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Authors: Robin Stevenson

Tags: #Young Adult, #JUV013060, #Contemporary

Escape Velocity

BOOK: Escape Velocity
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Text copyright ©
Robin Stevenson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Stevenson, Robin, 1968-
Escape velocity [electronic resource] / Robin Stevenson.

Type of computer file: Electronic monograph in PDF format.
Issued also in print format.

I. Title.
83 2011

First published in the United States, 2011
Library of Congress Control Number
: 2011929278

: Forced to live with the mother who abandoned her at birth, Lou goes looking for truth in her mother's fiction.

Orca Book Publishers is dedicated to preserving the environment and has printed
this book on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photo by Getty Images
Author photo by David Lowes

5626, Stn. B
Printed and bound in Canada.

14   13   12   11   •   4   3   2   1

To Ilse, with all my love.



























r. Samson is up at the front of the classroom, goofing around. He's pretending we're all on
Physics Jeopardy
and he's the host. He has a chalkboard eraser in his hand and he's holding it in front of his mouth like a mike.

“The answer is…eleven point two kilometers per second,” he shouts.

The guy beside me bangs his hand on his desk and makes a loud buzzer noise. “What is escape velocity?” he says.

I catch my breath.
Escape Velocity
. I can see the words spelled out in fine black lettering above my mother's name, the jacket cover the pale grayish blue of a December sky, the dark silhouette of a bird in flight. Somehow, despite reading the book over and over again, I failed to realize that the title of my mother's novel had anything to do with science. I wonder what else I have missed.

“Very good, Meyers.” Mr. Samson points at him. “You're the man.”

Samson is setting himself up to be slaughtered. I'd warn him, but he probably wouldn't believe me. Even though he's at least ten years older than me, he seems kind of innocent. Saying stuff like “You're the man” and not knowing how goofy he sounds. Not knowing he should be more careful.

It's like nothing bad has ever happened to him.

He turns to me. “Bonus points, Lou, if you can tell us all what escape velocity is.”

“Sorry,” I say.

Samson looks disappointed. “Take a shot at it.” He waits for a minute, but I don't say anything, and then a girl up front raises her hand and he calls on her with a dramatic wave. “Ah, Ashley to the rescue,” he says and smiles at her.

Ashley smoothes her long hair and returns his smile.

“The term
escape velocity
refers to the speed an object has to travel to escape Earth's gravitational pull.”

I imagine myself flying into the sky, my body somersaulting through the clouds. It turns out that clouds aren't like cotton wool after all but like strips of torn cloth, wet and cold against my skin. Then I'm hurtling onward, up above the layers of cloud. The air is thin and sharp as ice in my lungs, and I'm rocketing away from Earth, flying out of the blue and into the black. And I'm still flying, but there's nothing to measure my speed against. There are stars all around me, but no real light anywhere, only space, silent and cold and empty and endless. Gravity is far behind me now; I can barely remember it. Nothing is holding me anymore.

A hand on my shoulder. “Are you sleeping? Lou? You okay?”

It's Samson. I shake my head. “Fine. Sorry.” I stumble to my feet and realize that everyone has left the classroom except me and him. I didn't even hear the buzzer. “Just tired I guess.”

“If you ever need to talk…” His eyes are kind, his voice tentative. I can tell that he doesn't want to pry.

“Thanks,” I say. “I'm fine.” A prickling feeling begins at my scalp and moves downward, like cold fingers brushing the back of my neck and tracing an icy path down my back.

“Are you sure? Because if there's ever anything I can do…I mean, you know.”

He gives me a smile, a full-on genuine smile that seems to come from somewhere deep and real. I can feel the warmth coming off him, and I wish I could move closer the way you do at a campfire, stretching your hands toward the flames while behind you the night air sinks its chill into your spine.

“Thanks,” I say again. “Uh, so what's your name? I mean, your first name?”

He blinks. “Tom.”

“Well, thanks. Tom. Can I call you Tom then? Outside class, I mean? It's a nice name. It suits you.”

“I think you'd better stick to Mr. Samson.” He clears his throat. “You should get to your next class, Lou.”

On the way home after school, I break into a run. I'm not a runner. I've always been clumsy, and besides, today is a scorcher. It's late September, but the surface of the main road is radiating heat. You can see the blurriness of it in front of your eyes, like you're not focusing right. I run anyway, fast as I can go, legs burning, chest bursting, heart hammering, feet pounding a straight line across the cracked tarmac.
Escape velocity

My feet bring me right back to the same place as always.

Dad's half sitting, half lying on the couch in front of the television, a beer in his hand. He's got a heavy glass ashtray balanced on the curve of his belly and he's flicking channels with the remote, not watching anything for more than five seconds. The sound is muted, and he's got Lou Reed playing softly on the stereo. A pizza box is on the floor, a big greasy circle imprinted on the empty cardboard.

“Didn't you save me any?” I ask. I am breathing hard, my back slick with sweat, my thin T-shirt plastered to my skin.

He grunts and adjusts the ashtray so that he can sit up and look at me.

I kick at the pizza box. “You ate the whole thing?”

Dad stares at the empty box on the floor as if he doesn't know how it got there. Then he shrugs. “Lighten up, Lou. There's plenty of food in the kitchen. Anyway, I skipped lunch. I was starving.” He lifts his beer bottle, winks at me and puts on his Homer Simpson voice. “Dinner: a nice break between work and drunk.”

Work? He hasn't worked in more than two years. “Hilarious. You're a goddamn comedian.”

“Yeah, I missed my calling all right.” He puts the ashtray down on the arm of the couch and gives me a look. “You okay, Lou?”

I nod. “Fine. Hungry.”

“Mmm. School okay? No problems?”

“It's fine. Like I said.” I look past him at the square of blue sky I can see through the window. Flat shafts of sunlight slice through the half-open blinds and catch on specks of dust and blue-gray smoke. Lou Reed is singing about heroin. You'd think if Dad had to name me after a junkie, he could've at least picked a female one. I run my tongue over the rough corner on my front tooth where I chipped it falling off my bike a couple of years ago. Lou. Such a dumb name for a girl.

Dad winces, rubs his back and shifts his position on the couch. “Love you, kiddo.”

“I know,” I say. “Love you too, Dad.”

“Go out with some friends, why don't ya?” He butts out his cigarette. “You're fifteen, for chrissakes. You should go out more. Your friends'll cheer you up.”

“It's Thursday,” I say. “I've got to go to work.”

Dad is wrong about there being food in the kitchen. There never is, unless I buy it. Here's what there is: mustard, ketchup and mayo in the fridge; a bulk-size box of crackers; three unopened cans of spaghetti sauce; a box of lasagna noodles that has been there for as long as I can remember, because I have no idea how to make lasagna; and a bag of hot dog buns. Dad's disability benefits and my paychecks don't exactly add up to luxury living.

BOOK: Escape Velocity
2.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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