Wednesday Sampler: April, Maybe June by Shalanna Collins
July 22, 2015
Caleb Pirtle III
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from April, Maybe June by Shalanna Collins. If you’re looking for a great young adult fantasy, this is the novel you don’t want to miss. As one reviewer said: This story is about two homeschooled sisters in their teens that get into a bit trouble when their cousin starts dabbling into the occult. The story is told in the first person by April and I just love her banter! She is such a snarky teen I can’t help but not love this girl!!
April, Maybe June was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Maybe magic. Maybe trouble. Homeschooled siblings April and June Bliss are inadvertently sucked into their older cousin Arlene’s troubled life when that street-savvy 17-year-old disappears and then sends for their help via an inscrutable grimoire and a mesmerizing silver ring.
Although new to the realm of magic, the sisters concoct an assortment of spells (not altogether successfully) as they attempt to find and rescue wannabe sorceress Arlene. Throughout their journey, smart April and brash June explore family values, encroaching maturity (April’s been spying on dishy Justin Fink with a treehouse telescope) and their own stubborn differences.
But when life in an adult world takes a turn toward the supernaturally spooky, the two must quickly pull together in order to survive. What is an appropriate sacrifice for family, and what is too much to give for a worthy cause? The girls soon find out what truly matters in life.
My sister June and I are lounging in the treehouse when I spy the black-and-white police car.
“June, look.” She ignores me as I point, my finger following the copmobile as it prowls the gentle curve down Buttonwood Lane. She is busy checking out dishy Justin Fink, ninth grade sex god, as he suns himself next door beside his family’s pool like a spoiled cat. “Is it slowing down?”
June finally swivels the telescope and points it out front. It’s not a pro model, more of a toy for close-up viewing of (for example) the freckles around Justin’s belly button. Even without it, from up here we can see all the way from our hilltop to the “Welcome to Renner, Texas–home of the Mighty Ocelots” billboard at the entrance to our ritzy subdivision. The crow’s-nest view from the century oak in the far back corner of our wooded slope is the main reason we still use this backyard kiddie perch, although I just turned thirteen and June is a large fourteen-and-a-half.
“Two officers, looks like.” She twists the focus ring. “Stopping right in front of our house.”
“Oh, my God.” I fall back against the tree trunk, shaking the ancient branches ever so slightly.
June punches my upper arm, where she keeps a perma-bruise going for easy control. “Get a grip, Cruelest.” My name is April, but she thinks it’s funny to call me that, out of some famous poem or another that Gary (our parents, Gary and Lynwood, are progressive and believe that first-name basis relationships within the family provide for a level playing field and improved self-esteem) loves to quote. “They’re probably going to the neighbors across the street.” She closes her eyes as if indulging a hopeless idiot yet again.
“June. LOOK.” I shake her by the shoulders.
Finally my sister opens her eyes. She won’t yield the eyepiece, but peers through the scope again. “They’re getting out. Heading up the front walk. About to ring our bell.” Despite the gravity of the situation, she snickers at the sexual allusion.
My heart skips a beat. “What could they want? Has Lynwood got that many unpaid tickets? No, it’s Gary. Could he get arrested like Uncle Ray?”
“Shut up, Cruelest. You’re hysterical.” But she looks a bit perturbed.
“It’s something bad.” Surely it isn’t about the many MP3s and torrents that June downloads daily from pirate sites. “Didn’t he pay enough taxes?” My heart feels squeezed.
“That would be the IRS, and besides, you’re obsessed because Ray ’forgot’ to pay any for ten years.” According to Lynwood, our cousin Arlene became a Fallen Woman because of her father’s ruin. “Gary has Lynwood sign the forms every year. I always hear her whining about how confusing they are to read, but he insists she mustn’t sign anything she hasn’t read. So he’s filing.” Her forehead wrinkles, which is a sure sign that she’s taking this seriously. “Now be quiet so I can think.”
“Ever since he started working from home, I’ve been worried.” I stick my index finger in my mouth and gnaw the cuticle. It’s a habit I’m trying to break.
“Please.” My sister reaches for my perma-bruise, but I scoot out of reach. “He’s an independent contractor and he knows what he’s doing. He wouldn’t risk it all for some stupid deal. More like maybe there’s been an accident, or somebody died.”
This does not calm me.
Her eyes look worried, for once. “We’re going in.”
# # #
Our house is a forties mansion that Lynwood extensively remodeled with Gary’s long-suffering help, with a yard that’s three-quarters of an acre, like the others around it. It’s a traditional Texas ranch, but two wings were added on at angles over the years, so the room layout is fairly offbeat. That’s why, for instance, the master bedroom sticks out into the back yard and is the closest entry point from the treehouse.
We sneak inside through Lynwood’s antique French doors and sidle up the bedroom hallway to the coat closet, where we can hear what’s going on in the front room. It’s freaky: June is a ninja who can do the stealth trick—she can creep up behind you like a wraith and startle your teeth out, which I don’t understand because she’s downright chunky where I’m slender—whereas I always knock something over and a klieg spot clicks on overhead.
So of course my shin bangs against the doorframe as I dodge to try to see around June. Twisting away, I trip and fall sprawling into the room in full view, my voice yelping without my permission, and I am caught.
The police turn their heads. There’s an African-American woman who’s what I would call statuesque and a short, balding white man who looks mean. They don’t jump up off the loveseat to assume battle positions pointing guns or anything, but I can tell my “discovery” has put them on a higher level of alert.
But Gary only says, “We’re busy, April. Go study.”
“Just a moment,” says the female cop. “Is this your daughter, ma’am?”
Don’t you hate it when people look straight at you and then talk about you to someone else as if you’re some kind of pet? Scrambling to my feet, I brush myself off to show I’m unhurt. I paste on the uncertain-kid grin and blink a few times for effect.
“Yes, my daughter, April Bliss,” Lynwood says with a weak smile. She flutters her fingers. “Go on, now, hon.”
The male cop looks at me squinty-eyed. I know why: it’s because I don’t look like I could belong to her. Lynwood is so gorgeous, like some movie star. He finally asks Lynwood, “Other children in the house?”
“My older sister, June.” Why shouldn’t I be allowed to talk? I’m as good as anybody here.
The female officer looks as if she might laugh, but bites it back. Good. People can make fun of our names being months and all, but it beats “Frances Marion,” which is what Lynwood’s was until she changed it. Lynwood Bliss. Sounds like a fairy princess.
“She idolizes her big sister,” says Lynwood in the moony voice of a simp. “I’m so glad my girls get along.”
I definitely do not idolize June. What I do is try to keep an eye on her and watch out for her. Because really, she’s very vulnerable.
“Why aren’t you in school?” the male officer asks me. Nobody asks this about Justin Fink lazing away the afternoon by the pool—he’s on work-study and gets out at noon. Of course I look ten years old, skinny and short with a baby face, so they ask.
“We’re homeschooled,” I reply, bracing for the knowing nods. At least Lynwood’s not like one of those stage mothers who always tell people how precocious their Special Snowflakes are and what an advanced vocabulary they have. Even though I am and I do—but no one knows, as I usually don’t get more than a few words in edgewise for some reason.
“All right,” is all the woman officer says. Lynwood makes the sign for “go away” in American Sign Language (which looks like she’s yanking her right eyebrow off with her right hand). She started teaching us last year so we’d all have a Secret Communication Skill in quiet places like museums and such, but June firmly pretended not to understand a finger-crook of it until Lynwood lost interest. Gary winks and waves me upstairs.
I guess I’m dismissed.
I skulk up to my room, acting properly chastened for wanting to know what’s going on in my own family.
June has secreted herself somewhere and is probably still eavesdropping. I expect to find her listening from the top of the stairs, but no. She’s not in the hall and not in her room. Like I said, a ninja. She never gets caught.
In a few minutes she plops down on my bottom bunk and punches the intercom’s LISTEN button. (Gary and Lynwood never remember that it’s been fixed and is working again. Maybe June fixed it herself without telling them.)
Voices boom through the silver speaker, tinny but understandable.
“I’m sure it’s simply a family misunderstanding.” Lynwood sounds squeaky. “Arlene’s probably with one of her friends, staying at somebody’s house, trying to scare her parents.”
“Doesn’t look that simple, Mrs. Bliss,” says the male officer.
“Arlene knows better than to take drugs, let alone sell them to children,” Lynwood says insistently.
Gary’s voice holds that dangerous note as he orders her, “Just answer the detective’s questions, dear.”
“We’ve checked this out pretty thoroughly, ma’am, and it looks serious. If you hear from Arlene Bruce, will you call this number?”
“We’ll be sure to let you know if we come across any information.” Gary sounds distant, as if he’s already mentally escorting them out. “But I’m sure this will all work itself out. Things like this usually do.”
June’s evaluation: “Bullshit. Something’s going on.”