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Uncharted
Author:Julie Johnson

Uncharted by Julie Johnson




Chapter One





D E P A R T U R E





“Do you have your passport?”

“Yes.”

“What about your neck pillow?”

“Yes.”

“What about your sunscreen? Honey, you know how you burn…”

I sigh. “For the thousandth time, yes. I have everything. I promise.”

“What about—”

I cut off Mom’s next question by inflating my cheeks and unleashing a series of rapid whooshing noises as my arms rotate around my head in my best impression of chopper blades. The family of four unloading their station wagon a few feet away stare at me perplexed, but Mom just shakes her head, all too familiar with my antics.

“Yes, yes, I get it. I’m being an unbearable helicopter parent. No need for sound effects, Violet.”

I cease whooshing and shoot a grin at her. She doesn’t return the gesture. Instead, her face wrinkles into a familiar mask of concern — the same one she’s been wearing for the past two weeks, since I broke the news of this trip. “Honey…”

I brace myself.

“Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to back out, you know.”

“Mom!”

She holds her hands up in defense. “Okay! Okay. Just checking.”

“You’ve checked about a zillion times already.”

“Well, you could’ve changed your mind.”

“Between now and the last time you asked, approximately twenty minutes ago?”

“You’re seventeen. You change your mind every twenty seconds.”

“Way to perpetuate a flagrant, reductive stereotype about teenagers, mother.”

Her eyebrows lift in amusement. “Flagrant? Reductive? Where was this vocabulary when you torpedoed your SATs last year?”

I roll my eyes. “Now I’m definitely getting on the plane.”

“Honey…”

“Mom! Stop. It’s only three months. You’ll barely have time to miss me.”

“But then you’re straight off to college in the fall.” Mom’s bright green eyes — twins of my own — gloss over with tears, and suddenly there’s a catch in her voice. “I just thought… I guess I thought we’d have one last summer together before everything changed. I wasn’t planning to lose you so soon.”

“Careful, Mom, you lay on that guilt any thicker and I’ll suffocate.”

Her forehead crinkles. “I’m sorry. You know I’m proud of you for taking on this new opportunity. But… the house will be awfully quiet without you.”

“After all the yelling you’ve done over the years about me blaring loud music, I’d think that would be a selling point.”

She forces a laugh, but I can tell she’s barely keeping it together. In an unfortunate show of solidarity, my own throat begins to clog with emotion. I blink rapidly to keep tears at bay. Clearing my throat has little effect.

As much as I want to go, I hate the thought of leaving Mom alone. For as long as I can remember, it’s just been the two of us — a bona fide mother-daughter-best-friend duo, much like the titular Gilmores of our favorite TV show, albeit a slightly less caffeinated version. I don’t know what she’ll do without me around this summer. Frankly, I don’t think she does either. She has a few close friends, but she’s never been one for boyfriends, despite the fact that she’s a total catch. Dad died when I was seven, and she hasn’t shown a flicker of interest in another man in the decade since. All efforts to set her up — with the sexy science teacher at my old high school, with the cute waiter at our favorite diner, with the adorable golden retriever owner who visits her veterinary practice every few months — have gone to utter waste.

I already had the love of my life, honey, she’d say with a rueful smile. You’re young, but one day you’ll understand. Anything after that kind of love would be a cheap imitation. Like wine after whiskey.

It still seems ludicrous to me — the idea that your heart could beat so utterly for another person, if they walked out of your life someday it might cease to beat at all. That the right someone could make all the other someones look like weak knockoffs, in comparison.

I’ve never had anything — any guy — come close to inspiring those feelings inside my chest. I seriously doubt I ever will. That kind of love is for fairy tales and cheesy romantic comedies.

Whenever I say this, Mom just smiles in that annoying, knowing way and shakes her head.

He’ll show up when he’s meant to, honey. Don’t rush it.

I usually laugh off her words, but I can’t help wondering… Do I even want a love like that? The kind that burns so bright, you spend the rest of your life blinking away sun spots, half-blind from the experience?

That doesn’t sound particularly appealing, if you ask me. Mom may be resigned to a life of single-motherhood and celibacy, but I’m not. Not yet, anyway.

Maybe that’s why it was so easy to say yes to this trip. It’s my one chance at a detour outside the path that’s been set for me since day one. The Life of Violet Anderson: pre-written and choreographed like the script of some cliché teen movie I can’t escape. Ballet lessons and soccer practices and student council meetings and prom queen tiaras. A high school sweetheart named Clint, who just so happens to be both homecoming king and the quarterback of the football team. And me at his side, just another pom-pom waving brunette with above-average looks and below-average test scores. Destined not for greatness, not for adventure, not for anything at all, really, except the sort of mind-numbing mediocrity only those unplagued by imagination embrace with wholehearted enthusiasm.

Even at seventeen, I know that won’t be enough for me. To never taste adventure on my tongue… never color outside the lines of a socially-acceptable suburban life… never amount to anything except the status quo everyone else in my tiny hometown always seems so content to charge toward with blinders on, like racehorses on a track.

If I stay, I’ll never acknowledge the dull ache inside my chest that screams out in the small hours of the night that there must be something more, something different, something that will make my stomach fly up into my throat and my fingertips lose circulation because they’re squeezed so tight into fists of anticipation.

So, I’m leaning into the winds of change. I’m walking away from that life, and I’m not looking back at the things I’m leaving behind.

A tiny town, with sun-dappled streets.

A farmhouse full of memories.

A promise ring from Clint on my bedside table.

And, most of all, Mom’s face, etched with incalculable worry on the curb of the Departures drop-off zone.

Reaching out, I grab her hand and squeeze. I strive for a light tone, knowing if I let a single tear trickle out, I’ll set off a show of waterworks to rival Niagara Falls.

“You’re not losing me, Mom. It’s a nannying job in the South Pacific, not a colonization mission to Mars.”

“I’d feel safer with you on Mars. Astronauts are very honorable. We barely know anything about this family you’ll be working for. They could be drug lords for all we know.”

I snort. “Dramatic, much?”