The crowd screamed with Birdie as the man's body plummeted. Everyone surged toward the railing and Birdie was squeezed against the splintered wood, her throat closing as the man's legs windmilled frantically through empty space. He was almost eye level with the boardwalk, hands fumbling against his chest—
A second parachute bloomed above him, so close to the ground, but far enough away that it sucked the speed out of his fall and he hit the sand at a run, stumbling slightly, but remaining upright.
Birdie struggled to catch her breath as he paraded in front of the crowd, beaming and pumping his fist. Everyone was cheering and fanning themselves, incredulous looks on their faces.
It wasn't Dad, of course—it was Air Devil
Charlie again—but for that moment, she was so happy to see he was alive that it may as well have been her father.
BIRDIE HAD SEEN A GIRL DANCE IN THE SKY. SHE'D SEEN PLANES FLYING upside down. She'd seen loop-de-loops and barrel rolls and that incredible parachute jump. She'd seen the two Jennys engaged in a mock-dogfight—"The Bird and the Bee!" She'd seen a fascinating fire show performed by the tattooed girl and the young man with the striped socks and floppy black hair, smoking whips and hoops and swords of fire undulating around their bodies and disappearing into their mouths in mesmerizing rhythms.
But she had not seen Dad.
The sky was starting to pink as the sun approached the horizon. She wouldn't be home in time for rehearsal. Mikhail would have kittens; not only did she have a solo in the recital two weeks from tomorrow, Birdie danced a big role in several of the group numbers. At least school was out, so she hadn't worried about missing class today.
Izzy would notice she was missing from rehearsal, and wonder where she was.
Birdie folded her arms on the railing and rested her chin, staring into nothing. The crowd on the boardwalk had thinned, but people still bumped her as they walked past. A boy skimmed her leg with his paper airplane as he zoomed by. She didn't move. The rush of the show was fading. She felt sick, the air quickly turning cold.
She should be headed home, but she could hardly stand the thought. It wasn't just that her beau, her best friend, and everyone else in town was shunning her. She'd caught Mom that morning packing suitcases, and when Birdie had demanded to know what was going on Mom told her that a new bank was taking over the assets from Dad's bank, including their house mortgage—and that they were foreclosing on it. Birdie wasn't sure what "foreclosing" meant, and Mom told her the house didn't belong to them anymore. They had nowhere to live. "But I've got a plan for us." Mom pulled another dress off a hanger, not meeting Birdie's eyes. The table next to her was beginning to dull with dust, lint collecting around its legs on the oriental rug since the maid had been let go soon after Dad disappeared. "Annie's in Dover, and she didn't waste her money like I did. She says she'd be happy to have us."
When Mom's parents died, Dad had used her inheritance to buy their house, open the bank, and buy his Jenny. Aunt Annie was an old maid who could do as she pleased, and of all things, she'd moved with her piles of books and her two West Highland terriers halfway round the world, to the gloomy British countryside.
Birdie sank into the green velvet settee. "I'm not going to England
," she choked out. "Dad could be back any moment. He could walk through that door right now!"
"I thought you might be resistant," her mom said. "If it's your preference, Bobby's parents said they'd be happy to have you for as long as you want. They haven't heard anything from him, but they're still holding out hope like you. Once you're tired of that, of course, me and Annie can send for you."
Birdie had never been to Granny and Grandpa Williams's house. From what she'd gathered from Dad and Mom's jokes, they lived a decidedly unglamorous, middle-class life near the Catskills. Dad gave them money when they came to visit for Christmas. They were small, gray people that seemed bewildered that their strapping, smooth-talking son had done so well for himself. "I'm not going anywhere," said Birdie, fists curling. "Izzy's here, and David, and Dad knows this is where we'll be—" She stopped short and stared at Mom's hand. Her wedding ring was gone. Dad's ring.
Birdie looked up, venom in her mouth. "You're going to give up on him, just like that?" she spat.
Mom's jaw tightened as she folded another dress over her arm, then set it in a pink-and-white-striped valise. "He's dead, Birdie. He's been gone for almost two months now, and he isn't coming back."
Mom had been like this, blank and flat and not meeting her eyes, ever since the bank failed, and it made Birdie want to scream. "Dad isn't dead," she hissed. "You know he isn't."
," Mom said. "So what if he isn't? Then he ran off and left us with nothing
. Worse than nothing."
"If you loved Dad, you wouldn't do this." Birdie's voice was rising.
"If your father loved me, he wouldn't have left!" Mom banged a fist into the wardrobe door, a bobby-pinned curl shaking loose.
It was very quiet. Birdie felt like she would explode, her whole skin humming. She knew Dad loved them, it was just that everything had gone wrong so suddenly, and he'd panicked. She was mad at him, too, but she couldn't give up on him until she found him and—
. She'd almost forgotten!
"Oh!" Birdie fumbled in her pocket and pulled out the flyer she'd found earlier that day. She unfolded it, flattening it against her thighs. "Look what I found!" She’d run all the way home to show it to her mother, but since Mom was being so dreadful it had almost slipped her mind.
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Deception by Laura Gallier.