Read While You Were Gone Online

Authors: Amy K. Nichols

While You Were Gone

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Also by Amy K. Nichols

now that you're here

DUPLEXITY, PART I

FOR Z. AND C.

do one thing every day that scares you

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2015 by Amy K. Nichols

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nichols, Amy.

While you were gone / Amy K. Nichols. — First edition.

pages cm. — (Duplexity ; part 2)

Summary: Eevee, an aspiring artist and daughter of Arizona's governor, and Danny, a reformed troublemaker who lives in foster care in his own world, join forces to correct a breach between parallel universes.

ISBN 978-0-385-75392-0 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-385-75393-7 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-385-75394-4 (ebook)

[1. Space and time—Fiction. 2. Identity—Fiction. 3. Artists—Fiction. 4. Science fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.N527Whi 2015

[Fic]—dc23

2014042558

eBook ISBN 9780385753944

Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v4.1

ep

Contents

I used to think the two scariest words in the English language were
the
and
end.
As in, finished. Over. Dead and gone.

I was wrong.

The two scariest words are
what
and
if.
As in, what if I'm not good enough? What if the answer is no? What if they're watching? What if I get caught? What if everyone finds out? What if no one cares?

What if this is all there is?

What. If.

The slamming door sends a thousand sound-shards through my brain. I steady myself against the garbage can. Stupid hangover. When the ringing stops, I flip my hair out of my eyes and scuff across the yard, shoes kicking up dust and bits of dead grass. My hair falls back in my face, but I leave it. Sun's too bright. Every step feels like metal scraping up the bones of my neck.

Behind me, the engine of Brent's work truck growls to life. He revs a couple times before backing out of the driveway, but I just keep walking, eyes forward, putting one foot in front of the other. Every day, we play this game. Who flinches first? When the engine's so loud my head's gonna explode, I turn around to face him.

A roar of sound rushes at me. He lays on the horn. Tires take over the sidewalk.

Come on. Hit me. Mow me down.

But the truck swerves, bounces as it lumbers back into the street. The loose muffler swings, belching blue exhaust. Brent flips me off, guns the engine and speeds away. I watch until he's out of sight, then listen until the engine is gone, too.

One day he'll do it. But not today.

At the end of the street, I turn the corner and the sun hits me full in the face. I grope through my jacket pockets, but my sunglasses must be back at the house. No way I'm going there again until I have to. I take cover under a tree, pull out a pack of smokes instead and light one up. My head rushes with the first drag. I lean against the block wall and wait for the pain to go away.

A car drives by. A dog barks. I keep my eyes closed. Breathe. Wonder what would happen if I just disappeared.

It would get me out of school, for starters.

Suzy's words whisper into my thoughts.
If you ditch again, they'll suspend you. And don't think for a second he won't find out.

Last time attendance called, Brent pinned me down and pressed that damn cigar into my arm. The others ran to their rooms. They knew better than to hang around. Later, Benny wouldn't come near me. Said I scared him. That I sounded like an angry dog. It took two days for him to talk to me again, even though I told him over and over I wasn't mad. Not at him, at least.

It's bad enough us older fosters have to live in that place, but a little guy like Ben? That's just not right. None of this is.

I suck down the last of the cigarette and flick the stub into the gravel. Better get a move on or I'll have to face Brent again, and his cigar.

Class has already started by the time I get to school. Ms. Fischbach glares when I open the door, and everyone watches me walk to the only empty desk. Everyone except the dark-haired girl who sits next to me. My shoes squeak on the linoleum, so I make the trek long and drawn out.
Squeak. Squeak
. When I flop into my chair, the girl looks over, then back down at her notebook. She's always drawing stuff.

“Turn to page 774 in your anthology.” Ms. Fischbach's mouth is wide like a frog's, and her voice makes my ears bleed. If I put my head on the desk and fold my arms around, I can almost block out the noise. There's still the shuffle of backpacks and the thud of books landing on desks. That kid with the stutter starts reading. He's like a car engine that won't turn. I squeeze my arms tighter around. My breath sounds like ocean waves. I feel myself fading….

Out of nowhere, cold grips my chest, freezing me from the inside, and a freight train roars through my ears. I can't breathe. Stars swirl in my eyes. I try to lift my head, but I'm pinned. The floor shifts and is gone. With it the desk, the chair, the room. I claw and kick at the force pulling me down, but there's nothing to fight against.

So I let go. Let my body fall. Give myself up to the dark.

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