Nothing important ever happened in Whickett Harbor, Maine. So, it figured that the two biggest things to hit the town in a decade would occur on the exact same night. One of them even threatened to cancel out the other, but I was not about to let a hurricane keep me from meeting a best-selling author.
Little did I know, the hurricane would bring more trouble than I bargained for, including: the most annoying boy I’d ever met, a night of disaster, and worst of all . . . my mother, fresh from Hollywood.
Well, you know what they say: a good story is full of trouble.
“Emmett? Jane? Anyone home?” The voice drifting through the front door belonged to the coolest person I knew. Ana Taylor was my babysitter, our housekeeper, car fixer-upper, weekly planner, and all around Most Important Person Ever. Without Ana, Dad and I would be lost.
“In here!” me and Dad called out at the exact same time.
For Dad, “in here” meant he had his head stuck in the refrigerator, making sure he wasn’t missing any stray jars of seawater. He’s an ocean scientist, and there’s only one way to describe how he feels about his plankton samples: true love.
For me, “in here” meant I was in my writing nook. Our old-fashioned kitchen has a huge cupboard set into the wall that used to have shelves until Ana knocked the top ones out with a sledge hammer. As long as I bring a flashlight, it’s the best place to create, like I’m in a hobbit hole or a secret compartment.
Ana sighed. “Should’ve known. Either of you planning on emerging any time soon?”
I swung open the cupboard door and jumped down. “Please, please tell me that the library event hasn’t been canceled.”
“Hello to you too, Jane.” Ana tousled my hair. She’s known me since I was in kindergarten, so she’s allowed. “It’s still on. They really don’t want to call it off.”
In the whole history of the town, there had never been an event of this magnitude, and if we canceled now, J. E. Fairfax might never come back.
Ana frowned. “Emmett?”
Dad tried to emerge from the refrigerator, bumped his head, then smacked his hand when he went to touch the bumped spot. Dad is tall, built like a lumberjack with broad shoulders, and he frequently collides with the furniture in our old house. “Ooh. Oh. Ouch. Sorry. Hello, Ana.”
He scrunched up his nose and chuckled as if he knew exactly how nerdy he was.
“You’re staying home tonight, right?” Ana pressed. “Weather report says the brunt of the storm won’t hit until ten, but the wind’s picking up already.”
Dad shook his head. “Got to get these samples to the lab in case our power goes out. I’ll probably sleep there. Need to make sure nothing gets damaged.”
Dad regularly gathered samples on his boat and then carted them home until he could return to the lab. It was a standing rule that no one ever ate or drank anything from our fridge that wasn’t clearly labeled.
“Really?” Ana frowned. “Shouldn’t you stay here with Jane?”
My father scratched his chin as if that idea hadn’t occurred to him. “Right. Yes. Maybe I should come back. It’s just . . .” He gave Ana the pleading face he reserved for convincing her to work extra hours. “These samples are invaluable resources for the oceanography community around the globe. If anything happened at the lab, we’d have lost them.”
He seemed to think we should be horrified at the idea.
Ana put her hands on both hips. “Oh no, Emmett Brannen. Those big brown eyes of yours aren’t going to sway me this time. The fact is, you wouldn’t have to worry about these samples if you’d learned to work the generator like I told you.”
Dad looked shame-faced. The thing about generators is that they aren’t as simple as most people think. You don’t just throw a switch when your power goes out. You’ve got to maintain a generator—turn it on periodically and make sure all of the spark plugs and such are working. I’d heard Ana remind Dad about it a hundred times, but no matter what, when it came time to flick that switch, our generator was never in working condition.
Ana was a petite blond spitfire. She could chop a cord of wood, outwork half the men in the Whickett Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, and fix your flatbed truck in her spare time. The only thing Dad could do with your flatbed truck was remember where he parked it.
If you were lucky.
“Ana,” he said, “these are red tide samples from off Monhegan Island.”
She just narrowed her eyes.
Dad shuffled his feet. “Well . . . Jane could come with me and we could sleep at the lab.”
“No. Way.” I shook my head. “I am not missing J. E. Fairfax’s talk. You know I’ve been waiting for this forever.”
Dad raised one eyebrow in my direction. “Forever, huh? You’re only twelve. Besides, she doesn’t even write for kids; she writes trashy romance novels. I’m pretty sure all of her advice will be aimed at adults.”
“Her novels are not trashy, Dad,” I argued. “The New York Times called them ‘sweeping, romantic sagas full of high drama.’” The library had used that quote on their posters, and I’d memorized it because it sounded incredible. “Every one of her books is a best seller, and three of them have been made into movies.”
Ana grinned dreamily. “I adore her movies. There are always two people who are meant for each other, but they can’t see the truth until fate forces them together.”
“Remember that one with the guy in the military who moved away from his childhood sweetheart? Then years later they found each other again—”
“Oh, I loved that one!” Ana clapped excitedly.
Dad cleared his throat, giving us his best bewildered expression. “Could we get back to the point? Ana, could you, possibly—”
“Uh-uh.” Ana crossed her arms over her chest. “I need to be at my apartment to look in on Mrs. Wallace next door. She practically had a conniption when I left to get Jane. She’s so worked up about this storm, she’ll probably have a stroke.”
“We could do rock, paper, scissors,” Dad suggested.
Ana threw her hands up. “No! We couldn’t. You need to stay home with your daughter. Period!”
There was a long moment of silence where none of us said a word, but finally my father relented. “Okay. You’re right. I’ll pick Jane up at the library after these samples are stored properly, and I’ll ask Marty to check in on the lab later tonight.”
Ana beamed. “Thank you. I knew you’d make the right choice.” She practically glowed.
Dad ran a hand through his sandy blond hair, making it stick out in weird directions. “Well, I’d better get moving if I’m going to be back in time. Thanks for dropping Jane off at the author thing.” He picked up one of the coolers, then paused. “You know you’re amazing, right?”
Dad had been telling Ana that for years. She blushed and made the same scoffing noise she usually made.
As Dad walked past, he nudged me in the ribs. “Have fun. Remember this night when you’re supporting me in my old age with the fortune you make on your writing.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your jokes are terrible.”
Dad grinned and I shoved him the rest of the way out the door. He loaded the coolers in the back of the truck, then climbed into the cab and leaned out the open window. “Once we get home, we can watch movies until the lights go out. We’ve got popcorn and dill seasoning, right sprite?”
Those were the only two grocery items Dad never forgot to stock up on.
“Yup.” I waved as he backed out.
Sounded perfect. A chance to learn the tricks of the writing trade from a famous author, followed by a whole evening hanging out with my father during a hurricane? What more could a girl ask for?
Too bad that’s not even close to how the evening turned out.
My best friend, Kitty, wants to be a model, and she’s willing to suffer for it. I’ve watched her freeze in an off-the-shoulder sweater mid-winter, squeeze her feet into pointy-toed heels, chase after flimsy hand-knitted berets when the sea breeze snatched them off her head, and wriggle her bottom into pants two sizes too small.
Writers, on the other hand, are allowed to look any way we want, but tonight was a special occasion. The only authors the library had ever hosted were Twyla Jenkins, who’d written The Downeast Guide to Lobster Casseroles, and Georgie Doyle, who’d written a memoir called The One that Got Away. So, when news came around that the internationally known romance author J. E. Fairfax would be in town, they’d planned a cocktail party—the height of sophistication. I didn’t want anyone to say I wasn’t just as committed to my future as Kitty, so I’d done something I hadn’t done for ten years.
I’d put on a dress.
I knew it had been ten years, because the last time I’d worn a dress was right before my mother moved to California. She’d gotten me all dolled up for a mother-daughter photo. We had matching pink gowns and sparkly tiaras. I’m only two years old, but I have on lip gloss, blush, and real diamond earrings. My not-quite curly hair is twirled into jet-black ringlets, and Mom’s hair is styled to match. We look utterly ridiculous.
To top it all off, Mom hadn’t thought things out very well, because the ear piercings were brand-new. She’d taken me to Claire’s boutique right before we got our pictures taken and I’d screamed my head off, so my face is all red and blotchy beneath the makeup.
When Dad tells this story it sounds like the funniest thing ever, but we both know that the very next day Mom moved to California to become an actress. Now she’s got the framed 8 x 10 version of that photo hanging on the wall of her apartment, and when I make my mandatory visits, she points it out and says, “Sweet baby Jane. We’ve always been so close.”
In what universe?
Some of the kids at school find it hard to believe that I’ve never been close with my mother, but when you haven’t lived with someone for a decade, and you only see them twice a year, it’s hard to feel like you really know them. I guess I think of my mom more like an aunt—a distant aunt who is my polar opposite.
If Mom were making me get dressed up tonight, I’d have dug in my heels, but since J. E. Fairfax was about to offer me the keys to my future, I wanted to look grown-up and sophisticated when I met her. Who knows? Maybe someday she’d remember the time she met Jane Brannen, future award-winning author, in Whickett Harbor, Maine.
As I checked my dress in the mirror for the hundredth time, Ana tapped her foot. “Can you move a little faster, Jane? You don’t want to be late.”
“Are you sure this isn’t too baggy?” I asked. I’d had to borrow a dress from Kitty, and like most of her wardrobe, it was pink, black, and white—the signature colors of the Hello Kitty brand. The bottom half had a silky fabric and the top half was plain pink with a cat face on the pocket. Kitty insisted the cat face was retro-chic.
“The dress looks great,” Ana said, tapping her fingers on our kitchen island. “It’s adorable. Very retro. Kitty knows what she’s doing.”
You wouldn’t think we’d be best friends, but Kitty is like my sister. Her parents died when she was small, so her grandmother (everyone calls her Granny V) raised her. Dad practically adopted her as well. When I got a tree fort, he built one for Kitty too. When I got a tire swing, so did Kitty. If there was a father-daughter event, he took us both. Granny V called herself my honorary grandmother because it was understood that Kitty and I were a pair.
Even though Kitty didn’t like to write, she did love to draw, so all our lives we’d created stories as a team. Our longest one was Two Princesses of Penmore, where Kitty found out that she was the undiscovered heiress to the Hello Kitty fortune. She inherited the Penmore Estate and we moved in together.
The Penmore Estate was a real place—a beautiful old mansion about a half hour from Whickett Harbor. It was tucked away in the woods, surrounded by a wrought iron fence, and no one I knew had ever been inside. Kitty and I were sure it was full of chandeliers, marble statues, spiral staircases, and ghosts of wealthy people.
While Kitty was busy pretending to be an heiress, I liked to pretend that I was descended from Jane Austen, one of the most famous writers of all time. She’s also Ana’s favorite author. Even when I was small, we’d curl up together and watch the movie versions of her books. Since Jane Austen lived in England during the 1800s, all of her stories take place in that time period. There are floofy dresses, men in strange-looking pants, and lots of fancy language, but I don’t mind. Ana loves the romance of it all, and I love Ana, so things that make her happy make me happy too.
Now though, Ana frowned, staring out the window. “It sure is getting dark out there.”
I knew I’d better hurry up before she changed her mind about letting me go. “I’m ready.”
Ana looked me over with a critical eye. “Something is missing.”
“Really?” I looked down at my dress. It wasn’t exactly sophisticated, but Idid have dangly earrings and matching shoes.
“You need a necklace.” Ana pulled a small box from her jacket pocket and handed it to me.
I wanted to throw my arms around her, but first I opened the box to see what was inside. Usually, I didn’t wear jewelry, but the necklace was perfect. The chain was a burnished bronze, and at the end was a small metal book charm. When I opened it, there was a dark silhouette of a woman’s profile on one side, and on the other side in flowing script, it said: Indulge your imagination in every possible flight. Jane Austen.
“I almost got you the one that said ‘obstinate, headstrong girl,’ ” Ana said, laughing, “but I chose this one instead. They’re handmade.” She paused. “I think every writer needs a talisman. Something to bring them luck. Don’t you agree?”
I nodded, unable to speak while my nose was sniffling and my eyes welled up. Ana pulled me into a hug and kissed the top of my head.
“You’re going to be the next great Jane,” she told me. “I’ve always said so.” For just a moment her voice was soft and wistful, but then she gave me a playful shove. “Except if we’re late, because then you’ll be a dismal failure.”
I laughed, then wiped my eyes and followed her out to her truck. “Thanks,” I said, fingering the necklace. “I love it.”
Ana grinned. “Had to do something to mark this occasion.”
I shook my head, pondering the magnitude of what was about to happen. “Who would’ve thought a famous author would ever come to Whickett Harbor?” I stared out the window at the gathering clouds. “It’s as if aliens chose to make contact by landing on our pier.”
“Or Bigfoot emerged from the woods to visit the Clam Shack.”
“Or the Loch Ness monster arrived to eat blueberries.”
We both laughed as we got in the truck, and then Ana shrugged. “Maybe Mrs. Fairfax wants to get away from it all. You know . . . take a vacation.”
I laughed. “Here? Why would she visit someplace where the most exciting thing to happen all year is the corn- shucking contest?”
The corner of Ana’s mouth twitched up. “Don’t forget the August clam bake. Now that’s wicked cool.”
On the drive, we saw Hollis Adams boarding up the Clam Shack, so Ana rolled down the window to holler over. A whiff of fried clam goodness seeped in right alongside the smell of pine trees and salt water. My stomach rumbled. I hadn’t eaten dinner, planning instead to fill up on mini hot dogs and meatballs on a stick.
“Hey there, Hollis. How’s Louise today? She still feeling pekid?”
“Ayuh. But that’s to be expected when ya got a bun in the oven.”
That was Maine-speak for saying that someone was going to have a baby.
Ana laughed. She’d stopped the truck smack in the middle of the empty road, but that was okay because the only time there’d been traffic in Whickett Harbor was when Mo Allen Kiser hit a moose on Main Street.
“Good thing you’ll be home tonight,” Ana said. “Hope the storm doesn’t cause any damage.” She paused. “Pop’s Café staying open?”
“Only for a few more hours ’cause of all these tourists in town for the library shindig. You ask me, the library should’ve canceled, but Violet wouldn’t hear of it.”
“No way.” I couldn’t help myself—the words burst out.
Hollis chuckled. “That you, Jane? You look pretty tonight. How’s your father?”
“Good. He’s working.” That went without saying.
“What grade you goin’ into this year?”
Hollis shook his head. “Both you and Kitty again? Miss Bates’s going to have her hands full when school opens next week, ain’t she?”
“Are you implying that Jane isn’t a total angel?” Ana said, pretending to be offended on my behalf. “I’ll have you know that someday we’ll be giving Jane a cocktail party and a book reading. You mark my words.”
“All right,” Hollis said, but it came out sounding like a’ight. “Better get a move on then. Let this writer lady meet her competition.” He winked and Ana threw one last lazy wave over her shoulder before she rolled up the window and stepped on the gas.
A few minutes later we reached the library.
We got out and walked slowly along the stone path and then up the cracked front steps. The library is pretty small, and tonight they had the front door open, so people spilled out onto the lawn. Classical music sounded from inside. I saw a lot of faces I recognized, but what was more incredible was that I also saw faces that I didn’t recognize.
Genuine strangers. Lots of them.
Granny V spotted us the minute we got there and hurried over. She had on her funeral face, and for a moment my stomach sank down to my toes. Had Mrs. Fairfax canceled because of the storm? Had she mixed us up with Bar Harbor, where all the tourists go?
“Jane, I am so sorry,” Granny V said. TheV stood for Violet, and tonight she wore a violet dress with pearls that made her look like a fancy giant grape. “I thought you knew . . . Mrs. Fairfax said she’d do a school visit sometime during the year, but tonight is for adults only. No children allowed.”
No children allowed?
My breath left in a rush and I could feel the heat creep up my neck to the tips of my ears. Discrimination!
“Couldn’t you make an exception?” Ana asked. “You know Jane is a serious writer. She won’t make a peep.”
Granny V fluttered one hand in front of her face. “Oh dear. This is all my fault. I should have been clear. I’m afraid we can’t make an exception because the library is serving alcohol tonight.” She whispered “alcohol” as if the word alone might make us tipsy.
Ana looked at me, and I could see that she was gearing up to keep arguing, but I knew Granny V would just get more upset and then she’d get overheated, and next thing we knew she’d be having palpitations. So I shook my head and pulled Ana aside, handing her my spiral notebook.
“You have to take notes for me.”
It was as if I’d asked her to pick up seagull poop with her bare hands. “Oh, Jane. I’m terrible at taking notes. I wasn’t any good in school. You know I never got above a C. Besides, what will you do if I stay here?”
I shrugged. “I’ve got a book in the truck. I’ll take it next door to Pop’s Café and read until Dad picks me up.” That was a lie, but I knew Ana wouldn’t say yes if she thought I’d have nothing to do. “Please?”
She chewed on her bottom lip, then glanced from the truck to the library. Finally, she sighed. “Okay. Fine.”
I threw my arms around her waist. “Thanks. Write down everything.”
“I’ll do my best. Tell Pop I said to keep an eye on you until your father shows up, and don’t talk to any strangers.” Ana scowled, but then her scowl faded and she hugged me back. “You and your dad stay safe tonight, okay? I’ll come by in the morning to check in and give you my notes.”
I nodded. “We’ll be fine. You stay safe too.”
Ana hesitated, but then she turned and disappeared into the crowd. I watched her go, a fake smile plastered on my face. Once she was gone, the smile dropped.
No children allowed?
What a stupid rule! I fingered my new necklace and thought about the quote inside. There was zero chance I was going to be banished to Pop’s Café—not when I had a powerful imagination on my side. Surely I could come up with some way to hear J. E. Fairfax speak.
I left the building, then walked around to try the side door. Locked. Then I tried the staircase leading to the basement, but the gate was latched. Still, there had to be a way. I paced the perimeter looking for an entrance. The downstairs windows were open, but they were right behind the podium and I could see people milling about with their fancy drinks.
Finally, I eyed the maple tree on the side of the building. I’d climbed it before, and if I reached the top branch I knew I could open the attic window. From the top of the attic staircase it would be possible to hear everything J. E. Fairfax said without being seen.
I marched up to the tree and planted my foot against the trunk. Two tries later it was pretty clear that dress shoes and tree climbing weren’t a good match, so I slipped off my shoes, leaving them on the sidewalk below, and then hitched myself up to the top branches barefoot. Luck was on my side, because the window was open, so if I leaned just the right way . . .
The branch swayed as I crawled to the end. A stick tore at the front of Kitty’s dress. A sheath of bright red maple leaves knocked out the clips from my hair, but I didn’t dare lift my hand to fix them. I looked down and the ground seemed a hundred feet away.
If I fell, how many bones would I break?
My heart pounded and for a split second I considered making my way back down to safety. But those unjust words echoed in my head.
No children allowed.
I gritted my teeth and leaped from the branch to the window, as graceful as a flock of turkeys scared into scrub brush. Branches snapped, and leaves fell like they’d been caught in a nor’easter. With a stomach-wrenching ooof, I landed half on and half off the windowsill, my legs hanging over the edge. In one dizzying moment I realized I was slipping. There’s something awful about that kind of panic, as if your whole body cries out at once.
But then two strong hands grasped my forearms and pulled me in.
I landed face-first, smack on top of someone. My knee gouged the person’s stomach, and I heard them say “ugh,” and then “ouch,” and then the same arms that had pulled me in were pushing me away so hard, I fell over backward.
“Get off me! What kind of person climbs through an attic window?”
I clambered to my feet only to come face-to-face with a boy my own age. He had short dark hair and even darker, stormy eyes. He was wearing beige pants, a sweater vest, and a paisley tie, and when he spoke, he had a British accent. He was probably the son of some tourist who was here for the event.
At first I’d felt grateful, but after he yelled at me, my gratitude turned into annoyance. My whole face went hot.
“You didn’t have to help me,” I said, brushing leaves off Kitty’s dress. “I would’ve made it on my own.”
“Oh really?” the boy said. “You don’t think I just saved your life? Because from where I sat, it looked like you were about to get yourself killed.”
The Hello Kitty face had lost a nose, whiskers, and one eye, making it look like the deranged cat from Dad’s favorite Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary.
I wanted to be polite, but I snapped instead. “Why are you even up here? This is my spot.”
“Oh? Well, I got here first.” The boy’s expression was pinched.
“Yes, but this is my library.” I’d always considered the Whickett Harbor Library my second home. It was my favorite place on earth aside from my writing nook.
The boy snorted. “You’re welcome to it. I’m surprised they even call this a library. It’s more like a glorified closet with books in it. What do people do once they’ve read them all?”
My jaw clenched and despite myself, my fists balled up.