"Imagine Anna Quindlen or Sue Miller turning her attention to writing a young adult novel, and you have an idea what [Williams] has done for early teen readers..." --Audrey Couloumbis, author of the Newbery Honor Book Getting Close to Baby
Thirteen-year-old Lacey wakes to a beautiful summer morning excited to begin her new job at the library, just as her mother is supposed to start work at the grocery store. Lacey hopes that her mother's ghosts have finally been laid to rest; after all, she seems so much better these days, and they really do need the money. But as the hours tick by and memories come flooding back, a day full of hope spins terrifyingly out of control....
"No one can get inside the head and heart of a 13-year-old girl better than Carol Lynch Williams, and I mean no one," said James S. Jacobs, Professor of Children's Literature at Brigham Young University, of her breakout novel, The Chosen One. Now this award-winning YA author brings us an equally gripping story of a girl who loves her mother, but must face the truth of what life with that mother means for both of them.
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St. Martin's Griffin
March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams
There are mice.
Lots of mice. Running all over my room. Letting out crying sounds that grate on my ears. They crawl on my feet. My legs. I feel them on my arms. Soft things with toenails like blunt needles.
"Momma?" I say. She's dressed in a long nightgown. Her fingernails are sharp like the tops of just-opened cans. "We gotta get rid of the mice. We gotta call an exterminator." I hand her an old-fashioned phone.
"You're right, Lacey," Momma says. But instead, she cuts at her face with her nails. Deep wounds open up, split wide, and blood, dark blood like ink, makes paths down her face to the floor. She cries.
"Stop that," I say. "Stop it now."
But Momma doesn't listen. Just cuts and cries.
* * *
I AWOKE with a start, my heart thudding in my neck. My whole body felt like I'd been dunked in an ice bath.
"Only a dream," I said to myself, then glanced at the clock: 3:46 A.M. I started to close my eyes. The wind nudged at the house. I could smell the magnolia tree.
Something moved in the corner.
"Hello?" I said, clutching my sheet to my chest. "Someone here?"
There was no answer.
The floor creaked near the closet.
"Hello?" I wanted to sit up in bed, but I couldn't quite move.
"Granddaddy?" My voice came out small. It felt like all the hair on my head was trying to get away from me.
Fear flashed a white streak behind my eyes. I gave a jump. "Granddaddy?"
Momma! It was Momma! Crying out a second time from her room. Her voice sad and scared and weepy. So the crying part of my dream was real. And maybe there was a mouse near the closet. A mouse coming from my dreams, alive and real? That was ridiculous. Of course that couldn't be.
"Are you okay?" I called to Momma. I kept my eyes toward the closet. Straining to see. Just darkness. No movement now.
The night breeze pushed into my room. The smell of the ocean. So peaceful. No more sounds from the closet. Good. Good. I took in a breath to push my fear away.
"Granddaddy," I said, hoping he wasn't close enough to hear me, "this is my room." A girl should at least have privacy in her bedroom. My heartbeat slowed.
"Lacey? I need you."
Man, was I tired. My eyes burned. But I threw my feet over the side of the bed. As soon as I touched the cool wood of the floor, fear surged in behind me. Run! I hurried toward my mother's room. It was like something chased me down the hall though I knew ... Did I?... nothing was there.
A few more steps Go, go! and I made it. "What is it, Momma?" I leaned against the doorjamb. Her nightlight showed the pattern of flowers on the carpet.
"I'm scared." Her voice was shaky. Did she have a nightmare, too? "Granddaddy keeps bothering me. Has he been coming into your room? I've told him not to. To let you sleep because of tomorrow." Momma's voice wasn't even as loud as a whisper. I had to walk to the side of her bed to hear. I could see her slender form under the blankets. "And I told him I have to sleep too, because of you-know-what."
I nodded but Momma didn't look my way. Just gripped the sheet and blanket in her fingers and spoke like maybe I was glued to the ceiling.
"But he won't let me alone," Momma said. She glanced in my direction, then back again. "If you get in bed with me, Lacey, I think he'll stay outta here for a while."
Had he been to my room? For a moment I felt something behind me. Like someone watched. The feeling was muddy, heavy. Almost on my shoulder. Almost pushing me toward Momma. I refused to look back. Not that I could have seen much of anything. The darkness was fat, almost difficult, in the hall.
"Will you sleep here?"
"All right, Momma." Forcing myself not to hurry, Quick, move it!, I took my time. Granddaddy might be the boss of this house, but I wasn't going to let him know he scared me, too. I climbed in next to my mother and snuggled close. "Turn on your side and I'll scrooch up to your back."
"Okay, Lacey. Okay."
Momma was so thin I could feel her ribs. Could have counted them. I could smell her sweat, too. "You go on to sleep," I said. "If Granddaddy comes back in, I'll send him out."
Don't let him come in here. And then, You know he won't. And another, He could.
"Thank you, baby," Momma said. "You watch for him awhile. But wake me if he tries anything."
I yawned big. "I will." Here I was, all of fourteen years old, and I was crawling into bed with my momma.
You big scaredy cat, I thought. Don't let him come in here. You know he won't. He can't. Not possible.
With Momma so near, my fears faded some. My heart slowed. And at last I was asleep.
At 10:32 a.m., I moved away from Momma's sleeping body and eased myself outta bed. I sucked in at morning air, glad for daylight.
Today was to be a big occasion. Big for Momma and me. Both the Peace City Library and the Winn-Dixie grocery store had a nice surprise waiting for them. Us! We were headed their way to start our new jobs.
Please, please, please.
Into my room I went, walking on tiptoe, the hardwood floor smooth under my feet. I glanced at my closet door, but it was closed tight.
"Just your old imagination, Lacey," I said, making my voice loud enough anyone listening in would hear me. "So get on with the day."
Before bed last night, I'd pulled out my clothes: a dark blue shirt that Momma said looks real nice with my eyes and a pair of tan shorts.
Now I was so excited, I felt a little sick. This was something I had wanted for a long time. I gazed at myself in the dresser mirror, pushing back my hair. My face looked okay, a little wrinkled on one side where the pillow had bunched up under my head. But I didn't appear too tired. I'd slept most of the night. This time.
"Peace City Library," I said, almost smiling. "I'm a-coming."
Jumbled-up nerves made me feel like I could take off running fast as the hummingbirds flit from hibiscus flower to hibiscus flower in our side yard. That's how excited I was about my new job. And jittery, too.
"Lacey," I said, leaning close to my image and running a brush through my long, heavy hair. "This summer is gonna be okay." I thought for a moment. Closing my eyes and letting my imagination spring out with the good crazies. "Maybe," I said in a whisper, "maybe I'll meet a friend." Opening my eyes, I wiggled my head at my reflection. "A girlfriend. And she can . . ." I hesitated then took in a breath ". . . she can spend the night. We can talk on the phone. Go to the mall maybe."
Nervousness and exhilaration ran out to the tips of my fingers. Anything could happen. Anything at all.
"Lacey," Momma called from her room. Her voice sounded weak. My stomach dropped a little. "Where are you?"
"Getting dressed. I'm coming," I said, but didn't move from in front of the mirror. I threw my nightshirt onto my bed, then slipped the shorts and top on. Flip-flops from under the bed Don't look there and I was ready to go.
"Is your granddaddy back?" Momma said.
I glanced at the closet. "No, he's not."
"Lacey, I need you to come talk to me." Her voice had gone whiny. Puny even. Still, her words were like Batman's Mr. Freeze. They stuck my feet to the floor. Cooled the blood in my veins. "I don't think I can go today."
"Oh yes you can," I said, low so she wouldn't hear me. There was no way. No way would I let this happen. I plopped the brush onto the bed, my hair half done.
"Unthaw, girl," I said. "Get going." In the mirror I could see two splotches of red on my cheeks. I turned fast and headed from my room toward Momma's. No arguments. Not now. I wanted out of here.
"You are in charge. This time, Lacey," I whispered, "you are in charge of the day and this job. Just . . ." I could only think of be strong. But be strong was like a sitcom. Be strong was what people said right before the end of the show and everything turned out good.