Excerpt from Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Seven Days of Us

A Novel

by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak X
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
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    Oct 2017, 368 pages

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November 17, 2016


Cape Beach, Monrovia, Liberia, 1:03 a.m.

Olivia knows what they are doing is stupid. If seen, they will be sent home—possibly to a tribunal. Never mind that to touch him could be life-threatening. But who will see them? The beach is deserted and so dark she can just see a few feet into the inky sea. The only sound is the swooshing drag of the waves. She is acutely aware of the tiny gap between their elbows, as they walk down to the surf. She wants to say, "We shouldn't do this," except they haven't done anything. They still haven't broken the No-Touch rule.

The evening had begun in the beach bar, with bottled beers and then heady rum and Cokes. They had sat under its corrugated iron roof for hours, a sputtering hurricane lamp between them, as the sky flared bronze. They had talked about going home for Christmas in five weeks, and how they both wanted to come back to Liberia. She told him about Abu, the little boy she had treated and then sobbed for on this beach the day he died. And then they'd talked about where they'd grown up, and gone to medical school, and their families. His home in Ireland sounded so unlike hers. He was the first to go to university, and to travel. She tried to explain how medicine represented a rebellion of sorts to her parents, and his eyes widened—as they had when she confessed to volunteering at Christmas, to avoid her family. She had noticed his eyes when they first met at the treatment center—they were all you could see, after all, behind the visor. They were gray green, like the sea in Norfolk, with such dark lashes he might have been wearing makeup. She kept looking at his hands as he picked at the label on his beer. Like hers, they were rough from being dunked in chlorine. She wanted to take one and turn it over in her palm. By the time the bar closed, the stars were out, spilled sugar across the sky. The night air was weightless against her bare arms. "Will we walk?" said Sean, standing up. Usually she stood eye to eye with men, but he was a head taller than her. And then there was a second, lit by the hurricane lamp, when they looked straight at each other, and something swooped in her insides.

Now, ankle deep in the surf, their sides are nearly touching. Phosphorescence glimmers in the foam. She loses her footing as a wave breaks over their calves, and he turns so that she half falls into him. His hands reach to steady her and then circle around her waist. She turns in his arms to face him, feeling his palms on the small of her back. The inches between his mouth and hers ache to be crossed. And as he lowers his head, and she feels his lips graze hers, she knows this is the stupidest thing she has ever done.

The Buffalo Hotel, Monrovia, Liberia, 2:50 p.m.

Sipping bottled water to quell her stomach (why did she have that last drink?), Olivia waits to Skype her family. It is strange to be in a hotel lobby, a little bastion of plumbing and Wi-Fi—though there is no air-conditioner, just a fan to dispel the clingy heat. And even here there is a sense of danger, and caution. In the bathrooms are posters with the heading "Signs and Symptoms of Haag Virus" above little cartoons of people vomiting. The barman dropped her change into her palm without contact—guessing, rightly, that most white faces in Monrovia are here for the epidemic, to help with "dis Haag bisniss." Another aid worker paces the lobby, talking loudly on an iPhone about "the crisis" and "supplies" and then hammering his MacBook Air with undue industry. He's wearing a "Haag Response" T-shirt and expensive-looking sunglasses, and has a deep tan. He's probably with one of the big NGOs, thinks Olivia. He doesn't look like he'd ever actually brave the Haag treatment center or a PPE suit—not like Sean. Last night keeps replaying in her mind. She can't wait to see Sean on shift later, to savor the tension of No-Touch, of their nascent secret. Anticipation drowns out the voice telling her to stop, now, before it goes further. It's too late to go back anyway.

Excerpted from Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. Copyright © 2017 by Francesca Hornak. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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