Authors: Heather Davis
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Lifestyles, #Country Life, #Social Issues, #Dating & Sex
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston New York 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Heather Davis
Al rights reserved. For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Text set in Garamond MT
Book design by Susanna Vagt
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Davis, Heather, 1970–
The clearing / Heather Davis.
Summary: Amy, a sixteen-year-old girl recovering from an abusive relationship,
moves to the country in Washington to live with her great-aunt, and there she
discovers a mysterious clearing in the woods where she meets Henry, a boy stuck
in the summer of 1944.
[1. Space and time—Fiction. 2. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 3. Country life—
Washington (State)—Fiction. 4. Great-aunts—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction. 6.
Washington (State)—History—20th century—Fiction.] I. Title.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For al my real-life Aunt Maes: Faye Briggs, Mol y Cone, Grace Davis, Anna Ruth Lee, and Opal Tersina. Your kindness has shaped my life.
Each night I wished for things to be different. I'd lie awake in the cool darkness, breathing in the smel of fabric softener on my pil owcase and listening to the sound of the late-night TV show coming from Mom and Pete's bedroom. And I wished myself far, far away.
I'd imagine a life far away from the bland, new houses in our quiet Seattle cul-de-sac. A life far away from the green, green lawn of my immaculately maintained high school. A life far away from Matt Parker and the bruises he left on my arms.
And those bruises you couldn't see.
I admit it. For the last year, I'd been a little dumb. Total y focused on Matt Parker, until the day he forgot I existed. And then al I wanted to do was vanish for real. To disappear into a mist, never to be heard from again.
Every single night that summer, I lay awake wishing my life were different. And then one day it was ... but not in the way you probably think.
was my great-aunt Mae's singlewide trailer and forty acres of trees and grassy farmland.
"You sure you'l be al right here, Amy?" Mae smoothed some flyaway gray hairs under her straw hat. "It's just farmers and old folks in the val ey."
Mosquitoes buzzed around us in the cooling September air, and Katie, the German shepherd, sniffed at me uncertainly as Mae and I pul ed my stuff from the bed of her rusty Ford pickup.
"'Course, Katie and I are happy to have the company," Mae added. "Even in our humble abode."
"This place is great," I said, trying to sound convincing as I glanced at the ramshackle trailer in front of us, with its sagging wooden steps and faded, salmon-shaped windsock that flapped randomly in the afternoon breeze. I'd seen Mae's home once before, when Mom and I visited Rockvil e when I was a little kid. The place seemed kinda run-down now, but I didn't care that much.
I'd always liked Mae. Every year she visited us at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, bringing jars of homemade jam and fresh honey from her beehives. And to me, a country life with trees as far as the eye could see and a sun-dappled garden seemed a paradise compared to what I'd left. Short of running away, it was my only option.
The fact that my mom hadn't argued with me about moving up here to this tiny town in the North Cascade Mountains had hurt a little. In some ways she was probably relieved I was going away for senior year. Pete's kids were off at col ege, and with me out of the picture, Mom and Pete had some alone time. Yeah, Mom had agreed with me when I told her I needed to get away. At least she understood that transferring to another high school in the city wasn't going to help when Matt and my old crowd of friends lived less than a mile away.
And so there were a couple of days of packing, and then I left with no goodbyes to anyone, except Mom and Pete, who'd driven me to meet Mae halfway between Seattle and Rockvil e at a rest stop on the highway. I needed to be somewhere different. Maybe I needed to be someone different, too.
Mae helped me drag my suitcases and box of books up the stairs of the mobile home, Katie trotting behind us and woofing her encouragement. The fresh country air, which smel ed of rain and cut grass, disappeared behind the closed trailer door, replaced by stagnation and a damp staleness that seemed to penetrate everything inside. Mae took my coat and hung it on the peg next to hers on the rack. Then she wriggled out of her rubber boots while I checked out my new home.
At one end of the living room, a wood stove stood on a brick hearth, flanked by a new-looking tweed couch and two bookshelves overflowing with books and DVDs. Off to the left were a kitchen and eating nook, and to the right, a narrow hal way.
"It's smal er than I remembered," I said. Then, seeing Mae's face fal a little, I added, "Of course, everything seems big when you're a little kid." Sheesh, the last thing I needed was to wear out my welcome in the first ten minutes.
"That is true," Mae said. She opened the wood stove and poked around with a stick to stir the fire, then clanked the door shut. "Though I expect after the trouble you've had, it'l do you good." Mae gave me a smile that crinkled the lines around her mouth. "Be just the balm you need to heal what ails you."
I didn't know how much Mom had told her about everything, so I just said, "It'l be okay." Katie nosed my knee and I gave her a pat.
"Your room's down the hal past the bathroom, sweetie. You get settled and then meet Katie and me out by the woodpile. We've got some splitting and stacking to do for winter."
"Sure." I sighed. So that was Aunt Mae's real balm for what ailed me—manual labor. Did sweat and splinters heal a total life implosion? I doubted it.
I wheeled my suitcase down the narrow hal and opened the door with my toe. Cramped but clean, the room had a bed, desk, chair, dresser, and closet. Lilac sheets peeked out from under a white comforter on the twin bed; a hand-stitched quilt was laid across the foot.
A fresh start. A simple room in a new place where no one knew me or what I'd come from. A place to lose myself—and al that had come before.
The next morning, I woke to the sound of Mae's truck roaring off down the driveway. Sitting up in bed, I noticed my arms were sore from last night's chores. Mae did a lot of things the old-fashioned way, and she had a specific way she liked everything done, from the angle in which the firewood was stacked to the way she peeled apples for pie. Those quirks were going to take some getting used to.
I snuggled back into the covers and tried to snooze some more, but final y motivated by my growling stomach, I headed into the kitchen for orange juice and toast. On the smal dinette table Mae had left a note. Her perfect old-people cursive spil ed across the back of a power bil envelope.
Going to town. Please split some more kindling and then have some fun in the garden. This afternoon we register you for school!
Hmm. Fun in the garden probably meant weeding.
I spent the next few hours chopping wood, with occasional breaks to throw a stick into the bushes for Katie. It wasn't too hard to make the kindling. It was just splitting the quartered rounds into smal er and smal er sticks you could use to start a fire.
As I worked, I tried to think of what my friends were doing now—wel , what was left of them. Chelsea hadn't talked to me for weeks. I was sure she'd try to track me down when she learned that everything I'd final y told her about Matt was true. The last time we'd spoken I'd shown her the marks on my arms. She'd blamed them on softbal and said that Matt had warned her I'd be spreading lies about him.
I zipped up my sweatshirt, feeling the slight chil of the gray September day. It was typical Pacific Northwest weather with a cloudy sky that looked ready to dump rain. If I was lucky, I had about an hour left of outdoor time before I'd be drenched. I focused on the task at hand, slamming down my hatchet into the wood, imagining for a brief second that I was bashing Matt. That was a little more satisfying than thinking it was just another chunk of fuel that would be used up in the stove when it got al cold out for real.
Bored with my diligent wood-chopping, Katie barked at me, picking up and dropping a stick I'd thrown a little while earlier. Though she was a gentle giant, she had a forceful bark. I set down the hatchet and chucked the stick as hard as I could into the woods. The dog tore after it into the trees, barking like crazy.
And then nothing. Her barking stopped. Weird.
"Katie!" I yel ed, but she didn't come back. After a minute I fol owed her path. She'd run past the garden and into the woodlot behind. My feet tamped down cedar needles and moss as I moved through the trees. "Katie! Come!"
In a rush the shepherd whipped around a tree and almost bowled me over, then proudly dropped the stick and started barking again. Fine.
The dog had a sense of humor.
"Hide-and-seek, huh? Awesome," I said.
She stopped barking and sat down in front of me, looking expectantly at the stick and then back at me. Then she repeated the stares. Stick.
Me. Stick. Me. Stick.
"Okay. You win, girl." I picked up the stick and hurled it as far as I could. This time it zoomed past tree limbs and bushes, and Katie went nuts again, barking and dashing away after it, just a blur of brown and black against the late summer greens.
And then ... again, the barking stopped.
"Katie!" I yel ed. Playing along, I fol owed Katie's path through the trees and found myself at the edge of a big field, a field that smel ed strongly of summer—of warm earth and mown grass. It was a beautiful meadow that I hadn't seen from Mae's backyard. A perfect rectangle framed by trees on three sides and dissolving into a mist on the other.
As I studied the meadow, Katie bounded toward me, carrying the stick in her mouth like a prize. I had to smile. I hadn't had a dog in years.
When Mom and Dad were stil married, we'd lived on the army base at Fort Lewis, south of Seattle, and had a little poodle named Tucker. He'd never been as much fun as Katie. Mostly, he'd wanted to chew shoes and chase the neighbor's Chihuahua. When Dad and Mom split up, Tucker had gone to live at a relative's house. Since then, Dad had been posted overseas, and Mom and I had lived in apartments, at least until we'd moved in with Pete. Pete was al ergic to dogs and cats.
Dad was in Japan now, on an army base. Sometimes he sent me cool stuff for my birthday and usual y he remembered to cal on Christmas.
It didn't bother me too much that he was so far away. I'd got used to Mom and me, and even Pete, being our own family. I hadn't thought about what it would be like to live without them nearby. In a way, it should have been harder than it seemed so far.
Then again, I hadn't real y talked with Mom much this last year. She'd liked Matt, just like everyone had. And then when the truth about him came out—when it started showing on my body—she'd said she had never trusted him. She told me something had seemed off about Matt from the start, which was so easy to say in hindsight and didn't make me feel any better about what I'd been through.
I could stil picture Mom's face the summer before last when I'd come home from Darcy Clegg's house party with a fat lip. Matt had thrown a ful keg cup at me—just plastic, but with enough force to bruise my mouth. He'd apologized the whole way home, but meanwhile, my upper lip had puffed up and looked awful. I stood there in my mom's living room and lied about how it had happened. I told her I'd caught someone's elbow playing vol eybal .
She'd known I was lying. I remember seeing it in her eyes. And I stood there wanting her to save me, to put a stop to something even I didn't feel I could stop. And she'd said nothing.
At the time, I'd told myself it was a good thing, that I should be glad she didn't pry. But looking back, it made me feel so sad.
It only got worse after that. Matt grabbing me—both hands on my upper arms—cal ing me names and shaking me when he got mad.
Sometimes he apologized, but then other times he didn't—he'd just blame me for setting him off. And then that spring, Matt told me he'd break up with me if I didn't do
Told me he'd find another girl who knew how to make him happy. Told me if I real y loved him, I'd go through with it.
—nothing had changed. Nothing, until my so-cal ed best friend caught his eye a few weeks later. I felt so stupid. I went over and over it in my mind, trying to understand why I'd put up with al that he'd done to me—and what was worse, why I felt so sad when he'd gone off with Chelsea. It was dumb to even care.