East of Everywhere
Publication date: November 11th 2021
Genres: Coming of Age, Young Adult
It’s been almost a decade since the end of the war, when the telegram first arrived at their house on Lennox Lane.
Four years since the apartment on Harker Street, where food was scarce and nights were long and their mother slept away her grief.
Three months since Janie was forced to leave her little brother, Brayden, and best friend, Leo, behind at Anthers Hall.
Two weeks since she stole a bicycle and ran away from the new children’s home on the other side of the state.
One day since she arrived in Montours City.
No one knows her secrets in this small town. If Janie is going to make it back to her brother and the only place she’s ever called home, she needs to keep it that way. But when a hard-hearted widow, a boy in a boxcar, and a dog named Panda weave their way into her life, Janie begins to wonder if what she’s searching for isn’t better off laid to rest.
“Are you Alex?”
“That’s me.” He nodded towards the boxcar. “And that’s me home you’re in.”
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “Sabina told me to find you and—” Janie stepped onto the concrete blocks, her foot catching the edge. The odd angle and her weight made them shift and begin to wobble. Her pulse quickened as she fought to keep her balance, her hands grasping at the air. She tumbled to the ground, sprawled across the weeds and dirt.
“Well,” Alex said above her. “Now you broke me stairs.”
Unwilling tears pooled in her eyes and her cheeks grew hot as a sharp, burning pain pierced her palms. She winced and stood slowly, trying to brush away the stray gravel that clung to the bits of blood streaking her hands and knees. She took a step back, stumbling over the railroad ties. Alex reached out to steady her, then took her hand and turned it over. His touch was surprisingly hesitant and gentle.
“Cut yourself on the landing there.” He dropped her hand and began walking towards the platform. “Come on, then.”
Janie brushed at her eyes with the back of her hands and followed after him. Step one, she reminded herself. Focus.
“I can do it myself—the window, I mean,” she called after him. “She wanted you to fix it, but I can do it myself…” Her voice trailed off as she watched him lean his hands on the platform and hoist himself up. She raised her eyebrows at him, annoyed. A grin twitched at the corner of his mouth as he tilted his head towards his left.
“Stairs are over there.”
Janie glared at him and stalked towards the other end of the platform.
“It’s just that Sabina said she has a list for you—a list of things she needs fixed.”
“Seems those hands need fixing first.”
She followed him inside, past the remnants of the motorbike and broken benches and the ticket counter where flyers still advertised roundtrips to the city. They walked down a short corridor until they reached a bathroom that had lost its door. Faded writing was scrawled across broken green and white tile, and the mirror above the sink was spotted with dark water stains. Alex pulled his striped shirt over his head and pushed up the sleeves, then ran the tap and stuck his hand beneath the steady stream to check the temperature. Wordlessly, he reached for her—more gently than she was expecting—and before she could protest, he was guiding her hands beneath the lukewarm water. She jumped back and hissed at the sting, but he held on.
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” he said quietly.
A blush crept into her cheeks as he ran his thumbs along the scratches, easing the dirt free from the cuts. She glanced up at his reflection in the mirror, studying the way his hair hung across his forehead, the way the dimple just beneath his cheek deepened when he clenched his jaw, the way he tilted his head, his deep brown eyes roaming across her hands as he tended to her. He was so different from Leo…
She drew in a short intake of breath and jerked her hands away. Alex glanced at her, eyes narrowed in brief confusion, then pulled back and tossed the towel that was draped across his shoulder onto the sink next to her. He leaned against the doorway, folding his arms across his chest as he watched her run a small section of the towel beneath the water and dab at her hands.
“Is that your motorbike out there?” she asked. She leaned down to brush stray bits of pebble from her pants where dirt stains had already set in.
“What are you doing to it?”
“Fixing it up. So I can be on me way.”
“So, you’re not from here?”
“What gave it away, the boxcar or me accent?” Janie felt herself relax and returned his smile. “I’m just traveling,” he said. “Same as you.”
She looked up sharply but didn’t say anything. She turned off the faucet and set the stained towel down on the edge of the sink.
“Guess we better go and see about that window.” He reached over and grabbed the towel. “What’s your name then?”
“It’s Janie,” she said, following him out of the bathroom and into the main room.
“Janie.” He said the word like he was testing it. He tossed the towel onto a broken bench and crouched down near his motorbike to gather his tools. “You sure that’s your name?”
She regretted coming here instantly—here to this derelict train station, to the boarding house with her very own room, to this town with its sense of safety and relief and friendship. She’d overstayed her welcome; she should have moved on days ago. She’d have to leave eventually, anyway—she knew that. She was only there until she could make enough money to get herself home to Anthers Hall. She didn’t belong to this town, not really. This wasn’t forever.
But the thought ripped through her, clutched at her heart until it took her breath away. She didn’t want to leave—not this town, not these people, not when she finally found a place she could actually belong, at least, for a little while. Not because of him and how from the moment they’d met just a few moments ago he seemed to see right through her.
She grit her teeth. “I know my own name.”
“And I know when something’s not the whole truth.”
Susan Pogorzelski is the award-winning author of Gold in the Days of Summer and The Last Letter. When she’s not writing novels of nostalgia and the magic of everyday life, she works as a consultant and editor at Brown Beagle Books, is an intuitive energy practitioner at Susan Dawn Spiritual Connections, and is the founder of LymeBrave Foundation. She lives in South-Central Pennsylvania with her beloved family and pets.