Even though it's negative temps outside (seriously?? WHY!?) there are good things happening today!
It's TEASER TUESDAY! Super exciting, I know!
Before the cover of NEVERLAND is launched (soon, I promise) I thought it might be fun to give a little teaser.
This story is about love and relationships... and magic. There should always be magic.
NEVERLAND By Shari Arnold
It’s just before dinnertime at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Beef Stroganoff tonight. My sister’s favorite. I’m almost to the best part of Peter Pan — you know where Wendy has just walked the plank and everyone on the ship is freaking out because there was no splash.
I pause for a moment and smile down at the newest addition to story hour. She smiles back. She’s still clutching her mother’s hand like it’s her lifeline, but she’s no longer hiding behind her. So that’s something. Her light-colored eyebrows and pale skin make me think she was a blonde before they shaved her head and injected her with poison. And the light in her mother’s eyes tells me there’s still hope.
“Where’s Wendy?” Jilly calls out even though she’s heard this story countless times before. The way the children are watching me you’d think it was the first time I’d read it to them. Jilly claps loudly and the IV attached to her right hand sways back and forth as if it shares her excitement.
“Well,” I say, drawing out the word. “What do you think happened to her?”
“Peter Pan!” the children chorus, all except Gerald. He’s sitting in his mom’s lap, eyeing me as if I’m foolish for asking this question.
“She’s dead. Drowned in the water,” he says, before his mom shushes him. Lately Gerald has developed a fascination with death. And from what I hear some of the other parents find it off-putting.
“No! She’s not dead!” Jilly says in her most authoritative voice. “It’s Peter Pan. He’s saved her.”
And I laugh. Of course it is. Who else would it be?
I turn the book around to show them the illustrations and they collectively lean in close. A handful of the kids are sitting on the floor near my feet while the few who are too sick to leave their beds create a perimeter around us. But every last one of them is locked on, waiting for the happy ending. Even Gerald. Their eyes are wide and curious, and I love that. If I focus on their eyes I can forget the disease each one carries around like a nametag. I can forget that statistics rule their lives. I used to do this with my sister, Jenna, and near the end she would put her face right up to mine so that our noses were touching and say, “Can you see me, Livy?” and I’d say, “Always.”
Sometimes when I close my eyes I still see her: honey and peach-colored and never without a half-eaten candy necklace hanging around her neck. At least that’s how she used to be. But most of the time I have to pull out a photograph and remind myself of what her smile looked like, how her mouth was a mix of permanent and baby teeth. And how she had this funny little birthmark near her right temple that was shaped like an elephant, and when asked about it she would claim it was a tattoo because it would make my mother cringe and my father chuckle. After only four months of her being gone I have to rely on a photograph to remember how her eyebrows were so blonde you couldn’t see them unless you looked really close. And how her laughter was so loud and freeing that it would usually catch the attention of perfect strangers on the street.
“Livy? What happened to Wendy?” Jilly says, bringing me back to the present. I turn the book around and flip to the next page.
“Tick, tock. Tick tock,” I read and the children squeal: “It’s the crocodile!”
I stop reading long enough to glance up. I wish I could capture their joy and hold it in my pocket, bringing it out on those days when even the promise of a new toy can’t drudge up a smile. “This is what happiness sounds like,” I’d tell them as if a simple reminder is all they need to feel better.
“What happens next?” Gerald calls out, and then thinking better of it he rolls his eyes and says, “not that I’m interested.”
I’m about to answer when I notice him. That same boy. The one I occasionally see when no one else is paying attention. He’s standing just inside the doorway wearing dark jeans and a hoodie. His arms are folded, his ankles crossed. He’s lounging while standing up. And when our eyes meet he grins. Who is he? I know he doesn’t belong to any of the children here because I’ve asked. In fact, no one on this floor seems to claim him at all. But nevertheless, there he is. Watching me.
“Are you going to finish, Livy?” Gerald asks with his sandpaper voice. “You know, some of us aren’t going to live forever.”
The boy in the doorway raises an eyebrow as if he too is wondering if I’m going to finish. But he isn’t a boy. He’s perhaps a year or two older than me, which would make him barely an adult. Not a boy. But there’s something about his smile that makes him appear younger. More youthful.
“Of course I’m going to finish,” I answer, except now I’m nervous. My hand shakes when I turn the page and even though I will myself not to, I clear my throat.
“The sound of ticking is coming from the water down below. Tick. Tick. Tick.” I take a breath while the children continue to hold theirs. And he’s watching me. Still watching me.
I finish the story just as Nurse Maria strolls in to announce that it’s time for dinner. But the children don’t want food. They want Peter Pan. The few who entered the playroom on their own two feet are now flying about with their arms extended and their pajamas flapping. I smile while I watch them. They look so free, so happy. For a moment I forget their troubles, just like they have.
“Again! Again!” they cry. “Read it again!” Even little Sammy, who rarely makes any noise at all, has joined in. Sometimes I don’t even hear his footsteps before he tugs on my shirt to get my attention.
“Please, Livy!” Jilly begs from her hospital bed and I can’t look at her when I explain that story hour is over. I never want to be the one to tell her no. She hears it enough.
Nurse Maria makes airplane noises as she pushes Jilly’s bed toward the doorway.
“Don’t leave without saying goodbye,” Jilly calls out, her head arched back so she can see me.
“Never,” I say. Just like I always do.
“See you tomorrow, Livy,” Gerald squeaks out and his skinny arms wrap around me. He blushes when I kiss his cheek and it makes me want to hold him tighter, longer. “Try not to die tonight,” he says. “It’s dangerous out there.”
“I’ll be careful,” I say and playfully swat at his hair.
When I glance toward the doorway the mysterious boy is gone.
Cover coming soon!!