Authors: Stephanie Perkins
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FOR JARROD, BEST FRIEND AND TRUE LOVE
Thank you to every single reader who picked up my first anthology. It's challenging to find a modern audience for short stories, and I'm thrilled that so many people gave it a chance. I hope you enjoy this collection, too. I'm tremendously proud of it.
Thank you to Kate Testerman. For everything. Thank you to Sara Goodman for being so classy and for teaching me so much about this job. Thank you to Michelle Cashman, Alicia Clancy, Angie Giammarino, Anna Gorovoy, Olga Grlic, Brant Janeway, and Jessica Katz for the additional support and hard work. Thank you to Venetia Gosling, Kat McKenna, and Rachel Petty for rocking it in the UK. Thank you to Jim Tierney for another set of gorgeous illustrations. Thank you to the authors of my first anthology for their continued encouragement. And thank you, especially, to the authors in this anthology for being brilliant, hilarious, ambitious, and kindhearted: Brandy, Cassie, Francesca, Jen, Jon, Leigh, Lev, Libba, Nina, Tim, and Veronica. I have loved working with you all.
Thank you to my family. Always.
And thank you to Jarrod Perkins. Always + always x always.
There were a lot of stories about Annalee Saperstein and why she came to Little Spindle, but Gracie's favorite was the heat wave.
In 1986, New York endured a summer so miserable that anyone who could afford to leave the city did. The pavement went soft with the heat, a man was found dead in his bathtub with an electric fan half-submerged in the water next to his hairy knees, and the power grid flickered on and off like a bug light rattling with moths. On the Upper West Side, above the bakeries and delicatessens, the Woolworth's and the Red Apple market, people slept on top of their sheets, sucked on handkerchiefs full of crushed ice, and opened their windows wide, praying for a breeze. That was why, when the Hudson leaped its banks and went looking for trouble on a hot July night, the river found Ruth Blonksy's window wedged open with a dented Candie's shoe box.
Earlier that day, Ruth had been in Riverside Park with her friends, eating lemon pucker ices and wearing a persimmon-colored shift that was really a vintage nightgown she'd dyed with two boxes of Rit and mixed success. Rain had been promised for days, but the sky hung heavy over the city, a distended gray belly of cloud that refused to split. Sweat beading over her skin, Ruth had leaned against the park railing to look down at the swaying surface of the river, opaque and nearly black beneath the overcast sky, and had the eerie sense that the water was looking back at her.
Then a drop of lemon ice trickled from the little pink spoon in her hand, startling as a cold tongue lapping at her pulse point, and Marva Allsburg shouted, “We're going to Jaybee's to look at records.”
Ruth licked the lemon ice from her wrist and thought no more of the river.
But later that night, when she wokeâher sheets soaked through with sweat, a tangle of reeds at the foot of her bedâthat sticky trail of sugar was what came first to mind. She'd fallen asleep in her clothes, and her persimmon shift clung wetly to her stomach. Beneath it, her body burned feverish with half-remembered dreams of the river god, a muscular shape that moved through the deep current of sleep, his gray skin speckled blue and green. Her lips felt just kissed, and her head was clouded as if she'd risen too fast from some great depth. It took a long moment for her ears to clear, for her to recognize the moss-and-metal smell of wet concrete, and then to make sense of the sound coming through her open windowârain falling in a steady patter onto the predawn streets below. The heat had broken at last.
Nine months later, Ruth gave birth to a baby with kelp-green eyes and ropes of seaweed hair. When Ruth's father kicked her out of their walk-up, calling her names in Polish and English and making angry noises about the Puerto Rican boy who had taken Ruth to her junior prom, Annalee Saperstein took her in, ignoring the neighborhood whispers and clucking. Annalee worked at the twenty-four-hour coin laundry on West Seventy-Ninth. No one was sure when she slept, because whenever you walked past, she always seemed to be sitting at the counter doing her crossword beneath the fluorescent lights, the machines humming and rattling, no matter the hour. Joey Pastan had mouthed off to her once when he ran out of quarters, and he swore the dryers had actually growled at him, so nobody was entirely surprised that Annalee believed Ruth Blonksy. And when, waiting in line at Gitlitz Delicatessen, Annalee smacked Ruth's father in the chest with the half pound of thinly sliced corned beef she'd just purchased and snapped that river spirits were not to be trusted, no one dared to argue.
Ruth's daughter refused milk. She would only drink salt water and eat pound after pound of oysters, clams, and tiny crayfish, which had to be delivered in crates to Annalee's cramped apartment. But the diet must have agreed with her, because the green-eyed baby grew into a beautiful girl who was spotted by a talent scout while crossing Amsterdam Avenue. She became a famous model, renowned for her full lips and liquid walk, and bought her mother a penthouse on Park Avenue that they decorated with paintings of desert flowers and dry creek beds. They gave Annalee Saperstein a tidy sum that allowed her to quit her job at the coin laundry and move out of the city to Little Spindle, where she opened her Dairy Queen franchise.
At least, that was one of the stories about how Annalee Saperstein came to Little Spindle, and Gracie liked it because she felt it made a kind of sense. Why else would Annalee get copies of French and Italian
when all she ever wore were polyester housedresses and Birkenstock sandals with socks?
People said Annalee
things. It was why Donna Bakewell came to see her the summer her terrier got hit by a car and she couldn't seem to stop cryingânot even to sleep, or to buy a can of green beans at the Price Chopper, or to answer the phone. People would call her up and just hear her sobbing and hiccupping on the other end. But somehow a chat with Annalee managed what no doctor or pill could and dried Donna's tears right up. It was why, when Jason Mylo couldn't shake the idea that his ex-wife had put a curse on his new Chevy truck, he paid a late-night visit to the DQ to see Annalee. And it was also why, when Gracie Michaux saw something that looked very much like a sea monster breach the waters of Little Spindle Lake, she went looking for Annalee Saperstein.
Gracie had been sitting on the bank of what she considered
cove, a rocky crescent on the south side of the lake that no one else seemed to know or care about. It was too shady for sunbathers and devoid of the picnic tables and rope swings that drew vacationers like beacons during the tourist season. She'd been skipping stones, telling herself not to pick the scab on her knee, because she wanted to look good in the jean shorts she'd cut even shorter on her fourteenth birthday, and then doing it anyway, when she heard a splash. One, two, three humps breached the blue surface of the water, a glittering little mountain range, there and then gone, followed by the slap ofâGracie's mind refused to accept it, and at the same time clamoredâa
Gracie scrabbled backward up the banks to the pines and dragged herself to her feet, heart jackrabbiting in her chest, waiting for the water to part again or for something huge and scaly to haul itself onto the sand, but nothing happened. Her mouth was salty with the taste of blood. She'd bitten her tongue. She spat once, leaped onto her bicycle, and pedaled as hard as she could down the bumpy dirt path to the smooth pavement of the main road, thighs burning as she hurtled through town.
It wasn't much of a hurtle, because Little Spindle wasn't much of a town. There was a mini-mart, a gas station with the town's lone ATM, a veterinary clinic, a string of souvenir shops, and the old Rotary hall, which had become the public library after the library in Greater Spindle flooded ten years before. Little Spindle had never gotten the traffic or the clusters of condos and fancy homes that crowded around Greater Spindle, just a smattering of rental cottages and the Spindrift Inn. Despite the fact that the lake was nearly as big as Greater Spindle and surrounded by perfectly good land, there was something about Little Spindle Lake that put people off.
The lake looked pleasant enough from a distance, glimpsed through the pines in vibrant blue flashes, sunlight spiking off its surface in jewel-bright shards. But as you got closer you started to feel your spirits sink, and by the time you were at its shore, you felt positively mournful. You'd convince yourself to walk down to the beach anyway, maybe swing out on the old tire, but as you let go of the rope, you'd hang for the briefest second above the water and you'd know with absolute certainty that you'd made a horrible mistake, that once you vanished beneath the surface, you would never be seen again, that the lake was not a lake but a mouthâhungry, blue, and sullen. Some people seemed impervious to the effects of Little Spindle, but others refused to even put a toe in the water.