Almost everythin' of Nessa's is some shade of pink. I pack a pair of scuffed Mary Janes and her pale pink sneakers, her neon pink long-sleeve T-shirt, a dark pink-and-red-striped T-shirt, and another T-shirt with a peelin'-off Cinderella iron-on on the front. I pack her spare undershirt and underpants; "one on and one off," as Mama says when we complain. Ness's jeans look small and vulnerable stretched between my hands, and my heart wrenches.
When her bag is full, I use mine to gather up her rag doll, her one-armed teddy bear, and her stuffed dog. Her Pooh books. The brush and elastics. On top, I place my own pair of jeans (one on, one off), a newer T-shirt, two tank tops, my spare underpants, and the only shoes I own besides the ratty sneakers on my feet: a pair of cowboy boots from a garage sale in town, the toes stuffed with tissue paper to force a fit.
Not much fits me clotheswise, after a growth spurt last year. Now I'm glad, because it means more room for Jenessa's stuff. I don't need much room anyhow. I don't have toys from childhood or any stuffed animals. I left my childhood behind when Mama dragged us off in the middle of the night. My belongin's consist of a sketch pad I place on top of the pile, while I make a mental note not to forget my most prized possession: the violin that Mama taught me to play the year we moved to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Mama played in a symphony before she met my father. I grab the scrapbook crammed with clippin's from her performances and place it on top of the sketch pad, then draw the yellow plastic strings tight. The bag looks close to burstin' by the time I'm through. But it's good, because I bet the bag holds more than any suitcase would, if we had one.
Before I can call for her, Mrs. Haskell appears, and I hand her down the bag, which she struggles beneath. The man gets up to help, lockin' on my eyes while takin' the bag from her and slingin' it over his back. He does the same with the second bag.
"May I have one more bag, ma'am?"
Mrs. Haskell obliges. I fill it with our schoolbooks, with my Emily Dickinson, my Tagore, my Tennyson and Wordsworth, making the bag impossibly heavy. Lookin' at the man, I'd have giggled in different circumstances. He looks like a reverse sort of Santa Claus. A Santa Claus of garbage.
No one speaks as he plunks the lightest bag down in front of Mrs. Haskell.
I go back inside and gather Ness from the bed. Reachin' out, I pluck her thumb gently from her mouth. Her lips remain in an O shape, and the thumb pops right back in.
"You're gonna make your teeth crooked, you know it."
She stares right through me, droolin' a little, and I give her a hug before helpin' her stand up and walk to the door.
"How about a piggyback?"
I squat in front of her, and she slowly climbs on.
"Hold on tight, 'k?"
The sun is meltin', poolin' behind the trees, and still Mama don't come. I scan the Hundred Acre Wood, somehow expectin' her to show up with a greasy brown bag and save the day, but she don't.
The man takes the lead, with Mrs. Haskell strugglin' behind him, trippin' over roots and sinkin' into the mud, cursin' under her breath as Ness and I follow. It's a long ways to the road, and if we go the way they're headin', it'll be twice as long.
"This way, ma'am," I say, poppin' Nessa farther up my back and takin' the lead, refusin' to meet the man's eyes as he steps aside so we can pass.
I focus on the endless treetops scrapin' the sunset into gooey colors, the birds trillin' and fussin' at our departure. I close my eyes for a second, breathin' in deep to make serious memories, the kind that stick forever. I'd locked up the camper on my way out, but I don't know who has a key, since Ness and I don't, and we'd only ever locked up when we were inside.
Excerpted from If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Murdoch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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