Today we have an excerpt from Erin Moynihan’s upcoming Laurel Everywhere, a lesbian romance releasing November 10th from Ooligan Press! Here’s the story:
Laurel was named after the laurel bush, a nondescript plant that is found everywhere outside of Seattle, where she lives. Her siblings were also named for flora: Tansy after a pretty yellow flower that Laurel refuses to believe is a weed, and Rowan after a tree native to the Scottish Highlands. As the middle child, Laurel always felt boring compared to her outgoing siblings, like an outsider in her own family because of her idiosyncrasies.
But Laurel’s mom and siblings were killed in a car accident a month ago, and Laurel has begun to feel guilty about her sibling envy, her anger, and all she said and did when they were alive. As she and her dad work to figure out life without the rest of their family, Laurel is thankful for her two best friends, Hanna and Lyssa, whom she needs now more than ever. But since Hanna kissed Laurel, things have been weird between them.
Written from Laurel’s perspective, the story is sympathetic to first loves and heartbreaking loss.
And here’s the excerpt!
Hanna is the one who finds me.
Hanna, with her soft brown eyes and perfect olive skin and voice that sounds both frantic and calming at the same time. I’m lucky Hanna is a worrier and Lyssa is usually lost or getting kidnapped (it happened once). I’m also lucky Hanna made the two of us turn on Find My Friends a few years back. I told her Dad was taking me on a hike and she asked where and I didn’t respond. Then hours passed and her worry got the best of her.
She finds me in a laurel bush, with leaves framing my face and the smell of early-summer raindrops surrounding me. We’re somewhere east of Seattle—I remember Dad getting on the highway. I remember the city disappearing behind us and the mountains and trees appearing as the highway seemed to expand, lane after lane.
I’m somewhere near Snoqualmie Pass, I guess. I’m not sure if Hanna can see the irony of it all (she looks too frantic to even recognize that it’s a laurel bush)—not many people other than my mom regularly identify plants, but if anyone could, it would be Hanna. Hanna is a walking encyclopedia.
“Your face,” she says. I wipe my hand across my cheek and feel blood, as if the branches dared me to a duel, and I just sat there taking the punches. She grabs my hand and holds on so tightly her blood pumps against mine—pumping the life back into me. I’m being reborn from the bushes: a family-less Laurel Summers with raindrops on her forehead and dirt on her cheeks.
Two weeks ago I would have laughed if anyone told me the predicament I’d end up in. But in two weeks, I’ve gone from being part of a family of five to being part of a family of only two; I planned a funeral, and now I’ve gotten left behind in my namesake bush.
My first thought should be Dad. He’s not here. I’m not sure where he’s gone. Hanna looks worried and her mom is here too, standing a few feet away with the same expression on her face. A mirror image of Hanna herself, except with lighter skin and blonde hair. But my first thought isn’t Dad because maybe I’m not a very good daughter and in general not a very good person. Dad is all I have left and I should be looking for him, but instead my heart is melting and breaking into a million pieces because Hanna is holding my hand so tightly. I don’t want to let go because if I do, all the life she’s pumped back into me might spill out and I’ll end up a deflated balloon in the dirt.
“Where’s your dad?” Hanna asks me.
I open my mouth but the words don’t come out, which makes me wonder how long I’ve been underneath this bush, because my throat is dry and my lips feel like they’re glued together. It’s still light outside, so at least there’s that—the sun peeking through the rain clouds from earlier today. Instead of answering her, I point up the trail in the direction where I remember him stumbling away from me.
“You take her back to the car,” says Mrs. Jackson to Hanna. “I’ll look farther up. Hanna, call your father and tell him to get some people up here to search.” Hanna’s dad is a policeman. Hanna hates that he’s a policeman because she thinks the justice system is messed up, but Mr. Jackson says he became a policeman because he wanted to be a good one and show boys with dark skin like him they can become policemen too.
Hanna puts her arm around me and doesn’t even flinch when my damp clothes touch her dry ones. She composes a short message to Lyssa: “Found her. She’s fine.” The fact that they’re talking about me sprouts a warmth inside my chest. It’s nice to feel worried for sometimes, and it’s especially nice to think Hanna was paying attention to me and tracking my location. Even though it’s mostly because my family just died and I’m a loose cannon, lost in the woods near the pass on a trail to some unknown destination that nobody but Dad seems to know.
A loose cannon. That’s how I’d describe myself at the funeral. Dad cried the whole time: a steady, controlled flow of tears. I didn’t cry until the very end when they started a slide- show and I saw this one picture of Rowan, Tansy, and me. I realized I was the only one left alive in that picture and the realization made tears explode from my eyes. Hanna and Lyssa practically had to hold me down so I wouldn’t run away. Dad didn’t look at me; I don’t think he could bear it. If he’d seen me, he would’ve burst into tears too. Together, we would have drowned the whole funeral home—maybe the whole neighborhood—with so many tears even our rainy city of Seattle would be swallowed whole.
That was the last time I saw Hanna and Lyssa, as they were wrestling me down at the funeral. It was like the time in seventh grade when Daphne Peters threatened to report Lyssa for bringing alcohol to school and I nearly punched her in the face to stop her. Lyssa and Hanna held me back and lectured me about how if I’d punched her, we would’ve gotten into even more trouble, and how she was just talking herself up and didn’t really want to tell anyways. The funeral was like that, but much, much sadder.
Daphne Peters never did tell on Lyssa. I’d like to take credit for that because I scared her with my menacing twelve-year-old fist-swinging. (I’m not violent, I swear. Only when people are mean to my friends.)
Except at the funeral when they were wrestling me, I didn’t have anyone in front of me to punch. I wanted to punch the guy who was driving the truck but why would he dare be at the funeral? He probably can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night. I wonder what the man who drove that truck looks like. I wonder if he feels bad about it all or if he couldn’t care less. I imagine him as a villain, large and intimidating, laughing in my face and at my mom’s little car, broken and smashed to pieces while his giant truck remained intact.
We slide into the backseat of Mrs. Jackson’s car. Hanna dusts off my pants and grabs my hands to stop them from shaking. The sun shines in through the windows and warms me up. Normally I’d be excited at the first sign of the season truly transitioning to summer, but instead I can’t stop shivering. My hands won’t stop shaking. They’ve been shaking almost nonstop for the past week, so I think it might just be one of those things that comes intertwined with death that nobody warns you about.
Hanna’s hands are warm against mine. Before the funeral, we hadn’t really spoken for a few weeks. She says it’s because she was busy, but I know it’s because we kissed and things got messy between us. But then my family died and I guess that made us forget about everything else, at least for a bit.
“I’m gonna call my dad,” she says.
Her voice sounds like it’s underwater. Like I can hear it but I can’t totally understand what she’s trying to say. She hands me a half-empty water bottle while she talks to her dad on the phone. I chug the water and it burns against my throat, which tells me I was lying underneath the laurel bush for longer than I thought. Long enough to become parched and for the sun to move across the sky.
“My dad is on his way,” she says. Hanna often talks to fill awkward silence, but lately she’s been running out of things to say to me. I stare out the window at the trees and shrubs sur- rounding the trailhead. Laurel bushes are scattered all over the ground. They’re everywhere. They make my chest tighten and a lump rise up in my throat.
She hesitates before asking, “Where—where do you think your dad went?”
I don’t know the answer. There’s a voice in my head that tells me he probably flung himself from the mountaintop, and another voice wonders if he was mauled by a bear. Yet another wonders why in the world Dad would leave me lying there in my namesake bush all alone.
He’d suggested we go hiking. The two of us hadn’t left the house in a few days and he’d said, “Why don’t we go on an adventure?” I should have known then. He sounded far too chipper to be serious, but I hopped into the car and went along with it anyways.
I mean, he did take us hiking. We pulled over at an un-marked trail and before I even zipped up my jacket, he was powering up the hill. “Laurel bushes,” he kept saying, pointing to the ground every time we passed a bush. “Look Laurel, you’re everywhere.”
I said something like “They’re everywhere,” and we both knew I wasn’t talking about bushes. Mom was always the one who loved to point out our namesake flowers. Mom was a gardener, and she named us after flowers because of course she did. Rowan, Laurel, and Tansy.
Now: just Laurel.
After I said and thought all of that, my legs turned wobbly and I needed to rest. I lay down in a laurel bush and listened to Dad’s footsteps slowly disappear into the distance. I thought he would come back for me.
Dad and I were always close. Mom and I were close too. I didn’t have a favorite. I lapped up Mom’s stories about astrology and herbal supplements and listened to Dad drone on about the difficulty of teaching English courses to freshmen who aren’t majoring in English.
But now that Dad left me alone in a laurel bush, Mom should probably be my favorite.
I didn’t have a favorite sibling either. Tansy and I would play games in the backyard, and I went to Rowan’s soccer games and cheered for him with all my heart. I’ve always been neutral in matters of family. Mom said it was because I am a Pisces. “You’re agreeable. You feel for others.” Mom blamed most of our actions on our star charts, like the time Rowan got caught hooking up with a girl in a school janitor closet and Mom blamed it on him being a wild Gemini rather than the fact that he was an idiot.
Maybe it’s too soon to call my dead brother an idiot, but he was. I didn’t—don’t—have a favorite sibling but objectively I can say Rowan is the least agreeable of the three of us. Was—is—I don’t know.
“We’ll take you back to your house,” Hanna says, filling the silence again. “I can see if Lyssa wants to come over. Or do you want to come to my house? We can do that too. That might be better. And then my mom can feed all three of us and we can watch old TV shows on Netflix.”
I don’t say anything and she decides that we’re going to her house. I would’ve picked that anyways, even if her voice didn’t sound underwater and I had the ability to speak again. Despite chugging the remains of the water bottle, my throat is still on fire.
“I’ll ask Lyssa to come over. Do you want Lyssa to come over?”
I nod. Lyssa helps—she gets it. Her mom is dead and she doesn’t know her dad because she’s been in the foster system since she was ten. She just tells people both her parents are dead because it’s easier than telling them that her dad was just really messed up. Right after the accident, Lyssa and Hanna came over. Hanna tried to help by cleaning the house, cooking food in the kitchen, and offering to help my dad with planning the funeral. Lyssa just sat on my bed and talked to me about things that weren’t my dead family, like music and the most recent season of The Bachelorette. Both were helpful in their own ways, but Lyssa feels calmer and less frantic. It’s less like she’s trying so hard to help and more like she just helps by being there.
Mr. Jackson pulls up in his police car, jumps right out, and meets Mrs. Jackson at the trailhead. They talk for a few minutes and then he disappears into the woods alongside a few more men and women in uniform. Mrs. Jackson makes her way back to the car, without my dad.
Did he leave me? Would he leave me? My parents left me one time in a Walmart. Mom said it was because I was the quiet one. Tansy was a baby and so she was attached to my mom in a backpack and Rowan was always talking and making noise. I got lost among the aisles of games and art supplies, and I didn’t even notice they’d left until Mom came frantically running around the corner and wrapped her arms around me. I sometimes wish she hadn’t told me they left and hadn’t made a big deal about it, because I often think about how they left me. I think about it a lot. If she’d just grabbed my hand and said, “Laurel, it’s time to go,” I would’ve had no idea they’d ever left.
Being left behind seems to be the plight of the middle child. Even without my brother and sister standing beside me, living and breathing and taking up space, I’ve still managed to be forgotten somewhere.
“John is looking for your dad,” Mrs. Jackson says. Her voice is calm but underneath I can tell she’s a storm. She sounds just like Hanna when Hanna tries to hide that she’s afraid.
“Thanks for picking me up.”
“You don’t have to thank me, honey.”
The trees pass by my window like we’re in a race and they’re trying to beat me home. The sun continues to dip, turning the sky above us dark. I should be back there in the woods, looking for Dad, but my legs are tired and my face is covered in cuts and scrapes. I feel as though I’m running low on gas, and if I stay and look for Dad, my engine might give out. Maybe it’s already given out.
What if they don’t find him? Or worse, what if they do and he’s…I can’t think about that. So, I watch the trees and I imagine how it would feel to get squished by a car and how I’m going to ask Tansy how it felt to die when I see her in heaven—if there is a heaven. I wouldn’t ask Mom or Rowan because both of them would lie. They’d try to tell me it felt like falling asleep. But Tansy, she’d be honest with me.
The trees pass by the farther we get from wherever Dad disappeared to. My phone lights up with a message from Lyssa linking to a Tumblr post full of Stranger Things theories. Hanna’s foot taps nervously against the floor of the car so loudly I can hear it over Mrs. Jackson’s music. I breathe in the air and wonder if ghosts are following me around now. If I breathe hard enough maybe I’ll consume them and I’ll be able to hear Mom and Tansy and Rowan inside of me.
Mom always told us ghosts were real.
Erin Moynihan is a debut novelist from Seattle, Washington, where she spends many rainy days typing away in coffee shops. Her editorial work has appeared on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Mighty, and various other outlets. She has a background in social work, which informs the subject matter of her writing. She is passionate about elevating young female voices and breaking the stigma around mental health. When she’s not working, she’s likely spending time cuddling with her dog or adventuring around the Pacific Northwest. You can see what she’s up to at www.erinmoynihan.com