Published: February 29th, 2016
What if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?
Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.
Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.
For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.
In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.
Set in 1953, NORA AND KETTLE explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world.
Time is hard to tell when the lights flicker on and off with a mind of their own, but the frigid air makes me suspect it’s nearly dawn. One day, they’ll stop working all together as the wires erode from lack of maintenance.
I scrape my eyelids of sleep and grit, propping myself up on my elbows. The sound of snoring kids is intermittently drowned out by subway cars whooshing through tunnels. No one stirs. The rattle of wheels over tracks is a lullaby, comforting, reassuring.
Two nights home and now I have to leave again.
I sigh loudly and collect my gear. Keeper’s small voice penetrates the hazy light. “You going already?” she whispers as she wipes the back of her hand under her runny nose. I crawl over sleeping bodies and touch her forehead. She feels a little clammy, a little too warm.
“You feeling okay, Keeps?” I ask softly.
She nods her head and coughs into her palm. “Just a cold,” she says and smiles for me. Her big, green eyes blink, red rimmed. “Mubbee I got allergies?” she asks.
I sling an arm around her slim shoulders and laugh, pulling her to me. “Maybe. Just take it easy today. Make sure everyone cleans up before lunchtime, eh?” She scribbles notes in a frayed pad of paper I gave her six months ago, licking the tip of the pen every now and then.
The corners of her mouth are stained with black ink when she grins and nods. “Yes sir, Kettle.” She sniffs again, and I hand her a handkerchief from my pocket. She nuzzles into my chest, almost purring just like a cat.
“I don’t need anyone getting sick, okay?” I warn with a wink.
She coughs, trying to cover it by stooping over. Her black hair falls over her face in one solid lump. I light a candle and peer at the watch nailed to the rocks behind me. I’ve only got about half an hour.
“Keeps?” She swings around, hair hanging over her eyes and in her mouth. “Come here, let me show you something.” She shuffles closer, looking a little scared. I pull out a hairbrush from the bag I brought home last night. “This is a hairbrush.” She squints at it, waiting for it to do something. “It’s for your hair, so it’s not so, um, hard to manage…” She tips her head to the side, looking for all intents and purposes like a puppy about to have its first bath. She’s our first and only girl resident. “Come sit in front of me.” I pat the ground gently, and she slides backward. “Don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you,” I reassure, although I’m not one hundred percent sure that’s true. “Keeps, what did I say when you came to live here, when you became a King?”
“Dat I could stay as long as I wanted and dat you would keep me safe,” she replies warily.
I grip the brush firmly in my hand and gesture to the section of cold stone in front of my crossed legs. “Do you believe that’s true?”
She scrunches her eyes shut and says, “Yes.” Crawling over to sit in front of me, she turns her mound of thick, black hair my way.
I raise the brush to her head, place it in her hair, and make a liar of myself.
The boys cover their ears to shield themselves from her caterwauling.
“Throw her back,” Krow mutters, scowling, which only makes her scream louder.
She bends her head back every time I run the brush through and screeches like I’m actually scalping her. The brush snags in the dirty clumps, and I can’t pull it through. I’ve said sorry about a hundred times but now that I’ve started, I feel like I need to finish it. She needs to look less like a street urchin and more like a child on her way to school if we’re going to remain inconspicuous.
On the hundredth and fiftieth scream, Kin finally storms over. He gets up in her face, and I think he’s going to tell her to shut up. It’s what I should have done, but I feel at a loss on how to deal with a ten-year-old girl who thinks I’m torturing her.
“Keeper, what would you like me to do? I can cut it all off or you can let us clean it up. Right now you look like a drowned rat wearing a dead cat toupee. Do you want to look like a drowned rat with a bad hairpiece?” Kin says.
She shakes her head and whimpers. Then she whispers, “I wanna look like that.” She points to the catalogue I’ve been teaching some of them to read from. A sweet girl with long brown hair in two plaits on either side of her head smiles thinly at us, her eyes round and blue, her ribbons frozen in mid-swing.
Both Kin and I stare at each other and gulp. Then Kin puffs out his chest, swears, and laughs. “If you can rescue women from burning buildings, together we can surely plait a ten-year-old girl’s hair.”
The boys snicker. “Shh!” I snap and then look to Kin. “Here you do this side and I’ll take the other.” We separate her hair into two uneven handfuls and go to work. With my mouth pressed tight, I start, with one eye on the photo we’re trying to replicate. The other eye is watching Kin try to plait hair with his giant paws. I swear he’s starting to sweat. I snort, gripping her hair so it doesn’t fall out.
Kin’s face jerks to mine. “What?”
I look down at the ground, my eyes watering. “Um, nothing…”
Kin holds his twisted clump of hair tightly, a concentrated, almost cross-eyed look on his face. “What?”
A laugh escapes my mouth, and all the boys join in. “I can’t watch you. My God. It’s like watching a bear try to peel a plastic banana!”
Kin sighs in exasperation but refuses to give up, a small smile creeping into his stern expression. “Yeah well, you’re surprisingly good at this. Anything you wanna tell us?”
Laughter fills the rocky space. It’s warm and bright, scrubbing the walls of grime and filling my heart.
When we’re finally done, I grip my plait tightly in my fingers, searching for something to tie it with. Krow steps forward and begrudgingly hands me two bread bag ties, which I wind around the ends. I push Keeps gently in the back. “There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Turning around, she gives me a look of ‘you’re kidding, right?’ and scampers to the mirror. She frowns when she meets her reflection. Her whole face is now visible, smooshed cheeks and pinchy little ears. She looks cute. She tips her head down, and one large lump falls over her eyes. I remember the gift I bought that I was saving for her King birthday. Fishing around in the paper bag, I retrieve two red clips with white polka dots on them. Keeps stares at herself like she doesn’t know it’s her face. I sweep her fringe back and clip it in place. She touches it lightly, like I’ve just put a diamond tiara on her head.
She smiles sweetly, her dark lips brimming with teeth. “I think you should cut it off. I’m a King, not a queen,” she states proudly.
I stall in shock, and then my heart does that proud, pumping-strong thing. Kin slaps my back, and I stumble forward. Keeps draws in a sharp breath as I fall and begins coughing uncontrollably.
“We’re going to be late,” Kin says, extending a long arm in my direction, his eyes sliding to the coughing girl sitting delicately on a faded purple cushion. “We’ll think about the haircut.”
I smile at her. “Think about it some more, Keeps. You might miss it when it’s gone.”
Her determined eyes tell me otherwise. Her sallow, sweaty skin worries me.
We leave the boys and… girl… with instructions and head to work.
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About the author:
Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.
She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.
She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.
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