Excerpted from Tighter by Adele Griffin Copyright © 2011 by Adele Griffin. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The last thing I did before I left home was steal pills.
"Wait!" I raised my finger and did the oops smile, then sprinted back inside while Mom stayed in the car to take me to the train station. First to Teddy's bathroom to swipe painkillers--we were an athletic family, prone to sports-related injury--and then to my parents' stash. Mom's allergies, Dad's insomnia.
Maybe fifty, all in. A good haul, but would it be enough?
Pills were new for me. I'd been sucked in innocently enough, after a track hurdle that ripped some tissue. A major lower-lumbar strain, the doctor had diagnosed. When the pain persisted, I'd started therapy at the Y, which just became another thing to skip. And pill filching was easier.
Now here it was late June and I wasn't an addict, not at all, but the heat packs and aspirin hadn't been getting it done for weeks.
The pills also helped me not think too hard about Mr. Ryan. Sean. I'd called him Sean, a couple of times, in the end. And I was so tired of thinking about him. I gripped a small fantasy that the moment I set foot on Little Bly, he'd evaporate from my memory.
Mom honked. I wavered in the doorway of my bedroom, so safe and familiar. I shouldn't be leaving home. I was worse than anyone knew--not my parents, not my best friend, Maggie. Maybe I needed more than pills, but I'd already swiped such a haul.
I stepped inside, gravitating toward my bookshelf. What to take? What would help? The book of poems Tess gave me last birthday that I'd skimmed and liked. My old Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes, which I'd read so many times in childhood that the cover was unhinging from its spine.
On impulse, I popped them both into my satchel. Not much, but comforting, a double shield to protect me from homesickness. Then I stood, helplessly searching--what more had I forgotten? Surely there was something else, something better--before the horn jounced me from my trance.
"Everyone falls in love with Little Bly. The beaches, the houses." Mom had been nervous-chatting the whole ride. Now we stood by the tracks, waiting for the train to pull in. "This'll be so relaxing! I wish I could come along. At the very least, Jamie, I bet it will be therapeutic for you."
I nodded and yawned. These past weeks, Mom had been big into telling me what Little Bly would be "at the very least." I'm not sure either of us had a clue what it might be at the very most. But a yawn or a "you said it" were my best conversation stoppers in this summer of limited energy. Not that anything was stopping Mom.
All I really knew, at the very least, was that I'd be farther from Maplewood than I'd ever been, outside a chorus trip to Vienna three years ago, in eighth grade.
"A nice change for you, Jamie."
I nodded again and flattened my hand against my satchel, where my Ziploc bag was stashed. Nice change or not, it was happening. Mom had moved pretty quickly, too, rearranging my life one night while she and Dad were out at a dinner party. She'd made it seem like luck, but her secret motive--her trial kick out of the nest for her youngest, her hang-around-the-house kid--wasn't lost on me.
And I couldn't discount that this was my dullest summer on record. Maggie was off with her family touring a handful of national parks, all of them gone cold turkey off wireless networks as they hopscotched from Appalachia to Yosemite in their TrailManor RV. The twins were gone, too--they'd left right after graduation. Teddy, for college football training in Orlando, while Tess was in Croatia teaching English in a one-room schoolhouse. She sent postcards that told us the weather (broiling hot, every day) and what she was eating (beef on a stick, every day). We stuck the cards on the fridge next to printouts Teddy emailed of himself as a dot in a helmet.
So maybe it was my turn to be a body in motion. Specifically, a blur on the Jersey Transit to Penn Station, then all aboard Amtrak's Northeast Corridor bound for Providence, Rhode Island, where I'd catch another local train and then a ferry to the island of Little Bly. My last major trip this week had been my hour at the Y, and then into town to drop off some movie rentals. I felt unsteady and out of shape, and maybe not totally prepared for the direct thrust of a voyage out.
As the train approached, I could feel myself collapsing. No, no, this was a bad idea. I was scared to be jerked out of my orbit like this, I wasn't steady in my head. But I couldn't find the right words to explain any of it to my mother--especially since she was so hopeful that Little Bly was my cure.
A cheery smile, a confident bound up the train steps. I went for the window seat so I could wave as I watched Mom turn miniature. And then with sweating fingers, I sank back and took a pill from the baggie, swallowing it dry and tasting its bitter silt in the back of my throat. Okay, okay. One step at a time, and I'd be okay.