Titles (up for debate, feel free to vote):
1. Broken Compass, Bright Stars
2. Something Like It
4. Under Crossed Stars
Shuffled between relatives who used him as a pawn in a high-stakes custody battle, Will Parker has been fending for himself since age twelve. Now in college, he's finally begun to cobble together a life of his own, with his own rules, and a circle of friends who know nothing about his past.
Then he meets Abbey Banks. She speaks three languages, picks locks for fun, and reads poetry because she actually enjoys it. She has a Nobel Peace Prize winner on speed dial. And she's clueless that she has the body of a 1940s pin-up girl.
Being together makes life seem more exciting, more vibrant, more everything. Waffle feasts at midnight. Running away to the French Quarter. Skinny dipping in February. Will wants her more than oxygen, and Abbey feels the same way.
Until the day she disappears, taking nothing but the clothes on her back and her bank card.
Will embarks on a desperate quest where just finding her won't be enough. Vulnerable and alone, Abbey's sense of what's real is unraveling fast. When she surfaces, stripped of everything that made her feel human, Will can only hope his something like a life can sustain them both.
The day I leave the psych ward, the sun is bright as diamonds. The world is bathed in light, crisp and unrelenting. I am no exception. I stand at the edge of the parking lot and look at my hands, outstretched with fingers opening like starfish. Even my skin looks new. Raw. My rings and bracelets have long been stripped away, and all I have left is a hospital band that tells me my name.
Just my name, my birthday, and a series of numbers and symbols that don’t make sense. This is all I have left of who I was. The rest of me is full of drugs with names that trip my tongue: Depakote. Haldol. Lithium. Trazadone. My head buzzes with the after effects of electroshock therapy. My clothes are new but freshly laundered, the cotton blessedly soft against my aching shell of a body. A yellow plastic drawstring bag holds all that I have left in the world.
Only my shoes have come with me from that other life. Mary Jane slides made of toast brown leather, worn and scuffed in all the right places, they fit perfectly on my sockless feet. I wiggle my bare toes and contemplate the parking lot curb. One step down will carry me away from the hospital, into a sea of cars. But none of them will take me home, because I don’t know where that is anymore.
I don’t know who will be waiting for me, and if it will be in anger or welcome. I don’t know who I’ve hurt, who still loves me, or who might give me yet another chance.
What did I do, before I came back to myself in a hospital bed, held down by four-point restraints? Who did I hurt? What did I destroy? And how do I go about rebuilding a life?
My shoes are the only things that feel familiar, and all I can do in them is walk away, leaving the hospital behind as I pick my careful way across the parking lot. There is no place to walk toward. I’m not even sure what day it is, or how long I’ve been under.
That’s when I see him, and I feel like I can breathe again. He’s here, waiting for me.
He doesn’t see me at first. Hanging halfway out of the front seat of his car, he digs through the mess in the floorboard for something. Music, much too loud, pulses from the car, earning him dirty looks he doesn’t even see, let alone acknowledge. His t-shirt is taut through the shoulders and loose everywhere else, jeans slung low on narrow hips. I know this shirt, faded green with a ragged collar, and the remembering makes me ache:
A strip of tanned bare skin I trace with my fingers when the soft cotton rides up between us.
Standing with sockless feet in his kitchen in the early morning light, wearing his shirt over last night’s jeans, unsure of my new place in his world.
Laying my head down on a pillow covered with this soft green cloth, because it smells like him and is the only way to feel his presence in a strange bed miles from home.
He needs a haircut and a shave. A half-smoked cigarette with a column of un-flicked ash dangles from one hand. After a moment of careful rummaging, he emerges with his prize: a battered paperback with the words “No Fate” inked along the edge.
“I didn’t know if you’d come,” I say softly.
He looks up, startled, eyes wide and sharp and the light, clear green I remember. The color of new jade. Of the river in early summer that is the only place he calls home.
“Where else would I go?” he asks, gone still and careful in his movements, as if I am a wild bird he might scare away.
Or maybe he’s afraid I’ll attack him.
It’s not an unfounded fear. Shame floods me for the hundredth time in the two days I’ve had my mind back.
“I don’t know.” I look down at my battered shoes. “I don’t know what to do, or where to go, or what I did, or why.” This last word feels torn from me, and I realize it’s the most important of them all. I’m nineteen years old, from a good family, attending a prestigious college where, I’ve been assured, my future is bright. Was bright. Was full of friends and books and music and parties and trips to the beach— all the things that make up a life. And now there’s no one but me and him, standing in a hospital parking lot, trying to find the reason why I have torn my life apart.
Why. Why. Why. The word thrums in my head like a heartbeat, threatening to swallow me. I recoil from it, this insistent drumming in my head, wrapping my arms around myself as if I can stop my mind from shattering again. I can only imagine what I look like to him, shaking and ragged in a hospital parking lot.
But he is brave, my Will, and he doesn’t back down, holding my gaze until the why fades away, leaving instead images we can both remember. Sand in our hair and salt on our lips. Music spilling out into the night through wide-open windows. Shadows cast by moonlight over two almost-sleeping bodies.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says, and I see he has cleared off the front seat for me, and is trying to coax me in by holding open the door. He’s lying. It does matter. But his eyes are begging me to go to him, to trust him, to try again. And I do trust him, despite the fact that he is drifting through life, unanchored and unmoored.
Because, now, so am I.
His shirt smells faintly of the cigarettes he has sworn off so many times and the cologne I bought him. His arms come up around me and I think, yes, this. He holds me, tight and careful, and I can feel the desperation thrumming though him just below the surface, the same feelings of fear and loss and bewilderment that have dogged me until just now. Until he offered himself to me, to cling to in a world where I suddenly have nothing left.
He feels like a direction. Not a destination, and definitely not safety. Not home, but something like it. And, for now, it is enough.
He slides into the driver’s seat and gives me his best gambler’s smile. He brushes his fingers across my cheekbone, light and quick, before fiddling with the stereo. I feel burned there, too exposed where he touched me, but also the most alive since… before the hospital.
“Where are we going?” I keep my hair out of my eyes by holding it back with one hand. I no longer even own a hair band.
Will is a careful driver. His eyes are always ahead and he stays alert to the cars around us. When his gaze leaves the road to bore into me, I know what he has to say is important. His face is etched with fierce possession and smoldering anger, creased with faint lines and dark circles that weren’t there a few weeks ago. But somehow, I know his anger is not directed at me, just as I know I am responsible for the changes carved into his features.
“With me.” He is careful to enunciate both words distinctly. “You’re coming with me. And everything else will be all right.” His knuckles are white around the steering wheel, as if daring me, my parents, and even the world to disagree with him. He shifts gears like the car has personally offended him, and we rocket forward, leaving the hospital behind.
I lean my head against the cool glass of the window. It vibrates against my raw skin as we pick up speed. I let the white noise of our movement, and the remnants of the drugs in my system, lull me into drowsiness. Will’s fingers hover over mine, as if he is hesitant to touch me, but also can’t help himself. I flip my palm upward like a flower seeking its sun. His fingers lace through mine and I feel anchored at last.
After weeks of wrecking everything around me, for no good reason except that I am wicked or star-crossed or lost the chemical lottery at birth, I fall into an exhausted sleep.