Breaker & the Sun by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
(Paper Stars #2)
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: May 8th, 2017
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
Times means nothing. It’s just the sun and moon changing places.
New from Lauren Nicolle Taylor, the best-selling author of Nora and Kettle, comes a fresh take on a classic tale.
Breaker Van Winkle is a recently returned Vietnam vet, struggling with PTSD and the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life with his mother. Sunny is a high-achieving eighteen-year-old Chinese-French immigrant who fled Vietnam during the war. Sunny is usually as cheerful as her name implies, but she has her struggles too. Haunted by violent memories of the bombing that killed her parents, and chafing under the rule of her eccentric grandmother, she finds solace deep in the Catskills, at a place she calls the Ugly Tree.
When Breaker stumbles upon Sunny and the Ugly Tree, things start to change. They are drawn to each other, and feel called to the tree. As they spend more time together and their relationship deepens, they notice that their time at the tree is becoming twisted somehow. Sunny’s mind yawns and her ambitions begin to slip away. Breaker feels safe and carefree, his memories finally burying themselves in the distant past. They are being lulled toward a tempting, peaceful sleep—but there is a cost to this magical serenity, and it may be more than either of them can bear…
I walk a trail up the mountain for a couple of hours and then head home, figuring Red’s playdate will be over.
When I hit the town, I’m surprised by how much traffic there is. A school bus rolls past, loaded with little faces, and I stop.
Nervously, I fumble for a smoke and then give up. My eyes follow the bus around the corner until it disappears.
It’s Sunday, I say to myself. It’s Sunday, I try to convince myself.
I pick up the pace, almost jogging to my neighborhood, watching the houses become more dilapidated as I go. I thunder up the stairs, tension in my chest and fear in my heart. I open the screen door to find Mom straightening the lounge. She looks up from rearranging the cushions and stares at me, hard and cold. “Where the hell have you been?” she asks. If there’s concern in her voice, it’s buried under months of disappointment.
I step over the threshold and smile awkwardly. It feels slapped on my face, fake and plastic. “You shouldn’t curse on a Sunday.”
She looks at me like I’m nuts, a look I’m very used to, and then bites her lip, her eyes darting around the room. “Are you high right now?” she whispers. Then she comes closer, shaking her finger at me. “Don’t bring that shit into my house, Breaker. I’m warning you. Seriously, after everything we went through with your dad, how could you?” She is agitated but sadly unsurprised.
“What are you talking about, Mom? You always tell me off for cursing, especially on the Lord’s day.”
She quirks an eyebrow and says, low and frightened, “Breaker, it’s Tuesday.”
I think I already knew, but hearing her say it forces a hard shudder through me. I look to her and say through my teeth, “I’m not high, Mom. I’m sorry I didn’t call, but I crashed at a friend’s place for a couple of days. I should have called.”
She shrugs, and I can feel her distancing herself from me more and more. “Yes, you should have.”
Something like excitement rushes through me. A wavy line of electricity. I feel that pull again. Back to the woods. It must be the tree, right? I stare at my feet, desperate to turn them around and walk out again. Whatever it is, I wonder if it happened to Sunny too. My fingers itch with sap and the last little shreds of bark. I wipe them on my pants.
The screen door creaks and Red crashes through the entryway, throwing his school bag on the floor and colliding into me. “Where’ve you been, Break?” he asks, worry in his tone as he wraps his arms around my middle and squeezes. I pause. I can’t run out on him. Even if Mom doesn’t care where I’ve been, he does.
“I’m sorry, bro,” I say, patting his head and pulling his arms away from me before I start to feel caged and want to fight my way out of his grasp. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Red shrugs unconvincingly. “Yeah, well, you missed my playdate. You didn’t get to meet Jake.”
Mom snorts in the kitchen. “Go put your things away and wash up, hon.”
Tuesday. Two days. Two days gone. Two days I didn’t have to think about them or the past or wherever the hell I’m heading. Two days without nightmares. A few hours with Sunny took two days I don’t need or want back.
As soon as Red exits the room, the atmosphere changes. Mom slams a cup on the bench like a summons, and I go to talk to her in the kitchen.
I pull up one of the frayed vinyl barstools and sit facing her. “I’m really sorry.”
She frowns, cranes her neck to check if Red’s still in the bathroom, and whispers tersely, “So you should be. You didn’t warn me about his friend Jacob.” She says the word friend like it’s dirty. Like it should be scrubbed raw and clean.
“It was so embarrassing. His mom came right up to the door and knocked, calling out to me in that accent. Meesus. Van Weeenkeell.” She does a horrible impersonation of the mother’s accent. “God!” She slaps a palm over her forehead and drags it down her face. “The neighbors probably saw her. They probably think I’m friends with one of them now.”
I narrow my eyes. “What do you mean by one of them?” I challenge.
She shakes her head, wisps of blonde hair floating around her face. “You know…them. Them! Yeesh, Breaker, I thought you of all people would know what I’m getting at.”
Thankfully, Red comes back in the room, so I’m saved from trying to work out and explain my very complicated feelings on them.
“Jake really wants to meet you,” he says, climbing up on the stool next to me, his pale hands barely a contrast to the white tile counter. I nod, eyeing Mom curiously. Her back stiffens as she pretends to wash dishes.
“Sure,” I say, surprising myself.
Two days, two days, two days, echoes in my mind. The pull so easy to grab a hold of. The need to go back so strong. I’d agree to anything if it meant I could get out of here quicker.
He leans his head on my shoulder and I tense, but I don’t jerk away like I normally do. “Yes!” he shouts. “So cool!” Mom squeezes the water out of the sponge in her hands until it’s bone dry.
I decide to save Red from her bullshit. “How about we meet in the park? Play some ball or something?”
Red seems so excited by this, which makes me feel instantly guilty. “Really? Really, really? That would be so great, Breaker.”
I pat his head and ease myself from the stool. My weariness is starting to return. Whatever energy I had is slowly being sapped after that encounter with Mom. I grimace.
Mom makes a small gesture. An almost grudging one. “Will you be staying for dinner?” she calls after me in a weakened voice.
Red pleads. “We’re having hot dog casserole.”
My stomach gurgles. If I’ve been gone for two days, I haven’t eaten in two days either. I feel hungry but not starving. I did my survival training. Two days without food. More importantly, without water, should have a much more significant effect on me than it has. I scratch my head, still standing in the short hall while Mom awaits an answer. “Okay. Sure. Dinner,” I grunt.
Red runs to me and gives me another squeeze, and I try not to squirm. “I’m glad you’re home.” Then he steps back and gives me a toothy, chipmunk grin. “Don’t you go disappearin’ like that again, ya hear?” He waggles his finger at me, and I laugh. Just one short little laugh, but enough to push some light into an otherwise dark and dusty cavity.
“I promise,” I say, half-intending to keep it.
Finally alone, I collapse on my generally untouched bed. My head sags into my hands. I wonder how Sunny is feeling. I can’t find out since I don’t even have her phone number.
I want to come up with a rational explanation for what just happened, but I’ve got nothing. I want to run back there, but I don’t want to upset Red again.
Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.
She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.
She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.
Clean Teen Publishing Mystery Box (Intl winner would get eBook prizes)