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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Blog Tour - You Had Me At Merlot by Lisa Dickenson



Ellie and Laurie are the last ones standing: they're single, they're not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren't filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine - she likes her independent life, she loves her job, and she has no desire to walk down the aisle anytime soon. but Laurie wants love and she wants it now.

So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant, You Had Me at Merlot Holidays promises crisp sunshine, fun and a chance to stir up some sizzling romance. Elle has no intention of swapping her perfect lovely life for someone else's idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?

You Had Me at Merlot is the kind of love story that will have you crying with laughter one moment and nodding your head in agreement the next. Full of sultry summer nights, hilarious moments and plenty of wine, it will warm even the most cynical of hearts and have you believing in the magic of romance (and the power of a decent glass of Merlot).

This e-book is being released over four weeks (14, 21, 28 July and 4 August), however I was lucky enough to receive all four installments in one go for being part of the blog tour celebrating its publication. 

Ellie and Laurie are the main characters and I immediately liked both of them. Ellie is happy with her life but Laurie wants to find love and books them both on a singles holiday to a vineyard in Tuscany - this sounds like the perfect spot for a holiday and I am sure if You Had Me at Merlot was a real business it would be a popular choice. I loved the descriptions of the settings and surrounding area, I have never been to Italy, let alone Tuscany, but I was able to imagine the area and fall in love with the area. 

You Had Me at Merlot is a holiday for singles looking for love and there are of course a wide range of characters who book themselves a  week there - the giggly young girls who are looking for holiday romances, the more mature professional and successful business man who has made his fortune and is now looking for someone to share it with, the good looking young man who everyone falls for. Add to this mix Ellie's boss, who she doesn't get on with and the owners hunky son and the holiday is guaranteed to go with a bang, with lots of flirting and drunken kisses and holiday romance. The character list has something for everyone - and guarantees that this holiday will go with a bang.

I really enjoyed this book and I must admit I was glad I had all four installments to read straight away as I would of been left counting down the days until the next installment was delivered!  Dickenson's writing style ensures that this book will appeal to everyone and it would make a great film - Richard Curtis should sign up the film rights, it will make a great rom-comm chick lit film for next summer!

It would be great to have as a holiday read while away in the sunshine. It is well written and has many moments of humour. It is one of those books that everyone will have their own favourite character and ideas of who should partner up.

Thank you to Little Brown for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I am now off to find Lisa's debut novel 'Twelve Dates of Christmas' to read in the summer heat.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Blog Tour - The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick


Today I am pleased to welcome Bernie Su and Kate Rorick to my blog, following the publication of their new novel, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett, last week. 

This book is based on the you-tube series of videos of a similar name. The book has the plot of a modern day Pride and Prejudice - it has the same basic plot however it I do not believe that it had the same effect on me that the classic has everytime I read it. The book is a series of diary entries and explains about why the youtube clips came about and also the effect that these clips have on family and friends.

I enjoyed the modernisation and the diary entries are peppered with modern day references, including recent songs, films and equipment. I do like the idea of classics being revisited  and modern references being peppered throughout the adaptation - when I was in high school I went to see a performance of Romeo and Juliet which was set in the modern day and it really made me a fan of this style of adaptation. 

In summary I would say this book will be enjoyed by the target audience of young teens but as a modern day pride and prejudice it didn't really work for me. 

As part of the blog tour I am pleased to welcome Bernie Su and Kate Rorick, the authors, to my blog and to talk to them about the novel, how they feel that they have modernised the story and the tools and social media they have been able to use to bring it right into the 21st century. 


A Conversation with Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Why did you decide to write a novel?

Kate: We knew fairly early on that our version of Lizzie Bennet was pretty special and had a really interesting worldview. While Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is a timeless character, she is reacting to circumstances very much from her own time period – marriage being the only option for women, entailed estates, etc. In modernizing Lizzie, we found that her story on the videos also translated well to book form – after all, we still read. Plus, there were so many things that we only talked about on the videos and didn’t get to experience, due to the limitations of the video format. In a book, there are no such limitations. We could be with Lizzie at the Gibson wedding, walking around San Francisco, or simply enduring her mother’s histrionics about her single daughters. The book let us fill out the world in a way that the web videos – and their meager budget – didn’t allow us to do.

Because the storyline already existed, what was your writing process like? Was it difficult to coordinate the story with the videos? Were you surprised at any difficulties or opportunities along the way?

Kate: The first thing I did when figuring out how to write this book was to create a really big, really detailed calendar of events. Where Lizzie was, when her videos posted, the movements of all the other characters, what party fell on what date and what happened there, who tweeted what when…it’s an enormous and scary-looking colour-coded document. It was incredibly important that the book fit within everything we had already established. Even though I knew the story very well from having worked on the show, I found myself referring to the calendar time and again as I tried to navigate where character moments should go. On the one hand, it forced me to conform. On the other, it forced me to get creative.

This timeless story works well in our modern times, with a few minor adjustments. What from the original story was the most difficult to contemporize?

Bernie: We wanted to modernize the independent woman. Back in the 1800s there weren’t a lot of options in careers, and it was important to us that career choices be an underlying current to every major decision that our characters make. We didn’t want it to be about finding the guy/marrying the rich guy.

Kate: One specific stumbling block I remember coming across when we were writing the series was the time it takes for information to get from one place to another. In Pride and Prejudice, if you needed to tell someone something, you had to write a letter, and at least a week would pass before it reached its destination. Now, everything can be found out at once, thanks to smartphones.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries uses social media to give all of the characters a voice. How do you think this adds to the viewer’s experience of the story?

Bernie: The social media expansions add three unique experiences to our interpretation of this story:
1. When the show was running, you (as a viewer) could talk to the characters and they could talk back to you. You could be a part of their stories.
2. You could explore more about the characters through their social media destinations; for example, Jane’s Pinterest gives you a lot of insight into what she’s going through during her arc.
3. You could experience the story from another character’s point of view. What was Lydia doing when Lizzie and Jane are at Netherfield? What was Georgiana Darcy going through before she finally meets Lizzie? We have that for you; it exists for you to discover and explore.

Discuss your decision to make the book analogous to the videos, rather than an omnisciently narrated book like Pride and Prejudice.

Kate: While Pride and Prejudice is in third person, it sticks pretty strongly to Elizabeth’s POV. There are only a couple of scenes that aren’t told from her perspective. As she discovers new information, the audience discovers it as well. If Jane Austen were writing today, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried a first-person narrative. Lizzie’s voice is so strong in the videos, carrying it over to the book was simply common sense. This is her story. She has to be the one to tell it.

How is the process of writing a work like this, one integrated into so many platforms, different from the usual TV episode or novel?

Kate: From my perspective, it meant we had a lot more data to work with. (Hence, the big calendar.) Every tweet sent, every photo posted on Pinterest, every comment on the videos had to be treated like canon. It can be mind-boggling trying to keep everything straight and to navigate a story between it all.

Bernie: It definitely goes both ways. If you write that a character says they’re going to have lunch with someone, there’s an obligation to acknowledge and verify that event through social media. We have to be hyper-aware of everything the characters are doing at any given time.

What did you learn from this experience that may help you in similar endeavours in the future?

Kate: Personally, I learned that when you tell a good story, it can be told many different ways. And instead of competing, they can complement one another.

Bernie: I learned to embrace alternate points of view. It goes back to the adage that everyone is the hero of their own story, even the antagonists. Yes, characters need to serve plot points, but why are they there – what are they really like as people?

Do you have any plans to expand The Lizzie Bennet Diaries any further in other media? If not, would you like to?

Bernie: This story is timeless and has been told across so many platforms, but with all the multi-platform content that we do, I would love to try to make an app.

What’s next for Lizzie, Lydia, Jane, Darcy, and Bing?


Kate: What’s next in terms of their stories? Well, perhaps you’ll get to find out in the near-ish future…


Thank you to the publishers, Simon and Schuster Children's Books, for sending me the book to review and to the authors for joining me on my blog to be part of the blogtour.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Blog Tour - Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson


Today I am pleased to welcome the Since You've Been Gone blog tour to my blog. This is a really good read - it is one of those books that you could read many times over and enjoy it every time.  I found myself laughing out loud a number of times throughout the book.

 I really liked the idea of the list, it was full of those things that teenage girls would dare each other to do, some very naively. The two characters - Sloane and Emily - are BFF and I can imagine my daughter having a friend like this when she becomes older. I think girls have these strong relationships and I think that this is one of those books that I will pass on to her. I really liked Matson's writing style, it started off slowly but the story builds and grows as the books progresses.
It is a book about a girls road to self discovery and her first love - a perfect book to read over the long summer break.

As part of the tour I am pleased to be able to share with my blog readers the first chapter in the book which was released yesterday, Thursday 3 July 2014.

The List 


The list arrived after Sloane had been gone two weeks. 

I wasn’t at home to get it because I was at Sloane’s, where 
I had gone yet again, hoping against hope to find her there. I 
had decided, as I’d driven over to her house, my iPod off and 
my hands gripping the steering wheel, that if she was there, I 
wouldn’t even need an explanation. It wouldn’t be necessary 
for her to tell me why she’d suddenly stopped answering her 
phone, texts, and e-mails, or why she’d vanished, along with 
her parents and their car. I knew it was ridiculous to think 
this way, like I was negotiating with some cosmic dealer who 
could guarantee this for me, but that didn’t stop me as I got 
closer and closer to Randolph Farms Lane. I didn’t care what 

I had to promise if it meant Sloane would be there. Because if 
Sloane was there, everything could start making sense again. 

It was not an exaggeration to say that the last two weeks 
had been the worst of my life. The first weekend after school 
had ended, I’d been dragged upstate by my parents against 
my wishes and despite my protests. When I’d come back to 
Stanwich, after far too many antique shops and art galleries, I’d 
called her immediately, car keys in my hand, waiting impatiently 
for her to answer so that she could tell me where she was, or, if 
she was home, that I could pick her up. But Sloane didn’t answer 
her phone, and she didn’t answer when I called back an hour 
later, or later that night, or before I went to bed. 

The next day, I drove by her house, only to see her parents’ 
car gone and the windows dark. She wasn’t responding to texts 
and still wasn’t answering her phone. It was going right to voice 
mail, but I wasn’t worried, not then. Sloane would sometimes 
let her battery run down until the phone shut off, and she never 
seemed to know where her charger was. And her parents, Milly 
and Anderson, had a habit of forgetting to tell her their travel 
plans. They would whisk her off to places like Palm Beach or 
Nantucket, and Sloane would return a few days later, tan, with 
a present for me and stories to tell. I was sure that’s what had 
happened this time. 

But after three days, and still no word, I worried. After five 
days, I panicked. When I couldn’t stand being in my house any 
longer, staring down at my phone, willing it to ring, I’d started 
driving around town, going to all of our places, always able to 
imagine her there until the moment I arrived to find it Sloanefree. 
She wasn’t stretched out in the sun on a picnic table at 
the Orchard, or flipping through the sale rack at Twice Upon a 
Time, or finishing up her pineapple slice at Captain Pizza. She 
was just gone. 

I had no idea what to do with myself. It was rare for us 
not to see each other on a daily basis, and we talked or texted 
constantly, with nothing off-limits or too trivial, even exchanges 
like I think my new skirt make me look like I’m Amish, promise to 
tell me if it does? (me) and Have you noticed it’s been a while since 
anyone’s seen the Loch Ness monster? (her). In the two years we’d 
been best friends, I had shared almost all of my thoughts and 
experiences with her, and the sudden silence felt deafening. I 
didn’t know what to do except to continue texting and trying 
to find her. I kept reaching for my phone to tell Sloane that I 
was having trouble handling the fact she wasn’t answering her 
phone. 

I drew in a breath and I held it as I pulled down her driveway, 
the way I used to when I was little and opening up my last 
birthday present, willing it to be the one thing I still didn’t have, 
the only thing I wanted. 

But the driveway was empty, and all the windows were 
dark. I pulled up in front of the house anyway, then put my car 
in park and killed the engine. I slumped back against the seat, 
fighting to keep down the lump that was rising in my throat. I 
no longer knew what else to do, where else to look. But Sloane 

couldn’t be gone. She wouldn’t have left without telling me. 

But then where was she? 

When I felt myself on the verge of tears, I got out of the car 
and squinted at the house in the morning sun. The fact that it 
was empty, this early, was really all the evidence I needed, since 
I had never known Milly or Anderson to be awake before ten. 
Even though I knew there was probably no point to it, I crossed 
to the house and walked up the wide stone steps that were 
covered with bright green summer leaves.The leaves were thick 
enough that I had to kick them aside, and I knew, deep down, 
that it was more proof that nobody was there, and hadn’t been 
there for a while now. But I walked toward the front door, with 
its brass lion’s-head knocker, and knocked anyway, just like I’d 
done five other times that week. I waited, trying to peer in the 
glass on the side of the door, still with a tiny flicker of hope that 
in a second, any minute now, I’d hear Sloane’s steps as she ran 
down the hall and threw open the door, yanking me into a hug, 
already talking a mile a minute. But the house was silent, and 
all I could see through the glass was the historical-status plaque 
just inside the door, the one that proclaimed the house “one of 
Stanwich’s architectural treasures,” the one that always seemed 
covered with ghosts of fingerprints. 

I waited another few minutes, just in case, then turned 
around and lowered myself to sit on the top step, trying very 
hard not to have a breakdown among the leaves. 

There was a piece of me that was still hoping to find this 
had been a very realistic nightmare, and that any minute now, 
I’d wake up, and Sloane would be there, on the other end of her 
phone like she was supposed to be, already planning out the day 
for us. 

Sloane’s house was in what was always called “backcountry,” 
where the houses got larger and farther apart from each other, 
on ever-bigger pieces of land. She was ten miles away from my 
place, which, back when I’d been in peak running shape, had 
been easy for me to cross. But even though they were close, our 
neighborhoods couldn’t have been more different. Here, there 
was only the occasional car driving past, and the silence seemed 
to underscore the fact that I was totally alone, that there was 
nobody home and, most likely, nobody coming back. I leaned 
forward, letting my hair fall around me like a curtain. If nobody 
was there, it at least meant I could stay awhile, and I wouldn’t 
be asked to leave. I could probably stay there all day. I honestly 
didn’t know what else to do with myself. 

I heard the low rumble of an engine and looked up, fast, 
pushing my hair out of my face, feeling hope flare once more in 
my chest. But the car rolling slowly down the driveway wasn’t 
Anderson’s slightly dented BMW. It was a yellow pickup truck, 
the back piled with lawnmowers and rakes. When it pulled in 
front of the steps, I could see the writing, in stylized cursive, 
on the side. Stanwich Landscaping, it read. Planting . . . gardening . . . 
maintenance . . . and mulch, mulch more! Sloane loved when stores had 
cheesy names or slogans. Not that she was a huge fan of puns, 
but she’d always said she liked to picture the owners thinking 
them up, and how pleased with themselves they must have been 
when they landed on whatever they’d chosen. I immediately 
made a mental note to tell Sloane about the motto, and then, a 
moment later, realized how stupid this was. 

Three guys got out of the truck and headed for the back of 
it, two of them starting to lift down the equipment.They looked 
older, like maybe they were in college, and I stayed frozen on 
the steps, watching them. I knew that this was an opportunity 
to try and get some information, but that would involve talking 
to these guys. I’d been shy from birth, but the last two years had 
been different. With Sloane by my side, it was like I suddenly 
had a safety net. She was always able to take the lead if I wanted 
her to, and if I didn’t, I knew she would be there, jumping 
in if I lost my nerve or got flustered. And when I was on my 
own, awkward or failed interactions just didn’t seem to matter 
as much, since I knew I’d be able to spin it into a story, and we 
could laugh about it afterward.Without her here, though, it was 
becoming clear to me how terrible I now was at navigating 
things like this on my own. 

“Hey.” I jumped, realizing I was being addressed by one 
of the landscapers. He was looking up at me, shielding his eyes 
against the sun as the other two hefted down a riding mower. 
“You live here?” 

The other two guys set the mower down, and I realized 
I knew one of them; he’d been in my English class last year, 
making this suddenly even worse. “No,” I said, and heard how 
scratchy my voice sounded. I had been saying only the most 
perfunctory things to my parents and younger brother over 
the last two weeks, and the only talking I’d really been doing 
had been into Sloane’s voice mail. I cleared my throat and tried 
again. “I don’t.” 

The guy who’d spoken to me raised his eyebrows, and I 
knew this was my cue to go. I was, at least in their minds, trespassing, 
and would probably get in the way of their work. All 
three guys were now staring at me, clearly just waiting for me to 
leave. But if I left Sloane’s house—if I ceded it to these strangers 
in yellow T-shirts—where was I going to get more information? 
Did that mean I was just accepting the fact that she was gone? 

The guy who’d spoken to me folded his arms across his 
chest, looking impatient, and I knew I couldn’t keep sitting 
there. If Sloane had been with me, I would have been able to 
ask them. If she were here, she probably would have gotten two 
of their numbers already and would be angling for a turn on the 
riding mower, asking if she could mow her name into the grass. 
But if Sloane were here, none of this would be happening in the 
first place. My cheeks burned as I pushed myself to my feet and 
walked quickly down the stone steps, my flip-flops sliding once 
on the leaves, but I steadied myself before I wiped out and made 
this more humiliating than it already was. I nodded at the guys, 
then looked down at the driveway as I walked over to my car. 


Now that I was leaving, they all moved into action, distributing 
equipment and arguing about who was doing what. I 
gripped my door handle, but didn’t open it yet.Was I really just 
going to go? Without even trying? 

“So,” I said, but not loudly enough, as the guys continued 
to talk to each other, none of them looking over at me, two of 
them having an argument about whose turn it was to fertilize, 
while the guy from last year’s English class held his baseball cap 
in his hands, bending the bill into a curve.“So,” I said, but much 
too loudly this time, and the guys stopped talking and looked 
over at me again. I could feel my palms sweating, but I knew 
I had to keep going, that I wouldn’t be able forgive myself if 
I just turned around and left. “I was just . . . um . . .” I let out 
a shaky breath. “My friend lives here, and I was trying to find 
her. Do you—” I suddenly saw, like I was observing the scene 
on TV, how ridiculous this probably was, asking the landscaping 
guys for information on my best friend’s whereabouts. “I 
mean, did they hire you for this job? Her parents, I mean? 
Milly or Anderson Williams?” Even though I was trying not 
to, I could feel myself grabbing on to this possibility, turning 
it into something I could understand. If the Williamses had 
hired Stanwich Landscaping, maybe they were just on a trip 
somewhere, getting the yard stuff taken care of while they were 
gone so they wouldn’t be bothered. It was just a long trip, and 
they had gone somewhere with no cell reception or e-mail 
service.That was all. 

The guys looked at each other, and it didn’t seem like any 
of these names had rung a bell. “Sorry,” said the guy who’d first 
spoken to me. “We just get the address. We don’t know about 
that stuff.” 

I nodded, feeling like I’d just depleted my last reserve of 
hope. Thinking about it, the fact that landscapers were here 
was actually a bit ominous, as I had never once seen Anderson 
show the slightest interest in the lawn, despite the fact that the 
Stanwich Historical Society was apparently always bothering 
him to hire someone to keep up the property. 

Two of the guys had headed off around the side of the 
house, and the guy from my English class looked at me as he put 
on his baseball cap. “Hey, you’re friends with Sloane Williams, 
right?” 

“Yes,” I said immediately.This was my identity at school, but 
I’d never minded it—and now, I’d never been so happy to be 
recognized that way. Maybe he knew something, or had heard 
something. “Sloane’s actually who I’m looking for. This is her 
house, so . . .” 

The guy nodded, then gave me an apologetic shrug. “Sorry 
I don’t know anything,” he said.“Hope you find her.” He didn’t 
ask me what my name was, and I didn’t volunteer it. What 
would be the point? 

“Thanks,” I managed to say, but a moment too late, as he’d 
already joined the other two. I looked at the house once more, 
the house that somehow no longer even felt like Sloane’s, and 
realized that there was nothing left to do except leave. 

I didn’t head right home; instead I stopped in to Stanwich 
Coffee, on the very off chance that there would be a girl in 
the corner chair, her hair in a messy bun held up with a pencil, 
reading a British novel that used dashes instead of quotation 
marks. But Sloane wasn’t there. And as I headed back to my 
car I realized that if she had been in town, it would have been 
unthinkable that she wouldn’t have called me back. It had been 
two weeks; something was wrong. 

Strangely, this thought buoyed me as I headed for home. 
When I left the house every morning, I just let my parents 
assume that I was meeting up with Sloane, and if they asked 
what my plans were, I said vague things about applying for jobs. 
But I knew now was the moment to tell them that I was worried; 
that I needed to know what had happened.After all, maybe 
they knew something, even though my parents weren’t close 
with hers. The first time they’d met, Milly and Anderson had 
come to collect Sloane from a sleepover at my house, two hours 
later than they’d been supposed to show up. And after pleasantries 
had been exchanged and Sloane and I had said good-bye, 
my dad had shut the door, turned to my mother, and groaned, 
“That was like being stuck in a Gurney play.” I hadn’t known 
what he’d meant by this, but I could tell by his tone of voice that 
it hadn’t been a compliment. But even though they hadn’t been 
friends, they still might know something. Or they might be able 
to find something out. 

I held on to this thought tighter and tighter as I got closer 
to my house.We lived close to one of the four commercial districts 
scattered throughout Stanwich. My neighborhood was 
pedestrian-friendly and walkable, and there was always lots of 
traffic, both cars and people, usually heading in the direction 
of the beach, a ten-minute drive from our house. Stanwich, 
Connecticut, was on Long Island Sound, and though there were 
no waves, there was still sand and beautiful views and stunning 
houses that had the water as their backyards. 

Our house, in contrast, was an old Victorian that my parents 
had been fixing up ever since we’d moved in six years earlier. 
The floors were uneven and the ceilings were low, and the whole 
downstairs was divided into lots of tiny rooms—originally all specific 
parlors of some kind. But my parents—who had been living, 
with me, and later my younger brother, in tiny apartments, usually 
above a deli or a Thai place—couldn’t believe their good fortune. 
They didn’t think about the fact that it was pretty much falling 
down, that it was three stories and drafty, shockingly expensive to 
heat in the winter and, with central air not yet invented when the 
house was built, almost impossible to cool in the summer. They 
were ensorcelled with the place. 

The house had originally been painted a bright purple, but 
had faded over the years to a pale lavender. It had a wide front 
porch, a widow’s walk at the very top of the house, too many 
windows to make any logical sense, and a turret room that was 
my parents’ study. 


I pulled up in front of the house and saw that my brother 
was sitting on the porch steps, perfectly still. This was surprising 
in itself. Beckett was ten, and constantly in motion, climbing 
up vertiginous things, practicing his ninja moves, and biking 
through our neighborhood’s streets with abandon, usually with his 
best friend Annabel Montpelier, the scourge of stroller-pushing 
mothers within a five-mile radius. “Hey,” I said as I got out of 
the car and walked toward the steps, suddenly worried that I 
had missed something big in the last two weeks while I’d sleepwalked 
through family meals, barely paying attention to what 
was happening around me. But maybe Beckett had just pushed 
my parents a little too far, and was having a time-out. I’d find 
out soon enough anyway, since I needed to talk to them about 
Sloane. “You okay?” I asked, climbing up the three porch steps. 

He looked up at me, then back down at his sneakers. “It’s 
happening again.” 

“Are you sure?” I crossed the porch to the door and pulled 
it open. I was hoping Beckett was wrong; after all, he’d only 
experienced this twice before. Maybe he was misreading the 
signs. 

Beckett followed behind me, stepping into what had originally 
been an entry parlor, but which we had turned into a mudroom, 
where we dropped jackets and scarves and keys and shoes. 
I walked into the house, squinting in the light that was always a 
little too dim. “Mom?” I called, crossing my fingers in my jean 
shorts pockets, hoping that Beckett had just gotten this wrong. 

But as my eyes adjusted, I could see, through the open door 
of the kitchen, an explosion of stuff from the warehouse store 
one town over. Piled all over the kitchen counters were massive 
quantities of food and supplies in bulk—instant mac and cheese, 
giant boxes of cereal, gallons of milk, a nearly obscene amount 
of mini micro cheesy bagels. As I took it in, I realized with a 
sinking feeling that Beckett had been totally correct.They were 
starting a new play. 

“Told you,” Beckett said with a sigh as he joined me. 

My parents were a playwriting team who worked during 
the school year at Stanwich College, the local university and the 
reason we had moved here. My mom taught playwriting in the 
theater department, and my dad taught critical analysis in the 
English department. They both spent the school year busy and 
stressed—especially when my mom was directing a play and 
my dad was dealing with his thesis students and midterms—but 
they relaxed when the school year ended.They might occasionally 
pull out an old script they’d put aside a few years earlier and 
tinker with it a little, but for the most part, they took these three 
months off. There was a pattern to our summers, so regular you 
could almost set your calendar to it. In June, my dad would 
decide that he had been too hemmed in by society and its 
arbitrary regulations, and declare that he was a man. Basically, 
this meant that he would grill everything we ate, even things 
that really shouldn’t be grilled, like lasagna, and would start 
growing a beard that would have him looking like a mountain -
man by the middle of July. My mother would take up some 
new hobby around the same time, declaring it her “creative 
outlet.” One year, we all ended up with lopsided scarves when 
she learned to knit, and another year we weren’t allowed to use 
any of the tables, as they’d all been taken over by jigsaw puzzles, 
and had to eat our grilled food off plates we held on our 
laps. And last year, she’d decided to grow a vegetable garden, 
but the only thing that seemed to flourish was the zucchini, 
which then attracted the deer she subsequently declared war 
on. But by the end of August, we were all sick of charred food, 
and my dad was tired of getting strange looks when he went to 
the post office. My dad would shave, we’d start using the stove 
inside, and my mother would put aside her scarves or puzzles 
or zucchini. It was a strange routine, but it was ours, and I was 
used to it. 

But when they were writing, everything changed. It had 
happened only twice before. The summer I was eleven, they 
sent me to sleepaway camp—an experience that, while horrible 
for me, actually ended up providing them with the plot of their 
play. It had happened again when I was thirteen and Beckett was 
six. They’d gotten an idea for a new play one night, and then 
had basically disappeared into the dining room for the rest of 
the summer, buying food in bulk and emerging every few days 
to make sure that we were still alive. I knew that ignoring us 
wasn’t something either of them intended to do, but they’d been 
a playwriting team for years before they’d had us, and it was like 
they just reverted back to their old habits, where they could live 
to write, and nothing mattered except the play. 

But I really didn’t want this to be happening right now— 
not when I needed them. “Mom!” I called again. 

My mother stepped out of the dining room and I noticed 
with a sinking feeling that she was wearing sweatpants and a 
T-shirt—writing clothes—and her curly hair was up in a knot 
on top of her head.“Emily?” my mom asked. She looked around. 
“Where’s your brother?” 

“Um, here,” Beckett said, waving at her from my side. 

“Oh, good,” my mother said. “We were just going to call 
you two.We need to have a family meeting.” 

“Wait,”I said quickly, taking a step forward.“Mom. I needed 
to talk to you and Dad. It’s about Sloane—” 

“Family meeting!” my dad boomed from inside the kitchen. 
His voice was deep, very loud, and it was the reason he was 
always getting assigned the eight a.m. classes—he was one of 
the few professors in the English department who could keep 
the freshmen awake. “Beckett! Emily!” he stepped out of the 
kitchen and blinked when he saw us. “Oh.That was fast.” 

“Dad,” I said, hoping I could somehow get in front of this. 
“I needed to talk to you guys.” 

“We need to talk to you, too,” my mother said.“Your father 
and I were chatting last night, and we somehow got on—Scott, 
how did we start talking about it?” 

“It was because your reading light burned out,” my dad said, 

taking a step closer to my mom. “And we started talking about 
electricity.” 

“Right,” my mother said, nodding. “Exactly. So we started 
talking about Edison, then Tesla, and then Edison and Tesla, 
and—” 

“We think we might have a play,” my dad finished, glancing 
into the dining room. I saw they already had their laptops set 
up across the table, facing each other. “We’re going to bounce 
around some ideas. It might be nothing.” 

I nodded, but I knew with a sinking feeling that it wasn’t 
nothing. My parents had done this enough that they knew 
when something was worth making a bulk supermarket run. 
I knew the signs well; they always downplayed ideas they truly 
saw promise in. But when they started talking excitedly about a 
new play, already seeing its potential before anything was written, 
I knew it would fizzle out in a few days. 

“So we might be working a bit,” my mother said, in what 
was sure to be the understatement of the summer. “We bought 
supplies,” she said, gesturing vaguely to the kitchen, where I 
could see the jumbo-size bags of frozen peas and microwave 
burritos were starting to melt. “And there’s always emergency 
money in the conch.” The conch shell had served as a prop 
during the Broadway production of Bug Juice, my parents’ most 
successful play, and now, in addition to being where we kept 
household cash, served as a bookend for a listing pile of cookbooks. 
“Beckett’s going to be at day camp during the week, so -
he’s all set. Annabel’s going too,” my mother said, maybe notic


ing Beckett’s scowl. 

“What about camping?” he asked. 

“We’ll still go camping,” my dad said. Maybe seeing my 
alarmed look, he added,“Just your brother and me.The Hughes 
men in the wilderness.” 

“But . . .” Beckett looked into the dining room, his brow 
furrowed. 

My dad waved this away. “We aren’t going until July,” he 
said. “And I’m sure this idea won’t amount to much anyway.” 

“What about you, Em?” my mom asked, even as she drifted 
closer to the dining room, like she was being pulled there by 
gravitational force. “Do you have your summer plans worked 
out?” 

I bit my lip. Sloane and I had made plans upon plans for 
this summer.We had concert tickets purchased, she had told me 
she had mapped out something called a “pizza crawl,” and I had 
decided we should spend the summer seeking out Stanwich’s 
best cupcake. Sloane had a plan for both of us to find “summer 
boys,” but she had been vague on just how we were going 
to accomplish this. We’d blocked off the weekends we would 
drive upstate to the various flea markets she’d spent the last few 
months scouting, and I’d already gone through the drive-in calendar 
and decided which nights we needed to block off for the 
double features. She’d planned on making friends with someone 
who had a pool, and had decided this would be the summer 
she’d finally beat me at mini golf (I was weirdly naturally skilled 
at it, and I’d discovered that Sloane got strangely competitive 
when there were stuffed-animal prizes involved). I wanted to 
learn the zombie dance from “Thriller” and she wanted to learn 
the dance from £ondon Moore’s new video, the one that had 
sparked all sorts of protests from parents’ groups. 

At some point, we were going to need to get jobs, of course. 
But we’d decided it was going to be something unchallenging 
that we could do together, like we had the summer before, 
when we’d waitressed at the Stanwich Country Club—Sloane 
earning more tips than anyone else, me getting a reputation for 
being an absolute whiz at filling the ketchup bottles at the end 
of the night. We’d also left lots of time unscheduled—the long 
stretches of hours we’d spend at the beach or walking around or 
just hanging out with no plan beyond maybe getting fountain 
Diet Cokes. It was Sloane—you usually didn’t need more than 
that to have the best Wednesday of your life. 

I swallowed hard as I thought about all these plans, the 
whole direction I’d planned for my summer to go, just vanishing. 
And I realized that if Sloane were here, suddenly having 
my parents otherwise occupied and not paying attention 
to things like my curfew would have meant we could have 
had the most epic summer ever. I could practically see that 
summer, the one I wanted, the one I should have been living, 
shimmer ing in front of me like a mirage before it faded and 
disappeared. 


“Emily?” my mother prompted, and I looked back at her. 
She was in the same room with me, she was technically looking 
at me, but I knew when my parents were present and when 
their minds were on their play. For just a moment, I thought 
about trying to tell them about Sloane, trying to get them to 
help me figure out what had happened. But I knew that they’d 
say yes with the best of intentions and then forget all about it as 
they focused on Tesla and Edison. 

“I’m . . . working on it,” I finally said. 

“Sounds good,” my dad said, nodding. My mom smiled, like 
I’d given her the answer she’d wanted, even though I hadn’t told 
them anything concrete. But it was clear they wanted this off 
their plates, so they could consider their children more or less 
sorted, and they could get to work. They were both edging 
toward the dining room, where their laptops glowed softly, 
beckoning. I sighed and started to head to the kitchen, figuring 
that I should get the frozen stuff into the freezer before it 
went bad. 

“Oh, Em,” my mother said, sticking her head out of the 
dining room. I saw my father was already sitting in his chair, 
opening up his laptop and stretching out his fingers. “A letter 
came for you.” 

My heart slowed and then started beating double-time. 
There was only one person who regularly wrote to me. And 
they weren’t even actually letters—they were lists. “Where?” 

“Microwave,” my mother said. She went back into the 
dining room and I bolted into the kitchen, no longer caring 
if all the burritos melted. I pushed aside the twelve-pack of 
Kleenex and saw it. It was leaning up against the microwave like 
it was nothing, next to a bill from the tree guy. 

But it was addressed to me. And it was in Sloane’s handwriting. 
**** 

JUNE 


One Year Earlier 
“You sent me a list?” I asked. Sloane looked over at me 
sharply, almost dropping the sunglasses—oversize green 
frames—that she’d just picked up. 

I held out the paper in my hands, the letter I’d seen 
propped up by the microwave as I headed down that morning, 
on my way to pick her up and drive us to the latest 
flea market she’d found, an hour and change outside of 
Stanwich. Though there hadn’t been a return address—just 
a heart—I’d recognized Sloane’s handwriting immediately, 
a distinctive mix of block letters and cursive. “It’s what 
happens when you go to three different schools for third 
grade,” she’d explained to me once. “Everyone is learning 
this at different stages and you never get the fundamentals.” 
Sloane and her parents lived the kind of peripatetic 
existence—picking up and moving when they felt like it, or 
when they just wanted a new adventure—that I’d seen in 
movies, but hadn’t known actually existed in real life. 

I’d learned by now that Sloane used this excuse when it 
suited her, not just for handwriting, but also for her inability 
to comprehend algebra, climb a rope in PE, or drive. She was 
the only person our age I knew who didn’t have a license. 
She claimed that in all her moves, she’d never quite been the 
right age for a permit where they were, but I also had a feeling 
that Milly and Anderson had been occupied with more 
exciting things than bringing her to driver’s ed and then 
quizzing her every night over dinner, geeking out on traffic 
regulations and the points system, like my dad had done. 
Whenever I brought up the fact that she lived in Stanwich 
now, and could get a Connecticut license without a problem, 
Sloane waved it away. “I know the fundamentals of driving,” 
she’d say. “If I’m ever on a bus that gets hijacked on the 
freeway, I can take over when the driver gets shot. No problem.” 
And since Sloane liked to walk whenever possible—a 
habit she’d picked up living in cities for much of her life, and 
not just places like Manhattan and Boston, but London and 
Paris and Copenhagen—she didn’t seem to mind that much. 
I liked to drive and was happy to drive us everywhere, Sloane 
sitting shotgun, the DJ and navigator, always on top of telling 
me when our snacks were running low. 

An older woman, determined to check out the selection 
of tarnished cufflinks, jostled me out of the way, and I 
stepped aside. This flea market was similar to many that I’d 
been to, always with Sloane. We were technically here looking 
for boots for her, but as soon as we’d paid our two dollars 
apiece and entered the middle school parking lot that had 
been converted, for the weekend, into a land of potential 
treasure, she had made a beeline to this stall, which seemed 
to be mostly sunglasses and jewelry. Since I’d picked up the 
letter, I’d been waiting for the right moment to ask her, when 
I’d have her full attention, and the drive had been the wrong 
time—there was music to sing along to and things to discuss 
and directions to follow. 

Sloane smiled at me, even as she put on the terrible 
green sunglasses, hiding her eyes, and I wondered for a 
moment if she was embarrassed, which I’d almost never 
seen. “You weren’t supposed to get that until tomorrow,” 
she said as she bent down to look at her reflection in the tiny 
standing mirror. “I was hoping it would be there right before 
you guys left for the airport. The mail here is too efficient.” 

“But what is it?” I asked, flipping through the pages. 
Emily Goes to Scotland! was written across the top. 

1. Try haggis. 
2. Call at least three people “lassie.” 
3. Say, at least once, “You can take my life, but you’ll never take my 
freedom!” 
(Say this out loud and in public.) 
The list continued on, over to the next page, filled 
with things—like fly-fishing and asking people if they knew 
where I could find J.K. Rowling—that I did not intend to 
do, and not just because I would only be gone five days. 
One of my parents’ plays was going into rehearsals for the 
Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and they had decided it would 
be the perfect opportunity to take a family trip. I suddenly 
noticed that at the very bottom of the list, in tiny letters, 
she’d written, When you finish this list, find me and tell me 
all about it. I looked up at Sloane, who had set the green 
pair down and was now turning over a pair of rounded 
cat-eye frames. 

“It’s stuff for you to do in Scotland!” she said. She 
frowned at the sunglasses and held up the frames to me, 
and I knew she was asking my opinion. I shook my head, and 
she nodded and set them down. “I wanted to make sure you 
got the most of your experience.” 

“Well, I’m not sure how many of these I’ll actually do,” I 
said as I carefully folded the letter and placed it back in the 
envelope. “But this is awesome of you. Thanks so much.” 

She gave me a tiny wink, then continued to look through 
the sunglasses, clearly searching for something specific. 
She had spent most of the spring channeling Audrey 
Hepburn—lots of winged black eyeliner and stripes, skinny 
black pants and flats—but was currently transitioning into 
what she was calling “seventies California,” and referencing 
people like Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg, who 
I’d never heard of, and Penny Lane in Almost Famous, who 
I had. Today, she was wearing a flowing vintage maxi dress 
and sandals that tied around her ankles, her wavy dark-
blond hair spilling over her shoulders and down her back. 
Before I’d met Sloane, I didn’t know that it was possible to 
dress the way she did, that anyone not heading to a photo 
shoot dressed with that much style. My own wardrobe had 
improved immeasurably since we’d become friends, mostly 
stuff she’d picked for me, but some things I’d found myself 
and felt brave enough to wear when I was with her, knowing 
that she would appreciate it. 

She picked up a pair of gold-rimmed aviators, only 
slightly bent, and slipped them on, turning to me for my 
opinion. I nodded and then noticed a guy, who looked 
a few years younger than us, staring at Sloane. He was 
absently holding a macramé necklace, and I was pretty sure 
that he had no idea that he’d picked it up and would have 
been mortified to realize it. But that was my best friend, 
the kind of girl your eyes went to in a crowd. While she was 
beautiful—wavy hair, bright blue eyes, perfect skin dotted 
with freckles—this didn’t fully explain it. It was like she knew 
a secret, a good one, and if you got close enough, maybe 
she’d tell you, too. 

“Yes,” I said definitively, looking away from the guy and 
his necklace. “They’re great.” 

She grinned. “I think so too. Hate them for me?” 

“Sure,” I said easily as I walked a few steps away from 

Morgan Matson 

her, making my way up toward the register, pretending to be 
interested in a truly hideous pair of earrings that seemed to 
be made out of some kind of tinsel. In my peripheral vision, I 
saw Sloane pick up another pair of sunglasses—black ones— 
and look at them for a moment before also taking them to 
the register, where the middle-aged guy behind it was reading 
a comic book. 

“How much for the aviators?” Sloane asked as I edged 
closer, looking up as if I’d just noticed what she’d picked up. 

“Twenty-five,” the guy said, not even looking up from 
his comic. 

“Ugh,” I said, shaking my head. “So not worth it. Look, 
they’re all dented.” 

Sloane gave me a tiny smile before putting her game 
face back on. I knew she’d been surprised, when we’d first 
started this bargaining technique, that I’d been able to roll 
with it. But when you grew up in the theater, you learned 
to handle impromptu improv. “Oh, you’re right,” she said, 
looking at them closely. 

“They’re not that dented,” the guy said, putting his 
comic—Super Friends—down. “Those are vintage.” 

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t pay more than fifteen for them,” 
I said, and saw, a moment too late, Sloane widen her eyes at 
me. “I mean ten!” I said quickly. “Not more than ten.” 

“Yeah,” she said, setting them down in front of the 
guy, along with the square-framed black ones I’d seen her 

Since You’ve Been Gone 

pick up. “Also, we just got here. We should look around.” 

“Yes, we should,” I said, trying to make it look like I was 
heading toward the exit without actually leaving. 

“Wait!” the guy said quickly. “I can let you have them for 
fifteen. Final offer.” 

“Both of these for twenty,” Sloane said, looking him 
right in the eye. 

“Twenty-one,” the guy bargained lamely, but Sloane just 
smiled and dug in her pocket for her cash. 

A minute later, we were heading out of the stall, Sloane 
wearing her new aviators. “Nicely done,” she said. 

“Sorry for going too high,” I said, as I stepped around 
a guy carrying an enormous kitten portrait. “I should have 
started at ten.” 

She shrugged. “If you start too low, you sometimes lose 
the whole thing,” she said. “Here.” She handed me the 
black sunglasses, and I saw now that they were vintage Ray-
Bans. “For you.” 

“Really?” I slipped them on and, with no mirror around, 
turned to Sloane for her opinion. 

She look a step back, hands on hips, her face serious, 
like she was studying me critically, then broke into a 
smile. “You look great,” she said, digging in her bag. She 
emerged with one of her ever-present disposable cameras, 
and snapped a picture of me before I could hold my 
hand up in front of my face or stop her. Despite having 
a smartphone, Sloane always carried a disposable camera 
with her—sometimes two. She had panoramic ones, 
black-and-white ones, waterproof ones. Last week, we’d 
taken our first beach swim of the summer, and Sloane had 
snapped pictures of us underwater, emerging triumphant 
and holding the camera over her head. “Can your phone 
do this?” she’d asked, dragging the camera over the surface 
of the water. “Can it?” 

“They look okay?” I asked, though of course I believed 
her. 

She nodded. “They’re very you.” She dropped her 
camera back in her bag and started wandering through the 
stalls. I followed as she led us into a vintage clothing stall 
and headed back to look at the boots. I ducked to see my 
reflection in the mirror, then checked to make sure her letter 
was secure in my bag. 

“Hey,” I said, coming to join her in the back, where she 
was sitting on the ground, already surrounded by options, 
untying her sandals. I held up the list. “Why did you mail this 
to me? Why not give it to me in person?” I looked down at 
the envelope in my hands, at the stamp and postmark and 
all the work that had gone into it. “And why mail anything at 
all? Why not just tell me?” 

Sloane looked up at me and smiled, a flash of her bright, 
slightly crooked teeth. “But where’s the fun in that?” 

**** 

1. Kiss a stranger. 
2. Go skinny-dipping. 
3. Steal something. 
4. Break something. 
5. Penelope. 
6. Ride a dern horse, ya cowpoke. 
7. 55 S. Ave. Ask for Mona. 
8. The backless dress. And somewhere to wear it. 
9. Dance until dawn. 
10. Share some secrets in the dark. 
11. Hug a Jamie. 
12. Apple picking at night. 
13. Sleep under the stars. 
I sat on my bed, gripping this new list in my hands so tightly, I 
could see the tips of my fingers turning white. 

I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was something. It was 
from Sloane. Sloane had sent me a list. 

28 

Morgan Matson 

As soon as I’d taken it out of the envelope, I’d just stared at 
it, my brain not yet turning the symbols into words, into things 
I could parse. In that moment, it had been enough to know that 
she had sent me something, that she wasn’t just going to disappear 
and leave me with nothing but questions and memories. 
There was more to it than that, and it made me feel like the fog 
I’d been walking around in for the past two weeks had cleared 
to let in some sunlight. 

Like the others she’d sent—one appearing every time I 
went away, even if it was just for a few days—there was no 
explanation. Like the others, it was a list of outlandish things, 
all outside my comfort zone, all things I would never normally 
do. The lists had become something of a running joke with us, 
and before every trip I’d wonder what she was going to come 
up with. The last one, when I’d gone to New Haven with my 
mom for a long weekend, had included things like stealing the 
bulldog mascot, named Handsome Dan, and making out with 
a Whiffenpoof (I later found out Anderson had gone to Yale, so 
she’d been able to include lots of specifics). Over the years, I’d 
managed to check off the occasional item on a trip, and always 
told her about it, but she always wanted to know why I hadn’t 
done more, why I hadn’t checked off every single one. 

I looked down at the list again, and saw that something about 
this one was different.There were some truly scary things here—like 
skinny-dipping and having to deal with my lifelong fear of horses, 
the very thought of which was making my palms sweat—but some of them didn’t seem so bad. A few of them were almost doable. 

And as I read the list over again, I realized these weren’t the 
random items that had accompanied my travels to California 
and Austin and Edinburgh. While many of them still didn’t 
make sense to me—why did she want me to hug someone 
named Jamie?—I recognized the reasoning behind some of 
them. They were things I’d backed away from, usually because 
I was scared. It was like she was giving me the opportunity to 
do some things over again, and differently this time. This made 
the list seem less like a tossed-off series of items, and more like 
a test. Or a challenge. 

I turned the paper over, but there was nothing on the other 
side of it. I picked up the envelope, noted her usual drawing 
where most people just wrote their addresses—this time she’d 
drawn a palm tree and a backward moon—and that the postmark 
was too smudged for me to make out a zip code in it. 
I looked down at the list again, at Sloane’s careful, unmistakable 
handwriting, and thought about what was sometimes at 
the bottom of these—When you finish this list, find me and tell me 
all about it. I could feel my heart beating hard as I realized that 
this list—that doing these terrifying things—might be the way I 
would find her again. I wasn’t sure how, exactly, that was going 
to happen, but for the first time since I’d called her number and 
just gotten voice mail, it was like I knew what to do with myself. 
Sloane had left me a map, and maybe—hopefully—it would 
lead me to her. 

I read through the items, over and over again, trying to 
find one that wasn’t the most terrifying thing I had ever done, 
something that I could do right now, today, because I wanted 
to begin immediately.This list was going to somehow bring me 
back to Sloane, and I needed to get started. 

S. A v e in number seven had to mean Stanwich Avenue, the 
main commercial street in town. I could show up there and 
ask for Mona. I could do that. I had no idea what 55 Stanwich 
Avenue was, but it was the easiest thing on the list, by far. Feeling 
like I had a plan, some direction, for the first time in two weeks, 
I pushed myself off my bed and headed for the door. 
“Emily?” 

“Oh my god!” I yelled this as I jumped involuntarily. My 
brother was in my doorway—but not just leaning against the 
doorframe like a normal person. He was at the very top of the 
frame, his legs pressed against one side of it, his back against 
the other. It was his newest thing, after he’d seen it done in 
some ninja movie. He’d terrified us all at first, and now I just 
habitually looked up before entering a room.To say Beckett had 
no fear of heights was an understatement. He’d figured out how 
to scale the roof of our house when he was five, and if we were 
trying to find him, we all started by looking up. 

“Sorry,” Beckett said, not sounding sorry, shrugging down 
at me. 
“How long have you been there?” I asked, realizing that 
while I’d been absorbed in my letter, my brother had come into 
my room and climbed to the top of my doorframe, all without 
me noticing. 

He shrugged again. “I thought you saw me,” he said. “Can 
you drive me somewhere?” 

“I’m about to go out,” I said. I glanced back at Sloane’s list, 
and then realized I had just left it sitting out on my bed. Our 
cat was only in the house about half the time, but he seemed to 
have a preternatural ability to know what was important, and 
he always destroyed those things first. I picked up the letter and 
placed it carefully back into the envelope, then tucked it into my 
top dresser drawer, where I kept my most important things— 
childhood mementos, pictures, notes Sloane had slipped into 
my hand between classes or through the slats of my locker. 

“Where?” Beckett asked, still from above me. 

“Stanwich Avenue,” I said. I craned my neck back to see 
him, and suddenly wondered if that was why he did this—so 
that we’d all have to look up at him for a change, instead of the 
other way around. 

“Can you take me to IndoorXtreme?” he asked, his voice 
getting higher, the way it did when he was excited about something. 
“Annabel told me about it. It’s awesome. Bikes and ropes 
courses and paintball.” 

I was about to tell my brother sorry, that I was busy, but 
there was something in his expression that stopped me, and I 
knew that if I went without him, I’d spend the whole time feeling 
guilty.“Are you going to want to spend a lot of time there?” 
I asked. “If I drop you off at this Extreme place? Because I have 
somewhere I need to go.” 

Beckett grinned. “Hours,” he said. “Like, all afternoon.” I 
nodded, and Beckett lifted his foot and did basically a free fall 
down the doorframe, stopping himself before he hit the ground 
and jumping to his feet. “Meet you at the car!” He raced out of 
my room, and I glanced back to my dresser. 

I caught my reflection in the mirror above it, and I ran a 
brush though my hair quickly, hoping that Mona—whoever 
she was—wouldn’t be someone that I needed to impress. I was 
wearing a vintage T-shirt Sloane had insisted I buy, and a pair 
of jean cutoffs. I was tall—I had a good four inches on Sloane, 
unless she was in one of her heel phases—and the only really 
interesting thing about me were my eyes, which were two different 
colors. One was brown, and one was brown and blue, and 
Sloane had freaked out the first time she’d noticed it, trying out 
all sorts of different eye shadow combinations, trying to see if 
she could get them to turn the same color. My hair was brown, 
pin-straight, and long, hitting halfway down my back, but anytime 
I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested.“You have 
such princess hair,” she’d said. “Anyone can have short hair.” 

I tucked my hair behind my ears, then pulled open my top 
drawer to make sure the list and the envelope were still safe. 
When I was sure they were, I headed downstairs, turning over 
and over in my head what I was about to do—55 S. Ave. Ask 
for Mona. 

Today 

The list arrived after Sloane had been gone two weeks. 

I wasn’t at home to get it because I was at Sloane’s, where 
I had gone yet again, hoping against hope to find her there. I 
had decided, as I’d driven over to her house, my iPod off and 
my hands gripping the steering wheel, that if she was there, I 
wouldn’t even need an explanation. It wouldn’t be necessary 
for her to tell me why she’d suddenly stopped answering her 
phone, texts, and e-mails, or why she’d vanished, along with 
her parents and their car. I knew it was ridiculous to think 
this way, like I was negotiating with some cosmic dealer who 
could guarantee this for me, but that didn’t stop me as I got 
closer and closer to Randolph Farms Lane. I didn’t care what 


I had to promise if it meant Sloane would be there. Because if 
Sloane was there, everything could start making sense again. 

It was not an exaggeration to say that the last two weeks 
had been the worst of my life. The first weekend after school 
had ended, I’d been dragged upstate by my parents against 
my wishes and despite my protests. When I’d come back to 
Stanwich, after far too many antique shops and art galleries, I’d 
called her immediately, car keys in my hand, waiting impatiently 
for her to answer so that she could tell me where she was, or, if 
she was home, that I could pick her up. But Sloane didn’t answer 
her phone, and she didn’t answer when I called back an hour 
later, or later that night, or before I went to bed. 

The next day, I drove by her house, only to see her parents’ 
car gone and the windows dark. She wasn’t responding to texts 
and still wasn’t answering her phone. It was going right to voice 
mail, but I wasn’t worried, not then. Sloane would sometimes 
let her battery run down until the phone shut off, and she never 
seemed to know where her charger was. And her parents, Milly 
and Anderson, had a habit of forgetting to tell her their travel 
plans. They would whisk her off to places like Palm Beach or 
Nantucket, and Sloane would return a few days later, tan, with 
a present for me and stories to tell. I was sure that’s what had 
happened this time. 

But after three days, and still no word, I worried. After five 
days, I panicked. When I couldn’t stand being in my house any 
longer, staring down at my phone, willing it to ring, I’d started 

driving around town, going to all of our places, always able to 
imagine her there until the moment I arrived to find it Sloanefree. 
She wasn’t stretched out in the sun on a picnic table at 
the Orchard, or flipping through the sale rack at Twice Upon a 
Time, or finishing up her pineapple slice at Captain Pizza. She 
was just gone. 

I had no idea what to do with myself. It was rare for us 
not to see each other on a daily basis, and we talked or texted 
constantly, with nothing off-limits or too trivial, even exchanges 
like I think my new skirt make me look like I’m Amish, promise to 
tell me if it does? (me) and Have you noticed it’s been a while since 
anyone’s seen the Loch Ness monster? (her). In the two years we’d 
been best friends, I had shared almost all of my thoughts and 
experiences with her, and the sudden silence felt deafening. I 
didn’t know what to do except to continue texting and trying 
to find her. I kept reaching for my phone to tell Sloane that I 
was having trouble handling the fact she wasn’t answering her 
phone. 

I drew in a breath and I held it as I pulled down her driveway, 
the way I used to when I was little and opening up my last 
birthday present, willing it to be the one thing I still didn’t have, 
the only thing I wanted. 

But the driveway was empty, and all the windows were 
dark. I pulled up in front of the house anyway, then put my car 
in park and killed the engine. I slumped back against the seat, 
fighting to keep down the lump that was rising in my throat. I 
no longer knew what else to do, where else to look. But Sloane 
couldn’t be gone. She wouldn’t have left without telling me. 

But then where was she? 

When I felt myself on the verge of tears, I got out of the car 
and squinted at the house in the morning sun. The fact that it 
was empty, this early, was really all the evidence I needed, since 
I had never known Milly or Anderson to be awake before ten. 
Even though I knew there was probably no point to it, I crossed 
to the house and walked up the wide stone steps that were 
covered with bright green summer leaves.The leaves were thick 
enough that I had to kick them aside, and I knew, deep down, 
that it was more proof that nobody was there, and hadn’t been 
there for a while now. But I walked toward the front door, with 
its brass lion’s-head knocker, and knocked anyway, just like I’d 
done five other times that week. I waited, trying to peer in the 
glass on the side of the door, still with a tiny flicker of hope that 
in a second, any minute now, I’d hear Sloane’s steps as she ran 
down the hall and threw open the door, yanking me into a hug, 
already talking a mile a minute. But the house was silent, and 
all I could see through the glass was the historical-status plaque 
just inside the door, the one that proclaimed the house “one of 
Stanwich’s architectural treasures,” the one that always seemed 
covered with ghosts of fingerprints. 

I waited another few minutes, just in case, then turned 
around and lowered myself to sit on the top step, trying very 
hard not to have a breakdown among the leaves. 


There was a piece of me that was still hoping to find this 
had been a very realistic nightmare, and that any minute now, 
I’d wake up, and Sloane would be there, on the other end of her 
phone like she was supposed to be, already planning out the day 
for us. 

Sloane’s house was in what was always called “backcountry,” 
where the houses got larger and farther apart from each other, 
on ever-bigger pieces of land. She was ten miles away from my 
place, which, back when I’d been in peak running shape, had 
been easy for me to cross. But even though they were close, our 
neighborhoods couldn’t have been more different. Here, there 
was only the occasional car driving past, and the silence seemed 
to underscore the fact that I was totally alone, that there was 
nobody home and, most likely, nobody coming back. I leaned 
forward, letting my hair fall around me like a curtain. If nobody 
was there, it at least meant I could stay awhile, and I wouldn’t 
be asked to leave. I could probably stay there all day. I honestly 
didn’t know what else to do with myself. 

I heard the low rumble of an engine and looked up, fast, 
pushing my hair out of my face, feeling hope flare once more in 
my chest. But the car rolling slowly down the driveway wasn’t 
Anderson’s slightly dented BMW. It was a yellow pickup truck, 
the back piled with lawnmowers and rakes. When it pulled in 
front of the steps, I could see the writing, in stylized cursive, 
on the side. Stanwich Landscaping, it read. Planting . . . gardening . . . 
maintenance . . . and mulch, mulch more! Sloane loved when stores had 

cheesy names or slogans. Not that she was a huge fan of puns, 
but she’d always said she liked to picture the owners thinking 
them up, and how pleased with themselves they must have been 
when they landed on whatever they’d chosen. I immediately 
made a mental note to tell Sloane about the motto, and then, a 
moment later, realized how stupid this was. 

Three guys got out of the truck and headed for the back of 
it, two of them starting to lift down the equipment.They looked 
older, like maybe they were in college, and I stayed frozen on 
the steps, watching them. I knew that this was an opportunity 
to try and get some information, but that would involve talking 
to these guys. I’d been shy from birth, but the last two years had 
been different. With Sloane by my side, it was like I suddenly 
had a safety net. She was always able to take the lead if I wanted 
her to, and if I didn’t, I knew she would be there, jumping 
in if I lost my nerve or got flustered. And when I was on my 
own, awkward or failed interactions just didn’t seem to matter 
as much, since I knew I’d be able to spin it into a story, and we 
could laugh about it afterward.Without her here, though, it was 
becoming clear to me how terrible I now was at navigating 
things like this on my own. 

“Hey.” I jumped, realizing I was being addressed by one 
of the landscapers. He was looking up at me, shielding his eyes 
against the sun as the other two hefted down a riding mower. 
“You live here?” 

The other two guys set the mower down, and I realized 
I knew one of them; he’d been in my English class last year, 
making this suddenly even worse. “No,” I said, and heard how 
scratchy my voice sounded. I had been saying only the most 
perfunctory things to my parents and younger brother over 
the last two weeks, and the only talking I’d really been doing 
had been into Sloane’s voice mail. I cleared my throat and tried 
again. “I don’t.” 

The guy who’d spoken to me raised his eyebrows, and I 
knew this was my cue to go. I was, at least in their minds, trespassing, 
and would probably get in the way of their work. All 
three guys were now staring at me, clearly just waiting for me to 
leave. But if I left Sloane’s house—if I ceded it to these strangers 
in yellow T-shirts—where was I going to get more information? 
Did that mean I was just accepting the fact that she was gone? 

The guy who’d spoken to me folded his arms across his 
chest, looking impatient, and I knew I couldn’t keep sitting 
there. If Sloane had been with me, I would have been able to 
ask them. If she were here, she probably would have gotten two 
of their numbers already and would be angling for a turn on the 
riding mower, asking if she could mow her name into the grass. 
But if Sloane were here, none of this would be happening in the 
first place. My cheeks burned as I pushed myself to my feet and 
walked quickly down the stone steps, my flip-flops sliding once 
on the leaves, but I steadied myself before I wiped out and made 
this more humiliating than it already was. I nodded at the guys, 
then looked down at the driveway as I walked over to my car. 


Now that I was leaving, they all moved into action, distributing 
equipment and arguing about who was doing what. I 
gripped my door handle, but didn’t open it yet.Was I really just 
going to go? Without even trying? 

“So,” I said, but not loudly enough, as the guys continued 
to talk to each other, none of them looking over at me, two of 
them having an argument about whose turn it was to fertilize, 
while the guy from last year’s English class held his baseball cap 
in his hands, bending the bill into a curve.“So,” I said, but much 
too loudly this time, and the guys stopped talking and looked 
over at me again. I could feel my palms sweating, but I knew 
I had to keep going, that I wouldn’t be able forgive myself if 
I just turned around and left. “I was just . . . um . . .” I let out 
a shaky breath. “My friend lives here, and I was trying to find 
her. Do you—” I suddenly saw, like I was observing the scene 
on TV, how ridiculous this probably was, asking the landscaping 
guys for information on my best friend’s whereabouts. “I 
mean, did they hire you for this job? Her parents, I mean? 
Milly or Anderson Williams?” Even though I was trying not 
to, I could feel myself grabbing on to this possibility, turning 
it into something I could understand. If the Williamses had 
hired Stanwich Landscaping, maybe they were just on a trip 
somewhere, getting the yard stuff taken care of while they were 
gone so they wouldn’t be bothered. It was just a long trip, and 
they had gone somewhere with no cell reception or e-mail 
service.That was all. 


The guys looked at each other, and it didn’t seem like any 
of these names had rung a bell. “Sorry,” said the guy who’d first 
spoken to me. “We just get the address. We don’t know about 
that stuff.” 

I nodded, feeling like I’d just depleted my last reserve of 
hope. Thinking about it, the fact that landscapers were here 
was actually a bit ominous, as I had never once seen Anderson 
show the slightest interest in the lawn, despite the fact that the 
Stanwich Historical Society was apparently always bothering 
him to hire someone to keep up the property. 

Two of the guys had headed off around the side of the 
house, and the guy from my English class looked at me as he put 
on his baseball cap. “Hey, you’re friends with Sloane Williams, 
right?” 

“Yes,” I said immediately.This was my identity at school, but 
I’d never minded it—and now, I’d never been so happy to be 
recognized that way. Maybe he knew something, or had heard 
something. “Sloane’s actually who I’m looking for. This is her 
house, so . . .” 

The guy nodded, then gave me an apologetic shrug. “Sorry 
I don’t know anything,” he said.“Hope you find her.” He didn’t 
ask me what my name was, and I didn’t volunteer it. What 
would be the point? 

“Thanks,” I managed to say, but a moment too late, as he’d 
already joined the other two. I looked at the house once more, 
the house that somehow no longer even felt like Sloane’s, and 

realized that there was nothing left to do except leave. 

I didn’t head right home; instead I stopped in to Stanwich 
Coffee, on the very off chance that there would be a girl in 
the corner chair, her hair in a messy bun held up with a pencil, 
reading a British novel that used dashes instead of quotation 
marks. But Sloane wasn’t there. And as I headed back to my 
car I realized that if she had been in town, it would have been 
unthinkable that she wouldn’t have called me back. It had been 
two weeks; something was wrong. 

Strangely, this thought buoyed me as I headed for home. 
When I left the house every morning, I just let my parents 
assume that I was meeting up with Sloane, and if they asked 
what my plans were, I said vague things about applying for jobs. 
But I knew now was the moment to tell them that I was worried; 
that I needed to know what had happened.After all, maybe 
they knew something, even though my parents weren’t close 
with hers. The first time they’d met, Milly and Anderson had 
come to collect Sloane from a sleepover at my house, two hours 
later than they’d been supposed to show up. And after pleasantries 
had been exchanged and Sloane and I had said good-bye, 
my dad had shut the door, turned to my mother, and groaned, 
“That was like being stuck in a Gurney play.” I hadn’t known 
what he’d meant by this, but I could tell by his tone of voice that 
it hadn’t been a compliment. But even though they hadn’t been 
friends, they still might know something. Or they might be able 
to find something out.  


I held on to this thought tighter and tighter as I got closer 
to my house.We lived close to one of the four commercial districts 
scattered throughout Stanwich. My neighborhood was 
pedestrian-friendly and walkable, and there was always lots of 
traffic, both cars and people, usually heading in the direction 
of the beach, a ten-minute drive from our house. Stanwich, 
Connecticut, was on Long Island Sound, and though there were 
no waves, there was still sand and beautiful views and stunning 
houses that had the water as their backyards. 

Our house, in contrast, was an old Victorian that my parents 
had been fixing up ever since we’d moved in six years earlier. 
The floors were uneven and the ceilings were low, and the whole 
downstairs was divided into lots of tiny rooms—originally all specific 
parlors of some kind. But my parents—who had been living, 
with me, and later my younger brother, in tiny apartments, usually 
above a deli or a Thai place—couldn’t believe their good fortune. 
They didn’t think about the fact that it was pretty much falling 
down, that it was three stories and drafty, shockingly expensive to 
heat in the winter and, with central air not yet invented when the 
house was built, almost impossible to cool in the summer. They 
were ensorcelled with the place. 

The house had originally been painted a bright purple, but 
had faded over the years to a pale lavender. It had a wide front 
porch, a widow’s walk at the very top of the house, too many 
windows to make any logical sense, and a turret room that was 
my parents’ study. 


I pulled up in front of the house and saw that my brother 
was sitting on the porch steps, perfectly still. This was surprising 
in itself. Beckett was ten, and constantly in motion, climbing 
up vertiginous things, practicing his ninja moves, and biking 
through our neighborhood’s streets with abandon, usually with his 
best friend Annabel Montpelier, the scourge of stroller-pushing 
mothers within a five-mile radius. “Hey,” I said as I got out of 
the car and walked toward the steps, suddenly worried that I 
had missed something big in the last two weeks while I’d sleepwalked 
through family meals, barely paying attention to what 
was happening around me. But maybe Beckett had just pushed 
my parents a little too far, and was having a time-out. I’d find 
out soon enough anyway, since I needed to talk to them about 
Sloane. “You okay?” I asked, climbing up the three porch steps. 

He looked up at me, then back down at his sneakers. “It’s 
happening again.” 

“Are you sure?” I crossed the porch to the door and pulled 
it open. I was hoping Beckett was wrong; after all, he’d only 
experienced this twice before. Maybe he was misreading the 
signs. 

Beckett followed behind me, stepping into what had originally 
been an entry parlor, but which we had turned into a mudroom, 
where we dropped jackets and scarves and keys and shoes. 
I walked into the house, squinting in the light that was always a 
little too dim. “Mom?” I called, crossing my fingers in my jean 
shorts pockets, hoping that Beckett had just gotten this wrong. 


But as my eyes adjusted, I could see, through the open door 
of the kitchen, an explosion of stuff from the warehouse store 
one town over. Piled all over the kitchen counters were massive 
quantities of food and supplies in bulk—instant mac and cheese, 
giant boxes of cereal, gallons of milk, a nearly obscene amount 
of mini micro cheesy bagels. As I took it in, I realized with a 
sinking feeling that Beckett had been totally correct.They were 
starting a new play. 

“Told you,” Beckett said with a sigh as he joined me. 

My parents were a playwriting team who worked during 
the school year at Stanwich College, the local university and the 
reason we had moved here. My mom taught playwriting in the 
theater department, and my dad taught critical analysis in the 
English department. They both spent the school year busy and 
stressed—especially when my mom was directing a play and 
my dad was dealing with his thesis students and midterms—but 
they relaxed when the school year ended.They might occasionally 
pull out an old script they’d put aside a few years earlier and 
tinker with it a little, but for the most part, they took these three 
months off. There was a pattern to our summers, so regular you 
could almost set your calendar to it. In June, my dad would 
decide that he had been too hemmed in by society and its 
arbitrary regulations, and declare that he was a man. Basically, 
this meant that he would grill everything we ate, even things 
that really shouldn’t be grilled, like lasagna, and would start 
growing a beard that would have him looking like a mountain 

man by the middle of July. My mother would take up some 
new hobby around the same time, declaring it her “creative 
outlet.” One year, we all ended up with lopsided scarves when 
she learned to knit, and another year we weren’t allowed to use 
any of the tables, as they’d all been taken over by jigsaw puzzles, 
and had to eat our grilled food off plates we held on our 
laps. And last year, she’d decided to grow a vegetable garden, 
but the only thing that seemed to flourish was the zucchini, 
which then attracted the deer she subsequently declared war 
on. But by the end of August, we were all sick of charred food, 
and my dad was tired of getting strange looks when he went to 
the post office. My dad would shave, we’d start using the stove 
inside, and my mother would put aside her scarves or puzzles 
or zucchini. It was a strange routine, but it was ours, and I was 
used to it. 

But when they were writing, everything changed. It had 
happened only twice before. The summer I was eleven, they 
sent me to sleepaway camp—an experience that, while horrible 
for me, actually ended up providing them with the plot of their 
play. It had happened again when I was thirteen and Beckett was 
six. They’d gotten an idea for a new play one night, and then 
had basically disappeared into the dining room for the rest of 
the summer, buying food in bulk and emerging every few days 
to make sure that we were still alive. I knew that ignoring us 
wasn’t something either of them intended to do, but they’d been 
a playwriting team for years before they’d had us, and it was like 

they just reverted back to their old habits, where they could live 
to write, and nothing mattered except the play. 

But I really didn’t want this to be happening right now— 
not when I needed them. “Mom!” I called again. 

My mother stepped out of the dining room and I noticed 
with a sinking feeling that she was wearing sweatpants and a 
T-shirt—writing clothes—and her curly hair was up in a knot 
on top of her head.“Emily?” my mom asked. She looked around. 
“Where’s your brother?” 

“Um, here,” Beckett said, waving at her from my side. 

“Oh, good,” my mother said. “We were just going to call 
you two.We need to have a family meeting.” 

“Wait,”I said quickly, taking a step forward.“Mom. I needed 
to talk to you and Dad. It’s about Sloane—” 

“Family meeting!” my dad boomed from inside the kitchen. 
His voice was deep, very loud, and it was the reason he was 
always getting assigned the eight a.m. classes—he was one of 
the few professors in the English department who could keep 
the freshmen awake. “Beckett! Emily!” he stepped out of the 
kitchen and blinked when he saw us. “Oh.That was fast.” 

“Dad,” I said, hoping I could somehow get in front of this. 
“I needed to talk to you guys.” 

“We need to talk to you, too,” my mother said.“Your father 
and I were chatting last night, and we somehow got on—Scott, 
how did we start talking about it?” 

“It was because your reading light burned out,” my dad said, 

taking a step closer to my mom. “And we started talking about 
electricity.” 

“Right,” my mother said, nodding. “Exactly. So we started 
talking about Edison, then Tesla, and then Edison and Tesla, 
and—” 

“We think we might have a play,” my dad finished, glancing 
into the dining room. I saw they already had their laptops set 
up across the table, facing each other. “We’re going to bounce 
around some ideas. It might be nothing.” 

I nodded, but I knew with a sinking feeling that it wasn’t 
nothing. My parents had done this enough that they knew 
when something was worth making a bulk supermarket run. 
I knew the signs well; they always downplayed ideas they truly 
saw promise in. But when they started talking excitedly about a 
new play, already seeing its potential before anything was written, 
I knew it would fizzle out in a few days. 

“So we might be working a bit,” my mother said, in what 
was sure to be the understatement of the summer. “We bought 
supplies,” she said, gesturing vaguely to the kitchen, where I 
could see the jumbo-size bags of frozen peas and microwave 
burritos were starting to melt. “And there’s always emergency 
money in the conch.” The conch shell had served as a prop 
during the Broadway production of Bug Juice, my parents’ most 
successful play, and now, in addition to being where we kept 
household cash, served as a bookend for a listing pile of cookbooks. 
“Beckett’s going to be at day camp during the week, so 

he’s all set. Annabel’s going too,” my mother said, maybe noticing Beckett’s scowl. 

“What about camping?” he asked. 

“We’ll still go camping,” my dad said. Maybe seeing my 
alarmed look, he added,“Just your brother and me.The Hughes 
men in the wilderness.” 

“But . . .” Beckett looked into the dining room, his brow 
furrowed. 

My dad waved this away. “We aren’t going until July,” he 
said. “And I’m sure this idea won’t amount to much anyway.” 

“What about you, Em?” my mom asked, even as she drifted 
closer to the dining room, like she was being pulled there by 
gravitational force. “Do you have your summer plans worked 
out?” 

I bit my lip. Sloane and I had made plans upon plans for 
this summer.We had concert tickets purchased, she had told me 
she had mapped out something called a “pizza crawl,” and I had 
decided we should spend the summer seeking out Stanwich’s 
best cupcake. Sloane had a plan for both of us to find “summer 
boys,” but she had been vague on just how we were going 
to accomplish this. We’d blocked off the weekends we would 
drive upstate to the various flea markets she’d spent the last few 
months scouting, and I’d already gone through the drive-in calendar 
and decided which nights we needed to block off for the 
double features. She’d planned on making friends with someone 
who had a pool, and had decided this would be the summer 

she’d finally beat me at mini golf (I was weirdly naturally skilled 
at it, and I’d discovered that Sloane got strangely competitive 
when there were stuffed-animal prizes involved). I wanted to 
learn the zombie dance from “Thriller” and she wanted to learn 
the dance from £ondon Moore’s new video, the one that had 
sparked all sorts of protests from parents’ groups. 

At some point, we were going to need to get jobs, of course. 
But we’d decided it was going to be something unchallenging 
that we could do together, like we had the summer before, 
when we’d waitressed at the Stanwich Country Club—Sloane 
earning more tips than anyone else, me getting a reputation for 
being an absolute whiz at filling the ketchup bottles at the end 
of the night. We’d also left lots of time unscheduled—the long 
stretches of hours we’d spend at the beach or walking around or 
just hanging out with no plan beyond maybe getting fountain 
Diet Cokes. It was Sloane—you usually didn’t need more than 
that to have the best Wednesday of your life. 

I swallowed hard as I thought about all these plans, the 
whole direction I’d planned for my summer to go, just vanishing. 
And I realized that if Sloane were here, suddenly having 
my parents otherwise occupied and not paying attention 
to things like my curfew would have meant we could have 
had the most epic summer ever. I could practically see that 
summer, the one I wanted, the one I should have been living, 
shimmer ing in front of me like a mirage before it faded and 
disappeared. 


“Emily?” my mother prompted, and I looked back at her. 
She was in the same room with me, she was technically looking 
at me, but I knew when my parents were present and when 
their minds were on their play. For just a moment, I thought 
about trying to tell them about Sloane, trying to get them to 
help me figure out what had happened. But I knew that they’d 
say yes with the best of intentions and then forget all about it as 
they focused on Tesla and Edison. 

“I’m . . . working on it,” I finally said. 

“Sounds good,” my dad said, nodding. My mom smiled, like 
I’d given her the answer she’d wanted, even though I hadn’t told 
them anything concrete. But it was clear they wanted this off 
their plates, so they could consider their children more or less 
sorted, and they could get to work. They were both edging 
toward the dining room, where their laptops glowed softly, 
beckoning. I sighed and started to head to the kitchen, figuring 
that I should get the frozen stuff into the freezer before it 
went bad. 

“Oh, Em,” my mother said, sticking her head out of the 
dining room. I saw my father was already sitting in his chair, 
opening up his laptop and stretching out his fingers. “A letter 
came for you.” 

My heart slowed and then started beating double-time. 
There was only one person who regularly wrote to me. And 
they weren’t even actually letters—they were lists. “Where?” 

“Microwave,” my mother said. She went back into the 

dining room and I bolted into the kitchen, no longer caring 
if all the burritos melted. I pushed aside the twelve-pack of 
Kleenex and saw it. It was leaning up against the microwave like 
it was nothing, next to a bill from the tree guy. 

But it was addressed to me. And it was in Sloane’s handwriting. 
**** 

JUNE 


One Year Earlier 
“You sent me a list?” I asked. Sloane looked over at me 
sharply, almost dropping the sunglasses—oversize green 
frames—that she’d just picked up. 

I held out the paper in my hands, the letter I’d seen 
propped up by the microwave as I headed down that morning, 
on my way to pick her up and drive us to the latest 
flea market she’d found, an hour and change outside of 
Stanwich. Though there hadn’t been a return address—just 
a heart—I’d recognized Sloane’s handwriting immediately, 
a distinctive mix of block letters and cursive. “It’s what 
happens when you go to three different schools for third 
grade,” she’d explained to me once. “Everyone is learning 
this at different stages and you never get the fundamentals.” 
Sloane and her parents lived the kind of peripatetic 
existence—picking up and moving when they felt like it, or 
when they just wanted a new adventure—that I’d seen in 

movies, but hadn’t known actually existed in real life. 

I’d learned by now that Sloane used this excuse when it 
suited her, not just for handwriting, but also for her inability 
to comprehend algebra, climb a rope in PE, or drive. She was 
the only person our age I knew who didn’t have a license. 
She claimed that in all her moves, she’d never quite been the 
right age for a permit where they were, but I also had a feeling 
that Milly and Anderson had been occupied with more 
exciting things than bringing her to driver’s ed and then 
quizzing her every night over dinner, geeking out on traffic 
regulations and the points system, like my dad had done. 
Whenever I brought up the fact that she lived in Stanwich 
now, and could get a Connecticut license without a problem, 
Sloane waved it away. “I know the fundamentals of driving,” 
she’d say. “If I’m ever on a bus that gets hijacked on the 
freeway, I can take over when the driver gets shot. No problem.” 
And since Sloane liked to walk whenever possible—a 
habit she’d picked up living in cities for much of her life, and 
not just places like Manhattan and Boston, but London and 
Paris and Copenhagen—she didn’t seem to mind that much. 
I liked to drive and was happy to drive us everywhere, Sloane 
sitting shotgun, the DJ and navigator, always on top of telling 
me when our snacks were running low. 

An older woman, determined to check out the selection 
of tarnished cufflinks, jostled me out of the way, and I 
stepped aside. This flea market was similar to many that I’d 

been to, always with Sloane. We were technically here looking 
for boots for her, but as soon as we’d paid our two dollars 
apiece and entered the middle school parking lot that had 
been converted, for the weekend, into a land of potential 
treasure, she had made a beeline to this stall, which seemed 
to be mostly sunglasses and jewelry. Since I’d picked up the 
letter, I’d been waiting for the right moment to ask her, when 
I’d have her full attention, and the drive had been the wrong 
time—there was music to sing along to and things to discuss 
and directions to follow. 

Sloane smiled at me, even as she put on the terrible 
green sunglasses, hiding her eyes, and I wondered for a 
moment if she was embarrassed, which I’d almost never 
seen. “You weren’t supposed to get that until tomorrow,” 
she said as she bent down to look at her reflection in the tiny 
standing mirror. “I was hoping it would be there right before 
you guys left for the airport. The mail here is too efficient.” 

“But what is it?” I asked, flipping through the pages. 
Emily Goes to Scotland! was written across the top. 

1. Try haggis. 
2. Call at least three people “lassie.” 
3. Say, at least once, “You can take my life, but you’ll never take my 
freedom!” 
(Say this out loud and in public.) 
The list continued on, over to the next page, filled 
with things—like fly-fishing and asking people if they knew 

where I could find J.K. Rowling—that I did not intend to 
do, and not just because I would only be gone five days. 
One of my parents’ plays was going into rehearsals for the 
Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and they had decided it would 
be the perfect opportunity to take a family trip. I suddenly 
noticed that at the very bottom of the list, in tiny letters, 
she’d written, When you finish this list, find me and tell me 
all about it. I looked up at Sloane, who had set the green 
pair down and was now turning over a pair of rounded 
cat-eye frames. 

“It’s stuff for you to do in Scotland!” she said. She 
frowned at the sunglasses and held up the frames to me, 
and I knew she was asking my opinion. I shook my head, and 
she nodded and set them down. “I wanted to make sure you 
got the most of your experience.” 

“Well, I’m not sure how many of these I’ll actually do,” I 
said as I carefully folded the letter and placed it back in the 
envelope. “But this is awesome of you. Thanks so much.” 

She gave me a tiny wink, then continued to look through 
the sunglasses, clearly searching for something specific. 
She had spent most of the spring channeling Audrey 
Hepburn—lots of winged black eyeliner and stripes, skinny 
black pants and flats—but was currently transitioning into 
what she was calling “seventies California,” and referencing 
people like Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg, who 
I’d never heard of, and Penny Lane in Almost Famous, who 
I had. Today, she was wearing a flowing vintage maxi dress 
and sandals that tied around her ankles, her wavy dark-
blond hair spilling over her shoulders and down her back. 
Before I’d met Sloane, I didn’t know that it was possible to 
dress the way she did, that anyone not heading to a photo 
shoot dressed with that much style. My own wardrobe had 
improved immeasurably since we’d become friends, mostly 
stuff she’d picked for me, but some things I’d found myself 
and felt brave enough to wear when I was with her, knowing 
that she would appreciate it. 

She picked up a pair of gold-rimmed aviators, only 
slightly bent, and slipped them on, turning to me for my 
opinion. I nodded and then noticed a guy, who looked 
a few years younger than us, staring at Sloane. He was 
absently holding a macramé necklace, and I was pretty sure 
that he had no idea that he’d picked it up and would have 
been mortified to realize it. But that was my best friend, 
the kind of girl your eyes went to in a crowd. While she was 
beautiful—wavy hair, bright blue eyes, perfect skin dotted 
with freckles—this didn’t fully explain it. It was like she knew 
a secret, a good one, and if you got close enough, maybe 
she’d tell you, too. 

“Yes,” I said definitively, looking away from the guy and 
his necklace. “They’re great.” 

She grinned. “I think so too. Hate them for me?” 

“Sure,” I said easily as I walked a few steps away from 

her, making my way up toward the register, pretending to be 
interested in a truly hideous pair of earrings that seemed to 
be made out of some kind of tinsel. In my peripheral vision, I 
saw Sloane pick up another pair of sunglasses—black ones— 
and look at them for a moment before also taking them to 
the register, where the middle-aged guy behind it was reading 
a comic book. 

“How much for the aviators?” Sloane asked as I edged 
closer, looking up as if I’d just noticed what she’d picked up. 

“Twenty-five,” the guy said, not even looking up from 
his comic. 

“Ugh,” I said, shaking my head. “So not worth it. Look, 
they’re all dented.” 

Sloane gave me a tiny smile before putting her game 
face back on. I knew she’d been surprised, when we’d first 
started this bargaining technique, that I’d been able to roll 
with it. But when you grew up in the theater, you learned 
to handle impromptu improv. “Oh, you’re right,” she said, 
looking at them closely. 

“They’re not that dented,” the guy said, putting his 
comic—Super Friends—down. “Those are vintage.” 

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t pay more than fifteen for them,” 
I said, and saw, a moment too late, Sloane widen her eyes at 
me. “I mean ten!” I said quickly. “Not more than ten.” 

“Yeah,” she said, setting them down in front of the 
guy, along with the square-framed black ones I’d seen her 

Since You’ve Been Gone 


pick up. “Also, we just got here. We should look around.” 

“Yes, we should,” I said, trying to make it look like I was 
heading toward the exit without actually leaving. 

“Wait!” the guy said quickly. “I can let you have them for 
fifteen. Final offer.” 

“Both of these for twenty,” Sloane said, looking him 
right in the eye. 

“Twenty-one,” the guy bargained lamely, but Sloane just 
smiled and dug in her pocket for her cash. 

A minute later, we were heading out of the stall, Sloane 
wearing her new aviators. “Nicely done,” she said. 

“Sorry for going too high,” I said, as I stepped around 
a guy carrying an enormous kitten portrait. “I should have 
started at ten.” 

She shrugged. “If you start too low, you sometimes lose 
the whole thing,” she said. “Here.” She handed me the 
black sunglasses, and I saw now that they were vintage Ray-
Bans. “For you.” 

“Really?” I slipped them on and, with no mirror around, 
turned to Sloane for her opinion. 

She look a step back, hands on hips, her face serious, 
like she was studying me critically, then broke into a 
smile. “You look great,” she said, digging in her bag. She 
emerged with one of her ever-present disposable cameras, 
and snapped a picture of me before I could hold my 
hand up in front of my face or stop her. Despite having 
a smartphone, Sloane always carried a disposable camera 
with her—sometimes two. She had panoramic ones, 
black-and-white ones, waterproof ones. Last week, we’d 
taken our first beach swim of the summer, and Sloane had 
snapped pictures of us underwater, emerging triumphant 
and holding the camera over her head. “Can your phone 
do this?” she’d asked, dragging the camera over the surface 
of the water. “Can it?” 

“They look okay?” I asked, though of course I believed 
her. 

She nodded. “They’re very you.” She dropped her 
camera back in her bag and started wandering through the 
stalls. I followed as she led us into a vintage clothing stall 
and headed back to look at the boots. I ducked to see my 
reflection in the mirror, then checked to make sure her letter 
was secure in my bag. 

“Hey,” I said, coming to join her in the back, where she 
was sitting on the ground, already surrounded by options, 
untying her sandals. I held up the list. “Why did you mail this 
to me? Why not give it to me in person?” I looked down at 
the envelope in my hands, at the stamp and postmark and 
all the work that had gone into it. “And why mail anything at 
all? Why not just tell me?” 

Sloane looked up at me and smiled, a flash of her bright, 
slightly crooked teeth. “But where’s the fun in that?” 

**** 


1. Kiss a stranger. 
2. Go skinny-dipping. 
3. Steal something. 
4. Break something. 
5. Penelope. 
6. Ride a dern horse, ya cowpoke. 
7. 55 S. Ave. Ask for Mona. 
8. The backless dress. And somewhere to wear it. 
9. Dance until dawn. 
10. Share some secrets in the dark. 
11. Hug a Jamie. 
12. Apple picking at night. 
13. Sleep under the stars. 
I sat on my bed, gripping this new list in my hands so tightly, I 
could see the tips of my fingers turning white. 

I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was something. It was 
from Sloane. Sloane had sent me a list. 


As soon as I’d taken it out of the envelope, I’d just stared at 
it, my brain not yet turning the symbols into words, into things 
I could parse. In that moment, it had been enough to know that 
she had sent me something, that she wasn’t just going to disappear 
and leave me with nothing but questions and memories. 
There was more to it than that, and it made me feel like the fog 
I’d been walking around in for the past two weeks had cleared 
to let in some sunlight. 

Like the others she’d sent—one appearing every time I 
went away, even if it was just for a few days—there was no 
explanation. Like the others, it was a list of outlandish things, 
all outside my comfort zone, all things I would never normally 
do. The lists had become something of a running joke with us, 
and before every trip I’d wonder what she was going to come 
up with. The last one, when I’d gone to New Haven with my 
mom for a long weekend, had included things like stealing the 
bulldog mascot, named Handsome Dan, and making out with 
a Whiffenpoof (I later found out Anderson had gone to Yale, so 
she’d been able to include lots of specifics). Over the years, I’d 
managed to check off the occasional item on a trip, and always 
told her about it, but she always wanted to know why I hadn’t 
done more, why I hadn’t checked off every single one. 

I looked down at the list again, and saw that something about 
this one was different.There were some truly scary things here—like 
skinny-dipping and having to deal with my lifelong fear of horses, 
the very thought of which was making my palms sweat—but some 
of them didn’t seem so bad. A few of them were almost doable. 

And as I read the list over again, I realized these weren’t the 
random items that had accompanied my travels to California 
and Austin and Edinburgh. While many of them still didn’t 
make sense to me—why did she want me to hug someone 
named Jamie?—I recognized the reasoning behind some of 
them. They were things I’d backed away from, usually because 
I was scared. It was like she was giving me the opportunity to 
do some things over again, and differently this time. This made 
the list seem less like a tossed-off series of items, and more like 
a test. Or a challenge. 

I turned the paper over, but there was nothing on the other 
side of it. I picked up the envelope, noted her usual drawing 
where most people just wrote their addresses—this time she’d 
drawn a palm tree and a backward moon—and that the postmark 
was too smudged for me to make out a zip code in it. 
I looked down at the list again, at Sloane’s careful, unmistakable 
handwriting, and thought about what was sometimes at 
the bottom of these—When you finish this list, find me and tell me 
all about it. I could feel my heart beating hard as I realized that 
this list—that doing these terrifying things—might be the way I 
would find her again. I wasn’t sure how, exactly, that was going 
to happen, but for the first time since I’d called her number and 
just gotten voice mail, it was like I knew what to do with myself. 
Sloane had left me a map, and maybe—hopefully—it would 
lead me to her. 


I read through the items, over and over again, trying to 
find one that wasn’t the most terrifying thing I had ever done, 
something that I could do right now, today, because I wanted 
to begin immediately.This list was going to somehow bring me 
back to Sloane, and I needed to get started. 

S. A v e in number seven had to mean Stanwich Avenue, the 
main commercial street in town. I could show up there and 
ask for Mona. I could do that. I had no idea what 55 Stanwich 
Avenue was, but it was the easiest thing on the list, by far. Feeling 
like I had a plan, some direction, for the first time in two weeks, 
I pushed myself off my bed and headed for the door. 
“Emily?” 

“Oh my god!” I yelled this as I jumped involuntarily. My 
brother was in my doorway—but not just leaning against the 
doorframe like a normal person. He was at the very top of the 
frame, his legs pressed against one side of it, his back against 
the other. It was his newest thing, after he’d seen it done in 
some ninja movie. He’d terrified us all at first, and now I just 
habitually looked up before entering a room.To say Beckett had 
no fear of heights was an understatement. He’d figured out how 
to scale the roof of our house when he was five, and if we were 
trying to find him, we all started by looking up. 

“Sorry,” Beckett said, not sounding sorry, shrugging down 
at me. 
“How long have you been there?” I asked, realizing that 
while I’d been absorbed in my letter, my brother had come into 

my room and climbed to the top of my doorframe, all without 
me noticing. 

He shrugged again. “I thought you saw me,” he said. “Can 
you drive me somewhere?” 

“I’m about to go out,” I said. I glanced back at Sloane’s list, 
and then realized I had just left it sitting out on my bed. Our 
cat was only in the house about half the time, but he seemed to 
have a preternatural ability to know what was important, and 
he always destroyed those things first. I picked up the letter and 
placed it carefully back into the envelope, then tucked it into my 
top dresser drawer, where I kept my most important things— 
childhood mementos, pictures, notes Sloane had slipped into 
my hand between classes or through the slats of my locker. 

“Where?” Beckett asked, still from above me. 

“Stanwich Avenue,” I said. I craned my neck back to see 
him, and suddenly wondered if that was why he did this—so 
that we’d all have to look up at him for a change, instead of the 
other way around. 

“Can you take me to IndoorXtreme?” he asked, his voice 
getting higher, the way it did when he was excited about something. 
“Annabel told me about it. It’s awesome. Bikes and ropes 
courses and paintball.” 

I was about to tell my brother sorry, that I was busy, but 
there was something in his expression that stopped me, and I 
knew that if I went without him, I’d spend the whole time feeling 
guilty.“Are you going to want to spend a lot of time there?” 


I asked. “If I drop you off at this Extreme place? Because I have 
somewhere I need to go.” 

Beckett grinned. “Hours,” he said. “Like, all afternoon.” I 
nodded, and Beckett lifted his foot and did basically a free fall 
down the doorframe, stopping himself before he hit the ground 
and jumping to his feet. “Meet you at the car!” He raced out of 
my room, and I glanced back to my dresser. 

I caught my reflection in the mirror above it, and I ran a 
brush though my hair quickly, hoping that Mona—whoever 
she was—wouldn’t be someone that I needed to impress. I was 
wearing a vintage T-shirt Sloane had insisted I buy, and a pair 
of jean cutoffs. I was tall—I had a good four inches on Sloane, 
unless she was in one of her heel phases—and the only really 
interesting thing about me were my eyes, which were two different 
colors. One was brown, and one was brown and blue, and 
Sloane had freaked out the first time she’d noticed it, trying out 
all sorts of different eye shadow combinations, trying to see if 
she could get them to turn the same color. My hair was brown, 
pin-straight, and long, hitting halfway down my back, but anytime 
I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested.“You have 
such princess hair,” she’d said. “Anyone can have short hair.” 

I tucked my hair behind my ears, then pulled open my top 
drawer to make sure the list and the envelope were still safe. 
When I was sure they were, I headed downstairs, turning over 
and over in my head what I was about to do—55 S. Ave. Ask 
for Mona. 


Thank you to the publishers, Simon and Schuster Children's Books, for sending me the book to review and to the author, Morgan Matson, for visiting my blog on her tour.