Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Excerpt: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Book Summary
Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...

About the Book

Book Excerpt
I open the door and jump out of the plane as soon as we land on the narrow strip. The concrete shocks my knees and I stretch in the freezing cold air. I expect to find Mr. Henderson’s 4x4 waiting for me, or Sheriff Flynn, maybe. Instead, a lone figure stands against the rising sun. With the light at her back, I can only see her silhouette—-a tall, gangly figure whose long hair dances in the wind. She raises a hesitant hand.
My heart skips a beat. Kyra. Without thinking, I start toward her, her name on the tip of my tongue.
Then the light clears. Her nose is smaller. Her hair lighter.
And the shout of recognition dies in my throat.
Piper Morden.
Not Kyra.
I forgot. Now I ache to forget again.
Behind me, the pilot disembarks. He grabs my backpack and hands it to me. “Your return flight is booked. Be here on time. See you in five days.”
So little time, but it has to be enough. “I’ll make sure of it. Thank you.”
The man hesitates, then says, “Be careful in Lost Creek. Not everything is as it seems here.”

Read the rest of the excerpt after the page break:

Before I can reply with a simple, I know. We’ve always gone our own way, he turns on his heels with military precision and stalks back to the plane. I head toward Piper, who smirks. Plenty of people don’t understand our closed community, our way of living. We’re all used to odd comments like these.
Piper wraps her arms around me. She’s never done so before, but I cling to her. She’s strong and familiar. She smells of winter and home. “Hey, big city girl.”
“How was your flight?”
“It was good. Quiet. Early.” Strange.
“I can only imagine.” Her smile fades. “Mr. H has a business meeting, so he asked me to pick you up. We’re glad you’re here. Kyra would’ve liked that.”
That’s new. These last few years, Piper never considered Kyra’s feelings, and now that she’s dead doesn’t seem like the right time to start.
I sling my backpack over my shoulders, wondering how to phrase this question without sounding accusatory. “What can I expect here, Piper? I know Kyra wasn’t exactly…loved.”
Piper stiffens, as if I’d slapped her. Then she flicks a wayward lock of hair out of her face. “Do you think us so cold that we wouldn’t mourn her?”
“No, but—-”
“Things changed after you left.”
“Nothing ever changes in Lost Creek,” I say, out of habit. The only way to mark the passage of time here is by the aging of the children. They grow older, as they’re meant to, every birthday the start of a new year. The adults somehow appear to stop aging, and the elderly stop counting the years altogether.
Piper’s mouth quirks up, twisting her face into a harsh grimace. “Never mind. You’ll come to understand.”
“Understand what?” I ask, but Piper has already turned away from me.
“We take care of our own here. You ought to know that.”
I trek after her and regret not changing into my bunny boots. My sneakers are fit for traveling, but not for withstanding miles of snow. The cold bites.
At least I’ve arrived with the sun. When Piper and I turn away from the airstrip, toward Lost, bright light peeks out over the horizon. Anticipation takes over and the churning in my stomach settles. I breathe. This is home. The zingy smell of ice in the air. The snow, layered over the permafrost, that crunches beneath our feet.
Amid the gentle hills and pine--tree forests lies the town of Lost Creek. Our small, private universe. From our vantage point, it looks tiny, like a collection of dollhouses rather than a place where people live.
But it is home.
Welcome home.
Piper leads me, as if I didn’t know my way around. We walk along the single road toward Main Street, one of a grand total of five streets in Lost Creek. It’s also the town’s busiest street.
On any given day of the week, Main would be crowded. Even in the middle of winter, this is the day when gossip gets shared and the grocery store and the physician’s pharmacy are stocked, when fishermen return from their camps along the creek with their catch.
But today is different.
The grocery store is closed. The street is abandoned. Well--cared--for houses are the only assurance that people actually live here. Fresh paint makes the town look newer than I’ve ever seen it. When I left, the houses were weather--worn and lived--through, perennially smudged with sleet and mud. Today, they are pristine. A dash of color sidles up the wall of the old post office, though from this angle, I can’t make out the design. It’s as if, with Kyra gone, Lost had painted over all its cracks and creases.
“What happened here?” I ask.
“Hope,” Piper says, quietly. She reverently touches a ribbon that’s tied around a gate. “And remembrance.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What does that mean?”
Piper doesn’t answer, but now I notice that the ribbons are everywhere, tied around every flagpole and every door handle. Bows in magenta and black—-Kyra’s favorite color and the color of mourning. It’s like Lost is demonstrating its sorrow. But we’ve never made our grief public, beyond funeral gatherings. When Kyra’s grandfather passed away, the town honored him with a somber service. And he was liked by everyone.
It must be a coincidence.
“Look, I’m sorry if you thought I was being harsh before,” I try. “I just want to understand what happened to Kyra.”
Piper shakes her head. Her gaze searches Main. I have no idea what she’s looking for, but I glance surreptitiously over my own shoulder. We’re as alone as we were the moment we stepped into town. The street is empty, but the sunlight isn’t as bright here. The shadows are longer and darker.
“You’ll find out,” Piper says. “Someday, you’ll understand.”
The wind picks up, weaving around the houses and whispering.
The words float in the same tune as the girl’s at the airport, soft and out of reach. I swirl around, but no one’s there.
I pull at the straps of my backpack to cinch it closer and fall into step with Piper, who keeps a firm pace. She doesn’t seem to mind the wind. Or maybe she doesn’t hear it.
At the turn that leads to my old house, I pause. Piper grabs my hand and pulls me in the other direction.
“I promised Mrs. Henderson I would take you to her as soon as you arrived, but once you’ve settled in, you should walk over.” Her voice is neutral.
We follow a side street until we reach a large, nineteenth--century townhouse on the edge of the creek. It’s the biggest plot of land in Lost, barring the spa outside the town’s borders. When settlers arrived in Lost Creek, Mr. Henderson’s great--grandfather was the first to find gold here—-and his grandfather, the last. Over the years, the Henderson family had built a legacy of industry and investment. And although Mr. Henderson hasn’t been able to reopen our mine, it’s only right that their house reflects their status.
But while the house may appear imposing to outsiders, to Kyra and me, it was home. And now it’s in mourning. I drop my backpack and gape.
The gate and flagpole are covered with black ribbons. On either side of the driveway, small flowers lie strewn across the snow. Bright pink salmonberry flowers. They’re the same flowers the girl at the airport held. They’re the same flowers Kyra used to scatter around town.
I squint. No, not blossoms, but flowers made of magenta ribbons, like the ones that hang on Main Street. They remind me of Kyra’s paintings from her manic periods—-not quite real enough, but still too close for comfort.
Maybe, just maybe, life is still a little unpredictable here.
“He was right, you know.” Piper’s words are so soft, they don’t immediately register.
“Who?” I ask.
“The pilot. Not everything is as it seems. I’ll see you at the service, if I don’t see you before then. Come find me if you have questions.” She starts back toward Main.
She pauses and turns. “Yes?”
My stomach roils. Wait. Don’t leave me. I can’t face Kyra’s absence yet. Let me cling for one more moment to the world I used to know.
I hesitate. “Tell Tobias that Luke said hi?”
At this, Piper smiles again, but I know it’s not for me. “Of course.”
Although Piper and I were friendly, we were never as close as our brothers. When Mom spent long days in Fairbanks and the surrounding towns seeing patients, I would often stay with Kyra, and Luke with Tobias. Luke had been furious when he found out that I’d made plans to come back to Lost to see Kyra without him. To see Kyra.

She knew I was coming. How could she not wait for me?

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