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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


Traveler (Volume 1)

L. E. DeLano

Swoon Reads





There are few things in the world that I find more painful than being forced to sit on a cold metal folding chair in front of a home improvement store selling candy for the Spanish Club. Slightly higher on that list would be a root canal without anesthesia, and sitting at the candy-selling table when no one brought the candy.

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into this,” I grumble, folding my arms and sliding down on my chair.

“It’s not my fault,” Ben answers. He’s on the phone with Mr. Fielding, sponsor of the Spanish Club, who seems as clueless as we are about the whole situation.

I roll my eyes and reach into my backpack to pull out my favorite Moleskine journal. I might as well get some writing done while we’re waiting. I’ve had an idea burning in my head since I woke up this morning, and I know if I don’t get it down on paper, I’m going to lose it.

I start flipping through it until I find what I want. On the page before me is the remnant of the dream.

Green eyes, dark hair.

Ski lift? Or some kind of gondola? I’m riding with him and it jerks to a stop, throwing me out. I dangle for a moment before I fall, with his scream echoing as the air rushes by me.…

I add redbrick building to the list, then review it all again, chewing the end of my pen as I stare at the paper. I’ve almost got it figured out—how I’m going to turn this bit of a dream into an idea and then into a story outline with plot points and a clear beginning, and I’ve even got an idea of how I want it to end. I’m just missing the middle.

The story of my life.

I know the beginning—who I am and where I came from. I know I want to be a writer, maybe even a journalist who turns novelist and wins a Pulitzer in both categories. And I’m going to travel—a lot. I’m going to see the world and write about it all and invent new stories about old places. That’s the endgame.

I’m just lacking a middle, and there’s nothing I can do to change that while I’m still in high school and will be for eight more months. After that, it’s on to college, if all my financial aid comes through, and I can start really experiencing life.

That is, if I’m not cut down in the prime of life by an angry mob of sugar-starved, impatient people. I look up as a balding, middle-aged man with a rounded stomach moves up to the table.

“Any word yet?”

The guy is wearing a vivid red sweatshirt and a neon-green hat and has been bugging us at five-minute intervals for the last half hour. Clearly he’s too concerned with candy to worry much about fashion. I smile apologetically.

“Any minute now,” I promise, silently vowing to myself I will never volunteer for this stuff again, no matter how pathetically Ben begs me to.

“You said that last time I asked,” the guy persists.

“You can buy candy next door at the dollar store, you know,” Ben points out.

“They don’t have Giant Pixy Stix,” the guy gripes, then lumbers off.

Ben leans in and lowers his voice.

“If he asks me one more time…”

“Be nice,” I say. “We’ve been promising him five minutes for half an hour now.”

“How’d we get talked into this, anyway?” he complains.

I look over at him with raised brows. “You volunteered.”

“Why in hell did I do that?”

“You volunteered both of us,” I add. Then I drop my voice in pitch to mimic him. “Mr. Fielding? Jessa and I can take the first shift. We don’t have anything better to do. Like homework. Or a social life, in general.”

“I’m not enough social life for you?”

I give him a look and check my phone for the time once more.

“I’m only kidding you, St. Clair.” He reaches out to playfully punch my arm. “If you had somewhere else to be, you could have told me. I’d’ve picked a different shift.”

“What if somewhere else to be was ‘anywhere but here’?” I grumble. “This chair is hard. And cold. It’s messing with my concentration.”

I look back down at my list and close my eyes tight, pulling my dream guy’s face up once more in my memory. There’s a weariness to him. Like he’s seen too much that he shouldn’t have seen, but at the same time he’s not one to wallow. I like characters like that. The ones who just keep going.

He’s got a rough edge, this guy. I can feel his desperation, see the pain on his face as my hand slips through his fingers.

I imagine his green eyes wide with horror as I fall away from him. I see him punch the bar on the ski lift. His hands fist in his hair and—

I’m about to put my pen back on the paper again and work through the scenario when Ben bumps my elbow as he’s putting his phone away, sending the pen scratching across the paper, leaving a jagged line across one of my paragraphs.


“Sorry,” he says apologetically. I start to close my journal but find Ben’s hand in the way.

“What is this, anyway?” he asks. “Talk to me. I’m bored.”

I push his hand aside, closing the journal.

“It’s nothing. Just a list.”

“Dark hair? Green eyes?” He looks at me curiously. “Anybody I know?”

“No. It’s stupid. Just something for creative writing class.”

“You can always write about me. I’ll even model for you.” He flexes his bicep.

“Impressive. But I’m afraid I’d never do justice to that physique.”

“So write about my outstanding knowledge and application of vocabulary,” he suggests.

You’d never know Ben was such a nerd. He’s over six feet, muscular but not bulky, with raven hair and deep-brown eyes. Basically he’s the epitome of “tall, dark, and handsome.” His mother is native Hawaiian, and Ben has that great allover tan that came with his islander heritage.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I promise. “You can star in my next novel—the one that will be published after I die on a cold metal chair.”

“Well, the candy is supposedly on its way, courtesy of the brother of a friend of Mr. Fielding’s.”

“That’s not helping us,” I fume. “We’ve got people staring at us with hunger in their eyes, and that’s not because I’m looking hot today. They need their chocolate.”

“Speaking of hunger … you wanna hit Mugsy’s after this?”

“Can’t today. I have to get right home. I promised Danny I’d help him make some of the decorations for the party at the library next week, and I have to get that translation project done for Spanish.”

“Did he get Volunteer of the Year again?”

“Yes, but this is the library’s birthday party. Fifty years. Which is only half as long as we’ve been sitting at this table.”

He leans back on his chair, tilting dangerously on the uneven concrete. “I’m fixing to leave and grab McDonald’s if they don’t show up soon. I was planning on eating candy for dinner, but I guess that’s a bust.”

I can’t help but smile. Ben always uses that phrase. He’s fixing to go or fixing to do stuff all the time.

“Candy isn’t dinner,” I remind him. “How about Mugsy’s tomorrow after school?”

“Can’t. I’ve got chorus rehearsal.”

“Ah yes,” I sigh. “Bringing badly needed culture and excitement to our small-town lives.”

“It’s just chorus.” He plays absently with the zipper on his hoodie, zipping it back and forth. “Now if I was a drummer…”

“Too ordinary.”

“Girls like ordinary,” he says.

Ordinary girls like ordinary,” I correct him. “You can aim higher.”

I can tell he’s pleased with my backhanded compliment.

“Okay,” he says with a grin. “I’ll test the next one by making her sit on a cold metal chair for hours. She has to be up to the challenge.”

“You’ll have a hard time replacing me,” I say. “I think I’m frozen to the seat. You’ll have to chip me out of here.”

He reaches for my hand and clasps it, pulling it up to his chest. “I’ll stay by your side through the bleak, cold winter. I’ll even sing to you. Ninety-nine candy bars on the wall, ninety-nine candy bars…,” he sings. I pull my hand away, laughing.

“Great. Now everybody’s looking at us.”

“Let ’em look,” he says. “Maybe I should grow out my hair more.” His fingers comb through it. “It’s easier short, but if I’m going to join a boy band that I’ll eventually up and leave for my solo career, I need a better look.”

“Thought you were going to go pro in soccer.”

“That was last week. Keep up.”

“No, you were a cultural anthropologist last week.”

“I’m investigating all my options,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.” He tilts back in his chair again, bracing his knees under the table as he rocks gently back and forth. The table is rocking with him, but it’s not a big deal—we’ve got nothing on it anyway.

I shift again on the hard chair, and my hand moves unconsciously to rest on my journal.

Green eyes, so clear they’re like looking at the bottom of a mountain lake, where the rocks are covered in moss. He jumps off the ski lift and pushes the hair out of his eyes and then … and then …

“You’re zoning out on me again, St. Clair,” Ben teases.

It’s gone. The perfect half-formed story in my head and it’s gone now. My fingers curl into a frustrated fist, but I make myself smile so Ben doesn’t see that he irritated me. It’s not his fault.

My mind replays the dream in my head once more, and I see him. I have vague memories of calling my dream guy by name, but that name vanished before I woke. It’s frustrating in the extreme.

“When’s the candy going to be here?” This from one of two girls in drill team uniforms, who are madly texting as they wait near the front of the table.

“It won’t be long,” Ben reassures them.

“Do they know what happened to the delivery?” asks the guy in the red shirt again.

“It was supposed to have gotten to the school earlier today, but the truck broke down,” Ben says. “It’s possible that’s just a cover and they’re driving it straight to Tijuana to sell it on the black market.”

I pinch Ben’s leg under the table and bite my lip to keep from laughing as Red Shirt Guy stomps off in a huff, and then I hastily scrawl out a sign for the remaining masses who still don’t realize that this is, in fact, just a table and not a candy table. Maybe if we tell them to come back in half an hour, the candy will finally arrive. Then Ben could deal with them instead of me, since I only agreed to do the first half of the shift.

Once the sign is taped to the end of the table, I open up my journal and stare at my list again.

Dark hair, green eyes …

I pull out my phone and aimlessly Google “Top Boy Baby Names” to see if I might recognize something, or maybe find one I can use that seems to fit the person in my head. None of them feel right, so I guess I’ll just keep calling him Green Eyes for now. He’s the face I see in every story. The name has to be perfect.

This was someone I’ve seen before, but where? That’s what dreams are, anyway, according to my creative writing teacher. She claims that your subconscious holds the memories of people you’ve met or even seen on the street or on TV, and then creates scenarios for you to live out in your dreams, featuring all of them. You never really dream of anyone unknown. So what was my subconscious trying to tell me?

Probably to get a life, I think.

Fingers tickle my neck and break me out of my thoughts. I shrug in reaction, and Ben lets out a low chuckle.

“Is it time to go already?” I ask hopefully.

“Nice try. I think this is the goods.”

Sure enough, a van rolls up and the delivery guy hops out and starts unloading.

I turn around in my chair to look at the boxes of candy being set down behind me.

“Sorry I’m so late,” Delivery Guy says. “Traffic.”

“No problem. Everyone!” Ben exclaims, getting to his feet behind the table. “Candy table’s open! Just give us a few minutes to set up!”

He rips off the sign I just made, and then he picks up my journal and hands it to me. “Let’s clear this off and you just start handing me stuff,” he suggests.

I shove the journal into my bag and get out of my chair to start opening boxes. I turn just as the delivery guy is straightening back up, and the world suddenly tilts on its axis as I see who is leaning against the wall of the store, just behind the delivery guy.

Dark hair. Green eyes.


Copyright © 2017 by L. E. DeLano