Meredith has the summer all planned. She’ll hang out with her friends, ride her horse, and spend time with her mom, who is recovering from cancer. Then her mom drops a bomb: she’s sending Meredith to Egypt to dig up mummies with her aunt the archaeologist. Meredith doesn’t want to go. At all. But there are more forces at work than a sixteenth-birthday present she doesn’t want and a summer she didn’t plan—and a greater adventure than she could ever have imagined.
Meru lives in a far-future Earth, where disease has been eliminated and humans travel through the stars in living ships. Meru and her friend Yoshi have been accepted into the school for starpilots, but just as they’re about to leave, a strange message from Meru’s mother drives Meru away from her home and family and sends her on a journey to find her mother and save the people of Earth from a terrible plague.
Meritre is a singer in the Temple of Amon in ancient Egypt. Her people have survived a devastating plague, but Meritre is foresighted, and what she sees is terrifying. As she tries to find a magical spell that will keep her family and friends safe, the gods take one last life—and that life, and death, resonate through Meredith and Meru to the end of time.
Book View Cafe is pleased to present a free sample chapter of Living in Threes, by Judith Tarr
That was the absolute best and the absolute worst summer of my life, the summer I turned sixteen.
Sixteen is a weird year. Make it sixteen with your dad off finding himself again—not that he’d been around much even before the divorce—and your mom in remission from ovarian cancer, and you can pretty much figure you’re being dumped on from somewhere.
What I didn’t figure, and couldn’t ever have figured, was how bad it was going to get—and how completely impossible both the bad and the good part would be.
Magic. It’s dead, they say. Or never existed.
They aren’t looking in the places I fell into, or finding it where I found it, that wonderful and terrible summer.
I had plans with the usual suspects: Cat and Rick and Kristen. They had their licenses already, got them before school let out. I was thisclose to mine, with the September birthday and being the class baby.
It was going to be our summer on wheels, when it wasn’t on horseback or out on the beaches. We had it all mapped out.
Then Mom dropped the bomb.
I came home from the barn early that day, the day after the last day of school. Rick had the car, but his dad wanted it back by noon. So we’d hit the trails at sunup, then done our stalls and hay and water in a hurry with him already revving up the SUV.
When I got home, wringing wet and filthy and so smelly even I could tell I’d been around a manure pile, Mom was sitting out by the pool.
That wasn’t where she usually was on a Thursday morning. She still had her work clothes on, but she’d tossed off the stodgy black pumps and splashed her feet in the water.
Her hair had all grown back since the chemo. It was short and curly, and still a little strange, but I liked it. I thought it made her look younger and prettier.
She turned and smiled at me. She looked tired, part of me said, but the rest of me told that part to shut up. “Good ride?” she asked.
“Good one,” I answered. “Bonnie only threw in a couple of Airs. And that was because Rick was riding Stupid, and she was living up to her name. Bonnie had to put her in her place.”
As long as I was out there, I figured I’d do the sensible thing. I dropped my shirt and riding tights and got down to the bathing suit any sane person wears under clothes in Florida summer, and dived into the pool.
The water felt absolutely wonderful. Mom watched me do a couple of laps.
Finally I gave in. I swam up beside her and folded my arms on the tiles and floated there, and said, “All right. Tell me.”
She was still smiling. It must be something really good, to bring her out of court and all the way home.
“I’ve been talking to Aunt Jessie,” she said. “She’s staying in Egypt this summer, instead of coming back home to Massachusetts.”
I knew that. I talked to Aunt Jessie, too. She Skyped in at least once a week. Checking on me, and on Mom through me.
But Mom was in story mode. I kept quiet and let her go on.
“She’s really excited,” Mom said. “She’s made some discoveries that she thinks are very important, and with everything that’s been going on over there, she hasn’t been at all sure she can keep getting the permits. She actually got a grant, which is just about unheard of these days.”
“She must be over the moon,” I said.
“Oh, she is.” Mom paused. “It’s a big grant. Big enough for a whole team.”
That came out of the way Mom was smiling—excited, as if she had a secret and she couldn’t wait to share. She’d been dreaming about Egypt for years, following all of Aunt Jessie’s adventures and reading and studying and talking about maybe someday, if she had time, if she could get away, if—
There were always reasons not to go. First she had to make partner in the law firm. Then she got asked to be a judge in the county court, and that needed her to be always on. Always perfect. And then there was the cancer.
So maybe she figured it was now or never. I could see that. Even get behind it. But I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
Mom away for the whole summer? Was she really ready to leave me for that long? I didn’t have my license yet. How was I going to—
All that zipped through my head between the time I asked my question and the time Mom answered, “Including you.”
That stopped me cold.
Mom grinned at my expression. “You really thought it was me? I wish, but there are a couple of big cases coming on trial, and I might be called to the bench for another one, and—”
“You said you were going to take it easy this summer,” I said. “We both were. What would I do in Egypt?”
“Learn,” said Mom. “Explore. Be part of something big.”
“Florida is big enough for me,” I said. “What about Bonnie? And the trip to Disney World? And turtle watch? Turtle watch is important. The college needs us to count those eggs. That’s big, too. It’s real. It’s now. Not fifty million years ago.”
“Four thousand, give or take,” said Mom, “and Disney World will keep. So will the turtles.”
“Bonnie won’t. Bonnie needs me. She just got bred. We don’t even know if she’s pregnant yet.”
“We will tomorrow,” Mom said. “You’ve got a week till you leave. It’s all taken care of. Visas, everything. Aunt Jessie’s been working on it for months. It’s her birthday present to you.”
She’d never said a word to me. Not even a hint.
“I hate surprises,” I said. “I hate her.”
“Hate me,” Mom said. “It was my idea.”
“It’s your dream. Mine is to spend the summer with my friends and my horse. Not baking in a desert on the other side of the world. There are terrorists over there. Revolutionaries. Things get blown up. People get blown up.”
“You will not get blown up,” Mom said.
I pulled myself out of the water. “I’m not going,” I said.
Mom didn’t say anything. I grabbed a towel off the pile on the picnic table and rubbed myself dry, hard enough to make my skin sting, and marched off into the house.
For once in the history of the universe, none of the usual suspects was answering their phone. I barricaded myself in my room and went laptop surfing instead.
I surfed for horse stuff and beach stuff and turtle stuff. Nothing whatsoever to do with Egypt. Who cared about sand and terrorists and old dead mummies? The only sand I wanted was right underneath me in Florida.
When my phone whinnied at me, I almost didn’t bother to answer it. After all, nobody could be bothered to answer me.
But the whinny was Cat, and she had an excuse. She’d been driving her kid brothers home from soccer.
Crisis? she texted.
Big time. But with the phone in my hand and the screen staring at me, I couldn’t manage to fit it all into 160 characters. Tell u tonight, I said. Still on for ice-cream run?
8:30, she answered. Rick too. Kelly’s got a date.
Normal me would have squeed and wanted to know all about it. Crisis me punched OK. See u then, and threw the phone on the bed.
Mom was still home. I could hear her rattling around in the kitchen. Then the TV came on, rumbling away in the background.
That was weird. I almost went to find out why she wasn’t going back to work, but my mad was still too new. If she thought she was going to wait me out, she could just keep thinking it.
The computer beeped at me. The phone was lighting up with messages. Now everybody wanted to talk-text-email. All I felt like doing was crawling inside a book and pulling the cover over my head.
I tried every book in my to-be-read file, and even in my favorite-dead-tree-rereads pile, but my eyes kept slipping away from the words. Finally I opened my laptop instead, but I shut off the wi-fi.
It felt weird. Kind of guilty. Like telling the whole world to eff off.
What I needed was my own words, or words that came to me. Words that weren’t about here or now. I needed to go away, really far away, deep inside myself where everything was different. Where I wasn’t even me.
I’ve always told myself stories. I started writing them down as soon as I knew how. When I got my first computer that was all my own, I’d found the place where I could always go.
I wasn’t always safe there. Stories aren’t about being safe. On the screen, where the words were, I was home—more than I was anywhere except in the barn or in my own house.
A year ago, when the cancer came in, it was scary, but then there was the remission and I told myself that was it, we’d go on and nothing would change. Mom wouldn’t get sick again.
But the world was different. I couldn’t trust it any more.
The only world I could trust was the one I made for myself. The only light was on the screen, pale like moonlight, black like the sky between the stars. Outside it was a steaming hot Florida afternoon, with the sun beating down and the thunderheads piling up. In here, it was as cold as the truth I’d had to face, the day Mom came home from the doctor and sat me down and told me she was going to die.
Today wasn’t anything like that. She was just dumping me for the summer—same as Dad used to do, till he stopped even bothering to show up. Just like Dad, she thought it was great. Romance! Adventure! All the things she’d never had time to do, so I got to do them instead.
I closed my eyes and made myself go away. Skip over. Ignore. Forget. Be somewhere else. Be someone else—someone as different as it was possible to be.
This wasn’t really a new story. Pieces of it had been in me for as long as I could remember, fragments of words, images, half-remembered dreams, but now it was all there: solid, whole, and so real I could taste it.
Really, I could. It was bitter and salty, like a mouthful of ocean, or too many tears. When I opened my eyes, I was somewhere completely different.
I was inside the story. Instead of me telling it, it was telling me.
What happens next?
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