Authors: Leslie McAdam
Photograph of Joel Pastuszak, book cover model, copyright Cory Stierley, used with permission.
Original watercolor illustrations by Katie Heckey and Nelson Wells.
Cover design by Michele Catalano Creative.
Editing by L Woods LLC.
Formatting by Shanoff Formats.
Copyright © 2016 by Leslie McAdam.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, events, or locales is purely coincidental.
Other works by the Author:
The Sun and the Moon
The Stars in the Sky
All the Waters of the Earth
I am so grateful for everyone in my life, including those who specifically helped with this book:
Mary Carr, Deb Markanton, Temitope Awofeso, Maxine Donner, Melanie Martin, and Lex Martin provided helpful feedback and encouragement.
Kristy Lin Billuni, Heather Roberts, and Jerica MacMillan provided editing assistance.
Nelson Wells, Katie Heckey, Cory Stierley, Joel Pastuszak, Michele Catalano, and Shanoff Formats made it look better.
My husband and children put up with me and let me do this.
And everyone in Southwinds Coffee and the Tribe kept me going.
I love you all.
For Nelson and Katie, the couple most likely to spend the summer in the woods, and for Kristy and Helen, the least. And for Mary Carr, who saved it.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” — Ernest Hemingway
My whole life, I’ve been so fucking scared of heights, and it’s a twenty-foot fall straight down into the ravine.
I find myself here off the map. By myself.
But he’s down there.
I have to get him.
And I can do this.
I can do this
He helped me find myself. Now I’ve found him.
I need to save him.
I’d learned a lot about trust this summer.
Did I trust myself as much as I trusted him?
I take a deep breath.
A helicopter roars over my head, so close that it whips my curls. I’m breathing in acrid smoke. My heart beats so fast I think it’s going to rip out of my chest.
Not for the first time today.
I can do this.
I just need to take the next step.
“I’m vegan but I eat roadkill.”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re telling her that. What is she going to think? Maggie just met you!” Gesturing at me, Emma Chen tossed her dark hair, stomped over to a scuffed greige leather ottoman, and plunked herself down. Since she was roughly the size of an average ground squirrel, the amount of noise she made surprised me. She appeared more exasperated and embarrassed than mad, though. I thought I caught some teasing in her chestnut-colored eyes.
I cocked my head to the side and tried not to burst out laughing at my new friend, Matt Darian. One of my multiple new friends. I mean, I’d just met the guy, and I didn’t want to be rude and laugh at him, but it was hard not to. “That’s . . .
. I’ve never heard of the roadkill diet. How do you justify that on a philosophical level? You don’t eat animals at all, but you make an exception if they’re dead and mangled on the side of the road?”
His hazel eyes regarded me through clear-rimmed glasses, and he ran a thin hand through his neat blond hair. “You try to get to them while they’re still warm. But yeah, to answer your question, I believe in intentional living, and I don’t believe in waste.”
This pronouncement silenced all of us for a moment and we stared at him. I surveyed the reaction of the room. Stocky, barrel-chested Ian Thomas—dark hair, dark eyes—let out a breath, grinned, and rolled his head back to look at the ceiling. My eyes followed his to the wooden rafters decorated with spider webs and a fair amount of dust. Yazmin Gutierrez, also dark hair and eyes, registered both repulsion and fascination in equal measure on her pretty face. Blue-haired, brown eyed Katie Nelson looked amused, sprawled on a couch that’d been new at least thirty years ago. Emma frowned at him.
But it was obvious that Matt’s statement was the truth. Nothing about him made me think of excess or waste—plain white t-shirt, generic jeans, functional tennis shoes. Kinda boring.
I was still having trouble processing his meal plan. “So, you have skunk for dinner? Possum?”
“If I can find it, yeah. Most of the time it’s squirrel. Raccoon or deer if I’m lucky.”
Okay, he wasn’t boring, just weird. Who the hell was I living with?
“I’m not eating raccoon,” asserted Katie, as she placed her long legs on a beat-up coffee table.
I bit back another laugh as I sat in the central living room of my new home for the next three months—a large log cabin—on one of three shabby, ugly couches, my feet up next to Katie’s, and looked around. Smooth, oak floors stretched the length of the house. Tall, wavy glass windows framed a view of dusky dark green pine and fir trees. I could see battered outdoor furniture on a back patio and a clothesline off to the side on the forested slope, which ended at the South Fork of the Merced River. Gray river rocks made up the mantel surrounding the cozy fireplace. Too bad it was summer. We’d probably never need it. I loved a crackling flame.
I turned back to Matt, changing the subject to stop talking about dead animals. “What did you major in?” It felt funny asking the question in the past tense, given that we’d all just graduated last week.
“Landscape architecture at Davis.” I’d halfway expected him to say taxidermy, but I could picture his precise handwriting without seeing it. Although he came off as odd and somewhat mechanical, my immediate reaction to him was that he seemed friendly enough. Though, I’d rather eat s’mores instead of roadkill when roughing it. Just saying.
“And where do you work now?”
“With Ian in the ranger station issuing backpacking permits. We also do backcountry wilderness patrols.”
Smiling at the word wilderness, a pulse of excitement ran through me. I was looking forward to spending the summer hiking, being out in nature, really getting to experience Yosemite, the national park I’d only ever seen in pictures online, the one I’d always wanted to visit. “That’s so cool. I can’t wait to try backpacking.”
“There’s nothing like it, knowing that you’re the only one out there for miles and miles and miles. What did you major in, Maggie?”
“Botany at Cal Poly,” I said. Yazmin, Katie’s roommate both here and in college, wore a colorful Guatemalan tunic and khaki shorts and smelled like patchouli. Burning Man devotee. I turned to her. “And you?”
“I just graduated with a degree in environmental studies, but I want to be a massage therapist.”
“So why didn’t you study massage?”
She rolled her eyes and picked at her nails. “Parents.”
I hated when that happened. So many of my friends had gone to college to please their parents, or to do what they thought they
do. But not many of us did what we
Guess I was lucky, in a way. I chose my major—one that I loved—and I didn’t have anyone telling me that I had to do something to please them.
In another way that sucked, because no one really cared.
I’d made it on my own, though—paying for my education with scholarships, working, and tutoring others—and I had the piece of paper to prove it. Just got it last week.