The adults in the towns of Johnson Valley, Oregon, are not who they believe they are. Teenagers Kyle and Adrianna make a discovery that causes them to question their identity. They must decide whether to continue to trust their parents and the other older residents after learning the truth.
Dark cliffs enshrouded both sides of the Johnson Valley along its winding course to the Pacific Ocean. The five-hundred-foot vertical rock walls, visible from every point in the valley, were said by its residents to be unscalable.
Farmlands and forests of pine trees separated the valley into small communities. The largest of these communities was Hanover, where Kyle Steinman, after his shift at Curt’s Groceries, sat at a table in front of McHenry’s sandwich shop. It was there where he and his older sister Cora used to make up unflattering names and stories for townsfolk who walked along Main Street. That was before his parents sent her away to college.
Kyle gazed up at the distant cliffs and then readied himself for his loaded chilidog. He’d set beside it a letter to him from Cora delivered that very day from her big city on the other side of the country. She had always been better at managing her affairs than he was—keeping track of her expenses, paying bills, and getting from one place to another on time, while her hectic busy college life never let her get enough sleep. Even the names of some of her courses puzzled him: tort reform, nolo contendere, and animus contrahendi.
If she was burdened by her new life, then what chance did he have?
A girl, perhaps his age walked from around the corner at Southern Street, her dark hair behind her as she passed. She glanced at him and whistled two ascending notes, her black purse hanging by thin straps over her leather jacket.
“Hey,” he said, immediately wishing he’d thought of a more interesting greeting.
Ashamed of staring, Kyle gripped his napkin and turned his attention to an old couple across the street who were scolding their poodle, saying, “Hush-hush.” He looked back at the girl in time to catch her at the corner of Brentlass Street, who glanced at him and blinked twice before disappearing around the corner.
Something about her behavior appealed to him, but it didn’t matter because she was gone. The old couple across the street began to make their way off somewhere. “Hush,” the woman said to her poodle. “Better to hush.”
Kyle tried to remember anyone he knew who blinked and whistled like that until he returned his attention to his chilidog, which by then had turned cold.
He didn’t dare tell his parents about his interest in the girl because they would have told him about crushes, which he already knew about. They would have lectured him about keeping his attention on preparing for college, which admonition he didn’t deserve because he worked full-time at Curt’s Groceries after his high school graduation for the sole purpose of saving money for college.
But the thought of the girl plagued him, which surprised him because he would soon leave everyone in his life behind.
At Curt’s Groceries the next day, a customer had picked through the apples, leaving them in disarray. Kyle grumbled under his breath and began to straighten them when he saw through the storefront windows a bronze-colored sedan parked along the curb. Leaning against its hood was the girl with the black leather purse, her arms folded and her head swaying left and right with her eyes closed as if she were listening to music.
Not wanting a scolding from Curt, he resumed his work on the apples until looking up again and catching her watching him, her right palm held against her chest. He nodded slowly at her even though she couldn’t have been there for him.
That’s when the girl began to look terribly sad. She rushed to the driver’s side of the car and got in. He set down the apples and hurried out to the sidewalk, but by then she and her car were gone.
The girl puzzled him because none of the customers who frequented the store had the effect on him that she had. It must have been how smoothly she walked, or her dark eyelashes, or her coat and black purse. Her family must have been new to Hanover because he didn’t remember seeing her at school. Kyle returned to the apple aisle before Curt noticed his absence.
Hanover provided few places for youth to hang out, which was good when trying to find someone on a Friday night. After searching for the girl in every store in Granger Mall twice, he drove home disappointed, scolding himself for letting her affect him so.