Read Arranged Online

Authors: Catherine McKenzie

Arranged (28 page)

He looks both pleased and apprehensive. “What did you think?”

“I think . . . it was a better book for me.”

“How so?”

“The first book made me furious, and sad, and furious. This time it made me sad for us, Jack. Sad that we seemed to have something and it got so fucked up.”

He looks resigned. “Because I fucked it up.”

“Yeah, but also because I never should’ve been there in the first place. I didn’t buy in to what they were selling, not really. I was looking for love, not friendship.”

“And did you find it?” he asks, his voice catching.

The blond woman from earlier pokes her head out the door. She looks pissed. “What’re you doing out here, Jack? There’s a bunch of people waiting.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”


give me a minute.”

She looks at me, frowning slightly. And then something occurs to her, and she closes the door without saying another word.

I can barely speak. “Is that Kate?”

“Kate from my book?”

“Kate from your book.”


“What’s her name?”


“She’s pretty.”

Jack takes a step toward me. “It’s not what you think.”

“It’s not?”

“No. We’re just friends. She works at the publishing company. It’s how we met.”

“I thought you met her during the adventure race. Like in the book.”

“Not everything in books is true, Anne. Not even in my books.”

“So you’re not back together?”

“No, Anne. Come on. There never could be anybody else for me but you.”

My heart skips a beat. Is he quoting
Anne of Green Gables

“There couldn’t?”


I take the first real breath I’ve been able to take since I saw Jessica talking to Jack in the bookstore.

“I remember a boy who pulled my pigtails when I was little,” I say, surprising myself.

He takes a step toward me. “You do?”

“He had brown curly hair, but I don’t remember his name.”

“Do you think it was me?”

There’s still one step between us. I want to take the step. I want to, but I’m not sure I can.

“I don’t know. I’ve wondered. Since I read that . . .”

“Maybe it
me. Maybe it’s a sign.”

“Maybe. But I told you before that I don’t believe in signs.”

He reaches out and brushes my hair away. “Don’t you?”

“Are you going to pull my pigtails again?”

“I might.” His thumb strokes the side of my face, and I feel the tingling connection that’s always been between us. “Only if you promise not to break a slate over my head.”

“Don’t you start calling me Carrots.”

He laughs. “I wouldn’t dare.” His eyes turn serious. “Do you know what you want, Anne?”

“You sound like Dr. Szwick.”

He grimaces. “Maybe he wasn’t always full of crap.”

“He told me that if I decided what kind of life I wanted, I’d know what I wanted to do about you.”

“What kind of life do you want?” he asks, a tremor in his voice.

“I think . . . I want a life with you.”

Jack takes a swift stride toward me, and as his lips meet mine, the world seems to fall away until we’re the only two people on the street, in the city, the world, the universe.

When my lungs start screaming for air, Jack pulls away. His hands are shaking. He looks happy. Happier than I’ve ever seen him. I can’t tell what my face looks like, but I think it might be the same.

He leans his forehead on mine. “The last time I kissed you, you ran away from me in tears.”

“Can you blame me?”

“I can never blame you for anything.” He kisses me again and drops his hands to my waist.

“What about Blythe and Company?”

“Nope. Can’t blame them either. Though I heard Ms. Cooper got fired.”

I smile. “I asked them for a refund, but they have this no-refund policy.”

“I guess I wasn’t what you paid for.”


“I’m sorry, Anne.”

“I know. Besides, I’ll be getting a cut from your book when it hits the best-seller lists.”

Jack frowns. “Yes, I got Sarah’s letter.”

“What? She sent a
? I asked her not to. Shit, why do I always fall for that?”

Jack laughs out loud. “Don’t ever change, Anne.”

“It’s too late for me now.”

We smile at each other, our breath frosting in the air.

“Was that Margaret I saw you standing with?”


“Where did she come from?”

“I ran into her on the street. She’s the one who brought me here.”

“I’ll have to thank her, then.”

“I told you she wasn’t that bad.”

“No, obviously, you’re right. You’re always right.”

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

“You look frozen.”

“I’m okay.”

“I love you, Anne.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I know.”

“Really, Han Solo?”

“What’s not to love?”


He looks very serious. “Seriously. Those are the best words I’ve heard in a long time. Maybe ever. There’s just one more thing . . .”


“I asked you a question a while ago, Anne. If I ask it again today, will you give me a different answer?”

Oh my God, he
quoting from
Anne of Green Gables.
More specifically, from Gilbert’s second proposal in
Anne of the Island.

“Been reading up, have we?”

His lips curl into a smile. “You know, those books aren’t half bad.”


“Will you?”

“How about we take things slowly? Try dating for a while.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“Do you want to come inside? Meet my friends?”

“I’d like that very much.”

Read on

for an excerpt from



Catherine McKenzie

Available in September 2012

Chapter 1

Out of Africa


Six months later


’m sitting on my suitcase beside the muddy road that leads through the village, waiting for the signs that indicate the arrival of transport—birds taking flight, a tremor along the ground, and since the rains started, the sound of mud slipping through off-track wheels.

Birds wheel overhead, their cries a constant background music. The air is thick and damp, a physical thing that’s been getting heavier by the month.

I remember the first time I saw this place, the ragged row of shacks with corrugated iron roofs, the gathering circle made of big round boulders, and the frame of a half-built schoolhouse, its wood a bright, freshly sawn yellow. The rough structure reminded me of the buildings I always imagined Laura Ingalls Wilder living in when I read her books over and over again as a child.

The safari guides left me here, sick, sick, sick, promising to come back as soon as they could with a doctor, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead, it was Karen and Peter—the NGO workers building the schoolhouse—who nursed me back to health, using up their small store of medical supplies.

Karen is waiting with me now. Peter is in the village behind us. The confident blows of his hammer ring out, a practiced rhythm. A few children sit watching him, hunched on their heels, eager for him to be finished. When he’s done, classes will begin, and they’re keen to start learning.

After all these months of working on the building alongside him, I can’t imagine not being here when it’s finished.

“Maybe I should stay a few more days,” I say.

Karen shakes her head, her brown face and matching eyes calm and certain. “We need to get you home, Emma. It’s almost Christmas.”

I shudder. It’s hard to keep track of the days here; I’d almost forgotten. Christmas without my mother. That seems like a pretty good reason to stay exactly where I am. But I’ve used that excuse for too long now. It’s time to get back to my life.

“You’ll be home soon, though, right?” I ask, because my home is also Karen and Peter’s. I don’t know why we had to come all this way to meet. Life works like that sometimes, I guess.

“A few weeks after Christmas, if everything goes to plan.”

“I’m glad.”

In the distance I hear the low rumble of an engine, and I know it can’t be long now. I stand and face Karen. She’s ten years older than I am, and a head taller; stronger, broader, more substantial, somehow.

She puts her hand in the pocket of her loose work pants and pulls out a small Mason jar full of dirt. Reddish like the ground. Like the mud slipping through tires under the thrum of the approaching engine.

“I thought you might like this to add to your collection,” she says.

I take it from her. Some of the dirt clings to the outside, sticking to my fingers. “Thank you.”

A Land Rover is visible, only seconds away. I slip the jar into my pocket and embrace Karen. Her arms are steely around me. She smells like the humid air and the tall bleached grass—like I must too.

“You’ll say goodbye to Peter?” I ask.

“You said goodbye to him yourself ten minutes ago.”

“I know. But you’ll tell him?”

She holds me away from her. “I will.”

The Land Rover shudders to a stop, spraying mud in our direction. A large piece lands with a splat on my pant leg. I wipe it off as a short, stocky man in a sweat-stained shirt gets out.

“You are ready to go, miss?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes.”

I’m mostly happy for the mud on the long drive back to the capital. It clings like a film to the windows, obscuring the worst of the view. But after a while it’s impossible not to wipe it away and stare at the changed countryside. The odd jumble of images. A too-white running shoe lying at an odd angle on the side of the road. Things on the ground that shouldn’t be: trees and twisted metal. The ground seems rippled, folded, like a mirage over a hot highway. And as we get closer to the epicenter, there’s a smell that must have been much worse before the rains came. That might never be washed away.

The level of devastation, even after all these months, is shocking and saddening. And as the Land Rover bumps slowly along, my mind slips back to the long days listening to the one radio in the village—its voice so faint that sometimes it felt like messages from the moon—trying to imagine what was happening. But no amount of listening, no amount of imagination, was enough to conjure the destruction outside my window.

I feel helpless, and now I want to go home very much indeed.

The airport is chaotic. Though it’s been a week since a few airlines resumed service, the staff behind the counters in the half-rebuilt building don’t have reliable electricity or working phones. When I find the end of the line, I almost weep at the length of it, but there’s nothing to be done. It moves at the speed it moves—glacial—and crying or yelling won’t change anything, though I observe several people trying both tactics over the next four hours.

When I finally reach the counter, the thin, dark-skinned woman behind it is much politer than I would’ve been. She takes my open-ended ticket and passport and finds me a place on a plane to London leaving in two hours. Security consists of two impossibly tall men giving passengers the evil eye as they pass through a metal detector that has seen better days. I file through quickly and have time to locate some food at a small kiosk that’s selling, of all things, Chicago-style hot dogs. I wolf down two of them gratefully, and when my plane is at last ready to depart, I shuffle onto it feeling like I’m running away.

The plane rattles across the roughly patched runway, full of cracks and tufts of grass, and leaves the ground. The turmoil below is momentarily toy-village small, then invisible below the clouds. I rest my head against the hard molded plastic and am asleep in minutes.

At Heathrow, a rainy sleet almost keeps us from landing. It’s midday here—early morning back home—and the sun is nowhere to be seen.

I make my way slowly through the massive structure. The airport bears the markings of the season. Extra lights and Christmas trees try to give the place a festive air. Compared to where I’ve been, it’s so clean and bright that it feels like it was built yesterday, as if the last lick of paint is still drying. The cooled and filtered air scratches the back of my throat, and I feel dusty and dingy as I pass the clean, clean faces around me.

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