Get a peek between the covers of Elizabeth Bass' new mainstream novel, Wherever Grace Is Needed. With this extended excerpt you can meet Grace, the young woman struggling to figure out where home really is in this emotionally gripping tale of love and family.
Memorizing the Sky
In the living room, she went through the same ritual she’d performed everywhere else, joining the tips of the corresponding fingers of her two hands to look through, like a viewfinder, and then slowly walking around the room, examining every little thing. She needed to commit it all to memory. This might be her last chance to see this old house, with its odd-shaped cabinets and closets perfect for hiding, and the fireplace framed by faded multicolored tiles.
She noticed everything through her viewfinder hands, even the single cobwebby strand suspended between a knight’s horse head and a pointy black bishop’s hat on the fancy marble chess set. Her oldest brother, Steven, had given the game to their dad this past Christmas, and it hadn’t been touched since that day. The old chess set, on the other hand, kept its spot on the spindle- legged table between two armchairs, its shiny wooden blond and black pieces poised for battle.
The wall of shelves behind the armchair contained the stereo she wasn’t supposed to touch and the records she could touch so long as she was very very careful. She knew those album covers, of landscapes and brass instruments and swans, as well as she knew the pictures in her old fairy-tale book. She’d hardly ever get to see them now.
She turned slowly, inspecting the room frame by frame until she came to the old globe standing in the corner. She had to stop and find Austin, and then trace her finger all the way over to Oregon. People kept telling her Oregon wasn’t really far, but here was proof they were lying. Oregon was practically in the Pacific Ocean. On the globe, several strings of bumpy mountains stood between here and there, like a series of fences.
When she gave the globe a spin, watching the smooth seas and bumpy mountains whirling by caused her stomach to cramp a little. And then she heard jangling keys from upstairs, a sure sign that her father was getting ready to take her back to her mom’s. A wave of panic gripped her. She wasn’t ready! There was so much she hadn’t gone over yet. And what about the yard? She had forgotten to say good-bye to Desdemona!
She turned and ran out the front door and around the side of the house. Desdemona, a dachshund, pressed her sausage belly against the chain-link fence until Grace joined her on the other side.
“Des!” Grace flopped onto the grass and let herself be attacked by frantic snuffles and licks.
After Des had calmed down a little, Grace stretched out on her back on the grass and made a viewfinder of her hands again, this time pointed straight up at the sky overhead. Thin clouds streaked across the blue, not the puffy clouds Grace liked better. She couldn’t make pictures of the wispy shapes, except maybe a trail of toilet paper or an earthworm. It disappointed her. This might be her last time to stare up at the sky in Texas. Everybody kept telling her that she would come back, but how did they know? And how could she be sure the sky would look the same all the way over in Oregon?
But what was the point of memorizing a sky that wasn’t actually like the sky you wanted to remember?
Grace wouldn’t let herself cry. She could cry all the time at her mom’s house, but here when she cried, her brothers made fun of her. They never cried. She had seen tears in her father’s eyes once, back when she was really little. He’d been reading a book and explained to her that he was crying because what he was reading was moving. The idea had startled her, so she’d asked to see this book. It had taken her a second or two to work up the courage to look, only to discover that all the usual lines of squiggles were just sitting there on the page in the normal way, perfectly still. When she assured her dad there was nothing to be afraid of, he had stared at her in confusion for a moment and then burst out laughing.
Of course he’d told everyone. Even now when her brothers saw her crying, they always asked her if she’d seen something moving.
While she was still looking through her makeshift viewfinder, a shadow fell over her. She feared it was her dad...but it was only Sam. He was seven years older than her—twice her age— but he was the younger of her two half brothers.
“What are you doing?” From the alarm in his voice, you would have thought she was about to stick her finger into a light plug.
“I’m trying to memorize everything.”
“Like what—the sky? That’s really pointless!” He twisted to check if there was something up in the sky he’d missed. “There’s nothing up there!”
“Usually there’s more.”
Sam wouldn’t understand. Steven wouldn’t either; anyway, he was off at some kind of science camp.
Sam sat down next to Grace, and Desdemona raced around to wedge her body between them, nudging Sam’s hand with her moist snout until he gave in and scratched her ears. “Dad said to tell you he’s ready to go.”
She felt a sharp stab of jealousy. Why did she have to go? Sam didn’t even like it here all that much—he was always arguing with their father now. It all started when Sam had become, to put it in his own words, political. To Grace, this phase had come on so quickly it seemed as if someone had just flipped a switch in his head. The change dated from the week the Johnson family had moved into the rental house on the corner. The family had two kids, Seeger and Rainbow, and Sam had started hanging out with them.
Now Sam was always predicting that one day he would hit the road and never come back. But Grace had never wanted to hit a road. Ever. Why couldn’t Sam go to Oregon?
“It’s not fair,” she blurted out. “It’s all because of my stupid mother, and stupid Jeff! If she had to go and get married again, why couldn’t she have found someone from here?”
Sam was silent for a moment, but then apparently he remembered he was supposed to be making an effort to cheer her up. “Oregon’s going to be great. It’s . . .” He frowned for a moment, obviously reaching. “It’s really green there.”
“Austin is green. How is Oregon green any different?”
“It just is, because it rains more there. I’ve seen pictures. They have a huge mountain, and a volcano.”
Okay, maybe Austin didn’t have a huge mountain. Certainly not a volcano. But she’d never missed having mountains—not like she was going to miss this house, and Des, and her brothers . . . even though they mostly ignored her anyway. And Peggy. And her dad...
Tears stood in her eyes. She was determined not to let a single one drop, but the effort of holding them back caused her entire body to quiver. The gate squeaked open and a renewed sense of doom filled her.
“What’s going on?” her father asked as he approached them. “I’ve been scouring the house for you.”
Sam squinted up at him. “She doesn’t want to go, Dad. I don’t blame her. Whatever happened to free will?”
A troubled look flashed across their father’s face. For a split second, Grace wondered if he was going to let her stay, but then in the next instant he drew back his shoulders like he always did when he was irritated with someone. That someone was usually Sam, but today, her last day, it was her. “How can you not want to go with your mother?”
“Because I like it here. This is my home, not Oregon.”
“ ‘Go where he will, a wise man is at home,’ ” her father said.
Sam tapped her foot with his sneaker. “See? Whenever you feel homesick, just think of Dad quoting at you.”
To her surprise—and probably Sam’s too—their father sank down to the grass next to them. It was weird, because he wasn’t a sit-on-the-grass kind of dad. Most of her classmates’ fathers were younger. She could imagine them sitting on the grass, or playing touch football with their kids and not worrying about grass stains. But her father was more of a chair person.
She and Sam and Desdemona scooted over a bit, as if they were all scrunched on a sofa, not sprawled in an empty yard.
“None of us have ever been to Oregon,” her dad said. “You’ll be striking out into new territory. The Christopher Columbus of the Oliver family.”
“Except you won’t be giving out diseased blankets to slaughter the natives, hopefully,” Sam interjected.
Their father leveled a withering stare at him. “One hopes.”
“I don’t want to be an explorer,” Grace declared. “I just want to stay here.”
“That’s a shortsighted way to think. Where would the world be if Christopher Columbus had been a mousy little homebody?”
Sam cleared his throat. “Well, for one thing, a lot of native Americans would probably still be alive. . . .”
Their father glared at him. “Would you forget the Indians for just one moment?”
“Sure,” Sam grumbled. “Why not? Everyone else has.”
Their father turned his attention back to Grace. “The thing to remember is that Columbus didn’t stay in the New World forever. He kept returning home. And it was a whole lot harder for him to return to Europe than it will be for you to come back to Austin. He had a grueling months-long sea journey. You’ll just have a four-hour airplane flight.”
“I don’t think this is going to make her feel any better, Dad,” Sam said. “Seven-year-old girls don’t dream of becoming explorers. Mattel hasn’t come out with Conquistador Barbie yet.”
Grace rounded on her brother and with the palm of her hand gave his shoulder a shove that nearly knocked him over. Sam wasn’t very big. She never could have knocked over Steven. “Shut up! You don’t know anything!”
Normally, she would have gotten in trouble for yelling at someone to shut up, even Sam. Her father would have called her a little barbarian. Today, though, he looked almost proud of her. “Grace isn’t just any seven-year-old girl.” His admiring tone clapped her shoulders back and lifted her up.
She darted a triumphant glare at Sam, who had weebled back into an upright position. Why shouldn’t she be like Christopher Columbus? Grace Oliver—the famous adventure person. She could almost imagine it.
“But now, if we don’t hurry,” her father announced, starting to unfold himself awkwardly, “the adventuress won’t have time to stop at that port of call I intended to make on the way back to her mother’s.”
“Is the port of call Amy’s Ice Cream?” Grace asked.
Her father stood up and dusted his hands together. “It might be.”
She sprang to her feet.
“Wow!” Sam exclaimed in disgust. “Someone offers you a little ice cream and suddenly everything’s hunky-dory. Ice cream is the opiate of enslaved children.”
She scowled at him. “I’m just glad he’s not taking me back right away.”
She followed her father out of the yard. Sam trailed after them. “Sure, that’s how you justify the way you can be bought off....”
Her father waited at the gate, and when Grace passed through, he shut it.
Both Sam and Des pressed up against the chain-link fence, looking abandoned.
“Hey!” Sam called after them. “Can’t I come, too?”
At the busy ice cream store on Guadalupe, she and Sam stood in line while her father went to run an errand. When he returned, they were perched on a bench outside the shop, eating cones. Lou approached them carrying a gift bag, which he deposited in Grace’s lap.
Careful not to drip her Mexican vanilla with crushed Butterfingers on her present, she reached into the silver bag with a white bow and pulled out a book. It was a blank book with a red cloth cover. On a card tucked into the first page, her father had written something in his spidery script.
“Oh, wow,” Sam said, deadpan. “A blank book.” He craned his head around her shoulder to read the inscription aloud in a flat, unenthusiastic voice.
“ ‘Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ”
Grace snapped the book closed to keep it away from any other unappreciative eyes, and held it to her chest. She liked her book. It wasn’t a girly gift. It was serious. “Thanks, Daddy,” she said, throwing caution to the wind and putting her arms around him. For once he didn’t seem wary of getting chocolate down his white shirtfront. Despite how hard she’d tried not to cry, tears splashed her cheeks. “I’ll miss you so much!”
“I’m going to miss you too, Gracie.”
When she looked up, Sam was staring at his ice cream. For a moment, he looked depressed. Then he snapped to. His mouth tugged up at the corners as Grace settled back on the bench again, her ice cream braced in one hand and her book clasped in the other. She was shaking her head to clear her eyes of tears.
“What’s the matter, Grace?” Sam asked, although his voice lacked its usual taunting gusto. “Did you see something moving?”
Want more? Mark your calendar, Elizabeth Bass' Wherever Grace is Needed will hit shelves on June 1st, 2011. For more of the books we can't wait to see hit shelves, check out our Upcoming Releases Page.