Today’s post includes the prologue to The Blue Jay. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.
But first, I need to announce the book cover giveaway winner: Lanette Pierce Henningson! Lanette, I will get you the Amazon gift card shortly and your paperback copy of the book will be ready in September. Thank you to everyone who shared the cover and helped spread the word! *Random.org was used to draw the winner!
That was all it took to break Josie McCray’s heart.
Josie, just eight years old at the time, woke up earlier than usual that morning. She padded over to her bedroom window, her pink nightgown too airy for this time of year but the fuzzy socks soft against her feet keeping her from getting too chilled. She gazed out at the giant snowflakes falling from the still dark sky. They moved so gracefully that Josie was reminded of the dancers in her favorite ballet, The Nutcracker, as they performed the Waltz of the Snowflakes. The snow must have been falling all night—it covered the entire yard, and from the window Josie could see her dad’s copper bird feeder hanging from the old oak tree. The top was weighed down by a small mound of snow, but if you looked closely you could see it slowly swaying back and forth.
Thinking she was the only one awake in the house, she quietly pulled on a pair of sweatpants and tied her blonde curls into a low ponytail. As she stepped into the hallway, she paused, listening for the sound of her father’s snoring. When she heard the familiar sound, she held onto the rail and crept down the wooden staircase. She was just about to the bottom when she tripped over her thick socks, falling the rest of the way and stubbing her toe on the last step.
“Ouch!” Josie said under her breath, catching herself from crying out at the pain.
She rubbed her big toe between her fingers, willing the hurt away, before remembering her original mission. Taking a deep breath, she continued through the house to the front door where she quickly put on her stocking cap. It was one of those hand-knit hats with the ball on top that always prompted comments like “Isn’t that just precious?!” or “Haveyoueverseenanythingsocuteinyourlife?!” from the adults, like strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store and other parents watching their kids play at the park. Josie brushed a loose curl out of her face and tucked it up into the cap. She grabbed her coat and boots, pulling them on one at a time, all the while doing her best not to make a sound.
Once outside, she stood at the edge of the porch. The snow fell harder now and the wind invaded her eyes, causing them to water from the blast of cold that jolted her when she’d stepped out onto the porch. But Josie wasn’t about to go back inside. She looked around at the winter wonderland that had, it seemed, magically appeared overnight. Had she ever seen anything so beautiful in her short life?
She stuck out her tongue to catch a falling snowflake, just the way she and Mia had done last winter. That was during the coldest winter Montpier had seen since the 60s—at least according to her father. Mia Shoning was four years older and lived in the bright yellow house next door. The girls became fast friends when Josie’s family had moved to town a few years before. Unlike Josie, who was an only child, Mia’s family was large. She was the last of six, which may have been why Mia was drawn to her in the first place. She would never have a younger sibling, and Josie had looked like a fine substitute for the relationship she thought she was missing out on.
As the snow fell, Josie peered into the darkness of the street. She pictured her neighbors all still warm in their beds, cherishing the last few moments of warmth before their morning routines began. A light went on in a bedroom across the street at Mr. DeWaay’s, and she thought she heard a dog barking somewhere. She was listening for the sound again when she saw the headlights of a car turn onto the street.
Josie put her head back again and opened her mouth, catching another snowflake and savoring the sensation of the wetness on her tongue. She could have stayed like that a long time if she hadn’t been distracted by those blaring headlights. Turning toward the car, Josie squinted through the snow, waiting for it to pass. It didn’t, and instead came to a stop in front of their house. She stared, through the falling snow, trying to see the figure in the driver’s seat.
Moments later, the sound of the front door opening and closing behind her cut short her examination of the car and its unknown driver. Josie turned to see her mother standing behind her, fully dressed and made up. She was holding the blue suitcase that Josie and her father had picked out for her as a Christmas gift just a few months before.
Her mother didn’t respond. Instead, she reached up and wiped a rogue snowflake from her face. As she glided past a stunned Josie, she smiled at the stranger in the car. Was he waiting for her? Josie wondered.
“Mama?” Josie said again, her voice breathless in the crisp winter air. “Where are you going?”
Josie felt her legs move beneath her. Her mother had reached the car and opened the door to the backseat when Josie caught up to her. She set the blue suitcase down inside. Josie shivered and pulled her hat down further on her head. The woman in front of her looked unfamiliar. It was scary to see her own mother looking like that—like a complete stranger. There was nothing physically different about her, but somehow, it wasn’t her. Josie could see the driver now, his black mustache and wild eyes. She didn’t recognize him, which frightened her even more.
“Mama!” she gasped, grabbing for her mother’s arm.
Her mother finally turned, as if hearing her for the first time, and their eyes met. Later, she would see those eyes while she slept, startling her from her dreams. They were the eyes of a newborn baby who couldn’t yet see clearly, forcing the infant to use its other senses to determine the people and things around him. Her mother’s eyes looked just the same, but blank and lifeless, and when her gaze fell on Josie, she did not seem to recognize her either. In one swift movement, her mother bent down so their cheeks were almost touching—their faces so close that Josie could feel the warmth of her breath even as the wind picked up around them. And then she said it, her voice a faint whisper.
“I’m not coming back.”