Seven months ago, on a rainy March night, sixteen year- old Willow?s parents died in a horrible car accident. Willow was driving. Now her older brother barely speaks to her, her new classmates know her as the killer orphan girl, and Willow is blocking the pain by secretly cutting herself. But when one boy ?one sensitive, soulful boy?discovers Willow?s secret, it sparks an intense relationship that turns the ?safe? world Willow has created for herself upside down.
Told in an extraordinary fresh voice, Willow is an unforgettable novel about one girl?s struggle to cope with tragedy, and one boy?s refusal to give up on her.
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Julia Hoban is a woman of many talents: She writes, designs her own clothes and handbags, and attended graduate school for physics and philosophy. She lives with her husband in New York City, and is working on her next novel (and outfi t).Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE ONLY WAY TO COPE
If she let herself, she’d drown in a world of pain. But she can’t let that happen, she simply wouldn’t be able to handle it, not that kind of pain. Thankfully she knows how to prevent such a thing.
Willow reaches into the pocket of her robe, feeling for what she knows is there.
She never takes her eyes off of them as she slices into her flesh. The blade bites so deeply that she almost swoons, but still, she never stops looking at David and Cathy.
Her blood spouts as voluptuously as David’s tears. It drips unchecked, down her arm and onto the floor as Willow watches Cathy dry David’s eyes with her long, long hair.
Willow knows that she should leave. At any moment they could look up. But she can’t leave, she can’t move. She can only slice deeper and deeper.
The razor doesn’t hurt her. Not really.
Not like some things could, anyway. Willow savagely swipes at her wrist.
Not like some things could.
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Maybe it’s just a scratch.
Willow Randall stares at the girl seated opposite her. Some might notice the girl because she is pretty. Others because of her flaming red hair. If the guys in the class were looking, they would see that the outline of her bra is clearly visible beneath her shirt. But Willow’s eyes are riveted by something else: an angry red welt, about three inches long, that runs from the girl’s elbow to her wrist. If Willow squints hard enough, she can just about make out a few flecks of dried blood.
How did she get it? She doesn’t look the type.
Maybe she has a cat. A whole bunch of kittens.
Yeah, that’s it. Playing with her kitty. That’s probably how it happened.
Willow slumps down in her seat. But her scrutiny hasn’t gone unnoticed and the girl turns to one of her friends and starts whispering.
Sshshhsh . . .
What are they saying?
Willow looks at the other girls uncertainly. She has a bad feeling that they’re talking about her, and she’s pretty sure that she knows what they’re saying, too.
She’s the one without parents.
No. She’s the one who killed her parents.
Their whispers remind her of the rustling of dried leaves. Willow has always hated the sound. She fights the urge to clap her hands over her ears, reluctant to call any more attention to herself. But she can’t stop the river of noise that flows out of their mouths. Shhhhsshhhsh . . .
The sound engulfs her. Threatens to overwhelm her.
Only one thing can make it go away.
Willow stands up abruptly, but her shoelace gets tangled with the chair leg and she pitches forward. Her books fall to the floor with a crash. She grabs the desk with both hands, barely managing to stay upright.
Dead silence. Everyone is staring at her.
She can feel her face burning and glares at the two girls who were whispering.
“Willow?” Ms. Benson sounds alarmed. She’s clearly concerned, and not just pretending. She’s a good teacher.
She’s nice to the fat kids, the pimply kids, so why not the orphan kids? Why not the killer kids?
“I just . . .” Willow straightens up slowly. “Just—the bathroom.” Her blush deepens painfully. She’s ashamed of her clumsiness. Ashamed at the way she looked at those girls . . . And couldn’t she have come up with a different excuse?
Ms. Benson nods, but she looks doubtful, as if she might suspect.
Willow couldn’t care less at this point. All she’s thinking about is making a quick getaway and leaving those smirking faces behind. She picks up her books, grabs her bag, and as soon as she’s out the door she starts running down the hall. Wait. No running in the halls. She slows down to a walk. That’s the last thing she needs, to get busted for something as stupid as running in the halls.
The bathroom smells like smoke. There’s no one around. Good. The door to one of the stalls swings free. Willow kicks it shut behind her and lowers the toilet seat before sitting down.
She rummages through her bag. Getting frantic because she can’t find what she so desperately needs. Did she forget to get more supplies? Finally, just when she’s given up hope, when she’s about to start howling like a dog, her hand closes on smooth metal. Her fingers test the sharpness of the edge. Perfect. It’s a fresh blade.
The girls’ voices rustle in her head. Their clamoring pushes out all rational thought. She rolls up her sleeve.
The bite of the blade kills the noise. It wipes out the memory of those staring faces. Willow looks at her arm, at the life springing from her. Tiny pinpricks of red that blossom into giant peonies.
Peonies like the ones my mother used to plant.
Willow shuts her eyes, drinking in the quiet. Her breath deepens with each dip of the razor. Silence reigns, not like when she tripped, but perfect and pure.
You couldn’t really say that something that hurts so badly feels good exactly. It’s more that it just feels right. And something that feels so right just couldn’t be bad. It has to be good.
It is good. Better than good.
Better than anything with any guy ever.
Better than mother’s milk.
“No, that’s out till the twenty-sixth,” Miss Hamilton says with a brisk professional smile. Willow stands next to her behind the circulation desk, stifling a yawn. She’s tired. Thank God her shift at the library is almost over. She steals a glance at her watch. Well, not quite over; another forty-five minutes.
Willow knows she should be grateful for the job. After all, her brother had to pull enough strings to get it for her. Three afternoons a week she helps out in the university library. It brings in some cash. Not enough, but still, more than she would have made back home working in the local Häagen-Dazs scooping ice cream.
Of course, back home any money she made would have gone straight into her own pocket. Things are a little different now. Now she works to help her brother out with expenses. Now she has to worry about things like the electric bill. But that’s not really so bad, at least not compared to the rest of her life.
“I think we can get that for you on interlibrary loan,” Miss Hamilton continues. “Willow, will you set that up?”
Miss Hamilton looks at her sharply, ready to pounce if she makes a mistake. She’s not a bad soul, not really. She’s nice enough to everyone else, she just doesn’t like Willow invading her library. Most of the other people who work there are graduate students, and those who aren’t have chosen the library as their career. Suffice it to say, Willow is the only high school student there.
It’s just like everything else these days. She simply does not belong.
Willow takes the card that the guy’s filled out in his shaky, spidery handwriting. He’s looking for some obscure work on twelfth-century philosophers. She glances up at him. An older man. Way older. Probably in his seventies. It’s always interesting to see the different types that wander in.
“That should get here in a couple days,” she says as she keys the call number into the computer. “You wrote your phone number down?” She looks at the card again. “Perfect, we’ll let you know when it comes in.”
“Wonderful,” he says with real enthusiasm. Willow notices what a friendly smile he has. She bets that he’s a retired professor who still likes to read. His eyes positively gleam at the prospect of getting his hands on the book. Her father would have been like that in another twenty years or so. Just the thought of some monograph about a little-known tribe in New Guinea would have been enough to make him drool.
Would have been.
She’s blindsided by a wave of despair, it’s hard to even stand. She grips the edge of the circulation desk so hard that her knuckles turn white. She simply cannot afford to lose it in here. Is there any way, any way at all, that she can excuse herself, go and do what she has to, without Miss Hamilton getting angry at her?
Willow can see her bag with all her supplies underneath one of the chairs. Just the sight of it calms her a little. She moves her hands away from the desk and rubs her arms, relishing the way the cotton irritates her fresh wounds. That will have to do for now.
“Willow!” Miss Hamilton’s voice is sharp; clearly this isn’t the first time that she’s said her name.
“I’m sorry!” Willow is so startled that she practically jumps. She forces herself to look away from her bag and focus on Miss Hamilton’s scowling face.
“I need you to go up to the stacks.”
“Okay.” She nods, even though she hates the stacks. They’re filthy, positively caked in dust. They’re scary too. Willow’s heard rumors about ghosts. Not that she believes in ghosts, but still. . . .
“This young man forgot his ID, you need to go up with him.”
Willow switches her attention to the guy leaning against the circulation desk behind Miss Hamilton. Now, this guy isn’t any seventy years old. He’s probably only a few years older than she is, if that. He flips the hair out of his eyes and flashes her a lazy smile.
Willow knows that she should smile back, but it’s no good, she’s lost the knack.
“I’ll take him up in a second.” She turns back to Miss Hamilton. “I just have to finish . . . ” Willow makes a vague gesture toward the computer.
Miss Hamilton nods and turns away, but the guy doesn’t. He keeps on looking. She can feel his eyes following her as she finishes taking care of the interlibrary loan.
Willow is sure that she’s just being paranoid, but his scrutiny is terrifying. It reminds her of the girls back at school. She doesn’t like the thought of going up to the stacks with him at all. Just to delay things, she takes more time than is strictly necessary to fill in all the information fields.
“So how about it?” he says after a minute or two. He’s starting to get impatient. His fingers drum along the counter and his voice has a distinct edge. He doesn’t seem so interested in her anymore.
Willow sighs in relief. This she can handle.
“Yeah, okay. Just a second.” Her voice matches his.
“Why don’t you let me do this for you?” Carlos says, taking the twelfth-century man’s card from her. Carlos is one of the graduate students, he’s almost as old as her brother. Willow likes him—well, as much as she can like anyone these days. He’s nice to her, he’s covered for her more than once.
“Thanks,” she says under her breath. She wishes he would let her finish at the computer and take this guy up to the stacks instead.
“Well, c’mon then.” Willow marches ahead of him toward the elevator.
“Do you know where this is?” she asks, looking at the card he’s filled out. “Never mind, I got it.” She steps into the elevator and punches the button for the eleventh-floor stacks. The doors close and they’re alone. Willow stares straight ahead at the illuminated numbers.
“I’m Guy,” he says after a moment. “What’s your name?”
“Willow . . .” He trails off, obviously expecting her to respond. “Willow?” he prompts, after a second. “What’s your last name?”
Willow can’t think of any way, short of being downright rude, to avoid answering him. “Randall,” she says.
“Are you related to David Randall?” He eyes her curiously. “I thought you looked kinda familiar. I took anthropology with him last year. He’s great.”
“He’s my brother,” Willow answers in a tone meant to discourage further conversation. His chatter is starting to make her nervous.
“You’re not a student here, are you?” He frowns. “You look a little young. How did you get this job?”
Willow doesn’t respond right away. The questions he’s asking are making her a little uncomfortable. She starts counting the floors under her breath. She can’t wait for the ride to be over.
“They usually only hire students,” he continues. “Otherwise I’d try and get a job. I’d love to work in the library.” His expression is pleasant and his voice is good-natured. If he notices that she’s being slightly standoffish, it doesn’t seem to bother him.
“If you’re not a student, what are you doing here?” Willow is confused.
“My high school has this program where you can take college courses for credit,” he says. “So what about you, how did you get the job?”
“I’m living with my brother right now,” Willow says after a moment. “He worked it out.” The elevator stops and they get off.
The stacks are dark; the lights are on a timer, which Willow quickly presses. She blinks rapidly as her eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Their gazes catch and for a moment she feels herself respond the way any normal girl would if she were standing next to a cute guy. She’s a little flustered, a little embarrassed, and a little attracted too.
Willow steps away from him, as far as she possibly can. She can’t deal with anything like this right now.
“Hey, watch it.” Guy reaches out with his hand to steady her as she bangs against the metal stacks.
Willow jerks her arm away, stunned by how much his touch affects her. In a way his hand is as searing as the razor . . . only the effect is something quite different. The razor numbs her, makes her forget, but this . . . well . . . She shivers and rubs her arms convulsively.
“You cold?” He raises an eyebrow.
“I’m fine, thanks. I . . . C’mon, let’s get your book, okay?” Willow checks the call number again, then turns and heads over to the shelves.
She finds the volume easily and is about to hand it to him, when she glances at the title and stops, transfixed.
“Everything okay?” Guy frowns as he watches her.
“Oh, sure, I just . . .” Willow trails off. She can’t stop staring at the book. Well, she shouldn’t be so surprised. He did say something about anthropology, and it is a classic.
“Do you know this book? I mean, have you read Tristes Tropiques before?” he asks as he takes it from her hands.
“Yes, a couple of times, actually,” Willow says after a few seconds. She closes her eyes for a moment and pictures her parents’ study with its wall of books. Tristes Tropiques, third shelf, second in from the left.
“I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it!” Guy looks impressed. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” he says as he flips through the pages. “I guess your brother must have told you about it, right? If it wasn’t for this book I wouldn’t have even taken his class.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, last year, right before I started classes here, I was wandering around downtown, trying to decide what I should take. I figured I’d end up doing something like chemistry or math, since those would look pretty good on my transcript and maybe help me get into a fancy school or something. Anyway, it started to rain and I ducked into this used bookstore. This literally fell off the shelf while I was looking for something else. I opened it up and four hours later I was still there reading. That’s when I decided that I had to take anthropology.”
“Really?” In spite of herself, Willow can’t help being interested. She too has never met anyone else—anyone her own age, that is—who’s read the book, let alone been so captivated by it.
“Really.” Guy nods. “It’s like an adventure story, isn’t it?”
“That’s it exactly!” Willow’s face ...
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