music—it’s pretty annoying.”

I snort. Sam’s iTunes library is three times the size of mine and filled with artists I’ve never heard of. He never leaves the house without his earbuds in. His obsession with music rivals my love for art, and we’re equal in our respect for and ignorance of each other’s passions.

“Mm-hmm. I imagine it would be.” She presses her lips into a wry smile and rubs my back, studying the blend of colors on my page. “That’s beautiful, hon.”

Sam picks his guitar up again. He’s been fiddling with a new tune all afternoon, penciling notes in his composition book, but now he plays one of his old songs. I call it “Ol’ Faithful,” because it’s the one he plays most often. No words, only melody. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, just enough to feel the strings beneath his fingers.

I lean into Mom while he plays. My wavy red hair stands out alongside her stick-straight brown locks, mingling together down our arms as she rests her head against mine. I gaze at the barn near the bottom of our hill, admiring the contrast of the fireflies igniting in its shadow.

I can’t imagine loving anywhere more than I love this place in the spring. The sweet scent of hay mixed with cut grass, the occasional whinny of the neighbor’s horses, the way the breeze drifts through the wildflowers and wanders over my skin. While nearly everything in me knows that my only chance for a career in art means I have to get out of this tiny town, there’s a piece that knows no other place will ever really feel like home. It’s why I’ve drawn nearly every scene it has, inside and out, in my sketchbooks. Wherever I go, it’ll be there, too.

When Sam’s hands go still against the guitar, Mom sighs. “I could sit out here all night, but Seth will be here any minute. Who wants to come inside and help me set the table?”

“I would, Mom, but the sunset…” Sam waves his hand toward the sky before settling it over his heart. He presses his lips together in the most dramatic display of feigned emotion I’ve seen since the time he pretended to be devastated after Mom bought a dishwasher, and we no longer had to wash them by hand. “It moves me.”

I flick his forehead with my finger. “Go away.”

“How much longer are you going to work on that?” Mom asks, nodding toward my sketch.

Darkness trickles down from the sky over my head, slowly chasing the sun away. “A few more minutes. I’ll come inside when Seth gets here.”

“Good, then you and Seth can make the salad,” she says, and I nod as Sam follows her into the house.

It’s quieter without Sam and his guitar, but the crickets start their chorus to keep me company. I lean over my sketchbook, penciling in details as the night settles around me, my nose nearly touching the page. What little light I have suddenly dims, and I look up to watch a cloud press its way across the sky. I look back to my drawing and sigh. I’d hoped to pencil in some of the finer details, but the faster the light fades, the harder it becomes.

Five more minutes, cloud. That’s all I need
.

I glare at the sky, begging the cloud to move. Something tingles in my fingers, and I drop my pencil, shaking them out.

Five more minutes
.

Light gradually begins to peek through the cloud as a breeze pushes it away. The cloud isn’t the only thing moving. The prickly feeling climbs from my hands to my elbows, and I draw my arms into my body.

I curl my fingers into fists and squeeze, digging my fingernails into the heels of my hands, and then relax, spreading my fingers wide. I repeat this over and over until the tingling subsides.

It’s like my arms fell asleep, which makes no sense. I’ve been drawing the whole time. I rest my hands palm-up on my sketchbook and stare at them. Even after the weird sensation vanishes, its phantom lingers right below my skin. I lift my shoulders and shake my arms, flinging the feeling away.

I hear a car coming down the road, followed by the sound of gravel crunching beneath tires. I flip the cover shut on my spiral-bound sketchbook and stand to watch Seth’s red Jeep climb the winding drive to our house. With the sun almost completely hidden, the breeze has picked up a chill as it drifts over the grass and across my bare skin. I tuck my sketchbook against my chest and wrap my arms around myself. Bright headlights shine directly into my face when Seth reaches the top of the driveway, and I turn my head away for a second. He steps out of the car, and the front porch light bounces off the chiseled curves of his face as he lifts his head toward me.

“Hey,” Seth calls, walking closer, holding two bright yellow envelopes in one hand. He’s dressed up more than usual, in dark jeans and a light blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up once or twice, and his hair has that meticulously messy look that shows me he took his time getting ready.

BOOK: Between
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